Category Archives: Music culture & history

New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022

Following my biography on The Sweet last year, I’m absolutely thrilled to have been given the opportunity to write a second book for the Decades series published by Sonicbond.

Suzi Quatro In The 1970s will be published at the end of July and is available for pre-order on Amazon here. It will also be available from other retailers and via the publisher’s own online shop in due course.

The synopsis on Amazon hopefully gives you a flavour of what’s in store:

‘If you talk about the ‘70s, I was a hardworking artist. I did nothing but tour – recording, touring, TV, you know. I had constant jetlag. Constant black shadows under my eyes but, oh, what a ride! What a wonderful ride. And I’m still doing it now.’ Suzi Quatro

With a succession of hit singles, including eight UK top twenty hits and two number ones, sell-out tours and six studio albums, Suzi Quatro was an enduring presence throughout the 1970s, the decade that saw her move away from being part of an all-girl band in Detroit and relocate to England for a solo career that challenged old stereotypes and helped redefine the image of the female rock icon.

Taking each year in turn this book takes a detailed look at Suzi Quatro’s career throughout the decade where she enjoyed her greatest successes, including a comprehensive overview of each album and single released during that period, her touring schedule and her frequent media appearances, including that famous guest role in Happy Days. As well as making extensive use of press archives from the era, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s also includes personal reflections from an exclusive interview with Suzi herself.

Related post:

Book: The Sweet in the 1970s

2021 in Darren’s music blog – the ten most popular posts of the year

My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2021. The blog has been the usual mad mix of hard rock, metal, folk, Americana, glam rock, britpop, and more – basically anything I enjoy listening to! Here, however, are the ten most popular blog posts from 2021.

1. Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water: so who actually was the “stupid with a flare gun”?

Fifty years after the events that inspired the recording of Deep Purple’s most famous song and the world’s most famous heavy rock riff, I take a look at the history behind ‘Smoke On The Water’. In December 1971 the band were planning to record their forthcoming album Machine Head at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. As we know at the Frank Zappa concert on 4th December someone burnt the place to the ground. Who was ‘the stupid with a flare gun’? This post went viral after being shared by a certain Ian Gillan and easily became my most popular post of the year.

Read full post here

2. Tribute to John Rossall: Glitter Band founder passes away peacefully following cancer battle

This is my tribute to Glitter Band founder member sadly passed away on Saturday 2nd October following a cancer diagnosis earlier in the year. John Rossall played on all the early Glitter Band hits before leaving to pursue a solo career. A popular figure at festivals and gigs on the 70s live music circuit for many years, he stunned both fans and critics alike with a hugely well-received comeback album The Last Glam in Town released in Autumn 2020.

Read full post here

3. Interview with guitarist/singer/song-writer and Grand Funk Railroad founding legend Mark Farner

I was luck enough to interview a number of music legends this year. My most popular of 2021 was with Mark Farner one of the founders of Grand Funk Railroad. In this interview we look back at Mark’s career: forming Grand Funk, performing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969 and London’s Hyde Park in 1971 as well as discussing the inspirations behind his songs, his collaborations with the likes of Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper not to mention his brand new DVD.

Read full post here

4. July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

Another post about another iconic fifty-year-old British hard rock song. July Morning is a 1971 song by Uriah Heep. Written by the band’s keyboard player, Ken Hensley, and vocalist David Byron with its distinctive organ sounds it has remained a significant highlight of the band’s live set. In most places the song is taken at face value for what it is – a classic slice of early 70s hard rock with lyrics celebrating the beauty of an early morning sunrise. In Bulgaria, however, the song has taken on a significance all of its own.

Read full post here

5. Dirkschneider & The Old Gang: former Accept vocalist re-unites old colleagues for new project

In the Autumn of 2020 former Accept lead vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider, began putting together a new project that brought together some familiar faces. Going by the moniker Dirkschneider & The Old Gang, the name is pretty self-explanatory. Along with Dirkschneider and his son, Sven, two former Accept members (bassist Peter Baltes and guitarist Stefan Kaufmann) have also been brought in, along with singer Manuela Bibert.

Read full post here

6. A quick tour around my CD collection

I obviously talk a great deal about my love of music but I thought it might be an idea to give readers a quick tour of my actual CD collection. Although I was a keen purchaser of vinyl in my mid to late teens during the first part of the 1980s, frequent house moves in my late teens and early 20s meant that the format was becoming a bit cumbersome. By the time the 1990s came along I was glad to embrace the CD and gradually began building up a collection. From just a handful of CDs thirty years ago it’s now grown to what it is today.

Read full post here

7. Book news: ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ by Darren Johnson – published 30th July 2021

Followers of this blog will be aware that my love of 1970s glam icons The Sweet is pretty well documented. They’ve featured heavily on Darren’s Music Blog over the seven years of the blog’s existence. This was the post announcing the impending publication of my first book – ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ which came out as part of the Decades series published by Sonicbond.

Read full post here

Former Rainbow vocalist, Graham Bonnet, has announced that his forthcoming album will feature ex-bandmate Don Airey. The two who performed together on the classic Down To Earth album back in 1979 will appear on a new album Graham Bonnet solo album. Bonnet is currently recording with bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass), Conrad Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Zonder (drums).

Read full post here

9. Peter Donegan: interview with Americana singer-songwriter and son of skiffle legend, Lonnie Donegan

Another of the interviews I enjoyed doing during 2021. In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talked to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones on The Voice and about his forthcoming album.

Read full post here

10. Let there be drums! interview with Slade legend Don Powell

One of my all-time musical heroes I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about his single ‘Let There Be Drums’ raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.

Read full post here

2020 in Darren’s music blog

2019 in Darren’s music blog

Merry Xmas Everybody from Darren’s music blog

Apart from my traditional end of year round-up this will be my final post of the year. This is just to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and thank everyone who has visited the site over the past year and hopefully enjoyed some of the reviews, features and interviews I’ve done. Thanks to artists like Grand Funk Railroad legend Mark Farner and Slade legend Don Powell who were kind enough to find time to talk to me along with numerous others.

And thanks to everyone who bought my book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ when it came out this year and gave such positive feedback.

On the PR side it’s also been a pleasure to work for some wonderful artists over the past year: Milton Hide, Green Diesel, Maniac Squat, Across The Sea, Little Lore and Roly Witherow – all of whom released some excellent music this year I was proud to promote.

I’ll leave you with the Christmas video of the learning disability charity I work for – Stay Up Late. As well as campaigning to transform social care so that no-one with a learning disability is prevented from accessing the support they need to go out to gigs, have an active social life and stay up late, we also run the successful Gig Buddies project. This year we decided to do our own tribute to Slade’s Christmas classic and I found myself donning my gold jacket and becoming impromptu choir master. Enjoy!

You can find out more about Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies here

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Book review: ‘DeadStar’ by Nick Griffiths

Back in 2020 I reviewed Chasing Shadows – Adrian Jarvis’s book about his ultimately fruitless quest to locate original Deep Purple singer, Rod Evans, who vanished in 1980 following a deeply unwise scam involving misuse of his former band’s name and was never heard from again.

Nick Griffiths’ novel DeadStar takes a similar premise albeit the central character, Garth Tyson, never enjoyed anything like the brief taste of fame that Evans had with the first line-up of Deep Purple. Following a minor hit in the mid-80s with his fictional band Speed of Life Tyson disappears after a part utterly disastrous, part weirdly triumphant appearance at Glastonbury. However, outside of his immediate family and former bandmates, public speculation about Tyson’s whereabouts is precisely zero.

What really holds the reader’s imagination, however, is Griffiths’ attention to period detail in documenting the highs and lows of a wannabe rock star and his fellow travellers. From schoolboy misfits inspired by glam-era Bowie and then moving through boisterous teen punk, moody post-punk and chirpier synth-pop, it’s a journey that many bands have taken. Griffiths, himself a former music journalist who worked on the likes of Sounds and Select magazine in the late 80s and early 90s, captures the mood of the times and the shifting musical trends with accuracy, empathy and good humour.

Stuck inside during a period of Covid-induced self-isolation, when I was feeling well enough to read but not well enough to do much else, DeadStar proved both gripping and highly entertaining.

And does Griffiths’ fictional narrator succeed with Garth Tyson where Adrian Jarvis singularly failed with Rod Evans? Does he end up actually tracking him down? That would be telling but, as with the Jarvis book, the journey is definitely as important as the destination.

Published: 25th January 2022 by New Generation Publishing

http://nickgriffiths.co.uk/

Book review: ‘Top Of The Pops: The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975’ by Peter Checksfield

A prolific author and archivist of music history and pop culture, the latest book from Peter Checksfield is a mammoth 650-page tome devoted to the Top of The Pop’s glory days – from its inception in 1964 through until 1975.

As a writer I’d already made use of Checksfield’s own meticulously-researched publication ‘Look Wot They Dun’ which chronicled the TV appearances of all the key figures from the UK’s glam rock scene in the early to mid- 1970s and it’s referenced in my own book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’. Likewise, I’m pretty sure I’ll be making similar use of this latest volume.

It includes a complete episode guide stretching from the first ever show on New Year’s Day 1964 through to the Christmas Top Of The Pops edition that went out on 25th December 1975. Each entry includes a chronological run-down of the acts performing on that show, potted bios and relevant chart positions. This is no mean feat given that many of the episodes from this period no longer survive. Only five complete shows from the 1960s still exist and only two complete shows from 1972 at the height of the glam period survive – although many more clips (the handiwork of early home-taping, sneaky BBC technicians or overseas TV stations) mean the archive isn’t quite as empty as the official figures initially suggest.

While the book is a crucial reference work, what really brings it to life is a succession of anecdotes that Checksfield has garnered from various artists who appeared on the show. Ralph Ellis of the Swinging Blue Jeans recalls a scuffle with Keith Richards in the BBC canteen, surviving members of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band recall their time on the show miming to ‘Urban Spaceman’ and Ray Dorset (Mungo Jerry) recalls arriving late for rehearsals when ‘In The Summertime’ hit the charts as he was still working at the Timex factory and had to ask his boss for time off.

There’s also plenty of little nuggets I learned for the first time. Who knew that for a few months in 1971 Top Of The Pops ran an ‘Album Spot’ where artists would perform three songs from a current album, for example? My own personal recollection from when I really remember looking up and avidly watching an episode of Top Of The Pops (rather than it just being on in the background as I coloured with crayons or whatever) was when that week’s presenter announced a brand-new single from Mud called ‘Tiger Feet’. What 7yo doesn’t love tigers?! On checking the episode guide I find that the episode in question went out on 3rd January 1974.

Thoroughly researched and with some fascinating personal insights together with a comprehensive index of each artist’s appearances on the show ‘Top Of The Pops: The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975’ will appeal to any fan of the show and anyone with an interest in pop culture over that period.

Published: 2021

Related post

‘Look Wot They Dun! – The ultimate guide to UK glam rock on TV in the 70s’ by Peter Checksfield

Book review: ‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ by Jackie Lees & KG Miles

While not an obsessive fan (I have a greatest hits CD and a copy of Highway 61 Revisited in my collection but that’s all I’m afraid) Bob Dylan’s presence has loomed large in the history of many of the bands, such as Fairport Convention and The Byrds, that  I am pretty obsessive about. Moreover, many of the music biographies I have read make frequent references to Dylan’s sundry visits to London in the early to mid-1960s – both in terms of the impact he had on London’s folk and nascent rock scenes and vice versa.

Given what a pivotal figure Dylan is then, the idea of having a proper contextual overview rather than relying on what I’ve pieced together through a series of fleeting appearances in other people’s biographies was therefore appealing.

‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ begins with his first visit to London in the Winter of 1962. We start off in the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, where Dylan made his first live appearance in London, and take in iconic folk-scene venues such as the Pindar of Wakefield (now the Water Rats) in Kings Cross, home of Ewan MacColl’s Singers’ Club, and the Troubadour in Earls Court.

One might assume that the remaining chapters would take us on similarly meandering detours of the capital for each of Dylan’s subsequent visits. However, ‘Bob Dylan in London’ is as much guide-book as it is biography and the publication is generally arranged geographically rather than strictly chronologically and includes a 16-page colour sections with maps and illustrations.

Two long-time Dylan devotees, Jackie Lees and KG Miles, take us through several decades of Dylan in London, bringing to life the writer/performer’s presence in a series of locations through a mixture of contemporary concert reviews, anecdotes from fellow artists and recollections from audience members, with some of their own personal memories thrown in for good measure. At one point we even get to hear from a homeowner whose Crouch End property was on the market and Dylan’s early 80s visit as a prospective buyer is recalled.

The most fascinating parts of the book, however, are the ones where Dylan was at his creative and commercial peak in the 1960s. Insightful anecdotes from this period abound, including Donovan and Joan Baez in Dylan’s Savoy hotel room helping him write out the cue cards for the iconic trailer for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, filmed in a nearby alleyway off The Strand called Savoy Steps.

The recollections do not always put Dylan in a favourable light. The treatment of Joan Baez on a 1965 tour leaves a particularly unpleasant taste. However, this short, concise book is highly readable, entertaining and informative. Anyone with an interest in London’s musical heritage and Dylan’s artistic legacy will find much to enjoy here.

Published: March 2021 by McNidder & Grace

https://mcnidderandgrace.com/bobdylaninlondon

‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ now also set for publication in the US on 24th September

I’m delighted to report sales of my book, which was published in the UK by Sonicbond on 30th July, have been brisk.

Amazon and other retailers will be dispatching to customers in the US from 24th September. When writing the book I did take care to ensure the book would be relevant to US readers – putting Billboard chart positions in as well as UK ones, for example, as well as explaining some peculiarly English turns of phrase like w*nk and Sweet FA…

My book also picked up a very nice review from Jason Ritchie at Get Ready To Rock recently:

“An excellent overview of The Sweet, appraising the band’s 70s output and tracking the band’s ups and downs during that decade. Well researched and referenced too, with the final part of the book giving a whistle stop tour of what the band did from 1980 to the present day.”

Full review here

Over on Amazon it’s been picking up some very encouraging customer reviews, too:

“The Sweet In The 1970s is an excellent and concise book about rock’s most underrated band who transformed from ‘bubblegum’ to ‘glam rock’ to ‘hard rock’ to something a little more progressive throughout the aforementioned decade. It also reminds the reader how Sweet managed to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’ on many occasions.”

“Fabulous book. It does what it says on the cover it tells the Sweet story in the 70s. That doesn’t mean that the 60s and 80s are totally ignored.”

“Whether you a big Sweet fan or not this is a really interesting story written and presented very well. I’ve learnt a lot!”

At one point it made it to number three on Amazon’s UK best sellers list for music history and criticism, as well number ten in its popular music books and number fourteen in its rock music books. All beyond my wildest dreams really. When I began writing and researching the book it very much became my lockdown project. Any success in terms of sales was going to be the icing on the cake rather than the main reason for doing it.

However, I’m really pleased it’s selling so well and it’s been a very positive experience working with Sonicbond Publishing who have an excellent range of other music books in their portfolio.

On with the next one!

‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ is available from:

UK

You can order ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ direct from the publishers via the Burning Shed on line shop here

It’s available from a number of other UK retailers including: WH SmithWaterstones, and Bookshop.org

You can order from Amazon UK here

US

You can order via Walmart and Amazon.com

Sweden

You can order via Adlibris 

Book review: ‘Rock History: the Musician’s Perspective’ by Dr Rob Brosh

When an American academic, Dr Rob Brosh of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, got in touch to see if I was interested in reviewing the textbook he had written for music students, my first thought was, “Why me?” I play music all day long but can’t hold a tune for the life of me. I read about music, write about music and think about music but have never had any pretensions to being a musician and barely know one end of an instrument to another. Music history always fascinates me, however, so I emailed Rob back and told him I’d be very interested in reading his book.

In the pre-internet days I used to devour rock encyclopaedias – books like The NME Book of Rock, The Virgin Encyclopaedia of Seventies Music and The All-Music Guide To Rock. Huge, lengthy tomes that I would constantly dipping in and out of to find out background information on bands and artists that I was newly discovering. There’s something about the old rock encyclopaedia format in Brosh’s book but rather than an A-to-Z directory this book takes us through the evolution of rock music genre by genre.

I found ‘Rock History: the Musician’s Perspective’ absolutely gripping and read it cover to cover. It does three main things.

Firstly, it gives us a detailed overview of the vast range of music genres that fall within the canon of rock music and how each developed from the development of rock and roll itself, through blues rock, psychedelia, hard rock, folk rock, punk rock and many, many more. What I thought came across brilliantly in the early part of the book is the dynamics of how successive waves of musicians in the US and the UK influenced one another, sending new musical trends back and forth across the Atlantic as rock music involved from its earliest foundations.

Secondly, it gives us a concise but fascinating overview of many of the key artists within each of those genres, for example detailing how bands came together, how they developed their own style and giving us some memorable highlights from their careers. The fact that it’s arranged by genre rather than artist obviously makes it a little trickier to look up individual artists than the old encyclopaedia format did, but the internet has largely rendered that format obsolete now I guess anyway. However, it more than makes up for that by being able to place the evolution of individual artists into the wider context of the evolution of key genres and styles. I was definitely picking up new insights in this way and learning new facts so it’s obviously going to be a great resource for students.

The third thing the book does is focus in on particular songs, providing insights into the structure of them and how certain sounds were achieved. This last element is where you get the musician’s perspective and while some of it went over my head as a non-musician most of it didn’t! I definitely learnt a lot and ended up playing many of the songs that were being discussed in detail and it all started making a lot of sense.

This decidedly non-musician’s review of a musician’s perspective on the history of rock music is therefore a very positive one. Highly recommended.

Published by DDG Publishing, 2018

Record Store Day is great but it’s no longer my day – we need a Day of the CD!

I was very enthusiastic about Record Store Day when it first started getting off the ground back in the late 00s. Amazon was sweeping all before, independent record stores faced complete obliteration and it was a worthy exercise to show those that were hanging on some love and support. One of my most enjoyable Record Store Day experiences back then was a on a weekend trip to Antwerp, wandering from store to store, catching a variety of live bands playing instore and coming home on the Eurostar with an armful of CDs, both new and second-hand.

These days, however, Record Store Day has become so synonymous with the vinyl revival craze and all the attendant limited edition vinyl releases that go with it that it just doesn’t speak to me at all. As a dedicated CD collector, I don’t bear it any ill-will and I am very happy for stores to cater for their vinyl market in this way, and for the artists and record companies that supply them. But it’s not my day.

I am a dedicated fan of the CD format and will remain so – and remember there were still 16 million of them sold in the UK last year, bringing in revenue of £115 million. Yes, CD sales are declining but they are far from disappearing and – nor will they!

As this article makes clear CDs are still a great format for musicians:

Why do musicians hate streaming?

– Streaming services reduce sound quality

– Musicians make significantly less money from digital sales and streaming

– This combination of reduced audio quality and income undermine the musician’s work

https://www.blankmediaprinting.com/blog-article/why-cds-are-still-best-platform-musicians

Easy to produce and cheap to mail out and easy to sell at gigs (unlike lugging huge crates of clunky vinyl around) CDs provide a decent revenue stream for musicians on a quality format for fans.

That is why I now think we need an annual day to celebrate the CD each year, and those who sell them – whether that’s record stores, independent online retailers and the artists themselves. I don’t begrudge vinyl fans their day. There’s loads of cultural events that completely pass me by – from Eurovision to football to royal weddings. And Record Store Day is one of those. Great for those who it means something to but it’s no longer my day.

So let’s have an international Day of the CD each year. Who’s up for it?

Related articles:

The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

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

A quick tour around my CD collection

Peter Donegan: interview with Americana singer-songwriter and son of skiffle legend, Lonnie Donegan

In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talk to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones and about his forthcoming album.

DJ: Firstly it’s a huge, huge pleasure to be talking to you. My own dad was a big, big Lonnie Donegan fan and I think he’d be very touched that I was interviewing his son. Growing up in the 1970s the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple and so on were always played a lot in our house but there was still always lots of Lonnie Donegan, too. So it was a big part of my childhood. But if we can start off going back to the very beginning then we’ll look at your more recent career. Elvis Presley recorded ‘That’s Alright’ and your father recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ in the very same month back in July 1954. It’s something Billy Bragg points out in his book on skiffle, and he called them ‘the first tremors of an earthquake that would shake the world’. Did that give you a good feeling seeing it put like that?

PD: Yes, definitely. Billy’s been a huge campaigner for the importance of what has become a kind of forgotten era – the skiffle era. I mean, Billy made another nice analogy which was that it was the nursery for British rock and roll. Because songs like ‘Rock Island Line’ – and that one in particular which changed the British music industry – it gave a new breath of life into what was, you know, a crooners’ market. And I don’t mean any disrespect to any artist up until my dad came out, obviously, but it did. It changed the nature of it. And it made music accessible. It meant that for people like Eric Clapton, for people like Van Morrison, for people like Jimmy Page – all these kind of people realised, ‘Ok, so I don’t have to be – number one – classically trained to play the guitar. I can learn the basic two/three chords – or one sometimes – and the lyrics and go for it.’ And, number two, it meant that you didn’t have to feel self-conscious singing a lot of these old American country and blues songs and feel self-conscious about it – especially a British white person as well.  You didn’t feel like you were false either. You could be ‘paying homage’ to, you know, and doing it in your own way. I mean that gave birth to, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin who all started off in skiffle bands.

DJ: And it was a very British take. It wasn’t a straightforward adoption of an American culture was it?

PD: No, No. You could argue really that while skiffle was Americana music, as we call it now nowadays, it was definitely with a very British tint to it. It didn’t sound the same. They were the same songs, but they weren’t the same way. They were definitely distinct. Which is how ‘Rock Island Line’ went to number 8 in the States, you know – just before Johnny Cash recorded and released it. And the odd thing is, is that my dad had added that part of the tollgate which wasn’t in the Leadbelly original. And then Johnny Cash put out a version afterwards with the tollgate in it again – so you can argue that Johnny was listening to my dad’s version. Because it’s kind of like, he’s just taken dad’s version, slowed it down just a little bit. So there could be something there. There could be something there. You could argue really that the skiffle sessions – all that stuff for that period in time, that six years or whatever it was – was a little bit more British even than when the Stones came out. Because they were doing it much more per original blues… Definitely, much more modernised but it was arguably more towards the original than what Dad was doing.

DJ: In the true folk tradition he actually adapted it and added his own take on it and that’s now become the tradition.

PD: Yes, exactly. You know, it’s been fantastic. And, of course, Dad wrote his own things as well which we all know about. Most notably was the Tom Jones hit ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. I mean, it wasn’t written for Tom to do. My dad went to release it because he loved the sounds that he was hearing coming from Ray Charles. Great gospel R&B singer, you know, and Dad thought, ‘That’s brilliant. I want to do something like that.’ Wrote ‘Never Fall In Love Again’ and the record label which was Pye at the time – who were trying to be true to their roots and wanting to be jazz, despite the fact of having Lonnie Donegan on the record label who was definitely not jazz anymore despite his origins of coming through with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and then the Chris Barber Jazz Band – they insisted on there being a jazz version. So they recorded a jazz version and a more gospel version which Dad wanted to do. And insisted on releasing the jazz version – obviously, because that was their plan all along. And nothing happened with it – because it wasn’t what people expected. It wasn’t ‘Dad’ if you know what I mean. So, Tom picked up on it.

DJ: It was a few years gap wasn’t it between your dad releasing it and Tom Jones having a hit with it?

PD: It was early ‘60s for my dad. You’re looking at 62/63 whenever it was – and I think it was 67/68 when Tom released it. And Dad’s gag on stage was always, ‘What’s Tom Jones got that I haven’t got!’ It was always a good laugh. And then, of course, Elvis picked it up in the end because, you know, Elvis was permanently ‘on tour’ doing all the casinos in Vegas. As was Tom, so they were always going to see each other’s set at some point in time. And Elvis picked it up and did it, you know. And I think that was the last track on the last album that Elvis released.

Watch the full interview on YouTube here

DJ: And then, obviously, you had that wonderful emotional moment with Tom Jones on ‘The Voice’ two years ago. That must have been very, very special?

PD: It was! It was a big ‘pinch me’ moment because I was scouted by the show. They’d seen me at a country festival in London and they wanted that – because they knew that the country genre was really booming in the UK. And they wanted me to go and try out – so that was nice. And they said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not like you’ve got to wait in the queue or anything. You can go straight to the producer so there’s no pressure.’ And that’s more pressure I think! So yeah.. sat there and did some original songs. That’s what they wanted. They said they wanted originals. And went through about another four rounds of auditions and they said, ‘Yep – we want you for the blinds.’ And I just thought well, if nothing else, this is just a bit of PR. You know, get a nice bit of high-quality PR footage [laughs] and have some fun while you’re there. And when it was Tom that turned, you know, it was an emotional relief that somebody turned. I was very nervous. I’d never done anything like that before and it was a very nice moment. And then when, obviously, Tom asked us to do that song and we did it – it was a shock, you know. There’s a video about me – because I did a video on YouTube talking about it which had about two million views.

DJ: Yes, I watched that. I still tear up every time I see the footage. It’s just so incredible!

PD: It was a lovely, lovely evening. It really was. I mean, bittersweet in some ways because obviously you realise it’s a TV show first and foremost before it’s a talent show – and it’s a very good one and I really enjoyed my experience on there. But, as a friend of mine who was there said, ‘That’s going to go viral.’ I said, ‘Do you think? Shit!’ He said, ‘Why?’. I said, ‘I peaked too soon in that case! It probably means I’m out next.’ And I was out next!

DJ: But no-one could take away that moment though.

PD: No! I have no regrets. I had great fun. And not many people get to do three songs in two shows – so it was good!

DJ: Has Tom been in touch since?

PD: No. I’ve tried but not got anything back though.

DJ: Ok. Ok. And just looking back – this week, it’s actually the 67th anniversary of ‘Rock Island Line’ being recorded.

PD: Yep. ‘54 it was recorded. ‘56 it became a hit. It was a track on the Chris Barber Jazz Band album and for whatever reason Decca released it two years later as a single and it was played on – I can’t remember the radio show – Dad didn’t know anything of it. Somebody said to him, ‘You know you’re number one!. He was like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah check out the papers…’ And the rest is history, as they say.

DJ: And you did a special concert two years ago, to mark the 65th anniversary of it?

PD: We did, yes. We did one in 2018 just at the end because it all started off with Chas Hodges – God rest his soul. It was his initial idea because we were raising money for our son’s therapy for his autism and he said, ‘If you want to do a gig, me and Dave will get up and do something. We’ll do half an hour, you finish the gig off. I was like, well that’s lovely. Mentioned it to a couple of friends as I was talking and they we’re like, well I’ll do something and I’ll do something and someone said, ‘Well we haven’t done a night for your dad in a while. Why don’t we do that?’ So in 2018 we had Billy Bragg, Nora Guthrie, The Jive Aces, Mike Berry, Mike Read, Ralph McTell, Chris Difford from Squeeze, Chas McDevitt, Vince Eager and we did that at the Union Chapel in Islington. And Billy Bragg said, ‘Right, so what are we doing next year?’ And I was like, oh you’re kidding right. But I’d invited Van to do that one and he wasn’t available but then he followed up and said, ‘Are you doing another one?’ I said, ‘Well yes, next year’s the 65th anniversary of the recording of ‘Rock Island Line’. And then Mike Read said, ‘Well we need a blue plaque to commemorate that.’ So we did a blue plaque on the same day, on the morning and then we went and did the gig.

 DJ: You obviously grew up with music. Did you always want to be a musician?

Yeah. I did. There was never any other option, you know. And I had a great coach, obviously, in Dad and he always taught me that the best thing to do – the only way to make it in this industry is to write your own songs. And that’s why I’ve always done that. From becoming my dad’s piano player to then becoming the opening act for the set, I always did original material. And then, from then I kept doing it. It was difficult because, you know, every time a label said that we could do an album they would only include a maximum of one of my songs on it. Because they wanted to make easy money and just do another Lonnie Donegan tribute album which was, you know, getting frustrating to say the least. So, I decided to go independent and in 2017 released my ‘Superman’ EP which did quite well for my first independent thing and that’s what got me ‘Country To Country Festival’ which got me noted by the guys at ‘The Voice’ and then on with Tom Jones and then on from there. And then we did the live album after that which was recorded in 2019 in the Decca recording studios. In the same studio that Dad recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ – which now belongs to the English National Opera. But that was nice. It was good fun. And then since then I’ve released ‘Thank You Texas’ which was co-written with two Texans at the Buddy Holly song-writing retreat in Lubbock.

DJ: And that won an award didn’t it?

PD: It yes – at the ‘Texas Sounds Country Music Awards’ last year. Got Best Male Vocalist and Original Song.

‘Thank You Texas’ recorded at North London’s Mill Hill Music Complex

DJ: The Americana/country direction that you’ve taken as you wanted to pursue your own, as you say, independent career – was that a very conscious decision or did you just sort of evolve into that direction, musically?

PD: Well, obviously, when you consider the influences I was surrounded by with Dad’s record collection at home – which had everything, you know, from Fats Waller to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highway Men – all that kind of stuff. So I grew up with that plus – I was born in London but only because Dad was doing a West End thing at the time… We were living in California. So you know California, Florida, Spain. I didn’t grow up here, so I was surrounded by American music a lot of the time. And Dad was big into country. And then so was I. I’m a huge Waylon fan, Willie fan and later on, you know, I love now Chris Stapleton and Eric Church and the High Women if you’ve heard them… So it was a natural transition for me because I like to write stories, you know real-life events, that kind of stuff. And country music, Americana music in general really lends itself to that.

DJ: Well story telling is at the heart of those lyrics.

PD: Yeah. So it was a natural transition for me. And when you consider really where I came from musically with Dad, skiffle is what we call Americana now. Because Americana is country, with blues, folk. And it’s just Americana is the umbrella term. And underneath it you’ve got all these different genres.

DJ: So what’s next for you in terms of your solo career? Are you working on new music at the moment?

PD: I am yes. Again, written at the same retreat with a couple of great song-writers in America. With Sean Healen who’s from New Mexico and with Tessy Lou Williams – ‘It’s My Dreams’. We did a lockdown sessions version of it which you can find on YouTube but there will be a single version of it coming out. And it will be included on the new album which is currently being made.

There’ll be a couple more singles to come off that album as well… I think there’s some really cool tunes on there, especially with the new collaborations. Because I do like to co-write… the old adage two heads are better than one is true. Because there’s ideas that you come up with that you wouldn’t come up with unless you were sitting with somebody else. I’m not saying that maybe their idea is in the song, but they say something which sparks an idea in your head again, you know – and the other way around, too.

DJ: That approach to collaboration is very much part of the Americana scene isn’t it, I think?

PD: It is and there’s a feelgood sense within it as well. It’s a case of not quite as much competition as we’re in it together. So it’s more fun to drag these other people that you respect – if you’re not already friends – along with you and have that shared experience rather than try and keep it for yourself. And I like that feel. It’s much more relaxed… It’s a better experience. It’s less uptight.

Thank you so very much to Peter Donegan for talking to me. You can check his forthcoming live dates on his website here:

https://peterdonegan.com/home

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