Friday 26 March 2021

My First Festival ...

I'm not a great one for Festivals - not a lover of standing in the rain with a pint of under strength lager, sleeping in tents, or trying to find a useable chemical toilet.
In short - I'm a grumpy middle-aged middle-class bloke who likes a bit of comfort.

I've never been to Glastonbury, but have experienced many Festivals over the years including various Reading Festivals., Monsters Of Rock/Download Festivals, Rewind, and a few of the Butlins Holiday Camp Out Of Season shindigs.
Remember what I said about comfort?  have you ever been in a basic chalet in Skegness?  The phrase "Comfortable" should be preceded by "Not very" and suffixed by ",but it'll do".

The first Festival I went to was Reading Rock 1987, and living in Reading travel was not an issue - one bus to the Town Centre and then walk it.  As a Festival Virgion the walk to the Site was a part of drinking in the experience (basically watching all the crusty old rockers venturing into town for breakfast and a pint to start the day, before returning for a days vigorous headbanging and Rough Cider.
1987 was also the Festival with the "Rock" name before it tried to broaden the appeal and public persona by simply becoming Reading Festival and booking some bands who had not formed in the early 70s and looked forward to their one open air gig each year (see the Enid on Sunday's bill below).

So, 1987 - having just started work, an Apprentices Wages could only stretch to a one day ticket - I had a choice to make:

I discounted the Friday because I didn't own anything black or gothic enough for the mood of the day.  And then had to choose between Status Quo and Alice Cooper - a tough call.
Sunday also offered Zodiac Mindwarp and The Stranglers, but the Quo won out because:
(a) they're the Quo
(b) Bad News were on the bill
(c) I think my mate couldn't go on the Sunday anyway

As with every published Festival line-up, bands were added and some dropped out - although as I recall Sunday remained as published.  The only change on Friday was the non-appearance of Spear Of Destiny (Kirk Brandon broke his leg(?)) to be replaced by Graham Parker.

The first change on Saturday though was announced at 12:00 - Blues n Trouble had broken down on the way to the gig.  It was too late to find a replacement, so The Quireboys went on early and ghot an extra 15 minutes.

Dumpy was Dumpy - a last hurrah/hangover of the Reading Rock Glory Days - and played a growling Biker Metal set of Hawkwind/Motorhead inspired noise.  I liked them and saw them again a couple of years later (in a Pub in Aldershot)

Mammoth were replaced by Shy - all big hair and sub-Bon Jovi "nice" metal, but I bought the album anyway.

Now whether it was a combination of late Summer sun, cheap beer, and too many Benson & Hedges, I have no recollection of Glory, Terraplane or MGM
(in fact, to this day I have no clue who Glory actually are?).

I do remember Lee Aaron though - those sort of memories stay with a 17 year old ...
(in truth, the music was nice enough, but not really substantial or indeed a classic live performance)

Georgia Satellites and Bad News swapped, meaning Bad News lifted the waning early evening spirits (and brought Brian May on stage), and Georgia Satellites got the early evening slot (as the sun was fading) with a storming set of Southern Boogie.
Taking Status Quo out of the equation, The Georgia Satellites were the best band to stand on that stage on that August day in suburban Berkshire.

Competent though they were, there was no way the Prog affectations of Magnum could follow that lot.  And many burgers and beers were consumed while the band noodled on stage.

And then darkness fell, the stage lights descended and then slowly rose again - "Allo Reading!" and straight into "Whatever You Want".
Wall-to-Wall bangers for 90 minutes, including the live crowd joiner-inner "Dirty Water (always better live than the studio version) - a proper party atmosphere in a field.
Just looked up the set list on the ever helpful - they played 13 tunes (17 if you include each separate track in the medley), and 4 tracks as an encore.  Not a bad way to break your Festival cherry.

Grinning from ear-to-ear I left the site, bought a cheese sandwich, a cheap bottle of lager, and a bootleg Status Quo T-Shirt and wandered home.

1988 I did both Donnington Monster of Rock and Reading Festival within a fortnight of each other. Again, a one day ticket for Reading meant I missed out on seeing Iggy Pop and The Ramones on Friday and Squeeze on Sunday - an annoying oversight I am happy to report I have rectified many years later.

And I returned to Reading (often for full weekends) for some years after that (and finally catching Iggy Pop live in 1991).  I may have missed the 1992 Festival as I have no recollection of the now mythical Nirvana live performance.  I think the last one I went to was 1994 (I'm sure I saw Primal Scream, the Manics and Radiohead standing in a muddy field) but despite living less than 2 miles from the Site I have no real desire to return.  The line-up never seems to be strong enough on a single day to warrant the investment (or the "Festival Experience") and besides I'm an old fart now, so would need a quiet nap halfway through the day, and the organisers would probably balk at someone taking a deck chair in (although not at the 80s Rewind Festivals - they don't seem to mind there).

Like many things, you never forget your first ...

Quireboys - Mayfair

Georgia Satellites - Battleship Chains

Status Quo - Dirty Water


Thursday 18 March 2021

2 Tone

Has one single record label done more for shifting thoughts, cooling tensions, and throwing some banging good tunes into the mix, than a small enterprise founded in a small Coventry front room?

By the late 70s, Punk was over - Post-Punk and New Wave were now the preferred terms.  And a Mod Revival was gathering pace.  Close partners in style, attitude and sound of the original Mods in the 60s were the Skinheads.  And as you can';t necessarily have one without the other, the Skinhead revival was happening alongside the Mod Revival.
In truth these sub-cultures had never really gone away, it's just now they were receiving attention again.

Whilst the Mods went for sharp suits and a look that tried to break their connection to Working Class roots and environment, Skinheads revelled in their roots and wore the clothing of their environment - atoned down -but equally sharp - mod look and close cropped hair, and then modified the Mod look with .  The look was not far removed, and was certainly influenced by, Jamaican Rude Boy.  And completing the Caribbean connection, the Skinheads soundtrack was Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae.

The true reasonings for a faction of the late 70s Skinhead becoming associated with far right attitudes and violence is lost somewhere in the mists of my research.  Maybe it was the rise of Oi, disaffection for their environment, rabble rousing and the rhetoric of the rise of the National Front, or a combination of all these things?
From a simple historic view, the archetypal skinhead is now pictured with a Union Jack T-Shirt, a swastika tattoo on their forehead, and a general air of snarling violence.
But hang on - there was another -possibly larger group of the skinhead population which were perhaps truer to the original movement, remained (generally) apolitical and continued to party to the sounds of Prince Buster, The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and anything on the Trojan label.

And it was from this second group that spawned Jerry Dammers band - The Coventry Automatics, soon to be renamed The Specials.  Politics though, or at the very least Racial politics and disaffected youth politics, were very much to the fore in the (surprisingly?) savvy Jerry Dammers.

And in this sleepy Midland town of Coventry he found he was not alone with ska being performed by multi-racial bands, chief among them The Selector.  Darn sarf in That London, Madness were adopting a similar look and sound, while to the West in the badlands of Birmingham The Beat were knocking around.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to spread the word, Jerry Dammers did a deal with Chrysalis Records to fund the recording of 10 or 15 singles a year and a couple of albums.

First off the blocks was The Specials re-working of Prince Buster's Al Capone backed with good mates The Selecter, and for the next 6 years 2 Tone released a host of singles and albums of influence and popularity.  The Specials manged 2 number one singles and a slew of Top 10 hits, and other bands on the roster weren't far behind.

And the roster is best described as small but perfectly formed - and also did what no other label did.  Gave the bands the freedom to record as much as they want before going elsewhere.
Madness, The Beat, and Bad Manners got their first releases on Two Tone (in the case of Bad Manners it was 2 tracks on the Dance Craze album) before departing the Good Ship.
It's easy to see 2 Tone as a Specials vanity label, but they were joined by The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Swinging Cats, and latterly The Appolinaires and The Higsons.
OK, they may not have set the charts on fire but they all added value and worth the not just to the label but the thoughts and actions of the listeners, both then and in the future.

The label may only have existed for 6 years (1979 to 1985) but it's sound, attitude, and politics captured a moment, made people think (a bit), and no doubt had a lasting influence.

The Specials - Gangsters

The Selecter - On My Radio

The Specials - Doesn't Make It Alright

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Alice Cooper - Detroit Stories

 With the best will in the world, I'm not sure anyone would cite Alice Cooper's first two albums - 'Pretties For You and 'Easy Action' - as essential.
They have their moments, but not the energy, commitment and even a clear focus.  In the main they are a mix of Psychedelia, Freak Rock, Frank Zappa knock-offs, and Alice sounding close to Captain Beefheart.
But California was not a natural fit for the band, and they upped sticks and moved towards Detroit - a scene and sound perhaps closer to their liking.

And like it they did with confidence showing on third album 'Love It To Death' - OK not an unadulterated classic, but more than enough to warrant repeat playing.
And they were off ... next album 'Killer' would by my choice as the pick of their back catalogue, and this was closely followed by 'Schools Out and 'Billion Dollar Babies' - probably the bands last truly great album.

Alice Cooper is 74, his band mates of a similar vintage, but they have come together again for a couple of tracks on the new album and deliver the goods once again.
'Detroit Stories' is a mix of cover versions and new originals re-visiting and celebrating their beginnings and the sound of late 60s Detroit - MC5, The Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger.  Even the Velvet Underground and The Doors make a passing appearance.  The sound and delivery is an unmistakable return to the template defined by those 4 albums mentioned above.  And that template is re-inforced by the presence of Bob Ezrin in the producers chair.

And it is with the Velvet Underground, specifically a cover of "Rock & Roll" which kicks off the album.  Not a total facsimile, but close enough to the original to be comfortable and different enough for Alice to put his own stamp on it.
Over 15 tracks, we get 4 cover versions - the aformentioned "Rock & Roll", Outrageous Cherry: "Our Love Will Change The World", MC5: "Sister Anne", and Bob Seger: "East Side Story" amongst a slew of Alice originals as good as he's ever done.
All delivered with a ragged garage rock feeling, hints of blues harp, Alice's growled menacing vocal and an air of menace, humour and sheer enjoyment.  This is not just a re-visit and celebration of Detroit, but a re-visit and celebration of Alice himself.

There is also an impressive list of guest players including:

  • original band mates Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith on "Social Debris" and "I Hate You"
  • MC5s Wayne Kramer and Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner play on 12 of the 15 tracks
  • Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner appears on 4 tracks
  • Joe Bonamassa appears on 2 tracks
  • Larry Mullen Jr thumps the tubs on "Shut Up And Rock"

This is no lazy knock-off covers album awash with special guests and some filler thrown in to make up the numbers - this is very probably the most complete, consistent album since 1975s 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.
(I nearly chose 1989's 'Trash' but it falls short for being a bit too clean in the songwriting and production departments)

Rock & Roll

Our Love Will Change The World

Detroit City 2021