With a name like that, various 70s glam heroes cited as key influences and an album due out in July entitled Rock ‘n’ Roll Glitter Suit it’s probably not too much of a coincidence that the paths of Darren’s Music Blog and Velvet Insane would eventually cross.
The Swedish-based band were formed in 2013 by guitarist Jesper Lindgren and describe themselves as a three-piece gang of rockers that reinvented glam rock by mixing the pop harmonies of the 70’s with the heavy sound of today. There have been changes in personnel and switches in record companies along the way but the band’s fortunes received a significant boost when they signed to a deal with Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution earlier this year.
On the record deal the band commented:
“It feels inspiring and exciting to have signed a deal with Wild Kingdom. After working our asses off for years jumping around on different record companies it feels like we finally found our home. Wild Kingdom got the distinct rock ’n’ roll vein that we all love. Together we have made this glammy high energy rock ’n’ roll album that we feel very proud of. A wam bam beat that will knock you of your feet.”
An initial single and video, the wonderfully-titled ‘Backstreet Liberace’, from the forthcoming album was released back in May to great acclaim. All pounding piano keys, big handclaps, infectious riffs and catchy choruses there’s plenty to love about this.
‘Backstreet Liberace’ was then followed up with a second single from second single and music video ‘Sound of Sirens’ released 11th June. With a change of pace here they define it as 60’s pop gem made for the modern day.
Of the latest single the band say:
“We feel very proud about this catchy singalong pop gem and that it shows a slightly different side of Velvet Insane. Strongly influenced by The Beatles and 60’s pop music it gives you shivers and shows our passion and love for all kinds of music. A song we really looking forward to playing live and feel the energy from the audience in the future. With the video, we want to celebrate where we come from: the 70’s. Kiss, ABBA, Slade and glam rock/pop in general have meant so much to us in our musical upbringing. 1970’s influences in pictures and music but with the sound of today.”
The track is written by the legendary Sulo Karlsson of the Diamond Dogs who also produced and wrote the tracks together with the band on the upcoming album.
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.
After performing a one-off gig together in November 2019 it was announced last year that three former member of Judas Priest, guitarist KK Downing, vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and drummer Les Binks, would be working together more permanently as part of KK’s Priest.
Downing, of course, had severed his long-standing ties with Judas Priest back in 2011, citing a breakdown in band relations. Owens’ own eight-year tenure in the band, came to a conclusion in 2003 when lead singer, Rob Halford, returned. Binks, meanwhile, left Judas Priest in 1979 after recording three classic albums (Stained Glass, Killing Machine and Unleased In The East) following a row over money with the band’s management.
Binks, who had already been touring with his own outfit Les Binks’ Priesthood – performing songs from his time in the band, has unfortunately had to put activities on hold due to a wrist injury. Downing and Owens, however, are now raring to go with a new single ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’ released this week, an album Sermons Of The Sinner set for release on 20th August this year, with live dates to be announced as coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Downing:“We are delighted to finally be able to release our first track to the world. It gives a real flavour of the sound and showcases the amazing players I’ve got in this band.We can’t wait for the fans to hear the record.”
Joining Downing on guitar and Owens on vocals, are Tony Newton (Voodoo Six) on bass, A.J. Mills (Hostile) on guitar and Sean Elg (DeathRiders/Cage) on drums. It is hoped Binks will make special guest live appearances when the band tours.
Downing notes that Sermons Of The Sinner is an album that celebrates his classic metal roots and encourages us to cherish those iconic pioneers whom we still have with us. He jokes that KK’s Priest is “like a new old band. Or an old new band.”
“The whole concept is the fact that I continue proudly to be who I am and what I am and do what I do,” declares Downing. “It’s been nearly 10 years. I’m back making music.”
Downing continues:“The ultimate message is we’ve moved away from this music that we loved for so long and we’re so dedicated to, and now we’re in a situation where lots of people are actually passing away. We’ve lost a lot of great people – Dio, Lemmy, I could go on – and that’s gonna be accelerated over the coming years. Basically, enjoy everything that’s left of this brand of metal including from me. It’s not going to last forever.”
The new single certainly captures a lot of the energy, attitude and sound of classic Judas Priest and there’s more than enough room in the classic rock and metal scene for bands to thrive. This has got to be good news for Priest fans. I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on this band as well as Judas Priest itself. Let’s make the most of them while we’ve still got them.
KK’s Priest is set to tour worldwide as soon as current restrictions are lifted. Details of touring to be announced.
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
Mark Farner was one of the founding members of American rock legends Grand Funk Railroad. As well as being their lead singer and lead guitarist he was also the band’s principal songwriter. 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 ‘From Chile With Love’ which is due out on 6th April.
DJ: When we think of Grand Funk Railroad we think of one of the legendary American stadium bands of the 1970s. But you actually started off as a stadium band pretty much from the get-go. One of your very first gigs was at the legendary Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969. How did that come about?
MF: Well, the attorneys that did the legal work for that pop festival were the same attorneys that Terry Knight, our manager, used for his legal work in New York City. So they worked a deal with the promoters of the pop festival to put us on first and we’ll play for free. Grand Funk plays for free just to get the exposure and then they gave him an adjusted fee for the legal work. So, you know – one hand washes the other. That’s how we landed that gig. What a lucky thing for Grand Funk!
DJ: Incredible! And how did it move on from there – from that spectacular opening?
MF: Well, of course, the record companies had a lot of acts there and Capitol, being one of the companies, were very interested in talking to Terry Knight at that festival about signing. And then he did a deal with Capitol – a production deal – and signed the band to himself under this production deal and told the band that the 6% that we were receiving and dividing was more than the Beatles was getting. And we said, “More than the Beatles! Wow, that’s cool.”
We didn’t know. We’re twenty years old, Brother. So, we finally find out years and years later – there was a contract between Knight and Capital Records for 16%. So he was keeping ten, giving the band six to split and then taking a management commission of that 6%, Dude. Aargh – the tales I could tell you!
DJ: I’m pretty sure virtually every successful musician of your generation has a similar tale to tell!
MF: Oh, absolutely.
DJ: In 1971 you came over to the UK to London and headlined at Hyde Park? Have you any memories of that particular day?
MF: Darren, I gotta tell you. There I was ready to tear things apart because I always got worked up before I go out on the stage. I had to burn it off. You know, do some boxer shuffles and stuff – with my guitar on just to burn it up. Then it’s like busting out…shoot number four.. dynamo… the bull’s riding you know! So, here I come and I did not know that the lighting director had put dance wax on that stage, Brother.
Ohhhh my god. I hit that stuff and my cord – because we didn’t have cordless back then, you had a coil cord. I had two twenty-footers that would lock together with XLR connectors in the middle like a mic cable and it gave me a great distance. I could run any stage. But I was not prepared for what happened. Here I am. I hit that stage and I come sliding out on the dance wax and I’m going, “Oh, shit. I’m not gonna stop! Oh, no! I’m going right over the front of the… Woo!” And there I was, standing in front of the audience with the stage ten feet up and I’m at the very end of that cord. That guitar cord was still in my axe and I still played from that position. I just made like it was part of the show, Dude. What a breaking in I had at Hyde Park!
DJ: That was a great welcome to Britain really, wasn’t it?
MF: Oh my god, yeah. It was wonderful.
DJ: Grand Funk Railroad were always portrayed as one of those archetypal down to earth blue-collar type bands, but your lyrics weren’t always just the traditional rock n roll themes of cars and girls and rock ‘n’ roll. Your lyrics often dealt with some of the themes that the more esoteric bands were dealing with – ecology and peace and war and so on.
MF: Yeah. That was a kid from Flint, Michigan who lived in the outskirts of town. I was not a city boy by any means. We lived on my great grandfather’s farm in the farmhouse he built. It was an eleven-room farmhouse, and we had an orchard to run in and we had a river to play in. No houses back then, you know. What a great place to grow up. And that’s what I had in me when I left Flint, Michigan, and I first got in an airplane. I had never flown before it was like, “Oh, my god. This is cool. Look at this.” You know, I was just at that stage of life and that stage of my maturity and it came out in my music. I think people appreciated the heart behind it. There was always a sincerity because I meant what I said. And when I show up in Santiago, Chile, and I walk on that stage, I am who my songs say I am
DJ: Looking across your entire career which songs would you say you are most proud of?
MF: Well, I would say first of all I’m your captain. Because of the vast audience – it really crosses a lot of lines. And for some reason – I mean I prayed for that song. I asked God to give me a song that would reach and touch the hearts of those that love wants to get to – because God is love and love is unconditional. And that’s really, you know, what we’re made of. But we’re convinced by somebody to believe in some form of indebtedness to something and that took us away from the truth – and that awareness that we had in that setting of love, the strength and the power of love. So, we’ve gotta get back to it. And that’s what the music says to the people. Even in foreign countries, Darren. There in Santiago and Lebanon – a friend that I got to know he learned English because he wanted to know what the lyrics to ‘Heartbreaker’ meant. And he said that it was tearing him up. He loved the song so much he learned English. Then he moves to Detroit and he owns a lot of property. His family came over. It’s a good thing.
It’s a good song. And it reached the hearts of our military because it came out at the end of the Vietnam era and it really touched the hearts of a lot of Vietnam veterans. In fact, they voted my song number one when they had the twenty-fifty anniversary of the Wall – the monument there in DC. And they asked me if I would come and play that song. Just bring an acoustic guitar and, you know, play the song. And I said, “If you’re gonna have a stage and lights and you’re gonna have a PA I’ll bring my whole band. We won’t charge you a cent. We’ll put a whole show on.” An entire show for the veterans. And there was not just the Vietnam American veterans, but our Canadian brothers and sisters were there, too. And there’s family and it was a community feeling. And when we got to sing closer to home to that particular crowd, Brother, it was hard because I had a softball right here (holds throat). I’m so choked. I’m looking at everyone crying and hugging just for what that song does for them. Oh, my god.
DJ: That feeling must come to you every time you perform it now?
MF: It does. It’s my reward for being true and getting my ass outa bed and writing that song. Because a lot of times prior to that I can tell you, I had songs going on in my head and I thought I could hold em – I’ll remember this until… It was gone! So, that one stayed, and it became what it is to people because of no video – there was never a video of that song – and because of that it’s the same as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. At WNEW in New York City they polled, they asked an audience of a hundred people, “What is the definition? What does this song mean to you?” And they got a hundred diversely different definitions. Not any two were even close, the guy’s telling me. I said, “Out of a hundred people not even close?” “Not even close,” he said. So that’s the same thing that happens, I believe when people read a book and then they go see the movie and they say, “Oh, that movie sucks.” Because that movie that they were running, that one was their own imagination and we come up with a whole lot better stuff!
DJ: And that’s why music is so special and such a universal language because we can all have that connection in our own unique way.
MF: Yes. Absolutely, Brother.
DJ: And for those reading who’ve perhaps not followed your career so closely in recent years give us a quick low-down on your solo career.
MF: My solo career has been doing a lot of dates up until the Covid thing. Going out with a lot of different bands. Jefferson Starship and Blue Oyster Cult and you know, some of our friends that are still sucking air and playing music. It’s great to be able to do that. And I love the setting, like when we go out and do a hippy-fest or Happy Together (festival) and then there was a tribute to the Beatles that we did. Just to get together with other musicians it’s going to be a learning experience.
For instance, when I got together with Ringo Starr to do that gig, Randy Bachman – the guy that made that chord is showing me how to play it – and I’m learning. Randy is a solid guy. He’s a really good-hearted man. He’s a real dude and I appreciate him so much. And we had Billy Preston, John Entwistle, Felix Cavaliere. Oh, my god – just the talent that was there on that stage and nobody ran into each other. I mean, you know, it was like such respect. And when we landed in Tokyo and had the press conference and Ringo was sitting at the table – the band was down both sides, it was kind of like the last supper with Ringo in the middle and the band going down both sides. And a lady came up and she’s from a magazine and she said, “I’d like to ask Mr Farner a question.” So I stand up and she said, “What is it like playing with a Beatle?” And I go, “Let me tell you something, Ringo puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everybody in this room.” Ringo stands up and he goes, “Thank you, Brother. And he comes over and he gives me a big hug. A sincere man thanking me for just giving him this recognition of just being a guy. Because he is tormented by people who want his autograph, who want it – because of their imagination. Their parents had it. Their parents’ parents had it for the Beatles. It just gets passed on and then your imagination carries it to this next level. So I feel for him and I understand why he went on YouTube and he did that thing but he’s a great guy and he’s a good-hearted man. He really is.
DJ: And tell us about your new DVD From Chile With Love – which includes a charitable donation doesn’t it?
MF: It’s going to be released April 6th, the official date. It is Mark Farner’s American Band ‘From Chile With Love’. It is available on my website markfarner.com It is sixteen performance tracks with two bonus videos, one of which is available for a free download right now markfarner.com. It is ‘Rock and Roll Soul’ taken from this live DVD concert and we got five audio tracks. Five bonus tracks – songs that people will hear for the first time. All for $14.99 – such a deal!
DJ: When was the concert recorded?
MF: It was a couple of years back in Santiago, Chile at Teatro Caupolicán. It’s a very good concert. My wife, Lesia, and I take three dollars from each of the DVD sales, and we contribute to Veterans’ Support Foundation. And they are an outfit that is of veterans, by veterans, for veterans that take care of, you know, transitional housing, they take a veteran off the street, if somebody’s had a hard time getting what they’re owed by the government there is somebody who will advocate for them and stand in the gap there and make sure that they get what they served their country to get. And we believe in them because we’ve been working with these same people since the ‘70s and this is a get-it-done operation and there’s nobody getting paid there. It’s all voluntary work – so we put our money where our mouth is and we thank the buyers of this DVD, the fans who will help us contribute to our veterans and their families in this way. We appreciate it so much. And if I could give a number if anybody knows of a veteran who could use some help or knows somebody in a situation call free: 800 882 1316
DJ: You also performed on several tracks on Alice Cooper’s latest album Detroit Stories. How did that come about?
MF: Well my manager, Bobby Steinman, gave me a holler he says, “Hey listen. Alice Cooper’s doing an album. It’s going to be a tribute to Detroit. There going to use some early Detroit funk, some Suzi Quatro, some Bob Seger and I’m thinking, “Wow man, a tribute to Detroit and Alice Cooper’s asking me? What a privilege that would be – yeah count me in.” So, it was getting into the studio with Wayne Kramer – a friend from the past and I have the utmost respect for him. I remember seeing MC5 at Detroit fairground for a concert that was there with all the local acts. That was Iggy and the Stooges, Amboy Dukes and oh my god, yeah, a lot of local acts. And we saw the MC5 take the stage and every head within a half mile turned right towards the stage and went, “What the heck is that?” And I shared that with Wayne. Loved working with him.
Loved working with Johnny (Bee) Bedanjek on this same project. Jonny Bee played drums for me back in the ‘80s in a solo thing. I did a three-piece with Mark Gaughan and Johnny Bee and we went out down through the south and toured three-piece and rocked the place. It was great. And it was great because Johnny Bedanjek puts it down. He lays such a deep back-beat. You can’t fall out of it. He would drag you into it.
DJ: Did you hang out with Alice Cooper back in the ‘70s or did you just get to know each other through this project?
MF: No, it was because he was a headliner, and we were a headliner we never did. Our paths didn’t cross. But I did play music with Dick Wagner who was Alice Cooper’s guitar player. But it was gas to hang with him. And Alice is a perfect gentleman. He’s a humble person. What really impressed me, Darren, we’re sitting in a restaurant. We just get our food. His fork is half-way between his plate and his mouth, and somebody walks up and says, “Will you sign this?” And he puts the fork down and takes the pen. I’m telling you, he’s a humble guy and to work with Bob Ezrin – what a terrific producer. A talent. That guy is intense. He’s the most intense producer I’ve ever worked with, but I love that intensity about him, and I love the depth of his heart.
DJ: And my final question, and I must ask this on behalf of your British fans, is there any chance of you and your other two original band-mates from Grand Funk ever reuniting for one last time?
MF: It wouldn’t be for lack of participation by me. For over twenty years I have been attempting, for the sake of the Grand Funk fans to put the band back together – the real band. Listen, I don’t know what it is. I know it’s not nice or not good what keeps us apart. But I keep proposing this and it never gets met with any… like it’s for real. “Yeah, well put a plan together.” “Me? A musician put a plan together?” No, you get a promoter to put a plan together. You get somebody that knows what they’re doing, that’s been in the business, that stands to make a lot of money. That’s the person you put in charge. You don’t put the musician – you keep his head in the creative place. Thank god, that’s where mine has lived most of my life and I haven’t had to deal with the business shit that keeps bubbling up. Somebody’s got to deal with it and thank god my better three-quarters, Lesia, has a better grip on it than I do.
DJ: And is there one final thought you want to leave us with today?
MF: Yes, Brother Darren, I just like to leave everybody with the thought of being free in our minds, disconnect ourselves momentarily from every indebtedness, not just monetary indebtedness but the indebtedness that comes from unfulfilled expectations of other people and the like. People are moved from the place of comfort by this weapon known as debt. It is the most foul word in the English language. It encompasses more than it could ever let on, so reckon with yourself in your time, in your heart closet and know that you are free and you are the one that controls the gate. Owe no man anything except to love him.
Thank you to the music legend that is Mark Farner.
The DVD Mark Farner’s American Band ‘With Love From Chile’ is released 6th April 2021 and is available via https://markfarner.com/
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.
As most rock fans know, Deep Purple’s most famous song ‘Smoke On The Water’ was based on an actual real life event. In December 1971 the band were planning to record their forthcoming album Machine Head at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. Used for live concerts throughout the year, Frank Zappa’s performance on 4th December was to be the last of the season, after which Deep Purple would be able to have the run of the place to themselves and the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio would be parked up outside to capture everything on tape.
Unfortunately, as we all know, it didn’t quite work out that way. As the song goes:
Frank Zappa and the Mothers Were at the best place around But some stupid with a flare gun Burned the place to the ground
But who was the “Stupid with a flare gun” who burned the place to the ground?
Step forward one Zdenek Spicka, a Czechoslovakian national living in Switzerland at the time. According to a local newspaper article published later that month Spicka is alleged to have fired some capsules and then a small flare into the ceiling of the venue that started the fire and cause the entire place to have burnt down. Spicka fled the scene immediately afterwards and although a police ‘Wanted’ operation was mounted he was never located.
The above cutting was tracked down and posted to a Spanish Deep Purple blog back in 2009.
It was subsequently translated into English by another Deep Purple fan as follows:
“Here is the release concerning the Montreux Casino fire. As previously already stated in the press, a fire completely ravaged the Montreux Casino on Saturday, 4 December, 1971, at the end of the afternoon where a pop concert had attracted some 2000 listeners. By exceptional luck, this accident did not claim a victim. On the other hand, the damage in numbers was between 12 and 15 million francs. The investigation performed by the police can identify the perpetrator of the act that caused this catastrophe. It was one Spicka Zdenek, born 4 November 1949, Czech refugee, previously of Epalinages, currently on the run (see photo). He was placed under arrest by the [local judge] in Vevey.
The matter is that Spicka fired a flare gun in the [concert] hall, first some [capsules] and then a small flare that lodged into the ceiling which set it on fire. The cause of the accident is therefore clearly established. Although his details had been widely circulated in police bulletins, no trace of Spicka has been found in Switzerland. It has been suggested that he shaved off his beard and mustache. Anyone who can give information regarding Spicka should contact the police…
It is practically certain today that Zdenek Spicka, who had elected to live in a small commune established in a villa located near Epalignes, took flight the same night of the fire. According to his Czech compatriots, he left as soon as possible because he was afraid of being lynched by the crowd–understandably afraid of the consequences of his actions–even if he had not had the intention of starting the fire. Intentional fire can bring 20 years confinement with a minimum of three years, whereas fire due to negligence can bring a maximum of three years.
Regarding the pistol, it is a firearm that one can obtain without authorization in large stores, for example. It was an Italian-made device which could be adapted to flares used to signal distress.“
What happened next…
Such an incredibly dangerous, foolhardy and unbelievably selfish thing to do at a packed gig, it was a miracle that no-one was killed.
However, the incident did, at least, leave the world with an unforgettable song and an immortal riff.
July Morning is a 1971 song by English hard rock band 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.
Every year on 1st July thousands flock to the Black Sea coast before dawn for their own ‘July Morning’ celebrations built around that 1971 song by Uriah Heep.
in 2012 some 12,000 people were said to have greeted the sunrise at Kamen Bryag where July Morning was performed live by former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton and his band.
Here is a July Morning celebration from 2015.
It is said that the song grew in popularity during the 1980s and became a feature of impromptu summer gatherings of young rock fans. Although formal protests were banned under the Communist regime, the gatherings and by extension the song, were seen as a subtle way of expressing one’s defiance towards the authoritarian regime and celebrating life and freedom.
Bulgarian communism may have collapsed in 1989 but there is no sign of a collapse in the popularity of the song – or indeed of the dawn gatherings which have remained an important part of the summer calendar each year.
Now the song has never enjoyed anything like this degree of significance in the country where it was actually created. It’s loved as a great rock song in Britain but that’s as far as it goes.
How appropriate, however, if this July 1st Uriah Heep where to actually play the song at a dawn gathering here Britain – celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the song and paying tribute to the life of of one of its creators, Ken Hensley, who sadly died last November.
Uriah Heep – let’s do it – we can even have the gig socially-distanced if need be!
New studio album scheduled for release this summer
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). In addition to the core band and the legendary Rainbow and Deep Purple keyboardist, more special guests will be announced in the coming weeks.
Bonnet says: “Similar to the first two albums with my band, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. Also, we have some heavy hitting guests including Don Airey and others yet to be announced. I’m very excited to be playing on an album again with Don. Aside from being my longtime friend and former bandmate, he is one of the most incredible musicians I have ever had the pleasure to play with, he’s a ‘real’ keyboard player and a classically trained pianist. “
He adds: “I’m also delighted to be playing with the original members of the Graham Bonnet Band: Beth-Ami Heavenstone, who has been my constant partner on and off stage since meeting back in 2012; guitarist Conrado Pesinato, whose innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting, and the iconic Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord) on drums.”
The album is anticipated to be released in summer 2021 and will be Bonnet’s third release with Frontiers Music – following the Graham Bonnet Band albums The Book and Meanwhile, Back In The Garage.
Some sad news to start off 2021 was waking up on New Year’s Day and finding out, via social media, that Mick Bolton, the talented pianist who played with Mott The Hoople in the 70s and Dexy’s Midnight Runners in the 80s, has passed away.
Following the departure of Verden Allen and his eventual replacement by Morgan Fisher, Mick ended up touring with Mott The Hoople throughout the second half of 1973 and can be heard on the much-celebrated ‘Mott The Hoople Live’ album.
Reflecting on his introduction to the world of Mott, Mick wrote on his website:
“In May 1973 I auditioned for Mott The Hoople as piano player. They had a huge hit in 1972 with David Bowie’s song All The Young Dudes and, following the release of their 1973 album Mott and the departure of organist Verden Allen, they were about to take on a piano-player and a Hammond organist to promote their new album. I didn’t get the piano job – it quite rightly went to Morgan Fisher. But a couple of days later Stan Tippins the band’s manager phoned to ask if I could play Hammond organ. When I answered yes I was told I had got the job.”
“The US and UK tours were virtual sell outs and we played some memorable concerts with some great support acts.”
Former Mott The Hoople colleague, Morgan Fisher, paid tribute on social media, writing:
“RIP Mick Bolton. My organ buddy in Mott the Hoople, 1973. One of the sweetest of men, and a fine musician.”
I met Mick at several Mott The Hoople related events over the years, where he was always happy to discuss his time with Mott and his fond memories of touring with the band.
However, when I moved to Hastings in 2016, where Mick and his wife also lived, I would see quite a bit more of him. He was a much in-demand performer on the local music scene around Hastings and Rye. Indeed, the first ever gig I attended as a Hastings resident, as opposed to occasional seaside visitor, was seeing Mick perform at a local bar. You can read my write-up here.
I’d often see Mick and his wife Carol out and about, walking along the seafront in St Leonards or enjoying gigs from a plethora of visiting bands at the De La Warr and other local venues, spanning everything from classic rock to folk.
A talented pianist and a warm-hearted man his passing is a real loss to music and to the local community here in Hastings.