Winter In America – Gil Scott-Heron

 

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron is one of my favourite artists. I was introduced to him by late Jasmine Minks roadie, Mark (Scars), and I always think of him when I play Gil Scott-Heron records. Mark Allan was one of my closest pals – we were pals when we were at primary school and I’d go round to his house and play out on the street with him, his sister and brother and other kids or we’d go over to the field with Tom (Minks drummer) and play football until we were exhausted. He moved to England for his secondary school years but returned to Aberdeen when he was 15 years-old, staying with Tom and his family until he got his own place. The Allan family were big supporters of The Jasmine Minks and, by the late 80’s there would be Mark, his sister Dawn and his mum, Eileen, at lots of our gigs. It was definitely a family affair. Eileen would tell me off if I swore between songs and compliment me on my mouth organ playing, “I never knew you could play that”.

Mark and I moved down to London in 1981 but he didn’t stay for long and headed back to Aberdeen where he worked in a record shop and became a well-known character in Aberdeen. Mark didn’t hold back from expressing his views on music he didn’t like, so there was hell’s bells if you asked for a record he didn’t like – he’d point you towards something he thought more worthwhile and he had been known to kick people out of the shop if they asked for certain records. One-Up was one of the record shops that gave weekly sales for the Indie charts and he would insist that Jasmine Minks record sales were much more than they actually were, allowing us to stay in the charts for longer – hardly the 50’s US chart fixing scandal but we certainly found it amusing. By the mid-80’s Mark was back down in London where he stayed with me and my girlfriend at our flat just behind Crystal Palace’s football ground, Selhurst Park, so you can guess what we did on Saturday afternoons. Between watching football matches and playing in a Sunday morning football league team (eventually managed by another Minks roadie and organiser, Pat Burke) we would spend hours listening to records and discussing the merits of them. Mark said I should check out Gil Scott-Heron. I knew of his song The Bottle as it was a staple for soul and funk all-dayers and some guys I worked with had lent me lots of records from that scene (Ohio Players, Marvin Gaye, Slave, Cameo etc.)

Around that time we went to a festival at Clapham Common (coincidentally where we played our home Sunday morning football games) and saw Scott-Heron live – he looked so cool in a white kaftan and the music was beautifully played with his band grooving along nicely. Scott-Heron was a towering presence and he got the crowd on his side with current political references and his cool, jazzy baritone voice. I bought Scott-Heron’s latest album, Moving Target, and never looked back. Mark and I would listen to all the albums I bought in the next few months. I picked up nearly all of his LPs from a wee second-hand record shop, opposite The Ship pub in South Norwood High Street (where we would hang out and Ed de Vlam and I would play live for £50 a night). The earlier records were abrasive and full of attitude (Whitey On The Moon, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised). But those and his later 70’s and 80’s records blended this with love songs about family and reflections on addictions (Angel Dust – one of the most amazing live performances I’ve had the good fortune to witness in my life), tributes to great Black musical artists (Is That Jazz, Storm Music) and strong anti-nuclear power stories (Shut ‘Em Down, We Almost Detroit).

Gil Scott-Heron was an fantastic poet, novelist and social commentator. His lyrics are of the highest quality and draw me in every time, whether it be political poetry…

“Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow
And now it’s winter in America”

or human stories…

“Home is where I live inside my white powder dreams
Home was once an empty vacuum that’s filled now with my silent screams
Home is where the needle marks try to heal my broken heart”

As Scots we grab onto anything that joins us with other cultures around the world and Mark was no exception to this rule. Whenever talk about Scottish football or Black culture and its relation to Scotland would come up in conversation, he would open up his wallet and proudly show everyone a newspaper clipping about the first black player to play for Glasgow Celtic, Gil Scott-Heron’s father, Gil Heron, who joined the club in 1951. As Scott-Heron put it,

“My father still keeps up with what Celtic are doing. You Scottish folk always mention that my dad played for Celtic. It’s a blessing from the spirits… two things that Scottish folks love the most – music and football – and they got one representative from each of those from my family.”

I’d like to say that The Jasmine Minks tried to emulate Gil Scott-Heron musically, but his musicians were light years ahead of us. But we did slow down our frenetic style, always mixing healthy doses of left-leaning politics in our songs, while trying to make lyrics somehow universal – and bringing a modicum of something that Gil Scott-Heron had an abundance of to our songs – HUMANITY.

I offer his most popular song, a subject exposing a major problem to the Scots as well as young black Americans, alcohol…

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More Songs About Chocolate And Girls

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The Undertones were a pub band cross-over into the punk market – but they were also so much more. What most of the bands from the late 70’s that had been around before punk happened lacked was originality and a sense of fun and urgency in their music. But from their opening single,Teenage Kicks, through to The Undertones final album (from their original line-up), The Sin Of Pride, the quality of their singles was astounding. Funny and personal anecdotes in the lyrics with amazing guitar-based tunes made them the envy of some of the most accomplished bands from then – their catalogue is not talked about with the same reverence as some of the other punk/new wave bands of the time. But they should be considered with the best.

Teenage Kicks has been written about enough, so I’d like to pick out some of their other singles as examples – from stompers like Jimmy Jimmy – “poor little Jimmy wouldn’t let go”, You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?) and Here Comes The Summer to the beauty of Wednesday Week, the superlative Julie Ocean and It’s Gonna Happen, all sung in a crystal-clear pitch by Feargal Sharkey. Appearances on Top Of The Pops were energetic and showed their down-to-earth sartorial credentials by wearing jean jackets, duffel coats and Dr. Martens. They could change swiftly from Status Quo blues to emotional vibrato guitar yet still have their stamp firmly applied to the songs.

The Undertones were one of the biggest influences on the indie-pop scene of the early to mid-80’s with their attention to personal lyrics and overtly pop nature. A bit of rock music and a bit of 60’s guitar pop ethics made listening to them an obvious antidote to the dark Goths, the dour, long-raincoat brigade and the posey, character-less New Romantics. Some of us just wanted to put on a guitar and play guitar pop. The Jasmine Minks were certainly using The Undertones as benchmarks when we wrote our early songs and in our approach to performances – nothing too flashy but always trying to entertain in our own way.

When Wattie joined The Jasmine Minks, The Undertones links got close – Wattie’s brother is connected to the Undertones O’Neill brothers through marriage and this has brought an affinity between the bands. John O’Neill taught Wattie how to play Teenage Kicks on the famous Jasmine Minks transparent Dan Armstrong guitar. When The Undertones split in 1983, The O’Neill brothers formed That Petrol Emotion and they had that “mix of politics, passion and real life” as Wattie puts it. Singer Stevie Mack popped in to say hello when we were recording Scratch The Surface and we used one of their song names as our production and record label name in the late 90’s and early 2000’s – A Genius Move. Damian O’Neill joined us on Alan McGee’s new record label, Poptones, in the early 2000’s too with a lovely ambient-sounding album, A Quiet Revolution – he was penned in to play on our Popartglory album but our times didn’t manage to coincide for that.

The Undertones reformed, replacing Feargal with Paul McLoone and have played and recorded two albums and are still playing live concerts. The bass player, Michael Bradley, has a wonderful radio show on Radio Ulster and has even played The Jasmine Minks’ latest single, Ten Thousand Tears, on his show. Long may the links between us remain…

The Snot Has Caked Against My Pants – Love/ Arthur Lee

Arthur Lee

Love were a huge influence on a variety of bands in the early 80’s. You could hear their sound in groups like the Pale Fountains, who I adored from the beginning. Fellow Aberdonian group The Shamen stayed with us when they played gigs in London and lent us their digital recorder to master our first full length album onto. They started out as Alone Again Or, the name of one of Love’s most well known songs, one of the few Love songs not written by Arthur Lee, their famous frontman.

Minks drummer, Tom, had Love’s third album Forever Changes and it was never off his turntable. He used to walk around singing:

“The snot has caked against my pants
It has turned into crystal”

It took me a few listens to adjust to the, seemingly, middle of the road sound of Forever Changes. But once I got over that I didn’t look back – it’s an album which can withstand repeated plays over years. Derek Christie was an old pal of mine from school in Aberdeen – since I’d moved to London we kept in touch by letter but hadn’t been writing much by 1985 – then one morning I heard a knock at the door and opened it to find Derek there with a holdall in one hand and a trumpet in the other. He had hitch-hiked the 600 miles from Aberdeen and ended up staying with me and Lynn (my girlfriend). I remember him playing cornet at school but didn’t know he was playing trumpet. He was amazing – he quickly transformed The Jasmine Minks and it was the sound of Forever Changes mostly that I could hear in his melodies. He played loads of gigs with us, did two BBC Radio 1 sessions and an album, then disappeared back to Aberdeen, leaving us some great musical memories.

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Minks frontman, Adam, had Seven and Seven Is, the explosive Love song from their second album and he asked if I could work out the chords so we could rehearse it – we did and loved playing it, so it became a regular in our early sets. Our version appears on the Alive at The Living Room, the live Creation Records album which documents the early concerts at Alan McGee’s famous portable venue. Peter Astor (The Loft and, later, Weather Prophets), writing for Sounds, reviewed us that night and commented that it took Love 50 takes to get the song recorded and we almost got it right in one.

I borrowed the first three Love albums and recorded them onto cassette. The first album is a garage album with spindly sounding guitars yet there are great songs on there, Signed DC in particular telling the story of a hopeless addict and inspiring me to go and buy a mouth organ, which I adopted into our live set. Mushroom Clouds was a perfect song and sounds like a lot of the later Indie-pop bands with it’s delicious melody, yet apocalyptic lyrics. I borrowed Da Capo from Mick, my brother-in-law (who had actually bought it when it came out) – it was an album of two distinctive sides, side one full of amazing psychedelic and punk tracks – side two (which I rarely played) a full length blues jam. But every track on Forever Changes is perfect. There are some gems in later albums too (whether as Love or Arthur Lee) including Everybody’s Gotta Live, One and a great single, Your Mind and We Belong Together (which Paul Barr first let me hear – it was part of a compilation album he’d bought – I couldn’t believe this particular song wasn’t known the world over – but that’s the way of some of the best music I suppose.

I was living in Dunoon in the early 2000’s and spending a lot of time with Chris Davidson (Slow Dazzle editor) and Paul Barr. They lived o’er the water, so it wasn’t far to travel to get the ferry over to see them or to go to gigs together. I had a Toyota van which transported a load of us over to the east coast to Edinburgh to see Arthur Lee one memorable night. He was doing a tour to celebrate the classic album Forever Changes. I’ve been to a few of these revival concerts, but not many as good as this. Arthur Lee looked great in his bandana and his voice was better than ever. Within a few years he was gone, so I’m glad I got to see him in such good form – I’ll remember that concert forever…

My Starry Eyes Shiver – Roxy Music

Roxy inside coer of 1st album

Bryan Ferry’s whispery voice was singing on the radio – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall (a Bob Dylan song, but I didn’t know that at the time). I was 11 years-old and on my way to Forester Hill Hospital, Aberdeen in a taxi, having broken my elbow in a fall at the Boy’s Brigade doing gymnastics. Somehow the song and the singer connected with me – a mixture of apocalyptic lyrics with a jaunty stomping rhythm – it made me feel good, even through the dullness and pain I was feeling. I knew about Bryan Ferry’s solo album, a break from Roxy Music, These Foolish Things. It included a single, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, a nice, modern attempt at a very old song. But A Hard Rain was the one for me – every line is a gem. Moments like that stick with us…

I already had Roxy singles and loved them – Roxy Music were brash, colourful and played with a skill and originality which just wasn’t there with most of the other Glam Rock bands. I mean, who listens to albums by Mud or Suzi Quatro still? But any Roxy Music album is full of interesting, slightly unsettling, beats and themes. Then there was the Ferry v Eno thing – for me they both have their strengths. (Jasmine Minks’ co-founder and frontman, Adam, introduced me to Eno’s solo albums in the late 70’s and what a revelation they were!) Eno added the squelches and the search for middle class acceptance through art, so he left to pursue that further. Ferry was an old fashioned entertainer, appealing to the masses – yet he did that in a unique way with Roxy Music – often using glamour and sex in a 50’s Hollywood movie style – a mysterious Humphrey Bogart rock star. Ferry has an amazing quality to his voice – some singers shout and inspire, some have emotion, but his throaty tone makes it feel as if he is right next to you in the room – intimate.

“The way you look makes my starry eyes shiver”

Yet his lyrics often seem distant, especially in the earlier songs, where songs about the plastic life we lead are sung with a degree of acceptance rather than pure sarcasm. Roxy songs such as Editions of You, All I Want Is You and Virginia Plain are joyous Punk Rock songs ahead of their time. But Roxy Music had to change as 1977 arrived – who would want to be labelled as past-it rockers with all that teenage anger around? By the end of the 70’s Roxy found a new way – disco and pop with guitars, borrowing heavily from Giorgio Moroder but using guitars and atmosphere to bring out the moody rhythms. What a great guitarist Phil Manzanera is – his ability to transcend genres and keep fresh while playing beautifully is inpsiring. Ferry is still Ferry and the bass guitars, which were always excellent in early Roxy songs, trasform easily into pop-disco. Oh Yeah! is a beautiful song.

“There’s a band playing on the radio and it’s drowning the sound of my tears”

Ferry has recently denigrated his own lyric-writing abilities (I’d have to disagree with him on that) – and he has done many more brilliant Dylan covers since I first heard A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall in 1973…

Down On The Street – Iggy Pop

Ig Lou BowieIggy Pop’s The Idiot was never off my turntable in the early 80’s – I had discovered the dark beauty of Dostoyevsky and was coming off a big Joy Division trip – Iggy has the knack of disarming all pretentions while keeping them too – all on this side of cool. He balances darkness with humour and ordinariness – a perfect foil for the horrendous New Romantic scene which was rapidly becoming de rigeur. Iggy’s athletic performances were legendary – he was the Rock n Roll animal that Lou and Bowie wanted to be. I love the comment he makes during the live bootleg album Metallic KO, obviously responding to some amorous advances from someone in the audience, “I won’t fuck you when I’m working”. That separation between stage life and the real person, Jimmy Osterberg, intrigued me. I mean, some people jog, others play out a rock n roll drama onstage – I know what I’d choose!

Lust For Life became a bit of cliche after its use in the Trainspotting movie. But before then it was an underground classic – great rhythm and Iggy at his most inspiring. The album it came from has some great Power Pop songs, which dated better than a lot of the punk songs which were released from that same magic year, 1977. The Stooges are spoken of in reverential terms now but their fans were few and far between in the early 80’s, so I was lucky to get tapes from friends of Stooges Live gigs and the studio albums.

Adam, Jasmine Minks founder and our front man in the early days had brought a big Iggy Pop influence with him from his previous band in Aberdeen, Enormous Snakes. He was a great performer, with that Iggy-like dry, sardonic wit with bursts of wild verbal aggression. Of course, Iggy Pop was a big influence on the punk milieu – the b-side of Pretty Vacant was a Stooges song, No Fun, and the scene was peppered with Stooges covers, not least The Dictators, Search and Destroy. When the Jasmine Minks auditioned for a bass player in 1983, Harry Howard (younger brother of Rowland) tried out for us – he was suggesting we do more Stooges-type songs. But we had rejected that rock sound for the moment, only to return to it in a year or two after getting fed up of the lighter side of indie-pop. We used to rehearse songs like Loose and MC5’s Kick Out The Jams when we felt like turning things up at the rehearsal studios (most weeks!)

Something overlooked in appraisals of Iggy Pop, whether it be the Stooges or his solo stuff is the melodic strength of his singing – he can be a real crooner at times. He has a street style of lyrics akin to the writings of Charles Bukowski or some of the more deranged Beat Poetry of Ginsberg, but with the lovely, down to earth banality, which I’m really drawn to, “Maybe call mom on the telephone”. In the later version of The Stooges, James Williamson’s guitar playing is some of the most original and inspiring in rock music – always this side of Keith Richards but with an ability to turn a couple of major chords into an unforgettable riff – Gimme Danger is one of the toughest acoustic guitar riffs ever!

I claim Iggy and The Stooges back from the Goths and other cult rock genres and bring him right back in the middle of 60’s influenced Indie Rock where he belongs – where a good song and a good beat with genuine energy is more important than posturing. Our true connection to Iggy as evidenced by this wonderful track from his Zombie Birdhouse album…

 

Do Aberdonians Dream of Electric Sheep?

Aberdeen, October 20th 2037

Lifeless neon signs advertised beers in several places above the bar of Krakatoa. I wandered in through the single door with two beautiful women, one on either arm – pals from another age, “This mellow-thighed chick just put my spine out of place”. I took a look back at the fog dangling from the tall granite buildings bordering the harbour, then tipped my hat at the doorman as we entered the dodgy establishment – lurid beer pumps and old posters adding colour to an otherwise nondescript rectangular room. Mirrored walls added virtual width, much like the virtual friendships we’d had all these years. I checked my surgical implant to see if my chemical high was turned up more than normal – this was not going to be your common or garden rock n roll gig.
It had been a long time since I had been in this port – there were lots of familiar faces – life had dealt them the same batch of cards that we all get – divorce, addiction, depression mixed in with enduring relationships. I see a face from years ago and we’re immediately back to being the pals we were, the memories flooding back. A lot has happened in the last 60 years – half the population has been imprisoned for mostly minor crimes. Anything from the theft of food to stay alive to mouthing support for an independent country unattached to the governing Korean elite which has gradually taken over Europe and the US in the last 20 years or so, accelerating the widening gap between rich and poor. The area in Aberdeen where we were going to play was a kind of no-man’s land between the poor areas in the south and the rich western and coastal parts of the city.
I ordered drinks at the bar – the barwoman with sleeved tattoos and an outdated plastic mechanical arm poured the drinks slowly (many women had lost limbs fighting in the wars of the 2020’s) – her vest heaving with excitement (or was it anger?) Artic lorries vibrated the building as they rolled by – heading away from the port to deliver their plastic-electronics-business-related contents – the city’s industry had changed from oil to producing electronic artificial limbs in the last few decades. I could sense the re-emerging wealth in previous visits – but this time the smell of poverty was making a big comeback. I downed a hoppy beer and headed through the crowd, through a corrugated iron sheet which passed for a door and upstairs to the band flat – our digs for the night. Our roadie, Kristof, was busy setting up the gear for our rock n roll set. He had developed a system of cataloguing everything and making sure it was put out and returned to the same place at the end of the night – this helped with keeping track of all the cables, stands, drums and guitars which could get overwhelming in number. Pen and paper is still our preferred system, even in these days of computerised databases and monitors. ‘Never Trust Electricity’ was our unspoken motto – so in these post-apocalyptic days we could play an acoustic set if we had to, keeping crowds at gigs from burning over into violence even when the power cut.
Friends and family were waiting downstairs, meeting up, drinking and building a buzz. We had the Jazz Butcher poetizing his way through a set, never letting his guard down – this was a tough crowd and he won them over with panache (his quartet had left him high and dry, yet he still made the trip solo – driving with me in our hands-free car, pontificating on the latest football radio commentaries). When Jazzy B finished his set we had 10 minutes to get ready.
We jumped onstage switched on the electric amplifiers and crossed our fingers that the power would not be limited during the next hour. “I hear they kill you if they don’t like you,” Marty, our bass player deadpanned. I gave him a shrug – we’d gotten out of plenty of scrapes before and this looked tricky but not insurmountable. I glanced across to Farfisa Dave and nodded – we had history, back in the day he had gone from band to band making a nuisance of himself and deafening anyone within 20 feet of his twisted sound. He mouthed to me, “Knock ’em dead cowboy.” I plugged in my wah-wah pedal, “A throwback from someone’s LP.” Walt, the cool guitarist, had his cigarette poked into a guitar string which spilled out of the top of his Rickenbacker (a Beatles guitar from our childhoods and rarer than hens’ teeth) – he grumbled something about being hungover and turned around to make sure all the knobs were turned up full on his amplifier – Walt never went for subtleties – he had this dirty sound which phased every now and again making us all think the aliens were landing. Tommy Bongos was on the drum riser behind – he had been bolting his kit together with Kristof for the last 5 minutes – he used to nail his drum kit to the floor in previous years, but had taken to fixing his seat to the kit, making it impossible for it to move now unless he was going with it. Yet out of this monster drummer came a plaintive voice reducing the most angry of punters to a nostalgic mushy grin – a definite bonus at gigs where the crowd wasn’t on our side.
I gave a loud strum on a power chord to test my guitar but the metal plate in my arm was playing havoc and interfering with the higher frequencies from the amplifier – I turned the guitar to a 90 degree angle and that seemed to fix it – the only thing was that it might be difficult to sing without knocking against the mic stand. “Ach, what the heck,” I thought – “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”. We were ready to start and a warm sense of paranoia was beginning to engulf my nerves. I turned my back to the audience and bent down to notch up my implant to make sure I could get through this without descending into a melting, quivering wreck. Before I knew it, Tommy had clicked one, two, three and we were automatically playing Still Waiting, our traditional opener with big chords – we were like robots in the way we could play together, almost without thinking. The muscle memories were there for the song and the words came out without me even having to think. The song ended and the crowd cheered – a palpable sense of relief crossed over our faces. There’d been too many rejections in previous years, so it was like manna from heaven to be able to please an audience from the first song – we often had to work at it, battering them into submission with song after song after song. This bunch was easy – they liked us and we just had to click into gear and do what we did best.
The punks in the crowd looked great – Sex Pistols t-shirts and mohicans were there – a few 60’s throwbacks with dress jackets and Paisley-pattern shirts trying, Mod-like, to keep calm and collected. More than a few dudes were wearing our TTT t-shirts with its sky blue and red standing out in the lights and mirrors. I looked up and saw another neon sign, “Live Nude Bands.” A wave of fear struck me – thinking about the small print in the contract we’d signed and what we might have missed – maybe the crowd were expecting more than just rock n roll! I played the guitar fast and loud and sang at the top of my voice, hoping for some kind of transcendence, “And a lemon in a bag played the tiger rag.” We poured through our set of Another Age – an album released when vinyl was king – in the intervening years vinyl had made a comeback and wind-up record players had become the norm, what with the electricity rations and all. The songs were going down well and we hadn’t even got to our crowd-pleasers yet, apart from Cut Me Deep, which raised a storm.
The rest of the set had old singles – we used to record for a record label in the days when record labels were a real thing – nowadays it’s just a bunch of chancers producing vinyl albums from back street premises and selling them at gigs with the hope of making a few Yen. We were selling our own new vinyl – one in particular was meant to raise money to help an ailing member of the band’s family – we still had some morals after all! Patty’s job was to stand at the merch table and entice people to part with their hard-earned cash. At one point I saw Berty standing in the audience in front of me – he was propped up with crutches and it was great to see him out and about in this dangerous part of the city. We built up into a crescendo with our last few songs and left the stage to loud roars and whoops (we missed Big Mick’s whoops) – that doesn’t happen all the time, I assure you. Time flew by and an hour seemed too short, “Time, he flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor.”
Job done – we retired to our flat and waited for the crowd to disperse before heading back down and packing our gear away and looking for our envelopes of cash behind the bar. We got away with a good gig and didn’t have to play nude after all, “Just the beer light to guide us.” There were knickers on the stage though, which was confusing as sex had been obsolete for most of the population since the 2020’s – a wee joke played on a bunch of old rock n rollers. We had a good laugh, a few drinks and went to bed exhausted and buzzing. As dawn approached we lay staring blindly out at the foggy harbour, contemplating the next day of travelling…

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Tonight’s The Night – Neil Young

Neil Young

Neil Young seems like the obvious Indie influence – pop songs with a voice that doesn’t seem very Rock Music influenced – a bit softer and more like the way we were trying to sing at the beginning of the 80’s – in some ways very anti-rock (I bet, like me, many Indie fans prefer Pete Townshend’s softer voice to Roger Daltrey’s in The Who I suspect?) He started making waves as part of Buffalo Springfield – a supergroup of sorts which pushed Young into realising that he wanted more control of his music – but the magic between Young and Stephen Stills is amazing to hear, whether it’s in their guitar jams or in the quality of their songs. He sounded great as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young too of course where vocal harmonies were the main aspect.

“Big John’s been drinking since the river took Emmy-Lou”

But I first got into Young when Rust Never Sleeps came out – a friend had put the two versions of My My Hey Hey Out Of The Blue (Into the Black) onto a mixtape. I went out and bought the album and never looked back in my love of Neil Young’s songs. He was part hippy, part punk, so he fitted in perfectly in my view of how rock n roll should sound. Rust Never Sleeps has a great build up from purely acoustic songs at the beginning of the album, gradually introducing drums and then electric guitars, culiminating in a pre-grunge, distorted guitar version of the opening song. I saw the movie of the live concert with a friend and I was so excited I wanted to clap and cheer between the songs before realising I was actually in a cinema, not a rock venue. “This is the story of Johnny Rotten” – why did he sing that? It felt like validation that Neil Young was on our side – he was not afraid of the punks but, somehow, backing us. And whoever said that Crazy Horse was a shit backing band? Was it David Crosby? – maybe he had gotten so far from the simplicity and roots of rock n roll that he preferred note-perfect session musicians. I love Crazy Horse – they have a loose rhythm, their backing is great on the drums and in the harmonies and they highlight Young’s songs to their best. Young was well known for going for the unusual takes when recording and often used recordings that other musicians would have binned for having uneven vocals or ramshackle endings.

Zuma is the ultimate Neil Young and Crazy Horse album – the basic pen drawing barely passing for artwork for the cover and the three-chord songs at first sounding a bit TOO simple. Yet these songs can hold their end up proudly with any of the rock bands around then – they are still listenable today and have that Neil Young flair for melody and lyrics that pull me in like few singer-songwriters have ever done. He was definitely flying his own flag and songs like Danger Bird and Cortez The Killer are so lazy they drag you into submission with sheer perseverence – I’d have switched the turntable off long before with any other band attempting that. For pure melody you can’t beat Pardon My Heart:

“Pardon my heart if I showed that I cared”

Tonight’s The Night is another Neil Young album I still play with regular monotony. Neil Young is an amazing guitarist who can play a mean picking acoustic guitar as well as creative, bursting electric solos – you can always tell his slightly off-kilter style . Yet he was happy to let others share the limelight – look at what Nils Lofgren added to Speakin’ Out – Young even introduces him by name – a great honour for the teenage guitarist at the time. Neil Young’s songs have been widely covered (and I’ve sung many myself) – they are so easy to sing and they have a lovely feel which is a delight if you can relax into it. It’s probably easier to ask who hasn’t been influenced by Neil Young than those who have in the 80’s and 90’s, so widespread is his sound used and his style imitated.

The Green Manalishi – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

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Peter Green, on the face of it, was one of the old guard – a member of Fleetwood Mac (before they became a Californian band) and of that White-Man’s blues ilk that had gone way out of style when punk and its aftermath was happening. But by the early 80’s I was beginning to discover music from the past and, although blues was high on that list, the Eric Clapton form of it was anathema to me. There was something different about Peter Green that distanced him from the usual British blues players. Green is a superlative guitarist – using blues riffs with such awareness, one would think that he was born into that tradition of music. He has an interesting way of playing, using many techniques – he would shop around for the best amplifiers to get the sound he wanted and he’d even get the new amplifier designers of the time to make special reverb units (something rare in Britain at the time). He’d change guitar motifs throughout a solo and make it unique – something very few guitarists have been able to do. Apart from one of the best feels that a guitarist has ever possessed he could sing that English version of the Blues with sensitivity too.

But what made Peter Green such a unique talent might have been part of his downfall too. He chased after that sound, chased after that life of the perpetual musician so much so that that purity became an obstacle to the music business – a big problem to the livelihoods of his band members and to others who were making large amounts of money from his genius. No doubt there were some other talents in Fleetwood Mac – Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is wonderful in its tribal simplicity and John McVie’s bass playing was a subtle and perfectly complementary backing to Green’s guitar playing. But Green was becoming more and more erratic in his search of the purity in music and was becoming more interested in improvisational bands where recording was not important – the idea of receiving money for music troubled him too and he refused to cash cheques for royalties and other income from Fleetwood Mac. Eventually, like so many creative people, he was hopitalised because of increasing mental health illness.

When The Jasmine Minks released our first single, Think, (which was appearing on some pretty cool playlists, including a Manchester club where the music was mostly Soul and Blues – ironically for those post-punk dominated times) I decided it was time to improve my guitar playing and took some lessons in London. I’d tramp over to Peckham (I swear I never once saw Del Boy or Rodney) to a flat in an old Greater London Council block, just off the High Street every week. Here my teacher would teach me guitar parts from blues artists like Freddie King and wonderful tunes like Rickie Lee Jones’ Chuck E’s In Love. But it was the Peter Green riffs he taught me which have stuck with me. Black Magic Woman was a tune I was told by my old gaffer, Gerry, on the building sites to listen to as it was one of the best according to him – so to learn that was very special. Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well has that amazing rock blues riff – it still sounds great and has that excitement that made rock music such a powerful force – the lyrics are right up my street too – Green’s having a conversation with God – something I think most musicians and songwriters can connect with. I certainly used Green’s fantastic style as a beacon to aim for and if blues solos of mine like the second section of the solo of Cold Heart, Work and Ballad Of Johnny Eye are considered to have even an ounce of Green’s beauty then I’d die happy.

Recently my nephew, Duncan, gave me a Peter Green album and it was wonderful to listen through the songs. I have been playing his songs loads – tracks like The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown), Man of The World and the beautiful Albatross are great mixes of blues and 60’s pop. For pure blues I’d Rather Go Blind (sung by Christine McVie), Worried Dream and Need your Love So Bad are that rare breed of successful White blues.

New Dawn Fades – Joy Division/ New Order

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Joy Division was the beginning of something much different within the punk genre. I remember hearing She’s Lost Control on the John Peel radio show and being hooked immediately. I had An Ideal For Living 12″ single but things seemed to take a darker and more original turn when their first album came out. I saw them supporting The Buzzcocks in Aberdeen and they were mesmerising, playing under low light, wearing grey clothes – everything seemed intense, the music and the movement. Only the bass player, Peter Hook, looked like a rock musician with his wide-legged stance and low-slung guitar. I got their album, Unknown Pleasures, and played it obsessively. I stopped dressing like a punk and began wearing pegs and loafers, becoming more ‘normal’ almost as a reaction to the way punk was becoming like a uniform. At the same time I was getting into funky music, stuff with a repetitive beat. I didn’t feel I had to look a certain way any more – I just wanted to be into what I was into and not have to show it in my dress sense (also I was just 17 and wanted to get into nightclubs that my workmates went to and punk dress was seen as very young, excluding me from nights out!)

But I was still in a punk band (although, looking back, it would probably be labelled ‘post-punk’ now). By this time, Adam had joined me, Tom and our bass player, Stephen, to form a more sideways version of punk rock, with mostly self-penned songs. We did a cover version of Joy Division’s Novelty (b-side of Transmission) and that was a big part in the sound we were going for when we did our first few sets of recordings after we moved to London (some of those demos made it onto the Cherry Red compilation ‘Artifact – The Dawn of Creation Records’ and you can hear the stark snare and clipped vocals).

Joy Division changed everything for me and probably thousands of other musicians around the UK. This was not like the punk rock movement of a couple of years before – the initial optimism (or yearning for change, maybe?) had changed into a more insular, moody look in groups – hiding behind big fringes and long coats, looking down while playing onstage, or even turning your back on the audience (the fore-runner of shoe-gaze?). The music was drenched in reverb and phased sounds – it got boring eventually but for a while it was fresh and mildly shocking (in a slow horror movie kind of way).

Joy Division’s singer (and one of the best rock lyricists ever) committed suicide in 1980 and it affected all of us – it was like we’d lost a close friend, so much did his singing and general style influence us. The rest of Joy Division decided to carry on under a new name, New Order, with a similar musical ethic. Their first single, Ceremony, was a Joy Division song, so it was obvious that they were going to be a band to watch. They evolved into an excellent band, after some great singles and some fits and starts as to how much they were going to mix rock music with sequenced repetitive notes and arpeggios. Joy Division had used synthesisers to great effect, albeit with subtlety. But New Order pushed it more and were one of the few groups to use synthesisers to get good sounds (I generally hated 80’s synth sounds and found them to be very bland). New Order become one of Britain’s great pop bands, dropping the darkness initially fostered by their Joy Division yet keeping that wonderfully repetitive, yet interesting way of writing pop songs, – often changing textures within a simple riff and singing some of the catchiest choruses of the 80’s.

Whenever I write a song on a drum machine or using sequencers or a synth it sounds like a New Order song – it must be the non-keyboard player way of writing songs (New Order were notoriously poor keyboard players, using stickers to help guide fingers to the correct notes). Their first 3 or 4 singles are unique and Temptation is one of my favourite songs of all time – they made some great albums too – Power, Corruption and Lies, Brotherhood and Technique are probably the best…

 

Please Don’t Be Waiting For Me – The Sex Pistols

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The Sex Pistols were probably the single biggest cultural influence in my life – David Bowie would come equal first place for this title if it wasn’t for the punk rock phenomenon that grew directly from The Sex Pistols (also Bowie’s descent into making too many crap records in the 80’s.) I don’t really remember hearing the first two Sex Pistols singles as they weren’t played much on Radio 1 (the only decent radio station at the time) – I do remember being confused at the blank no.2 spot on the charts in the shops when God Save The Queen was banned. It was Pretty Vacant that got the most airplay and it was a revelation to me, then Holidays In The Sun (which even my mum liked!) Then the boldest album I’d ever heard in my life – Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. I played it and played it and got to know every word, every chord, every drum beat. It’s probably one of the most amazing albums ever made – you don’t get many albums which change a whole culture! Every song is a perfect pop attack of teen anger emotions, social comments or shocking stories – Johnny Rotten’s childhood and teenage angst coming pouring out and connecting with a generation of like-minded young people.

But the music was only half the story – the short hair (EVERYBODY had long hair then – even middle-aged men), the drainpipe trousers, the irreverence for the accepted culture was all a big draw for teenagers desperate for some feeling in an ever-becoming corporate, homogenous world. Johnny Rotten’s rants in the press were as if he were a scrawny wise grumpy old man locked inside a young man’s body. Someone saying “I Wanna Be Me” in a world where it was dangerous to be different. He was a Pied Piper without a doubt and the world was a fresher place with his input – his bile targets were anyone from priests to politicians to rock stars.A lot of the friends I have today I met only because of the movement that started when the Sex Pistols started making waves. I am hardly in touch with anyone I went to school with. But those I met at the 62 Club in Aberdeen when I was 15 years-old are still friends today – we have a bond which seems to transcend other friendships and time doesn’t seem to diminish it. And for a movement with such a violent and anti-social reputation, the punks I know have gone into a variety of caring and community careers – from nursing and social work to teaching and dog-walking – some have trades and work on building sites or on off-shore oil-rigs – they have had the common societal problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, marriage break-up and depression. But they are the best group of people I have ever been involved with – no pretence, no back-stabbing – and support when you need it.

For me, the thing was the community it engendered – the bringing together of a group of kids ready for something away from the factory jobs and ready to challenge the way people should look. It did lead to some problems of course – Aberdeen wasn’t ready for such ostentatious looks and behaviour and I remember getting chased, insulted and ridiculed, even beaten up – and I wasn’t even that outrageous, short hair and ripped t-shirts,pink sunglasses, PVC trousers.

Johnny Rotten left The Sex Pistols after one album and the following releases of singles and a movie were a laughable attempt to cash-in on their popularity. By 1979-80 there was a new generation of punks allied to the newer groups which took a basic grasp of the original energy of punk and made a cohesive unit out of the movement – bands like Discharge and Cockney Rejects – some political, some even disgustingly far-right but all with a fast punk template. This was great for the young kids getting into punk for the first time – but for us older punks (wiser by a mere two or three years) the essence of punk was the developing new music that came out from Indie record labels like Rough Trade. The innovative bands that would make interesting music over the next decade or so came from ex-punks like Julian Cope, Joy Division/New Order, The Fall, Orange Juice, Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux and of course, Public Image Limited, Johnny Rotten’s life in music since The Sex Pistols.

After playing punk music for a few years in groups in Aberdeen, The Sex Pistols music was ingrained in me, Tom and Adam. So much so that when Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols bass player) came into a Jasmine Minks rehearsal studios to borrow something, we’d break into Pretty Vacant or God Save The Queen instantly – he probably laughed his socks off, hearing it as he walked out to the studio down the corridor. Me and Adam once asked Matlock to produce a Jasmine Minks single and he loved the idea. But it never happened – pub talk I suppose.