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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
I’m generally more one for Viz Top Tips than anything approaching self-help literature but when I was offered the chance to review a book entitled ‘How To Think Like David Bowie – Habits of mind for leading a more creative and successful life’ my curiosity was piqued.
By sheer coincidence the book arrived in the post about thirty minutes before I was due to head off on a trip to Essex with former Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong, who had worked with Bowie on Absolute Beginners and Tin Machine and played with him at Live Aid. I hadn’t even had time to open the book before he arrived but I mentioned it to a bemused Kevin on the journey up to Colchester and asked for his thoughts. “I think there’s very few people who ever really knew what David Bowie was thinking,” was Kevin’s response, saying that Bowie was always welcoming and warm-hearted but rarely shared his inner thought processes, concentrating very much on the task in hand and getting the best out of everyone present.
In the book itself, Kevin Armstrong’s own sentiments are very much echoed by an earlier collaborator, Rick Wakeman, whose recollections of recording ‘Space Oddity’ back in 1969 are reproduced in the book:
“He was always incredibly prepared in the studio. He never wrote in the studio; everything was already done. He was always what he called ‘75% prepared’. You’d go in and he’d get the piece that far, and then the studio would take it that extra 25%.”
So does author, Jonathan Tindale, really attempt to get inside the head of Bowie and tell us how to think like him? In truth, although the book references Jung and Myers- Briggs and ‘The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’, the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and it’s more philosophy than psychology. Bowie’s approaches to numerous projects throughout his five-decade career are analysed, dissected and cross-referenced and various life lessons drawn from them. Tindale, whose previous publications have included travel writing and parenting, draws on a wide range of Bowie-related sources to derive a number of key lessons from Bowie’s career.
Arranged across twelve chapters, themes include Bowie’s individuality, his work ethic, his approach to creative collaborations and his attitude to the business side of things. The book is not a long read but it’s well referenced and entertaining and avoids falling into the cult-like demagogic devotion that some of the more hagiographic pieces written after his death have fallen victim to. Moreover, it doesn’t shy away from looking at some of Bowie’s flaws and the odd creative troughs in his career as well as the many peaks. Quirky and thought-provoking How To Think Like David Bowie will be of interest to more than just the most hardened Bowie devotee.
Published: 18th June 2021 and available to orderhere
Just over a year ago I had a dream that I had written a book about The Sweet. When I woke up I was more than a little disappointed to release I hadn’t written any such book. But with the idea still fresh in my mind I decided to fire off an email to the publishers Sonicbond to see if they were interested in me writing one. Amazingly they came back and said yes.
Starting work last summer, writing and researching ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ very much became my lockdown project during the latter part of 2020 and the early part of 2021. I finished it back in February, delivered the manuscript and my mind, which had been so utterly pre-occupied with all things Sweet for several months, pretty much moved on to other things. In recent weeks, however, it’s all started to become very real again. There were proofs to read, images and the cover blurb to check through and so on. And although, it’s not in the shops until July 30th I took delivery of some advance copies this week!
I also did an interview for the excellent Glam-themed fanzine Wired Up – talking about how I came to write the book, how I first became obsessed with The Sweet as a teenager in the early 80s trawling through second-hand albums in Preston’s Action Records – as well as a little bit on what readers can expect from the book. You can find out more about the Wired Up fanzine here.
I’ve dedicated the book to my dad. I know he would have enjoyed reading it.
You can order ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ direct from the publishers via the Burning Shed on line shop here
When I came to review Called Back the latest album from Scottish singer-songwriter John Hinshelwood recently, on checking out his biog I was struck by the high regard he held for the Byrds and the influence that they were to have on his own music. Moreover, it went beyond mere musical influences. As well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, he was involved in putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, Gram Parsons, and actually came to record with former Byrd, Gene Parsons, who was with the band in its latter period, playing on five albums from Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde in 1969 to Farther Along in 1971.
I mentioned all this in my review and said it was certainly recommendation enough for me that this was going to be an album worth exploring. After I published my review, John got in touch. This led to a more detailed chat about how the Byrds came to have such a profound effect on his career and how he came to record with Gene Parsons.
I have already talked about my own particular Byrds journey here. There was clearly a meeting of minds between John and myself and he very kindly sent me a copy of his album on which Gene Parsons appeared.
Titled Holler Til Dawn the album was released in 2002. Recorded in various locations, including Scotland, Tennessee and California the album features eleven Hinshelwood originals, plus three covers: Kathy Stewart’s ‘Your Secret Love’, Lowell George’s and Keith Godchaux’s ‘Six Feet of Snow’ and Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s ‘My Uncle.’
The album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians and singers including, Rab Noakes, Cathy Stewart, Colin Macfarlane and Cathryn Craig as well as the aforementioned Gene Parsons, who plays on two tracks.
So how did he go about getting Gene Parsons to play on his album? John fills me in on how the two came to connect:
“I got to know Gene through Chrissie Oakes in Bristol, who used to run the Byrds Appreciation Society. I have known her since the early 70s and have kept in touch with her right up to the present. She contacted me back in 1995 to ask if I would be interested in organising a gig for Gene in Glasgow as part of his UK tour. Despite never having promoted a gig before, I agreed, and indeed had him back again a few years later. On both gigs, we did support, and agreed that on his next tour we would do some stuff together. Unfortunately, that tour has never happened, but I still live in hope.”
Prior to going on to record with Gene Parson, John was also able to bag himself a support slot for none other than Byrd’s founder, Roger McGuinn:
“The McGuinn gig came about as part of a roots festival in Glasgow in the late 90s. I knew the promoter, the late Billy Kelly, who was a great and genuine guy. I was really chuffed when he asked me to do an opening spot, not least because a lot of much better-known folk were desperate to do it. He knew how much it would mean to me as a Byrds fan, and he kept his word and gave me the gig. I must admit that it was somewhat surreal to be sitting in the dressing room pre gig, and listening to McGuinn practising ‘Eight Miles High’ next door!”
Reflecting on Gene Parsons contributing to the Holler Til Dawn album, Johns notes:
“As is the case with lots of recording nowadays, I wasn’t actually present when Gene added his contributions to the two tracks on Holler Til Dawn. Things have even changed a lot since 2001 when ‘Holler’ was recorded. Today, it is done by emailing files back and forth, but then I had to send the tracks by post to California where Gene recorded his parts, then posted them back to me!”
“The first track we did was the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song ‘My Uncle’ which appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 1969. The basic tracks of Alasdair Kennedy (mandolin), Tim Clarke (acoustic bass), and myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocal were done in Glasgow, then sent to California where Gene added two banjo tracks and two vocal harmonies.”
“The second track was one of my own songs “We’re all in this together” and has just myself and Gene on it. I play acoustic guitar and sing lead and harmony vocals, and Gene did banjo, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Again, I recorded in Glasgow and Gene in Albion, California.”
“Recording in this way requires a lot of trust, as I could not be present to direct and produce, but with Gene’s track record and wonderful musicianship, I was confident that all would work out well, and that did indeed prove to be the case.”
Our respective Byrds journeys
As a non-musician with no discernible musical ability whatsoever I can’t really claim anything so grand as ‘musical influences’. However, the Byrds were certainly had a big influence on me in terms of expanding my musical tastes and interests. I explained in my own post here about how listening to the Byrds as a teenager led me to start exploring the words of American folk-rock and English folk-rock and eventually English folk as well as Americana and country.
John chips in his own two-penneth:
“Your Byrds story is interesting, and I can relate to much of it. I also love Fairport and have seen them more times than any other band. The Byrds also got me listening to folk music, and a lot of our gigs are in folk clubs. It was also “Sweetheart of The Rodeo” that got me interested in country music which, like most ‘rock’ fans I thought I hated. I have, in fact, been in quite a few country and country rock bands over the years, including The City Sinners, which played the music of Gram Parsons.”
Holler Til Dawn is a fine album of first-rate Americana and picked up many favourable reviews at the time. Whether you’re a Gene Parsons fan specifically or a lover of Americana more generally it is well worth checking out.
During the late 1960s, Mike Frankel was one of the most sought-after photographers for musicians of the era, his photographic style capturing the cultural essence of the decade. Images from Frankel’s extensive archive are set to be released to the public for the first time.
Frankel worked closely with bands like Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and many others. Most notably, Frankel was also the personal photographer for Jefferson Airplane. In addition, he worked with Bill Graham at the Fillmore East, photographing some of the most iconic images from the rock’s golden age as well as capturing iconic images from Woodstock.
Photographer, Jim Marshall, who, like Frankel, enjoyed extensive access to many musicians throughout the 1960s said of Frankel: “Mike was the photographer that brought art to our profession.”
A book of Frankel’s images is set for publication towards the end of the year. An additional volume showcasing his Beatles photos is also in the planning stages.
Four Corners Framed Art in Independence, Missouri, USA is hosting an in-person meet and greet with the legendary photographer Mike Frankel on Friday, 22nd October from 5 pm to 9 pm. The event is free, open to the public, and will be held in conjunction with the Englewood Arts District’s third Friday art walk.
“This is truly a rare opportunity to meet a living legend,” said Joseph Crownover, Owner/Gallery Director of Four Corners Framed Art. “This will be only the third time Mike Frankel’s work has ever been shown or made available to the public since the photos were taken over 50 years ago.”
This week I celebrated my 55th birthday which means it’s exactly forty years since a rather significant album first arrived in my record collection. For my fifteenth birthday I had asked for a couple of albums: Status Quo’s latest release ‘Never Too Late’ from my mum and stepdad and Slade’s We’ll Bring The House Down from my dad and stepmum. I was actually away on a school geography trip to Wales for the day of my actual birthday and didn’t arrive back home until the following day but by the time I got home both gifts were waiting for me.
I vaguely remember Slade from my early childhood the previous decade but they had certainly not been on my radar for a long time. Not until I saw Noddy, Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and Don Powell appearing on Top Of The Pops a couple of months earlier. After years of flops the ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ single had taken Slade back into the Top Ten.
The song immediately grabbed my attention and I was now a firm fan. Asking for this album for my birthday was the obvious choice. Quo’s Never Too Late was very much the poor relation as far as birthday gifts went that day. The Slade album, though, I positively devoured, lapping up the likes of ‘Wheels Ain’t Coming Down’ and ‘When I’m Dancing I Ain’t Fighting’ and the rest.
Before long I was making numerous trips to our local second-hand record store in Preston to seek out Slade’s 70s back catalogue. This was 1981. Everyone else was into heavy metal, punk and new wave or the about-to-be-massive new romantic scene. But I was developing this obsession with 1970s glam rock. And it wasn’t just Slade. During the course of year I’d bought up much of Sweet’s back catalogue, too, not to mention albums by T. Rex and Mott The Hoople.
But the best was yet to happen. In August of that year, I tagged along with my dad and stepmum to see AC/DC headline at Donington. AC/DC were superb, of course, but even more of a revelation were Slade. This was my first attendance at a live rock gig ever but is undoubtedly the finest live concert I’ve ever attended. The Slade component in particular remains the most entertaining sixty minutes of my life.
And so, 1981 was the year that kicked off my Slade obsession and my love for all things glam. Glam was never really my era but musically it will always be my first love.
I obviously talk a great deal about my love of music in Darren’s Music Blog 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. They are not all new. Many have come from charity shops and second-hand record shops and record fairs. I’ve had a couple of bulk acquisitions, including when my father, a passionate life-long rock fan, unexpectedly died back in 2007.
The filing system
For many years I just used to keep my CDs in alphabetical order. When I had merely a couple of hundred it was the easiest way of finding what I wanted. But as my collection grew I found I spent more and more time browsing to decide what I fancied putting on. I rearranged everything into a rough and ready series of genres. Given my varied musical tastes this is particularly handy as it means I can browse through the shelves according to my mood, depending on whether I’m in a folk mood or a heavy metal mood or whatever.
A walk through the sections
From left to right the subdivisions for each genre (and there’s no particular reason for them being in this order) are as follows:
Folk and acoustic – lots of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span plus numerous others artists spanning the late 50s folk revival and skiffle boom to the present day. The more mellow acoustic end of the singer-songwriter/Americana genre is also included here. It’s mainly all about me being able to browse according to mood so I certainly don’t get hung up on what constitutes ‘folk’.
Heavy metal – pretty self-explanatory and includes everything from AC/DC to Black Sabbath to Motorhead, plus a growing collection of ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ releases. Again, I don’t get hung up on precise definitions: if it’s loud with plenty of guitar solos I know I’ll find it in here.
50s rock and roll and traditional blues – from Chuck Berry to Little Richard and from B.B. King to Muddy Waters they are all kept together here. A nicely growing part of my collection and some great charity shop finds.
General rock and miscellaneous – this is basically my ‘everything else’ section for stuff that hasn’t been put into a special category of its own. It includes the likes of the Beach Boys, Santana and Status Quo along with anything from a genre that hasn’t got its own section. I’ve not got a reggae collection but do have a handful of CDs by the great Bob Marley. They go in here, along with Sandy Shaw and Dusty Springfield.
Prog – from the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd to Barclay James Harvest and Yes, it’s all in here.
Punk and New Wave – back in the day I never really bought much in the way of punk or new wave artists but over time and through lots of great charity shop purchases I’ve built up a nice little collection including Blondie, the Clash, the Stranglers et al.
We now head down the hallway and into the spare room where I’ve recently set up another set of matching second-hand Ikea shelving units. They are far from full at the moment so some of them are just used for DVD’s, notepads, and bits of pieces of home-office life until my collection grows. The first two units are full though and contains the following:
Brit-pop and Indie – Blur, James, the Las, Supergrass et al are all in here. I bought a handful of these CDs when they originally came out. I was an enthusiastic Supergrass fan from the get-go – but many I’ve been able to buy for next to nothing from charity shops as all the 40-somethings dispense with their CD collections and switch to digital or vinyl or whatever else the cool people buy these days.
Glam rock – anyone who has had more than a glance at this blog will be aware of my passion for all things glam. It’s not really my era. I was only six when the Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ and Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ came out but by my early teens I was absolutely hooked, courtesy of Slade’s early 80s revival and many second-hand discoveries at Preston’s Action Records. As well as Slade and Sweet there’s the Glitter Band, Hello, Mud, T. Rex et al all filed here.
Frequently asked questions
Where do you get your shelves from? The first few I bought brand new from Ikea. All the subsequent ones have been picked up second-hand to match. It’s as easy to buy second-hand Ikea CD shelves for next to nothing these days as it is to buy CDs.
How do you file your CDs within each genre? Alphabetically by artist surname or band name and in original release date order for each artist with any compilations at the end. However, I do also make use of a bit of pragmatic grouping if an artist who is mainly involved with a band also releases a solo album. Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss is under ‘R’ for the Rolling Stones, for example, not ‘J’ for Jagger.
Followers of this blog will be aware that my love of 1970s glam iconsThe Sweet is pretty well documented. They’ve featured heavily on Darren’s Music Blog over the seven years of the blog’s existence. I’m therefore very pleased to be announcing the publication of my first book due out this summer: ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’.
It’s published by the excellent Sonicbond Publishing who’ve been running the On Track series, where they look at a band’s entire recorded output track by track, and more recently the Decades series, where they look at a band’s history and development through a key decade. I’d already reviewed a couple of Sonicbond publications (on Fairport Convention and Hawkwind) when I had a dream that I’d just written my own book about The Sweet. With the dream still fresh in my head the following morning I thought it might actually be an idea to see if this could perhaps be turned into reality.
I emailed Stephen Lambe at Sonicbond that morning with the synopsis that was formulated in the dream still in my head to see if they were interested. Happily, he came back and said that they were and a contract soon followed. It became my lockdown project starting last summer and after several months of feverish writing, researching and listening I completed it at the end of February.
It’s now available to pre-order direct from the publishers via Burning Shed here
From the Amazon synopsis you hopefully get a taste of what’s in store:
The Sweet’s look, sound and attitude became an instantly recognisable hallmark of the early 1970s glam rock era. But the band did not start the 1970s as a glam band and certainly didn’t finish as one. This book charts the band’s journey through the decade that made them a household name, from their initial rise as purveyors of manufactured, bubblegum pop to their metamorphosis into harder-edged glam rock icons. The Sweet in the 1970s takes a look at both their successes and their struggles in their quest to be recognised as a more serious rock act in the latter part of the decade, once the sparkle of glam and glitter had begun to pale. The decade saw them score fifteen UK Top 40 singles, release seven studio albums and tour several continents. Unlike many bands of the era personnel changes were few. The Sweet begin the 1970s with the arrival of new guitarist, Andy Scott, and end the decade with the departure of frontman, Brian Connolly, and an ultimately ill-fated attempt to continue as a three-piece. This book is an unashamed celebration of the music of the Sweet and charts the lasting impact they had on many of the bands than followed them.
And of the author, Amazon has this to say:
After acquiring a second-hand copy of Sweet’s Give Us A Wink album from Action Records in Preston as a teenager in the early 1980s, Darren Johnson has been a dedicated fan of the band ever since. A former politician, he has written for a number of UK national newspapers but after stepping away from politics, he has been able to devote more time to his first love: music. A keen follower of both rock and folk, he maintains a popular music blog Darren’s Music Blog and has reviewed albums and gigs for a variety of publications. He lives in Hastings, East Sussex, UK
I’ve been following Bristol-based acapella group The Longest Johns since they sent me their first album to review back in 2016. Following the tiktok sea shanty viral sensation that is ‘Wellerman’, however, they now find themselves in the Top 40 – with a lovely rather dumbstruck announcement on their Facebook page giving their reaction as follows: “BY POSEIDONS BEARD! It’s only gone top 40! We did it everybody, thank-you to all our families, the mod’s and the fantastic discord community, Thank-you to Anna for singing it with us and thank-you to EVERYONE who bought Wellerman and got a (Can’t believe i’m typing this) SEA SHANTY IN THE CHARTS. Ohhhh!!”
2020 was looking like a terrible year for glam veterans, Slade. Guitarist Dave Hill sacked drummer Don Powell from the continuing (ie: post- Jim and Noddy) version of the band. Bass-player Jim Lea had his prized guitar stolen and Noddy Holder exchanged a few sharp words about his former song-writing partner Jim in press interviews. All that was put to one side, however, as all four original members expressed their joy at their greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz going straight in at No. 8 in the UK album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974!
Only a few short years ago the wheels well and truly seemed to be finally coming off the AC/DC machine. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had tragically passed away, drummer Phil Rudd was sentenced to home detention after an unedifying case involving drugs and threatening behaviour, vocalist Brian Johnson ended up being replaced by Axl Rose following major hearing problems and bass-player Cliff Williams saw the writing on the wall and decided he, too, had had enough. However, with Stevie Young replacing his late uncle, Malcolm, the classic post-Bon Scott AC/DC line-up (or as near as humanly possible to it anyway) was resurrected and a brand new album Power Up ended up reaching No. 1 in twenty-one countries.
Glitter Band founder member, John Rossall, released a wonderfully menacing twenty-first century reboot of classic 70s glam rock with his The Last Glam In Town album. Released back in October last year, it picked up favourable reviews everywhere. All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre. “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost!” he told me when I interviewed him late last year. “It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”
While there has been no big Charlatans comeback (their most recent album was back in 2017), Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic. The idea was a simple one: an album and a time would be chosen and fans would converge on social media to exchange their memories, reactions and appreciation of said album. Soon there was a queue of artists eager to get involved and, for me, one of the highlights was when they featured the album by Heavy Load, a band which was composed of people with and without learning disabilities, of which my current boss was the former bass-player. You can find out more about Heavy Load, the award-winning film of the same name that was made about them and the charity that they inspired here.