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A List

A few days ago, a friend from back home had a bit of fun on his Facebook page by posting a list of his ten favorite albums, as it appeared to him on that particular day. I was one of several who responded with my own list. Here is mine with a bit of explanation as to why I picked what I picked, plus a bit more about those albums that were “bubbling under” for me.

Do these albums represent a cross section of my musical taste? Not by any means, in fact this collection just scratches the surface of the music I like. Did I stop listening to new music after 1975? It would seem so from the selections I have chosen, but I am almost sure that is not true. In fact a quick scan of my music collection confirms that I still get hold of new music in 2014. Why no Beatles, Stones, Neil Young, Richard Thompson records in the list? Well there are a few in the “bubbling Under” section, but with the possible exception of “Exile On Main St”, none of their albums feel as complete to me as those I have chosen. I haven’t gone for any “Best Of’s” as that just defeats the purpose.

I think these LP’s do all come from a time when record collecting was new and exciting to me. The music contained within has captured my heart in some way, and I can’t let go. I do think that everything I picked stands up as a whole album, there are hardly any fillers in there. I don’t believe that can be said about too many albums, then or now.

So, here are my Top 10 fave albums as of 07/08/14, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

 

  511PEWSP-gL._AA160_   SKETCHES OF SPAIN – MILES DAVIS

I first heard parts of this round at my Uncle Jim’s flat in Highgate when I was 6 or 7. I had nothing to judge it against then. It just seemed magical, luring me away to some amazing place unlike anything I had ever encountered. Now when I hear it, with a lifetime’s worth of music to judge it against, I still think that. To take a piece such as  Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez and replace guitars with horns with such brilliant results is an indication of rare genius. Key Moment? “Will O’ The Wisp”. Miles borders on breaking into the kind of bop he was then known for, but keeps things going in his own Spainish inspired groove.

51bU0u6fNLL._SP160,160,0,T_   INSIDE OUT – JOHN MARTYN

In 1973, John Martyn had released what was probably his most commercially successful album, “Solid Air”. Although his echoplex guitar style had been featured on that album, particularly on “I’d Rather Be The Devil”, a take on an old Skip James blues tune, the album in total was very accessible, with songs such as “May You Never” and “Over The Hill.” The accepted industry approach would have been to wait a year or so before releasing another album in a similar vein, thus building on the success of the last release. This was not the way such an artist as JM operated though. Within six months he had released “Inside Out”, uncompromisingly experimental and challenging in it’s approach. Using musicians such as “Traffic” members Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Remi Kabaka as well as the likes of Danny Thompson on bass, the record has a loose, jazzy feel without actually being jazz. It does still have great songs however, such as “Fine Lines”, “Ways To Cry” and my favorite “Make No Mistake”. The traditional instrumental “Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail” sees Martyn’s electric guitar mimicking bagpipes to some extent. Like “Sketches Of Spain”, this is music to be lost in, music capable of transporting the listener to somewhere else, somewhere good.

Key Moment?: “Outside In.” Is this mostly instrumental piece informed by Pharoah Saunders? Perhaps, but the driving force here is John Martyn and his echoplex fueled guitar, the track driven on by the outstanding guest musicians.

61PB1ZF+U4L._SP160,160,0,T_   THEN PLAY ON – FLEETWOOD MAC

Peter Green’s swansong with Fleetwood Mac. No contributions from Jeremy Spencer here to speak of although he was still a member of the band. Just Peter Green and Danny Kirwan’s heart felt contributions, alongside some jamming elements (“Searching For Madge”, “Fighting For Madge” and “Underway”) which had become a vital feature of the band’s live performance. Green’s songs range from the raw and revealing “Showbiz Blues”, the rowdy anthem to masturbation that is “Rattlesnake Shake”, the complex “Closing My Eyes” which evokes the techniques employed in the single “Man Of The World” and the song that I consider Green’s crowning glory, “Before The Beginning.”

Key Moment? “Coming Your Way.” Mick Fleetwood’s percussion, Danny’s haunting voice and the dueling guitars of Kirwan and Green combine to draw one into the album.

51BCroof1TL._SP160,160,0,T_ LIVE AT FILMORE EAST – THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND

Often cited as being the greatest live album of all time, I actually think it to be more than that. The original Allman Brothers Band had just a few short years in which to make their mark, but this album shows a band in rare form. The blues, rock and to a lesser extent country influences are on display, but their whole approach is informed by a jazz aesthetic. The Allman’s jam here, but it is almost always a focused jamming. (“Mountain Jam” being the possible exception.) Tight passages of play give way to improvisation, with Duane Allman, brother Gregg and Dickie Bett’s taking their turns, powered by the dual drumming of Trucks and Jaimoe and the great Berry Oakley.At a time when I think rock was dumbing down to an extent, chasing the quick gratification of simple riffs and bombast, their is thought behind what the Allman’s were doing.

Key Moment? “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reid” The best way to describe what music means to me is to just play this track.

 

512Q8R78ABL._SP160,160,0,T_FLEETWOOD MAC – FLEETWOOD MAC

Known as the “Dog and Dustbin” album to identify it from the other album just called “Fleetwood Mac” , this was Peter Green’s second appearance on album after John Mayall’s “On The Road.” At this point just a four piece, album time is pretty much shared between the Peter Green led tracks, where the band is effectively a three piece, and Jeremy Spencer’s Elmore James impersonations/recreations. Although Spencer’s Elmore stuff would get a little tired by the next album, they seem fun here, and his piano take on Robert Johnson number “Hell Hound On My Trail” is perhaps the best thing he ever recorded. It is on the Green tracks where the album really takes off. In particular on songs like “I Loved Another Woman”, based on a Howling Wolf template, and featuring heart wrenching guitar and vocals. The solo acoustic “World Keep On Turning” is another highlight.

Key Moment? Without a doubt, “Merry Go Round”, an outstanding slow blues, and the recording that drew me in to Green’s musical universe and the wider world of blues.

 

51Fj-TapR0L._SP160,160,0,T_Live At The Regal – BB King

I was gabbing on Facebook the other day about favorite guitarists and a friend whose musical knowledge and opinions I rate very highly said that he just didn’t “get” BB, despite trying.  I know he is not alone, I once took a friend to see him in concert, and she declared, “This isn’t the blues, it’s cabaret!”. By then it was probably a combination of the two, but at his peak BB had the ability to move me both with his voice, and with those sweet 3 or 4 note clusters of lead guitar playing, complete with the spaces in-between. This mid 60’s live album captures him at his very best .

Key Moment? “How Blue Can You Get”. “I gave you seven children…now you wanna give ’em back.”

 

51Sua1WqvfL._SP160,160,0,T_What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye

Something was going on at Motown in the early 70’s. The studio sound was getting funkier and artists such as Edwin Starr, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder were singing about social issues such as race, poverty and war on songs you could still dance to. Marvin Gaye was at the forefront of that with this album, telling us what was going on, and imploring us to “Save The Children.” One of the first popular music records to recognize ecology as an important issue, it is also one heck of a record from a musical standpoint. Orchestral arrangements shake hands with rawer funk, Marvin’s voice never sounded so good. One record that I believe has to be listened as a whole every time.

Key Moment? “Inner City Blues” Marvin sees what is going on in the hood and what he sees makes him want to holler.

 

51jvSLOx8YL._AA160_A Rare Conundrum – Bert Jansch

Possibly the least known of the albums I have selected, and probably my favorite from all of them. Produced by Lindisfarne bass player Rod Clement, this is a backward looking album, with Bert looking back on the old folk club days of the 60’s on tracks like “Daybreak” and “Three Cord Trick”, and even back to his childhood elsewhere. There are traditional tunes here, notably “The Curragh Of Kildare”, but there are more original songs here than on earlier solo or Pentangle releases. His acoustic guitar playing is beautiful, and his voice has this wistful quality, almost as if he is singing a lullaby, even when he isn’t. In the 37 years since this album was first released, the magic has never worn off for me.

Key Moment? “One To A Hundred”. Bert takes us back to the time when his childhood friend died in an accident, and we learn of this tragedy through the eyes of young Bert who doesn’t quite understand what is happening at the time. Touching, sensitive writing that moves me to tears every time.

 

61Ab-td5fbL._AA160_Who’s Next – The Who

If The Who’s career seemed a bit like a pissing contest at times, the cover art implies it really was the case here. Considering that this album was culled to some extent from the then abandoned “Lifehouse” project, it holds together as a cohesive album in it’s own right. Songs like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Reilly”” are epic in their scope, almost symphonic in a way, and certainly deserve to be remembered as more than just TV theme tunes. If I had any criticism, I would say that “Behind Blue Eyes” is a little cloying, but that is a minor quibble.

Key Moment? “Bargain”, a bargain struck between the sweet and sticky sides of Townsend’s writing.

 

41KwRG2l7YL._AA160_Live At Leeds – John Martyn

 

This album was distributed by John Martyn and his wife Beverley from home as his record label Island did not want to bring it out. A sad decision, as it is such a vibrant LP. Martyn used Danny Thompson on bass and the great free jazz improviser John Stevens on drums, and they jam on several of John’s best loved songs of the time. They are performing without a net here, and it a glorious thing to witness.

Key Moment? “Outside In” The three musicians weave in and out of each other in an incredible way. Martyn’s echoplex technique at it’s finest.

 

BUBBLING UNDER? It was hard for me to include some artists whom I love, but who spread their greatest wares over many releases without having one killer record with gems all the way through. Probably at number 11 on my list was The Stones “Exile On Main St” and on many days, it would have been in my top 10, as would “Never Mind The Bollock’s, Here’s The Sex Pistols”. Other albums bubbling just under the Top 10 would include “Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars”, “Blood On The Tracks”, Neil Young’s “On The Beach” and Nick Drake’s “Five Leaves left” as well as Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else” which is truly a Miles Davis album in all but name.

 

 

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Music, Uncategorized

Excerpts from “Right Notes, Wrong Order”.

Two excerpts from “Right Notes, Wrong order”, my book about what music means to me.

Excerpt one is from the first chapter, a little taste of what it is like playing in a bottom feeding band in California, and how the love of playing helps one rise above all the problems such an endeavor entails.

Excerpt two is from Chapter 3, and tells the tale of Cousin Nigel who was integral to my early listening habits.

Chapter One – “Hello Everyone. We are The Stepsons…But Nobody is Perfect!”

Without music, life would be a mistake!” – Friedrich Nietzsche

It was August 2012. It was over eight years since I had first made that move from Finchley, North. London to Porterville, California. A lot had changed since that day around 1960 when I had watched Hank Marvin of the Shadows on TV and realized that I wanted to do what he was doing, play one of those lovely wooden things in the way that he did. Over 50 years had passed by since then and yet I was still aware that music was the best. The Stepsons, my blues rock band, had a gig in Fresno, some 75 miles outside of town. For us this was just what you had to do, how far you needed to travel in order to get a gig. Back home in England this would virtually qualify as a tour! We were not a known band. We were not up-and-coming group, nor did we have a string of hits in our past to trade on in the present. We were just one of the ever dwindling number of acts out there attempting to earn, or at least supplement a living by doing something we loved and that we were reasonably good at. There had become fewer and fewer venues for band like hours to play. After all, karaoke, a DJ, a jukebox, or just nothing at all were cheaper alternatives to paying some bunch of guys to maybe bring in enough extra customers with a big enough thirst to justify the fee for hiring them in the first place.

That night we were playing the Full Circle Brewery. We knew that we would probably just about make enough from the gate receipts to cover the cost of fuel to get back home, maybe enough on top of that to cover a fast food meal as well if we were lucky. We were not in this for the money. We used to say that we were sometimes, money, or the lack of it was important to us, but deep down other forces were at play. We used to come to play at Full Circle because we liked the atmosphere there, and we liked the guys that ran it. They were all unreconstructed hippies who looked and dressed as if they were moonshine running cousins of uncle Jesse from the “Dukes of Hazard”. The venue, actually a microbrewery, was housed in what appeared to be a former firehouse in Fresno’s murky downtown area. There was a tented village a little way down the road, a reminder that there were always people worse off than yourself. It was a bad neighborhood, not a place for walking at night, but if you parked close to the door there was good street lighting and a reasonable chance that your ride would still be there when you are ready to leave. As you entered the building it resembled a neighborhood bar, and that was pretty much what it was. Get past that however and you would be confronted with what was really quite a nice sized performance venue., Old bicycles, neon signs and funky knickknacks adorned the walls and ceilings. For the kind of places where we played it was rare in that it actually had a stage with its own PA and monitors. Another reason we liked playing there, we could actually generate a good sound onstage.

I had traveled from Porterville with Bob Bartlett and his wife Gail. Bob was the Stepson’s bass player and had been playing with me since I started performing publicly again some six years before. Karmen, my wife, was working that night and as I was the only adult male in the whole of California who didn’t actually drive, I had hitched a ride. This was the second band that Bob and I had had in that time. We both shared a love of a blues-based framework with plenty of room to improvise. In California they call such a setup a jam band. The two of us had our moments, but mostly it had been a very supportive alliance, a friendship based on a love of music and the need after all those years to still beat the odds every week and go out and perform. As we arrived at the gig, Jason, our drummer, had already set up his kit on the stand and was just dealing with his Hi- Hat setup. Prado, the second guitarist, had also setup and was was sitting at the bar enjoying a “Clusterfuggle”, one of the house brews. I hoped that we would do a little bit better this time out. We had set the cover price at six dollars. The deal was that the band kept five dollars of that with one dollar going to the house for Joy, the burlesque dancer who this evening was taking the admission fees and who had the highly important task of paying us at the end of the night.

Bob and I brought in our equipment and started to get ready for the show. It was already 7:30 and we were supposed to start at 8 PM. After years spent in my youth waiting for bands to ever start on time, and then a spell in the 80s as a musician working in small scale touring theater, I was acutely aware of the importance of starting your performance when you were supposed to. As I brought a guitar amplifier in, I saw Jason’s Dad, Jerry, arriving with his wife. I blew him off a bit. I was angry with Jason over some internal band thing and that spilled over a little. There are one million and one silly disputes in any band and ours was no exception. I have to admit that I was probably at the heart of at least 1 million of them. However, I regained my composure and perspective and had a little chat with Jerry. Then, once my cheap yet shiny and much loved black Stratocaster was set in place and my amp warmed up, we got to the sound check. We all led pretty busy lives to differing degrees, and it was hard to fit rehearsals in. We had a couple of self promoted shows coming up in September and we needed to rehearse for those, but for a bread-and-butter gig like this one we usually didn’t. Jason, the youngest of us at 28, had been on the road as a full-time musician and had worked as a session player in LA. He would do that again, but at present he was balancing sessions and gigging with us with a full-time business involving citrus inspection. Prado, in his mid-40s, and with a 16-month-old baby at home, was to time management what The Who were to instrument conservation in the 60s. He was working full-time teaching at the local Tule reservation, he played with a country band at one of the few remaining California honky-tonks when not playing with us, and what with all of that plus a strange hobby involving fantasy gaming cards and occasionally squeezing in time to see his family, his days were pretty full. They played with my band because they loved playing, pure and simple. So, no rehearsals for us for the show. However, I had put two songs on the set list that we had never played together before. The first was a fairly straight take on the Eric Clapton version of “Crossroads Blues”, the seminal Robert Johnson song. The second was something of a departure for us. “Monkey Man”, by Toots & The Maytals, a wonderful slice of early reggae. Most of our audience had arrived as the sound check/rehearsal began. It was not a full house. There was comfortable room for around 100 -150 people yet there were only 14 paying customers that night. We left with a total of $70, it certainly doesn’t do to be in this for the money.

I told the band that Crossroads was in “A”, played a few bars to establish feel and tempo, and then we were off. There are only so many basic structures in the blues, it is not rocket science, and the band were all used to how it worked, how I work. I picked the set lists, decided in the main what numbers we would play. What I didn’t do was to lay down exactly how we played them, I relied on the guys to bring what they had to the party, for the numbers to evolve organically. We could all play. Some of us might have been a little past our prime, while others were still striving for it. When we hit things right though, a certain kind of magic was generated. That is how it seemed to me anyway. Bob too I think.. Something with a fair amount of improvisation can sound as if it was planned, thought-out and practiced, yet it is the spontaneity that can really make the number. We were not a great band but we were a good one and for the few people that did turn out to see us they could occasionally feel the magic I felt. As we ran through the song, I looked out at who was out front. We did have diehard fans, not very many, admittedly, but enough to make it worth doing from a personal standpoint at least. There was Ken Myers, a grizzled 60 something, there today with his son, daughter and daughters boyfriend. Ken was a big reason why I was still doing this. In the preceding year I had struggled with heart trouble and other medical problems but while someone like Ken was prepared to travel to see us, I was prepared to keep on playing. Ken and his wife Angela live about 130 miles away from Porterville, right on the edge of the Mojave Desert, yet he would regularly come to see us play, wherever we played, be it locally, Visalia, Fresno, or deep into Sequoia country, high up in the mountains. We once went and played at his 60th birthday party in the parking lot adjacent to his house. He loved it so much that when we finished a grueling four sets in oppressive heat, he paid for us to continue on and play what for us was a record-breaking fifth set. Ken liked to drink and have a relaxing smoke but most of all he appeared to like us! At the end of our show that night he would grab the microphone and tell those left in the audience that he loved us I asked him after-wards why wife Angela was not with him on this trip. He was a little the worse for wear when he told me that she would be off hiking and climbing a mountain that weekend. When I asked why he wasn’t going with her he said, “Too fuckin’ healthy for me. Besides, I love you guys!”

Apart from Ken, there were other regulars such as Tammy and her husband Terry. Tammy is known as the “Cat Lady” in Fresno, she helps to run the “Cat House on the Hill” which is much better than it sounds. It is a cat rescue center and Tammy has a heart of gold. They had first come to see us some three years before and had seen us play eight or nine shows since then. Tammy was at a meeting just out of town before the gig, but had emailed me to let me know they would try to be there and true to her word they walked in as we were trying out “Crossroads” in the sound check. She was an Eric Clapton fan and that was one of the reasons why I was throwing “Crossroads” in that night.

We didn’t draw great audience numbers in Fresno, we were out-of-towners, and there was a pecking order that we were at the bottom of. Having said that, even blues bands at the top of that order usually failed to get big audiences. Live music, at this level, was dieing out in the Central Valley. We were better known in our hometown but there were no paying venues there that liked our brand of music. Therefore, hometown appearances were restricted to free and local festival gigs. Apart from an annual appearance of the Porterville fair, none of those gigs paid. A party booking was the only other way we would get paid in our home town. Therefore, we had to travel to neighboring towns such as Bakersfield, Visalia and Fresno in order to get the less than big bucks.

We didn’t go flat-out during the run through of “Crossroads”, and the pace was a little slower than it would be later on in the evening. Even so, our diehard fans and friends in front of the stage plus the nonpaying regulars up at the bar seemed to like it well enough and cheered accordingly. When we played it for real in the second set we blew the first version out of the water. As the show proper began I addressed the audience, “Hello everyone. We are The Stepsons, but nobody’s perfect!”. At that time I had no idea that this lineup of the band would fall apart after only another three gigs. At this level people do tend to leave bands with an alarming frequency. However much you would like it to be, the band can’t be your first priority and other things come up. In the months to come, Jason would be replaced in the band by another drummer, Matt South. Prado would also leave the band, to be replaced by a jazz sax player, Rick Bentz. A mere five months later and Bob would leave the band and the name “The Stepsons” will be retired in his honor. Another band would spring up in its place, “Blues Central.” Life among the bottom feeders goes on, just as it does for everyone else!

Playing three sets is hard, I am 56 and not in good shape. Even if I was in my mid-20s and in shape for the Olympics, three sets would still be hard to play. I have arthritis in my fingers and arms, I am overweight and so out of condition that I can’t remember what condition was. I am thousands of miles away from the home, streets and venues I am most comfortable in. Thing is though, as long as the Ken Myers of this world drive stupid distances to see me play, while I can still get a reasonable noise out my aging stage gear, and while I don’t die on stage, I will keep on playing. I love music you see, playing it listening to it feeling touching and tasting it. It is a love that goes back a long way…

3. I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea

Music is there essentially to give you something to face the world with!”Bruce Springsteen

When I was little, Sundays could be difficult. We often used to go over and see my Dad’s Mum across London in Barclay Road, Fulham, just round the corner from Chelsea football club. Although it was only 14 miles away from home, it was 14 London miles and the journey seemed to take an age by bus. We would get the number 260 from Whetstone or Finchley to Golders Green where we would pick up a 28 for the rest of the journey. It could easily take two hours this way. In 1964 my Dad got our first car, a 1948 Ford Anglia, followed a couple of years later by a 1959 Ford Prefect. I liked the Prefect better, there was a radio on it and we could have the good light program shows on as we traveled.

My Nanna Grant was already approaching 80 as the 1960s dawned, and she had endured a hard life to be sure. She had lived in East Jarrow, the most economically depressed part of England in the first third of the 20th century. Her husband George had returned from WW1 injured, and had found difficulty adjusting to civilian life and the shipbuilding town with no ships to build in peacetime. In 1921 he died in circumstances I have never fully understood but can only guess about. My Nan had lost five children in either childbirth or while they were young and only two boys survived, my dad Robert and his younger brother Wilf. She struggled to bring them up, making ends meet by running two small shops. Perhaps she supplemented her income in other less legal ways as well. The writer Catherine Cookson hailed from the same street as my Dad’s family and her descriptions of the hard life experienced in Jarrow were considered sadly accurate by my father.

All of this might help to explain the hard streak that I saw in my Nan. My Mum’s mother, Nanna Blake, was all sweetness and light and one of the loveliest people I have ever met. My memories of her are completely warm and affectionate. I cannot say the same for Nanna Grant. She was a thin austere woman wearing drab dark clothes and chain-smoking players number six as if the world supply was about to run out. She had a cruel side of her nature, something I regretfully identify in myself to this day. When playing a game with me for instance, she would let me win as most grandmothers would do, but she would then tell me to my face that she had let me win so that I had no opportunity to feel good about the victory. She could seem mean and spiteful at times and I think I was a little bit scared of her and of visiting the dark damp apartment she lived in, housed on the top floor of a Victorian semi-detached house. She lived with her widowed niece, Annie and Annie’s son Nigel who was in his early 20s. Annie was a small nervous woman, a little hunched, and she used to puff away at cigarettes with the same ferocity as my Nan. Annie and Nan doted on Nigel, spoiling him in a not very healthy way. At least that is how I see it now looking back. They acted as rivals for his affection and I think it is no surprise that he finally ran off the rails, as I now suspect he must of. He was usually out when we arrived, as we climbed the unlit stair case and past the geriatric hand mangle that they still used on laundry day. Janice and I longed for his return so we could escape into his room and the magical world of rock ‘n roll.

Nan and Annie still had strong Geordie accents even though they had been living in Fulham since before the start of WW2. I actually found it hard to understand what Nan was saying sometimes. Even when I was six or seven she referred to me as the “Wee Bairn”, or little baby. She would want me not to step in “the Nards” if I went outside to play. The first time I came back inside with dog shit on my shoes I learned to my cost what nards were. One thing that really got me on Sunday afternoon visits was she had this cat called Bobby who delighted in coming into the living room and leaving bits of his latest kill distributed around the area where I was trying to sit. Another thing which got to me on those visits was the stench of stale cigarette smoke that permeated the atmosphere. It was really not pleasant. My mum and dad had smoked, but as soon as there were the first news reports of a link between tobacco and cancer, they had stopped almost immediately. The only thing that would have stopped Nan from smoking was a proven link between that activity and the BBC. She hated the BBC with a passion and would only watch ITV, a fact she would gladly tell us every week. In fact, the dial on her rental TV had actually rusted through lack of use so that it was actually stuck on ITV. We couldn’t change the channel even if she had let us. The single TV station selection had its good points though, and the more we watched the box the less we had to have strained conversations with Nan and Annie. They seemed to prefer it that way to. My dad and I could see the football highlights and later in the afternoon there was “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, the show where pop groups mimed to their latest hits. Before “Top of the Pops” debuted on the BBC on New Year’s Day 1964, this was pretty much all we had in terms of dedicated pop music television programming. The most memorable host was the enduring Brian Matthew. I do remember another presenter too, Keith Fordyce. He had a very curious haircut that left him looking like he had a dead squirrel on top of his head. There was a segment of the show where a panel of teenagers used to review new single releases. One of the reviewers, a teenager by the name of Janice Nichols, had an overpoweringly strong West Midlands accent. She rated most songs with her catchphrase “I’ll give it five”, pronounced by her as “Oil give it foive!” Janice and I used to impersonate her a lot and giggle, much to Annie and Nan’s annoyance.

The best part of the show of course were the appearances by the groups. One of those appearances was a life-changing moment for me, the kind of moment only something music related could spark. It was late 1962 and a group from Liverpool called the Beatles were lip-synching their way to glory with “Love Me Do.” I was transfixed. I had fallen in love with shadowy clips of Hank Marvin and Buddy Holly before but this was something else entirely. I wanted to be John, I was going to be John. Almost immediately I was up on my feet by the TV moving like he was, imitating him as best as I could by doing what he was doing. “Why is that boy biting his nails” cried an appalled Auntie A! “I think he’s supposed to be playing the harmonica” replied my dad. From that day on, in my mind at least, I was the fifth Beatle. I knew it.

Despite the relief of the telly or playing outside or, if we had a rare visit on Saturday, a visit to nearby Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea reserves play, there was one terror we always had to cope with on visits to Barclay Road. Tea time. My Nan and Annie were so addicted to nicotine that they couldn’t bear to put their cigarettes down even during food preparation. The most upsetting side effect of this was that otherwise almost edible potato pancakes often had flecks of cigarette ash on or even in them. There were sandwiches which always featured some weird kind of paste and the bread was upturned at the edges as if it wanted to escape as much as we did. If we had the temerity to refuse any of this fair Annie would come right up close to us waiving said food item in her hand, saying “What’s wrong with it then?” Cousin Nigel wisely tried to avoid mealtimes and would tend to arrive just as the debris was being cleared away. He would pop his head round the door of the living room, shaggy headed, nicotine stained fingered rocker that he was, all disheveled Levi jacket and jeans. He would nod towards my sister and I saying “Would you two like to pop next-door?” We knew what this meant and would always say yes and follow him as quickly as we could into his bedroom, knowing exactly what was in store.

Nigel, Nige as he liked to be called , used to empty jukeboxes for a living, that is what he told us anyhow. He had loads of singles, some going back to the late 50s right up to things that were still in the charts today. Most of them had the middle bit popped out so they could be used in jukeboxes and he had loads of those little plastic doowads you could put in the hole so that the records could be stacked on the auto-changer. His record player was bigger than ours, and sometimes he could put on nine or 10 records at a time. Sometimes he put on too many and they would drop two or three at a time and zip around under the one that was supposed to be playing. Mostly though, the player worked wonderfully well. It had a knob for tone as well as one for volume and he used to play it loud for us, louder than we could ever have gotten away with at home. We would pick records from the piles of them that he had to play. Janice would read the labels selecting the one she would like to hear. I would pretend to do that as well but firstly I would be choosing according to how colorful the label was. One such label was red with yellow bits on. I soon learned that most records with that label were by the Everly Brothers, so I tended to pick them a lot. I really loved one of their records called “Cathy’s Clown.” The MGM label was bright yellow so used to pick that one a lot to. I remember “Stupid Cupid’ by Connie Francis was one of the discs with that label on. That one was ok, but not as good as The Everleys.

My favorite record of all the ones Nigel played was one of the older records, “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. I think this was the first song where I noticed that the music sounded better the louder it was played. It was as if it had been designed that way. Another one that sounded like that was “Tallahassee Lassie” by Freddy Cannon. Nige had lots of Cliff Richard and the Shadows records as well as the singles featuring just the Shadows. I have to say I preferred the latter. The earlier ones were on the green Columbia label although the latest ones Nigel had were on a black Columbia label. I still loved Hank Marvin and his shiny Stratocaster even though the Beatles were winning my heart. Nigel also had a bunch of records on the Stateside label that were unlike anything I had ever heard in my life. Artists like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, Junior Walker and the All-Stars and so on. Stateside was the record label that put out Motown records in Britain before Motown established itself in its own right there. As a five or six-year-old, I couldn’t work out what was different about those discs, only that I liked them and they made me feel something more than a Cliff Richard record did somehow. It was a little like I felt when Nigel played me Chuck Berry or Little Richard. At an early age I was edging towards the music that would one day become my love, blues music, although of course I didn’t know that at the time. I was just a kid learning to swim in a sea of sound. Even then that those records on Stateside made me feel like dancing and I almost never felt like doing that! To this day, it is only strong drink or The Special AKA playing “Free Nelson Mandela” that can compel me to get up and dance!

After an hour so my mum or dad would come in to tell us it was time to go and that we must give Nana and Annie a kiss goodbye. Now and then, if the conversations amongst the adults had been especially difficult, my mum or dad or both of them would come in early to listen to some records as well. It was just before leaving time that we got to my favorite bit. Nigel would let us choose some records to take back home with us. He would wrap them up in a brown paper bag which I would clutch jealously until we were safely within reach of Janice’s player. One time, Nigel’s girlfriend, Rina, was there. Rina was a mod and when I try to recall her now the only picture I can conjure is of Sandy Shaw, so I imagine she must have looked a little like her. She had a copy of the new single by the Four Seasons with “Rag Doll” on one side and “Silence is Golden” on the other. I knew this particular record was not from the jukebox as it still had its middle intact, and it wasn’t a bit scratched up, but she gave it to Janice anyway. Those times were so special to me, I believe that Nigel taught me how wonderful sharing was as part of one’s musical experience. He was patient with us despite being older and and in our eyes cooler. Those hours spent listening to records were more than just an escape from a difficult family encounter, it truly was a window to another world when music was capable of at best best transporting you to a magical kingdom or at least, as Springsteen said, giving you something to face the world with. I will never forget Nigel for that.

Nigel and Rina married and had a child. We went and had Sunday lunch one week in the high-rise apartment where they lived, quite far away from Fulham, but Nige didn’t seem the same somehow. I do remember they had groovy white round plastic chairs with cushions in, the like of which I had only seen on “The Avengers” and TV shows like that. I liked that, but the atmosphere was nervous somehow, some adult thing was going on that I was not privy to. There were no records to take home that day. We never saw Rina again and I would only see Nigel one more time, a few years later. It was around 1971 and I was beginning to really form my own musical tastes which leaned towards rock at that stage. We were living in a house by then in Finchley Central. Nigel came round to see my dad. I saw him arriving through the living room window and he looked rough and tired with long greasy hair. I was excited to see him and made sure I stayed in the living room where he and my dad were about to talk. We had a little banter about music. Nigel said that George Harrison was the best guitarist in the world, while I maintained that it was Eric Clapton. (I knew nothing in those days!) Then he and dad started talking in hushed tones that I could hardly make out. I think they were talking about money but I don’t know that for sure. My dad gently hinted to me that my mum needed help in the kitchen and so I reluctantly left the room. Almost as soon as he arrived, Nigel was leaving the living room, muttering a hasty goodbye to my mom and I, before exiting the house, my street and our lives. I opened the door and saw him shuffling up the road in a dejected manner. I would never see him again.

Copyright Pete Grant 2014

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Excerpts from “Right Notes, Wrong Order”.

Two excerpts from “Right Notes, Wrong order”, my book about what music means to me.

Excerpt one is from the first chapter, a little taste of what it is like playing in a bottom feeding band in California, and how the love of playing helps one rise above all the problems such an endeavor entails.

Excerpt two is from Chapter 3, and tells the tale of Cousin Nigel who was integral to my early listening habits.

 

Chapter One – “Hello Everyone. We are The Stepsons…But Nobody is Perfect!”

Without music, life would be a mistake!” – Friedrich Nietzsche

It was August 2012. It was over eight years since I had first made that move from Finchley, North. London to Porterville, California. A lot had changed since that day around 1960 when I had watched Hank Marvin of the Shadows on TV and realized that I wanted to do what he was doing, play one of those lovely wooden things in the way that he did. Over 50 years had passed by since then and yet I was still aware that music was the best. The Stepsons, my blues rock band, had a gig in Fresno, some 75 miles outside of town. For us this was just what you had to do, how far you needed to travel in order to get a gig. Back home in England this would virtually qualify as a tour! We were not a known band. We were not up-and-coming group, nor did we have a string of hits in our past to trade on in the present. We were just one of the ever dwindling number of acts out there attempting to earn, or at least supplement a living by doing something we loved and that we were reasonably good at. There had become fewer and fewer venues for band like hours to play. After all, karaoke, a DJ, a jukebox, or just nothing at all were cheaper alternatives to paying some bunch of guys to maybe bring in enough extra customers with a big enough thirst to justify the fee for hiring them in the first place.

 

That night we were playing the Full Circle Brewery. We knew that we would probably just about make enough from the gate receipts to cover the cost of fuel to get back home, maybe enough on top of that to cover a fast food meal as well if we were lucky. We were not in this for the money. We used to say that we were sometimes, money, or the lack of it was important to us, but deep down other forces were at play. We used to come to play at Full Circle because we liked the atmosphere there, and we liked the guys that ran it. They were all unreconstructed hippies who looked and dressed as if they were moonshine running cousins of uncle Jesse from the “Dukes of Hazard”. The venue, actually a microbrewery, was housed in what appeared to be a former firehouse in Fresno’s murky downtown area. There was a tented village a little way down the road, a reminder that there were always people worse off than yourself. It was a bad neighborhood, not a place for walking at night, but if you parked close to the door there was good street lighting and a reasonable chance that your ride would still be there when you are ready to leave. As you entered the building it resembled a neighborhood bar, and that was pretty much what it was. Get past that however and you would be confronted with what was really quite a nice sized performance venue., Old bicycles, neon signs and funky knickknacks adorned the walls and ceilings. For the kind of places where we played it was rare in that it actually had a stage with its own PA and monitors. Another reason we liked playing there, we could actually generate a good sound onstage.

 

I had traveled from Porterville with Bob Bartlett and his wife Gail. Bob was the Stepson’s bass player and had been playing with me since I started performing publicly again some six years before. Karmen, my wife, was working that night and as I was the only adult male in the whole of California who didn’t actually drive, I had hitched a ride. This was the second band that Bob and I had had in that time. We both shared a love of a blues-based framework with plenty of room to improvise. In California they call such a setup a jam band. The two of us had our moments, but mostly it had been a very supportive alliance, a friendship based on a love of music and the need after all those years to still beat the odds every week and go out and perform. As we arrived at the gig, Jason, our drummer, had already set up his kit on the stand and was just dealing with his Hi- Hat setup. Prado, the second guitarist, had also setup and was was sitting at the bar enjoying a “Clusterfuggle”, one of the house brews. I hoped that we would do a little bit better this time out. We had set the cover price at six dollars. The deal was that the band kept five dollars of that with one dollar going to the house for Joy, the burlesque dancer who this evening was taking the admission fees and who had the highly important task of paying us at the end of the night.

 

Bob and I brought in our equipment and started to get ready for the show. It was already 7:30 and we were supposed to start at 8 PM. After years spent in my youth waiting for bands to ever start on time, and then a spell in the 80s as a musician working in small scale touring theater, I was acutely aware of the importance of starting your performance when you were supposed to. As I brought a guitar amplifier in, I saw Jason’s Dad, Jerry, arriving with his wife. I blew him off a bit. I was angry with Jason over some internal band thing and that spilled over a little. There are one million and one silly disputes in any band and ours was no exception. I have to admit that I was probably at the heart of at least 1 million of them. However, I regained my composure and perspective and had a little chat with Jerry. Then, once my cheap yet shiny and much loved black Stratocaster was set in place and my amp warmed up, we got to the sound check. We all led pretty busy lives to differing degrees, and it was hard to fit rehearsals in. We had a couple of self promoted shows coming up in September and we needed to rehearse for those, but for a bread-and-butter gig like this one we usually didn’t. Jason, the youngest of us at 28, had been on the road as a full-time musician and had worked as a session player in LA. He would do that again, but at present he was balancing sessions and gigging with us with a full-time business involving citrus inspection. Prado, in his mid-40s, and with a 16-month-old baby at home, was to time management what The Who were to instrument conservation in the 60s. He was working full-time teaching at the local Tule reservation, he played with a country band at one of the few remaining California honky-tonks when not playing with us, and what with all of that plus a strange hobby involving fantasy gaming cards and occasionally squeezing in time to see his family, his days were pretty full. They played with my band because they loved playing, pure and simple. So, no rehearsals for us for the show. However, I had put two songs on the set list that we had never played together before. The first was a fairly straight take on the Eric Clapton version of “Crossroads Blues”, the seminal Robert Johnson song. The second was something of a departure for us. “Monkey Man”, by Toots & The Maytals, a wonderful slice of early reggae. Most of our audience had arrived as the sound check/rehearsal began. It was not a full house. There was comfortable room for around 100 -150 people yet there were only 14 paying customers that night. We left with a total of $70, it certainly doesn’t do to be in this for the money.

 

I told the band that Crossroads was in “A”, played a few bars to establish feel and tempo, and then we were off. There are only so many basic structures in the blues, it is not rocket science, and the band were all used to how it worked, how I work. I picked the set lists, decided in the main what numbers we would play. What I didn’t do was to lay down exactly how we played them, I relied on the guys to bring what they had to the party, for the numbers to evolve organically. We could all play. Some of us might have been a little past our prime, while others were still striving for it. When we hit things right though, a certain kind of magic was generated. That is how it seemed to me anyway. Bob too I think.. Something with a fair amount of improvisation can sound as if it was planned, thought-out and practiced, yet it is the spontaneity that can really make the number. We were not a great band but we were a good one and for the few people that did turn out to see us they could occasionally feel the magic I felt. As we ran through the song, I looked out at who was out front. We did have diehard fans, not very many, admittedly, but enough to make it worth doing from a personal standpoint at least. There was Ken Myers, a grizzled 60 something, there today with his son, daughter and daughters boyfriend. Ken was a big reason why I was still doing this. In the preceding year I had struggled with heart trouble and other medical problems but while someone like Ken was prepared to travel to see us, I was prepared to keep on playing. Ken and his wife Angela live about 130 miles away from Porterville, right on the edge of the Mojave Desert, yet he would regularly come to see us play, wherever we played, be it locally, Visalia, Fresno, or deep into Sequoia country, high up in the mountains. We once went and played at his 60th birthday party in the parking lot adjacent to his house. He loved it so much that when we finished a grueling four sets in oppressive heat, he paid for us to continue on and play what for us was a record-breaking fifth set. Ken liked to drink and have a relaxing smoke but most of all he appeared to like us! At the end of our show that night he would grab the microphone and tell those left in the audience that he loved us I asked him after-wards why wife Angela was not with him on this trip. He was a little the worse for wear when he told me that she would be off hiking and climbing a mountain that weekend. When I asked why he wasn’t going with her he said, “Too fuckin’ healthy for me. Besides, I love you guys!”

 

Apart from Ken, there were other regulars such as Tammy and her husband Terry. Tammy is known as the “Cat Lady” in Fresno, she helps to run the “Cat House on the Hill” which is much better than it sounds. It is a cat rescue center and Tammy has a heart of gold. They had first come to see us some three years before and had seen us play eight or nine shows since then. Tammy was at a meeting just out of town before the gig, but had emailed me to let me know they would try to be there and true to her word they walked in as we were trying out “Crossroads” in the sound check. She was an Eric Clapton fan and that was one of the reasons why I was throwing “Crossroads” in that night.

 

We didn’t draw great audience numbers in Fresno, we were out-of-towners, and there was a pecking order that we were at the bottom of. Having said that, even blues bands at the top of that order usually failed to get big audiences. Live music, at this level, was dieing out in the Central Valley. We were better known in our hometown but there were no paying venues there that liked our brand of music. Therefore, hometown appearances were restricted to free and local festival gigs. Apart from an annual appearance of the Porterville fair, none of those gigs paid. A party booking was the only other way we would get paid in our home town. Therefore, we had to travel to neighboring towns such as Bakersfield, Visalia and Fresno in order to get the less than big bucks.

 

We didn’t go flat-out during the run through of “Crossroads”, and the pace was a little slower than it would be later on in the evening. Even so, our diehard fans and friends in front of the stage plus the nonpaying regulars up at the bar seemed to like it well enough and cheered accordingly. When we played it for real in the second set we blew the first version out of the water. As the show proper began I addressed the audience, “Hello everyone. We are The Stepsons, but nobody’s perfect!”. At that time I had no idea that this lineup of the band would fall apart after only another three gigs. At this level people do tend to leave bands with an alarming frequency. However much you would like it to be, the band can’t be your first priority and other things come up. In the months to come, Jason would be replaced in the band by another drummer, Matt South. Prado would also leave the band, to be replaced by a jazz sax player, Rick Bentz. A mere five months later and Bob would leave the band and the name “The Stepsons” will be retired in his honor. Another band would spring up in its place, “Blues Central.” Life among the bottom feeders goes on, just as it does for everyone else!

 

Playing three sets is hard, I am 56 and not in good shape. Even if I was in my mid-20s and in shape for the Olympics, three sets would still be hard to play. I have arthritis in my fingers and arms, I am overweight and so out of condition that I can’t remember what condition was. I am thousands of miles away from the home, streets and venues I am most comfortable in. Thing is though, as long as the Ken Myers of this world drive stupid distances to see me play, while I can still get a reasonable noise out my aging stage gear, and while I don’t die on stage, I will keep on playing. I love music you see, playing it listening to it feeling touching and tasting it. It is a love that goes back a long way…

 

3. I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea

 

Music is there essentially to give you something to face the world with!”Bruce Springsteen

 

When I was little, Sundays could be difficult. We often used to go over and see my Dad’s Mum across London in Barclay Road, Fulham, just round the corner from Chelsea football club. Although it was only 14 miles away from home, it was 14 London miles and the journey seemed to take an age by bus. We would get the number 260 from Whetstone or Finchley to Golders Green where we would pick up a 28 for the rest of the journey. It could easily take two hours this way. In 1964 my Dad got our first car, a 1948 Ford Anglia, followed a couple of years later by a 1959 Ford Prefect. I liked the Prefect better, there was a radio on it and we could have the good light program shows on as we traveled.

 

My Nanna Grant was already approaching 80 as the 1960s dawned, and she had endured a hard life to be sure. She had lived in East Jarrow, the most economically depressed part of England in the first third of the 20th century. Her husband George had returned from WW1 injured, and had found difficulty adjusting to civilian life and the shipbuilding town with no ships to build in peacetime. In 1921 he died in circumstances I have never fully understood but can only guess about. My Nan had lost five children in either childbirth or while they were young and only two boys survived, my dad Robert and his younger brother Wilf. She struggled to bring them up, making ends meet by running two small shops. Perhaps she supplemented her income in other less legal ways as well. The writer Catherine Cookson hailed from the same street as my Dad’s family and her descriptions of the hard life experienced in Jarrow were considered sadly accurate by my father.

 

All of this might help to explain the hard streak that I saw in my Nan. My Mum’s mother, Nanna Blake, was all sweetness and light and one of the loveliest people I have ever met. My memories of her are completely warm and affectionate. I cannot say the same for Nanna Grant. She was a thin austere woman wearing drab dark clothes and chain-smoking players number six as if the world supply was about to run out. She had a cruel side of her nature, something I regretfully identify in myself to this day. When playing a game with me for instance, she would let me win as most grandmothers would do, but she would then tell me to my face that she had let me win so that I had no opportunity to feel good about the victory. She could seem mean and spiteful at times and I think I was a little bit scared of her and of visiting the dark damp apartment she lived in, housed on the top floor of a Victorian semi-detached house. She lived with her widowed niece, Annie and Annie’s son Nigel who was in his early 20s. Annie was a small nervous woman, a little hunched, and she used to puff away at cigarettes with the same ferocity as my Nan. Annie and Nan doted on Nigel, spoiling him in a not very healthy way. At least that is how I see it now looking back. They acted as rivals for his affection and I think it is no surprise that he finally ran off the rails, as I now suspect he must of. He was usually out when we arrived, as we climbed the unlit stair case and past the geriatric hand mangle that they still used on laundry day. Janice and I longed for his return so we could escape into his room and the magical world of rock ‘n roll.

 

Nan and Annie still had strong Geordie accents even though they had been living in Fulham since before the start of WW2. I actually found it hard to understand what Nan was saying sometimes. Even when I was six or seven she referred to me as the “Wee Bairn”, or little baby. She would want me not to step in “the Nards” if I went outside to play. The first time I came back inside with dog shit on my shoes I learned to my cost what nards were. One thing that really got me on Sunday afternoon visits was she had this cat called Bobby who delighted in coming into the living room and leaving bits of his latest kill distributed around the area where I was trying to sit. Another thing which got to me on those visits was the stench of stale cigarette smoke that permeated the atmosphere. It was really not pleasant. My mum and dad had smoked, but as soon as there were the first news reports of a link between tobacco and cancer, they had stopped almost immediately. The only thing that would have stopped Nan from smoking was a proven link between that activity and the BBC. She hated the BBC with a passion and would only watch ITV, a fact she would gladly tell us every week. In fact, the dial on her rental TV had actually rusted through lack of use so that it was actually stuck on ITV. We couldn’t change the channel even if she had let us. The single TV station selection had its good points though, and the more we watched the box the less we had to have strained conversations with Nan and Annie. They seemed to prefer it that way to. My dad and I could see the football highlights and later in the afternoon there was “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, the show where pop groups mimed to their latest hits. Before “Top of the Pops” debuted on the BBC on New Year’s Day 1964, this was pretty much all we had in terms of dedicated pop music television programming. The most memorable host was the enduring Brian Matthew. I do remember another presenter too, Keith Fordyce. He had a very curious haircut that left him looking like he had a dead squirrel on top of his head. There was a segment of the show where a panel of teenagers used to review new single releases. One of the reviewers, a teenager by the name of Janice Nichols, had an overpoweringly strong West Midlands accent. She rated most songs with her catchphrase “I’ll give it five”, pronounced by her as “Oil give it foive!” Janice and I used to impersonate her a lot and giggle, much to Annie and Nan’s annoyance.

 

The best part of the show of course were the appearances by the groups. One of those appearances was a life-changing moment for me, the kind of moment only something music related could spark. It was late 1962 and a group from Liverpool called the Beatles were lip-synching their way to glory with “Love Me Do.” I was transfixed. I had fallen in love with shadowy clips of Hank Marvin and Buddy Holly before but this was something else entirely. I wanted to be John, I was going to be John. Almost immediately I was up on my feet by the TV moving like he was, imitating him as best as I could by doing what he was doing. “Why is that boy biting his nails” cried an appalled Auntie A! “I think he’s supposed to be playing the harmonica” replied my dad. From that day on, in my mind at least, I was the fifth Beatle. I knew it.

 

Despite the relief of the telly or playing outside or, if we had a rare visit on Saturday, a visit to nearby Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea reserves play, there was one terror we always had to cope with on visits to Barclay Road. Tea time. My Nan and Annie were so addicted to nicotine that they couldn’t bear to put their cigarettes down even during food preparation. The most upsetting side effect of this was that otherwise almost edible potato pancakes often had flecks of cigarette ash on or even in them. There were sandwiches which always featured some weird kind of paste and the bread was upturned at the edges as if it wanted to escape as much as we did. If we had the temerity to refuse any of this fair Annie would come right up close to us waiving said food item in her hand, saying “What’s wrong with it then?” Cousin Nigel wisely tried to avoid mealtimes and would tend to arrive just as the debris was being cleared away. He would pop his head round the door of the living room, shaggy headed, nicotine stained fingered rocker that he was, all disheveled Levi jacket and jeans. He would nod towards my sister and I saying “Would you two like to pop next-door?” We knew what this meant and would always say yes and follow him as quickly as we could into his bedroom, knowing exactly what was in store.

 

Nigel, Nige as he liked to be called , used to empty jukeboxes for a living, that is what he told us anyhow. He had loads of singles, some going back to the late 50s right up to things that were still in the charts today. Most of them had the middle bit popped out so they could be used in jukeboxes and he had loads of those little plastic doowads you could put in the hole so that the records could be stacked on the auto-changer. His record player was bigger than ours, and sometimes he could put on nine or 10 records at a time. Sometimes he put on too many and they would drop two or three at a time and zip around under the one that was supposed to be playing. Mostly though, the player worked wonderfully well. It had a knob for tone as well as one for volume and he used to play it loud for us, louder than we could ever have gotten away with at home. We would pick records from the piles of them that he had to play. Janice would read the labels selecting the one she would like to hear. I would pretend to do that as well but firstly I would be choosing according to how colorful the label was. One such label was red with yellow bits on. I soon learned that most records with that label were by the Everly Brothers, so I tended to pick them a lot. I really loved one of their records called “Cathy’s Clown.” The MGM label was bright yellow so used to pick that one a lot to. I remember “Stupid Cupid’ by Connie Francis was one of the discs with that label on. That one was ok, but not as good as The Everleys.

 

My favorite record of all the ones Nigel played was one of the older records, “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. I think this was the first song where I noticed that the music sounded better the louder it was played. It was as if it had been designed that way. Another one that sounded like that was “Tallahassee Lassie” by Freddy Cannon. Nige had lots of Cliff Richard and the Shadows records as well as the singles featuring just the Shadows. I have to say I preferred the latter. The earlier ones were on the green Columbia label although the latest ones Nigel had were on a black Columbia label. I still loved Hank Marvin and his shiny Stratocaster even though the Beatles were winning my heart. Nigel also had a bunch of records on the Stateside label that were unlike anything I had ever heard in my life. Artists like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, Junior Walker and the All-Stars and so on. Stateside was the record label that put out Motown records in Britain before Motown established itself in its own right there. As a five or six-year-old, I couldn’t work out what was different about those discs, only that I liked them and they made me feel something more than a Cliff Richard record did somehow. It was a little like I felt when Nigel played me Chuck Berry or Little Richard. At an early age I was edging towards the music that would one day become my love, blues music, although of course I didn’t know that at the time. I was just a kid learning to swim in a sea of sound. Even then that those records on Stateside made me feel like dancing and I almost never felt like doing that! To this day, it is only strong drink or The Special AKA playing “Free Nelson Mandela” that can compel me to get up and dance!

 

After an hour so my mum or dad would come in to tell us it was time to go and that we must give Nana and Annie a kiss goodbye. Now and then, if the conversations amongst the adults had been especially difficult, my mum or dad or both of them would come in early to listen to some records as well. It was just before leaving time that we got to my favorite bit. Nigel would let us choose some records to take back home with us. He would wrap them up in a brown paper bag which I would clutch jealously until we were safely within reach of Janice’s player. One time, Nigel’s girlfriend, Rina, was there. Rina was a mod and when I try to recall her now the only picture I can conjure is of Sandy Shaw, so I imagine she must have looked a little like her. She had a copy of the new single by the Four Seasons with “Rag Doll” on one side and “Silence is Golden” on the other. I knew this particular record was not from the jukebox as it still had its middle intact, and it wasn’t a bit scratched up, but she gave it to Janice anyway. Those times were so special to me, I believe that Nigel taught me how wonderful sharing was as part of one’s musical experience. He was patient with us despite being older and and in our eyes cooler. Those hours spent listening to records were more than just an escape from a difficult family encounter, it truly was a window to another world when music was capable of at best best transporting you to a magical kingdom or at least, as Springsteen said, giving you something to face the world with. I will never forget Nigel for that.

 

Nigel and Rina married and had a child. We went and had Sunday lunch one week in the high-rise apartment where they lived, quite far away from Fulham, but Nige didn’t seem the same somehow. I do remember they had groovy white round plastic chairs with cushions in, the like of which I had only seen on “The Avengers” and TV shows like that. I liked that, but the atmosphere was nervous somehow, some adult thing was going on that I was not privy to. There were no records to take home that day. We never saw Rina again and I would only see Nigel one more time, a few years later. It was around 1971 and I was beginning to really form my own musical tastes which leaned towards rock at that stage. We were living in a house by then in Finchley Central. Nigel came round to see my dad. I saw him arriving through the living room window and he looked rough and tired with long greasy hair. I was excited to see him and made sure I stayed in the living room where he and my dad were about to talk. We had a little banter about music. Nigel said that George Harrison was the best guitarist in the world, while I maintained that it was Eric Clapton. (I knew nothing in those days!) Then he and dad started talking in hushed tones that I could hardly make out. I think they were talking about money but I don’t know that for sure. My dad gently hinted to me that my mum needed help in the kitchen and so I reluctantly left the room. Almost as soon as he arrived, Nigel was leaving the living room, muttering a hasty goodbye to my mom and I, before exiting the house, my street and our lives. I opened the door and saw him shuffling up the road in a dejected manner. I would never see him again.

Copyright Pete Grant 2014

 

 

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Who, Why and Where!

WHO? My name is Pete Grant. I am 56 years old, 57 soon. I was born in Whetstone, England, but lived most of my early life in nearby Finchley. Something of  a skinny kid, I made up for that in later life. I was given my first “45” in 1962, “Speedy Gonzales” by Pat Boone, my first guitar aged 12, and my first LP that didn’t feature the Flintstones in 1971. I loved guitar from the start, and now and then it even loved me back. Although obsessed with music in general ever since I saw grainy images of Buddy Holly and Hank Marvin on TV in the late 50s, and with the music of Peter Green and John Martyn in particular, I tried the expected route of college (it didn’t take) and various career and otherwise jobs (they didn’t take either.) By the 80s, I was struggling to be accepted as a session and gigging guitarist when by chance I got involved in small scale touring theater.

At first this was just as a Musical director, song writer and musician, but later I also acted a bit as well. In the kind of theater I was involved in, you had to act, stage manage and do anything else that was needed in order to stay almost on budget. After years of that, I returned to the whole partially successful musician thing, and was only interrupted by severe illness that put me on the sidelines for four years in the 90s.

Rather than go back to square one yet again, I decided to get some formal Theater training and went to Uni on a Theater Studies course. I got my degree, and some kind of teaching career beckoned, but fate was determined to mess with my mind with another change of course. On my last day of lectures, May, 1998, I went to see Peter Green Splinter Group play at Dingwall’s Dancehall in Camden Town. Through a series of events that I will save for another day, my party ended up sharing a table with Peter’s manager, Stuart Taylor. I had been doing a personal website for a while which featured sections dedicated to both Greeny and John Martyn, and the long and short of it was that my friend Bill and I were invited to Stuart’s Camden office a few days later to create and run Peter’s web site. Bill withdrew soon after, but I continued with Peter’s site for five years or so, and in that time fell in to the wacky world of music biz. Web sites for Cream lyricist, musician and producer Pete Brown and Sax maestro Dick Heckstall-Smith followed, and in 2000, I became Dick’s manager. In 2004, Dick and I had “Blowing The Blues: 50 Years Playing The British Blues” published by The Clear Press. It consisted of Dick’s earlier book, “The Safest Place In The World” which detailed his career and issues it raised up to 1980, plus a 96 page essay from me bringing the story up to date, as well as various biographical pieces on albums, etc.

2004 was a landmark year for me for other reasons too. I had fallen in love and married for the second time. My wife, Karmen, was based in Porterville, CA, USA, and for various family and economic reasons, it was agreed that I would move the the States. In the months that followed, my exile from the music business became more final than I wanted, with the deaths of Dick and then Stuart Taylor. However, Karmen had woken something within me, and I started playing guitar in earnest again, not to mention in local bands. At my Porterville peak, I was playing three or four gigs a week, earning quite well and having a mostly great time in bands like The Stepsons and Blues Central. I also recorded and put out a Christmas album with Monte Reyes as “The Sun Kings” during this time.

In the last few years though, health problems have emerged again which have curtailed my music making. This year, I have only been able to do three shows with my current band, “Pete Grant & Friends”, and at the moment I am not up to gigging.

 

WHY? In the last few years, I have worked on a book of my own, “Right Notes, Wrong Order” This is a book about what music can mean to people, what it means to me, illustrated by various stories from my childhood, right through to my skirmishes with music through the years. I had a publisher lined up, but the changes that they wanted me to make would have meant a fundamental shift in the nature of the piece, and in the end I wasn’t prepared to change it from my original aims to what would have been little more than a “slightly famous people I met once at a party” anecdotal book. There were always elements of that involved, but I like to think there is something more at it’s core. So, I have decided to self publish, but although the book is just about finished, I am holding off till a) I can afford it, and b) I am well enough to market the crap out of it. I do hope that will be sometime this year, but we will see.

So, in the meantime, I thought of doing this, a blog where I can talk about the music I love, even that which I don’t, and maybe feature excerpts from the book, and in general have a place to rant and rave.

Where? Right here, right now…

 

 

 

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