Three rock musicians, all members of Glam Rock inspired band Pouk Hill Prophetz, who lost a friend to a brain tumour have raised thousands to help fund scientific research into finding a cure for the disease.
Lead singer and bassist, Nigel Hart, aged 55, from Dollis Hill, North West London, guitarist, Martin Brooks, 54, from Burton Latimer near Kettering and drummer, Trevor West, 56, from Radcliffe-On-Trent, Nottingham, chose to fundraise for the Brain Tumour Research charity when they learned that a fan, who quickly became a good friend, was fighting a brain tumour.
Cat Anderson, who grew up in Corby and later lived in Uppingham, was diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable brain tumour in 2014 and, after surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment, seemed to be doing well. Shocked to discover that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, Cat and her parents, Rab and Margo Anderson of Kettering, set up a fundraising group called Cat in a Hat under the umbrella of Brain Tumour Research.
Sadly Cat’s brain tumour returned and she lost her life on 14th June last year, aged just 38.
On Wednesday 6th June, Nigel, Martin and Trevor were invited by the charity to visit the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University London to see how all money raised contributes towards research. The musical trio, whose repertoire includes many of the big hits from the 70s by bands like Slade, Sweet and T.Rex, also had the opportunity to place a tile on the Wall of Hope at the research centre.
The centre, one of four receiving funding from the charity, is focused on research to improve treatments for patients with brain tumours and, ultimately, finding a cure. Each tile laid on the wall represents the £2,740 it costs to fund a day of research.
Led by Prof. Silvia Marino, in collaboration with University College London, the team at the centre are studying glioblastoma tumours – one of the most aggressive and deadly types of brain cancer and the tumour that Cat died from.
Nigel said: “We quickly decided we wanted to get involved with supporting Cat in a Hat and organised charity shows and a rock memorabilia auction which together have raised more than £10,000 to date, including match-funding from Deutsche Bank. Today has been a fantastic opportunity to see how it’s making a difference to researchers.”
Trevor commented: “It’s an honour to visit one of the Brain Tumour Research Centres of Excellence and see where all the research takes place. When we met Cat a couple of years before she passed away, we were amazed at how positive she was, yet stunned that the life expectancy for brain tumour patients was so poor with less than 20% surviving for more than five years, compared with an average of 50% across all cancers.”
Martin added: “The tile we placed symbolises not only the money we’ve raised for research into brain tumours, but also commemorates our dear friend Cat who is sorely missed by so many, not least her parents, who have both become good friends of ours too.”
Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age, yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
Michael Thelwall, Head of Community Fundraising for Brain Tumour Research, said: “Nigel, Trevor and Martin have raised an incredible amount for Brain Tumour Research and we’re really pleased they have been to see the research taking place at Queen Mary University London, and also place a tile on the Wall of Hope. Stories like Cat’s remind us all that we cannot allow this desperate situation to continue.”
This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rockhere
Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.
“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.
So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.
JL:“It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”
Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?
JL:“Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”
With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?
JL:“That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”
Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?
JL:“No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”
Live at the Robin
You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.
JL:“When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”
It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.
JL:“You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”
Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.
JL:“All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”
While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.
JL:“I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”
Coz I Luv You
From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.
JL:“Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s. I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”
While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.
JL:“And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles. Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”
With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.
JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”
Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.
JL:“My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six year’s gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service it’s a big thing. So with my mother as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”
For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.
“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”
Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld
With music-loving parents rock music had always been in the background growing up. By my early teens I’d begun taping a few things off my dad when I first got a portable tape recorder. But these are the first albums that I actually owned.
ONE – AC/DC – Highway To Hell
My dad had been an early adopter as far as AC/DC were concerned, buying High Voltage not long after it was released in the UK and playing it pretty much constantly as I recall. Highway to Hell came out in 1979 and not only did my dad have a copy but my older stepsister had one, too. By 1981, though, she was getting far more into punk and so gifted me her copy. My first rock album – and what an absolute classic to start off with.
TWO – Status Quo – Never Too Late
Not the greatest Quo album but a good solid album and a great cover of ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ which had made the top ten. I was already a confirmed Quo fan when the album was released in March 1981, just in time for my fifteenth birthday in May – thanks Mum!
THREE – Slade – We’ll Bring The House Down
Another fifteenth birthday present (thanks Dad!). I’d been aware of Slade in the early 70s, of course, but by the time I was a teenager they’d virtually disappeared off the radar completely. But I remember watching Top Of The Tops when Slade burst on the screen with their brilliantly raucous comeback single ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. I asked for the album for my birthday and a life-long devotion to all things Slade followed. Not Slade’s most famous album by a long stretch, but in terms of making an impact on a youthful Darren perhaps the most significant album I ever owned.
FOUR: Deep Purple – In Rock
A friend at school sold me this second-hand. He decided he was a punk not a metalhead and this was therefore surplus to requirements so I bought it off him for 50p. A true classic album, I loved (and still do) the combination of Jon Lord’s eerily atmospheric Hammond, Ritchie Blackmore’s manic guitar wizardry and Ian Gillan’s deranged screaming. Deep Purple had been defunct for several years by this time but this was an indication that I would be dipping back into the back catalogues of the previous decade for many of my subsequent musical purchases over the coming years.
FIVE: Whitesnake – Ready an’ Willing
Bought from a record shop in Southport while I was in a youth theatre project this album immediately impressed – with one unforgettable tune after another. Just a few weeks later Whitesnake, along with AC/DC and Slade, would be one of the first bands I ever saw – live at the Donington Monsters of Rock festival.
SIX – Status Quo – Whatever You Want
I remember getting this from the local newsagents where they had a small rack of cut-price LPs amongst all the magazines and sweets. I bought it mainly for the title track and ‘Living On An Island’ but this became an album I played loads.
SEVEN – Rainbow – Down To Earth
Another bargain, this is one I got cheap from a mail-order company. I had already taped my dad’s copies of ‘Rising’ and ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ by this time and was a fan of Ronnie James Dio’s vocals but I also really warmed to the more commercial rock of the Graham Bonnet-fronted Rainbow, too. Still a really great album and still one of my favourites.
I took this (along with my recently-purchased Ready an Willing and Whatever You Want) to a party in the summer of 81 and they all got a bit scratched and battered, sadly. It was an early lesson in why you should not take records to parties – but, with any luck, hopefully someone would be inventing the CD for me in a couple of year’s time….
So that was my first bunch of albums. Many, many hundreds more would follow over the years. But, looking back, I feel fairly nostalgic thinking about how it all started for me and, if I may so myself, not a bad choice of albums at all….
Extracts from this review were also published on Get Ready To Rockhere
Another weekend, another Butlins music festival. Giants of Rock at Minehead has become an absolute must in my musical calendar each January now. With three stages, forty-three bands and many, many clashes it’s obvious you can’t see everything – and I don’t even try. Inevitably, I missed some great performances but my general approach at weekends like this is as follows:
– I do like to watch act in full and properly appreciate their performance, from the minute they walk on stage to their final encore, rather than flitting about catching half an hour here and half an hour there.
– I also do like to eat, chill, socialise (and sleep) so I inevitably miss a good few bands – but the ones I do see generally get my full attention.
With those caveats here then are my highlights (and a couple of lowlights) from Giants of Rock 2018:
Taking a chance on Curved Air I thought they might be an Atomic Rooster-like surprise for me whom I enjoyed at Butlins Skegness so much the previous week. Unfortunately, it was not to be. It took me less than five minutes to realise that Curved Air were really, really not my cup of tea at all. That opened the way, however, for moving on to the Introducing Stage just as all-female foursome JoanovArc were about to start…
Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.
Then it was a return to one of the two main stages to watch former Wishbone Ash man, Martin Turner and his band wow the crowd with their performance of the classic 1972 album, Argus. I’d really enjoyed Andy Powell’s continuing ‘official’ version of Wishbone Ash at Giants of Rock two years ago. But Turner’s interpretation of this early material is just perfection. ‘Time Was’, ‘Blowin’ Free’, ‘The King Will Come’… No-one will ever do these songs better.
I was greatly entertained by ex-Argent guitarist John Verity at Giants of Rock two years ago and he was back once more with a lunchtime slot delivering a mix of rock classics, blues standards and material from his recent solo albums as well as, of course, a version of Argent’s irresistible classic ‘Hold Your Head Up’. A great way to start the day’s music.
Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world.
After bumping into Uriah Heep in the chippy and having a lovely chat with a very affable Mick Box and co, it was soon time to see them up on stage. Playing mainly Byron-era classics: ‘Gypsy’ followed by ‘Look At Yourself’ followed by ‘Sunrise’ followed by ‘Stealin’, they threw in one song from the last studio album (the excellent ‘One Minute’ from 2014’s The Outsider) before going on to 1998’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ then incredible versions of ‘July Morning’ ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘Easy Livin’. Pounding hammond, stunning vocals and Mick Box on guitar having the time of his life, not only did it rank of one of my favourite Giants of Rock performances ever, it’s now up there as one of my favourite performances by anyone, anywhere ever.
Things were slightly different next door on the other main stage with rumblings from audience members that Hawkwind only got to play for an hour and didn’t have time for any well-known crowd pleasers like ‘Silver Machine’ at the end. But all bands get an hour – to use exactly as they see fit. While Uriah Heep used their allotted hour with devastating efficiency to give us an out-of-this-world-performance of some of their greatest songs ever, Hawkwind chose a different approach. But at the end of the day you only get an hour. It’s Butlins not Stonehenge…
From probably the best Giants of Rock performance ever to possibly the worst…
After Uriah Heep I wandered over to the other main stage to watch a bit of ex-Toto singer, Bobby Kimball. Never really a fan of that very polished, very commercial, very shiny American AOR anyway, this was more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. In the week’s building up to his appearance numerous videos circulated on social media showing some shockingly out-of-tune vocals as Kimball murdered numerous Toto hits like ‘Africa’. If Kimball would be able to turn things around and put in a half-decent performance at Butlins it would be one of the big surprises of the festival. If he wasn’t it was going to be one horrific car-crash. Unfortunately, it was the latter. I lasted three songs – just long enough to see him murder ‘Africa’ again, before joining the mass of exodus next door to catch Stray. At least Del Bromham and his band were guaranteed a large crowd. The place was absolutely rammed and Stray put in a blistering set. The second-time I’d seen them in a week, it was a great way to end the second day.
Killit, who were one of the Introducing Stage winners last year, were on one of the main stages this year starting the day with a lunchtime set. One of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years, they have a knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. I so want this band to do well.
My visit to the Introducing Stage on the Sunday was to catch Black Whiskey, who would go on to be that day’s winners and thus will be appearing on the main stage next year. Citing influences like Zeppelin, Free, Purple and UFO, Black Whiskey very much opt for a classic rock sound. Bluesy guitar, soulful vocals and solid rhythm. It’s a timeless, infectious mix and I am definitely happy to see more of them in future.
My absolute must-see band for the Sunday night was Slade. It would be the twenty-fifth time I had seen this band since I first saw the original line-up send the crowd at Donington Monsters of Rock absolutely crazy as a 15-year old teenager back in 1981. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea have long gone, of course, but Dave Hill and Don Powell are still flying the flag with a stable line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mal McNulty and vocalist/bass-player John Berry. Anyone expecting a note-for-note musically and vocally perfect copy of the original Slade you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want a crazy, fun-packed, non-stop celebration of some of the greatest songs ever – clapping your hands, stamping your feet, getting your boots off, singing along at the top of your voice, and generally waving your arms about – you’re in for a treat. A brilliantly fun twenty-fifth Slade gig for me – I can’t wait for my twenty-sixth…
After Slade finished I opted not to stick around for Nazareth having already enjoyed them at Skegness the weekend before. (Read my review here to find out what I thought of Nazareth). Instead, I headed over to the other main stage to watch the AC/DC tribute, Bon, who were performing the Powerage album in full. I’ve nothing against tributes and have enjoyed quite a few of them at my local rock pub back home but generally it’s not what I travel hundreds of miles to Minehead for. However, a great bunch of musicians performing a classic album in full followed by a run-through of all the iconic title tracks from every Bon Scott-era AC/DC album seemed like a great party band and a great way to finish the weekend on a high – and it was.
Hard rock, prog rock, glam rock, space rock, blues rock, contemporary heavy metal… One of the great things about Giants of Rock is that if you are a classic rock fan there really is something for everyone. Another great thing is the strong sense of community amongst those coming together at Minehead to celebrate their shared love of rock. A vibrant and active presence on social media via the Giants of Rock Facebook group (set up by fans for fans completely independently of Butlins) has meant that many close bonds have been made over the four years since the the festival started. It makes for one of the friendliest weekends of this type you can possibly imagine. Roll on Giants of Rock 2019!
You can join the Giants of Rock Minehead Facebook discussion group here
Wishing you a happy New Year and thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2017. Here are the top ten most popular posts from the year, with the highest number of visits:
1. The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences: actually written in late 2016 but consistently the most popular post throughout the year. Here I trace the origin of that famous riff – back through the glam era, the Yardbirds and those blues masters. Full post here.
2. Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium: “From the moment they first walk on stage to play ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the last climatic strains of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ the whole show is pretty much a celebration of that unforgettable and seemingly unrepeatable debut album.” Full review here.
3. Giants of Rock weekend at Minehead: Excellent performances from Troy Redfern, Focus, Bernie Torme, Bernie Marsden, Oliver-Dawson Saxon, The Pretty Things and Killit captured here. Here’s to Giants of Rock 2018. Full review here.
4. In praise of the CD: It was only a few years ago that people were finding it hilarious that I was clinging obstinately to the CD rather than embracing digital formats. Now, with the renaissance of vinyl, some still regard me as a Luddite dinosaur for not embracing the switch back to the 12 inch. Here I gave seven reasons why the CD is king for me. Full article here.
5. For One Night Only – Slade’s Jim Lea in Bilston: “We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.” Full review here.
6. Sweet in London & Bilston: “This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too.” Full review here.
7. The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs: another piece exploring my CD obsession. Here I talk through my observations hunting down charity shop bargains. Full review here.
8. Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017: my preview piece ahead of Hastings’ annual Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations with many, many dozens of gigs across the town was shared widely. Full article here.
9. Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire: “Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.” Full review here.
10. W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings: “The Crimson Idol tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.” Full review here.
Thanks for visiting Darren’s music blog everyone. Thanks also to publications like Get Ready Rock, the Hastings Independent, The Stinger, fRoots Magazine, Bright Young Folk and the Hastings Online Time for running many of my reviews and articles.
Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.
Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.
The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.
The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.
While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.
Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.
And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.
And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?
He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.
We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.
The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.
Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.
From the ongoing controversy over fake news to the vicious nature of many political discussions on social media, Facebook has been facing a fair bit of criticism lately. If it’s not that, so the criticism goes, then it’s just a long series of tedious updates about what people are eating and random pictures of cats. But, somewhere in the middle there are ways in which Facebook is helping build genuine communities of people who share a passion or interest. Obviously, virtually all music acts these days have their own Facebook page where they share information with fans, but what we have also seen is the significant growth in Facebook discussion groups set up by the fans themselves.
Here we take a look at a number of such groups, from those with just a couple of hundred members to those with tens of thousands, and talk to some of the people involved in setting them up, running them or contributing to them.
Over 3,000 strong Fairporters is the group set up for fans of the folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and attendees of the band’s annual three-day festival at Cropredy. Iain, a regular contributor, reflects: “I think this group is pretty unique as we mostly expect to meet up at some point. It’s certainly the friendliest group of this sort that I’m a member of. Maybe this is why we have to behave! I’ve already met up with many of the people on here at Cropredy and other gigs. There are many more people we hope to meet this year and we’ve made friends with bands as well as fans. Bloody marvellous!”
In a number of Facebook groups not only do fans contribute but you will often find past and present members of the bands themselves contributing. Fairporters is no exception and original Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble is a regular contributor. “It’s a great way to keep those who are interested in my music up-dated in my musical collaborations and events and to let people know when things are happening and about releases of albums or books or err tea towels, and I try very hard not to overload people with continual repetitive updates. They bore me to bits and I’m sure it bores other people! A lot of my private life is just that – private but I don’t mind giving glimpses into how things occur and possibly why.”
Not simply based around one band but a genre, the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group was started up just over two years ago and has grown dramatically. Founder Jeremy recalls, “I originally started the group up just for around 20 mates that I grew up with in the 80s, to reminisce about the good old days. Then within a month we had 1,000 members and within a year we had 20,000. Now 2 years in we have 32,000 members.”
A common feature of a number of the most successful groups is that even if they start of as a purely online concern they can take on a life of their own and become a community in their own right. Jeremy, “We have yearly group meet-ups for charity. The latest was last week. These also include charity auctions with donations from the likes of Thunder, Saxon, Dan Reed, Kruhser and many more.”
You can find the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group here
Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family
This is a group for fans of former Supergrass lead singer, Gaz Coombes, and his subsequent solo career. Jackie explains how she came to set up the group. “It was after I had noticed a girl on a Gaz Coombes discussion thread asking about who was going to a particular show and having a couple of people approach me about tagging along that I decided to set up the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family.” That was three years ago. “I love this work and it felt like a good opportunity to set something up for the fans. There has been a few members that have got to know each other and have met up and become friends outside of the social media side of things. We had a couple of members who because of their similar tastes in music had met up and enjoyed a gig by the band Space.”
You can find the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family group here
Mark is one of the co-admins of the Slade Facebook group which is dedicated to celebrating well, what else but Slade! The Facebook group has been in existence some ten years now, although Mark wasn’t actually involved in setting up the group but came in to help run it four years ago. He explains, “I was asked to become admin, after being a member for some time, to help keep some order. That is, to help reign in some of the more outlandish stories. I try to point people to verified factual information. Being a member, and admin, is interesting as there are fans from all over the world, and of all ages. It can be hard sometimes to communicate effectively in a written medium. Handling the disappointment of people when some of the long held beliefs are shattered or dispelled with facts.”
Again there are meet-ups and other real-life spin-offs, “Slade fans do get together at conventions. There was also a “Slade sight seeing tour of London” that people attended. I don’t go to conventions myself but others do.”
While other discussion groups are formed around a certain band or genre some form around an event. Giants of Rock is a three day classic rock and metal festival that takes place at Butlins Minehead each January. Richard, who co-founded the group after the first Giants of Rock Weekend three years ago, takes up the story of how it took off, “After an excellent weekend at Butlins GOR I, Grant and I began talking on Butlins Facebook page. Through this chat, Grant created the group and invited me to co-run it with him. We started it in February 2014 with numerous Facebook friends of mine being made members of the group, just to get the numbers up in the first place. It does bring people together outside of social media,” says Richard, “including a fan from Paris and personally I have met and made many friends through the group, to go to other gigs with. As the group continues to grow more friendships are made. Interestingly I have had people come and say hello and introduce themselves from the group at different gigs in several different locations. The group continues to grow and Grant and myself have been congratulated, which we appreciate . But it is the members who make the group and we thoroughly enjoy watching our community grow and develop. We even had a family group photo taken this year with 100+ members.”
Photo credit: SD Photography
You can find the Giants of Rock Minehead group here
Gay Metalheads United
Some of the groups are able to bring like-minded people together who may otherwise find it more difficult to meet. From personal experience you would probably have to go to a lot of gay pubs before you met many punters who were into heavy metal. Likewise, in contrast to, say, a Beyonce gig you might not bump into too many gay guys (or gals) at a metal gig. However, lots of gay metal fans do exist out there and Gay Metalheads United, set up four years ago, now boasts over 1,200 members. Early participant, Jay, and one of the group’s admins is proud of the fact it was the first gay metal group on Facebook. His rationale for the group being set up? He says quite simply, “Metalheads are family.” James, a regular contributor to the group, explains, “Social media in general has been a great platform for interacting with people from across the globe at near instantaneous speed. It’s a good way to meet new people with similar likes and opinions, and debate those of opposing viewpoints.” On the Gay Metalheads Group, James says, “It’s liberating. In other metal groups they’re usually filled with heterosexual men, even Judas Priest. It feels like I have to walk on eggshells in some of these groups. So having a group for gay metalheads allows us to let out hair down.”
While there can be a lot of negativity about social media let’s hear it for all of those who help maintain the vast array of music discussion groups out there: the people who set them up, the fans who contribute, the artists who engage directly with those who buy their albums and attend their gigs, and the admins who sometimes step in if things get a little heated. Thank you!
When I went to Monsters of Rock at Donington, aged 15, in 1981 it was not only my first ever festival but also my first ever live rock gig of any type. It still remains my favourite gig of all time, in particular the set by Slade that afternoon.
We arrived at Donington a little late and by the time we had parked and got into the arena the band More were most of the way through their set. The next band on were Blackfoot who I have no real recollection of at all. What I do remember is the anticipation of waiting for Slade to come on. After several years in the doldrums Slade had burst back into the charts a few months earlier with ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. Their storming performance at Reading Festival the previous year (when the band replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the last minute) had already become legendary and this all meant that in the space of a few months Slade went from being a band that sang about Christmas that I vaguely recalled from my childhood to being my number one favourite band in the whole world. And that was even before I witnessed what would become (and still remains) the most remarkable live performance I’ve ever seen. Loud guitar-driven rock, commanding showmanship, unforgettable songs and sheer over- the-top-eccentricity, it was an absolute master-class in compelling live performance.
On the back of the previous year’s Reading appearance, the early 80s heavy metal crowd had really taken Slade to heart. Looking at the setlist from Donington now the songs basically fit into three categories. Firstly, there were, unsurprisingly, the 70s hits like ‘Gudbuy T’ Jane’ and ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Secondly, there was newer material like ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ and a sneak preview of their soon-to-be-released new single ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’. Thirdly, there were the old 50s rock ’n’ roll covers, which Slade had begun inserting in their set in their wilderness years in the late 70s but had kept in as they began to be embraced by the heavy metal crowd. Although the look couldn’t have been more different, this latter group of songs demonstrates how much late 50s rock ’n’ roll and early 70s glam rock had in common in terms of song structure, lyrical themes and instantly memorable choruses.
It was Noddy Holder’s masterful ability to connect with the 65,000-strong crowd, however, that was perhaps even more memorable than the songs. Witty, irreverent and on a mission to entertain no matter what, in spite of the non-stop rain, Holder was able to strike an instant rapport with a huge festival audience in a way that few can. And that’s before we even get on to discussing the surreal sea of moving objects that danced above the heads of the crowd throughout the entire set. Although ever-more hostile missile throwing was to mar a number of festivals around that time, with Slade it was turned on its head and rather than being fuelled by aggressive machismo, chucking stuff about became a life-affirming celebration of communal craziness. White plastic beer bottles full of beer, bundles of hay that had been laid on the ground in an attempt to soak up the mud, packed lunches, burger buns – everything that could be thrown in the air was thrown in the air . The band, of course, joined in with one toilet roll after being another lobbed out into the crowd during Mama Weer All Crazee Now. When the crowd called for Merry Christmas at the end of the set Holder told us all that if we wanted it we would have to sing it ourselves, which is precisely what everyone did…
After Slade finished, and soaking wet from rain, beer and mud and covered head to foot in hay we made our way further towards the back of the crowd to catch our breath and I wondered whether I would ever see anything on stage quite so magnificent ever again. There were more fantastic performances to come that day – with memorable sets from both Whitesnake and AC/DC (once a completely underwhelming performance from Blue Oyster Cult was out of the way). However, even though I’ve seen many exceptional performances from many exceptional bands over the years, nothing has ever quite matched the intensity of seeing Slade at Donington.
When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’
Take Me Bak ‘Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Pistol Packin’ Mama
We’ll Bring the House Down
Get Down and Get With It
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Cum On Feel the Noize
Born to Be Wild
Merry Xmas Everybody
Happy New Year and thanks to everyone who visited this blog during 2016. Here were the ten posts with the biggest number of hits this year:
Sweet at Bilston – December: “The band produced some excellent hard rock back in the day and it’s nice to see that side of the band being properly celebrated, in addition to the more obvious but still equally wonderful glam rock side” – full review here
AC/DC at the Olympic Stadium – June: “as I’m listening to Axl Rose belting out the likes of Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and High Voltage I can’t help feeling he’s absolutely nailing those old Bon Scott tunes – full review here
John Cooper Clark & Hugh Cornwell at Kentish Town – November: “It’s a veritable celebration of late 50s/early 60s pop culture and it is, my gig companion for the evening whispers to me, the most surreal gig I’ve ever been to.” – full review here
Saxon / Fastway / Girlschool at Shepherd’s Bush – November: “Saxon in 2016 deliver the old material as good as they ever did, produce truly stunning new material and perform with a confidence and authority as befits one of British rock’s truly great bands.” Full review here
Ian Hunter at Shepherd’s Bush – November: “The Rant Band are on great form, as ever. Ian Hunter continues to be both a great rock and roll performer, as ever, and a thought-provoking singer-songwriter, as ever. Let’s hope there’s a good few more tours in him yet.” Full review here
Ian Hunter at Minehead – January :(yes – clearly a lot of Ian Hunter fans visit my blog!) “not only is Hunter still going strong, still singing and still performing but that he is still a major creative force, writing songs and making albums as consistently original and wonderfully compelling as the ones he made over four decades ago.” Full review here
Mott The Hoople Fan Convention at Hereford – June: “Forty-two years after their original demise Mott The Hoople is still a band that’s loved, celebrated and cherished by its many fans – and rightly so.” Full review here
Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Minehead – January: Sadly, the band have now called it a day following Mick Ralphs’ stroke this year. Let’s hope Mick has a full recovery and let’s hope it’s not the last we have heard of lead singer Adam Barron “he is, in my mind, fast establishing himself of one of the finest blues rock vocalists of his generation.” Full review here
Me! – yes my own biography at number 9. You read the blog, you want to find out a bit more about who is behind it so here I am. Full details here
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton – March: Another fan convention – Slade this time and a chance to see the Pouk Hill Prophetz. “Where the band really excel, particularly in the later set, is in the delivery of pre-glam era “before they were famous” Slade songs – stunningly authentic versions of songs like Know Who You Are and Dapple Rose.” Full details here
Thanks to visiting everyone and here’s to 2017. Although it’s now inevitable that a number of music icons from the 60s and 70s are passing away let’s hope the rock obituary writers are not kept anywhere near as busy in 2017.
Sweet at Bilston -our number 1 for 2016 (Photo credit: Eileen Handley)
Brash, colourful, over the top, glittery – 1970s glam rock and Christmas seemed made for each other. Yet glam had been in ascendancy for some two years before anyone contemplated putting the two together. And more than anyone else, we can thank Slade for that. From the familiar pounding on the harmonium in the opening bars to the final “It’s Christmaaaas!” Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody remains one of the most well-known and most popular Christmas records of all time. Released on December 7th 1973, the Performing Rights Society calculate that it is the world’s most listened to song, heard by an estimated 42% of the global population.
“My mother-in-law the year before had said why don’t we write a song like “White Christmas”, something that can be played every year.” Jim Lea, Slade (Uncut Magazine)
Recorded in New York in the summer of 1973, Noddy Holder told Uncut magazine that he wanted the lyrics to convey a mood of optimism. The song certainly does that. But at the time of recording it, the band would have little clue as to how grim things were going to get in Britain that particular winter. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath’s increasingly fractious battle with the miners took a dramatic turn. Mineworkers, like all public employees at the time were suffering the effects of below-inflation pay increases at a time of hyper inflation, and were pursuing industrial action for higher pay. Regular domestic power cuts became a fact of life.
Merry Xmas Everybody was released on 7th December 1973. On 12th December Heath announced that in order to conserve coal stocks, as from midnight on 31st December the Government would be enforcing a three-day week. Companies were to be permitted to consume electricity only on three consecutive days per week, additional working hours were to be banned and TV companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm each night.
“We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the War.” Edward Heath
This was the Christmas in which Slade’s Merry Christmas was first unleashed on to the public.
It’s a groundbreaking Christmas song in a number of ways. Unlike the treacly nostalgia of previous Christmas classics, Holder and Lea managed to capture the essence of a working class family Christmas:
Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest
That was combined with a genuine spirit of bright, breezy optimism:
So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun
There is a freshness about the way that hookline is delivered that still sounds fresh even today. “In terms of comfort we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war,” Heath declared ominously. But while it might be argued that anything Slade recorded at that particular time in pop history was destined for the Number 1 slot anyway, there was something marvellously subversive about Slade’s Christmas single being the best selling record at the time. People singing along to a chorus that celebrates having fun and looking to the future during the middle of a heated political stand-off, a major breakdown in industrial relations, a draconian response from government and a very bleak-looking New Year indeed.
The three-day week came into force on New Years Day 1974. The Christmas song that was the antidote to it remained at Number 1 until well into the middle of January. In fact, it was February before it dropped out of the charts. As the chorus makes clear, the song is very much a song for the New Year – looking ahead to the future – and not simply one about Christmas.
The Government’s battle with the miners continued to intensify and, refusing to back down, Heath called an election in February 1974. “Who governs Britain?” demanded Heath. “Not you!” the voters told him. He lost the election and embarked on what became known as the longest sulk in British political history. The National Union of Mineworkers secured their pay rise, returned to work and lived to fight another day. But they would be brutally smashed by the Thatcher Government a decade later and Britain’s pit communities decimated. Whatever the battles of the past, the challenge of climate change, of course, means that the only sensible coal policy today is to leave the rest of it in the ground.
Yet Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody lives on, outliving the three-day week, Ted Heath, the miners and (in its original formation) even the band itself. That celebration of working class life in the festive season and the bright sunny optimism for a better future ahead still makes it the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.