Category Archives: exhibitions, books and music culture

Book review: ‘All Around My Hat – The Steeleye Span Story’ by John Van Der Kiste

In spite of the title and the very period-looking cover from the band’s mid -70s heyday ‘All Around My Hat’ is a very thoroughly researched, if somewhat concise, history of folk rock legends Steeleye Span that covers the band’s entire history from its formation at the tail-end of the 60s to the present day. Timed to coincide with Steeleye Span’s fiftieth anniversary it charts the story of the band through its many line-up fluctuations, extensive touring and recording history and the numerous challenges and opportunities that were thrown at its members along the way .

Although key stages of the band’s history were already pretty familiar to me (the band’s formative years and heyday period are covered extensively in Rob Young’s excellent ‘Electric Eden’, for example) there are other eras that I knew far less about. I definitely learnt a good deal about the band, particularly around the years when Gay Woods (who appeared with her husband Terry on the very first album) returned in the mid 90s and the subsequent intra-band tensions that arose and ultimately led to Maddy Prior’s departure, albeit a temporary one. There were even a couple of gigs where neither Woods nor Prior were with the band and remaining members Peter Knight and Tim Harries had to cast around for a temporary lead singer and temporary drummer to fulfil existing tour commitments.

And the title? Named after the band’s bestselling single John Van Der Kiste’s book very much demonstrates that rather than Top 20 hits and going on Top of The Pops being a weird fluke, getting folk music out of tiny folk clubs and on to big stages was always very much a driving vision for founder member Tim Hart. Even in the early days of his career, as one half of a duo with Maddy Prior, he felt the folk scene needed a shot of glamour, publicity and marketing.

Some of the key players past and present (Maddy Prior, Peter Knight, Martin Carthy et al) are interviewed for the book but other insights are taken from pre-existing interviews previously published elsewhere (including, for that matter an interview I did with Julian Littman for the Get Ready To Rock website).

Intelligent, well-researched and well-written, even though a good deal of the material comes from secondary sources Van Der Kiste does a fine job in pulling the various threads together and producing this timely history of a ground-breaking and much-loved band.

Published by Fonthill Media 5th December 2019

https://www.fonthill.media/products/all-around-my-hat-the-steeleye-span-story

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Related posts:

Interview with Maddy Prior

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017

Review: Steeleye Span, London 2015

Review: Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

 

Book review: ‘Seasons of Change – Busking England’ by Tom Kitching

When the EU referendum result didn’t go quite the way I wanted it my reaction was to consume excess amounts of alcohol and spend the next few weeks swearing at every news bulletin that came on. Fiddle player, Tom Kitching, however took a different and altogether more constructive approach. Realising that he didn’t know England half as well as thought he did, Kitching resolves to travel around the country, busking wherever he goes and writing a blog of his experiences. The blog eventually became this book. An accompanying album of tunes (reviewed here) was also recently released.

My initial assumption about a travelogue written by a folk musician is that it would be very much led by the music. We’d get a short history to a particular folk song or tune, some background info about how it was linked to a particular area and then a few modern-day observations of the place today to bring us up to date. But the book is not like that at all. Although busking is the focus of the trips, and the means by which he pays for his meals and accommodation each day, the book is ostensibly about people.

Some of the places he visits I know extremely well: Hastings where I live now, Deptford where I spent twenty-odd years and Hull where I spent some time in the 80s and where my partner’s parents still live – and I found his observations to be thoughtful and convincing. Other places he visits I am far less familiar with like Easington Colliery, West Bromwich and Bradford, the latter providing one of the most touching scenes in the book as a black family, some Asian kids and some white kids all start dancing in the street to Kitching’s fiddle-playing, the adults all chatting and shaking hands with one another. “If I’d been able to guarantee this sort of result to the arts council before I’d set off on my project I’d be arriving here in a solid gold Rolls Royce,” he notes.

He visits well-off villages and impoverished towns and is often insightful in his observations on failed regeneration schemes and deepening political neglect, yet at the same time pragmatically optimistic about how things could be different. There is some meanness from some of the people he comes across along the way, particularly in attitudes to those who are homeless and (along with buskers) are also trying to eke out an income on the streets. Overall, however, there’s a huge amount of warmth and some lovely conversations that are recounted.

Even if you have zero interest in folk music or fiddle-playing ‘Seasons of Change – Busking England’ is a fascinating and compelling read.

Published by Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd – 2020

Seasons -Of-Change-book

Related posts:

Tom Kitching – Seasons of Change – album review

Pilgrims’ Way – Stand and Deliver 

Gavin Davenport & Tom Kitching at Warwick Folk Festival

 

 

From AC/DC to ABBA: five classic glam rock singles by non-glam bands

In the early 70s the likes of Bolan, Bowie and Slade were pioneering both the sounds and the looks that would come to define glam rock. Emerging in 1971, building momentum in 1972 and absolutely dominating the UK charts by 1973, glam was everywhere by 1974. Even non-glam bands were at it.

Here we look at five bands who managed to release great glam rock singles in 1974.

AC/DC – Can I Sit Next To You Girl

Released as their debut single in July 1974 the original version of ‘Can I Sit Next to You Girl’ is the only AC/DC release to feature Dave Evans on lead vocals, prior to Bon Scott taking over. The band would re-record the track with Scott but here you can see and hear the original. Angus is in his schoolboy uniform, of course, but the rest of the band are looking spectacularly glammed up. And it’s not just the image that’s glam either. The vocal delivery, arrangements and guitar riff all have far more of a glam rock than a hard rock feel to them. Now I love the sleazy hard-rocking Bon Scott-era of AC/DC and wouldn’t want to change a thing – but this debut single gives a delicious glimpse of how things might have been in some parallel universe.

Mungo Jerry – Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black

When ‘In The Summertime’ became the band’s first big hit in 1970 Mungo Jerry’s laid-back jug-band sound couldn’t be further away from glam rock if you tried. By 1974, however, it’s blindingly clear that glam was having an influence. It’s not just lead singer Ray Dorset’s studded white leather sleeveless jacket over his bare chest, we have a drum beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a Glitter Band release and a sing-along chorus that just screams pure unadulterated glam. My particular memory of this song was at my 8th birthday party when my dad crammed me and half the kids down the street into the back of his Ford Anglia to take us to the park. On the way back this came on the radio at full volume and we had all the widows open, screaming along to it at the top of our voices.

The Wombles – Remember You’re A Womble

Although their first single and (the theme tune from the BBC series) epitomises the lush orchestral pop that creator Mike Batt has been associated with much of his career, for the Wombles’ second single they went down a much rockier route. Joining Mike Batt (vocals/keyboards) were session musicians Chris Spedding (guitars), Les Hurdle (bass), Clem Cattini (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), Rex Morris (saxophone), Eddie Mordue (saxophone) and Jack Rothstein (violin). Not only was the single a brilliantly bouncy slice of glam rock but, thanks to the glorious fiddle solo, it’s a brilliant slice of folk rock, too. As such it remains the greatest glam-folk single ever made. Tim Hart of Steeleye Span kind of agreed. In his book ‘Electric Eden’ Rob Young recounts that Hart “bought a triple LP of Wombles tunes and was impressed with the clarity of it’s sub glam power pop”. Batt was hired by the band and the result was Steeleye Span’s own glam-folk smash ‘All Around My Hat’.

The Rolling Stones – I Know It’s Only Rock n Roll

This July 1974 single and title track of the Stones’ album later that year originally emerged out of a jam session Mick Jagger had with Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones of the Faces, along with David Bowie and bass player Willie Weeks. The track was polished up, some guitar licks were added by Richards and a Rolling Stones classic was born. Easily the most glam-influence song the Stones produced it really reminds me of T.Rex. And, of course, if you are going to release a glam rock single you need a glam rock video to go with it. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg the video shows the band dressed in sailor suits and playing in a tent which eventually fills up with bubbles. According to Keith Richards, the idea for the sailor suits came about at the last minute because none of the Stones wanted to get their own clothes ruined with detergent bubbles.

ABBA – Waterloo

Waterloo was written specifically as ABBA’s bid for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, after the group finished third with ‘Ring Ring’ in the contest for Sweden’s entry the previous year. With a driving guitar riff and a rocking upbeat tempo the song was quite a departure from the romantic ballads of previous European winners and, indeed, of ABBA’s later releases. Throw in the knee-high silver platforms, the glittery costumes and the star-shaped guitar and ‘Waterloo’ is a glam rock classic in all but name. Indeed, Abba themselves had cited ‘See My Baby Jive’ by English glam rockers Wizzard as a major influence at the time. My Nana, who was babysitting for us that night, let us stay up to watch them win Eurovision.

Related posts:

Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet

The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the story of the greatest Christmas record ever made

 

Folk: album review – Tom Kitching ‘Seasons of Change’

Two years ago fiddle-player Tom Kitching, known for his work with Gren Bartley and for being part of Pilgrims’ Way, started a blog and announced he was going on a journey.

“The sense of not knowing my own country was brought home to me by the referendum result. Virtually all my friends voted to remain, but England as a whole had other ideas. Clearly, the English are a much more complex and varied group than the people around me,” he states in his very first post back in April 2018, adding that he was aiming to travel across England, busking in towns, villages, and cities each day.

Kitching’s travels continued for well over a year and the blog eventually morphed into a book. The busking, meanwhile, ended up turning into an album – which is precisely what we are reviewing here. Recorded as live in Danebridge Methodist Chapel, Staffordshire in December 2019, some eighteen months after his journey began, Seasons of Change brings together eleven tunes mixing traditional tunes with Kitching’s own material. Essentially, a mixture of tunes from his busking repertoire along with new compositions inspired by his round-England trip.

Past collaborator Marit Fält accompanies Kitching on Nordic mandola and cittern and Pilgrim’s Way bandmate Jude Rees also joins him on English border bagpipes.
With morris tunes, reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes it’s a wonderfully varied set of tunes in terms of tempo and pace, not to mention geographical origin. The album takes us on a journey starting with ‘Old Molly Oxford’ right up to ‘Old Age and Young’ from John Offord’s ‘Bonny Cumberland’ tunebook. There’s even a peek over the channel with the final track. The old French tune ‘La Fanatique’ is paired with Kitching’s own ‘Infinite Espresso’ inspired by an incident in a dockers’ cafe in Harwich, which Kitching assures us in the sleeve-notes we need to buy the book if we want to find out the full story.

Beautifully played and absolutely fascinating in equal measure Tom Kitching has created a real delight with his Seasons of Change album. Now all I need to do is order the book…

Released: 17th April 2020

Book, blog and album all available via http://www.tomkitching.co.uk/

tom k

Related reviews:

Book review: ‘Seasons of Change – Busking England’ by Tom Kitching

Pilgrims’ Way – Stand and Deliver 

Gavin Davenport & Tom Kitching at Warwick Folk Festival

 

Book review: ‘On Track: Hawkwind – every album, every song’ by Duncan Harris

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

‘Hawkwind – every album, every song’ is another volume in Sonicbond’s ‘On Track’ series, this time taking on the Herculean task of documenting the prolific adventures of Dave Brock’s gang of space rockers in the recording studio over the past five decades.

Author, Duncan Harris, takes us on an album-by-album, track-by-track tour of every Hawkwind studio album, from the folk, busky and “startlingly melodic but totally unrepresentative ‘Hurry On Sundown’ (the opening track on the band’s eponymous 1970 debut) through to ‘The Fantasy of Faldum’ (the “sprawling, acoustic rock-based finale” of their most recent 2019 album ‘All Aboard The Skylark’).

Harris is never short of an opinion on any of Hawkwind’s vast output and his pithy one-paragraph assessments take us through the highs (‘Master Of The Universe’ from 1971′s ‘In Search Of Space’ is “the jewel” “the definitive Hawkwind song”) and the lows (‘Turner Point’ from 1982′s ‘Choose Your Masques’ is “by universal common consent… the worst piece of so-called music ever officially released under the name Hawkwind”).

The publication, of course, includes Harris’s take on the actual hit single ‘Silver Machine’ (“once the swirling fluttering synthesisers are removed, turns out to be somewhat bland rock and roll more suited to the 1950s than the 1970s”) as well as ‘Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ “the hit single that never was but should have been” (“a bouncy new wave tune that suggests Squeeze were avid listeners”).

Besides all the officially-released studio albums, Harris also includes a handful of essential live albums and a couple of albums from Hawkwind spin-off projects, giving us a grand total of thirty-two albums being pored over.

The book is also a hive of information about the band’s ever-fluctuating personnel and shifting musical direction.

Rather than simply giving us a standard intro piece to each album, as other authors in the series have done, Harris also groups the albums into eras representing different phases in the band’s evolutionary history. This allows for some additional context-setting over a defined period rather than each album simply being looked at as a momentary snapshot in time.

Accordingly, we get the Dawn of The Hawks era covering the early days, The Day of The Hawks era covering the Lemmy period as well as later phases such as the band went through new wave of heavy metal influenced and techno-dance influenced stages, for example.

A fascinating well-researched book written by someone who, although you definitely won’t agree with him on everything, clearly has an unquenchable passion for the band and a detailed knowledge of its history. While Harris’s book has not filled me with a desire to seek out every Hawkwind album ever recorded I certainly came away with renewed respect and genuine affection for this most remarkable of bands.

Published: Sonicbond Publishing 26th March 2020

Hawkwind every

Related reviews:

Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

Hawkwind at The Old Market, Hove 2014

Elvis songs before Elvis – the origins of six iconic Presley classics

From Hound Dog to Always On My Mind the original versions of six classic Elvis songs

Hound Dog

Written by songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when they were both still in their teens, ‘Hound Dog’ was created specifically for blues singer Big Mama Thornton. It was recorded in 1952 and released in 1953. Rather than being seen as just a rough early prototype of a tune Elvis would later make famous, Thornton’s version of Hound Dog is rightly regarded as iconic in its own right, helping lay the foundations of black R&B in rock music. The song has cemented Thornton’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history, even if she never made more than a few hundred dollars from it. Presley’s version was released three years later in 1956.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

We go right back with this one. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ was written by Vaudeville songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. Numerous versions were recorded in the late 1920s but the first was by Charles Hart, in 1927. In 1950, the Blue Barron Orchestra recorded a version and the song became a staple of crooners of the era. In his final months of national service with the US Army, Elvis began considering new material for his return to a recording career. Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, suggested ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ – the song being a favourite of Parker’s wife. Presley’s version was released in November 1960.

Suspicious Minds

‘Suspicious Minds’ was first written and recorded in 1968 by Mark James. Here we hear it taking shape as a soulful pop ballad. While the arrangements on the James version are virtually identical to those on the Elvis version recorded a year later. the magic is somewhat lacking. After spending much of the 60s churning out B movies, ‘Suspicious Minds’ was one of the songs recorded by Elvis in the Memphis recording sessions following the success of his televised 68 Comeback Special. Recorded in January 1969 it was released in August 1969 and became Elvis’s first number one in several years.

The Wonder of You

Written by Thomas Baker Knight Jr. ‘The Wonder of You’ was first recorded by film actor/singer Vince Edwards in 1958 but never released. A year later a version was released by Ray Peterson who had a Top 30 hit with it in both the US and the UK. It would be 1970, however, before Presley took Peterson’s sugary, sentimental teen ballad and transformed it into the bold, dramatic and unforgettable version that we know today. Presley recorded a live version of the song in Las Vegas in February 1970 and it is this  live version of the song that was released as a single in April 1970.

An American Trilogy

‘An American Trilogy’ is actually thee songs. The “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton” bit is from ‘Dixie’ which became an anthem of the confederacy in the Civil War. The “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” bit is from a song called ‘Battle Hymn for the Republic’ which was the marching anthem of the opposing federal anti-slavery Union Army. And the “Oh, hush little baby don’t you cry” bit is from ‘All My Trials’ said to have emerged out of African American spirituals. Country musician and composer Mickey Newbury had the idea of bringing the three together, representing three strands in America’s troubled history, for his 1971 album and a subsequent single. Presley introduced ‘An American Trilogy’ to his concert set-list in January 1972. A live recording was made the following month which was released as a single but although it became a staple of Presley’s live shows, paradoxically, the single didn’t do as well in the US charts as Newbury’s original.

Always On My Mind

A love song expressing deep regret to a departing lover ‘Always On My Mind’ was written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Mark James, of course, we already know as the writer and original singer of ‘Suspicious Minds’. ‘Always On My Mind’ was first recorded by BJ Thomas in 1970 but the first version to be released was by Gwen McCrae in 1972. Presley recorded his version shortly after separating from his wife, Priscilla, and it was released in November 1972. Here we can hear both the BJ Thomas version and the Gwen McCrae versions.

Related Posts:

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Five classic albums whose musical legacy outlived all the people playing on them

The death of Elvis is relayed to a caravan in Morecambe. August 1977

Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

The ‘On Track’ series by publishers Sonic Bond provides an album by album, track by track overview of a number of artists. The latest in the series to get this treatment are British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention. Author, Kevan Furbank, takes us on a fascinating journey through each of the band’s thirty studio album’s, from 1968’s self-titled debut to this year’s Shuffle and Go.

Each entry begins with a factual summary of personnel, recording information and release dates, followed by a brief potted history the album’s genesis and the band’s fortunes at the time it was recorded. That is then followed by Furbank’s review of each track. Having read a fair few books on folk-rock, Fairport and some of their leading personnel, most of the history was familiar to me. However, Furbank really comes into his own with his pithy and usually very insightful track by track reviews. And what he’s superb at doing is capturing the familiar styles of different Fairport personnel as well as some of the band’s most used external songwriters. ‘Tale In Hard Time’ one of Richard Thompson’s early songs on 1969’s What We Did On Our Holiday, for example, is thus introduced as “another of Richard’s gloomy/jaunty songs, an upbeat rhythmic number with slit-your-wrists lyrics” beautifully summing up a whole canon of classic Thompson output.

Furbank is also meticulous at pointing out where the band have returned to a song, as they have done on frequent occasions, and making comparisons with the earlier versions – or highlighting where the band have returned to a similar lyrical theme or musical arrangement in a different song. So if, like me, you were thinking I’m sure they’ve recycled that Eddie Cochran riff for one of those fifties rock n roll – meets trad folk song mash-ups just once too often, this book will tell you exactly which song and which album they tried it on first and where (perhaps unwisely) they thought it was a good idea to try it again.

I read the book over a single weekend, often playing the relevant albums as I turned the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s critical insights even if I did not always agree them. For those familiar with Fairport Convention’s history this will be a fascinating sit-down read, as well as a really useful reference for the future. However, if you are a Fairport fan looking to learn more this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the band. Start with Clinton Heylin’s ‘What We Did Instead Of Holidays’ or Mark Eden’s ‘Electric Eden’ or the band’s own authorised biography first and you will enjoy what this book has to offer all the more.

Published 26 March 2020 by Sonic Bond

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Related reviews:

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Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

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Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014

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Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

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Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2

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Visit to the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll – the 2i’s coffee bar, Soho

London has been getting better at celebrating its rock ‘n’ roll history in recent years. More blue plaques are going up, you’ve got attractions like the Hendrix flat and generally more and more effort is being made to mark some of London’s historic musical legacy. One place you might want to take a look at if you’re in central London is Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant on Old Compton Street in Soho. True, the fish and chips are indeed very tasty but of interest to rock fans is the fact this premises at 59 Old Compton Street was once the legendary 2i’s coffee bar.

2is outside

The 2i’s name came from the cafe’s original owners, Freddie and Sammy Irani, who ran the venue until 1955. They then leased it out to two wrestling promoters, Paul Lincoln and Ray Hunter, who opened it as a coffee bar in April 1956.

2is old

 

In his book ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers – How Skiffle Changed The World’ Billy Bragg writes of the day that the Vipers skiffle group turned up at the 2i’s in need of refreshment after taking part in the Soho Fair parade on 14th July 1956.

“The proprietor of the 2i’s was happy to have the band playing in his cafe. He’s been trying to draw customers in by employing singer Max Bard… but that wasn’t bringing in the teenagers. These guys seemed to have that young sound, so as they finished up their coffees and headed back out into the rowdy rush of the Fair, he invited them to come back and play any time. They promised to return the following week.”

There’s a nice little Pathé news clip here of the 2i’s in action.

Live music performances took place in the coffee bar’s basement which had room for around twenty people and the Vipers became the resident band there. However, during a break in one of the Vipers sets a young guy named Tommy Hicks took to the stage to sing some rock ‘n’ roll. Hick was soon talent-spotted, renamed Tommy Steele and had his first single out ‘Rock With The Cavemen’.

2is display

Numerous future recording stars would go on to perform and be discovered at the 2i’s. These include Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Vince Eager, Adam Faith, Carlo Little, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Eden Kane, Tony Sheridan, Albert Lee, Johnny Kidd, Ritchie Blackmore and Big Jim Sullivan.

“When Hank and I came to London at the age of 16 we went to the 2 I’s coffee bar to be discovered, as did Cliff as did lots of other people,” recalled the Shadows’ Bruce Welch in a documentary.

2is plaque

The 2i’s closed towards the end of the 60s, becoming a series of cafe bars and restaurants. A plaque was installed in September 2006 but it was only with the opening of Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant in 2016 that they really went to town in celebrating the venue’s historic legacy. There’s old photos on the walls, part of the old painted plasterwork has been uncovered and there’s a neon sign at the top of the stairs to the basement recreating the coffee bar’s famous logo.

And the basement? Now it’s just the gents and ladies toilets and a narrow corridor with some memorabilia on display but you can pop down there and think about all of those who performed down here and helped shape the course of British rock history.

2is neon

 

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Book review: ‘Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed the World’ by Billy Bragg

 

Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet

When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.

Bowie – 1964

David Bowie’s debut single ‘Liza Jane’ which was released under the name Davie Jones & the King Bees and was recorded at Decca Studios in West Hampstead in May 1964 but released on the Vocalion Pop label. Although producer Leslie Conn is credited as the composer the song is an arrangement of an old standard ‘Li’l Liza Jane’ which dates back to at least the 1910s. Bowie released two more singles the following year under the names The Manish Boys and Davy Jones & the Lower Third but his first release using the name David Bowie was his 1966 single ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ which was released as David Bowie & the Lower Third. Bowie’s next single, ‘Do Anything You Say’ released that same year was the first credited solely to David Bowie. Bowie release four more singles and a debut album prior to his first success chart success in 1969 with the single ‘Space Oddity’ which reached number five.

Bolan – 1965

Marc Bolan’s debut ‘The Wizard’ was released by Decca in 1965. “I sounded like Dylan,” Bolan later admitted in an interview. Mark Paytress in ‘Bolan – The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar’ takes up the story: “On the morning of September 14th 1965 Mike Leander, Jim Economides, Mark Pruskin and Marc Bolan congregated in Decca’s Broadhurst Gardens studios in West Hampstead. A small backing orchestra, comprising string section and pop instruments, and The Ladybirds vocal group were briefed and awaited further instructions from Leander. It was ten in the morning and everyone knew the session would be over by lunchtime.” When it failed to make its mark on the charts a couple more solo singles followed after which their was a stint in John’s Children. Bolan then enjoyed modest success in the underground acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex before shortening the name, expanding the personnel, turning up the amps and hitting glam rock superstardom.

Slade – 1966

Recording as the N’ Betweens prior to changing their name firstly to Ambrose Slade and then Slade, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell made their debut single in 1966. ‘You Better Run’ released by Columbia was a cover of a song by US band The Young Rascalls. Ian Edmondson & Chris Selby in ‘The Slade Discography’ take up the story: “Visiting American record producer Kim Fowley saw something in them that he liked and decided to to approach them with a view to recording some music. Fowley was what was referred to in those days as a ‘freak’. This was a combination of his height and his way out American dress style and attitude. He was fond of calling his records ‘Instant Productions’. This seemed to be mainly because he didn’t waste a lot of time and money on recording.” ‘You Better Run’ sold exceptionally well in Wolverhampton but failed to sell many copies elsewhere. Several more singles and two albums would follow until the band hit the UK Top 20 with ‘Get Down and Get With It’ in 1971.

Mud – 1967

Mud released their debut single ‘Flower Power’ on CBS in 1967, a song written by the band’s guitarist Rob Davis. Several more flop singles would follow until Mud hit the charts with ‘Crazy’ six years later, after they were signed to Mickie Most’s Rak label and enjoyed the fruits of the Chinn-Chapman songwriting team. Even at this early stage in 1967, however, all four members of the classic Mud line-up are in place: Les Gray, Rob Davis, Ray Stiles and Dave Mount. The band worked the social clubs of Surrey whilst continuing with their day jobs, Les Gray recalling in an interview: “We would do anything because we wanted to work.” Before finding their glam-meets-rock n roll-revivalist niche they hit us with this wonderful bit of psychedelic kitsch silliness.

The Sweet – 1968

The Sweet’s debut single ‘Slow Motion’, a song written by Wolverhampton pianist Dave Watkins, was released in July 1968 on Fontana. Set to be released under their original name The Sweetshop the band’s name was hurriedly shortened when they discovered another band had been using the same name. At the time of their debut three quarters of the band’s classic line-up, Brian Connolly, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker are already in place. Guitarist Andy Scott would join two years later in 1970. Produced by Phil Wainman, who would go on to produce the band’s hit singles during the glam era, ‘Slow Motion’ is a long way away from Blockbuster! and Ballroom Blitz but at the same time not a million miles away from the string of bubblegum hits (Funny Funny, Co-Co, Poppa Joe et al) that the band had before hitting their stride with a rocked-up glam sound.

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From AC/DC to ABBA: five classic glam rock singles by non-glam bands

Lost In Space: interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

Interview with Andy Scott ahead of Sweet’s 2019 UK winter tour

 

Rock and pop memorabilia at the V&A’s Theatre & Performance exhibition

With a free afternoon in London before heading off to Minehead for the Butlins rock weekend I thought I’d take a look at the V&A’s Theatre and Performance exhibition. This permanent exhibition is about stage performance in its widest sense, but amidst the magnificently ornate costumes from nineteenth century productions of Shakespeare, a sparkling line-up of pantomime dame outfits and Dame Edna’s famous Sydney Opera House-shaped hat, there are a number of exhibits that are of particular interest to rock and pop enthusiasts.

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Madness memorabilia

From a small display devoted to Madness memorabilia, to stage outfits worn by the likes of Elton John and Jimmy Page, to a ukulele played by George Formby, there’s some interesting artefacts, even if the selection seems somewhat random.

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L-r: Jimmy Page's peacock suit, Elton John's bicycle outfit and George Formby's ukulele

However, the exhibition really needs to be seen in it’s wider context to properly appreciate it and the way that twentieth century rock and pop acts fitted into a tradition of stage performance stretching back centuries.

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Recreation of Kylie Minogue's backstage dressing room

If you are taking a trip to London’s museum quarter in South Kensington anyway it’s definitely worth taking a look at – and like all other permanent exhibitions in the capital’s main museums it’s completely free.

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L-r: Coldplay's Chris Martin's stagewear and Adam Ant's Dandy Highwayman outfit