Sunday, December 24, 2017

1977 The Year of the Single – Sounds Magazine

1977 The Year of the Single – Sounds Magazine.

by Pete Clemons

What a coincidence. As 2017 draws to an end I had been rooting through a box and came across a fascinating article produced by Sounds music magazine from December 1977.

The article’s title was called 1977 the year of the single. And it attempted to document just what had happened during that year in terms of seven inch (or 12 inch) record sales.

As far as the music scene went it was quite a year. We had lost both Elvis Presley, Marc Bolan along with the heart of US rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was also the year David Bowie dueted with Bing Crosby with the song Peace on Earth.

Top selling singles from 1977 included Wings with ‘Mull of Kintyre’, David Soul and ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’, ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles, Boney M, ‘Ma Baker’ and ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ by Abba. While top albums included ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Bat out of Hell’ by Meatloaf, Steely Dan ‘Aja’, ‘Animals’ Pink Floyd and ‘Exodus’ by Bob Marley. And well over one hundred million vinyl sales were recorded that year in the UK alone.

Other key events in UK music that year saw The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Damned all release their debut albums. The Sex Pistols, who also released their one and only album during 1977, were twice released from record contracts as both the EMI and A+M record labels both sacked the band.

But away for the headlines, underneath all that, something seemed to explode and it was as though everyone wanted to put a band together and create music or even go as far as to produce it all for themselves. Classic records just tumbled out week after week. It truly was exciting times.

And it wasn’t just the quality of the song. It was the depth and breadth of the music being played. You had disco, rock, reggae, electronic and of course you had punk rock.

In case they are not clear I have reproduced some of the words from the Sounds article below. With the singles in their list, I felt that they certainly captured the mood well:

The year of the single? You’re not kidding. Last year, when the idea of a top twenty singles was broached, only a couple of the Sounds staff were remotely interested. Now they’re so hot on the idea of seven (or twelve – this year also being the year of overstatement) inches of black, purple, sky blue pink or whatever vinyl, that they’ve come up with a list of a hundred of the little bleeders.

And the article concluded:……….

And of course, the article continued, there must be another two or three hundred that probably deserved to have had their picture in here too.

Hopefully the pictures and the scans I have taken of the article reproduce ok and tell the story. It did seem as though Sounds magazine, at that time, was all about the album.

But 40 years on!. It all seems so long ago, and it is. But then sometimes, when you hear some of these songs – it isn’t. As, still today, a lot of these great tunes are still greatly revered.


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Magical Mystery Tour 1967


By Pete Clemons

1967 had been a busy and creative year for The Beatles. The first part of the year had seen them complete and release the Sgt Peppers album. And then later on in the year they set about creating the film and the accompanying music for the audience splitting and controversial Magical Mystery Tour.

It was based on the bands childhood memories of village fetes and coach trips from Liverpool to Blackpool in order to see the lights and where the coaches were loaded up with crates of beer and the passengers were accompanied by an accordion player or similar. These memories were mixed with the bands perceived view of the world around them.

Although, in hindsight, the clue was in the film’s title, it certainly split audiences when it was first aired during the Christmas period 1967. But whatever you thought of the film there was no denying the wonderful soundtrack that underpinned it all.

This black and white film, repeated in colour during January 1968 (for those who had compatible TV sets), had been hurriedly selected for a slot that appeared on Boxing Day between the Petula Clark Xmas Special and a Norman Wisdom film. Apparently all that the schedulers knew was that it was a film starring The Beatles. And they thought they were on to a sure fire winner. So in it went without any real prior knowledge of what it was actually about or the furore it would create. And at 8:35pm, a quarter of the country settled back and tuned in to watch it.

Ideas for the film began to emerge just prior to the death of Brian Epstein during the August of 1967. Paul McCartney had already been experimenting with film by way of a ‘cini 8’ camera he had bought himself. Spurred on by Paul a ‘script’ was drafted out as a series of sequences on a pie chart. It had no real correlation but both Paul and Brian were enthusiastic at the format. And Paul was even more spurred on to bring the film to fruition after the loss of Brian.

The finished film was actually unscripted with much of it being ‘ad libbed’. As Paul mentioned some time later ‘what you were about to see was a product of our imagination. But you couldn’t add that as a disclaimer to the beginning of it all as it would have spoiled the effect’.

The coach passengers were a mixture of the band themselves, a selection of jobbing actors along with members of the general public who were given just 48 hours, after receipt of invitation, to decide if they would be available or not. Other actors and artists of note such as Victor Spinetti, Nat Jackley, Ivor Cutler were also invited.

The coach journey itself left London on 11 September 1967. And even that involved the spontaneous decision to travel in the direction of Cornwall. The film and the coach terminated in Newquay ten days, or so, later.

As with previous Beatles films Ringo Starr was given a central role. As a kind of parody, Ringo was often seen arguing with his Auntie on the coach trip as a kind of filler between the sequences. John Lennon was also prominent throughout.

The following day, after it’s airing, Paul chose to appear the David Frost show ‘Frost Reports’ to defend the film. Basically the older generation had been looking for a plot and a storyline. While the younger generation, particularly children it later appeared, were enthralled by it all. There wasn’t a plot or anything such like. It was just a series of events segued. George Harrison described it as an elaborate home movie.

The film itself may or may not have been great. I guess that depends on where you are in life when you watch it. But it did open doors. It was abstract, it was imaginative and it was original. It also captured the growing psychedelic scene. Although The Beatles may not have created it, they were well aware of it and became a conduit for it all. All in all it was a random and surreal view of life as seen, through the eyes of The Beatles.

Magical Mystery Tour Memories (Full Documentary)

The Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles Liverpool Tour)

Magical Mystery Tour EP Booklet

The Songs of Slade

The Songs of Slade.
by Pete Clemons

You know Christmas is on the way when you start hearing the perennial hit ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ on your radio and TV. It was released in 1973 and it was Slade’s 6th number 1 hit. It has since charted 8 times over the last 5 decades and the whole country seems to know it. But there was so much more to the song’s writers Jim Lea and Noddy Holder. And, despite the song being kind to them in royalties over the years, it really should not be their lasting legacy.

I often bore folk with the story of the time Mrs C and I both attended the same Slade concert at the City Centre Club during the 1970s. Only she wasn’t Mrs C back then. In fact we didn’t even know each other. But we both remember the fantastic gig Slade put on performing a host of their anthemic hits.

Going back to their beginnings, Slade were formerly known as Ambrose Slade and before then The N’Betweens’. Slade were a Midlands band originating from the Walsall and Wolverhampton areas and their success was far from gained overnight. It began around 1966 with Don Powell and Dave Hill who put together a band that played a mixture of Motown and Beatles covers.

The N’Betweens’ signed to Fontana during February 1969 and it was soon after that the Ambrose Slade was suggested. An album of largely covers titled ‘Beginnings’ was released during May. Soon after, Fontana introduced the band to Chas Chandler, who had been the original bass player for The Animals and was the man credited in tempting Jimi Hendrix to the UK and proposing ideas for much of his onstage persona. Chas suggested that the band abbreviate their name to Slade and gave them a look that involved cropped hair and boots.

Slade’s first TV appearance came during May 1969 and saw the band give an early demonstration of their versatility. They first performed a Beatles cover ‘Martha My Dear’ where Jim Lea played violin. They then played an original tune called ‘Wild Winds are Blowing’ where Jim had switched to bass guitar.

A second album ‘Play it Loud’ was released during 1970 on Polydor records. Hugely different from their debut album in as much as it was almost all self-written, and it was at this point you can start to hear the distinctive sound that Slade were famed for beginning to develop.

The skinhead phase kind of backfired on Slade as, despite their reputation as an energetic live band, promoters declined to book them as their appearance gave rise to fears of the perceived audience the band could attract.

Slade ditched the threatening look and, instead, concentrated on their stage presence. And they began to transfer that energy onto record. This masterstroke saw Slade get their first hit single. The record, released during May 1971, was a reworking of a Little Richard tune called ‘Get Down and Get With It’. It was a popular song from their live shows that featured an exuberance of foot stomping and hand clapping that would become Slade’s trademark.

Each subsequent hit became a group composition written by the Holder/Lea team. They had developed an ‘in your face’ pop/rock style fronted by the powerful vocals of Noddy Holder. And between, what was left of 1971 and 1974 the band, namely Don Powell – drums, Dave Hill – guitar and vocals, Noddy Holder – guitar and vocals and Jim Lea - bass, piano, violin and vocals, could do no wrong as far as chart success was concerned.

October 1971 saw the release of the single ‘Coz I Luv You’, the first Holder/Lea composition, and coming with it was a whole new way of spelling by way of a fresh new vocabulary. With Jim Lea once again on violin ‘Coz I Luv You’ spent a total of 4 weeks at number 1 in the charts.

1972 saw ‘Look Wot You Done’ which, given the success of its predecessor, was seen as disappointing as it only reached number 4. Guitarist Dave Hill suggesting that the piano might have played a part in this. ‘Take Me Bak Ome’ took the band back to the number 1 spot. But with it came protests from teachers about the level of grammar being used.

Next up was ‘Mama Were all Crazee Now’ originally titled ‘My My Were All Crazy’ which again topped the charts followed by ‘Gudbye To Jane’ originally titled ‘Hello T’Jane’ which reached number 2. Both these singles came off the LP ‘Slayed’ which topped the album charts when released during November 1972.

By now the popular music scene was becoming dominated by glam and glitter and, for T.V. and live appearances the band was decked out in platform shoes and top hats. On top of that, and by the time the next hit ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ was released, which incidentally, entered the charts straight in at number 1, each of the band members of Slade were sporting really long side burns and their hair had grown really long. And as the hits continued an appearance on Top of the Pops could almost guarantee an audience of 18 to 20 million viewers.

1973 also saw Slade’s next single ‘Skweeze me Pleeze me’ also enter the charts at number 1 but a road accident that left drummer Don Powell critically injured put the bands future in jeopardy.

Several of Slade’s big hits were non-album tracks. So the second half of 1973 saw a compilation LP, ‘Sladest’, gather together all those songs along with other related material.

Toward the end of 1973 however there then began a change of sound as Slade went for a more melodic approach with their next hit ‘My Friend Stan’ which made number 2. The single, for me at least, sounded subdued compared to previous releases. Maybe it was the switch to bass by Noddy and the reintroduction of Jim Lea’s piano again. Having said that, it was the end of 1973 that saw the release of ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ and, as the whole country knows, that saw Slade back at their most raucous once again.

Slade’s next album, ‘Old New Borrowed and Blue’, released February 1974 inevitably hit number 1. It included ‘My Friend Stan’ along their next single release ‘Everyday’ issued later that year. Again ‘Everyday’ stuck to that slight change of style as Noddy was once more on bass and Jim on piano. The tune still had anthemic lyrics but was in the more in the style of a ballad. And it continued the bands domination of the charts, hitting number three. A succession of single then appeared throughout 1974.

The 1975 song ‘How Does it Feel’ marked, I feel, the start of a change of fortunes for Slade. It was yet another ballad that this time saw Dave Hill on bass and Jim, still on piano. Despite it making only number 15 in the charts it was actually a great tune. In fact Noel Gallagher was once quoted as saying that it was ‘one of the best ever pop songs’.

By 1977 Slade were playing smaller venues due to the change of wind in the air on the music scene. Their records were now being released on Chas Chandler’s own Barn Record label as opposed to their previous Polydor label. The next excursion into the charts, during this period, came in October 1977 when they performed a barn storming version of ‘That’s all right Mama’ which they dedicated to Elvis Presley who had recently passed away. But the difference in the bands appearance was stark. On a TV appearance the wild hair had mainly disappeared. In fact Dave Hill’s head had been shaved. Plus the band was all playing Gibson guitars.

A review of one of the band's 1978 concerts described a new anthem ‘Give us a Goal’ as being ‘of considerable interest to rabid footy fans and of no interest to anyone else’. ‘Give us a Goal’ was one of the last songs in association with and ended the long partnership of Chas Chandler as producer.

By 1980 Slade were almost at the point of calling it a day when suddenly fate played an important part in an upturn in fortunes for the band. Firstly, after Bon Scott passed away, Noddy Holder was approached as being a possible replacement as AC/DC vocalist. Noddy remained loyal to Slade despite the position they found themselves in at that time. Secondly, Ozzy Osbourne had pulled out of the Reading Festival and Slade stepped in at short notice. They took their opportunity well and played a triumphant set in front of a large contingent of ‘heavy metal’ fans. All of a sudden, Slade were back. And this resurgence in popularity also acted as a catalyst for their next hit ‘Bring the House Down’ in 1981. Another single appeared in 1983. Back to their anthemic best the ballad called ‘My Oh My’ turned out to be the bands biggest hit since 1974 featured Jim Lea on piano.

Slade’s resurgence continued into 1984 with yet another hit. This was titled ‘Run Runaway’ with Jim Lea back on violin. This would be the bands last UK hit but ironically it would be the band’s first top 20 hit in the U.S. – an achievement they had unsuccessfully chased for a number of years.

Another crack to top the Christmas chart was attempted during 1984. Titled ‘All Join Hands’ the single, featuring Jim Lea on both piano and bass, peaked at number 15. Slade’s last top of the pops appearance came during 1991 and the classic line up came to an end during 1993.

But Slade never split. Ever since, Dave Hill and Don Powell have steadfastly kept the flame alive, performing regularly with their band.

As a band Slade had, and still have, the ability to create a memorable atmosphere. They have also demonstrated over the years just what a very versatile band they were. Slade, I think you will agree, are far more than Christmaaaaaas.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dirty Stops Outs - Coventry Music,venues and Entertainments in the 1970's

Dirty Stops Outs - Coventry Music, venues and Entertainments in the 1970's-

New Book Out by Ruth Cherrington.
Available from Amazon Uk Here 
And Waterstones and HMV in Coventry.

Review by Pete Clemons

A recently launched book titled ‘Dirty Stop Outs 1970's Coventry’ is currently available from outlets like our own HMV shop, Waterstones and Amazon. And a really enjoyable read it is too. 

It’s a fun, retro coffee table type book, but important because it’s a form of record of the sort of things that were happening in our City back then and includes a lot of the great venues and events of the time.

Author Dr Ruth Cherrington is a Coventry kid herself, growing up in Canley, and remembers places like the Locarno, Lanchester Polytechnic, the Market Tavern, the Climax, the Dive Bar (Lady Godiva), the Plough amongst many others very well, as she was a regular visitor to them.

Author Dr. Ruth Cherrington at Coventry Music Museum.

Ruth has written previously about working men’s clubs, not only on a website but also a book titled ‘Not just Beer and Bingo!’ Again, it is a social history of working men’s clubs, inspired by Ruth’s own experience of using clubs from a very early age with my family. Ruth’s local one was Canley social, right across the street from her family council house.

To bring our book to life, Ruth has including people’s personal memories and experiences, anecdotes etc. It is, after all, about ordinary people, those who went to the pubs, clubs, discos, cafes, as well as those who provided the entertainment.

The book mainly covers the nightlife (although some of the day light is included) that was happening during the decade. It is one of a series - authors in other cities such as Sheffield and Manchester for example are recalling their memories and attempting to commit it all to paper. And they have not stopped at the 1970s. And other decades such as the 1980s are also beginning to be explored and remembered. So this is an organic project.

Musically, it of course covers 2 tone – how couldn’t it – but not just the giants of that scene, namely The Specials and Selecter. The book also drills down to bands like The Swinging Cats and also give due respect to the building considered to be the birth place of 2 tone – the Holyhead Youth Centre.

One of the plus points is that the book attempts to represent everyone. Even those who considered themselves, and were possibly viewed upon, as outsiders are remembered here. So from that angle it is very inclusive. Everyone remembers different bits of their formative years and it all builds for a wider picture.

Trevor Teasdel summed things up nicely ‘Probably everyone felt like an outsider to an extent, even if they were in the thick of it, as there was no way to see it as a whole like we can now in retrospect. And there was no social media to catch up with people afterwards or see the bits you weren't at. It's when you put all the jigsaw pieces together that you see it as something you were part of’.

And that, for me, is exactly what this book achieves here, but in a loose way. It’s not perfect but it does cover a lot of ground.

LINKS - Ruth Cherrington's Facebook page for the Dirty Stop Outs Book - join up!

Publisher Neil Anderson's site for further books in the series at ACM Retro

Below Pete Chambers captured a pic of the book on the shelves of Coventry HMV store in good company with some of the Two Tone books.

Hobo - Coventry Music and Arts  Magazine and Workshop 1973 - 75 - which of course runs these Coventry music archives - gets goodly coverage! The magazine was founded by Trev Teasdel and John Bo Bargent - who is pictured below holding a copy of the book and Hobo Magazine at the book launch at waterstones in Coventry.

Below some photos of the 2nd book launch at The Coventry Music Museum

John Bo Bargent at the Coventry Music Museum

Pete Clemons himself sneaking out of the Coventry Music Museum with a book!

And yes we have to blow our own trumpet - Hobo Magazine is in the book!

More Photos - These from the Earlier Book Launch at Coventry Waterstones shop.

And more from the Coventry Music Museum

Robin Trower Band

Robin Trower Band
by Pete Clemons

The fact that so much has been mentioned recently of the music from that period, I have
found myself listening to a lot of releases from 1967. And one of those songs on my playlist ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ topped the singles chart that year for six weeks as well as scoring well in the U.S. It is indeed hard to believe that that song is now 50 years old. 

And listening to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ again led me to listening to several albums by Robin Trower who had been the guitarist on that Procol Harum hit. Robin was actually the guitarist on the first four Procol Harum albums but, while he had been developing his craft, he had been a huge student of BB King. And that led Robin to his next venture.

With Procol Harum, Robin had to work within a tight framework. And as time went on those limitations became more of an issue for him. No matter how good he was playing for Procol Harum it was against the tradition of the band for him to cut loose. So in July 1971 he made the brave decision to leave this successful band and go it alone.

After leaving Procol Harum, Robin formed the band Jude with Clive Bunker drummer and ex Jethro Tull, bass player James Dewar ex Stone the Crows and the then unknown Glaswegian singer Frankie Miller who had had relocated to London and had been discovered singing in pubs and clubs late 1971. However soon after it formation Clive Bunker left the band and Frankie Miller had begun gigging with Brinsley Schwarz. The Jude project aborted within months without leaving any recordings. But Robin and James Dewar had found a musical compatibility. Plus they had the material at hand for an album.

With James Dewar also taking on vocal duties Trower set about putting together a trio. And that first line up, formed early 1972, and would see the introduction of ex Quiver drummer Reg Isidore. With no gigs behind them, a debut album ‘Twice Removed from Yesterday’ was released early 1973 and it certainly delivered as James Dewar proved to be a more than capable vocalist.

The slow, relaxed blues style of the album along with extended guitar solos set the scene for future releases. The Robin Trower Band made an immediate impact particularly in the United States. The album also touched on the BB King influence, mentioned earlier, by way of including a version of ‘Rock Me Baby’. A second album ‘Bridge of Sighs’ released in 1974 solidified the bands popularity in the States as it gained considerable success over there.

During 1974 Reg Isidore left due to musical differences and was replaced by American drummer Bill Lordan who had formerly been a member of the Sly Stone Band and stayed with the Trower band until late 1987. Lordan debuted on the album ‘For Earth Below’ which was released early 1975. And with this release came, at last, real recognition in the U.K. as the album appeared in the top 20. By now The Robin Trower band were pulling audiences of 50,000 plus in American stadiums. A live album followed during 1976, again charting in the U.K. And yet again though, both this album and ‘For Earth Below’ proved to be hugely popular in the U.S.

The trio of Trower, Dewar and Lordan would essentially stay together through to the early 1980s completing several albums such as the Long Misty Days and In City Dreams. Although during this period the band were also augmented by American bass player Rustee Allen, who brought with him the element of funk.

And this added element possibly also played a part in the much lauded formation of Bruce, Lordan and Trower during the early 1980s. These early 80s albums with this line-up marked a change in style, as Trower was now working alongside Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. The resulting music was punchier and a bit less emphasis on soloing. Bruce said at the time ‘I've always had an affinity with what Robin does so there was common ground’.

Their debut album titled ‘BLT’ was advertised as follows ‘Robin Trower and Jack Bruce, two of the most talented and influential musicians of the seventies, together for the first time on one album. The L.P. captures the excitement that is their music for the eighties’. As good as the album was, the times were changing, and the eighties brought with it a whole new music scene which, for a while, eclipsed all that went on during the 1970s.

Robin Trower and Jack Bruce would collaborate again. This time, on the Seven Moons project released during 2008. With Trower’s guitar work and Bruce’s improvisational skills it is a pity we never heard more from them as they were a formidable pairing. Jazz rock drummer Gary Husband completed yet another trio for the live in the studio sessions. Again these were highly enjoyable releases.

Now in his 70s Robin Trower is still active and continues to thrill with his touring and the releasing of occasional albums. Having said that, I recently read that Robin had been ill but not in a debilitating way and recently cancelled a tour. His gigs in the UK though are, nowadays, few and far between but still well worth the effort of getting up and getting out to if you get the chance. It’s not often you get the chance to hear someone live who once gave Robert Fripp a few lessons in the art of bending notes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Show of Hands – Coventry Cathedral

Show of Hands – Coventry Cathedral
By Pete Clemons

Concerts in cathedrals are usually extraordinary events. The acoustics, the lighting, the ambiance, you just sense in advance that the proceedings in hand are going to be very special indeed.

And this was certainly the case when one of the leading lights of the current British folk scene, Show of Hands, performed there recently. Singer song writer Steve Knightley, multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer and double bass player Miranda Sykes performed an impressive set that was both conducive and respectful of the surroundings. By that I mean there were none of the more raucous anthemic type tunes that Show of Hands are also capable of delivering.

Show of Hands was concluding a recent tour that has taken them into a mix of houses of sanctuary and other ancient buildings up and down the country. And this tour also took in the, relatively, more modern setting of Coventry’s ‘new’ cathedral.

The audience size, for what I saw beforehand as a weakly advertised gig, was quite impressive. There was a sizable crowd present to witness this performance.

The gig itself opened up in unique fashion as Steve Knightley slowly made his way up the centre aisle, toward the tapestry and stage, from the rear of the cathedral, with both Phil and Miranda approaching him from the direction of stage left and right respectively. Together, and acapella, they sang ‘The Old Lych Way’, a dark tale of Dartmoor. Their combined voices reverberated spectacularly around the cavernous building.

The band then took to the stage and went straight into a song about quarrymen followed called ‘The Preacher’. And this kind of set the theme for the evening. Set mainly in the corner of England that the band originates from you heard stories of lives and experiences, from a time when people lived and worked off the land and dug out the minerals.

But as always in folk music, there is also a time for compassion and love. And this came in the form of ‘Smile She Said’ and ‘No Secrets’ which also happens to be the title of a book the band have just released that celebrates the Show of Hands history.

During the concert song writer Steve Knightley clearly displayed an affinity with Coventry as he recalled his days of studying at the Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) where he gained a degree. He touched on the days when he ran the folk club there, his rooms of residence being a ‘safe house’ for other musicians travelling through the area. And he remembered well the ‘Parsons Nose’ fish and chip shop and surrounding area where he recalled that it was best to beat yourself up first before you got beaten up anyway.

The band finished off their set in a similar way to which they had started. This time it was an acapello version of ‘Keep Hauling’ where, to be fair, they did encourage audience participation with the chorus. It was a fine ending to a very memorable gig.

Credit must also go to support artist Kirsty Merryn who possesses a delightful voice that, not only accompanied Steve Knightley on one of his songs, but had him doing likewise on one of hers. Kirsty was plugging her debut album ‘She and I’ which celebrates the past lives of prominent women. And she also took advantage of the wonderful acoustics that our wonderful cathedral possesses.

Buildings like these were designed for singing and musical performance. We can only hope that the cathedral continues to further open its doors to encourage the more popular variety to a wider audience.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Crokodile Tears

Crokodile Tears

by Pete Clemons

I recently spent a delightful hour or two in the company of a couple of Coventry musicians who, it is fair to say, have both been at the bedrock of a large part of the local music scene for almost forty years.

We chatted and reminisced about how and where the pair first came to meet up, the bands they have been associated with, and the music they have created from the late 1970s and through to the present day.

But as you will read, and as tends to happen in these situations, a web began to weave around interactions with other bands and other associations they made along the way.

I am talking, of course, about Christopher Sidwell and Alf Hardy – collectively known nowadays as Crokodile Tears. Christopher was born in Meriden but has lived in Coventry for the vast majority of his life while Alf is one hundred per cent Coventry born and bred.

Crokodile Tears could be considered a satirical band. But both Christopher and Alf are very serious musicians although they do enjoy injecting humour into their music. As such, the songs they create are a mixture of serious and tongue in cheek. Alf is a multi-instrumentalist including guitar and keyboard while Christopher plays guitar and, after many years, is now proficient on the Stylophone.

Christopher, for almost all of his life, has been into writing songs and this interest was shaped by his own enjoyment of bands like Pink Floyd, particularly their early sound, and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who combined music with surreal humour. He formed his first band, The Digital Dinosaurs towards the end of the 1970s. Digital Dinosaurs entered a couple of battle of the bands at the ‘Lanch’ which, incidentally, were won by The X-Certs and The Swinging Cats. Although the Digital Dinosaurs were, not so much interested in winning, but more finishing last by creating the worse sound they could manage. John Bradbury, of the Specials fame, drummed on some Digital Dinosaurs album recordings as both Christopher and John had known each other at Binley Park School.

Meanwhile at around the same time one time King Henry VIII pupil, Alf Hardy, was with a band called Johnny Matthews and the Big Time Show Band. This was a performance art band that only played a couple of gigs at venues like Busters and General Wolfe. I did notice a wry smile appear on Alf’s face when he recalled this band.

Alf went onto a band called Evil Wind that tended to move within the club scene at venues like the Hope and Anchor and, later, the Colin Campbell. On one occasion the Digital Dinosaurs were supporting Evil Wind at the Hope and Anchor and toward the end of their set Christopher ended up getting custard pie’d by Alf. Evil Wind, it turned out, was way ahead of their time in terms of Vic Reeves style comedy. Now known as the custard pie incident, this is how Christopher and Alf met. In fact Christopher ended up joining Evil Wind for a short time.

During 1983 Christopher formed his first phase of Crocodile Tears. Initially this was a solo project but then it grew into a duo when Paul Sampson who as well as being a producer, already fronted his own band The Pink Umbrellas, teamed up. The band grew again as, basically, the rest of The Pink Umbrellas, namely Steve Edgson, Robin Hill and Barry Jones also worked with The Crocs. And it was with this extended line-up of Crocodile Tears that released their debut album during 1985. The album itself was recorded at Cabin Studios where Paul Sampson would become the house producer. And despite the Pink Umbrellas disbanding, this format of the Crocodile Tears line up would continue through to around 1986 when phase 3 of the band would begin.

Going back slightly in time to the very early 1980s there was a band around called Hot Snacks (or Snax). When they disbanded, towards the mid-80s, there emerged a song writer called ‘Ollie’ also known as Doc Mustard. You may recall seeing him busking in town with his dog Paxo. Ollie’s song writing led to a musical partnership with Jerry Richards who became known as Doc Mustard and the Colbalt Kid. Ollie (or ‘Doc Mustard’) released the single ‘Nuclear Boogie’. And it was through Doc Mustard and the Colbalt Kid that Alf Hardy first came across Jerry Richards who had arrived in Coventry via Wales at a very young age. Around 1998 Doc Mustard actually helped record and performed on an unreleased second Crocodile Tears album imaginatively called, ‘Crocodile Tears 2’.

The crossing of paths for Jerry and Alf would ultimately lead to the creation of Tubilah Dog who existed between 1985 and 1990. Apart from local gigs Tubilah Dog, who also included during their existence Steve Mills - Vocals, Tim Kelsall - Bass, Andy Copeland - Drums, Mark Bannister - Rhythm Guitar, John Oddy - Bass and Ashley Dreher – Bass, Steve Hands – Drums, quickly established themselves on the free festival circuit alongside bands like Spaceman 3, Suicide and Hawkwind. Tubilah Dog also produced their sole LP the ‘In Search of Plaice’ album. And for those who are familiar with Hawkwind will notice a play on words at work here.

The free festival scene, attended by Tubilah Dog, gave rise to many new alliances. Some of which would continue for years to come. Alf Hardy, for example, linked up with Peter Kember, also referred to as Sonic Boom and best known for being a founding member of the experimental rock band Spacemen 3. After the demise of Spaceman 3 Alf became a part of future Peter Kember projects like Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research (or EAR).

The early 1990s also saw Alf being invited to work as an engineer at Cabin Studios by its original creator Jon Lord, who would eventually take over its day to day running, after Paul Sampson decided to relocate to London. With all these overlapping musical projects it was a busy time for Alf who was also sound engineer at the Stoker on Binley Road. Alf would remain at Cabin till the studios demise during 2008.

During his time at Cabin there were many highlights and Alf remembers names like U.S. band Silver Apples and Black Sabbath lead guitarist Tony Iommi recording there. The lesser known 60’s band The Purple Gang also recorded there with Paul Sampson. As did Bad Manners, which by all accounts, was a great laugh. He even remembers (as does Chris) tripping over Cerys Matthews while she slept in her sleeping bag one morning just as Alf was arriving for work. Her band Catatonia had chosen to record at the venue and had lived in house during the sessions.

Another memorable session at Cabin occurred during 2003 when a band Jerry Richards was associated with, DanMingo chose to record there. Together with Jerry were Steve Swindells, Jon Moss and Winston Blissett each being members of Hawklords, Culture Club and Massive Attack respectively. ‘Shabba Ranks (‘Shabba’) was also present along with an un-named girl singer.

Jerry Richards had met Hawkwind’s Dave Brock at the previously mentioned festivals during 1987 and this meeting led to a collaboration of the two bands known as HawkDog. That initial meeting would prove to be significant and lead to Tubilah Dog supporting Hawkwind on several tours. Later on Jerry was invited by Dave Brock to join Hawkwind as lead guitarist in 1995. This, again, would lead to extensive touring through to 2002. And so the associations continued as Jerry would play bass in Nik Turners band, Space Ritual, following the departure of Dave Anderson. In parallel to a lot of the Hawkwind based activities Jerry also run other ongoing projects such as Earthlab and Paradogs that can be dated back as far as 1992.

And continuing the Hawkwind theme, during 2008, Jerry Richards was instrumental in resurrecting a band closely associated to Hawkwind called Hawklords. Hawklords, a loose collective, were originally active during 1978/79, released an album called ‘25 years On’, and was the last time poet and lyricist Bob Calvert was involved with the band. Joining Jerry in this reformation were Steve Swindells, Harvey Bainbridge, Ron Tree and Dave Pearse. And to this day Hawklords continue to tour and release new music.

But back to Crokodile Tears, and phase 3 of its history. And, for those following this tale then you will have already noticed the, by now, incorrect spelling of the word Crocodile. Christopher, by now, had reinvented the band and his musical partner from the Evil Wind days, Alf Hardy, teamed up with him once more in 1992. To differentiate the phase 1 identity of the band from the phase 2 version, Christopher removed the second ‘C’ and introduced the letter ‘K’ in the word Crocodile. In fact, for the purposes of related artwork the ‘K’ was actually the ‘K’ used on the Special ‘K’ breakfast cereal. Not only that, but for phase 3, ex Digital Dinosaurs guitarist Gordon Francis (The Amazing Gordoni’) and singer Elspeth Whisten (Elli Bongo) began to hook up with the band, further enhancing the bands the bands versatility. Eventually, that difficult second album, titled ‘Dodoism’ emerged for the Croks during 1997. Afterwards, a privately released third album,'Peacrok', was issued to be followed by an album called 'Go for the Jugular' in 2005. This album phase 4 for the band saw them finally hooking up with Jerry Richards when commitments allowed him to.

Since then, things have picked up a pace in terms of recorded releases as The Croks released an album in 2007 called ‘Gullibles travels’, three years later 'Words of Wisdom?' (featuring phase 5 singer Amy McGuigan) followed by ‘If Hippies Ruled the World’ and finally, and most recently, ‘Made in Meriden’.

Mingled within those albums are several Croks songs that even relate to Coventry. These include 'Under the elephant', 'The Merry-Go-Round', 'Gullibles Travels’, 'Cathedral Lanes' and 'Much too good for Foleshill' along with many more. Another song titled ‘My Favourite Weathergirl’ was written about Central TV weather girl Charlie Neil. And what’s more, Charlie was well aware of it – check out her Wiki page. Charlie dropped it into many a conversation.

Alf amusingly describes the style of Croks music as ‘Coventry and Western’. And all in all, The Croks have recorded and released an impressive total of eight albums. Nearly all are still out there in physical format or available to download. And to this day Christopher Sidwell and Alf Hardy continue to play live acoustically as a duo or as a trio with long-time contributor guitarist Jerry Richards.

Christopher always writing and currently and are currently recording as you read this. New songs to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world include ‘Erwin’ and ‘Bobby’. ‘Erwin’ is a song described by Christopher as one ‘I wrote with Alf that shows our softer, more thoughtful side’. He continued ‘I write very differently with Alf’. ‘Bobby’ is a typically daft song that I tend to write on my own, it is a protest song of sorts about ‘comb overs’.

Funnily enough both of these new songs are about fame – something the Croks have yet to experience! Christopher is now retired and spends his time as an artist and as a grandfather. Alf is also retired and in his spare time he creates jingles. But both are still devoted to the Croks, maybe more so now that more time allows. Male crocodiles are, apparently, especially vociferous in their bellowing so who knows what the future holds for this pair of free spirits. A couple of new albums planned for the future ‘Old Skool’ and ‘The End of an Error’ are already in the advanced planning stages……….


Massive thanks to both Christopher and Alf for both their time and contributions in completing this article.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Cavern Club and the Belgrade Theatre

The Cavern Club and the Belgrade Theatre
by Pete Clemons

Hands up. Of all the gigs I attend, I really do enjoy the 1960s package tours. And, judging by their audience sizes, I am not alone. These shows are so popular and I guess that the folk who attend them revisit a period of their younger days listening to the music. I know I certainly do.

A tour recently pulled in at The Belgrade Theatre. And once again it was an absolute delight as the years flooded back. The show titled ‘Rocking and Rolling with Laughter’ had a Liverpool theme to it as it featured original artistes who had performed during the early days of The Cavern Club.

The Dakotas, Billy J Kramer’s original backing group, began the proceedings with songs such as ‘Bad to me’, ‘Do you want to know a secret’ and ‘Little children’. They then backed Victoria Jones who very impressively covered Cilla Black favourites: ‘Alfie’, ‘You’re my world’, ‘Anyone who had a heart’.

One time Opportunity Knocks winner Bernie Flint then took to the stage recounting numerous stories and performing several songs that included his huge seller ‘I don’t want to put a hold on you’.

The Dakotas returned to do the honours as they supported Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley of The Mersey’s as they performed hits like ‘Sorrow’ and ‘So sad about us’.

After a short break The Dakotas opened up once more but this time they performed their own tune, an instrumental called, ‘The Cruel Sea’. They were followed by comedian Mick Miller who certainly entertained the audience for twenty minutes or so.

Finally it was the turn of The Merseybeats to take you back in time as they included their huge sellers ‘I think of you’ and ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’ along with others within their set. Joining them on stage during their set was special guest Beryl Marsden who floored you with songs such as ‘Boys’ and ‘Baby it’s you’. In between songs at one point Beryl, who once supported The Beatles, was trying to remember if she had ever sung in Coventry before. She concluded that she didn’t think she had. But, if you ever read this Beryl, I am sure you once did and that was with Rod Stewart in the band Shotgun Express.

All in all it was a wonderful and well-presented evening. These musicians best days in terms of chart success may have been decades ago but they still know how to entertain.

But what was mystifying was the size of the audience which was a lot less than I had expected given how these gigs are normally attended. As I mentioned earlier, these events tend to sell really well but I couldn’t help thinking about the advertising.

Where normally, with 1960s package tours, the names of the bands appearing are the first thing you see on advertising posters etc. But in the case of this tour the artistes names are buried under a host of words explaining what the show is trying to recreate.

A real pity and an opportunity missed, in my opinion. It was a slight blemish on what had been a hugely enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

YES - at 50

Yes - at 50

By Pete Clemons

Rock band ‘Yes’ have recently entered their 50th year in existence. And to celebrate this remarkable achievement a major tour has been planned for 2018 that, as is normally the case for a Yes tour, will be pulling into Birmingham during March 2018. 

And to be clear, this tour will be the current Yes line up of guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, Geoff Downes on keyboards, Billy Sherwood on bass and vocalist Jon Davison. And not that which is also currently active and includes founder Yes member Jon Anderson along with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin who toured recently under the moniker of ARW.

I mentioned that it is a remarkable achievement, and the above paragraph, is an indicator as to why. Because, as I recall it all and for as long as I have followed Yes, the whole history of the band has been a succession of change. Tour after tour, particularly highlighted in the more recent years, it has been a story of recrimination and change.

That said and putting all of the instability aside, there is no denying, that the one common denominator with Yes is that they have created some of the most ambitious, imaginative and ingeniously memorable music ever produced. And despite all the infighting the band itself has the most incredibly loyal fan base that turn out gig after gig regardless of the personnel involved.

The actual 50th anniversary for Yes will be during August 2018 as it was during August 1968 that Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford first took to the stage under the name of Yes.

Their debut album was released just over a year later and immediately the signs of complex tunes were evident. July 1970 saw the release of the bands second album ‘Time and a Word’. But this time it was clear that the talents of the, by now, primary song writer, Jon Anderson were surfacing. However, no sooner had ‘Time and a Word’ been released than Peter Banks had left to be replaced by Steve Howe.

A trio of albums followed that would define Yes for the rest of their career. ‘The Yes Album’, ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’. For the latter two releases the flamboyant Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye who had left the band during August 1971. And by the time ‘Close to the Edge’ was completed Bill Bruford had left to join King Crimson and was replaced by Alan White.

From the late 1960s the touring schedule for Yes was relentless. Especially, after they had broken into America. And what made their albums all the more remarkable was that they were recorded in between huge tours. A good proportion of these tours in support of ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’ were recorded and this was marked by the release, in May 1973, of the epic triple album ‘Yessongs’.

The hectic touring continued over the course of the next two studio albums, the grandiose ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ a double album of just four tracks and ‘Relayer’. Between these albums and after the ‘Topographic Oceans’ tour Rick Wakeman famously quit the band after apparently deciding that it wasn’t going in the direction he would have liked it to. His replacement on ‘Relayer’ was Patrick Moraz.

There then followed a relative period of calm for the band, as far as Yes albums were concerned. Despite the band still touring, the individual members effectively went their own separate ways in order to complete solo albums. A compilation of early work called ‘Yesterdays’ was released during 1975 though.

Late 1976 saw Yes, with Rick Wakeman back in the fold; regroup for the recording of the ‘Going for the One’ album released during 1977. The same line up also completed the ‘Tormato’ in 1978. And the time taken to tour both of these albums wrapped up the 1970s for the band. These two albums also saw the Yes gain their first real single successes in the UK with ‘Wondrous Stories’ and ‘Don’t Kill the Whale’.

The beginning of the 1980s did not fare well for Yes as a major split appeared that resulted in Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman leaving the band. They were replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes who had just had a hit of their own via a song called ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by a band called Buggles. Yes disbanded soon after this period with Steve Howe and Geoff Downes moving on to form rock band Asia.

In the meantime Chris Squire had resumed work with Alan White and had hooked up with South African guitarist Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye. With songs written for a band called Cinema the band realised that they had not got a distinctive enough vocalist. So in came Jon Anderson, who had been back in contact with Chris Squire. A new album ‘90125’ was released in 1983 along with the unveiling of a whole new Yes. A second album with this line up followed in 1987 called ‘The Big Generator’ and both releases were huge, particularly in the U.S.

1988 saw Jon Anderson leave Yes once more, this time to form Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe. AWBH along with bass player Tony Levin released an album of new material and toured the world with ‘An Evening of Yes Music plus’. With Yes still a working band the use of the Yes name was causing legal issues. During sessions for a second AWBH album, and despite misgivings from various band members, both camps merged. A resulting album ‘Union’ and a huge tour was set for 1991/92 that involved eight prominent members of Yes playing concerts ‘in the round’ where the stage was set up centrally in the auditorium with the audience surrounding it.

A Trevor Rabin dominated Yes album ‘Talk’ followed in 1994 soon after which Rabin himself left the band. 1996 saw Yes relocate to California where the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White performed several shows. From these gigs and along with additional studio sessions of new material a double album ‘Keys to Ascension’ was released. It had been the first time that this quintet had performed together since 1979 and it came with much public approval. So popular, in fact, that a second volume appeared during 1997.

The decade finished with a couple of studio album that included long-time Yes collaborator and producer Billy Sherwood and introduced the Yes world to Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev.

The new millennium opened with the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Khoroshev completing a masterworks tour. The tour, however, concluded with Khoroshev being dismissed from the band. The remaining quartet recorded the album ‘Magnification’ during 2001 and supported it with a symphonic tour of North America and Europe.

2004 saw the band begin a five year hiatus. However during that time Jon Anderson suffered a severe asthma attack during 2008 which resulted in him effectively being left behind when the rest of the band were eager to get Yes up and running again. Since ‘Magnification’ Yes have recorded just two studios albums. ‘Fly From Home’ featuring vocalist Benoit David released 2011 and ‘Heaven and Hell’ in 2014 with Jon Davison on vocals. And sadly, Chris Squire passed away during June 2015.

Written above is a fairly concise and brief overview of the history of Yes and who knows what the future holds for this amazing band. Various band members did regroup, albeit briefly, earlier this year when Yes were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. Whether or not they will do so on stage together again remains to be seen. But at least the music can be celebrated on their separate tours.