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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

http://www.amazon.com/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.’

‘Oh.’

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.

Yes.

‘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.’

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

‘That’s a result,’ says Laurence.

Yes.

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.

Yes.

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

http://www.amazon.com/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…



STING’S TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (the FLEXIPOP! mix)

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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY


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
metrio.


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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY


 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

December 1979


Jewel in the bile






‘I see myself as a member of the building trade – a rock ’n’ roll brickie. It all depends on just how good a brickie you want to be …’

Ian Dury, man of Hod, has invited me round to his recently acquired West End flat – ‘I’ve only got a year lease. Haven’t got a fucking clue where I’ll be after that.’

When you’re writing the interview for Record Mirror, the Daily Record and the Evening News, you get bounced up to club class − invites to the homes. I’ve interviewed Ian once before -- we went ice skating together at Queensway, believe it or not. He’d just released New Boots and Panties, the outlet for a townful of emotion that swirled and bubbled in Dury’s jewel box.

It created a unique market. Seldom out of the charts, the album has clocked up sales approaching half a million.

The follow-up, Do It Yourself, was a disappointment. A bit self-indulgent maybe? Over-estimating the aural intelligence of the masses? Or just plain shit?

After chatting to Ian for an hour and a half, I’m still not sure what he thinks of the album.

‘I think we went a bit MOR simply because we tried to be so different from New Boots. But it has paved the way for a lot of new songs to be written. A lot more hard work will come as a result of it. Oh, well, you can’t disappoint everybody. The songs on Do It Yourself were more autobiographical, which may have been a mistake. Now that sounds as if I hate the album and it’s not true.’

Why was the album more autobiographical?

‘In a personal way I wasn’t really happy last year. Everything that happened really messed up my normal life. I felt alone a lot of the time. I didn’t go out; I didn’t meet many new people. I guess it was obvious, in the light of that, how my songs would turn out.’

Are you a satirical songwriter?

‘What’s that saying . . . ‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit’? No. Satire is the last outpost of the bankrupt middle-class public-schoolboy wanker. There’s nothing very important about the entertainment industry. People worry too much about industrials. If it’s entertaining and people want to see it there doesn’t have to be any more reason.’

But it’s true he’s regarded as something of a hero by many. ‘And I’m amazed by it. To think me, just another normal crotchety old bastard, could be thought of as some kind of bod to a lot of people. I mean, for a start, I’m not all that reliable a person. I don’t go waving magic wands at people in real life.

‘A bishop once told Mick Jagger he had a lot of respect. Jagger replied: "There is no respect attached to what I am." When I realised he really meant that I stopped loving him. The only real respect is a personal one. If someone wants to be decadent in private it’s their responsibility not to make a fuss about it. It’s not that wonderful a thing. In fact it’s very sad – the last outpost of someone who can’t relate to normality. I have a responsibility to keep myself together.


'Ten years ago I could like myself quite easily. Now I have to work hard at it. But I still have that self-respect. If I lost that, I’d give up. Van Morrison used to get a lot of letters from people who said his songs prevented them from jumping off bridges. After he read them he’d say, "Christ, that’s another one I’ve stopped." I hope my songs don’t stop people jumping off bridges.’

He’s got a smile as blue as his baggy shirt. I’ve had my doubts about Dury in the past. It was that art-school/fart-school antecedence, that down-among-the-plebs pageantry. After our last interview I had a cast-iron respect, which has since rusted. But the longer he talks, the more I begin to realise he’s still out there on that ledge with the rest of us, scheming and dreaming. Scheming and dreaming … and screaming …

But self-respect isn’t the only kind, is it, Ian?

‘I do respect the guys I work with, enough to want to work with them. I don’t think they think I’m the best singer in the world. But I do object to being called, as I once was, the "Roy Hudd of rock". I mean, fuck me.’

Ian, do you think you’re ugly?

‘Nah, I’m just around the corner and three doors down from handsome, that’s all. I still get my fair share of fan mail. A lot of the young ladies don’t seem to mind that much. In fact, some people seem to find me attractive. I have fourteen-year-old girls writing to me asking for a photograph. And I remember the last time I played at Hammersmith, ten girls leaped on the stage to get hold of me. ‘Oh yeah,’ he adds, tongue in cheekily, ‘I get the screamers alright. Gary Glitter watch out.’







But he also takes great pains to point out that he doesn’t want to simply attract the ‘TTDC – that’s Teen and Twenty Disco Club. It’s like I’d rather do an interview with the Daily Mirror than the Observer. I want to reach as many kinds of people as possible. I’d be very happy if the audience was full of old age pensioners and little kids.

‘You can’t attach much importance to what I do – although at the same time I hope I believe in what I do. I’m thirty-seven now. On my thirty-fifth birthday the telephone was cut off because I hadn’t paid my bill. I was skint. I was very worried about that telephone bill. Very worried. I don’t have to worry about the telephone bill any more. They used to say something about Keith Moon which I thought was a magnificent concept. They reckoned that if he’d left The Who at any time he would have been broke in six months. That’s a great thing to remember.

‘I’ve been in a closeted atmosphere for quite some time. Mind you, I never was one for showing my face. Don’t like the scuffling it involves. I’m just not interested in that nonsense. I don’t find it very interesting in the way that, say, Bob Geldof or Billy Idol seem to. Oh, I didn’t have time to experience an identity crisis or anything like that. I was too bloody busy. Still am. I die when I’m alone …

‘Still, I’ve been lucky. None of us are in debt. We’ve managed to stay alive by selling records. It’s all quite healthy. But I think the rest of the guys still worry about their telephone bills.’

He looks a little tired. Does he get depressed?

‘I usually get moody when I’m exhausted but generally I don’t think there’s any point in taking things seriously. If we make mistakes on stage we just laugh. We know we’ve done our best and there’s absolutely no need to get uptight about it. The only people who know when you’ve played a bum note are musicians and they didn’t pay to get in anyway. So it doesn’t matter.

‘It’s important to have normal feelings. I try hard to keep myself together in that way. I’d hate to end up like, say, Bob Dylan, living in that vast West Coast mansion. One day Dylan was walking down a narrow corridor with a huge bodyguard. This little guy came rushing towards them and bumped into Dylan. The bodyguard got hold of him

and said, "Hey, do you know who you’ve just knocked into? That’s Bob Dylan." And the little guy replied, "I don’t care if it’s fucking Bob Donovan! Get outta my way!"

‘Once I was walking down to a tube train when a mass of people suddenly swept me off my feet, and they didn’t touch the ground till I reached the platform. The train was already there and in the rush I fell over. Someone saw me and helped me onto my feet, which saved me from a right good stamping. It’s nice to have someone around to pick you up when you fall down. I get up quicker that way.’

Like all good circles the subject reverts back to respect. ‘I just don’t know why it should be that people respect me. After all, I’m only a bit of a spiv, a bit of a clown, a bit of a brat. It’s always easy for an oddball to be accepted.’

(The Blockheads broke up, re-formed, broke up, re-formed and gave their final performance at the London Palladium on 6 February 2000, supported by Kirsty MacColl. Ian died of cancer a few weeks later, aged fifty-seven. In my humble opinion, New Boots and Panties featured the finest lyrics ever written by a British artist)



Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY
 

Friday, 3 October 2014

September 1979

New balls, please



Photo copyright Neil Matthews


Queen are among that elite number of bands universally despised by the rock press. And the feeling is, make no mistake, mutual. When you’ve been on the receiving end of a stream of vitriol at the outset of your career and watched it being carefully cultivated over the next six years, you’re bound to retaliate.

Queen’s hatred manifests itself in their continued habit of ignoring the music press. There’s the occasional token chat, as pointless as it is innocuous, but in the main it amounts to a blanket, ‘No.’

One of the last interviews Freddie Mercury gave was the final nail in the Perspex coffin. Under a headline that boldly asked, ‘Is This Man A Prat?’ the king of the leotards was demolished by one of the old school Queen-haters and Freddie obviously came to the conclusion that interviews in future would be superfluous because he was popular enough already. It just wasn’t worth the hurt.

The curtain, velvet naturally, closed.

So I’m intrigued.

I drive down to Roger Taylor’s very big house in the country for a chat about Freddie Mercury’s balls. In fact, his home is so large that when I go to the toilet halfway through the interview, I get lost. As I search around for the door to the lounge from which I emerged seemingly hours before, I walk past open French windows in an endless hallway and glimpse two people playing tennis in one of the courts outside − Freddie Mercury and Brian May. Freddie waves and I wave back, and that’s the closest I ever get to the guy. They may have released more than their fair share of duffers, but Queen cream is creamier than anyone else’s. It’s an honour to get a royal wave from the greatest showman of them all.

But when Roger saw Freddie pirouette across the stage with the Royal Ballet in a skin-tight leotard and looking for all the world like the Fonteyn of youth, he had to admit Freddie had a lot of balls.

‘I was more nervous than he was,’ says Roger, who’s not the biggest ballet fan in the world. ‘I mean, I wouldn’t do it. That’s just not me. But I’d like to see anyone else have the courage to do that − and carry it off as well as he did. He had a lot of bottle to go on that stage. He loves all that stuff.’

And as Freddie delighted the dickie-bow dahlings with his well-developed pas de deux and distributed his obvious terpsichorean talents liberally around the theatre, young Roger lent a hypercritical ear to the music − orchestral versions of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.

He wasn’t impressed. ‘It was awful. Badly played, under-rehearsed, they couldn’t even keep time. These guys seem to be ruled by opinions, not by music. A lot of people are conned by these classical musicians who bandy the word "culture" about so frequently. They hide behind it. Rock ’n’ roll isn’t culture − it’s vulgar, thank goodness.’

Still, you could hardly accuse Freddie of being ‘vulgar’, more Olga as in Korbut, such is his gymnastic dexterity when he leads Queen across the quiescent wastes of pomp (as in -adour) rock.







‘Freddie is only being himself. He doesn’t care − and it’s the only way to be. Some people think that’s great − others simply hate it.’

Roger, a little wary, a little weary, sits stiffly in an armchair. He seems to be the only member of Queen left who is prepared, albeit rarely, to open his mouth in the presence of a hack. ‘We all sat around a table to discuss the press situation and we agreed I should be the one to represent the band. Freddie is very uncompromising and refuses to have much to do with journalists.’

Roger, too, has a very low opinion of the music press. ‘Most of it is rubbish,’ he says. ‘There was something I liked recently, a piece on Malcolm McLaren.’ (Hope it was mine.) ‘I think I’m the only member of Queen to actually read the music papers.’

Why does he think the band are slagged?

‘Queen have always come across as being a rather confident band and I think the press may have mistaken confidence for arrogance. Hence they became very wary of our motives, which in turn has bred a dislike for our music.’

At the risk of being sent to Coventry by my colleagues, I’d like, if I may, to come clean. I love Queen. My love affair began with a simple, pre-packed but indispensable line – ‘Dynamite with a laser beam’ -- and has continued mainly uninterrupted right through to Live Killers.

Why?

Freddie Mercury’s lascivious lisp – the most attractive intonation known to man; Brian May’s reel-’em-off rococo riffs that would, in his capable hands, transform the music for Corrie into a masterwork; John Deacon’s stoic stance; Roger Taylor’s intense power, so unexpected from one so slight; the band’s ability to go over the top without falling into the trap of caricature; a desire to give the punters what they want; their cast-iron confidence; those nine glorious winter weeks of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which kept the cold away from my door.

The monkey on Queen’s back, as corpulent and cantankerous as ever, has been put there by those who firmly believe they can never emulate past achievements.

‘That all began after "Bohemian Rhapsody",’ says Roger. ‘When it stayed at number one all those weeks, we were told that we would never be able to make another single to rival it both artistically and from the point of view of sales.’

Yet ‘We Are The Champions’ sold a great many more. Why did they decide to dispense with the services of a manager?

‘Because we were fed up with giving other people money. I mean, everything seems so great when you get into the charts for the first time. You’re living on cloud nine and nothing else matters. But in truth that hit means absolutely nothing. Oh, you think you’re really living . . . for a while. Somebody gets you a flat in Chelsea and it’s all free. But one day the rent stops being paid for you and you realise you’re skint.’

My attention is suddenly diverted.

‘Forty--love.’

Wimbledon, the Persil white opiate for the suburban strawberry munchers, wrings out its perspiring petticoats on the huge back-projection TV in the next room. Roger’s girlfriend, an extremely attractive French girl called Dominique, is engrossed. The couple have lived together for two years. Crippled old marriage questions permeate the air.

‘I don’t believe in marriage,’ says Roger. ‘It’s simply a contract and the fewer contracts I enter into the better.’

What’s it like having a bank account overflowing with money at the age of twenty-nine?

‘I’ve completely lost touch with how much things cost. When you find yourself living in hotels for so long you never really deal in money as such. Everything is available whenever you want it − but you never see the cash actually being handed over. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be penniless, which Queen were for years.’

Roger is a decent chap who knows how to schmooze. In fact, most of these guys are pretty decent chaps, whether they’re Bruce Springsteen or Joe Strummer, Lemmy or Johnny Rotten, Debbie Harry or Paul Weller. There’s a kind of streak of decency that links them all. They are artists, masters of their crafts, confident in their ability, devout in their belief. They know what they want and they know how to get it. They don’t want to destroy, they want to create. They are your friends. They help you glide through life.

A music journalist kinda destroys more than he creates because it’s a lot fucking easier to write. It’s one of life’s tragedies.





(Roger has released four solo albums – two since Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991. He also released three albums with his band the Cross between 1987 and 1993. He still played under the Queen name with guitarist Brian May and ex-Free singer Paul Rodgers, and they released the album Cosmos Rocks in 2008. Since 2011, May and Taylor have collaborated with vocalist Adam Lambert under the name of Queen + Adam Lambert. Later this year, Queen will release a new album, Queen Forever, featuring vocals from the late Freddie Mercury. The band had 18 No. 1 albums, 18 No. 1 singles, and 10 No. 1 DVDs. Estimates of their record sales generally range from 150 million to 300 million records, making them one of the world's best-selling music artists. They received the Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award from the British Phonographic Industry in 1990, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Roger has been married twice and has five children.)  

Next: Ian Dury




Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY
 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

December 1979

Goodfellas






On the day that Hugh Cornwell gets a two-month jail sentence for drug possession, Harry Casey of KC & The Sunshine Band tells me he collects parrots. ‘I have fifty in my bedroom at home. One, Sparky, can sing all my hits. The parrots are more intelligent than a lot of people I’ve met in the music business.’

I think it’s a travesty of justice − Hugh, not the parrots − and smacks of one of those make-an-example-of sentences, given purely for the sake of publicity, I used to see a lot as a court reporter.

Hugh had tiny amounts on him when randomly stopped in a car he wasn’t even driving, amounts for which anyone else would’ve been fined or even conditionally discharged. It’s anti-punk hogwash. Hugh doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. The Stranglers’ tough stance and despicable reputation is derived almost entirely from Jean-Jacques Burnel; Hugh is more big softie than arch villain but his fierce intelligence helps him adapt to any situation.

I feel so strongly that I write to him in prison and he writes back. His letter is long and intimate − unlike many of his interviews – and he mentions he’d like to talk to me about the whole experience in an extended interview when he gets out. Until then I think it’s time to renew my acquaintance with the Clash, who are growing bigger by the minute…

The James Cagney of punk, Joe Strummer – stone-faced, steel-capped, stacked high − sneers and stares, as usual. He’s holed up in the Clash house, a terraced tenement teardrop twenty-four hours from Tulse Hill. He sticks his gun out of the window. ‘Political power grows from the barrel of a gun,’ he screams. And smiles.

Next to him Mick Humphrey Bogart Jones is looking depressed. Maybe, he thinks, he wasn’t really cut out for this. Casablanca is a million miles away and Claude Rains supreme.

Paul Muni Simenon − or Skaface (don’t call me that) as the Streatham Locarno lotus-eaters dubbed him − sits patiently in a corner. He never did like Mondays anyway.

Edward G. Headon works flat out in the basement supplying the ammo. He smiles. Whatever else may happen, the humdrum will never snare him now.

Outside they put the batteries into the loudspeaker.

Next door Lester bangs on the wall. It’s raining. Naturally.

The guy holding the loudspeaker is wet through.

‘Come out with your hands up.’

‘Come in and get us, Topper -- sorry, copper,’ says Joe. ‘There’s no way we’re gonna appear on Top of the Pops alive. You won’t get us standing there like pricks propping up a load of old shit. How can we bash our guitars with passion when they ain’t even plugged in? How can we sing when the mike is phoney? The show’s like an anaemic rice pudding. Give me Tiswas any day.’

Mick turns to Joe. ‘But we do lose out by not playing on it. I can’t see us ever having a Top Ten single as a result.’

‘Mugs!’ The word leaps from the loudspeaker and reverberates around the street.

‘We’ll never change our attitude,’ screams Mick, changing his attitude. ‘We’ll never prostitute ourselves.’

‘You might as well go and give someone a blow-job for ten bob than appear on Top of the fucking Pops,’ yells Joe.

Lester bangs on the wall again. ‘Hey, you guys, will you shut your fucking noise?’

The loudspeaker guy decides to goad the band. Snipers are positioned on rooftops.

‘Your new album’s crap.’

‘The world is full of assholes,’ screams Joe. ‘No matter what you do or which way you turn, there’s always twenty people ready to slag you off − and they’re always the fucking loudest. Well, they can all go fuck themselves. Imagine if you saw your imitators getting hits and glory with their imitations? Wouldn’t you feel like leaving them to it and moving onto a new pasture? It makes me sick, watching all these blokes in zipped pants piss-arsing around.’

Mick lights a cigarette and talks through the smoke. ‘Maybe we should’ve brought the first album out again for these idiots, blue eyes.’


 


‘No,’ says Joe. ‘Maybe we should’ve brought out a hammer. A nice hammer. Those people who were expecting something heavy from London Calling probably think we sound like Frank Sinatra. But it’s a damned sight better than most of the other plastic shit like PIL or the Jam. I don’t get any kicks out of listening to that.’

‘Yeah, but that’s you,’ says Mick. ‘I don’t think these bands should be lumbered together just because they don’t move you emotionally.’

‘I’m not lumbering them together. They’re just examples. It’s their style of rock − bam bam bam.’

Joe aside: ‘I certainly feel better these days. I’m more in touch with reality, the reality of all this monkeying about. Before, we were losing a ton of money, packets of it. On our first tour everyone would just jump into the nearest hotel and smash it up then leave. It never occurred to me that they’d send the bills to just us ’cos everyone was smashing it up − all the support acts. No, we got all the bills for it. That brings you down.’

Mick aside: ‘I used to be optimistic. Not anymore. Maybe it’s because they wouldn’t give me a mortgage. I’m just a misery guts these days. I guess it happened ever since I started getting involved in the Clash.’

In the flashing blue moonlight, Loudspeaker Man calls: ‘You can’t stay in there for ever.’ There’s no reply from the house. ‘You’re just a bunch of publicity-seeking losers.’

‘The press love us,’ says Joe. ‘They’re orgasmic about the Clash. That’s because we’re not dummies. Like with Lester Bangs -- he ended up driving round in our van or six days. He must’ve revelled in it. But I thought all that stuff he wrote was rubbish. You must be able to say it better than that.’ Lester stops banging.

Family priest, Spencer Tracy, tells Loudspeaker Man he’s going in. He dances in and out of the puddles that lead like a daisy chain to the Clash house. The band watch him enter.

‘This is no place for you,’ says Joe, as Father Tracy walks in.

‘Bejasus, we all became too complacent too fast.’

‘I’ve never been complacent,’ says Joe. ‘I’d be scared if we had a mammoth hit. Is there anyone in the whole world who can write a good song after selling a million? You can’t say John Lennon. You can’t say Bob Dylan. The proof is, as soon as they make it they don’t seem to be able to write decent songs anymore.’

Father Tracy fondles his rosary. ‘But, boys, don’t you think you write better songs if you suffer?’

‘If you suffer and write bad songs you’re suffering even more,’ replies Mick, philosophically.

‘Yes, my sons,’ says Father Tracy. ‘But a lot of people have lost faith in you. The band are now doing everything they once vilified − like touring America.’

‘Look, Father, we’ve got to take care of business,’ says Joe. ‘Instead of sitting in this shithole not selling records, we might as well go to that bigger shithole over there and not sell any. We haven’t been to anywhere like Japan yet but we’re certainly gonna try to get there this year. I hear it’s a bit creepy over there.’

‘It’s only creepy,’ insists Paul, ‘because they’re all down there and we’re all up here.’

‘But what about the things you said? People believed in you,’ says Father Tracy.

‘That was business,’ says Joe. ‘I don’t care about business. I piss on it from a great height. I’m only interested in the music. If that’s going great that’s all that matters. It’s depressing when you lose a lot of dough or when something goes wrong. But it doesn’t really affect me as much as the music. If that’s cool it dictates all the rest. You’ve got to realise that I love music. I’m obsessed with it. Surely you don’t think I wander round worrying about the economy all the time. Look, if I had a weekend off I’d spend it twanging a guitar, not going to Karl Marx’s grave to make a brass rubbing.

‘People took us the wrong way. When I sang "Sten Guns In Knightsbridge", it was about them shooting us. But people started saying, "Yeah, the Clash have got the Sten guns." We haven’t got any Sten guns, the army have. I tried to make that point clear in interviews afterwards but it was no good. They still kept saying, "If you ever keep that promise to go to Knightsbridge with Sten guns we’ll be with you." And then everyone thought we used to wear army fatigues. They weren’t. They were Clash trousers.’

‘Yeah,’ says Paul. ‘We designed them with so many pockets so you could hide your dope easily. And they were better than the bondage trousers ’cos you could run in them and hop over walls. With bondage ones you kept tripping over the chains.’

‘But the songs on London Calling,’ says Father Tracy, ‘they’re not as emotive as before.’

‘We’re just expanding our subject matter,’ replies Joe. ‘We don’t want to repeat ourselves − that’s the most heinous crime you can commit. I mean, do we have to be like the Ramones and release seven albums of the same stuff? If people want that all the time they can get it from the Ruts or the UK Subs. There’s plenty of groups playing good head-banging music. London Calling is a musical shark attack. The saxes on it are great. It’s best not to tart the songs up too much. I mean, I wouldn’t put horns on everything. But one day I’d like to have a horn section on stage, not standing at one end all night just blowing but like when they have a funeral in New Orleans and walk in a long line. I’d like them always walking, maybe out into the audience.

‘I’m getting nervous now . . . Here’s looking at you, kid,’ he says to Father Tracy.

‘But I’m supposed to say that,’ says Mick.

‘Well, there’s no way you’re gonna get me to say "you dirty rat".’

‘You fucking dirty rat,’ says Mick.

 



Next: Queen

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY
 

Friday, 8 August 2014

June 1979

The Spoiler

Part Three


‘I wanted to make Sid a star.’

But you just said you prevented the Pistols from becoming such animals.

‘Ah, but that was before I realised people wanted a star. And the last star they wanted was Sid – that’s why I would have made him the biggest star of them all. He would have been number one now, had he lived. Let’s face it, he had one of the best rock ’n’ roll voices in years. He had the right attitude, plus the one basic self-destruct ingredient to make him the tops – he never, ever saw a red light. Only green. He would do anything, anywhere, anytime.

‘Do you know the song I was going to let him sing –"Mack The Knife"? See, all the songs have been written. It doesn’t matter anymore about writing. Just take the culture by its throat, like we did with "My Way". He could have competed with Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, all of them. I wanted to take him to Las Vegas, to let him perform in the nightclubs. But he missed the boat and so did I.

'I was very upset when he died. Sid was the one to be the star and he was the ideal person for me to abuse. I suppose I was partly responsible for his death. I wish I could’ve been there. He wouldn’t have died if I’d been around. The man had to go and that was what he was destined for.

‘He wanted to be accepted. He loved the razzmatazz of show business. That’s why Rotten hated him. The Pistols were the ultimate showbiz group. After Sid died I tried to promote him as being THE Sex Pistol.’

Wasn’t it a big mistake to head for the States with the band?

‘Of course. I was against it. I wanted them to go to Leningrad.’

East meets West with McLaren as mediator.

‘It’s a question of knowing what you’re doing. Sometimes you work on your gut reaction, sometimes your intellect. Most times I’m able to combine the two and that’s why I’m successful. I can make money,’ contradiction time, ‘but it never really bothers me. Oh, it does now because I don’t have very much. When you’re riding on the crest of a wave like I was you get to know when to seize the moment and take the initiative. Like making a record with a fifty-year-old ex-train robber.’

Are you immoral?

‘Johnny Rotten was a good Catholic boy who didn’t have the immorality that I possess. He had this silly idea about honour. Kids don’t want to be honourable. They want to be destructive and fabulously immoral and at the same time they want to be exploited or to exploit. If they don’t have the expertise for the latter they take the first choice. That’s why they get onto a stage. That’s a tremendous sexual release and an alleviation of all that they’ve lived through for the past sixteen years.

‘One of the Sex Pistols great contributions was getting rid of the music. Kids got more interested in reading about them going up the Amazon with a train robber than sitting in their bedrooms listening to bland old music. It added adventure to their lives. It stimulated them on their way to work.

‘Oh, how I hate all these abominable groups. How I hate all these silly little record labels like Rough Trade. How I hate Rock Against Racism. Who cares? It just makes people join silly little armies.

‘Do you know something? More hippies listen to punk now. They’re the ones who buy the records. The actual punks are still on the streets, the nearest thing to the Dickensian image of the urchin. You don’t see them in the shops buying Human League records – but you do see the hippies. It gets less exciting every day. It’s a good job the audience jump up on stage and try to strangle Jimmy Pursey. They should try and destroy such silly people.

‘I’m convinced the kids don’t want that. The record industry is dying, it’s not important any more. The 1980s will be the decade of the painter. There will be a big visual explosion – that’s why records are appearing in a variety of colours now. If a kid can pick up a guitar he can just as easily pick up a tin of paint.

‘Okay, I shot my bolt, but I’m proud of it. As far as I’m concerned there is a fantastic excitement in Europe, excluding England. All those kids on the streets in France, Spain and Italy want to share in that attitude – maybe I can find a niche. The kids are bored. They don’t care about these singers. They would enjoy going to a fashion show and seeing dancers with music providing just a background. They don’t care who’s up on that stage. Look at Ian Dury’s new album – punk à la Weather Report. It’s wallpaper music.

‘People in the record industry are useless. They’re only interested in pinewood furniture and getting Jimmy Pursey on the golf course. It’s all so cosily liberal. That’s why they hate me. I hit them where it hurts.’

So, what projects loom on the horizon? ‘I’m thinking of doing a TV film on the history of Oxford Street set around child thieves through the ages. They’re all in search of their mother and they find her in the end – a fabulous Faginesque character carrying twenty-five handbags. And I’d love to open a music-hall style club where the music itself would be demoted to the toilet. Kids can tune in to what they want down there while upstairs they’re busy telling each other jokes and performing in front of audiences made up of themselves.’

Malcolm McLaren, punk’s most famous iconoclast, has a recurring nightmare: ‘I keep seeing these huge Edwin Shirley trucks going up and down the M1. Up and down, up and down, up and down.

‘Who needs it...?’

Next: Queen

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

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

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY
 


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