Category Archives: exhibitions, books and music culture

The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

Baby-boomers, Brexit and classic rock bargains

I’ve rarely been able to go past a charity shop without having a quick browse through their second-hand CDs. To be fair this usually doesn’t take long. Shops usually have a shelf or two with around 100-150 CDs for sale and usually the majority of them hold no interest for me at all as they fall into two categories:

1. Old-time easy listening – the likes of James Last, Vera Lynne, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and so on. You get tons of these in most charity shops. My guess is that they belonged to people in their late 70s/80s who have either died or gone into nursing homes and their CDs have been passed on to the charity shop by their families.

2. 90s/00s chart pop – the likes of Take That, Spice Girls, Ronan Keating and numerous X Factor winners. Again, you see tons of these in charity shops and my guess is they belonged to 30-somethings or early forty-somethings who have offloaded them, either because of changing musical tastes or because they don’t want to have anything as desperately uncool as CDs in the house and have switched to downloads. Occasionally, you see some Britpop-era CDs amongst these and (particularly as I wasn’t able to afford to buy too many CDs back in the 90s) I’ve been able to pick up numerous second-hand bargains by the likes of Blur, Cast, The Boo Radleys, Ocean Colour Scene, The Levellers and so on to add to my collection.

However, what was very rarely seen, until recently, was the kind of classic rock albums that are the mainstay of my CD collection. This is starting to change it would appear and in the past year I’ve picked up numerous CDs for 50p or a pound by the likes of Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy.

It could be that these are the result of people either switching to digital (or switching back to vinyl) and disposing of their CDs in the process. But I doubt that accounts for the bulk of them somehow. My guess is that just as we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rock star deaths – guys in their 60s and early 70s being tragically taken away from us, we are probably also witnessing a similar trend amongst rock fans as well. A tragedy for their families, certainly, as I know only too well. But good news,perhaps, for the quality of the CD shelves in charity shops.

The baby-boomer generation may have unwittingly cast a huge question mark over their grand-children’s futures by voting for Brexit in such overwhelming numbers but at least their impeccable good taste in music is available for the benefit of future generations and can now be snapped up at bargain prices at a charity shop near you.

2017-03-18 13.15.48.jpg

In praise of Action Records, Preston

Tales of a teenage record-buyer in 1980s Preston

Action Records is a long-running and much-celebrated record store on Church Street in Preston, Lancashire. I know it’s still going – although I must confess I haven’t been in there in almost three decades. Living in London and now Hastings for twenty-odd years it’s really not that convenient for me. And trips to Preston these days tend to be a frenzied whirl of family visiting rather than a time to browse record stores. But as a teenager Action Records was an absolute goldmine of musical discoveries for me.

actionrecords

It was the early 80s, a few years before CDs became ubiquitous, and the second-hand vinyl racks at Action Records at the scruffy end of Church Street were something I poured over at least once a week. New albums back then were comparatively expensive we must remember. Although you could see numerous name bands at Preston Guildhall for just three or four quid (tickets that would cost you almost ten times that these days) to buy a new album you were talking £4.99. My paper-round and (later) my glass-collecting job in the local pub wouldn’t run to many of those. So going to Action Records, with its huge range of second-hand vinyl from around £1.20 to around £1.80, became quite addictive.

On starting out my lifelong obsession with buying rock music not only was I able to rapidly acquire the back catalogues of bands that everyone who was into rock and heavy metal at school was talking about (the likes of Rainbow, AC/DC, Whitesnake and Status Quo), it was also a treasure trove for seeking out the more obscure stuff, too. Albums that had long been deleted from bands that had been forgotten and that 80s fashion dictated should be completely ignored could be snapped up for next to nothing. It’s purely thanks to Action Records that I got turned on to the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, The Sweet, Widowmaker and The Yardbirds.

These days it’s so easy to seek out information on vintage acts and it’s pretty easy to purchase their entire back catalogue. However, pre-internet, unless you knew your music history inside out there was quite a bit of guesswork involved. I would often go by the very scientific method of buying albums through either (a) recognising the name of one of the musicians as someone who had played in another band or (b) liking the cover. I developed a lifelong love of Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter (neither of whom I’d heard of and about whom absolutely no-one was talking about at the time) purely after being drawn to the bright, florescent pink cover of the ‘Mott’ album and being prepared to shell out £1.20 for it.

mott-53e8a4aed5f2e

Musically, for me it was an exciting voyage of discovery and Action Records made that possible. Sometimes there would be some helpful bits of advice from Gordon, the proprietor, but never in a way that made you feel small or outside some hallowed music aficionado clique that you were not part of.

I’ve still got much of my Action Records second-hand vinyl, even though I mainly listen to CDs these days, and I’m absolutely delighted that it’s still going. It certainly played a major part in my musical appreciation and, who knows, maybe it’s finally time to pay a visit again next time I’m in Preston.

Thank you Action Records.

There’s a short 2015 film celebrating Action Records’ legacy here: https://vimeo.com/125335358

Record Store Day this year is 22nd April 2017

http://www.actionrecords.co.uk/

418457903915

 

Memories of my first ever live gig – Slade at Donington 22/8/81

When I went to Monsters of Rock at Donington, aged 15, in 1981 it was not only my first ever festival but also my first ever live rock gig of any type. It still remains my favourite gig of all time, in particular the set by Slade that afternoon.

We arrived at Donington a little late and by the time we had parked and got into the arena the band More were most of the way through their set. The next band on were Blackfoot who I have no real recollection of at all. What I do remember is the anticipation of waiting for Slade to come on. After several years in the doldrums Slade had burst back into the charts a few months earlier with ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. Their storming performance at Reading Festival the previous year (when the band replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the last minute) had already become legendary and this all meant that in the space of a few months Slade went from being a band that sang about Christmas that I vaguely recalled from my childhood to being my number one favourite band in the whole world. And that was even before I witnessed what would become (and still remains) the most remarkable live performance I’ve ever seen. Loud guitar-driven rock, commanding showmanship, unforgettable songs and sheer over- the-top-eccentricity, it was an absolute master-class in compelling live performance.

On the back of the previous year’s Reading appearance, the early 80s heavy metal crowd had really taken Slade to heart. Looking at the setlist from Donington now the songs basically fit into three categories. Firstly, there were, unsurprisingly, the 70s hits like ‘Gudbuy T’ Jane’ and ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Secondly, there was newer material like ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ and a sneak preview of their soon-to-be-released new single ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’. Thirdly, there were the old 50s rock ’n’ roll covers, which Slade had begun inserting in their set in their wilderness years in the late 70s but had kept in as they began to be embraced by the heavy metal crowd. Although the look couldn’t have been more different, this latter group of songs demonstrates how much late 50s rock ’n’ roll and early 70s glam rock had in common in terms of song structure, lyrical themes and instantly memorable choruses.

It was Noddy Holder’s masterful ability to connect with the 65,000-strong crowd, however, that was perhaps even more memorable than the songs. Witty, irreverent and on a mission to entertain no matter what, in spite of the non-stop rain, Holder was able to strike an instant rapport with a huge festival audience in a way that few can. And that’s before we even get on to discussing the surreal sea of moving objects that danced above the heads of the crowd throughout the entire set. Although ever-more hostile missile throwing was to mar a number of festivals around that time, with Slade it was turned on its head and rather than being fuelled by aggressive machismo, chucking stuff about became a life-affirming celebration of communal craziness. White plastic beer bottles full of beer, bundles of hay that had been laid on the ground in an attempt to soak up the mud, packed lunches, burger buns – everything that could be thrown in the air was thrown in the air . The band, of course, joined in with one toilet roll after being another lobbed out into the crowd during Mama Weer All Crazee Now. When the crowd called for Merry Christmas at the end of the set Holder told us all that if we wanted it we would have to sing it ourselves, which is precisely what everyone did…

After Slade finished, and soaking wet from rain, beer and mud and covered head to foot in hay we made our way further towards the back of the crowd to catch our breath and I wondered whether I would ever see anything on stage quite so magnificent ever again. There were more fantastic performances to come that day – with memorable sets from both Whitesnake and AC/DC (once a completely underwhelming performance from Blue Oyster Cult was out of the way). However, even though I’ve seen many exceptional performances from many exceptional bands over the years, nothing has ever quite matched the intensity of seeing Slade at Donington.

Setlist:

Dizzy Mamma
When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’
Take Me Bak ‘Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Everyday
Somethin’ Else
Pistol Packin’ Mama
Gudbuy T’Jane
We’ll Bring the House Down
Get Down and Get With It
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Cum On Feel the Noize
Born to Be Wild
Merry Xmas Everybody

Related posts:
Slade at Minehead 2015
Slade at Hastings 2015
Slade Fan Convention 2016
Slade, strikes and the three-day week

Monsters-Of-Rock-1981

In praise of the CD: Seven reasons why CDs are my favourite music format ever

It was only a few years ago that people were finding it hilarious that I was clinging obstinately to the CD rather than embracing digital formats. Now, with the renaissance of vinyl, some still regard me as a Luddite dinosaur for not embracing the switch back to the 12 inch.

Here are seven reasons why the CD is king for me:

1. I love physical product – I can’t excited at the thought of sifting through computer files for my listening pleasures. While the bibliophile gets immense satisfaction from browsing through a proper library of real books, I get the same pleasure from my physical collection of albums. I like the artwork, the lyric sheets, the song-writing credits, the information on who is playing what, on when it was recorded, who produced it and so on.

2. But there’s only finite space – I started buying LPs as a teenager in the early 80s but had switched over to buying CDs by the early 90s. However, even in that decade I’d amassed enough vinyl to still fill up three large cupboards today. If I’d carried on buying vinyl at the same rate I’ve purchased CDs over the past 25 years I’d have no room to eat, sit or sleep. For me the CD provides the perfect balance between the romance of a vinyl library and the efficiency of a digital library.

3. Sound quality is important to me – If you played me a brand new vinyl album and a CD, personally I’d struggle to tell the difference. But brand new vinyl albums don’t stay brand new for very long and I prefer listening to stuff without crackles, scratches and jumps. OK CDs can degrade you tell me but I’ve never had more than a tiny handful of CDs that have become unplayable and (with a quick spin on my £15 CD cleaning/repair kit) all but one of those was as good as new afterwards.

4. Jumping up and down every twenty minutes is a pain in the arse – Getting up to put a fresh CD on is fine. But it’s only when I’m playing some of my old vinyl that I’m reminded how ridiculously short the LP format was. When you’re reading or working or just chatting to your partner, having to get up to switch sides every twenty minutes or so is just a pain. I’m sorry.

5. I like the integrity of the original album – My retro tastes mean I listen to an awful lot of reissues but, unlike many digital fans, I love listening to albums in full in the track order they were released in when they were originally put out on vinyl – and this accounts for the vast majority of my listening.

6. Though I like all the extras too – While I like listening to albums in the way they were originally conceived, I also love all the extras the additional length of the CD format allows: the B sides, the acoustic versions, the missing songs restored to live albums etc.

7. But most of all – I’m 50 now. And after experimenting with cassette tapes and records in my early years as a music obsessive, I’ve simply lavished far too much time, money, attention and love on my CD collection to ever contemplate changing formats again now. Good job it’s the perfect format for me then…

2017-01-02 13.33.27 (1).jpg

Preview: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017

A newcomer to Hastings finds out what’s it’s all about.

This is my recent piece for local independent music website The Stinger. You can find the link here

For those new to Hastings the sheer range of festivals, parades and community events can be exhilarating, exciting but sometimes bewildering. Just what on earth is Fat Tuesday? Is it on a Tuesday and does it have anything to do with being fat?

As a relative newcomer to this small but fun-loving town on the south coast I’ve been on a mission to find out. While few people outside Hastings may be familiar with the term “Fat Tuesday” most will have heard of “Mardi Gras” and, literally, Fat Tuesday is the French to English translation of Mardis Gras. Traditionally held on Shrove Tuesday, such celebrations were a chance for people to let their hair down before the onset of Lent and, supposedly, a long period of sobriety. New Orleans and Venice have renowned Mardi Gras celebrations, Venice has Carnivale and, for the past eight years, Hastings has had Fat Tuesday. Running from Friday, 24th February through to Tuesday 28th, it’s a long weekend of fun, colourful parades and lots (and lots!) of live gigs.

You can find the full programme on the website: Hastings Fat Tuesday, but highlights include:

Fat Friday – Friday 24th: Things kick off on the Friday evening with a performance from 20yo singer-songwriter Marie White. Compared to the likes of Tracey Chapman and Macy Gray, she’ll be performing short sets over the course of the weekend but this is a chance to see a full show.

Unplugged Saturday – Saturday 25th: 40 acts play fifteen minute sets in a variety of venues, equating to an afternoon of 200 gigs across Hastings Old Town, from acoustic rock to Folk to Blues and much more besides.

Off Axis – Sunday 26th: Again, Hastings comes alive with a mega-run of gigs. 32 acts from across the country, play in 4 town centre venues, with a gig starting every 15 minutes between 1pm and 9pm. It’s a live showcase for some of the best emerging, unsigned acts in the UK and afterwards it’s followed by an after party with Hastings-based punk folkies Matilda’s Scoundrels at The Fountain on Queen’s Road.

Thee Sunday Sonics – Sunday 26th: On the more arty side there’s Thee Sunday Sonics, a one-day celebration of avant garde electronic music, video art and spoken word.

UnConvention – Monday 27th: UnConvention is a one-day music conference aimed at the grass roots of the industry and The Palace on the seafront plays host to the official launch of Hastings & Rother as a Music City. There will be a session on Music Cities and Music Tourism at 11am, followed by the formal launch at 1pm. It’s free but do register in advance here: UnConvention/Monday/

The Fat Tuesday Tour – Tuesday 28th: Fat Tuesday night itself runs from 8pm-11pm and as well as fancy dress and all kinds of frivolity there are 24 bands playing 20 minute sets across 12 venues, headlined by Britpop trio, Dodgy.

No serious music lover could deny what a fantastic and varied selection of music will be available over the course of the weekend. But for someone like me, who can get spoilt for choice at a summer festival when there are just two stages, how can you make the most of it and how can you take in as much as possible without getting completely overwhelmed?

I sought advice from seasoned Fat Tuesday regulars via social media. David advises: “The participating pubs do get very crowded and if you eventually find somewhere you like my advice is to stay where you are and let the bands come to you!”

See you there folks.
Let the good times roll.

http://www.hastingsfattuesday.co.uk/

1487015952904

Have we been seeing a creative renaissance for our vintage rock and metal acts?

OK, so Black Sabbath may have played its last ever tour, we have seen one devastating rock star death after another and a number of acts are no more. But, in spite of all that, have we been witnessing a real renaissance for some of our classic rock and metal bands in recent years? I would contend we have.

After some difficult years in the late eighties and nineties for many of our much loved rock giants, one band after another have been releasing albums that stand up really well against their early classics. The aforementioned Black Sabbath released the brilliant 13 album in 2013, which in my view can happily sit alongside the first four Sabbath albums as a genuine bona fide classic. Uriah Heep’s Outsider released in 2014 can unashamedly sit alongside the David Byron-era material in terms of Heep’s unmistakable brand of melodic hard rock. Girlschool’s Guilty As Sin is every bit as good as their era-defining early albums, with lead track Come The Revolution a match for any of their well-known classic tunes. Saxon’s Battering Ram from 2015 and Judas Priest’s Redeemer Of Souls from 2014, each reviewed elsewhere here, both stand up well and offer everything you’d want to hear in a new album from either band. Even The Stones have got in on the act with their critically-acclaimed back-to-basics Lonesome & Blue album celebrating their R&B roots.

My theory is that all of these bands have reached a stage in their musical careers where, unlike some often painful attempts a decade or two ago, they have more than proved themselves. They now no longer feel obliged to sound contemporary or try to keep up with modern trends but can simply concentrate on sounding like themselves and producing the kind of music and the kind of albums that brought them to the public’s attention in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be championing newer rock acts and none of the bands I’m talking about here are going to be around forever. However, I think we could still be seeing a few more classic releases yet from some of our favourite rock veterans over the next few years.

2017-01-21 15.38.55.jpg

 

Which have been your favourite band reunions?

Seven spectacular reunion gigs

The communal celebration of a band’s legacy, the return of a classic sound and unforgettable songs, the emotional resonance of seeing members sharing a stage again after many years apart; there can be something very,very special about reunion gigs of your favourite bands. As the reunited line-up of Ozzy, Geezer and Tony prepare to play their final Black Sabbath show I look back on some pretty special band reunions. In no particular order, here are seven spectacular reunions I’ve been lucky enough to witness in recent years.

1. Black Sabbath 2014 and 2017 – Truly one of the great reunions of modern times, even without original drummer Bill Ward. Back in 2014 when Sabbath played Hyde Park I wrote ‘Osbourne’s ups and downs have certainly been well-documented and Iommi has been undergoing debilitating bouts of chemotherapy over the past two years. All of that is a world away from tonight’s performance, however, and the band members are all blisteringly on form. They commence with a stunning version of War Pigs and one by one the classics are reeled off: Snowblind, Fairies Wear Boots, Iron Man. The sound is great. The guitars, drums and vocals are everything you would want at a Sabbath gig.’ When dates were announced for The End tour I had zero hesitation in snapping up a ticket. Reviews from 2014 here and from 2017 here.

2. Status Quo ‘Frantic Four’ 2013 and 2014 – Although Status Quo continued to fill arenas each year, there was something very special and very emotional about seeing the classic ‘frantic four’ line-up of Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi walk on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo after a 32-year absence. The earthy, rocky, bluesy brand of boogie they played that night was quite different from the keyboard-heavy pop-rock act that normally tours under the Quo banner these days and the crowd were absolutely ecstatic. Sadly, following the tragic death of Rick Parfitt, it’s something that can never be repeated now, but I was lucky enough to see them on both the original reunion tour in 2013 and the follow-up a year later. Here’s my review from 2014.

3. Mott The Hoople 2009 and 2013 – I have loved Mott The Hoople ever since discovering one of their albums second-hand as teenager in the early 80s. And although I’d seen Ian Hunter solo before I was amazed to open the Guardian guide one Saturday morning and see an advert for a Mott The Hoople reunion at the Hammersmith Apollo with all the original members, 35 years after the bands demise. Although alzheimer’s was beginning to take its toll on drummer Dale Griffin he joined the band for the encores in 2009. Hugely emotional, it was a glorious celebration of a criminally under-rated band and remains one of my favourite gigs of all time and remains a text-book case of how to pull off a reunion with dignity, style, emotion and meaning. I saw the band again at the O2 when the reunion (sans Griffin) was repeated four years later. The sad deaths of both Dale Griffin and bass-player Overend Watts in the past year remind us how privileged Mott fans were to get their long-awaited reunion when they did.

4. Beach Boys 2012– While I’d seen a couple of stunning solo shows from Brian Wilson, I’d never been at all tempted by the Mike Love-fronted band that continued to tour under the Beach Boys name. But when it was announced that the surviving Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks) would be re-uniting to celebrate the band’s fiftieth anniversary I snapped up tickets for friends and family as soon as they went on sale. A mega run-through of Beach Boys hits, a gloriously full sound (aided by musicians from Brian Wilson’s musically brilliant touring band) and a beautifully authentic-sounding new studio album, too, this was definitely a reunion not to be missed. Al Jardine’s voice was particularly outstanding still.

5. Blur 2009 and 2015 – Blur’s Hyde Park reunions have become something of a tradition. I saw the first in 2009 and although I missed the one for the 2012 Olympics I did see them again in 2015. ‘The crowd is hugely good natured and it’s very much a communal celebration in Hyde Park. These songs have stood the test of time and are rightly held in great affection, as are the band who play them’ is what I wrote at the time. My full review from 2015 here.

2015-06-20 20.56.38.jpg

6. Fotheringay 2015‘Sandy Denny was the finest British female singer-songwriter that ever lived. Fotheringay was the short-lived band she formed in 1970 on leaving Fairport Convention. It lasted less than a year, but forty-five years on the surviving members have reformed for a short tour and are playing their first London gig since 1970. Band reunions can elicit mixed reactions and some questions went through my mind on this one. However talented the remaining musicians are, would this be a worthwhile exercise with the band’s two main front-people, Sandy Denny and her husband Trevor Lucas, long since deceased? As soon as the band come on stage, though, and open with Nothing More, the opening number on the original Fotheringay album, all doubts are set aside.’ Full review here.

7. The Kinks (well Ray and Dave) 2015 – Who knows if there’ll ever be a Kinks reunion. I did, however, catch a solo gig of Dave Davies in Islington back in 2015 with a very nice surprise at the end. Here’s what I wrote at the time: ‘Of course, when he came back on for an encore we could all guess absolutely what the song was going to be. What we couldn’t guess, though, was who would be joining him for that final song. “A surprise for Christmas!” announced Dave and on walked his brother Ray, the two of them sharing a stage together for the first time in 19 years. The audience as one are hit with amazement and wonderment at this beautiful and unexpected moment in rock’n’ roll history. Ray was in fine voice as he sang You Really Got Me and Dave cranked up the guitar. The audience went wild. Excitement, joy and genuine emotion as that 2 minutes and 14 seconds of one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs of all time blasted out from the stage.’ Full review here.

Of course, there are some band reunions I would love to see if ever they were so inclined (Gillan, Supergrass, the surviving members of the Byrds) and there is one I would have loved to have seen happen more than anything (Slade) but the possibility of that seems ever more remote with each passing year. However, I do feel genuinely lucky to be present at each of those moments described above.

Which have been your favourite musical reunions and which bands would you like to see re-unite?

 

Sunny Afternoon (the musical based on the story of the Kinks) at The Theatre Royal, Brighton 22/12/16

I’m not normally a huge fan of musicals. However, I am a huge fan of The Kinks so when the opportunity to see Sunny Afternoon came up I was never going to say no.

With most musicals I generally find the mix of dialogue and song unconvincing. The one musical I have properly enjoyed prior to this was Buddy, telling the story of the rise and fatal crash of Buddy Holly & The Crickets. This at least made sure that the only musical parts of the dramatisation were when the characters were realistically engaged in rehearsing, recording or performing.

With his love of love of music hall and vaudeville, however, this was never going to be an option for Ray Davies and it’s very much a musical in the fullest sense of the word – with choreographed dance routines, whole-cast sing-alongs, chunks of dialogue delivered in song and the full works. Normally, the sort of thing that would make me run a mile. But, as well as good, loud, convincing performances of many Kinks songs there was much I found to like in this production. It ostensibly tells the story of Ray Davies’ battle between artistic integrity on the one hand, and the demands of the 60s-era music business on the other. But the fiery relationship between Ray and brother Dave is also examined. (Why do nearly all brothers in bands have such fiery relationships?). Although there is a temptation for the Dave character to come across as a two-dimensional wanna-be-rockstar-cum-actual-rockstar he is brilliantly played by Mark Newnham and some of the complexities of the character and his relationship with his brother are convincingly explored.

Some of the more overly-theatrical elements of the show irked slightly but there were some really powerful scenes, too. My favourite bit is towards the end when the band are in the studio laying down the parts to Waterloo Sunset. It’s genuinely moving seeing the characters lay down hostilities and come together in this scene, emotionally as well as artistically. Overall, even for a hardened sceptic on this whole theatrical genre, I found Sunny Afternoon hugely enjoyable.

event_media-banner_lrg

http://sunnyafternoonthemusical.com/

Related review:
Dave Davies (with Ray!) Islington 2015

Interview feature: The Stretch Report – Devon-based band opening for some of the big rock giants

Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Grateful Dead…

The Stretch Report are rapidly becoming the go-to support act for rock giants when they visit the south west of England. After well-received performances opening for Uriah Heep and then Wishbone Ash the band are now scheduled to support the latest reincarnation of The Grateful Dead – Live Dead 69, who are performing with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, in Exeter on 29th January. Not bad for four middle-aged guys from Plymouth who got together four years ago when they met up at a friend’s funeral.

The band are Rob Giles (aka Razor) guitar and vocals; Ian Cooke – guitar and vocals
Chris Moss – drums; and Gary Strong – bass. I catch up with three of them. Bass player, Gary, is currently in New Zealand but the rest of the band assure me he’ll be back in time for the Dead gig.

Stretch Report band.jpg

Rob works at Plymouth University in IT and research, Chris is in open-cast quarrying on Dartmoor and Gary lectures in paramedicine. Ian chips in that by contrast he is “the full-time rock-star of the band” but he also does a bit of painting and decorating on his days off from being a rock star. The four had known each other for years and had played in various bands over the years but met up at an old musician friend’s funeral in 2012.

Rob: “We talked about getting together for a jam and we met up and it gelled.”

Most part-time musicians getting together to form a new band at their age may be content simply playing the pubs and having some jam sessions together. But The Stretch Report set their sights higher and it’s clearly paying off. The band got a major boost being offered a slot supporting Uriah Heep at the Cheese and Grain in Frome back in 2013.

Ian: “Uriah Heep was our first really big gig. It was nerve-wracking before but we had a packed venue and the energy came out of the audience. It was very, very positive.”

Chris: “We learnt a lot from that gig that we didn’t know beforehand and I think we tap into some of the ethos of those late 60s/early 70s bands by not being over-rehearsed and having some spontaneity.”

More recently, the band supported Wishbone Ash when they played Tavistock in November.

Rob: “The Wishbone Ash gig went really well and the band were very generous and gave us a shout out when they came on. Then the Grateful Dead thing came off the back of that. We are really looking forward to playing Exeter. It’s a privilege to play alongside these big bands.”

The band’s musical influences are wide and varied but a little-known late 70s Stiff Records single “Police Car” by original Motörhead guitarist, Larry Wallis, came to provide a unifying template for the embryonic Stretch Report when they first got together.

Rob: “I wanted to do ‘Police Car’ even before the band got together. I’d heard it on a Mojo compilation of 70s tracks you should have heard of but haven’t.”

Ian: “That song gave us a sense of purpose. It gave us a thread we could follow musically.”

The band recorded a video of ‘Police Car’ back in 2012 and their version has won favour with the song’s original creator.

Rob: “Larry Wallis said he liked our version and gave us his blessing. He hopes he can finally earn some royalties out of it.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why the band has gone down so well with classic rock audiences is the wide variety of rock influences they bring to their music. Certainly, there’s a spiky, punky edge to some of their music but there is much more as well.

Chris: “Punk and new wave were big influences, especially The Clash and the Damned. But we all share a passion for rock in all it’s guises, from prog to punk.”

Ian: “Motown, soul and glam was the music I listened to growing up and then punk. I got my first electric guitar just as punk came out but thanks to one of the members of the band I was in at the time, I was also listening to Hendrix and Cream as well.”

Rob: “Music is a voyage of exploration. As a teenager I would go to second-hand record stores and buy old albums simply on the strength of the cover art. I would discover all kinds of different music like that. One of the albums I found was Mad Shadows by Mott The Hoople and Mott and Ian Hunter have been major influences ever since.”

Ian: “As for Gary. He saw the Clash in 1981 on the same tour as I first saw them. You know straight away then that he gets it and we were on the same page musically. Gary has a really nice retro warmth to his delivery on bass. A nice fat vintage Glen Matlock-type sound. Neil Finn is a big influence for him, too”

The Stretch Report’s live act includes covers of songs from the likes of Robin Trower, Mick Ronson and Roxy Music, as well as the aforementioned ‘Police Car’. But one of the band’s originals, ‘Six Degrees’ written by Rob, has proved to be a crowd favourite. “That’s gone down even better than the covers,” confirms Ian and a professionally-shot video of that song will be available online shortly.

So what of the future?

Rob: “I’d love us to do a festival. I think we’d be a fantastic festival band. But if you’re talking about the next major act we’d like to open for, I’d love us to support Ian Hunter and The Rant Band.”

Chris: “I’m keen we go into the studio and record an EP. We’ve got two or three original tracks we can work on.”

Ian: “Getting the video out is important so I’m looking forward to that. It’s shot by the same guy who did the ‘Police Car’ video for us. But I also always look forward to us playing together. The fact that we are very old friends, not just a random bunch of musicians that have got together, that helps – that we know each other well and we know each other’s quirks.”

A band with bags of experience, bags of enthusiasm and who are building a reputation as a reliable support act for some of the biggest rock icons of the 60s and 70s, The Stretch Report are well worth keeping an eye on.

The Stretch Report play the Exeter Phoenix on 29th January supporting Live Dead ‘69. Tickets here

Check out the band on Facebook here

stretch-report-live_o

photo credit: David Reese

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

Brash, colourful, over the top, glittery – 1970s glam rock and Christmas seemed made for each other. Yet glam had been in ascendancy for some two years before anyone contemplated putting the two together. And more than anyone else, we can thank Slade for that. From the familiar pounding on the harmonium in the opening bars to the final “It’s Christmaaaas!” Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody remains one of the most well-known and most popular Christmas records of all time. Released 43 years ago today, the Performing Rights Society calculate that it is the world’s most listened to song, heard by an estimated 42% of the global population.

“My mother-in-law the year before had said why don’t we write a song like “White Christmas”, something that can be played every year.” Jim Lea, Slade (Uncut Magazine)

Recorded in New York in the summer of 1973, Noddy Holder told Uncut magazine that he wanted the lyrics to convey a mood of optimism. The song certainly does that. But at the time of recording it, the band would have little clue as to how grim things were going to get in Britain that particular winter. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath’s increasingly fractious battle with the miners took a dramatic turn. Mineworkers, like all public employees at the time were suffering the effects of below-inflation pay increases at a time of hyper inflation, and were pursuing industrial action for higher pay. Regular domestic power cuts became a fact of life.

MXE

Merry Xmas Everybody was released on 7th December 1973. On 12th December Heath announced that in order to conserve coal stocks, as from midnight on 31st December the Government would be enforcing a three-day week. Companies were to be permitted to consume electricity only on three consecutive days per week, additional working hours were to be banned and TV companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm each night.

“We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the War.” Edward Heath

This was the Christmas in which Slade’s Merry Christmas was first unleashed on to the public.

It’s a groundbreaking Christmas song in a number of ways. Unlike the treacly nostalgia of previous Christmas classics, Holder and Lea managed to capture the essence of a working class family Christmas:

Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest

That was combined with a genuine spirit of bright, breezy optimism:

So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

There is a freshness about the way that hookline is delivered that still sounds fresh even today. “In terms of comfort we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war,” Heath declared ominously. But while it might be argued that anything Slade recorded at that particular time in pop history was destined for the Number 1 slot anyway, there was something marvellously subversive about Slade’s Christmas single being the best selling record at the time. People singing along to a chorus that celebrates having fun and looking to the future during the middle of a heated political stand-off, a major breakdown in industrial relations, a draconian response from government and a very bleak-looking New Year indeed.

The three-day week came into force on New Years Day 1974. The Christmas song that was the antidote to it remained at Number 1 until well into the middle of January. In fact, it was February before it dropped out of the charts. As the chorus makes clear, the song is very much a song for the New Year – looking ahead to the future – and not simply one about Christmas.

The Government’s battle with the miners continued to intensify and, refusing to back down, Heath called an election in February 1974. “Who governs Britain?” demanded Heath. “Not you!” the voters told him. He lost the election and embarked on what became known as the longest sulk in British political history. The National Union of Mineworkers secured their pay rise, returned to work and lived to fight another day. But they would be brutally smashed by the Thatcher Government a decade later and Britain’s pit communities decimated. Whatever the battles of the past, the challenge of climate change, of course, means that the only sensible coal policy today is to leave the rest of it in the ground.

Yet Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody lives on, outliving the three-day week, Ted Heath, the miners and (in its original formation) even the band itself. That celebration of working class life in the festive season and the bright sunny optimism for a better future ahead still makes it the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.

It’s Christmaaaaaas!!!

http://www.slade.uk.com/

Find my other Slade posts here:
Slade Fan Convention 2016
Slade live in Hastings 2016
Slade live in Minehead 2015