Music

Daily Prompt: We Got The Beat

I cannot confess to being the most prolific of bloggers; ever since my employer blocked logging into WordPress my output has practically dried up.  However, I have a day off today with not much organised and I was intrigued by the Daily Prompt post entitled ‘We Got The Beat’ (I’m sure there will be a way of putting a link to that blog here but I have yet to discover how to include it). The post invites bloggers to share their experiences of being in a band, amongst other suggestions, but it was the being in a band aspect which caught my attention and offered me something to do post gym. I was in a band…

As a kid, I could never play a musical instrument although I did fancy myself as a drummer should the opportunity ever present itself to me to actually sit behind a kit and give it a whack. My music taste in my teens rarely ventured further than Rock and the first band I ever went to see was British Rock band UFO at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1978.  in the years to come I would see a multitude of live bands but while most of my peers would handle air guitars I had the knack of being able to switch effortlessly from air guitar to air drum kit whenever a particular fill was required. It was about this time that some fiends and I got together with the intention of forming a band. A couple of mates had acoustic guitars, another had an electric base with an amplifier and I had a dream of playing the drums. The others hooked up primitive pick-ups to their guitars and I began with an up turned wicker basket, a biscuit tin and a couple of wooden spoons as we convened in Rick Gaskell’s bedroom and wrote our first song; Dead Dog – about Tim Farrel’s greyhound. While still at school, another guy in our year suddenly decided he was a fan of Elvis Presley and did as much as he could to look like a 1950s version of him and sing like him. He had got a gig at the annual school Rugby Show and needed a backing band and we were the only potential ‘musicians’ he could call on. At this point it was all systems go as the guitarists went out and bought the best electric guitars they could afford (Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster copies) and I borrowed the school drum kit as the music teacher allowed us to rehearse in the school music room room (in exchange for me attending his weekly Christian Union meetings!) This offered me my first chance to sit behind a drum kit and as you can imagine I beat the living Daylights out of it. Rehearsals continued and we practised 4 Elvis classics for our 10 minute slot which were: Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, Teddy Bear and Hound Dog. The Rugby Show was a 3 night show of performances by each school year predominantly by members of the school rugby teams, although none of us by this time played any rugby. I can vividly remember these 3 ‘gigs’ and just how well they were received. Teaching staff stood at the side of the stage to watch us and people in the audience actually got up out of their chairs and danced. It was quite amazing and our singer, Gary Slack, was a great showman. For the next couple of years we increased our repertoire of songs, mostly 50s rock n roll as we added songs by the likes of Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry amongst others as well as writing a few of our own songs and I had bought my first drum kit for £30 off a guy I met working for a local rose grower and horticulturalist. By now we had a name as we became Gary Slack And The Wild Turtles, or if Gary was feeling particularly empowered he would become Garfield Tremayne. Playing music was a lot of fun and I loved it and we began to develop a bit of a name for ourselves until one day we were invited to a local recording studio in Nottingham called Sin City to cut a demo tape. This whole experience would turn out to be the end of the band as our cheap equipment was shown up for what it was in the sound-proofed environs of the recording studio and although Gary was kept on by the studio the rest of us were unceremoniously dumped.

So we were left with the nucleus of a band but no singer and we all still wanted to carry on. Tim, who had been kicked out of the Wild Turtles in a power struggle with Gary rejoined Phil, Richard and me and we recruited Dave ‘Feathertouch’ Stocker to play drums and I took over the vocals. I could sing a bit and I still do a bit of Karaoke to this day but I wouldn’t get past the first stage of auditions on X Factor even in those days!  We decided to go ‘Rock’ and picked the name Abattoir (seriously) as we learned a number of standard rock songs. We did a couple of school gigs with a set list that included songs such as Smoke on The Water (of course), Status Quo’s Big Fat Mamma (now that was a struggle to sing!), and a few songs mostly written by me and Tim with titles like Suicide, Come On And Get a Down On Me (blush) and Over The Top 1916.  Well, we were naive teenagers at the time!  In some quarters we went down quite well but we were invited to play a couple of gigs, one on an exchange visit to a small French town called Feignies where we blew the electricity as soon as we turned the equipment on and for a charity gig at The Nottingham Royal Concert Hall where I still have memories of the first 3 rows of old age pensioners with their fingers in their ears as we belted out Smoke On The water…oh well.  They were good times and for a  few happy years music dominated my life…more so even than football and I still say now looking back that I would have been quite content to be a drummer in a band living out the back of a van eking out a living.  But I didn’t follow my dream and due largely to parental pressure I settled for a life of what has been for the most part, taken up by dull office jobs, alas. 

I don’t really see any of the guys in the band any more.  Richard, sadly, died in a skiing accident – he was the real musician amongst us, Phil Wright went off to university with his electric guitar and still no doubt knocks out Status Quo riffs from time to time.  Tim, or Tom as I nick-named him, quit university and grew a beard and was last thought to be gutting fish in Holland and I never really know what happened to Dave.  Gary became front of house manager of the The Nottingham Playhouse Theatre and was last known to be making books for deaf people – or something similarly worthwhile.  He never did quite make it to Vegas but although not actually an Elvis impersonator, as they go he was a good one.  Good times and when I think the last time I sat behind a drum kit was 1983 it just shows how long ago it all was – unless you count playing Rock Band on the PS3!

Magaines, Media, Music

I’ve got your music

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Where I live and work in the St Annes-On-The-Sea part of Lytham St Annes, when this supposed summer’s day is beset by strong winds and drizzle, there isn’t really much to do during the lunch break other than have a browse around the local branch of WH Smith. It’s not one of their bigger branches but they sell a selection of books, magazines, cards and stationery, much as you would expect from any branch of the ubiquitous newsagent. I must visit 3 or 4 times a week just to kill a few minutes by browsing a book, flicking through a magazine or scanning a newspaper. It’s repetetive, certainly, and a long stretch from the days when I worked in cities such as Leiceter, Nottingham and Manchester with a myriad of shops and walks to make the lunch hour a worthwhile escape from the goings-on in the office. But if there is one thing that strikes me, even in the modest surroundings of our local ‘Smiths’ is the abundance of music magazines on sale these days. I remember when I was an avid music fan in the 1970’s you were pretty much limited to a choice between the New Musical Express (or NME as it became popularly known), Melody Maker and Sounds. Sounds used to be my paper of choice, delivered by the local newsagent on a Wednesday morning because of its coverage of rock and heavy metal which I was particulalry ‘in to’ at the time. Melody Maker continued to hang on to it’s pre-punk hippy roots and the NME, which by its own admission was late onto the punk scene made over-zealous amends for its past musical lethargy by becoming the paper for punks, post-punks and anything which chimed with two thirds of its abbreviated title, new and musical. There was also The Record Mirror but that didn’t seem to linger for long and if I remember correctly got swallowed up by Melody Maker. With the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, in full swing by the late 70’s and early 80’s, Sounds’s champion of all things heavy, Geoff Barton (or Def Barton to his mates) was the must-read music journo for all things metal back in the day; apart from his habit of awarding any Kiss output, no matter what the quality (Unmasked, anyone?) a fabulous 5 stars out of 5 including two awards of 6 out of 5 (seriously) for 2 of the 4 solo albums the Kiss members produced at the time (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons if I again remember correctly).

By the mid-80s both the Melody Maker and Sounds appeared to have lost their way by hanging on to old trends whilst the NME which managed to keep abreast of the fast pace of youth culture of the period (The Smiths!) and as Melody Maker and Sounds disappeared from our Newsagents’s shelves, The NME had a near monopoly on quality music journalist publication. For the pop afficionados, Smash Hits ruled the shelves but it was the NME which spawned a host of fine writers that achieved the longevity which still sees it appear on our newsagent shelves, albeit in glossy magazine format today. Some of those old NME journalists went on to form new magazines such as Q which now captures that BBC 6 Music audience which crosses the divide between the best music of yesteryear while having the confidence to promote the best and worst of new artists amongst their output. A decade or so ago came magazines like Mojo which seemed to be aimed at the old Melody Maker crowd while readers of Sounds emigrated to its then sister magazine Kerrrang, aimed at the old metal heads. All 3 sit crowdedly vying for space on the shelves of a CTN (concectioner, tobacconist and newsagent) near you! I mean, just look at the photo…there are magazines for every genre of music, new and old, classical and pop with specialist publications for musicians and collectors. God knows what the circulation figures are for Acoustic, but there it sits alongside 4 other specialist guitar magazines…and good luck to it to, it’s good to see a wide range of magazines for sale in a sleepy seaside town catering for all tastes in readership in this digital age.

I don’t buy magazines as often as I’d like but there are some great choices out there amongst the music, fashion, food and lifestyle. I tend to go for Q magazine when I choose a music mag but I’m not an avid reader. The NME is still there even though I last bought it in Christmas 2011 but long may they sit there and be read, championing live and new music because it would be a lot gloomier world without them!

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Live music review

UFO – The Seven Deadly Tour

UFO were the first band I ever went to see live as a callow long haired 15 year old rocker back in July 1978 at the Nottingham Playhouse theatre. The line up that day included 3 of the line up at tonight’s gig at 53 degrees in Preston, namely singer Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist/keyboards Paul Raymond as well as other founder member Pete Way on bass and the mercurial Michael Schenker on lead guitar. Michael Schenker is long gone and tonight’s line up included American Vinnie Moore on lead guitar plus A N Other bassist for hire. I have no idea who was playing bass as he was never introduced but he was a bit younger that the other band members (about 40) but had the skinny black tea-shirted look of a bit of a rock n roll survivor and the sucked in cheek-bones to match – and bad tattoos.

This was my first time to 53 Degrees which is on the edge of the relatively new UCLAN the expansion of which has gone some way into reviving Preston from a decaying Northern town into a slightly more vibrant city and appeared to be a modern, purpose built venue with good eye-lines and decent facilities (bar). Ticket availability on the door suggested the 1,500 capacity venue wasn’t quite sold out but there was a decent sized crowd there to see the band now in their 44th year!

We got there in good time to buy a drink and find a spot to stand before the band came on to open with perennial classic Lights Out. The one thing that immediately struck me was the pace of the song seemed slower than the original album version and other recorded live versions. Perhaps it was no wonder, Phil Mogg (who I recently discovered I share a birthday with) is approaching 65 while Raymond is only two and a half years off his 70th birthday! Lights Out was immediately followed by (think I’ve got this right) Mother Mary and Let It Roll and you suddenly realised you were watching a class act with a brilliant back catalogue of top rock songs. The classics were followed by a couple of new songs from the new album Seven Deadly but bar a track from The Visitor album ‘Hell Driver’ the rest of the set was made up of songs from the classic ‘Schenker’ years all appearing on the magnificent Strangers In The Night love album.

The last time I saw UFO when they reunited with Schenker to tour in about 1995 when Schenker and Pete Way appeared to take centre stage and Mogg very much remained ‘stage rear’ and appeared at times to hold the microphone some distance from his mouth which I felt was to avoid us hearing his struggling vocal. But tonight he was in great form (for his age) definitely leading the band with a great rapport with American guitarist Vinnie More and loud and clear on the vocals. Whereas he’s gone from skinny jeaned chanteur in his older age he’s become camper and grumpy who wouldn’t look out of place doing stand-up in a local comedy club! But it was a nice touch when he remembered a local musician now departed. UFO have had great guitarists in the path so it’s impossible not to compare Moore with his predecessors, especially Schenker and his successor Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman. Chapman gave UFO a sometimes darker feel and also a pop-rock feel especially on the brilliant Wild The Willing And The Innocent album following Schenker’s melodic and thrilling riffs and soloing. Moore appears less fluid that especially Schenker and his CV suggests he’s played at the highest level with, amongst others, Alice Cooper, but never really played in a band at the top table. Not that I know much about guitar playing but I thought he might be a bit of a classicist at heart rather than natural born rocker but there were shades of Schenker when he held his guitar behind his neck and continued with a ripping solo, which it was great to see the mystery bassist joining in with. Perhaps a bit too much reverb on his solo during Rock Bottom and he certainly looked more comfortable playing his own compositions rather than from the UFO back catalogue. Raymond, in spite of his highlights and un-changing hair style looked his age at times and Andy Parker kept a steady beat at the back but there was no reason to fault them musically as they kept faith to the classics.

A great gig, much appreciated by us ageing rockers which also appeared genuinely received by the band members. Long may UFO continue to knock out the classic songs, here is what I remember to be the set list (not necessarily in order):

Lights Out
Mother Mary
Let It Roll
Cherry
Only You Can Rock Me
Hell Driver
Love To Love
Too Hot To Handle
Rock Bottom
Fight Night
Burn Your House Down
Wonderland
Encore: Doctor Doctor and Shoot Shoot