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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

February 1979

Murder most foul

During the late night interview with UFO’s Phil Mogg, I discover I saw a friend of Phil’s being murdered in Manor House when I was fifteen . . .

 






My own personal song of death and kisses is ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ by Otis.

It’s the one I remember most from that hot summer Saturday night in 1968 when I was fifteen and women were goddesses. There was a schizophrenic club above the Manor House pub at the junction of Green Lanes and Seven Sisters Road. On Friday it was called the Bluesville and showcased some of the hottest blues-rock bands in town, like John Mayall, Chicken Shack and, best of all, Ten Years After. The punters were hippies and local dudes like me, who loved a fast guitar and a puckered lip. I always wore jeans and a T-shirt and succumbed to the slick chords and heavy-duty four-play.

On Saturday nights the Bluesville slapped on a suit and tie and became the Downbeat, a juicy soul-searcher packed out with skins in mohair and girls you could occasionally dance with when you got a little pissed and Brenton Wood was waiting for the sign. There were also a lot of black guys there who also occasionally hit the Royal dancehall in Tottenham on a Thursday like drugstore truck driving men and sometimes met the wound-up, woolly-bully white boys head on. Black guys never got drunk. They didn't need booze to fuel their domain. They took the women and song away from the wine – it was their secret. Oh, and the fact that most of them could dance the hind legs off Nureyev.

The Downbeat was a place for a fifteen-year-old boy to grow up, and that night I shot up like fucking Godzilla.

There were three of us. Terry was a sixteen-year-old printing apprentice. Being a printer – especially on Fleet Street – in 1968 was a licence to print money and some of them even found time to do the knowledge and become black-cab drivers. Ray was twenty, the son of the caretaker on our estate. He worked for Robert Dyas and was handy for getting the drinks in.

These were the light-and-bitter days at two bob a throw. I had an after-school job cleaning a nearby office block every night. I was flush. My semi-hippie Friday clobber was replaced by the bespoke blue mohair three piece my Dad had bought me. Terry wore a pale green mohair suit and Ray, not a fashion god by any stretch of the imagination, had the suit he wore to work.

After several pints we headed out on the highway to the dance-floor. It was the third time I’d been to the Downbeat on a Saturday night and I’d never danced with anyone. None of us had. We’d stand on the edge of the floor and look at the girls and dream.

But tonight I was determined to walk out of my dreams and into my heart and as ‘Hold On I’m Coming’ segued gently into Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ I took my chance.


I entered the void...

Oh, she may be weary...

Would you like to dance?

‘Okay.’

Them young girls do get wearied . . .

What’s your name?

‘Mary.’

Wearing the same shabby dress . . .

I’ve got an aunt called Mary.

‘What’s your name?’

Barry.

And when she gets wearied . . .

‘I’ve got a boyfriend called Barry.’

Oh.

‘Only joking. How old are you?’

Eighteen.


All you’ve got to do is try a little tenderness . . .

We suddenly kissed. It was my very first and when her tongue searched for mine I nearly fainted. That was the moment I realised I was tongue-tied: the membrane that attached my tongue to my mouth was at the front instead of the back and although I could welcome visitors I couldn’t make any house calls. I kept falling at the first, my bottom teeth.

I know she’s waiting, just anticipating . . .

In the end she gave up.

The thing that you’ll never, never, possess, no, no, no . . .

Three months later I had the unwanted flesh snipped during a five-day stay at the Royal Free Hospital. I assumed Mary was the only girl to have a slut tongue and I adored her for it. I thought of marriage and kids and a little house on the prairie before realising I was fifteen and in blue. I never saw her again.

As Terry, Ray and I walked out at closing time, down the long, wide flight of stairs that led from the club onto the Seven Sisters Road, I noticed that on either side of each step was a line of white dudes in suits – members of a notorious local mob – each one brandishing a
cutthroat razor, each one checking the punters, each one desirous of seeing twisted flesh and internal organs made external on these stairs with stares. I was shitting myself.

When I reached the bottom with my bollocks still intact, I asked a guy what was going on. He said it involved strangers and women. Don’t they all? Someone asked a girl he shouldn’t have to dance. When she refused he got stroppy. It was time to die.

‘Who’s the guy?’ I asked. ‘No fucking idea.’ He shrugged. ‘He’s with a couple of mates. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes for all the money in the world.’ I looked back up the stairs at the gamut of flashing blades and I knew what he meant. Suddenly, a guy came hurtling down the stairs and ran out of the door pursued by an army of razors. He managed to jump on the luckiest bus in the world as it sped past down the Seven Sisters Road into infinity. The number 38 saved his life that night.

The boys from the black stuff returned, disconsolately, to the club and waited like clay pigeon shooters for the next target. Sure enough, another guy − the one Phil Mogg knew − came bounding down the stairs. Alas, there was no bus, just a warm breeze and a heartful of soul.

He turned right. Wrong move. He turned right again into a quiet residential street. Really wrong move. About twenty or thirty guys were on his tail. Terry, Ray and I stayed outside the club. I was curious -- it was the latent journo in me. A few minutes later most of the guys strolled back to the club. They looked elated. Their work here was done.

The three of us decided to go and see what had happened. The guy was lying face-up in the gutter. A small crowd began to form and an ambulance pulled up. We stood just a few feet away and he didn’t look too bad. I said to Ray he’d had a result as two ambulance men lifted the guy onto a stretcher. Splashes from the impact of his brains spilling out of the back of his head and plopping onto the pavement danced on my blue mohair turn-ups, and Terry fainted. I’d never seen someone so dead. From that moment on, I knew it was unwise to argue with strange guys in sharp suits with lipstick on their collars, especially on a Saturday night. A few years later Diana Dors took over the club but I never went again.

Couldn’t get the splashes out.

Next: The Stranglers in Japan
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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com

www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February 1979

A place to run

 




As Billy Idol splits from Karen O’Connor, Des’s daughter − ‘I knew when it was Des on the phone,’ Billy tells me, ‘ ’cos he kept singing "1-2-3 O’Leary"’ – I spend a couple of nights on the road with heavy-metal gorillas UFO where I get to wonder, just how over-the-top is over-the-top?

A question that has vexed many a lonely soul.

Oh, sure, several people have sussed out the answer − Gandhi and Sid Vicious, to name but two. One doused himself with petrol and asked a passer-by for a light, the other pumped himself full of five-star smack when he only had a two-star engine and met his maker in a two-bit Greenwich Village laundro-flat.

It transpires that UFO have often pondered the very same question, searching for an answer as some men hunt for El Dorado. Then, out of the blue, they found it . . .

One night during a show, lead singer Phil Mogg was accidentally hit in the face by Pete Way’s bass. The gash required ten stitches and left an ugly scab. A week later Phil turned to Pete in the dressing room after a particularly forgettable gig and asked yet again . . .

‘Just how over-the-top is over-the-top?’

Pete didn’t bother to reply. He grabbed Phil’s head and ripped the stitches and scab off with his teeth, chewed them up and swallowed the lot.

‘That’s when I realised just how over-the-top is over-the-top,’ recalls Phil, as he drops his trousers backstage at Lancaster University in preparation for the gig.

UFO are the real deal.

Like some hideous hibernating creature, yer average heavy-metal merchant comes to life only when he’s touring and spends the rest of the year snoozing in a flash LA Brillo pad. UFO are no exception. Their tours are fantasies, peopled by soporific groupies with twin carb tits, sneaky dealers, indifferent writers, emaciated, hysterical fans in trench coats and flares, demons, gods, sleazebags, all caught in the split-second blindness of a flash gun.

They go to bed when it’s light and get up when it’s dark. They get drunk, stoned, exhausted, all in the name of a glorious guitar solo and wailing vocal.

‘There’s only one thing that comes first in this band,’ Phil tells me in his hotel room. ‘Either you enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t do it. Whatever comes after that is secondary.’

I first met Mr Mogg in his manager’s office just off Baker Street. I knew next to nothing about the band and only agreed to do the interview because
Record Mirror commissioned it. He
reminded me of a young Frank Marker in Public Eye, the suburban Phillip Marlowe with the hangdog look and the beat-up mac.

It’s when he said, ‘Bob Geldof is the modern day Eamonn Andrews,’ that I decided I liked him and that his band would be worth checking out. I wasn’t disappointed.

Theirs is a perceptive blend of pretentiousness and night-on-the-town fun. They scream songs of teenage dementia and the beer-and-bum-fluff audience lap it up. Mogg, the Tottenham toreador, looks suitably all-powerful, cultivating the character of tight-arse demagogue as he whips through the songs like a whirlpool, making me spin.

Meanwhile, Pete Way runs around the stage like he’s dying for a piss. Pete Pete Pete . . .

By contrast, lead guitarist Paul Chapman, who’s recently replaced misfit German Michael Schenker, is immobile. ‘It’s natural that a lot of people are going to compare me with Schenker,’ Chapman tells me after the show. ‘But I find it difficult to accept writers accusing me of dressing funny and not blending in with the rest of the band on stage. Before you can think about image you’ve got to think about more important things – like music.’

Chapman was a former member of UFO anyway. ‘The first time I was with them I wanted to go back to Wales and play with my friends.’ He formed a band called Lone Star and when they folded Chapman rejoined UFO on a Stateside tour after Schenker mysteriously vanished. ‘Three days after I got married I went on that tour. And I took my wife with me. Can you believe that? Taking your wife on the road with UFO for nearly three months!’

He wants the band to be associated with ‘strong songs’.

‘I tend to see music in songs rather than guitar solos. But it’s down to me to prove to people that there will be no difference in the style of UFO because I’ve joined.’

‘I’ve told him he’s got to wear a Nazi uniform and sing "Deutschland ├╝ber Alles" between songs,’ jokes Mogg.

All five members sit on Phil’s bed in his Preston hotel room two hours after the encore. UFO, unlike most of their contemporaries, like to hang around in their dressing room and meet the fans.

Paul Raymond − nope, not the stripper-dipper king − takes a back seat tonight and drummer Andy Parker looks tired. So it’s down to the Mogg/Way team of incessant lunacy to provide the action.

‘I used to be in the Enfield Harriers,’ says Pete, ‘and I was the third fastest athlete over my distance in the country.’

‘He keeps telling me that,’ says Phil, ‘yet when I challenged him to a race around a hotel in Cleveland I slaughtered him.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ says Pete.

‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. And I’ll prove it. Race you along the corridor.’

‘Nah, don’t be stupid,’ shrugs Pete, as he lights another fag.

‘C’mon. Or are you too chicken?’

‘No, I’m NOT!’ says Pete, looking and sounding like a little-boy-lost Terry Scott. He puts out his fag while Phil limbers up. The others watch incredulously as they stroll out of the door like pathetic gunfighters and mosey on down the hall.

It’s three a.m.

‘On your marks, get set -- ’ere, tell ’im to stop movin’. Cheat,’ says Pete.

‘No, I ain’t.’

‘You are too. A fucking cheat. Go!’

They tear down the corridor, crashing into each other as they burst through the doors that lead to the staircase. Phil wins.

‘You fucking cheat. You bastard,’ yells Pete, tears in his eyes.

‘No, I ain’t.’

‘Let’s do it again, then.’ The two wander back to their starting blocks. Go! Pete wins this time. Both are far too breathless to argue but Phil demands a recount. Pete collapses on the bed.

‘I used to box, bantamweight,’ says Phil, still trying to regain his breath. ‘I was doing quite well too, until I met our local milkman Reg Hicks in the ring. With one punch he gave me a nose from eye to eye.’

Phil, ebuillent, buoyant, Sterodent, is 26 and married with two kids. He seems to have a morbid fear of being left alone and begs for me to stay up talking long after the others have gone to bed. His words are as multifarious as the snowflakes strangling Preston tonight as he conjures up visions of insidious UFO exploits during their ten years together.

He loves spontaneity on stage. ‘It’s easy to become just another Vegas act acting out well rehearsed, clinical shows night after night.

‘Know something? I used to love B.B. King until I heard he did the same rap every night. That’s a big difference between English and American bands. The former ride with the moment, the latter have it all written out.’

He smiles his words, embellishing them with a pair of impish eyes. He tells me UFO have broken on 46 radio station in America, that he doesn’t particularly love the place but that living there means they can at least begin to understand it.


Last time I saw Phil Mogg he was singing in a hotel corridor in Preston at five in the morning, looking for company. I reckon Phil’s a boy who’s afraid of the dark. He also happens to be great fun, a natural showman, athlete and the leader of one terrific band.

Lights out . . .

(UFO released their twenty-first studio album, Seven Deadly, in 2012 to universal acclaim. Shit, over forty years of playing heavy metal. Wonder if Phil and Pete are still racing down hotel corridors?)

Next: Murder and mayhem in Manor House
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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com

www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives
 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

January 1979

Bob’s yer uncle




‘Hello, Bob.’


‘Hi, Baree. Welcome to my ’ome.’

Bob Marley leads the way into the heart of 56 Hope Road, Kingston, and my heart skips a beat, strolls, and skips another beat. Back in the UK we call that atrial fibrillation − here they call it reggae. I watch his dreadlocks wriggle like a nest of funky snakes as he bounces along the corridors beneath the minatory ceiling fans that spin the heavy air into gold through seven rooms of gloom. He points out a few interesting objects of memorabilia before taking us – that’s Alan Edwards, who’s organised the whole trip and spends much of his time on the phone to the UK running Modern Publicity, Sounds journo Hugh Fielder and the NME’s Chris Salewicz − into the Tuff Gong studios, which he founded in 1970.

He plays tracks from the yet to be released album Survival and I know this is a moment I’ll carry to the crematorium.

‘Fancee a kick around in da yard?’

And that’s how I get to play football with Bob Marley. Honest. You ask Joyce and Vicky. He’s a blinding passer of the ball but his dreadlocks smack you in the face when you try to tackle him, which I think is a little unfair so I give him a sly dig in the ribs next time I try to get the ball off him. He gives me a friendly kick as he leaves me standing, minus the ball, in a cloud of dust. Fucker, in a nice way.

As a parting shot he gives us all a chunk of Lamb’s Bread, the island’s most potent ganja and his personal favourite. Mr Marley is a true gentleman and a musician touched by God.

The next day the four of us are driven to Chris Blackwell’s house for tea. Chris isn’t around but we’re given a guided tour of his beautiful colonial property, high on a hill, before lighting up the Lamb’s Bread. I’ve never smoked such dope − three puffs and I’m paralysed. I can’t get out of this unfathomably deep armchair and when I eventually do, I struggle outside to look at the sunset. Shit, I’m smoking a joint given to me by Bob Marley while standing outside Chris Blackwell’s home watching the sun go down on Jamaica. What have I done to deserve this? Maybe I did my time during those three nightmare school years. Maybe in return I get a sweet life. Maybe, just maybe, this is payback time.

We leave the house and head for a Rasta party in downtown Kingston where the smoke is thick as smog, pierced only, like luminous moths, by the flash of a green, gold and red Rasta tam worn by a Tribesman with a point to prove and a joint to roll.

After a couple of days’ lounging round the hotel pool, Island tell Alan to fly us all to New York to interview Jacob Miller, stay a few days, then return home to London. But it’s snowing in New York with temperatures below freezing. Why do I want to go there? Besides, the average Record Mirror reader won’t have a clue who Jacob Miller is anyway.

So I decline and spend the next two days in Kingston before agreeing to meet up with the others at Kennedy Airport en route to Heathrow.

I persuade my unofficial guide, Maurice, to accompany me on a cab ride around Trenchtown although he assures me we won’t find a taxi driver willing to take us to a place where white light spells danger. Sure enough, the first six we hail refuse. Lucky seven, who obviously needs the money more than the other guys, agrees but insists he won’t be held responsible if anything happens.

Maurice is not happy. He’s only nineteen and drowning in roots. ‘You sure you wanna do this?’ he asks, as we climb into the back of the cab. Why not? I walked home through Brixton on a few Saturday nights and nothing ever happened. I’ve been to Harlem in diamonds and pearls and nothing ever happened. I’ve searched for a cab in The Bowery at four a.m. and nothing ever happened. I’ve tried to shit after four lines of speed and nothing ever happened. Trenchtown? Bring it on.

‘Why not?’

The hype had hoisted images of zinc huts and chicken wire into my willing brain. Instead there’s a proliferation of redevelopment. I expect murderous stares and get curious side glances.

‘So, what do you think of Trenchtown?’ asks the driver.

‘Yeah, it’s . . .’

‘Wind your window up quick and lock the doors.’

Four guys are standing in the road forcing the cab to stop. One of them comes over and stares straight at me and, yes, it’s a murderous one.

‘Hey, man, you wanna fight me?’ he screams. ‘Come on and fight me, man. Come on and fight me now.’

I start to wind the window down with a milky, shaking hand.

‘I wouldn’t do that, man,’ warns Maurice.

Shit -- I’m getting called ‘man’ a lot. I undo the window just enough to make my terror audible ‘Er, no thanks.’

He smiles and, without looking away, says, ‘Hey, guys, he don’t wanna fight. Maybe he’ll buy some ganja. You wanna buy some ganja, man?’

‘I’d buy the ganja if I were you, man,’ prompts Maurice.

‘Yeah, man.’ My words are stumbling out. ‘I’ll buy some ganja, man. How much, man?’

‘Easy, man. Easy.’ He produces the dope wrapped in a tissue. ‘Give me ten US dollars.’

I hand over the money, the four guys walk away laughing and the cab proceeds.

‘You’re a very lucky man, man,’ says the driver.

‘Yeah, man, yeah,’ concludes Maurice.

Oh, man!

The cab goes to Tuff Gong studios. Bob’s away but there’s six or seven guys kicking a ball around the yard. Maurice recounts the tale of Trenchtown and I produce the ten-dollar deal. One guy takes the dope and starts filleting it.

‘Too many seeds. See? Not good qualatee.’

He rolls a few joints and hands me back the remainder of the deal. For the next few minutes the group puffs in silence. Not good quality? A raging storm of paranoia buffets my brain and I convince myself that everyone around me is talking in code because I can’t understand a word. I feel terribly isolated. I’m a long way from home and everybody has got it in for me. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me. A toga-clad Kenneth Williams flits across the yard kicking a ball.

Shit, I’m fucked.

I decide to leave before I die and spend the next hour trying to lose them because I know I'm being followed by a bunch of buffalo soldiers with swords drawn in a bloodlust frenzy. I finally make it to the hotel in one piece and collapse on the bed. An hour later I wake up feeling good and craving food so I order a steak sandwich, fries and a beer from room service. I also feel mightily embarrassed. Shit, what must those guys back at the yard think of me, leaving like that? This Jamaican weed makes the dodgy London black smoke feelo like weak piss.

Thirty minutes later a knock on the door wakes me up again.

‘It’s room service with your order, Mr Cain.’ The guy looks about sixty. ‘Where shall I put it?’

‘The table will be fine.’

When I glance at the table to indicate, there’s my deal, spread out on the tissue for the whole world to see.

‘What have we here?’ he asks.

I start to wonder what Jamaican jails will be like.

‘Got any skins?’ he asks. ‘It’s quiet tonight.’

‘Er, no.’

‘No problem.’ He looks around the room and espies a brown paper bag containing an ornament I’d bought for my mum. ‘Can I use that?’

‘What -- the ornament?’

‘No, the bag.’

‘Er, sure.’

He then proceeds to perform the best room service I’ve ever had. Like an origami master he transforms the bag into a perfect − very large − joint, which he hands to me and which we polish off in no time.

Fifteen minutes later he’s dancing on my bed.

‘If you want I can get you a lot of this and you can take it back to London, no problem,’ he says, as we sit out on the balcony. It wasn’t that long ago I saw Midnight Express and a dancing bell hop who can roll joints like a magician could easily be a passport to violent beatings and rape behind Kingston bars of sodomy. So I graciously decline his very generous offer and fly home the next day, zonked but ganja-free and a little more appreciative of roots reggae.

Next: UFO in Lancaster
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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com

www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives
 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

January 1979

The Circle root









In Jamaica the cocks never crow before ten a.m.

The blistering sun devours haste and time is a thing of the past.

To the musicians who congregate outside Randy’s record shop in the heart of Kingston, the hour is of little consequence. It’s all just a matter of hanging out until the heat on the street becomes unbearable. Then they split for a spliff in the shadows and play a little reggae, Jamaica’s sweet soul music.

And I’m watching all this courtesy of Island Records, thanks to some well-placed punctuation and even better-placed publications. Maybe the Farringdon Agency is finally paying off. They want me to interview Inner Circle and I know fuck all about ‘proper’ reggae. Doesn’t mean to say I can’t write about it. Right?

Over the last ten years, reggae in its many guises − like ska and bluebeat − has become big business. The classier exponents have earned fortunes and Bob Marley, the richest of them all, has brought his island’s joy and tears to the masses. In the last year reggae has burned through the rainclouds to tan a whole new market in America and Europe.

‘I’ve been very disappointed at the indifferent reaction the music has had up until now, although it’s always been a major industry in Jamaica,’ says Chris Blackwell, who, as head of Island Records, is the man responsible for breaking Marley. ‘But this year I’m confident all that will change mainly because reggae is beginning to assimilate other kinds of music and consequently growing stronger.’

There are two radio stations on the island, more than a hundred record-shops and around twenty recording studios. There is precious little live music. If an artist wants to play, he gives an impromptu show almost anywhere and passes the word round his friends beforehand. The locals tend to rely on the numerous mobile deejays to catch up on the latest sounds. The deejays’ influence on the music scene is considerable – especially at a ‘rockers’ dance, although dance is altogether an inappropriate word since the thousand or so people who usually attend the functions are predominantly male and spend most of their time getting stoned.

Yeah! Tell it like it is. Reggae, reggae, reggae, here comes Johnny Reggae, lay it on me...

Okay, I admit I've always found roots reggae totally inaccessible.

It's a mystifying mixture of incomprehension and grotesque repetition enjoyed only by guys far across the sea or in Shepherds Bush basements, and vaguely condescending middle class honkies who like to ‘identify’ with the black man's plight and can't dance a step.

Now Desmond Dekker I could get off on. Never had the faintest idea what he was rabbiting on about but I felt flash swaying to it down the local Birds’ Nest.

And then I get offered this trip to Jamaica by Island Records to interview Inner Circle. At first it seems both exciting and alarming. I’d read about the poverty-stricken ghettos and drug-driven violence in Kingston, the murder capital of the world. But an island capable of producing sweet airs that have danced across oceans and grooved nations can’t be so bad. And there’s always a chance of drifting on a Jamaican breeze. Come on, man. It’s roots, and the Maytals.

So I go, and prepare to be shocked. And I am, but it’s not the shock I was expecting as I find myself being chauffeured up to a mansion in Beverly Hills. Can you get that? Lavish houses peppered over verdant hills on the outskirts of Kingston and home to Inner Circle.

Their mainman, Jacob Miller, who, someone whispers in my ear, is ‘legendary’, is holed up in New York. Apparently there’s some friction between him and the police regarding gorgeous ganja and he’s decided to prolong his stay. So we’re left with the mighty Lewis brothers − Roger and Ian.

I tell ya, if these two ever decide to visit Venice, all those charities to keep it above water might as well jack it in. The city would sink without trace. Roger weighs in at twenty-three stone and Ian ain’t far behind. By comparison, Meat Loaf looks like Twiggy after a six-month bout of anorexia.

Oh, yeah, and Toto the keyboardist is hanging around in this year’s fashionable Jamaican outfit − a football kit.

They give me a glass of iced coconut milk, an inch away from nectar, and we start talking. You never know what you’re gonna get when you sit down and interview someone you don’t know from Adam. So you indulge in chit-chat to suss them out and weigh up whether to use a lot of foreplay and beat about the bush or just go straight in because they’re moist and eager to please.

Now, as it turns out, the guys are friendly, happy to communicate their thoughts and downright hospitable. There’s only one snag − I can’t understand a fucking word. It’s a real heavy accent, almost indecipherable. Ian does all the talking initially, and it’s like trying to hold a conversation with a geezer operating a road drill. But the more he talks, the more I hear.

They’ve just released ‘Everything Is Great’ as a twelve-inch − and if you’re gonna try and kid me that’s roots you may as well add the Queen’s a smack freak.

Maybe I’m not comprehending the subtleties, but I can’t find a trace of reggae on this Earth, Wind & Fire visitation. It’s disco with guts and it’s as hot as Colman’s.

‘We want everyone to understand our music,’ Ian tells me, in a grim voice, as we step out onto the patio where a hummingbird hovers like a gargantuan bee. ‘It’s energy. It makes people really start rocking. A lot of people from outside Jamaica think that all people like here is reggae. But Jamaicans love all music, from Billy Joel to soul, from the Eagles to disco.’

The band have been together for five years and before that they were all part of the Third World set-up. They’ve been making and producing records for most of that time (which

explains the affluence) but it was only at last year’s Kingston Peace Festival, attended by the world’s press, that they really came to the attention of the uninitiated.

‘We were really good that day,'' recalls Ian as he scratches his beard for the umpteenth time.’Mick Jagger approached us afterwards and has since become great friends. The vibes were right and−a−everything.’

But what you play ain’t exactly reggae, is it?

‘It’s reggae, all right. We’ll never forget our roots. We’re always reggae. It’s just that we add a few things, like a synthesiser. They’ve never been used correctly in that context but we know how to make it sound right for reggae. Jacob Miller is roots. He’ll always be roots.’

Ian becomes more adamant. ‘Reggae can’t be left out. It’s always got to be there. You have that first and everything else is secondary. But you’ve got to do it the right way. We ain’t afraid to experiment. We’re more theatrical than most bands. As long as you know where you’re coming from, it’s okay to use backdrops or even lasers. It’s not a deviation, it’s a transition.

‘Everything is great. It’s a laugh. Simply a matter of seeing things in a revised form. You just gotta make the people feel happy, that’s all.’

I can tell Ian is running out of things to say ’cos he stops scratching his beard and peers longingly back into the comforting solitude of the lounge. Happily, Roger is now cultivating a communicative mood and wanders onto the patio like an articulated meat lorry.

I ask him what he feels about the writers who are more patronising than pure when it comes to black music − and I don’t mean Boney M.

‘I don’t feel they check their facts. They write all this stuff about lifestyles related to music and what’s roots and what ain’t and if you ain’t you’re not worth listening to. Why should I play music to please them when they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway? Either they’ve never seen Jamaica or they come over here with preconceived notions which they refuse to change even though what they see contradicts those notions.’

His voice wavers. His lips tremble. He shuffles backwards and forwards on the patio cutting a strange, wild figure in this pacific, wealthy garden of joy.

‘It makes me feel bad. Don’t write about my lifestyle. Don’t write about my personal existence as a human being. Don’t say, "Roger Lewis is not crying from the streets of Trenchtown." If you criticise me then you must criticise Bob Marley for living in a hundred-thousand-dollar house or Joe Gibbs or any one of a number of reggae singers.

‘I was brought up in the ghetto. So what? All I’m doing is trying to bring reggae to the marketplace of Britain, Europe and America. You either like the music or you don’t. It’s not a question of culture. We all got different ones anyway. We play reggae music because we come from Jamaica. But that doesn’t prevent us getting into other areas of music One of the biggest disco records of all time was "Kung Fu Fighting" and that was sung by a Jamaican − George Douglas.

‘And look at Boney M.’

(A year after the interview, Jacob Miller was killed in a car crash. Inner Circle’s biggest UK hit came in 1992 with ‘Sweat (A La La La La Long)’, which was new roots and panties. The band now run Circle House, a famous Miami recording studio.)

Next: A kick around with Bob Marley

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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com


www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives

Friday, 7 February 2014

January 1979

Clash of the Feelgood People

Tim (Lott) and I face each other across two large desks in a small office in Mount Pleasant, both of us still slightly stunned by the fact that we’ve actually started the Farringdon Agency and are renting an office and getting phones installed and buying furniture and filing cabinets and stationery and having letterheads and a partnership bank account.

We’ve upped the ante with all the publications and the money is enough to cover everything with a nifty few bob on top. Plus Tim has a regular Capital Radio spot that doesn’t pay much but helps our Farringdon cause look more kosher.

I get about a bit − trips, receptions, fine white lines on the freeway. I am that hitcher . . .

There’s a sudden deluge of tabloid tumbling, of dots and dashes and punchy intros and jaunty exclamation-mark-ridden prose. How about this brazen bunch…





It’s the most bizarre combination to ever hit the charts!

A cowboy, an Indian, a cop, a GI, a construction worker and a leather-clad motorbike stud all extolling the virtues of the YMCA!

That’s the wild and wonderful Village People who sell as many records in the States as John Travolta.

They call their act a celebration of the all-American male − yet their biggest fans can be found in Gay Lib!

‘We go for a Mae Westian approach,’ says David Hodo, the construction worker. ‘When we started, we aimed for a gay audience simply because we’re a disco band, and most of the people that went to discos in the States originally were gay.’

The Village People are the brainchild of French producer Jacques Morale. He visited a bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and saw a group of male go-go dancers, including Felipe Rose dressed as a Red Indian chief, performing on top of the bar. ‘I decided it was time to have a group specifically for such people,’ he recalls.

So he got the other guys together, dressed them in American stereotype male outfits and took them into the studio. ‘I never thought it would catch on with straight audiences − but they loved it right away,’ says Morale.

The band’s first single, the aptly titled ‘Macho Man’, went platinum. Their stage act is sensational, and the audiences they attract are zanier than the band themselves!

Says Hodo, ‘A lot of people overlook the humour of our act. It’s incredible. We’re not a Gay Lib band, we’re a People Lib band!’

At a recent concert they attracted a record audience of 110,000. When they appeared on a US TV show it got the highest ratings in its history.

The cop − Victor Willis, a high-school football star − maintains he has no connection with gay people. So isn’t it all a bit awkward?

‘Sometimes it gets a bit uncomfortable because I won’t let that sort of image be connected with me. I’m just dealing in disco. Songs like "YMCA", "My Roommate" and "Ups And Downs" can be interpreted either way.

‘It’s entirely up to the listener.’

‘There’s a mystique about us,’ adds Hodo. ‘And women love it because there are six real manly looking guys on-stage.’ The band hope to tour Britain early in the New Year – and that should set the cat among the pigeons… !

(Morali died of AIDS in 1991 and Glenn Hughes, the Leatherman, died of lung cancer in 2001. Village People sold over 85 million records and were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.)

Even the Clash can’t escape my exclamation-mark clutches…!



The leader of Britain’s most exciting band lives in a squat!

Joe Strummer of the Clash, whose new album Give ’Em Enough Rope has shot to number two in the charts, can’t afford a place of his own.

‘People think because you’ve had a few hits you’re rich,’ says Strummer, twenty-four.

‘Bands like the Who and the Stones never got any money until years after they started making hits. I hope it’s gonna be the same with us.

‘But if you think I’m hard-up you should see our drummer Nicky Headon − he sleeps rough!’

The Clash have come in for some heavy criticism recently from those who reckon they’ve sold out.

‘We haven’t changed,’ says Joe. ‘We’ve still kept our integrity and we still know what our duty is − to make a stand. Times have changed, standards are all different. But the music business doesn’t know that. There’s a whole new world of kids out there − but those mugs in the industry close their eyes to it. Instead, they continue to go out at lunch times and get drunk on other people’s money.’

Joe went through a nightmarish time earlier this year when he was frightened of going out alone.

‘It was all getting too much for me. I kept thinking I would be attacked because of what we’ve always stood for.

‘But I soon got over it. You have to or you’re dead!’

Rat-a-tat-tat! Check out Mr Brilleaux…



Doctor Feelgood have found the perfect cure for the winter blues.

While we’ve all been dreaming of castles in Spain they’ve bought one . . . complete with hundreds of squealing pigs!

And the band are hoping to bring home the bacon when they visit their newly acquired pig farm next month.

Lee Brilleaux, the Cockney hell-raiser with the hung-over eyes and the hangdog voice, explains that the Feelgoods had money in Spain which they couldn’t collect.

‘We’ve played shows there, but the money we get is subject to high taxation if it goes out of the country. We heard about this farm-owner who had got into heavy debt, so we used our money to bail him out − and we bought the property. We’ve kept him on as manager but it’s ours − all four acres of it. So now we’re going down in a few weeks to rehearse in the barn where the pigs sleep. Besides, it might be a profitable sideline. You can’t get good bacon in Spain ’cos the pigs are too scrawny. In fact, everything in Spain is skinny − except for the birds! And I like a nice bit of crackling now and again!’

Lee, twenty-seven, is delighted about the success of their new single, ‘Milk and Alcohol’.

‘It looks like being our first Top Twenty record! It’s great because the lyrics are all about how drink gets you into trouble − and everyone thinks I’m a hard drinker. I like a pint as much as the next man, but once reporters see you with one in your hand they think you’re an alcoholic. I go down to the pub most nights because I hate the rubbish they put on the telly.’

Lee, a. bachelor, has never moved away from Canvey Island where he was born. ‘Why should I? I spend most of my time on the road anyway, so home doesn’t have to be some-where glamorous, just where you can hang your hat. Nobody bothers you when you nip out to the boozer for a drink. Only problem is, the pubs close too early!’

(‘Milk and Alcohol’ was the Feelgoods’ only top-ten hit. Brilleaux continued to front the band, through various line-up changes, until his death from lymphoma in 1994. The Lee Brilleaux Birthday Memorial concert is held every year on Canvey Island.)

Next: Bob Marley and Inner Circle in Jamaica

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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com

www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives
 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

December 1978

Gerry & the Pisstakers






It’s cold. It’s Liverpool. It’s Devo. I’m talking to the guys in the Holiday Inn lounge.

Devo have just played the local Empire where the five Akron portables pumped it up precisely and with intent. Their indefatigable cohesion galvanised the Pudlians and there was scousely room to breathe at the front.

The crowd more than simply enjoyed the static, they worshipped these bespectacled college kids.

Behind those glasses (which most of them wear off stage too) you get the feeling there’s a world of victims, staring and expecting you to punch them on the nose and kick them in the bollocks.

Their show is Tubes without the Quaaludes, Clash without the accent, Vince Hill without the nose, Boney M without the tits, Meat Loaf without the inches, Blue Oyster Cult without the lasers. Yes, Devo are without.

But within they’re fine upstanding young spectacles with inveterate principles.

They wake up in the middle of the night and cry out, ‘Why are we here? What are we doing? Where are we going? Where’s the toilet? Can I have a glass of water, Mummy?’

The boys have escaped the frenzied mob and are seated around a table reading reports about themselves in assorted music papers. They don’t appear to drink much, smoke much or munch much. They sip tea sedately, and nibble biscuits conservatively. Gerry Casale does most of the talking.

Three fans stroll into the lounge with posters which they ask the boys to sign. They talk of the heavy stewarding at the gig.

‘There's two thousand of you and only twenty of them,’ screams Gerry. ‘If you all worked together you could trample over them. But none of you would do that, would you?''

The fans shrug and walk away. Gerry turns to me. ‘Those bouncers really want to hurt the kids. It’s a totally Fascist attitude and overtly sexual. They hate the kids because they have the ability to get off on something. The kids represent a kind of healthy sexuality. The bouncers feel threatened by this because they see life as a situation that has to be controlled. People like that find jobs where they can give vent to their repression in a socially acceptable way – like being a bouncer. In future we’ll have a say in the security before we set one foot in this country to tour.’

After initial raves, Devo have come in for piss-take upon piss-take in the music press.

‘It was a real Devo situation,’ explains Gerry. ‘We read all the laudatory British press and then came over. We did all these interviews and gave truthful answers to every question. We told them about Akron, we told them about us, about why we wrote our songs, everything. And they really laid into us.

‘What they resented was the fact we didn’t tell them we liked to wank and pull chicks and eat hamburgers and watch TV. We simply told them what motivated us to create.’

Now that’s asking for trouble. Gerry smacks his teacup on the table.

‘Yet they can tell kids to go along to a Clash show and lose their front teeth or an eye and then go back to the factory. See, when they realised we were in no way similar, they got offensive. They found Devo a threat and that’s typically human.’

‘But the press really believe they’re deities − "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away."’

I feel distinctly uncomfortable at this juncture. I adopt the false-laugh method of interrogation. Ha, well, haha, boys, hahaha, your album wasn’t too, hahahaha, hot.

‘It was a three-and-a-half-week Devo classic,’ says Gerry.

‘Today’s noise is tomorrow’s music.’

Hahahahaha, today’s music is also, hahahahahaha, tomorrow’s noise. I sit tight waiting for their reaction.

They laugh.

‘We are sensitive to change and use it. We won’t repeat our music,’ says Gerry. ‘Change is what keeps a band going. What you start out to do is ultimately changed from what you intended. Of course, you could end up like Jefferson Starship, a band who know exactly what’s going to happen to their music at any given time. When you stop moving you become a statue and then you fulfil middle-class expectations.’

And he goes on into the wild blue yonder . . .

I decide to leave as Gerry admits he finds it difficult to accept the fact that Siouxsie and the Banshees are praised by the rock press and Devo just get systematically slagged.

Don’t know what they’re worried about. Once you start getting ripped to shreds by the press you’re on your way to a fortune.

Bryan Robertson’s mesmerising guitar solo on ‘Still In Love With You’ from Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous album is just about the finest guitar solo I’ve ever heard and I get the opportunity to tell him just that down at the Speakeasy one night.

I swear to God, he starts to weep, gently. Okay, he’s probably pissed and I’m probably standing on his foot, but I’ve never managed to make a rock star cry before – in a nice way − at something I’ve said, and it’s one of the more poignant moments of my life.

Just before Christmas I have a quick chat over the phone with another guitar god, Rory Gallagher, currently on a massive tour. ‘I do enjoy the way I live,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t
change it for the world. Touring is the lifeblood of rock ’n’ roll. All those endless hours of finding places to eat and not sleeping, it’s all part of it. If I took all those things seriously I’d lose my bite. I’m into brass-knuckles music. I want to woo the public.’

The next day I interview the Barron Knights, not really renowned for brass-knuckles music but, hey, it’s Christmas.


Next: Village People, The Clash, Dr Feelgood

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

www.wetdreamsdrylives.com

www.facebook.com/wetdreamsdrylives
 
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