Over the course of the coming year there will be a deluge of Beatles-themed films, books, radio programmes, articles and blogs all celebrating the fifty year anniversary of the Fab Four’s part in the changing of the world from a monotone of sour-faced austerity to one of exploding colour, fun and fine tunes. It has become common for lazy pop-cultural commentators to quote a line of Larkin about the ‘first Beatles LP’ in order to qualify the mistaken view that the loveable mop tops changed the world for ever. As with most revisionist views of the way things were (and nostalgia sure ain’t what it used to be) there is a grain of truth in the idea that a shake of the head and a Little Richard-style ‘woooo’ knocked the old order off it’s perch. However, there had been a few, admittedly non-musical, iconoclasts and disruptive influences to have shook things up before Brian Epstein put his Liverpudlian boys into nice suits.
As odd as it may now seem, the four collar-length haired, besuited satirists of Cambridge and Oxford who constituted the parts of Beyond The Fringe laid major groundwork for the Beatles to follow them. The irreverent, mocking humour of Alan, Jonathan, Peter and Dudley transferred seamlessly from Edinburgh in 1960, via London’s West End to America and a sold out Broadway run in 1962 (even President JFK took in a performance). That was almost two years before John, Paul, George and Ringo made their jokey first US appearance on American soil, of course.
Of the Beyond The Fringe quartet, Cook and Moore went on to occupy similar territory to the Beatles over the course of the 1960s with a series of television and cinema performances that offended and delighted in almost equal measure. The Pete & Dud dialogues of 1964 have been copied by scores of comedy double acts over the past five decades, while their psychedelic farce Bedazzled (1967) has been remade (in 2000) and continues to be referenced by successive generations of artists and performers in their own work. Peter Cook’s founding of the Establishment Club and its in-house journal Private Eye ensured his place in the counter-cultural pantheon of damaged idols, while Dudley Moore’s unlikely Hollywood success has meant that far less talented Brits since have managed to (at least) remake his hits in LA, thus gaining themselves access to starlets and celebrity gossip columns.
After the death of Cook in 1995, his erstwhile comedy partner Moore suffered ill health (including a series of strokes) and during increasingly rare public appearances he seemed to be drunk, and was almost incoherent: in fact, as he announced in 1999, he was suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy. Dudley died in 2002. In 1999 we commissioned a biography of Pete & Dud from the London Evening Standard comedy editor, Alexander Games. A fan and one-time Private Eye contributor, Games set about his task with determination, flair and affection. We are delighted to be republishing that text, with minor additions to update it, as an eBook.
What follows is an extract from the introduction to Pete & Dud, by Alexander Games:
At the time of my first writing this, Dudley Moore was days away from his 64th birthday. The frailties inevitable for a man of his generation were showing: his one-time mate Anthony Newley had just died and the health of Dudley Moore had become the subject of some debate, not to say concern. Dudley’s movements were a mystery – even, some say (though his closest friends denied it with strenuously veiled hints), to himself. Ex-wives and friends who had known him from the time he was a virgin – and that was a long time ago – admitted they didn’t know where he was, couldn’t get in touch with him, hadn’t spoken to him for almost two years. Was he in hospital or with friends? Was his infirmity a media myth? Which was the greater tragedy: Peter Cook’s premature death or Dudley Moore’s then-ragged survival?
This book aims to be, for the most part, a celebration of the two of them, in performance. Happy together, unhappy together, bickering or jointly holidaying, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were one of the entertainment world’s most distinctive double acts. They had an instinctive on-stage empathy, and yet they could go six months without seeing each other. They created two characters, Pete and Dud, who delved into their own personal histories for subject matter, and yet in private they often found conversation hard going. Physically, only a foot separated the men — Dudley’s diminutive five feet two-and-a-half inches tucked under Peter’s beanpole six-foot-two — however, emotionally as well as mentally they were miles apart. It was a strange symbiosis. Double acts often make a feature of their differences. From Laurel and Hardy to Morecambe and Wise via Abbott and Costello, physical differences throw up a mass of comic potential. But with Cook and Moore it went way beyond that. Peter’s father was a colonial governor who spent a lot of time in Africa; Dudley’s father was a railway electrician who spent too much time in Dagenham. Peter boarded at Radley; Dudley walked the few hundred yards each day to Dagenham County High School. Peter was fit, and good at football. Dudley, agonisingly, was born with a withered left leg at the end of which was a club foot. He was extraordinarily gifted at music, though, through which he won a scholarship to Magdalen College Oxford. Peter could not hold a tune in his head, but his quick wits won him a place at Cambridge. They came together to create Beyond The Fringe in 1960, with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. The rest is history, but the non-parallels don’t end there.
The twinkly-eyed Dudley had, as Jonathan Miller told The South Bank Show, ‘an almost pagan, Pan-like capacity to enchant ladies’, which, of course, led to him being labelled with the ‘cuddly Dudley’ or ‘sex thimble’ moniker. Peter, who early on wished he could play someone his own age instead of a 55-year-old, made a feature of his expressionless face for comic effect, and seemed more aloof, even a trifle cold. Both had some sexual adventures – Peter had three marriages to Dudley’s four – but whereas Dudley believed in ‘the meaningful one-night stand’, Peter was essentially the marrying kind. Dudley spent much of his life in therapy and talked about himself a lot, on stage or in interviews. Peter was, to most people, most of the time, a closed book who thought psychiatry and psychotherapy rather ridiculous.
Essentially, Cook was a wit and Moore was a clown. Cook had a satirical or political side (Private Eye and the notorious but short-lived Establishment Club) in which Moore never took an interest. But whereas Moore achieved success as an actor, Cook struggled with anything longer than a short sketch. Cook didn’t make it as a screen actor, and he said he never wanted to live in Hollywood. Moore became a top Hollywood actor and one of Tinseltown’s best-known residents.
Even their vices divided them. With Peter, it was the bottle: in Dudley’s case, it was the lure of the Hollywood lifestyle, with many of its attendant vices. At every stage, one seemed to be the antithesis of the other. In a sense, it was their differences that drew them together.
Following Cook’s death the impression persisted on TV, radio and in the Press that he and Dudley had done their best work in the Sixties. Cook and Moore’s renaissance as Derek & Clive received scant coverage. There are good reasons for this, since not everyone might appreciate sketches that contain explicit references to hand-jobs, blow-jobs and colonic cancer. But I felt then, and still do, that the Derek & Clive oeuvre had been undervalued. Even when Harry Thompson and Barbra Paskin’s biographies were published, they pretty much endorsed Private Eye editor Ian Hislop’s line that ‘It was rubbish. It was Peter and Dudley swearing at each other in a studio.’ For me, and for thousands more, Derek & Clive were a revelation.
Obviously, I was a gauche teenager when those records appeared in the Seventies, but they have never lost their gaudy allure. To hear two famous comedians abusing each other was utterly liberating. They also, I would maintain, enfranchised a whole section of working-class society, giving it a comic voice which had been overlooked by middle-class comedians for years. Back in the Sixties, at the art gallery, the zoo, on the bus, at the library looking up the most disgusting word in the world (which, as Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran and Rik Mayall of the sitcom The New Statesman will be able to tell you, is ‘B’stard’) Pete and Dud are permanent outsiders, looking in at a world they don’t understand and trying to make sense of it. Derek & Clive, by contrast, have entered the world, or have constructed their own distorted likeness of it, and they are its legitimate occupants.
Derek & Clive recognised the simple but overlooked fact that ordinary people swear a fuck of a lot, but the way that Cook – especially Cook – uses language is so casually evocative that he achieves something that surpasses mere obscenity. One only has to listen to the scores of imitations which this album spawned – especially, though they deny it, the ‘Head To Head’ series by Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones – to see that talking seriously about stupid subjects is not at all easy, and in the hands of lesser talents merely sounds stilted and pointless.
There is much else to enjoy in the Cook and Moore canon — I look forward to humming the praises of a marvellous if under-appreciated song called ‘Isn’t She A Sweetie?’ — but I sincerely hope to explain why, for example, ‘Having A Wank’ is such a great sketch.
Dudley Moore once described himself and Peter Cook as being ‘diametrically opposed in everything’. Peter Cook went further, describing his working relationship with Dudley Moore as ‘the worst kind of polite marriage: you sort of sit round, and neither of us is really very good at coming out with what we really think.’
This book is an appreciation of that marriage.
Neil Young’s autobiography has doubtless been a common gift this Season for fans of the great Canadian musician, inventor and musical pioneer. The illustrated biography that we created for an American publisher this year reminded us of how intriguing and unusual a career Young has had. After enjoying early success with Buffalo Springfield, then with CSN and as a solo performer by 1973 he had made enough out of the mainstream music scene that he could trawl the outer edges of it for a while (to paraphrase something he has said in the past).
At the turn of the century we were lucky enough to have worked with the London-based writer and editor Steve Grant on a book titled Essential Neil Young, in which he set out his favourite Young tracks and the personal reasons for his admiration of them. The book is unique and unapologetic in its singular devotion to the music of Neil Young that the author has found, in the course of three decades of Young-listening, to be most important to him. We are very pleased to be able to make the book available in electronic form, and to give you a taster of the content, here is an extract from one of the perhaps surprising entries, on a track titled ‘Sample And Hold’, from the much derided Neil Young album, Trans, which was released almost exactly 30 years ago.
‘Dinosaurs in the computer age.’ Thus spake Neil Young for his Transband at the end of several concerts on the European tour of 1982, the first live concert journey that Young had undertaken since Rust Never Sleeps four years earlier. The decision to choose Europe could be explained thus: Young’s European fans had missed out then and Europe in general, and Germany in particular, where the tour climaxed, was the home of the computerized sound that was to dominate his creativity during this Trans-sitional time.
The musical influence of the visionary Dusseldorf outfit Kraftwerk cannot be underestimated here. The band formed by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider and three cohorts in Dusseldorf in 1969 had dented the US album charts in May of 1981 with Computer World, a clear homage to which was to appear on Trans, Young’s first album for his new label Geffen, in his song Computer Age. Kraftwerk’s status in pop history is substantial: between Autobahn in 1974 and The Mix in 1991, Hutter and Schneider developed a method where music wasn’t so much created as constructed. By the late 1990s their influence on modern music encompassed everything from electro and techno to house and ambient, and the output of everyone from Portishead, Orbital, Inner City, Leftfield and Prodigy, to LFO and Underworld.
Kraftwerk’s influence is at the musical heart of Trans, which is dominated by five tracks all employing computerized effects and the vocal distortions of the vocoder, a small machine attached to a microphone wire which could feed the human voice into a computer and allow it both the freedom of a four-octave range and the perfection and elongation of machine-made sound. In August 1981, Young bought himself a vocoder and started to record a group of songs that were to eventually appear on Trans, initially in his own upgraded studio, improved to take into account the restrictions in his professional life imposed by his son Ben’s learning disabilities. Here, then, we have another and more poignant link to Young’s thinking at the time: unsatisfied with some of the tracks he was laying down for the eventually discarded Islands In The Sun album, clearly nervous about being left behind as a 1970s rock dinosaur, looking for a new musical direction, what was more natural than to follow one integral to his early attempts to communicate with his son?
Young has said that the vocoder, with its ethereal, inhuman distortions reminiscent of Sparky’s Magic Piano, had allowed him to communicate with Ben, hence the hidden meanings behind a track like Transformer Man, where the computer literally electrifies the listener. If you have any doubts, try playing Transformer Man to a group of small children and watch their faces light up. Amazingly, Like A Hurricane doesn’t have the same effect.
The 1980s did mark a massive advance in computer technology in all fields, from air travel and home entertainment (VCRs, video games) to movies and medicine; and Trans, with its own take on an alien yet familiar computer-robot world, is surely influenced by Young’s experiences in hospital where so many doctors and paramedics were walking around just so ‘this kid could push a button’. As well as the statement of intent that is Computer Age, and the distinctive and personal Transformer Man, Young recorded three other vocoderized tracks for Trans, plus a halfway house retake on Mr Soul in which he sings a synthesized duet with his own natural voice. We R In Control is very much a homage to his old pals from Akron, Ohio, Devo, with its repeated slogans and jerky, rather threatening tempo, by far the least benign take on the invasion of machines. Computer Cowboy (aka Skycrusher) is an oddball, amusing retread of Frankie Laine country and western terrain, reminiscent not only of Young’s efforts on the soundtrack of the moribund film, Where The Buffalo Roams (1980), but of the 1973 mega-hit flick, Westworld, with its powerful image of Yul Brynner’s animatronic gunslinger on his own route to murderous mayhem. It has one of the funniest moments in the Young canon in its eery, synthesized cowboy chant: ‘Come a ky ky yippee yi yippee yi ay’.
But the highlight of this album, which is fatally diluted by some of the remaining tracks, is Sample And Hold, a very fine pop song in its own right, released as a disco 12-inch single with Mr Soul on the reverse, the disco version much heavier on drum machine and bass but with a nice trickle of churning, gruff guitar midway through. Sample And Hold has a superb, instantly catchy riff, heralded by Young’s one-string guitar invocation and features some splendidly theatrical vocal interplay on vocoders between Young and Nils Lofgren. Most splendidly, Sample And Hold is a very funny song, dealing with computer dating, not the kind where humans feed names and details into a machine but where the machines are the obscure objects of desire themselves. ‘I need a unit to sample and hold,’ Young demands in a dramatically deepened voice, thus showing why the computer sound of Trans is as much about distortion as about clarity, about language as a barrier as much as an avenue of communication.
Young has admitted in interview that at this time he was as interested in hiding his true state of mind behind his music as in revealing it to his fans. In four different versions of this song that I’ve heard, two recorded, two live, the words change subtly: Young doesn’t want an ‘angry’, ‘lonely’, lovely’, or could it be ‘hungry’ model; in concert in West Berlin he added ‘jealous’ to the range of adjectives. And is it a model which ‘you desire’, ‘you designed’, or simply ‘a new design’? This is a deceptively clever song which reminds me both of Paul Verhoeven’s classic film Robocop (admittedly not to be released for another five years!) and Bryan Forbes’ 1974 The Stepford Wives. ‘Satisfaction guaranteed in every detail,’ promises Lofgren’s dehumanized, angelic voice. ‘We know you’ll be happy,’ the manufacturers promise, unconvincingly but sincerely.
There’s a paradox here: computerized sound as a perfect musical method, love as a perfect state, but despite the good intentions of all concerned, happiness is unattainable merely through the consumer’s specifications. In Robocop (1987), Peter Weller’s robot law enforcer breaks down when he realizes he has known love and happiness in an earlier human form, and Sample And Hold shows the unbreachable gap between the slick world of technological precision and the complex reality of human relations. That isn’t to gainsay its awesome, still potent appeal as an easily addictive piece of early 1980s pop funk.
We hope you’re enjoying this special time of gift giving, and we’d like you to accept this gift from us: a free e-book, Gorm Henrik Rasmussen’s critically acclaimed biography of Nick Drake, Pink Moon.
Pink Moon was the first biography of Nick Drake, though from 1980 until now it was only available in Danish. It remains the only account to include exclusive interviews with the singer’s parents, Rodney and Molly Drake.
This year we published the book in English for the first time. Gorm Henrik also took the opportunity to significantly update his work to reveal more from his visits with the Drakes at their home in Far Leys and from Nick’s friends of the time.
It is a wonderful book that deserves a wider readership, so while it usually sells for £6.50 or $10.40 we are making the e-book available to you for free on Amazon until Saturday. Have a read and if you like it, please tell your friends about it.
You can download it directly to your Kindle, or to a whole range of Apple, Windows and Android devices via the Kindle application. Check out Amazon’s help pages for more information on using Kindle and the Kindle applications, and don’t forget to let us know what you think of the book on Facebook and Twitter.
…and a Rocket 88 new year!
It’s nearly a year since Rocket 88 took flight with Pink Moon as our launch title. Since then, we’ve marvelled at the art and music of eighties icons Talk Talk, been charmed by teenage Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, and immersed ourselves in the lavish official biography of Fairport Convention. We finished the year with a look at the music of Neil Young and the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
There’s much, much more to come in 2013, so please join us for the ride! In the mean time, we wish you a restful festive season and happy reading.
If you’ve just taken delivery of our limited edition official Fairport Convention book, Fairport by Fairport, you’ll hopefully have appreciated the glorious specially commissioned cover artwork by Croatian-based illustrator Eugen Slavik.
We worked closely with Eugen over a period of several months to create the final design. Starting from an initial brief, Eugen drew countless pencil sketches before digitising the design into a file we could print from.
That colour artwork uses a grand total of five separate inks, which are screen printed onto the special cloth in which the hardback book is bound. We also did multiple proofs to make sure we were happy with the finished effect. It’s a very different process from the way most books are printed, but we think it was worth the effort.
The cover design is complimented by a series of fourteen one-colour illustrations Eugen created to announce the beginning of each chapter. Like the text, they are printed in a brown Pantone ink. You’ll also find Eugen’s original work on the spine, back cover, endpapers and accompanying DVD.
The images below give you an idea of how the design evolved – but first, here’s what Eugen himself has to say about it.
I was very pleased with the offer that I got from Michael at Rocket 88: “We really liked the style of your Little Marko series – especially the Green Tree. I’m currently looking to commission a cover illustration for a book about the English folk / rock band Fairport Convention…”
For a long time, busy with other sorts of projects, I wasn’t doing what I love most – book illustrations. And the work that had attracted Rocket 88’s attention was one of my favourites – the illustrations for a book of Balkan folk tales called Little Marko. And of course, illustrating a book about Fairport Convention was a big reason for me to take on the commission, Fairport being such legendary figures on the music scene.
The idea was to represent the band’s long and complex history and the connection to Fairport’s English folk roots through the motif of a grand oak tree, with all its branches.
At that time I lived in a city, surrounded by concrete and dense traffic, with not a single oak tree in sight. Generally, for a long period, I had missed being close to nature, so it happened that, in the middle of the process of creating these illustrations, my family and I decided to move away from the city and relocate to a small village in Istria, with old, stone houses on top of the hill and plenty of beautiful oak trees around it. The place is magical, it looks as if you could expect the Green Man or Reynard the Fox to jump out in front of you any moment… It was very inspiring.
My collaboration with Rocket 88 was excellent. I was particularly surprised and pleased at the moment when they sent me a note that the band members have personally approved my artwork, I had no idea that the book was supposed to be done in such close interaction with the band.
In the end, the result of it all is this beautiful and momentous book.
As Fairport By Fairport is about to be released, we thought you might like to read some alternative text from the book. Here is an extract that appears in a differently edited form in the finished book. The band members recall their return to playing live at the same venue from where they were returning when the fatal crash which claimed the lives of two people happened:
November 2, 1969
It was Dave Pegg’s birthday and he’d booked himself a night off from his busy schedule. Aside from being a full time member of The Ian Campbell Folk Group, he was also regularly playing bass on recording sessions and sitting in informally with rock bands run by his friends on the Brum Beat scene. For the past few weeks, he had been rehearsing with a new band named The Beast, a trio he formed with Clem Clempson and Cozy Powell.
PEGGY We were a power trio! Three mates who liked playing together. We rehearsed a lot but the band never played a gig.
Peggy could have chosen to stay home and watch telly that night. Like most young people, he had been won over by the iconoclastic new comedy series that had just reached its fifth episode. Despite being advertised in the Radio Times however, the latest edition of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was suddenly rescheduled. So, instead he decided to go hear some live music played by Fairport Convention. It’s the first time he had seen the band; he was there because Dave Swarbrick, who he knew from The Ian Campbell Folk Group, had just joined the group. It was, of course, the first time the band had played Mother’s since the fatal events of May 11. Six months apart, the two setlists had nothing in common. That November night the band played music from its forthcoming album and Peggy, like the rest of the audience, was hearing something entirely new. This was music deeply rooted in the kind of traditional music he was playing with Ian Campbell, but played in an electric context reminiscent of the bands he had played with before becoming the bass player with Britain’s most successful folk group.
PEGGY Of course, I didn’t know that I’d be joining the band in a couple of months. I was aware they were playing something that was innovative. I knew Sandy by reputation: she was a great singer. Swarb was familiar because of the Campbell connection: I found it quite funny: he was being a rock star. Then there was Richard’s playing: I had started out as a lead guitarist and Richard was one of the best. I kept hoping he’d play a solo, but of course he didn’t. The instrumental stuff was with Swarb.
One of the songs he heard was “a long ballad about sex and murder which led into a very fast reel.” It was his first encounter with ‘Matty Groves’.
ASHLEY In the six months between those two gigs at Mother’s so much changed. There were the obvious things, such as DM being Martin’s replacement, Swarb now a full-time member of the band, and the change in repertoire, playing the folk-rock set whereas before it had been more American-influenced. But they were the superficial changes.
RICHARD We’d done a lot of growing up in a very short space of time. It was a rapid maturing process.
ASHLEY We were very aware of what we were trying to do. Most groups have never had the chance to do that. They are swept along with the tide of success. One thing leads to another. You play local gigs. Someone asks you to play bigger gigs. Perhaps you get work on radio or television, or a recording contract. Maybe that leads to a hit. And so on. We had just had a hit of course, but deciding to make Liege & Lief and to go out and play that music…. to decide to carry on being Fairport Convention was very much a conscious decision.
SIMON What happened made us very aware of our mortality. Not many people of our age have the kind of experience that makes you realise how fragile, how tenuous life is. That applied to us as individuals; it also applied to our band. We had invested time, energy and careers in making Fairport our full time career. We had to decide whether the band was going to die.
ASHLEY I suppose you could say we eased ourselves back into performing live. You have to remember that, quite apart from all the music being new – to us as well as to the audience – we also had two new members.
It would have been easy for Fairport to fill their diary. They could take up bookings they had been forced to cancel. Given the hugely supportive attitude to the band, any venue would have welcomed them; there was probably not a band in the country who wouldn’t have stood down from a gig to create an opportunity for Fairport to play. They chose to be selective, though and played a very limited number of gigs in the last two months of 1969.
SANDY We were all nervous. We all had our own reasons for that. I had no idea how Fairport’s audience would react to listening to narrative songs with thirty odd verses.
RICHARD Apart from those couple of gigs with Sandy in the States, we hadn’t played in public for nearly half a year. We weren’t out of practice because we played every day at Farley, but returning to the stage after time off always gives you butterflies.
For the two Daves, Mattacks and Swarbrick, the situation was different. This was their real debut with the band (a mimed appearance on TV hardly counted). Both were experienced musicians, but appearing with Fairport took them way out of their comfort zone.
DM Most of my previous work had been in dance bands – ‘Come Dancing’ sort of stuff. Nobody notices the drummer in that situation unless you get it wrong. Rock is different. Added to that I was replacing Martin: that ensured that fans would have mixed feelings about me.
SWARB I’d only ever played folk. Fairport’s music was, of course, folk-based, but it was electric and loud. That’s a real oil and water situation.
PEGGY I’d never seen Fairport before that night, but like everyone else I was aware of the significance of that gig. It must have taken a lot of courage to go back there – a lot of ghosts…one in particular.
DM It was strange joining Fairport. It was different from anything I’d done before. The circumstances were the worst possible, of course. I don’t know whether there was any uncertainty about the band’s future: certainly that was not discussed. They did their best to make me welcome and include me, but that night things felt strained – not with me particularly, just among the band.
SANDY That was the night we really had to confront the fact that Martin was no longer with us…..“No longer with us.”
We’re almost ready to start shipping our official Fairport Convention book Fairport by Fairport, and we’re thrilled to see that the advance unbound proof copies that we sent out of this luxury book and DVD set have gained some fantastic reviews. Here’s the first, from Record Collector magazine.
Fairport By Fairport
Fairport Convention, With Nigel Schofield ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rocket 88, £45
ISBN 9781906615475, 432 pages
From Muswell Hill to Cropredy &endash; in their own words Any attempt to encompass the 45-year history of any group will be fraught with difficulties and call for tough executive decisions. When that group is Fairport Convention, renowned for having travelled a rocky road strewn with line-up changes, tragedies and a variable musical catalogue, those concerns will be amplified, to say the least.
This deluxe book gathers together band member quotes from a long series of interviews by Schofield, editing them into a band narrative that will delight the faithful. A cohesive voice rises to the top, telling the story of a group that’s faced many difficulties, yet survived them all to become the national treasures they are today. With input from most band members both past and present, some outside thoughts come with quotes from John Peel, Robert Plant, Joe Boyd and even Ken Russell, who filmed Fairport at their Cropredy Festival for his 1997 documentary In Search Of The English Folk Song.
Printed in an initial run of just 2,000, this lavish book is bound in silk-screened buckram cloth and is signed by the current configuration of the group. There’s also a 60-minute DVD documentary, specially commissioned for the project, which can be ordered from fairportconventionbook.com. Kingsley Abbott
And here’s the review from Shindig! magazine, by Richard Allen:
Fairport By Fairport
One third of the way into this book you realise that Fairport Convention was not just an English folk-rock band. Fairport By Fairport isn’t merely an exploration of the career of a group of musicians, it’s also a historical perspective on the reinvention of English folk music of the 19th and early 20th centuries that took place in a few weeks of inspired genius that became Liege & Lief. That single moment changed the lives of a band and their audience and probably the topography of the British musical landscape forever.
Fairport are in many ways, like the Grateful Dead, a band who become more than just a band; a life-affirming family bound by a tradition made of music. Nigel Schofield has done justice to his subject. Years of finely aged interviews with every Fairport member – along with a number of musical and professional associates and admirers – have been opened up and woven into a gripping narrative tale. From Fairport’s beginnings in a rehearsal house in London through the tragedy of a motorway accident that nearly destroyed them, to the band’s rejuvenation of the UK folk idiom, the book is filled with the various comings and goings of a bewildering array of some of Britain’s finest musicians. It’s a tale of high and lows and of a varied and ever inventive career culminating in the creation of Cropredy – the best annual folk festival in the world – and a canon of music that has entered the tradition.
Schofield’s personable, fireside style carries the reader through a story spiced with the reminiscences of Sandy Denny, Simon Nicol, Ric Sanders, Dave Swarbrick, Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Judy Dyble and many others. Details of each album, and where relevant an analysis of its significance, give a fascinating insight into the song’s writing process and origins of the band’s material, interspersed with the author’s own personal memories as well as those of colleagues, including Robert Plant, John Peel and Joe Boyd, this is a real insight into the evolution of the truly unique phenomenon that is Fairport. Richard Allen
On Thursday 22nd November 2012 Glen Matlock will be reading from I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, playing a few songs accompanied by himself on acoustic guitar, taking questions and signing copies of the book at Rough Trade East in London. It’ll be a rare opportunity to see and hear the former Sex Pistol recalling details from that time so very long ago now which began when he got a job as a Saturday lad at Malcolm McLaren’s Let It Rock shop on London’s King’s Road. Glen’s not only a great performer but he’s also hugely entertaining when talking with an audience and reading his autobiography, which somehow becomes vividly alive when he’s in full flow.
There’s a lot in the book that is unexpected, and we won’t spoil too many surprises for anyone who hasn’t read it before, and perhaps none more so than the revelation of musical influences on the band. While we all know about the Small Faces and Faces being an inspiration to Glen (as well as Steve and Paul), and you might know about John having ‘auditioned’ by singing along with the jukebox in Malcolm’s shop as it played The Monkees’ ‘Stepping Stone’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen’, what I’d missed was that each member had other, more exotic tastes. A lot of what was written about the band in the music press and then national dailies in 1976 was supposition and invention, much of it encouraged by McLaren who was eager to be seen as the pop Svengali that he most certainly wasn’t, and among the assumptions made about the band was that they couldn’t play ‘properly’, that they couldn’t write songs (the rumour had it that Jamie Reid wrote the lyrics) and that they were merely copying past musical innovators.
None of that came anywhere near approaching the truth of the matter. As Glen writes in a chapter appropriately titled Tin Pan Alley, ‘When people write about the Pistols they often draw tenuous links with things back in history. But it was all so much more immediate the that. We were kids who were listening to the music of the day. We all had our own little pet bands which took us back a bit into history, but mostly it was solidly contemporary. John, for instance, had Van der Graaf Generator. I had Can, Steve The New York Dolls, and Paul Be-Bop Deluxe and Roxy Music. The riff in ‘No Future’—or God Save The Queen’ as it came to be known—is directly from the seventies and not the fifties. It’s The Spiders From Mars, not Eddie Cochran.’
Take a moment to study that list of bands. Johnny Rotten was a fan of an esoteric prog rock band who, although British, had a major following in Italy and, er, nowhere else. Van der Graaf Generator wrote songs that read like sci-fi novels and featured long and intricate drum solos. In 1976 they’d released World Record, which includes one 20-minute track titled ‘Meurglys III (Songwriter’s Guild)’ and four other tracks that are between 6:30 and 10 minutes long. Glen’s admiration of Can is unexpected, too. A German ‘experimental’ rock group who somehow managed to avoid being labelled as prog, they nevertheless recorded some challenging material. Their 1975 album Landed had been accepted by punks as being cool because of its unconventional sounds and raw edges, as did 1977′s Saw Delight which also boasts great cover artwork and a jangling punk-funk sound. Be-Bop Deluxe fitted into the ‘experimental rock’ genre, too although it’s tempting to think that Paul Cook’s interest in the band came initially because of the cover of their 1976 album, Sunburst Finish.
As well as the contemporary sounds being listened to by the Pistols in 1976, there was Malcolm’s jukebox, of course. On it were the singles of the 1960s that came to be a source of rehearsal material for the band, and sometimes stage material, too (as bootlegs of the band recorded at the time testify). As well as ‘Stepping Stone’, the band played the Small Faces’ ‘What You Gonna Do About It’, The Who’s ‘Substitute’ and Dave Berry’s ‘Don’t Gimme No Lip Child’ in public, and as Glen reveals in I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, The Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’s ‘He’s A Raver’ in rehearsals. The inclusion of the latter track was done apparently simply to wind up Rotten, who hated it and thought it a mistake to cover the song. Glen writes that he, Cook and Jones all pretended that the were going to play ‘Raver’ the first time the Pistols appeared at the 100 Club. Glen writes that, ‘Although we’d convinced him we were going to do ‘He’s A Raver’ he kept saying “I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it, I’ll walk off stage.” So, in the end we let him off the hook and agreed not to do it—but only at the very last minute’.
As it turned out, Rotten did walk off stage that night, but not because the band launched into ‘He’s A Raver’. To find out why you’ll have to turn up on Thursday night at Rough Trade East…
In this exclusive extract from his recently re-issued autobiography I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock remembers Sid Vicious and the night they formed Vicious White Kids:
After I left, the band became just what Malcolm thought they should. They were the Sex Pistols as a cartoon strip. A band of caricatures, where it doesn’t really matter who’s in the band or plays what. Which isn’t the truth, of course. If Malcolm really thought for one second about why the Pistols’ status and legacy is so great, with people still writing and thinking about them, he’d realise that the cartoon strip idea is so much garbage. The idea of the Pistols lasted so long because of the band’s strength of character. It was a real triumph of content over style. The Pistols were so much more than just another Joe Meek/Larry Parnes-style package. They weren’t just another offering from the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice. But that’s the way Malcolm liked to pitch it. And Sid being brought into the band is the obvious example of that attitude. Even at the time, Malcolm knew full well Sid couldn’t play at all. None of the band realised the long-term effect that would have.
John was happy to have Sid in the band because Sid was his mate. Instead of him against Steve and Paul, it would become him and Sid against Steve and Paul. He always thought in terms of opposing camps and he always had to have his camp allied with him. ”Now I’ll have Sid on my side,” he thought, “plus the fact I’m cleverer than Steve and Paul, I’ll certainly win.” But, of course, it didn’t work out that way. Steve and Paul, I don’t think they thought it through at all. Not even Sid not being able to play. John easily swallowed Malcolm’s line about how musical ability was irrelevant because he was only a vocalist and couldn’t play anything anyway. But Steve and Paul also fell for the line—which is a pity, because they could play well, and by accepting Malcolm’s view they were decrying their own talent.
In fact, despite what a lot of other people might think, I always felt I got on fine with Sid. Shortly after he got the OK to join the band I bumped into him in The Roxy. “How are you getting on with the bass?” I asked. “Bit slow”.
So I offered to give him some lessons. “Really?”
“I don’t see why not,” I said.
“Aren’t you pissed off that I’m in the band instead of you?”
“No,” I said, “not particularly. I’d had enough. Give me a call if you want some help on the bass.” But he never called.
I didn’t see him again till maybe a year later, when I saw him in the Warrington, a pub in Maida Vale, where both he and I lived at the time. “What’s all this,” he said, “about people not thinking we’re mates? We’re mates, aren’t we?”
“Of course, Sid, we get on alright, don’t we?”
“Yeah, course we do. So what are we gonna do about all these people thinking we don’t?” He thought a bit. Then he said, “We could do a gig.”
I was up for that.
“I’m going to America soon, you now. This is the last time I’ll be in England. I’ll be dead by the time I’m 21.”
“Sid, that really is a fine thing to say when you’re just trying to have a quiet drink with someone. But, this gig. If you’re really up for it, I’ll get a band together.”
“Scabies on drums,” I suggested.
“I like Scabies,” he said, “Good drummer. He hits them hard.”
“Steve New on guitar?”
“I like Steve,” he said. “One thing though; if you’re a bass player and I’m a bass player—then who’s going to play bass?”
“Well, let me put it this way, Sid, I’m certainly not going to sing.”
“Who’s going to sing then?”
“How about you sing and I play bass?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, “I get it.”
So we did a show together. We called ourselves The Vicious White Kids—it was an amalgamation of all our names, of course. Steve New and I were in the Rich Kids. Scabies at that time had a band called The White Cats. And Sid was Sid … I could never work him out. A lot of people thought he was stupid, but he wasn’t. He was very intelligent but talked like he wasn’t. He just wasn’t very articulate. Personally, I could never work out what he was so unhappy about. Strangely enough, I didn’t really get to know him till after he joined the Pistols. Before that he was just one John’s entourage. He’d come to all our gigs and he’d come into the shop now and again. And he’d wear those horrible jelly shoes, just like John …
The gig itself was good… I really enjoyed playing—even though I was pissed out of my head and we did the same set of songs three times in a row. We played The Stooges’ ‘Search And Destroy’ and The Monkees’ ‘Stepping Stone’. And we did ‘My Way’, which Sid wasn’t as all keen on singing —and a few other so-called punk rock anthems. I reckon we could have made a good permanent group. Nancy was funny, though. She insisted on being on stage right through the show, and singing—not the most melodious of noises. When I heard her bleating away at the soundcheck I was really worried about it. I had a word with Henry. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I had no intention of turning her mike on.” …
Stupid as it sounds, Sid really was on some kind of death trip. He was always saying it himself. I’m not going to live past 21, he’d say. Yet, when you think about it, he had it all going for him. He was the bass player in the most notorious band in the world, yet he didn’t even have to get it together to learn how to play the bass properly. But it all went wrong. That’s heroin for you. I’m occasionally asked if it annoys me that Sid is more famous in death than I’ve ever been in my life. The answer is, well, yes—because sometimes, just once in a while, I get to thinking: Why is it that so many lost souls become so fascinated by those who live their lives so close to the edge that they end up falling off? Too fast to live, too young to die? The cult of James Dean, the continuing fascination with digging out the real story behind the death of Marilyn Monroe and poor old Sid. In reality, these people are the losers. They’re the party-poopers.
The publication this week of the million + -selling singles in British pop history made for interesting reading. The artists missing from the top 123 was very surprising—no T.Rex, David Bowie, Madonna or Talk Talk, for instance—but especially so when put into context with the artists who do appear. Will Young, Ken Dodd, All Saints, Gareth Gates, and Steps all appear higher in the list than the only Michael Jackson single to make it (1995′s Earth Song), while Take That (Back For Good, 1995) are higher placed than ABBA’s only entry (Dancing Queen, 1976).
The apparent oddities in the list, not just who is included and who isn’t, but also and importantly what appears to have been more popular than something else that is there, make for some involving if time-wasting reading. Everyone probably expected Elton’s Candle In The Wind ’97 to be top of the list (it’s what Diana would have wanted) and for Macca’s Mull of Kintyre (#4) to be there or thereabouts along with Do They Know It’s Christmas (#2), Bohemian Rhapsody (#3) and Boney M’s Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl In The Ring (#6). The top ten is kind of well known to all pop fans, although Robson & Jerome’s version of Unchained Melody as the best-selling recording of the only song to appear three times was perhaps surprising.
Having run through the list of million+ sellers in the UK, and checking various singles charts books (the paper kind), it soon becomes apparent that a #1 chart position is no guarantee of making a million+ sales and vice versa. New Order’s Blue Monday, for instance, never made it higher than #9 in the UK charts, yet there it is at #69 on this list, with reported sales of 1.16million copies. Michael Jackson had seven #1 hits in the UK, but only Earth Song sold more than a million, while Elvis Presley had 15 UK #1 hits in his lifetime, but only one of them (Now Or Never, 1960) sold more than a million copies.
While the top ten million+ sellers are predominantly drawn from the 1970s and ’80s (including Elton’s, given that the song is a re-recording of a 1973 original), the Beatles represent the ’60s originals (She Loves You, 1963), with two songs being 1990s re-recordings of old songs: Unchained Melody written in 1955, and Love Is All Around, recorded by Wet Wet Wet in 1994 but written in 1967. The first single to have been released in this century appears at #14: Will Young’s Anything Is Possible, from 2002. The next 21st century single to have sold a million copies or more is at #42; Adele’s Someone Like You from 2011. Does that tell us that old songs are better than new ones? Or that more people were buying singles back then? Perhaps it’s both.
There’s no doubt that the glut of 21st century singles to have sold more than a million ‘copies’ which litter the bottom half of the list did not involve physical ‘singles’ being handed over to paying customers. Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris’ We Found Love (#76), Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are (#78), LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett and Goonrock’s Party Rock Anthem (#79) and Lady Gaga’s Poker Face (#86) all sold predominantly in digital download format. Not for their fans the long trek to a record store, a search through bins of stacked vinyl or the sneer of a prog rocker behind the counter as they are asked for a copy of the 7″ record that would then be played on constant return when finally taken home. The 21st century ‘single’ buyer simply taps ‘buy’ on their phone or PC and there it is, tinnily leaking through tiny headphones or shrieking from a Galaxy II’s thinner than paper ‘speakers’. Again though, does that matter?
It matters perhaps to people who want to give gifts of specific music to someone. Being given a record was always a thrill (even if it was an unrecognised artist) to kids for whom music was more than just the accompaniment to an advertisement or teen TV show. The 12″ or 7″ square presents that sat under the Xmas tree in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were always more enticing and intriguing to music fans than the boxes, rolls and triangular packages that lay around them. Poring over album sleeves, reading liner notes and sniffing the vinyl was a part of the experience of buying music back then. It’s hard to get excited over an iTunes voucher, as welcome as it might be, and there’s no guarantee that suggesting it is used to download something recommended will be followed. How to get a new generation interested in ‘your’ music? Do you want to?
The publication of the chart of the million+ sellers was a marketing move, naturally. It was done to promote a book that contains all of the data that is now pretty much disseminated across the Internet. The book, like the majority of the music it covers, is a nostalgic item designed to trigger memories along with the melodies that appear when one reads a title and artist’s name next to it. That is certainly no bad thing. Like Proust’s madeleine, the sight of a beloved album, artwork or even title of a song can lead to a moment’s pause and recollection. The playing of a song or album can be an act of memory recollection, of relaxation and exhilaration. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was when a song first captured our attention, made our hearts beat faster or evoked a mood of melancholy, that the same song can still evoke emotions is proof that we are still alive, still vital, still living in another world.
The story of Fairport Convention is as you’d expect, very, very long. There are 45 years and numerous comings-and-goings of band members to relate, plus all those recordings, tours and side-projects to put into context. Inevitably not everything that the band commented on has made it into the finished book, but in anticipation of publication we thought that we’d post some of the more interesting out-takes from their interviews. What better place to start then, than with the story of a rare missing Fairport song from the Full House era? In the following out-take author Nigel Schofield, Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Pegg and producer/manager Joe Boyd discuss the life and times of ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman’.
Every major music act has within its back catalogue a number of recordings that, for various reasons, did not appear in public at the time of their creation. Often these recordings offer a fascinating alternative history to the band, one that provides a different musical insight into a period of the band’s history as the reissue policy of record companies in the 1990s and later have pretty much proven. All major bands have had their back catalogue exploited on disc or online, with tracks of differing quality included on the reissues as bonus tracks. Almost all of Fairport’s reissued CDs have added rare material from each relevant era, although tru to their nature, it has often been done in odd and enigmatic ways.
While Fairport’s first couple of years together generated a couple of tracks with immediate rarity value (‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ and ‘Throwaway Street Puzzle’) and some remarkable out-takes and radio sessions, it was Full House that provided the first ‘lost classic’ by the band. ‘Poor Will’ is a true orphan—and despite featuring heavily in Richard Thompson’s bizarre sleeve notes, the recording didn’t actually make it onto Full House.
RICHARD None of us was confident about taking vocals. Sandy had left and not been replaced. The Full House LP was the first time any of us had sung lead vocals on disc, though we had taken our turns at the vocal mic on stage. The simple fact is, I just wasn’t happy with my vocals on ‘Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman’.
So the track came within a whisker of making it on to the LP only to be withdrawn so late into the production process that the first run of sleeves had taken place. Rather than order a total reprint of the sleeve though, Island Records had it overprinted, blocking the original track list with a solid black box, onto which was printed the new running order
SIMON Is the track list on your copy of Full House in a heavy black square with gold writing? You are the proud owner of one of the first thousand!
RICHARD I really dug my heels in. The thing is, none of us could sing – and it showed.
JOE BOYD I argued hard about including the track, partly because it is such a great song. In the end, Richard exercised his artistic control and insisted it was removed, which left the album a little short on running time.
It was also restructured with ‘Doctor of Physick’ being pulled from its original slot as track two on side one and used to replace ‘Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman’ as the penultimate track on the second side. After this, ‘Poor Will’ had a chequered history. Richard had second thoughts about the track and re-recorded his vocals with the addition of harmonies from wife Linda for his 1976-issued rarities retrospective guitar/vocal. Bizarrely, it was this version with the then unexplained female vocal part that Island shoehorned on to the first version of the Live at The LA Troubadour album a year later, after adding audience noise. The un-doctored version was included as one of several rarities on Island Life, a seven LP box set celebrating Island Records’ 25th birthday in 1988 and,eleven years later, was included on Island’s two CD Fairport retrospective Meet On The Ledge. Finally, when Island issued an expanded version of Full House on CD in 2001, they restored the original running order, including ‘Poor Will’ and adding extra tracks: the single ‘Now Be Thankful’ (in its original mono and a new stereo mix), its b side ‘Sir B McKenzie etc…’ and an out-take recording of ‘Bonny Bunch Of Roses’.
ASHLEY Every band has out-takes. I’ve put together out-takes collections of several of the bands I have been in, including Fairport. While the out-takes are interesting, you can usually hear why they didn’t make the final cut. The song that was left off Full House though, was a real gem – on a par with the great Dylan out-takes that were cropping up on bootlegs; songs that were sometimes better than anything on the album.
Written in the curious archaic yet modern English at which Richard was becoming so adept, ‘Poor Will’ was ‘Desolation Row’ transferred to Tyburn, a fragmented but seamless flow of images that made the song multi-faceted and evanescent. Like the album’s sleeve notes the song is threaded with references to the traditional songs in which Richard was then immersing himself.
RICHARD That’s right –“no lover come over the stile” – the lucky escape in ‘Prickle Holly Bush’. That’s one for musical train-spotters.
ASHLEY The lyric is probably the best Richard had written to date, though he’s surpassed it many times since. So much so that we considered it for Shirley Collins’ album [No Roses]: it would have been the only non-traditional song on the record.
PEGGY It was interesting musically, too. Very understated and then exploding with a guitar solo as aggressive as anything Richard had recorded at the time.
It is telling perhaps that the greatest ‘lost’ Fairport track seems today like a harbinger of the topic that would occupy Fairport two albums later. For those who like to be creative with their Fairport collection , imagine ‘Poor Will’ as an overture to Babbacombe Lee. It was perhaps an unheard sound of the future for Fairport Convention.