Tuesday, 14 July 2015

May 1980

Watch With Mothersbraugh

Devo are wearing Bill and Ben flowerpots on their heads when I meet up with them on a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I don’t like to say anything -- the daft todgers might take offence and boot me in the flubberglub.

It’s perfectly obvious to them what those pillar-box red plastic hats signify. 


Or, to be more precise, Aztec Winkies! Hats, it seems, are merely penile projectiles in the Devo dictionary of daffy definitions. 

‘They are the sign of a man’s sexuality. They represent the energy of the organ,’ says Gerry Casale, without the slightest hint of a smirk. Brings a whole new meaning to giving head. And, like all Devo concepts, the hat-wearing has a dualistic connotation, or the Tweedledum and Tweedledee syndrome. 

‘They are festive hats,’ continues Gerry. ‘We wear them to create a party atmosphere. We want to be the life and soul of the party, like the guy who gets drunk and sticks a lampshade on his head to get a laugh.’ 

Mark Mothersbraugh gives one of his customary tag lines that always seem to crystallise a particular facet of Devo psychology in one searing, succinct sentence. ‘David Bowie used to wear a plastic hat too . . .’ 

I’m being treated to my own personal preview of their new show − the final one before they embark on a world tour to promote their new album, Freedom of Choice. It’s remarkable. The speakers double up as the light show to produce some stunning monochrome effects and the encore, a medley of songs from Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants using the flowerpots to maximum advantage, has to be seen to be believed. 

After they finish, the band wander up and down Sunset Strip wearing grey vinyl suits. It’s so hot you can actually hear their feet squelching in their pillar-box red shoes. And naturally they wear those hats. They’re posing for a photo session and attract the attention of T-shirted LA types noticeable by their dumb expressions and limited stoned-clad vocabulary. 

‘Hi. Hey. Wha’ . . .? Hey. Hi. Devo, huh? Shit. Hi. Hey. Mind if I, er . . . Yeah? No kiddin’. Hey. Hi . . .’ 

The articulate Devo, gleaming metallic sex pistons of techno-brash, provide a sharp contrast to this ring of mediocrity. 

What lurks behind the clinical, boiler-suited exterior? Do their hearts pump blood or BP? Are they just a bunch of Dunlops rushing in where angels fear to tread, or are they the harbingers of a duty free Tomorrow’s World? Devo are an exquisite enigma. Or is it enema? 

Whatever, they have confused and confounded the British press who seem incapable of accepting them on any serious level. And nobody could believe it when these strange, fragile-looking beings appeared not to see the joke. 

Oh, sure they would, as they do now, sit with you and mock a quasi-intellectual article rejoicing at their ‘reductive synthesis’, but if you went away and wrote a piece with tongue firmly in cheek, they seemed to get hurt. 

‘We answered questions in earnest,’ says Gerry, sipping a glass of Californian champagne. It’s now midnight. We’re in a downtown bar and they’re still wearing fucking flowerpots on their heads. 

‘The British seem to lack a sense of humour about it all. We were just stirring things up for fun. Devo are just playing with reality. In the end, everyone resorts to religion, right-wing politics and disco. Devo are observers of the human condition. But the joke is, we’re part of that condition too.’ 

What does Devo-lution mean, Gerry? 

‘Stripping away the shit. When Bob Seger writes, “I like to watch her strut”, you tell him that’s a fucking joke. You tell him that’s a fucking stupid line. That’s my freedom of choice. Don’t expect me to wear gypsy leather trousers and go out and sing, “I like to watch her fucking strut”. I’m confident that there’s a whole segment of society that doesn’t want to hear about girls strutting or pulling triggers on devils’ guns. 

‘Devo’s programme is the alternative to sock-in-the-crotch rock. Our sexuality is more like Henry Ford and the assembly line. We are sexual in a powerfully clean, technological way. Devo is the cleansing agent for all the awful records out there. Devo presents you with a pure and healthy sex. I’ve never been able to understand why a woman wants a man with a great big hairy belly. They must have a perverted and demented view of sex. 

‘A lot of people represent the medieval kind of sex, like Rod Stewart, while we represent the new sex. Girls in Spandex pants are turned off by Devo because they are into medieval sexuality. After the A-bomb and A-rseholes, Devo will emerge as heads of the post sexual revolution.’ 

And now we must go because the man from the house is walking down the garden path and will be here any moment. Hurry, he’s about to open the door of the greenhouse. 


© Barry Cain 2015

Check out the new Flexipop! Book - www.flexipop.com/bookhome

Thursday, 2 July 2015

December 1979 

Damn the torpedo… 

Old soldiers never die. 
Take Alex Harvey who’s once again on the glory trail after a year in the wilderness. His new album released this week, The Mafia Stole My Guitar, shows that, despite all the health rumours, Alex is fighting fit. 
‘I can run half a mile and swim half a mile right afterwards,’ Alex tells me at his north London home where he lives with his wife and two children. ‘I know some people think I’m a bit of a nutcase but, let’s face it, the oldest cliché in the book is you have to be a nutcase to play rock ’n’ roll. And that’s the only life I know.’ 
Alex was plagued with problems after his manager, Bill Fehilly, was killed in a plane crash three years ago. First the Sensational Alex Harvey Band split, then Alex became involved in a series of legal battles that still continue and which have made him a very angry man. 
‘I’m 45 and I’ve been through an awful lot. Can you imagine how bad it was for me when Bill was killed? But you know something − I’m winning. I loved the band, loved ‘em − but I mustn’t get over-emotional. It’s finished. ‘When I started in this business I knew a lot of kids. Now they’re all dead. I’m the only one left. I’m unique.’ (Alas, Alex ain’t so unique any more. He died of a heart attack a couple of years after that interview while on the road. So much for running and swimming). 

From Flexipop! 1980

The Damned have gone off the radar, love. 
‘New Rose’ is now as dry as a bone, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ has lost its lovin’ feeling, Brian James is living on Dead End Street and even love couldn’t keep Captain and Tennille together. But Rat Scabies’s knob is a sign that the best is yet to come.
It was when he pulled it out in front of a bunch of open-mouthed studio technicians during a session for Capital Radio that I realised just how much I’d missed the Damned. 
Noticing its lack of petrification, I remembered how flexible the band were − eccentric one minute, devout rockers the next. Its jaundiced appearance reminded me of how colourful they were; the presence of varicose veins was redolent of their energy; the lack of any noticeable discharge their discipline (for, despite views to the contrary, the Damned never indulged in more than a controlled chaos); the odour their strength. 
Yes, the Damned were, and are, unique. Forget what critics would have you believe: Messrs Scabies, Sensible, Vanian and new boy ex-Saint Alisdair Ward, are back in business with the release of their new album Machine Gun Etiquette. 
The Damned always did defy the rules, not because of an adopted pose but because the individuals themselves defied description. If any band deserved the appendage ‘punk’, it’s this collection of crazy pavings. Other bands who hiccuped during the winter of ’76 only got so far before drinking water from the wrong side of a glass and regaining their equilibrium. The Damned had no equilibrium. They didn’t hiccup, they BURPED. A thick, rheumy, brown ale of a burp that rejoiced in its own noise. 
It was tragic to see them go. It’s glorious to see them return. The sight of Captain Sensible sitting alone in the Capital Radio studio playing lead guitar would have been little short of miraculous two years ago. 
One thing the Damned never got was praise for their musical capabilities. ‘You look around at other people,’ says Sensible, ‘and then you think, Who’s better than the Captain? Nobody.’ 
Dave Vanian cups his black-gloved hands around a glass of Scotch and Coke. ‘We’re so much better than we ever were. We actually talk to each other now. I never knew we would get back together again. But I’m very glad we did. We haven’t got the limitations we had before when we were stuck in one little hole. Even though the reviews haven’t been that favourable for the new album, I
know we’ve shocked people into realising that we can play. I wouldn’t change a thing.’ 
It’s at this point that Rat brings forth the spider from the fly. ‘I’ve written eight songs this week,’ he says, accompanied by the sound of Sensible’s guitar and the crackle of a downward-moving zip. 
Ex-Saint Alisdair, recovering from laughing at the sight for sore eyes, sits next to me. What did you do when the Saints split? ‘Got drunk on all the money.’ So that’s two pints and a Scotch. ‘Now I’m in a band I like. I really am.’ 
‘Shit,’ interrupts Rat. ‘He won’t even talk to us. He costs us a fortune in extra hotel rooms cos he refuses to sleep in the same room as the rest of us.’ More laughter. 

‘Nah, this is a band I can talk to,’ says Alisdair. ‘We all speak the same language, have the same sense of humour. The Damned is more like a religion among its fans. And there ain’t much humour around these days.’ 
Alisdair is convinced music goes in seven-year cycles. ‘We’ve got another four years to go before something new comes along.’ So, who’d have thought it? The Damned, the first punks to make a single ‘New Rose’, the first punks to make an album, The Damned, the first punks to tour the States, the first punks to split, the first punks to re-form. And maybe the last punks. Ever. But the burning question remains: would you let your daughter marry one of them? And will plonkers be next year’s big thing? 
Er, you can put it away now, Rat. ‘It’s nice out today, ennit?’ 
A few days later, Rat sips tea in a North London caff − and I do mean caff. The sandwiches have as many cracks as the cups. He looks healthy, which is amazing, considering his lifestyle. Rat probably instigated the Demise of the Damned Mark One, which followed the release of their second album Music For Pleasure. Why?
‘I got bored with it all. Oh, sure, it was great being a pop star at first − but it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It got to the stage where I just couldn’t go out in public. In fact, it got so violent I wasn’t even able to go down my local boozer. I took a bird down the Hope and Anchor one night and she got glassed in the face by someone who had a grudge against me. And I got beaten up twice through no fault of my own. But I was drunk both times so maybe it was my fault. I can’t remember now. 
‘The songs were rotten, too. Brian James, who’d written most of them, had achieved his aim and, in my mind anyway, dried up. I reckon we’d all got as far as we could musically. After all, you can only take a nurse’s uniform so far. And our reputations were getting out of hand. I was being accused of the most ridiculous things.’ 
So Rat vamoosed. ‘I needed to get completely away from the rock world. I thought I was gonna have a nervous breakdown. My whole personal-defence mechanism decided it was time for me to call it a day.’ For Rat to pack it in is rather like Hartlepool winning the Cup − it just ain’t gonna happen. So he formed Whitecats. Flop. Meanwhile, across the teeming metropolis, Captain Sensible formed King. Flop. The two flops joined forces. 
‘Captain wanted to work with me again. So we had a walk round the block and decided to do a tour. The only problem was, who could we get as a singer? We looked around, then finally came to the conclusion that the best we were ever likely to get was Dave Vanian.’ Vanian had left the Doctors of Madness and spent his days reading the grotesque in his Islington house with the black walls and blacker ceilings, and remembering yesterday. He was ripe for a reunion. 
‘My attitude has changed now,’ says Rat. ‘You get used to people staring at you. You stay in places where you’re known.’ On their last US tour Rat banged nineteen girls in twenty-two days. ‘That’s my record. The only nights I missed out were when we arrived − I had jetlag − and when we had to drive to a gig. If I wasn’t in the Damned I wouldn’t pull nearly as much.’ 
An honest man is Rat…

From Flexipop! 1982

Check out the new Flexipop! Book that features the Damned starring in Saturday Night Weaver! www.flexipop.com/bookhome

copyright Barry Cain 2015

Saturday, 24 January 2015


October 1979

Paul & Andy

The sunshine boys

Paul Weller appears to grow more cynical by the hour.

He hits me with his rhythm stick every time I meet him. After a show in Brighton we chat half the night away in his hotel room. The interview appears in the
Evening News, which is a real coup because Paul refuses to talk to the ‘big’ papers, believing them to be the unacceptable face of capitalism. I’ve also interviewed him for the Daily Star and Daily Record. None of the national journos get to know these bands the way music-paper writers do. We’ve been on the road with these guys, got pissed with these guys, snorted drugs with (some) of these guys. The early bird catches the worms, which, incidentally, my hair has been free of since that fateful haircut late December back in ’67 (oh, what a night!). So . . .

Welcome to the two-tone zone.

The Jam. Two-tone mohair suits, two-tone shoes, two-tone harmonies, two-tone attitude.

Their sound is icky-sticky, neat and tricky. A growing legion of fans has pushed their latest album, Setting Sons, straight into the charts at number seven. The sound is fun, young and even charming, but the lyrics are dark, set in that adolescent void hogged by Jam fans − alienated teenage demi-mondes with no prospect even of a dead-end job. No employment means relentless TV and a dangerously disproportionate amount of self-analysis. Kings of nothing.
But that two-tone approach has finally brought the band the kind of stardom that has eluded them since the beginning when they trod the same London pub boards as the Sex Pistols and the Clash back in 1976. Their single, ‘Eton Rifles’, is currently number three and this Sunday they start a sell-out three-night stint at the Rainbow.

Other bands from that era have since fallen by the wayside, deluded by malignant self-importance and dogged by misfortune. But the Jam, especially guitarist Paul Weller, refuse to inflict their egos on the pop public and quietly continue making a stream of classic singles.

‘I suppose I’ve been cynical since I was fourteen years old,’ says Paul, ‘since my teachers kept telling me what I should know when they knew absolutely nothing themselves. All they were good at was tripping out on acid. I could tell them more than they could tell me.’

It’s been four hours since the end of the show and he’s been drinking solidly ever since. Paul has always maintained that his shoulder is a chip-free zone. But that’s incongruous. Chips are necessary to any rock artist who’s worth his salt and my guess is there’s a whole plateful up there with the odd piece of skate thrown in.

‘I love the English language but when I wanted to read contemporary books at school they insisted on stuffing Dickens down my throat,’ he says. ‘Same with music. All they played was Beethoven and Tchaikovsky when they should have started from Elvis. Christ, I couldn’t even fill in a tax form when I left school. I had to educate myself. I haven’t got any special perception. Many of the letters I receive articulate my sentiments better than I do. It’s just that when I was thirteen I first saw the Pistols and they blocked my brain. At last, I thought, the whole youth culture has arrived. Before that the only bands I’d seen were Status Quo and Wings. You could never be them − but you could be a Sex Pistol.’

Older stars, like Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, infuriate Paul when they start spouting about the young generation. ‘People like that, setting themselves up as spokesmen for the kids, make me spew.

The young are the strength, the future of this country. I’m still young, I’ve got time on my side − what have they got?’

So how will he avoid falling into the same trap when he’s twenty-seven?

‘I’ll know when I’ve got nothing left to say. Then I won’t write things down any more -- I’ll lose my bottle.’

Surprisingly, Paul remains optimistic about the immediate future of music in Britain. Whereas contemporary observers are confidently predicting the end of the rock epoch, Paul firmly believes that the scene now is better that it was in 1976. ‘There are so many great bands around that I can only foresee it getting better. Groups like the Skids, the Ruts and the Undertones point the way − barring outside interference.’

Outside interference? From whom?

‘The Government. I know this will sound really stupid in print, but I wanted to send a copy of our new album to all the heads of state, just to try and make them aware of how the young feel about certain things. But I never did. I didn’t think any of them would bother to listen.’

Paul and his ilk are in touch with their followers because they have largely un-affected lifestyles. He lives with his girlfriend Jill in a London flat.

‘What else can you do but watch TV or go out for a drink? I do exactly the same as any other guy my age. Oh, sure, some people think you’re different, but that’s because they want to. Our fans know we’re just three ordinary geezers.’

The following morning the band poses for some photos on the beach and I dash back to London for an appointment with Andy Williams. From Genesis to Revelation.


‘Andy,’ says the PR girl to the honey-voiced entertainer in his London Hilton Hotel suite, ‘this is Barry who writes mainly about punk.’

‘Oh, really?’ he says, as we shake hands. ‘What -- like the Ramones and the Clash?’

Andy Williams. Shit! Who would’ve thought I’d be getting it on with the moonriver man himself (verbally speaking)? This guy is so laid-back he makes a sloth look like a cheetah. He caught the wind a long time ago, boxed it up and sent it second class to Saturn.

He lives in a breeze-free world that only money can buy.

Still, he’s definitely top of the pops as far as his three children are concerned. Noelle, sixteen, Christian, fourteen, and ten-year-old Robert all call their dad Poppa. And he loves it. ‘Their mother, Claudine, always called her father Poppa, like most French kids, and the three picked it up,’ says Andy, between puffs of a giant cigar. ‘I hope they never stop calling me it.’

You’re it.

Andy is preparing for his first British tour in three years. It coincides with the release of his new album, The Classic Collection. Dressed casually in pale blue polo-neck sweater and jeans, he paces the room as he talks of his divorce from Claudine. ‘The kids reacted to it very well, but then it wasn’t such a bad divorce. Claudine and I were separated for several years before the final split so they were used to it. But we have remained close friends and see each other a great deal.’

After the couple divorced Andy found himself emulating the character in one of his most famous records, ‘Solitaire’. ‘I was very lonely, not for a woman but for a family because, more than anything,

I’m a family man,’ and pretty home-loving too, I hear. ‘I missed the children and Claudine. But there was never any doubt that they would live with their mother.’

Then Andy met a beautiful young actress called Laurie Wright. ‘When I met her she was feeling very down because coincidentally, her parents had just divorced. ‘I invited her as my guest to Las Vegas where I was appearing in cabaret. It was all above board. She slept in a spare bedroom in my suite. In fact, Laurie was a house guest for six months before we started getting involved.’

Would he consider marriage again?

‘Not at the moment. She has her own career and her home in Beverly Hills. But I do like her to come on the road with me.’ Not many.

During the tour Andy will be consuming large quantities of champagne and beer. ‘It helps me unwind after a show. But I never take drugs. Just give me a few good friends, a decent meal, some fine champagne and I’m happy.’

When Andy returns to America he’ll go straight to Aspen where he’s just bought a ski lodge, and where Claudine and the children live. He’ll holiday there before heading for his new home in South Carolina. Then he’ll start work on his first Broadway show − in which he plays a Catholic priest. ‘I’ll have to grow a beard and dye my hair blond for the role. I’m excited about the whole thing.’

Andy, who’s sold more than thirty-five million records during his career, hopes his new single ‘Jason’ will be successful − for personal reasons. ‘I wanted something that tied in with the Year of the Child, and then a woman sent this song about a mentally retarded boy. When I sing it I think of my son Robert. He’s not retarded but he does suffer from dyslexia. It would be great if ‘Jason’ turned out to be a hit for me. It’s funny, the whole world is changing these days.’ He stares out of the window, still talking.

‘Things you read in the papers about some rock star’s sexual secrets wouldn’t have got in a few years back. Although I’m against censorship of any kind, the only thing that bothers me is that just because some star like David Bowie says something young kids might be influenced by it. I wouldn’t like to think that my kids were unduly influenced and that they could stand by their own ideals.

‘Look, I’m not against homosexuality. I think my children can take care of themselves in life and if one of them came to me and said he was homosexual I’m not going to beat him up. Life is over for me now. By that I mean I’m very content in doing what I’m doing. I have no more worries.’

(No worries. He did marry again, not to Laurie but to Debbie Meyer in 1991. He died of bladder cancer in 2012 aged 84, so he’s not almost there anymore. His birthplace in Iowa is a tourist attraction.)

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives


Friday, 19 December 2014

September 1979

Let's Groove

It’s late -- it always is in LA. No one’s ever on time.

I’ve been waiting patiently for an audience with Mr Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White, for eight days. He’s as elusive as a Pimpernel but I finally nail him at a West Hollywood recording studio where he’s putting the finishing touches to the Emotions’ new album.

‘Maurice will be down in a while,’ says the studio caretaker. ‘Take a chair, sir.’ I sit. Sit. Sit.

‘Why don’t you go upstairs and shoot some pool, sir?’

I go upstairs and shoot some pool. And some more pool. Three hours later Maurice appears. It’s three a.m. and he tells me he’s been ‘Dancing since noon.’ Seems he’d also been rehearsing with EW&F for their forthcoming US tour before coming to the studio around seven. ‘I’m probably one of the busiest people in the world. I can go on non-stop for weeks at a time. If I’m not in the studio I’m writing or preparing for another tour.

‘Having a lot of energy is like having a lot of ideas − you have to take it and channel it and make it into something. Even when I’m not doing anything I sit around looking at myself. That’s a habit I got into when I was a kid. I’d sit in the corner watching myself outside of me. When you do something like I do, having that ability is a bonus.’

Maurice’s pyramid of harmony rises out of a disco desert. He’s built it stone by stone through eight albums stretching back to 1972.

‘Each new album, each new song contributes to the whole. I’ve always been a loner, ever since I was a kid. I came from a big family − five boys and four girls – and only occasionally did I have the luxury of being by myself.

'I can speak of my experiences through my music. I try and reach the inner soul through song, through that secluded part where you talk to yourself about your decisions and how you should make your way through life. Do you understand?’

Sure ’nuff.

‘We are speaking of a certain type of lifestyle and it’s important the kids know what we mean − that’s why we always print the lyrics on our albums. We are now in the pop market and the record buyers don’t know where we’re coming from. They haven’t yet lived the things we speak of. I guess I mean mostly the kids from the suburbs. We are talking of things relative to the street, relative to survival, where people wait for a new day. Those kids haven’t ever got up in the morning and wondered if they’re going to get through the day okay. My personal past has enabled me to speak of those things.’

The title of the new album was a deliberate attempt to eradicate the diffidence in most (nah, all) of us.

‘We wanted to awaken the self in everybody. You go into the record store and ask for I Am and that’s a reaffirmation of you just by saying those two words. In the US people have certain conceptions about black groups. They think black music must be of a particular type and when boundaries are broken it’s as though you did something terrible. Every time we release an album Rolling Stone magazine slams it. Yet every album is successful. I live in fear of them giving one of our records a good review. Then I’ll know we’ve failed.’

Are you a pain-in-the-arse perfectionist?

‘Yes. That’s one of my problems. I often wish I was a lot sloppier. There are annoying little things. For instance, if my closet isn’t completely tidy I go to pieces. To have an orderly closet saves time for me. I’ll take out the wrong pair of pants and have to go back and change them.’

But doesn’t such an attitude spill over into relationships? Perfectionists are notoriously intolerant of others.

‘I’ve learned toleration because I had to be tolerated. Growing up in my parents’ home, first in Memphis and then in Chicago, taught me that.’

Maurice is divorced. ‘I never had any kids. I really don’t know why I got married. I had a good home. None of my brothers and sisters are married. But we’ve all got time. I’m thirty-five now. I figure I’ve got another thirty-five years left. I still got time for all that family stuff.’

We leave the studio together, and in the car park opposite he climbs into the coolest Porsche imaginable.

(Apart from a four-year hiatus between 1983 and 1987, EW&F have continued to record top-notch albums and have passed into the mainstream American mindset. Maurice has worked with the likes of Streisand, Neil Diamond and Cher and the band were inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Such is their popularity, EW&F have performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Superbowl in 2005 and the US Open golf tournament in 2008. In February 2009, they played at the White House during President Obama’s first formal dinner. Now, Then & Forever, the group's first album in eight years, was released September 10, 2013 They are, quite simply, an American institution. Oh, and Maurice has a son.)

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


Thursday, 4 December 2014

September 1979

On the beach


It’s my first trip to Los Angeles and I wander round the record companies in the hot sunshine wearing a Journey T-shirt -- cool design but know nothing of the band and never will. I set up a few things. I’m hot to trot.

I stay for two and a half weeks downgrading the paid-for hotels as the interviews start to dwindle, finally ending up on the sofa in the front room of a beachside apartment belonging to ex-Fleet Street photographer Laurence Cottrell. Unfortunately, I leave the window open to his apartment one morning and all his photographic equipment is stolen.

Capitol records fly me out to Las Vegas to spend the night, take in a Glen Campbell show and interview him backstage. Isn’t that a great sentence?

Then I get a call that turns me into Alice in boogie Wonderland. On a scale of one to ten, how cool is this question?

‘Can you have lunch with the Beach Boys at a restaurant on Santa Monica beach tomorrow?’

‘No, sorry, I’m busy.’

‘Oh.’ No fucking sense of humour, these guys.

‘Only joking. I’d love to have lunch with the Beach Boys tomorrow or the next day or any day over the next fifty years.’


And that’s how I find myself sitting around a table with the Beach Boys in a beach restaurant. Brian Wilson is opposite me. He doesn’t speak much and when I try to strike up a conversation I don’t quite understand what he’s saying, the restaurant’s too noisy and, besides, the blue litmus paper obviously turned red a long time ago and he’s living the dream.

I’m not interviewing the band. This is an off-the-record get-together. Mike Love is sitting next to me (can you believe all this?) and it’s easier to talk to him. After three years of speaker-grinding noise, my drums are snared and, if I’m more than a foot away from a person in a place with a lot of background noise, I sometimes can’t hear a thing.

So I talk to Mike for a while and he’s a really nice guy and he invites me to see the band perform their new single, ‘Sumahama’, the follow up to Lady Linda, on the first show of the new series of American Bandstand in Hollywood the next day, hosted by the legendary Dick Clarke.

The next day, as the sun toasts the empty pavements, we meander through the LA heat haze in Laurence’s Ford Mustang to the TV studios for an appointment with the Beach Boys on America’s favourite show. And when we get there, Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al and Brian say, ‘Hi, Barry,’ and I wish they all could be California girls at that moment because I feel like fucking the lot of them.

The Beach Boys know my name. Look up the number. It’s like winning an award.

After the show I shake Dick’s hand (doesn’t sound right) and Mike takes me to one side. ‘I understand you’d like to do an interview, Barry.’

There! He says it again.


‘Well, why don’t you come out and see my home in Santa Barbara? You and I can do the interview and you can spend a little time there.’


‘Great. Make it the day after tomorrow, around midday. You can meet the family. Is that good for you?’


‘Okay. I’ve got a little map here. It’s easy to find when you know how. Look forward to it.’


‘We’ve got to go now. Nice seeing you again, Barry.’


‘That’s a result,’ says Laurence.


Okay, I might seem like a gormless dick to you, but christ, hanging out with a Beach Boy at his house in California? And with his family.


For a few souped-up, Bermuda-short years, the Beach Boys were America. The birth of surf with all its biologically clean, large-breasted Pepsodent blondes in blue bikinis; its guys sliding out of black Elvis leather and breezing into big shirts and wide smiles; its tanful of exercise and sublime backseat drive-in sex, made everyone want to sing sweet ’n’ high in their flaming hot rods.

In 1965 California was the place to be. The real deal. They even told you so on The Beverly Hillbillies every Sunday night. The American dream. And the Beach Boys conveyed it all in three-minute pristine pop perfection. They were an enclave in the British charts surrounded by the dockyard rock of a million moptops. After all, the only thing that really bugged them was driving up and down the same old strip while here the kids were ferrying across the Mersey trying desperately to get out of this place.

They made you want to be a beach boy, to be blond and slim and get sand in my shoes and ride up and down that strip instead of getting a tube to Whitechapel every Saturday night looking for adventure and whatever came my way, though it never did.

Mike Love stretches out on a lounger three hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean at his Santa Barbara home and not a cotton field in sight . The 38 year-old Beach Boy (one of these days they’re gonna have to change that name − Beach Men or better still Beach Big Boys) looks good as he sips a chocolate malt.

The demise of the Beach Boys coincided with the demise of America. Both went to pot, pieces and polyurethane. Brian Wilson − in the top three pop-genius category − appeared to crack and spent years in a wilderness inhabited by strange dreams and love letters in the sand.

But now, says Mike, ‘We intend to be better than we’ve ever been before. Those people that have slagged us in the past are the ultra trendies who have lost sight of the fact that some things are timeless and universal − like your basic Beach Boy. Our music will be played throughout history like Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. We are into the future, we are into the now. Those who call us over the hill don’t realise we are immortal. What they say doesn’t mean shit to a tree.’

The chocolate malt gasps in the bottom of the carton as Mike Love sucks hard. He’s telling the truth by the way. At least, that’s what I think as a band of naked revellers frolics in the autumn mist near Mike’s private beach directly below.

Interviewing a Beach Boy by the ocean is like interviewing a Beatle in The Cavern or Rod Stewart in bed or a Sex Pistol in the toilet. It’s relevant. His home is at a spot he calls Asoleado, Spanish for a place in the sun. Like Page Three. It’s little short of paradise. Like Page Three.

After a series of indifferent albums, the band released L.A. (Light Album) earlier this year. It proved beyond question that the Beach Boys were still getting around, still capable of a little subtle soul seduction, still holding on to those honeydew harmonies with the less fattening centres that melt in your mouth, not in your hand.

The single ‘Lady Lynda’ promptly scored and ‘Sumahama’, although not exactly a surfin’ safari of a hit, is still there among the Jags and Tourists of this world.

So why the long gap before making music again?

‘Just things, y’know.’ He stretches again. ‘Like Carl put on a lot of weight and Dennis started drinking too much and Al had his ranch and horses and Brian went through a highly emotional state in both his mind and body and was smoking way too much. He’s a sensitive, brilliant musician and pressures can sometimes manifest themselves in bad ways in people like that. We were not as cohesive as we might have been for quite some time. But now we’re gonna run the group like a team again. We’ve been living apart for far too long.’

To get the band back on their feet, Mike has masterminded the ‘Total Fitness Programme’.

‘We just want to be healthier and fitter than we’ve ever been before. I think it’s the only way we can maintain a close relationship. There’s too much acid in the systems and not enough vitamins. Now we regularly go to a training camp in the mountains by the sea to work out.’ Jogging like bluebirds, no doubt.

Another project in the bag is a movie, California Beach, which I must admit sounds great. ‘It’s about four girls from various parts of the States who meet out here on the beach. There’s a Midwest farmer’s daughter, an East Coast girl, a southern girl and a northern girl.’

Sounds familiar. ‘It’s just a series of sociological vignettes played out here day after day against a backdrop of Beach Boys music. Kind of like an Endless Summer.’

To launch the movie, the band intends to hold the world’s biggest beach party next spring and they’ll also undertake a ‘California Beach’ tour. After each show there will be a party, organised by the Playboy Club and oozing with pretty girls. ‘Should keep the press interested,’ smiles Mike.

So, two shots in the arm. But what of the man himself? The cousin of the Wilson brothers from clean-cut LA., Mike has lived in Asoleado for the last eight years.

‘Oh, sure, I used to have a place in Beverly Hills and one in Malibu. But I got tired of all that. When I moved here I became involved in transcendental meditation and eventually became a teacher.’

Unlike so many other rock stars who prodded meditation with a superficial finger, Mike has remained loyal to his beliefs. To the extent, he assures me, of being able to levitate and disappear!

‘Too many people in this business dwell on the insubstantial aspects of life − having the right car, going to the right parties, wearing the right clothes. I’ve just been concerned with my life, with its depth and dimension, more than my career in show business.’

Mike has his own meditation room in the building complex at Santa Barbara, which also houses his publishing company, Love Songs, and the people in his employ. ‘It’s very difficult to go on tour when you live here. When you look down at the sea through stained-glass windows, when the sunlight breaks through, it’s so tranquil yet so energising. Who needs a hotel room?’

But Mike won’t be living in his paradise home for much longer. Asoleado will shortly be transformed into the Love Foundation Holistic Health Centre. ‘It’s costing a million dollars to turn this place into a centre where people can come to get healthy. To diet, exercise, even be examined by a resident MD. A lot of people get interested in health and longevity when they reach a certain age.’

Wonder what age that might be. Not thirty-eight, perchance?

Mike has just bought a two-million-dollar mansion set in twenty acres at Lake Tahoe. He’ll be moving in with his four daughters and one son from three previous marriages, and his Japanese girlfriend, ex-air hostess Sumako. One of his ex-wives lives in a chalet at Asoleado. ‘I’m not gonna get married again for at least two years simply because I’ve got so much to do in terms of my career − the movie, the records, my philanthropic endeavours.’

I wonder what his favourite periods in Beach Boys history were.

‘Mm. The nostalgic ones, like all of a sudden being able to take a plane to Hawaii for a few days and not having to worry about the money. But the current period is the most pleasant of all because we’re more aware of what we’re doing. After all these years my plans and dreams are finally coming true.

‘There was that bad patch when we decided to rest up awhile but we got back together again through a certain amount of pride and ego and strength and stubbornness, which are part of the characters of all of us and which have enabled us to steer a course through the shaky times and come out on top.’

God only knows what I feel about that.

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


Monday, 24 November 2014

Matinee Idol
An Englishman In New York Part 2

 pic: Kevin Mazur

Watching Sting play live on that vast ship in Brooklyn harbour I get to thinking, who are these people?

People able to harness the dream gene that bucks like a rodeo stallion under all of us until we break our backs from one throw too many and can’t get back in the saddle anymore.

People who never get thrown, who keep riding baby, baby please…

People like the man singing just a few feet away from me. Sting tamed his bucking bronco over thirty-five years ago and rode off into the wild blue yonder in search of sunshine and flowers and great ivory towers where all dreams begin and end.

His days of Tyne and roses are the subject of The Last Ship, the ex-Policeman’s brand new Broadway musical for which he wrote all the music.

Initially, he didn’t appear in the show – it was left to his old mucker Jimmy Nail to keep the Geordie flag flying in the acting department. But the show opened to mixed reviews, although the music was universally praised, and in an effort to boost flagging ticket sales, Jimmy is bidding auf wiedersehen pet to make way for Sting who replaces him on 9 December for a month. Luckily, Sting is one of that rare breed, a pop star who can actually act. Whether he can turn around the show’s fortunes remains to be seen.

The Last Ship was also the title of Sting’s 2013 album, his first record in a decade to feature new songs because of a crippling writer’s block. He eventually found inspiration in his north-east roots and the lives of the people who worked in the shipyards that dominated Tyneside.

This matinee performance showcasing songs from the album/musical coincided with the tenth anniversary of one of the loveliest, juiciest cruise ships on the planet, the Queen Mary 2. It was a match made in heaven.

The ship would depart from Brooklyn that afternoon for a transatlantic cruise to Southampton, unfortunately not with me on board. I’m flying back.

I sit front row centre in the magnificent Royal Court Theatre in between two gorgeous girls, one from the Mail On Sunday and one from the Cunard press office. I’m smiling. Who wouldn’t?

Plumes of dry ice cover the stage and drift out into the tiny audience.

I’m in the zone.

And then Sting walks on – y’know, one of those people, rodeo champ written through him like a stick of Whitley Bay rock – and he sits on a stool in front of a four-piece band and a female backing singer. He’s wearing a red bandanna around his neck that makes him look like a lithe farmer. But he’s still looking good. Damn good

He picks up his guitar and starts to sing:

'I don’t drink coffee I drink tea my dear…’

I almost scream like a teenage girl. And I ain’t even a fucking fan!


pic: James Morgan 

This Englishman in New York can still wrap an audience around his finger. He wears it well, does Sting. And the band are what we ol’ musos call Kellogg's Bran Flakes – tasty, very, very tasty.

The rest of the forty minute set consists of songs from The Last Ship; sombre, sentimental slivers of memories brought to life by bittersweet melodies. From the painful poetry of August Winds to the grit of Dead Man’s Boots and The Last Ship – the latter sung in a heavy Geordie accent – this was Sting at his finest for, ooh, at least ten years. And beyond…

The Last Ship is Sting in the raw. This is his life and, using his song-writing skills, he's damn well going to tell you about it. A bit like Lennon’s first album with less balls, more fiction and oodles of Broadway adaptability. He’s 63 now and the world’s getting a little darker. Maybe he’s shining a light on his childhood to try and make some sense of his fantasy, buck-free adulthood.

His voice is untouched by time as is his arrogance, the gene genie of any self-respecting megastar. But it’s a cool, unassuming arrogance full of wit and earnestness, a pre-requisite for great song-writing, indeed, any kind of great writing. Because it’s not really arrogance – it’s belief.

The first time I interviewed Sting, again on the phone, Regatta de Blanc had just been released. He was full of it, still bucking back then and holding on tight. But he knew how to milk the press, say the right things, grab the headlines. It was calculated and lovable and dynamite with a laser beam.

Like – ‘I get a lot of women chasing after me. But that doesn’t make me any vainer because, as far as vanity goes, I’ve already reached saturation point. I am completely arrogant.’

Like – ‘I don’t want to get into a situation where nobody takes you seriously because you’re too good-looking.’

Like – ‘We brought reggae to America in the same way that the Stones brought them rhythm and blues. We don’t think we’ve ripped anybody off, we’ve just helped to make it more commercial.’

And there’s not a trace of that shredded white reggae in the whole set. The band walk off to a standing ovation. The audience has been swelled by Filipino cabin stewards, Indian chefs, Lithuanian waiters and Brazilian bar staff. They all demand more.

I wonder if he’ll do an encore. I don’t expect one of course. But imagine if he did. Just imagine if he played that song I first heard with Dina all those years ago. That slice of pop perfection. Wow! Now that would be a memory I could take to my grave before becoming a ghost in the machine.


pic: Kevin Mazur

Sure enough:

‘Every breath you take
Every move you make'

The magic in the matinee has gone up ten notches. I never thought I’d ever see that song performed live, and within touching distance. I almost scream again. This version is a lot more soulful (euphemism for older?) and I devour every note, every breath. It can’t get any better than this.

And it doesn’t. The second encore is, yikes, Message In A Bottle, Police’s first No. 1 single back in 1979 and the opening track on that self-same Regatta de Blanc album. What goes around comes around, in this case the dreaded shredded beat.

But music disinters memories. The song managed to set me adrift on a memory bliss and I remembered a Japanese girl with a cough and a lump in her breast. Yeah, odd. But then again, 1979 was an odd year, especially if you hung out with The Stranglers.

I guess ‘Bottle’ is a classic. But give me The Last Ship anytime…

After each song he spoke of his life. His words were revealing and fascinating and funny and sad and I only wish you could’ve been there.

Well, surprise, surprise, have I got a treat for you.

Here are those very same words, courtesy of Pitman’s Shorthand College. But with a twist.

Sting did a Welcome To The Working Week for Flexipop! but never a Testament Of Youth. I’ve cobbled together the tales he told in the spaces in between.

So, without further ado, welcome to…


The street where Sting grew up. Pic: Pete Loud

I was born and raised in the shadow of a shipyard in a little town called Wallsend on Tyneside. Some of my earliest memories are of giant ships blocking out the end of my street and, indeed, blocking out the sun for much of the year. Every morning I’d watch thousands of men walk down the hill to the yards and watch them walk back home every night.

My grandfather worked in the shipyards – there wasn’t much else in the way of work so I thought, with some trepidation, that I might end up in the shipyard although I had every intention not to. The shipyards were dangerous and noisy and highly toxic and had one of the worst health and safety records in Western Europe at the time.

There was a saying in our town – Dead Man’s Boots. It meant you could only get a decent job if someone died.

In my little town you never saw a celebrity except on launch days when a member of the Royal family would be invited. It wasn’t that long ago in England when members of the Royal family were considered to have magical healing powers. Sick children were held up in crowds to try and touch the garment of the King or the Queen to cure them.

One launch day I was standing in the front of my house holding my Union Jack waiting for the Queen to come and launch a ship. I must’ve been ten years-old. A motorcade appeared at the top of a hill and in the middle was a big, black Rolls Royce moving in a stately pace

As the car passes my front door there’s the Queen and she smiles,
at me. And I wave my flag and she waves back and she keeps her eyes on me. We’re having a moment. The Queen of England has somehow recognised me.

I wasn’t cured of anything, just the opposite. I was infected with an idea that I didn’t really belong in this street, I didn’t want to live in that house, I didn’t want to end up in that shipyard. I wanted to be in that car. I wanted to be something in that big wide world.

I had a difficult relationship with my dad. He’d been an engineer and he wanted me to do a technical job, to do something he understood, but I had some vague idea that I wanted to study the classics – Latin and Greek and history – and he thought that was all completely useless, and he may be right. ? He wanted me to get a decent job. A father’s love can be misconstrued as control and the dreams of his son can seem like some pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

When an uncle of mine emigrated to Canada he couldn’t take his guitar with him so he gave it to me. It was a five string, rusty, battered old thing. But I learnt how to play it and it became a friend for life, a co-accomplice in my plot to escape from this surreal industrial landscape I’d been brought up in.

I left home when I was 15 and never went back. Strangely, I ended up on a cruise ship singing with the resident band. The ship’s purser fired me because my voice was apparently upsetting the lady passengers.

Make of that what you will.

I had a dream that I’d be a writer of songs, that I’d sing those songs all over the world, that I’d be paid extravagant amounts of money, that I’d become famous, that I’d marry a beautiful woman, that I’d have children and a big house in the country and grow wine and keep dogs.

Well, so far so good. I did achieve my dream. I was very fortunate.

In the last eight years I’d been thinking about that community I was brought up in and feeling the debt to them that I owe – the need to honour the people I lived with and the ships they built. They were enormously proud of those ships and with good reason.

Some of the largest ships ever built on planet earth were built at the end of my street. Famous Cunard ships like the Mauretania that held the blue ribbon for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, and the Carpathia, the first ship to be on the scene of the Titanic to pick up the survivors.

The Titanic, I hasten to add, was built in Belfast and, as they say there, ‘she was fine when she left the yard.’

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



Tuesday, 11 November 2014

October 2014

An Englishman in New York Part 1

Sting was always the epitome of cool.

He was never a punk and The Police were never a punk band, although they dabbled with it at the start of their career. They never embraced that punk ethos like that other trippy trio The Jam, and those Woking class wonderboys weren't punks either.

I wonder if Paul Weller would play the Royal Court Theatre on board the Queen Mary 2 after bringing out a Broadway show. I suspect that's not his style.

But it sure suits Sting.

When it came to threesomes I was always a Jam man. Make of that sentence what you will. Shredded white reggae didn't do it for me.

The only time I saw The Police play was at the Mont de Marsan Punk Festival in August 1977 when they hadn't quite perfected that shredded white reggae sound and were belting out two minute songs, albeit with a little more finesse and a little more professionalism than say The Clash or The Damned who played at the same festival. Incidentally, The Jam were to also set appear but there was an argument over billing so they refused to go on at the last minute. The headline act were Dr Feelgood who backstage consumed coke by hall mirror lengths.

I journeyed down to the festival on a coach from London to a bullring near the Spanish border with an overnight stay in Paris. On board were assorted journalists and musicians including The Police. I’d never heard of the band and don’t recall speaking to them. But then, I don’t recall much of that speed-fuelled coach trip.

The band’s slickness didn’t sit well in that hardcore punk arena. They were destined for greater things and I guess they probably knew it. With those looks and that voice, Sting was never gonna give you up.
The band soldiered on in relative obscurity for 18 months until ‘Roxanne’ was reissued in April 1979 after flopping on its initial release the previous year.

And the boy could act too. As The Face in Quadrophenia - that also appeared in 1979 - Sting was electrifying and predictably he was dubbed The Face of Pop. The greater things had arrived. I still had no affection for their music, despite the worldwide adulation. They were far too clean for me, no dirt under those manicured nails.

I interviewed Sting twice, both over the phone. The second interview was for Flexipop! when he was the subject of Welcome To The Working Week in the spring of ’81. He was insanely intelligent and sharp and witty and refreshingly open.


I’ve only been stopped in my tracks twice during a one on one interview.

The first was slapstick.

At the start of an interview with an oddball Australian singer called Duffo in 1979, he offered me a cigarette from a legitimate packet. A few minutes into the interview the cigarette exploded in my face. I almost pooed my pants. Jesus, wouldn’t you? But then I creased up laughing. It really was hilarious.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, gingerly. ‘Only I do that with all the journalists who don’t know me and some don’t take it so well. They don’t get it.’

I got it and I loved it and the interview was really entertaining. It also made for a cracking angle. Knew his shit, did Duffo. To nearly poo your pants before you laugh – the essence of punk.

Sting knew his shit, too.

The second tracks-stopper occurred during that Working Week phone interview. On the Wednesday night of that week, Sting said he went to Dingwall’s to check out Jools Holland and his new band, The Millionaires. It just so happened my wife of less than one year went to Dingwall’s that very same evening with some friends – a rarity in itself.

I couldn’t help but interrupt him in full flow and enlighten him on this coincidence.

‘Yeah,’ he said, casually, ‘she was a great fuck.’

I almost pooed my pants. Jesus, wouldn’t you? But then I creased up laughing. He didn’t need to ask if I was okay. He knew. This was a man after my own heart. A Geordie with a Cockney sense of humour pulling my plonker. Unless of course he wasn’t. I wondered why she had that smile on her face when she came home that night…

The unexpected is the lifeblood of great humour, and the edgier the better. This was right up my street in my kind of town. We talked for nearly two hours and it was peachy.

I grew very fond of Sting after that, although I never met him, or indeed, spoke to him again – it’s hard to catch a star let alone put one in your pocket. I still didn’t like his music that by this time had become shredded bleached-blond reggae.

There are very few songs that hit you so hard the first time you hear them that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing, in a JFK/Elvis/John Lennon kinda way. As a kid I actually cried at the sheer beauty of ‘I Get Around’ fading in and out with the waves on Radio Luxemburg’s Sunday night Top 20 countdown (where everything faded in and out with the waves) as I strained to listen to my transistor under the blanket on my bed when I was supposed to be sleeping...

‘Hey Jude’ on the David Frost TV show; ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the car radio driving through cold country lanes in Gloucester; ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ on Top Of The Pops; ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ driving home on a wet Autumn night and pulling over because all I wanted to concentrate on was that song.

It was May 1983, the day before I celebrated my third wedding anniversary. I was living in a council flat with my wife, Dina, in Camden Town. The sun was shining, the world was fresh and the juices ran down my legs. These were the good days, not just of wine and roses but love and romance and kissing to be clever. It was Saturday morning. I sat in the living room while Dina was in the tiny kitchen making Greek coffee.

There was a batch of pre-release review copy singles in a bag by the side of the sofa. I’d brought them home from Flexipop! and thought I’d give a few a twirl on my Toshiba music centre turntable.

I took the first one out of the bag – shit, The Police. I remembered Dina, no real fan of music, once saying that she quite liked ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ (hmmnn…) so I thought I’d give her a little treat while she made mine

The opening chords drifted out of those speakers like audible marijuana and, for a few precious moments, I became the music, circling those sweet vocals before soaring with them. Nothing else mattered. I was back in ‘I Get Around’ land and that same tear was about to fall.

‘What was that called?’ said Dina as she brought the coffee into the room.

‘Every Breath You Take.’ I said, breathlessly.

‘It was lovely, but a bit creepy,’

Creepy? What did she mean, creepy? This was surely the most romantic song every written – ‘God Only Knows’ for a new generation.

‘How he’ll be watching every move she makes, every day. Sounds like a potential murderer.’

What was she talking about? This was a man in love, like me, revealing his devotion, his desire.

I played it again.

These were the words of a stalker. A man so overcome with jealousy and hate that he wanted to ruin someone’s life by spying on her every single day because, unsurprisingly, she doesn’t love him anymore. He’s cold and angry and one step away from sticking a knife in her back. This was one deranged fucker.

It was an utterly brilliant combination; discordant, dangerous thoughts hidden in the folds of such a divinely simple riff. I loved the song even more and I’ve loved it ever since. This blissful bolt from the blue was the perfect pop record - perversion drenched in beauty. Another Sting tale of the unexpected, played at weddings across the world. The essence of punk.

And here I am, over thirty years later, on board the world’s most iconic cruise ship in Brooklyn port watching that still handsome Face from a few feet away sing his masterpiece like an evil angel. Or is it legal alien?

It’s the first encore to a private show for 50 people that featured songs from his musical ‘The Last Ship’ which opened on Broadway a few days before.

In front of a cool four-piece band and even cooler girl singer, Sting steered us through his own Testament Of Youth…

Next: Sting’s live ‘Testament Of Youth’

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives





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