Category Archives: Diving for Pearls

Reflections and discussions on vinyl record collections.

Rebel Waltz

A small nerve reaction in his arm must have caused him to lose his grip. The socket from the wrench the airman was using dropped 80 feet before colliding and piercing the skin on the fuel tank of the Titan 2 Missile he was carrying out maintenance work on, causing the fuel to leak and explode. The warhead was a thermonuclear weapon developed by the U.S during the Cold War and one of the most powerful weapons in their nuclear arsenal. The warhead landed about 100 feet from the complex’s entry gate; its safety features prevented any loss of radioactive material. The incident at Little Rock Air Force Base Complex 374-7 in September 1980 is little known. The site was subsequently destroyed, decommissioned and now sits on private land. A small, but true story from the fragments of history that contributed to the political turmoil of the time.

As today, the world was not a stable place in 1980. Right-wing Italian terrorists exploded a bomb at Bologna Station killing 85 people. 63 people were beheaded in a single day by the government of  Saudia Arabia. Government embassies around the world were under attack or subject to protests and occupation. The Iranian Embassy in the U.K was sieged by terrorists. Gunmen attacked the British Embassy in Iraq; The Dominican, El Salvador, Colombia, and Panama embassies were violently attacked. The Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City was peacefully occupied by those protesting against the kidnap and murder of civilians by elements of the Guatemalan Army. Against the wishes of the Spanish Ambassador about 300 armed state agents surrounded the building and cut the electricity, water, and telephone lines. 36 people died. The U.S failed in an attempt to rescue 52 hostages taken from the U.S embassy in Iran resulting in 8 deaths.

A major race riot in the U.S. resulted in 16 dead and up to 300 injuries.  The Afganistan government declared martial law on its people. A Jewish owned hotel in Kenya was bombed killing 18 people. Iraq declared war on Iran, a war that would last eight years and leave over 1m dead. In Poland, the independent Solidarity Union was established, which would ultimately bring to an end state communism. The incumbent U.S President Jimmy Carter sanctioned a £1.5 billion bailout for Chrysler Cars. The U.S, France, China, USSR and U.K governments waved their phallic weapons at each other and intensified their nuclear explosion tests. The U.K announced that Greenham Common would house U.S Nuclear Cruise Missiles. John Lennon, often projected as a hero to those on the left of politics was gunned down in New York.

Michael Foot

Unemployment in the UK  started to nudge towards 2m and inflation reached 21.8%. Margaret Thatcher made her infamous “The Lady is not for Turning speech.”  The Labour Party following its general election defeat in 1979 was searching for a new leader and was in political turmoil with factions personified by two political heavyweights. Denis Healey (from the right) and Tony Benn (from the left). The left were demanding revenge for what they considered betrayals of the previous Labour government. They sought to do this by establishing a mass party building from its trade union roots while calling for the replacement of MPs who had acquiesced to the previous Labour Prime-minister’s policies with left-wingers who would support unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the Common Market, and widespread nationalisation. Michael Foot was finally elected leader after presenting himself as a unity candidate able to bring the two factions together into a coherent platform for Government. A formidable public speaker and fine intellect he was a staunch supporter of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. Towards the end of 1980 all was looking good with one MORI opinion poll giving the Labour Party 50% preference and 25% ahead of the incumbent Conservative government. There was an expectation, dare I say, a momentum building for major change economically and socially. The left was in the ascendancy. Mass meetings were held, resolutions were passed, marches organised and slogans shouted.

The energy of punk had long lost its urgency and had given way to a resurgence of mainstream pop music, the synth had entered the recording studio in force and would-be robots resembling pale invaders from a stark, desolate future were enjoying success. The 100 top selling songs of 1980 resembled a Middle of the Road paradise with the likes of Don McLean, ABBA, Odyssey, Kenny Rogers, and The Detroit Spinners dominating sales. But a closer look exposes a more interesting story. Peppered amongst the deluge of conveyor pop music the observer will discover The Jam’s (Going Underground), The Specials (Rat Race and Too Much Too Young), UB40 (King), The Beat (Mirror in the Bathroom).

Don’t take away the music

It was against this backdrop, I stumbled into my local record shop and purchased the Clash’s fourth album, one of the most courageous releases in modern musical history. Sandinista by most measures is bonkers. Consisting of 36 tracks and over 2.5 hours of music spread across a triple album release for the price of a single album. It was simply a game changer and is equally as important as the Beatles 1968 White Album. By 1980 the Clash, like many bands which emerged from the UK punk scene were either turning into a parody of themselves or trying to fathom a future by diversifying and embracing a broader musical spectrum. The first inkling of what was emerging from The Clash during this period was the Bankrobber EP. With Mikey Dread the legendary Jamaican singer, producer, and innovator in reggae music engaged in the studio work a more roots-based sound started to unfold. The Clash went to extraordinary lengths to secure the release of the album in the triple album format, which included the surrendering of royalty payments until production costs had been covered. Upon its release, in December 1980 the album was met with mixed reviews.

The music contained had effectively anticipated the growing “world music” trend of the 1980s and featured tracks that are orientated towards funk, reggae, jazz, gospel, rockabilly, folk, dub, rhythm and blues, calypso, disco, and rap. The album title refers to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the records catalogue number, ‘FSLN1’, relates to the abbreviation of Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, which is a Democratic Socialist Party of Nicaragua. The party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s.

The FSLN overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979 and ended the Somoza dynasty. The Sandinista Government instituted a policy of mass literacy, devoted significant resources to health care, and promoted gender equality. Tracks from the album reflect the political environment of the day, Something about England, Somebody Got Murdered, Police on my Back, The Call Up, Washington Bullets, Lose this Skin, Charlie Don’t Surf and a reworking of Career Opportunities from the Clash’s First Album. More to the point the album is increasingly relevant today.

Notes

Michael Foot led the Labour Party into the 1983 general election when the party obtained its lowest share of the vote at a general election since 1918 and the fewest parliamentary seats it had had at any time since before 1945. He resigned.

Side 2 track 1 of the Sandinista album is called The Rebel Waltz.

A Rebel: person who is opposed to the political system in their country and tries to change it using force.

The Waltz:  A dance in triple time performed by a couple, who turn round and round. 

The Clash: By 1983 had disintegrated Mick Jones (in 1983) and drummer Topper Headon (in 1982) had been dismissed from the band. By November 1985 Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon had soldiered on with new recruits and released the 6th Studio album Cut the Crap. It was generally ridiculed. The Clash fell apart afterwards leaving a lot of fond memories, but to this day hardly anybody mentions the final album.

I’m a blockhead

Ian Dury

Take a bit of the British music hall comedian Max Miller who was generally regarded as the greatest comic of his time. Blend with a touch of Gene Vincent, infuse with musical influences including jazz, rock and roll, funk, and reggae, Then overlay with  poetry, word play, observations of everyday life, character sketches, and sexual humour. You end up with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I was asked recently, “if I could bring a musician back from the depth of death to play a one off concert who would its be?” I ponder for a while and mentally went through the options Lennon, Marley, Joplin, Gaye, Mayfield, Hendrix, Cash, Morrison, etc. I settled for Ian Dury.  After accidentally stumbling across his bio film, Sex and Drugs and Rock n Roll it just reinforced what a special talent he was and that he never failed to make me smile. If you are unlucky enough not to have come across  his classic album New Boots and Panties (1977) then it comes highly recommended. A masterclass. Dury died of metastatic colorectal cancer on 27 March 2000, aged 57. An obituary in The Guardian read: “one of few true originals of the English music scene” I wholeheartedly agree.

When The Wheels Stopped Turning

Beethoven was deaf

Beethoven was deaf

The normal format for the TV programme Britain’s Got Talent starts with the judges scouring the land to discover those they consider may have the magical talent. The initial auditions are like a medieval crusade with a host of cringe worthy performances by eccentrics paraded in front of the TV camera, screened directly into our living rooms and considered ‘light family entertainment.’ It is a short cut to celebrity stardom for a handful of budding artists, which plucked Susan Boyle from obscurity in 2009. Boyle finished 2nd place in the competition to the dance troupe Diversity. The day after the final she was admitted to The Priory, a private psychiatric clinic in London.   Her stay in hospital attracted widespread attention. The Press Complaints Commission following press reports about Boyle’s erratic behaviour and speculation concerning her mental condition,  wrote to remind editors about clause 3 (privacy) of their code of press conduct.  Her family reported “she’s been battered non-stop for the last seven weeks and it has taken its toll, but her dream is very much alive,”  Boyle left the clinic 3 days after her admission. Bullied at school and cruelly nicknamed ‘Susie Simple’ by fellow classmates Boyle spent most of her young life believing she had a learning disability, although she was  later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Boyle continues to be subjected to ridicule by professional comics and one liner joke merchants who trade on her physical appearance and disability as a crutch for their own creative limitations. There is in existence whole pages on the internet dedicated to cruel observations of Boyle, yet it is hard to imagine Andrea Bocelli the blind Italian opera singer being subject to the same level of ridicule.  What is evident with Boyle is that she is faced with a multi layered onslaught of discriminatory attitudes cutting across disability, gender and class. If becoming a successful musician was not difficult enough, becoming a successful musician whilst disabled is simply remarkable regardless of the genre of music and demands respect.

It is an aspiration many disabled artists are increasingly unlikely to achieve given the obsession with image and safe marketing that often results in disabled people being portrayed as secondary characters, weak individuals, to be made fun of, or to be pitied. Transport issues and inaccessible venues are just some of the issues facing musicians with a disability. Yet the existing and historical musical landscape is a rich, diverse and creative movement that has borne witness to disabled people as creative pioneers and leaders.

As Ludwig Beethoven (properly the worlds first punk) approached his 26th year in 1796 he was already facing deteriorating hearing and by the time he composed his 9th and final symphony he was totally deaf.  Richard Dale Miller was born November 28, 1942 in Dallas County, Little Richard Miller Born Without Arms or Legs.Texas. An evangelist, travelling across US preaching his interpretation of the Gospel through song and testimony. Richard Miller’s full stage name is Little Richard Miller Born Without Arms or Legs. He is an organist and guitarists who has recorded several albums mainly in the country style.

Robert Wyatt was the drummer and vocalist in the band Soft Machine, part of the so called ‘Canterbury Scene.’  A loosely based network of progressive rock, avant-garde, jazz musicians based around the city of Canterbury, Kent, UK. Since an accident in 1973, when he fell drunkenly from a fourth-floor window at a party, he has been paraplegic and confined to using a wheelchair for general mobility. In the 1970s the producer of BBC 1 ‘Top of the Pops‘ programme wanted Wyatt to perform from a normal chair on the grounds that his use of a wheelchair ‘was not considered suitable for family viewing.’ After strong arguments and support from his fellow band members, which included Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and a young Andy Summers (The Police) Wyatt won the day. In September 1974 Wyatt performed his cover version of ‘I’m a believer’ on national TV in his wheel chair, whilst the audience danced along. Wyatt also recorded, what many still consider to be one of the finest anti war songs ever recorded, ‘Shipbuilding’ a song written by Elvis Costello.

If like me you have fumbled about with a guitar trying to learn 3 chords and then desperately sought to put these twisted sounds together in order, so they rendered the simplest of recognisable tunes. Then you can hardly start to imagine what it takes to do the same without the sense of sight.  During the 1960s Bob Dylan chose the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt for an early recording session. His choice of pseudonym was a nod to the delta blues singers, who were such an influential to him. Arthur Blind Blake (1893-1933), Blind Willie Johnson (1897–1945), Blind Boy Fuller (1907–1941), Blind Willie McTell (1898–1959), Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893–1929) to name a few.

Following in the footsteps of these incredible musicians Ray Charles (1930-2004) was a true musical pioneer and genius.  During the 1950s he started to fuse together rhythm and blues and gospel music.  This style emerged into the blueprint we now understand as popular soul music. Stevie Wonder was to take this blueprint and push it to another level during the 1970s via classic albums like Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. At the same time an unpretentious, middle-of-the-road cabaret act scored a massive hit that would elevate them to international stardom. Lennie Peters (1933-1992) was one half of the duo Peters and Lee. Peters was an uncle of Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. He had  lost the sight of one eye at 3 years old. He lost the sight in his remaining eye when 16 and immersed himself in music by teaching  himself to play the piano. Peters & Lee enjoyed their number-one hit ‘Welcome Home’ in July 1973 and went on to become platinum album artists with two and a half million sales enjoying 4 British top 20 hits and 4 top 10 albums.

At the age of 7 the genius singer, song writer and actor Ian Dury (1942-2000) was stricken by polio. He suffered the long-term effects of the disease throughout his life, which left it hard for him to walk. In 1981 Dury released the song Spasticus Autisticus, which was written to show his disdain for that year’s International Year of Disabled Persons, which he saw as patronising and counter-productive. The song was banned by the BBC given the lyrics were uncompromising, “so place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin and thank the creator you’re not in the state I’m in, so long have I been languished on the shelf. I must give all proceedings to myself.”  

In August 1990, a lighting rig fell on soul legend Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) during a sound check before a New York concert. His 3rd, 4th and 5th vertebrae were all broken, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the fact that he was unable to play an instrument, Mayfield would lie on his back in order to catch enough breath to sing. Mayfield created another album before his death. In 1984, Rick Allen the drummer with Def Leppard was involved in a car accident that resulted in the loss of his left arm. To accommodate his missing arm, Allen had a specially made drum kit and continues to performed to this day. Adrian Anantawan is one of the world’s most accomplished young violinists. The young man sometimes closes his eyes as he plays, as if lost in the music. If his audience closed their eyes, too, they would never know the violinist standing before them has no right hand.  Social networks and assistive technology have allowed blind jazz keyboardist/pianist Andre Louis to perform, even though getting to gigs is a real challenge.  “None of the gigs I’d like to do are near where I live in west London. If I were to take public transport, it would be me, a laptop, a keyboard stand and a cane, trying to navigate the underground. Taxis would be around £35 so costs would get high quickly.” 

Toyah Willcox was born with a twisted spine, clawed feet, a clubbed right foot, one leg two inches shorter than the other and no hip sockets.Dianne Shuur Because of this she endured years of painful operations and physiotherapy. Her physical condition was a cause of difficult times at school. “When I was bullied at school, it was coz of my character. I was a weak child, I was incredibly small. I had a speech impediment, I was the perfect bait for bullying”. Willcox had 8 Top 40 singles, released over 20 albums, written two books, appeared in over 40 stage plays and 10 feature films, and voiced and presented numerous television shows.  Diane Schuur is an American jazz singer and pianist. Nicknamed “Deedles”, she has won two Grammy Awards, headlined many of the world’s most prestigious music venues, including Carnegie Hall and has toured the world performing with the likes of Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, B. B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Ray Charles, Joe Williams and Stevie Wonder. Like Stevie Wonder, Schuur was blinded at birth due to retinopathy of prematurity.

It was the 3rd of November 2001 when I managed to see perform an artist who would go on to become one of my personal favourites. It was at the Barbican Hall, London and the event was billed as Beyond Nashville with Howie Gleb and others.

I was invited by a friend (Derek) and to be honest I had mixed feelings about going. My approach to music is very much slow burning. It normally takes quite a while after a particular music genre has been hip before my musical taste catches up and so it was to be with the so called Americana genre. The Others referred to on the concert billing, included an astounding array of bands and solo artists, Giant Sand, PJ Harvey, Evan Dando, Kurt Wagner, Mark Linkous, as well as Vic Chesnutt.

6a00d83451b93369e20120a786de68970bVic Chesnutt (1964–2009) was a truly remarkable talent. Involved in a car accident in 1983, which left him partially paralyzed; he used a wheelchair and had limited use of his hands. During his career he released a total of 17 albums (2 produced by Michael Stipe of REM fame). Chesnutt performed 5 or 6 songs that evening with Kurt Wagner (Lampchop), which were haunting, funny and poignant including, Is A Women, Girls Say and My Blue Wave. An unassuming man on stage, sitting in his wheelchair, strumming his guitar with a delicate voice that brought a concentrated silence from across the whole audience. Chesnutt described his relationship with his native America as “centred around the love/hate axis with a bit of Stockholm syndrome thrown in.” It was the many contradictions of the worlds richest country, which  provided him with the source for such of his material, alienation, isolation, human failings of the body and heart, hope, war and everyday observations.

JK - Silver LakeSilver Lake was Chesnutt’s 11th Album and while it sounds like a Vic Chesnutt album through and through, it is a better than average introduction to his work, filled with quirks. The album kicks of with the emotionally shattering ‘I’m through’ one my favourite Chesnutt tracks. The corner stone of any Chesnutt album are the stories that underpin each song.  The songs on Silver Lake are honest and pull on every emotional chord possible no matter how surreal the narrative. Throughout Silver Lake you will hear heart-tugging beauty. On December 25, 2009, at the age of 45, Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants that had left him in a coma. Chesnutt had attempted suicide 3 or 4 times before.  According to Chesnutt, being “uninsurable” due to his quadriplegia left him $50,000 in debt from his medical bills, and had been putting off surgery for a year. A tragic, unnecessary and sad end to a remarkable genius and one of the reasons which  you need to give Silver Lake an honored space in your record collection.

They Only Wanted To Be Loved

No Fun

The Sex Pistols No Fun

14th January 1978, The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, USA and the Sex Pistols have just brought their set to an end with a version of the classic Stooges song No Fun.  As the final traces of feedback belch from the amplifiers and over the heads of the assembled audience Johnny Rotten is poised, crouched down and defiantly staring at the crowd. He utters the immortal words, which  are etched on the toilet walls of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, “ha, ha ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.”  

No sooner had the band left the stage the disintegration started and within days the Sex Pistols crumbled into dust. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook went on to prostitute what dignity remained of the band. The ex manager (Malcolm McClaren) desperately cobbled together an embarrassing film called The Great Rock n Roll Swindle with a very dubious narrative. By February 1979 Sid Vicious (bass player) died a lonely and squalid death from a heroin overdose whilst being under investigation for the murder of his girlfriend. Meanwhile  former frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) had jetted off to Jamaica with no other than Richard Branson to scout reggae bands for Branson’s Virgin record label. The Sex Pistols were to leave behind a maze of legal wrangles and bad taste. The punk scene sunk into wall to wall leather jackets and mohican haircuts.

In the hands of McClaren The Sex Pistols legacy was to become a parody, although what emerged from the ashes was to be much more musically interesting. By May 1978 John Lydon was already assembling his new band and later that year under the name Public Image Ltd they released their self titled single ‘Public Image’  The record was well received and reached No.9 in the UK charts.

As a teenage fan of Lydon I recall dashing down town on release day to scour local record stores and seek out a copy that also featured a limited edition newspaper insert. At the time the single with its insert were considered the holy grail and from small independent record shops to the high street dealers I ventured, bus journey’s to the neighbouring town (Middlesbrough) my crusade continued through the day and occasionally bumping into fellow fans on the same crusade. The song written by Lydon whilst still a member of the Sex Pistols bares the hallmarks of a Pistols track with its sneering lyrics directly aimed at his ex band mates. The A-side of the single was not a major departure and as such held little surprise. It was the singles B-side the aptly entitled The Cowboy Song that was to provided a glimpse of where the band were heading. The Cowboy Song sounded like a rambling assortment of studio outtakes and random noises all mashed together in no particular order. Uponfirst listening it was easily forgettable. Lydon himself viewed the track, “it cost us approximately £1 to make. It’s just a jolly good disco record and it came about cos we were bored and couldn’t think of a b-side.”  It was not until the first album appeared that the creative manifesto for the band started to be exposed to their fans.

A beautiful mess

A beautiful mess

Public Image, First Edition was released in December 1978 is now considered groundbreaking, but at the time of its release the record polarised fans and was met with outright hostility from music critics. The earlier single release had provided a false sense of expectation for those fans seeking solace in Public Image Ltd becoming The Sex Pistols mark 2. The album was in effect pulling in two different directions. A type of confused halfway half way house between looking backwards and pointing forward.

Dub baselines, traditional rock/pop tracks, screeching guitar work, a poem left many fans confused given the albums lack of focus and mixing seemed disjointed. This was no doubt a consequence of the band running out of money during its production, which necessitated recording sessions to be concluded hastily. The album to this day remains one of experimentation, a band findings its way with mixed results from the sublime ‘Low Life’ assault on the personality Sid Vicious had became towards the end of his life and through to the amusing, but largely forgettable ‘Fodderstompf’.  Record boss Richard Branson who commissioned the LP was reported to be less then impressed. Whilst the record was a moderate success in the UK staying in the album charts for 11 weeks and peaking at 22. It would take until 2013 before the album received its full American release given it was deemed to be far too uncommercial for American ears by record executives.  Love or hate this album its importance cannot be disputed given it laid down the blueprint for what many would call the post punk period.

The results were far from pretty, but to the credit of Lydon and his fellow bandmates they had decided upon a route away from the commercial mainstream, which at the time was an open door beckoning for Lydon after the demise of the Sex Pistols.With the first album completed PIL ventured out into the world to perform live. Playing 4 concerts in late 1978, Brussels Theatre Belgium on 20th December, Paris Le Stadium 22nd December and Christmas Day and Boxing Day at the Rainbow Theatre, London. By early 1979 PIL were left with the challenge that often demolishes many bands – the fatal 2nd album.

Its all in a tin

Its all in a tin

The glorious Metal Box/Second Edition LP arrived in November 1979 and is generally considered to be one of the most influential albums of all time. In many ways the album was a radical departure from the first album and ventured more towards avant-garde territory. With its cryptic lyrics, brooding baselines, tribal drum patterns, metallic guitar, synthesised drones and random noises the album was unlike anything before in sound or presentation. The original album packaging consisted of a 16mm film canister tin embossed with the bands logo, which contained three 12″ singles. The album drew from several influences including deep-dub-raggae in particular the early work of dub pioneer Keith Hudson known as the “dark prince off reggae” and bands like Can. The opening track Albatross sets the standard. Recorded in free form the track gathers  a life of its own as it weaves along. The songs structure is reminisce of the interplay between Jim Morrison and the Doors when their performed live.

Check the line up

Check the line up

Metal Box/Second Edition was a far more focused effort, which unlike its predecessor  was received with critical acclaim and considered a classic of its genre sitting alongside the likes of Can and Captain Beefheart. The albums influence cannot be emphasised enough, Sonic Youth, The Strokes, Simple Minds, REM, Joy Division, Portishead, Manic Street Preachers, Massive Attack, Radiohead have all drawn influence from the album.

In 2001 Thom Yorke during an interview with The Wire Magazine said, “We could never do a record on a par with Metal Box.'”  The Rolling Stone Magazine listed Metal Box in the top 500 albums of all time. With album literally in the tin PIL started to increasingly perform live, although  like their studio output the norm was not to be expected. In New York the band decided to perform behind large screens creating a physical barrier between them and a bewildered audience who had come to see the band perform a more traditional rock show. The resulting disturbances required the concert to be cancelled mid way through as the crowd throw items at the screen and started to dismantle the stage equipment.

In Leeds the band were met with hostility when the audience became bored with the new material and demanded Sex Pistols songs. PIL ignored the audience, often turn their backs against them and carried on until they simply walked off stage.

The 1980 live album ‘Paris au Printemps’ offered little to nothing in terms of creative output. In fact Lydon reputedly advised fans not to buy it because the band only got involved in the project to earn enough money to pay for Metal Box. By 1981 and the bands 3rd album The Flowers of Romance” the wheels had already started to fall off the first incarnation of the band. Jah Wobble who provided the brooding bass on the first two albums had been sacked for allegedly using PIL material as backing tracks for his solo work. The name ‘The Flowers of Romance’ was taken from an early band Sid Vicious and Jah Wobble were members,  as well as it being the title of a very early Sex Pistols track, which was never studio recorded and released.

Not for the faint hearted

Not for the faint hearted

The stark, severe and minimum style of the album is in contrast with the bass heavy influences of Metal Box. A variety of sources were deployed and used to generate sounds for the album including amplified wristwatches, reversed piano, televised opera. John Lydon played violin and saxophone, although he was not know to be trained to play any particular instrument. Keith Levane the groups pioneering guitarist played through reversed tapes, treble distortion and synthesisers drones.

Interviewed at the time Levene pointed out that, “AII it amounts to is that we don’t like any music at the moment.” John Lydon added,  “well it ain’t rock & roll, that’s for sure.”  The album quickly gained  a reputation for being the most uncommercial LP to have been made and presented to a mainstream record company.

The Flowers Of Romance entered the UK Charts where it stayed for 5 weeks and reached No. 11 in April 1981. The album spawned a minor hit single in the same year that reached No. 24 and stayed in the charts for 4 weeks. The third studio album for many concluded PIL’s pioneering period. Similar to Jah Wobble original guitarist Keith Levene left the band acrimoniously shortly afterwards. John Lydon then shifted the sound and structure of the band towards a more commercially friendly zone with differing results given the creative challenges were not putting the breaks, or shaping some of Lydon’s ideas. By the late 80s PIL effectively Lydon and an assortment of musicians were touring America extensively, including a support slot for the Australian band  INXS on their Kick tour.

The end for PIL was more a damp fizzle than bang. By 1992 and with a lack of interest from the general public Lydon put PIL into hiatus whilst he concentrated on other projects, including his autobiography, TV work and ultimately regrouping with the original Sex Pistols line up for a number of lucrative tours, which properly provided the only real opportunity for the original  4 members to earn any significant cash from their legacy. In September 2009 Lydon announced that PiL would reform for five UK shows, their first live appearance in 17 years.  The regrouping of PIL was financed via the money Lydon earned through a UK television commercial, “The money that I earned from that has now gone completely – lock stock and barrel – into reforming PiL” The pursuing concerts were warmly received and the band has continued to perform live since, as well as releasing new material.

36 years later

Like father like daughter

As one review of the first 3 PIL albums states,  “PIL managed to avoid boundaries for the first four years of their existence, and Metal Box is undoubtedly the apex it hardly sounds like anything of the past, present, or future”.   These first 3 albums, including the glorious Metal Box/Second Edition alone has secured my enduring respect for Lydon.

30th June 2013 and 35 years after buying the first Public Image Ltd single (with the limited edition newspaper insert) I find myself with my 14 year old daughter walking aimlessly through the Glastonbury Festival site.  We have not paid much attention to the running list on the various stages. We are just soaking up the atmosphere, floating along with the crowd and just stopping to watch whatever emerges before us. Its a glorious summers days and in the near distance I hear driving base of PIL’s Death Disco vibrating through the air.  We quickly make our way to the Other Stage and sure enough we find John Lydon and co.

I look to my daughter and ask if she is enjoying it? She relies, “yes.”  I turn my attention back to the stage, feel the sun on the back of my neck, scan the large crowd and look back at my daughter – we smile at each other. Sometimes things just fall into place for all the right reason.

Oh bondage up yours!

This girl is no fool

This women is nobody’s fool

“Biblically chauvinistic” is how the Rolling Stone magazine described the James Brown 1966 record “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” As a record it certainly takes some beating when promoting a stereotype. A stereotype, which has been continuously reinforced throughout the music business since its conception.

Whilst the mainstream charts maybe dominated by female artists research constantly reveals that women working in the music business earn far less than their male counterparts – a staggering 47% of women in the music business earn less then £10,000 per year.

It is a business that is dominated by male executives who control its means of production, marketing and recording output. Recording artist Lily Allen recently observed, “You will also notice of the big successful female artists, there is always a ‘man behind the woman’ piece. If it’s Beyoncé, it’s Jay Z. If it’s Adele, it’s Paul Epworth. Me? It was Mark Ronson and the same with Amy Winehouse.”  These attitudes prevail throughout the music business right down to the basement end of manufactured pop. The banality of Miley Cyrus ‘tweaking’ caused a media stir, which was possibly related to Cyrus’s history as a child star for the Disney Corporation. Whilst Cyrus’s performance might be seen as silly and tedious the fact is Iggy Pop has been ‘twerking’ for 40 years, including the odd penis exposure as well as regularly humping his amplifiers on stage – yet he is considered a rock god.

There is something very disturbing about a popular culture that increasingly portrays women as disposable commodities frequently being hunted down by a serial killer or subjected to the creepy attention of a male artist who is acting like a potential candidate for inclusion on the sex offenders register. Although given the recent spate of celebrities facing sexual assault charges in the UK they may not be acting. Equally repugnant are those fellow men who shout “politically correctness has gone mad” every time these issues are raised. Lets be honest if you are the type of tool who enjoys women being portrayed in this way then it is highly unlikely you have read this far into this blog and you are properly jerking off to that misogynist Robin Thicke video.

“Ignore it” you may say after all there is an off button I can push  Well I did, but ignoring it does not make it a right. Switching off a TV does not mean switching off your brain and that is the real choice here. I am not for one minute advocating censorship far from it. In my view those who produce this material should be exposed to additional taxation. The revenues generated should be earmarked for support services for women who become victims of male violence. If a sovereign country was inflicting such harm on another country surely we would be expecting intervention, possibly economic sanctions.

Those women who have stood up, challenged and turned the tables on the status quo have faced ridicule or worse. The singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author and philanthropist Dolly Parton has throughout her career been the subject of ridicule from taunts of trailer trash, cheap, dumb blonde and least we forget the breast obsession. Web sites are dedicated  to crude jokes about Parton.  Realising these circumstances Dolly Parton played the card of self parody as well as deploying her very clever business brain. This has enabled her to amass a financial fortune and make music that she wants to make.  This attitude towards women is not a modern phenomena, which as  been cooked up by dead beat rappers with their pathetic lyrics of ‘hoes and bitches.’

holiday

Billie Holliday – used and abused

The harrowing demise of Billie Holliday in the 1950s is a prime example. Most media stories concerning Holliday’s torturous death tend to focus on the sexual violence and illicit substances. What is often overlooked is that in her final years Holliday was swindled out of her earnings and died with $0.70 in the bank.  As an incredibly gifted, yet troubled artist Holliday was hounded to the very end. Whilst dying police raided her hospital room and placed her under arrest until she passed away on 17th July 1959. She was 44 years old.

The magnificent Nina Simone became the catalyst for change in the 1960s. Strong, intelligent, outspoken and a versatile musician she became a role model for musicians (female and male). Simone started playing the piano at 3 years old and by the age of 10 she was perfuming piano recital in the town library. Like Holliday she was ripped off by the record companies. She saw very little money from her first record, the top 20 hit of “I Loves You Porgy.” Simone always characterised record companies as “pirates.”   

Over the coming decades Simone took increased control over her career and destiny as an artist, which not only provided financial rewards but enabled increased creative freedom. At the time this was unparalleled for both a female and Black artist.  The song Mississippi Goddamn, which she released in 1964 was written by Simone after the murder of Medgar Evers. Although the song contains a jolly rhythm it is a scathing anti-racist tour de force.  Towards the end of her life Simone became increasingly erratic with legendary mood swings. In 1985 she fired a gun at a record executive whom she considered was stealing her royalties claiming that she tried to kill him, “but missed.”

The 1960s produced many iconic female artists Dusty Springfield, Nico (Velvet Underground) Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) and Janis Joplin for example. It is a decade that increasingly witnessed the use of  ‘tabloid sensationalism’ as a weapon against women. Singer, songwriter and actress Marion Faithfull was subjected to sordid and untrue media reports in 1967 concerning her sexual relationship with Mick Jagger. Whilst the headlines and speculation did little to hinder Jagger’s career. In fact the stories further enhanced his bad boy reputation, but for Faithfull her career was badly damaged. 27 years later Faithfull observed, “It destroyed me, a  woman in that situation becomes a slut.” Before Beyonce, there was Diana Ross (formerly of The Supremes).

The Supremes were a product of Barry Gordy’s Motown conveyor belt of popular hits during the 60s and 70s. Gordy was the original Simon Cowell with the gift of identifying and bringing together pop talent, along with tightly controlling and carefully managing their public image. Whilst Ross and Gordy were romantically entwined for Gordy it quickly became a case of biting off more than you could chew syndrome when it came to Diana Ross.

Whilst The Supremes were on a UK tour in the 1960s Gordy insisted The Supremes perform a version of Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.” Gordy believed that such a performance would enable The Supremes to access a slot on a mainstream UK television programme. Ross refused outright. “I could not explain anything that made sense to her,” Gordy said. “She refused to do it completely.” That’s when Gordy realised, “if she didn’t do it, I knew I could not manage them.” Ross went on to became one of the biggest selling female solo artists in music history.

Joni Mitchell produced and released her seminal Blue album in the early 70s whilst at the same time Jazz drummer Karen Carpenter was persuaded to move centre stage and sing for the brother/sister duo the Carpenters. It may have took until 1979 for Suzi Quatro to score a hit in her country of birth (USA), but Quatro was a constant presence throughout the 70s in the UK charts. Quatro’s trademark leather jacket, jeans, bass playing leadership and pop-rock anthems presented an altogether more edgy imagine that had a significant influence and impact. An influence that has sadly been underestimated given for many young people Suzi Quatro was the first female artists who was seen to be the leader of pop-rock group on mainstream TV. By the mid 70s Kate Bush and Patti Smith emerged. Two diametrically opposed artist who commanded respect through their craft. Smith went on to release what many still consider to be one of the most quintessential and influential rock album’s of all time ‘Horses.’  

1975 also saw the release of the electro pop ‘Love to Love You Baby’ by Donna Summer that pounded the dance floors of every credible disco. The song, which featured Summer moaning and groaning as if in the raptures of an organism would cause controversy around the world. It also presented the artist in a highly sexual charged way that would take Summer years to shake off. The song and its producers eventually left Summer feeling like she had no control over her life and went on to suffer with bouts of depression and insomnia. Summer would later become a born-again Christian and sue the producers of the record. After the legal settlement Summer decided to exclude “Love to Love You Baby” from her concert playlists and did not perform it until 25 years later.

As the 1970s were drawing to a close there was something quite different about the female artists who were emerging outside the mainstream. Whilst the recording output varied according to taste. The confidence and attitude of the female artists was not in dispute. Operating within an increasingly political environment a whole bunch of strong, independent, intelligent and often conformational female artists were playing a leading roll in the rock scene.  It was a time when Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Fay Fife (The Rezillos), Gaye Advert (The Adverts), Debbie Harry (Blondie), The Slits, Pauline Murray (Penetration),  Tina Weymouth,(Talking Heads), Joan Jett (The Runaways) and the glorious Poly Styrene (X Ray Spex) to name a few took a male dominated world and shook it by the throat. A quick search on Google for Penetration performing ‘Don’t Dictate’ live will emphasis the point as Pauline Murray tackles men in the audience head on. It was another song from this period, which had a greater influence on me personally.

Released in 1977 “Oh bondage up yours” was the debut single by X Ray Spex.  Polly Styrene was the bands lead singer and main songwriter who described the song, “as a call for liberation. It was saying: ‘Bondage—forget it! I’m not going to be bound by the laws of consumerism or bound by my own senses.’ It has that line in it: ‘Chain smoke, chain gang, I consume you all’: you are tied to these activities for someone else’s profit.” 

As I grow older and start to see the world more holistically I can often look back at key moments when a stake was placed in the shifting sands of my life. These stakes are important because they create a focus point when somethings clicked. When I get a cold chill after being exposed to yet another pile of misogynist crap by a retarded hunk in plastic bling rubbing his small codpiece against a scantly dressed women. I can point back to buying the original 12″ vinyl version of “Oh bondage up yours” in 1977.

Every cause has a counter effect and what had been achieved in the 1970s was to be challenged throughout the 1980s free for all and sod thy neighbour attitude. Samantha Fox’s was 16 years old when her mother submitted several photographs of her daughter in lingerie to a Sunday tabloid newspaper competition (Girl of the Year amateur modelling contest). By the 198os Samantha Fox was a popular topless glamour model in a daily tabloid. In 1986 Fox choose to take up a new career as a pop star. Her first release was the tacky ‘Touch Me (I Want Your Body)’ that reached No. 1 in seventeen different countries. She went on to sell more than 30 millions albums and co-wrote the song “Dreams” for girl group All Saints’s 2000 album, Saints & Sinners. Although she was credited as “Karen Wilkin” because the group refused to record the song if Fox’s real name was used. In 1984 Sheena Eastern had a hit with a Prince written song ‘Sugar Walls’ a pseudonym for Eastern’s vagina.  By the close of the 80s Cher was to be seen cavorting around a battleship in a fishnet body stocking rattling out the hideous ‘If I could turn back time.’  Amongst this drivel there were occasional rays of sunshine from the likes of Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and the Sugarcubes whose lead singer Bjork was to became one of the most original and innovative female recording artists of all time.

2778_Bjork_photo_1

Thank god for Bjork

As with most cases in life it is not those at the vanguard who reap the rewards of their struggles. Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Courtney Love (Hole), PJ Harvey, Riot Grrrl, Sleater-Kinney, Grace Jones, Beth Ditto (Gossip), Poison Ivy Rorschach (The Cramps) and the stunning Skin (Skunk Anansie) were to find their journeys just that little bit more easier because of the women who had gone before. In turn this made for a more creative and fertile music scene for the rest of us to enjoy. It would of be interesting to hear the views of these female artist regarding female artists in the mainstream pop world today. I can only guess that for many it will be a case of raised eyebrows and recognition that syrup manufactured girl pop groups will always have a place.

I struggle to envisage many will sign up to the ‘girl power’ of the Spice Girls call to arms, “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha.”  In truth their struggle and achievements will seldom be recognised in the mainstream, because the mainstream needs to be controlled and manipulated from above. The advent of technologies has in many ways released the creative artist to pursue their particular path, but success on a scale that will enable economic independence remains a long way off for many female artists.  As a father of 3 daughters it is with great relief that when foraging around Bandcamp I have discovered such an amazing range of female artists who are producing some truly magnificent material. To name a few:

xray

 

The Men Who Sold The World (1971 – 1973)

As David Bowie scans the New York skyline from his semi retirement watch tower he surely must occasionally ponder the different phases of his illustrious career and the artists he has shared it with. John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Iggy Pop, Apex Twin, Massive Attack to name a few. Bowie has not been afraid to mix it up, although normally on his terms. His joint venture with Queen ‘Under Pressure’ allegedly faced several creative challenges with Bowie and Mercury going hammer and tong at each other, although the embryonic version of the song was a Queen demo called Feel Like’ written by Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Bowie of course has his critics.  The media hyped feud with Elton John, which can be traced back 40 years when John accused Bowie of “talking shit….being a silly little boy” during a Rolling Stone interview after Bowie referenced Elton John, “the Liberace….the token queen of rock.” 

There was a time of course when Bowie did not pull all the strings. A time when he had an equal who would be both friend and rival. Creative competition can produce brilliance, or alternatively flood the world with stagnated repetition. It can instil innovation or cripple confidence. Chinese Democracy the 6th album by rock juggernaut Guns and Roses for example took 14 years (1994 -2008) to release. In complete contract 36 months in the early 1970s resulted with two incredible artists releasing 6 albums of impeccable standard. A period that would influence popular music from there on.

1971- 1973

article_4e184652f12e9223_1345445269_9j-4aaqskThe 1960s had vanished in a dust bowl of psychedelic ash. The hippy party was over and from the rubble rock music increasing splintered and spun off in all types of directions. Heroin had replaced LSD as the drug of creative choice, which brought a harder and darker edge.  Music on TV, cheap HiFi equipment on the high street made recorded music more obtainable to teenagers. Record sales in both single and album formats were at an all time high. The top selling 15 singles between 1970 and 1979 sold on average over 1 million copies each. In contrast to the present day when the average No 1 single sells around 100,000 copies , a top 10 requires 30,000 and 6,000 will normally achieve a top 40.

Black Sabbath were to release 3 albums during 1971 – 1973. Led Zeppelin performed Stair Way to Heaven live for the first time whilst Pink Floyd performed Dark Side of the Moon live for the first time. The Paul McCartney single ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ was banned by the BBC. The First Glastonbury Festival was held. The Electric Light Orchestra were to perform live for the first time. Mike Oldfields Tubular Bells was released on Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin Label.  Slade (the link between the Beatles and Oasis) released their classic Slayed album. Synth pioneers Kraftwerk released 2 albums. In these 36 incredible months the legendary CBGB Music Club opened its doors in New York, The Who released Quadrophenia.  Dr Feelgood, Neu, Sister Sledge, New York Dolls,  Roxy Music, ACDC, Cheap Trick, Bad Company, The Sugar Hill Gang, Television, The Tubes (to name a few) are formed.

Bowie/BolanIt was during this musical juncture that two young artists, whose paths had crossed in the previous decade would end up ruling popular music in new decade. They would individually create 3 classic pop-rock albums of original material each,  spawn 17 top twenty hits and 4 number 1’s.

Legend has it that David Bowie and Marc Bolan had first met each other in the offices of a talent scout in 1964.

Bowie nearly 18 years old, Bolan not quite 17 were ambitious to make it as performing artists in the music business and each had been experimenting with various sounds and styles of the day. Their attraction was instant and their friendship endured over the years and their creative rivalry was to reach its peak in the chart battles of 1971 -1973.

This blog is not about who was the best artist. It is simply a celebration of this amazing time and two artists at the top of their game.

Singles

Hot Love released in 1971 was a T Rex chart success. By 1972 David Bowie was hitting the charts with Starman, John I’m Only Dancing and The Jean Genie, but it was Bolan who was setting the pace with No. 1s Telegram Sam and Metal Guru. By 1973 Bowie’s Life On Mars  and Bolan’s 20th Century Boy all made the top 5.

Albums

Putting aside the Bolan compilation Bolan’s Boogie (1972) released when Bolan had left Fly Records to form his own distribution company and Bowie’s covers album Pin Ups, which Bowie released in 1973 predominately for the American. It is the 3 original albums they released each during 1971-1973, which have set the standard.

First of the mark was T Rex with Electric Warrior (24th September 1971) Bowie released Hunky Dory (17th December 1971) followed by his break through The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (6th June 1972). T Rex released The Slider (21st July 1972) and Tanx (16th March 1973). Bowie then went on to release Aladdin Sane (13th April 1973).

It may have seemed they had declared creative war on each other, but Keith Altham, who over the years acted as publicist for both artists recalled that they were very close, ‘There was a real love there. They were very similar, in so many ways. They could have been brothers.’ Bolan’s breakthrough came thanks to the American Tony Visconti, then a musician and fledgling producer.  His partnership with T Rex established Bolan as the undisputed king of glam rock. Visconti was to later transfer his professional affection from Bolan to Bowie, and this partnership would ultimately create some of the most original and enduring rock music ever recorded, including Young Americans, Low, Heroes, Lodger, Scary Monsters……

The legendary British DJ John Peel was an early champion of T Rex, but by 1970 Bolan had shifted the band from its folk roots on to a more rock structured format with its occasional homage to the likes of Eddie Cochran. This formate would help provide the template for many songs across the 3 T Rex albums during 1971-1973 and beyond.

Electric Warrior is my personal favourite and contains the classic tracks ‘Jeepster‘ and ‘Get it on.’ The Slider (album photos by Ringo Starr) contains the stomping ‘Metal Guru‘ and ‘Telegram Sam.‘ My favourite track on the Tanx album is the opener to side two ‘Mad Donna.’ An album full of melancholy ballads and rich production, Tanx showcased the T. Rex sound bolstered by extra instrumental embellishments such as Mellotron and saxophone.  Tanx would mark the end of the classic T. Rex lineup and a slow decline for Bolan until a resurgence after a spring UK tour with punk band the Damned garnered positive reviews 1977.  Whilst driving home early in the morning on 16th September of the same year Bolan was killed in a car crash, two weeks before his 30th birthday.

His death ended the band given he wrote and composed all the material. Tragedy was to fall upon all the remaining members of the band. In 1980 Steve Took (drummer) died of asphyxiation after his throat was numbed by a cocktail of morphine and magic mushrooms.  Steve Currie was to also die in a car crash by 1981. Mickey Finn died following a short illness in 2003 and Peter ‘Dino’ Dines died of a heart attack in 2004. 

All I want is easy action baby

David Bowie would also use the rock n roll structures to the max, especially  on the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane albums. But unlike Bolan, Bowie was prepared to take risks and be more adventurous and push the boundaries. He was also a genius at absorbing musical emerging trends. Bowie’s scope as an artist was simply broader and deeper in both influence and ambition.

The Hunky Dory album has two of my favourite Bowie tracks on it, ‘Kooks‘ and ‘Changes‘ whilst it also contains one of his most pretentious and forgettable offerings ‘Song for Bob Dylan.‘ Whilst most people will point to Ziggy Stardust as the classic album with obvious and credible reasons. It is Aladdin Sane that has become my favourite over the years. Coming as it did after the Ziggy Stardust episode Aladdin Sane is full of confidence and variation. Bowie and his side kick Mick Ronson meddle with the Rolling Stones, whilst  absorbing influences from the Stooges to Jacques Brel.

As a teenager it was the album cover. The lightening across the face. A vision that would be drawn religiously by adolescent boys in art classes for years to come.

On the 2nd June 1991 Bowie joined Morrissey on stage to perform the T Rex track Cosmic Dancer. A fitting tribute on several leaves.

Two great artist and 6 classic albums, which should grace the shelves of most record collections.

 

Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.

I was 7 years old when Led Zeppelin were formed in London 1968. Consisting of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham they were the quintessential English rock band who went on to personify the ultimate rock band worldwide. Many have sought to emulate, many have copied, but none have equalled.

A quick listen of the first two Queen albums released in 1973 and 1974 respectively exposes Freddie and the boys original blueprint. Brian May, whilst a highly gifted guitarist could never match the swagger and presence of Jimmy Page strutting his stuff across the stage. Queen went on to become in effect the worlds biggest cabaret act whilst  Led Zeppelin managed to remain solid as a rock even if later albums experimented with funk, disco, or African infused rhythms. They also retained a sense of humour. The final track on the Houses of the Holy album The Crunge with its tongue in cheek nod to James Brown for example.

Rock bands had become so ostentatious during the 1970s that a bedroom poster was the nearest I would came to seeing Led Zeppelin live. There remains the faintest of hopes that they may reform as they did for the one off concert in 2007, but I will not be holding my breath. Yet perversely it was  un-obtainability that seems to have drawn me (and 1000s of others) closer to their enigma. This was in total contrast to my affinity with Pink Floyd, which was shattered by the punk explosion in the UK (1977-78). I did not listen to a full Pink Floyd album for many years afterwards, although I did regain my senses in time for their Pulse Tour resulting in a quite amazing evening on 20th October 1994 at  Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London.

Led Zeppelin where also at the top of their game as both a recording and live band when the UK pop charts were dominated with the likes of the Bay City Rollers singing Bye, Bye, Baby, Pete Shelley, Love Me Love My Dog and even Laurel and Hardy charted with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. It is clear to see now given the quality of pop music on one hand and the rock dinosaurs on the other that pop and rock music where driving into a car crash that would fuel the brief, but necessary punk period. Punk fizzled out like a damp torturous fart from a septic stomach with its ultimately boring and predictable uniform of wall to wall mohican haircuts, tartan trousers and biker jackets.

Whilst monster bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer  were never to rediscover their self indulgent status after the punk period Led Zeppelin remained unscathed, which is pretty surprising given their 1979 weak album offering In Through the Out Door. Led Zeppelin had not performed live for two years since the death of Robert Plant’s son during the band’s 1977 North American tour, and they had not performed in the United Kingdom for four years.  It was the bands manager Peter Grant who decided that the band should perform at what is now renowned as the classic Knebworth concerts instead of embarking on a lengthy tour. A estimated 400,000 people attended the two Knebworth events on 4th and 11th August 1979.

The death of drummer John Bonham in 1980 all but brought the curtains down on the band. The reunion (with Phil Collins on drums) at Live Aid 1985 was such a disaster that they refused to allow it to be included on the Live Aid DVD release. Collins still remains sore about his Live Aid jam with Led Zeppelin 25 years after the gig and recently revealed that he almost walked off stage in mid-set. Collins and Chic drummer Tony Thompson had both apparently been drafted in as replacements for the late John Bonham.

Jimmy Page blamed the replacement drummers for not learning their parts, but Collins claims it was Page, Plant and Jones who ruined the experience.  “They weren’t very good and I was made to feel a little uncomfortable by the dribbling Jimmy Page.” Collins concluded recently.

O2 Arena, 2007.

It was an ignominious farewell and one that would dog any potential reunion for years to come. Fans were kept at bay by Jimmy Page’s remastering and repackaging releases of the bands historical material. That was until the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert held in memory of the music executive at The O2 Arena, London on 10th December 2007. The band performed their first full-length concert since the death of Bonham in 1980 and in a fitting touch for this one-off reunion Bonham’s son Jason played drums during the set.

The 02 concert seems to have provided the band with an exorcism of the Live Aid debacle and unlike the Live Aid concert the 02 concert was formally released as both a CD and DVD under the title of Celebration Day, but for the fan it added nothing to what had gone before.

Led Zeppelin IV

The first Zeppelin album I recall buying was 1971s Led Zeppelin IV, although I would have purchased it later circa 1974-75. Over the course of a year I went on to purchase all their available albums, which was no mean feat in those days. Initially attracted to the album through the seminal track ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ which seemed to filter into my brain at night as I lay beneath my bed sheets, transistor radio pressed against ear hoping my parents would not detect the sound of the tuning radio. Inevitably they did and the said radio would be confiscated and so the cycle between generations would turn and grind around.

It was about this time I obtained my first cassette recorder, so with transistor radio perched safety I would hold the small cassette recorder microphone close to the transistor and tape the music. Building up c60 or c90 cassette tape to be traded at school with my fellow spotty, greasy haired and adolescent boys we were like desperate junkies.

What in eck do you do with this?

What in eck do you do with this?

This is how I  was  introduced to the likes of The Beatles, Hendrix, Dylan, The Doors and all those bands that did not penetrate the mainstream pop shows on TV. The cassette case, which housed the tape had self-made inserts normally constructed from a magazine photo that would somehow relate to the music contained on the tape. I still have a few cassettes from those days.

Oh my goodness so much goodness

Oh my goodness so much goodness

Whilst Stairway to Heaven holds a special place. It is a track, which has been slaughtered to many times by warbling tight trousered rock crooners who simply have had too much hair and hairspray at their disposal. Each counterfeiter dreadfully seeks to represent their own interpretation, which makes listening to the original feel like a Vietnam veterans flash back of carnage, panics and cold sweats. Led Zeppelin 4 also has possibly the two finest opening tracks of any rock album in history.  I defy anybody to dispute this.  ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Rock n Roll’ set a standard that has simply not been matched.

It started with the Beatles Anthology where literally anything picked up by the microphone in the recording studio, including instrument tuning, conversations. mistakes, practice warm ups and lack lustre mixes were to be given a formal release. The classic Doors and Hendrix albums were given the same treatment. Pink Floyd’s followed with their immersion box set releases. Now we are to be subjected to yet another repackaged and remastered release of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums with the “super deluxe box set” coming in at a whopping £91.00 ($150.00) each.

When it comes to making money from fans with Led Zeppelin the song definitely remains the same with each “super deluxe box set” the buyer will receive:

  • CD1: Original album newly remastered in vinyl replica gatefold sleeve
  • CD2: Companion audio in a new sleeve, featuring previously unreleased studio outtakes
  • Vinyl 1: Original album newly remastered in gatefold sleeve replicating the original album on 180 gram vinyl
  • Vinyl 2: Companion audio on 180 gram vinyl in a new sleeve featuring negative artwork based on the original album artwork, and featuring previously unreleased studio outtakes
  • HD Download Card with original album and companion audio in 96 kHz/24 bit
  • LP sized, individually numbered, high quality print of the original album cover
  • Album-size hardback book (80 pages)

Led Zeppelin are one of the most successful, innovative and influential rock groups in history. If the 1960s belong to the Beatles then the 1970s belong to Led Zeppelin.  I’ve taken a look at these “super deluxe box set” you know what? I’m going to stick with my old vinyl.