I’ve just been reading…

Tune In – volume one of Mark Lewisohn’s projected series of Beatles books – promising to be the epic of all epics of music biography.
Reading it whilst whiling away time in a local-ish lending library.
I’ve only read as far as that crucial juncture in 1957 – I’m still homeless, and because I’m not resigned to this way of life I’m carrying more than enough luggage from place to place. Any library books are both a responsibility and, in the case of a doorstep like Tune In, a weight, too far.
But already I can tell you that this is a book you should devote some time too, even if you’re a Beatles hater, and/or someone who thinks their influence is spent and they’re long-since-become irrelevant.
Because everything “they” say about it is true. Probably to a greater extent than any of its planned successors, Tune In is a work of social history: a vivid glimpse into the England, and especially the Liverpool, of the 1930s-1960s, full of minutiae of day-to-day life. (All the necessary 19th/early-20th century detail is included, too, in discussing the extended Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey clans).
More than almost any Beatles book before it, this has the right combination of historical and biographical detail to potentially engross one of those Beatles haters – and what’s more, if you are reading this, and the sounds of early rock ‘n roll seem impossibly alien and antiquated to you, take my word for it that the bookjust might convert you to Presley, Penniman and the like.
(As an aside: Wouldn’t we be so delighted if there was a similar series on Frank Zappa – the kind that might evolve if C Ulrich, S Parker, Roman G A, G Russo, some members of the Z clan, and an advanced fan such as myself, pooled their ideas and beliefs?]


Goya Dress

When they were still together I described them in one low-budget fanzine as “the most underrated, the most mysterious, precious, beautiful, band we have”

What am I talking about? You can either go to an rip-off money-grabbing download site like Amazon to find out, or use this link while it lasts


What to listen to first? I recommend “Foetus”, “In Me”, “Jinxed” and “Picture This” in that order.

The rhythm section went onto Cinerama (no comment) and Astrid (the singer-songwriter) has had an interesting but maddeningly inconsistent solo career which I may discuss on this page at a later date.

Bowie RIP and thoughts unleashed

Four months ago I was being “told” by everyone around me that I should be mourning the passing of one of three people who in reality had brought me nothing but…reasons to be angry OR terrified OR depressed OR all of the above. (You can’t say that I owe the dead person any gratitude for “keeping me alive” – others might have done that. What matters is the mauvaise legacy they left)…
Why am I writing this here, on this page? To make the point that – for most people, I believe – our “real parents”, the ones who shaped the valuable parts of our Selves, are people we never knew personally, whose foibles never impacted upon us, but whose particular strain of intellectual brilliance educated us in some more valuable way than anything any relative (or schoolteacher, of course) could provide / impose.

Last Monday I was one of the many walking in a grey haze, distant from the world around, hearing nothing but ghostly echoes of “Subterraneans”, “The Motel”, “Sweet Thing/Candidate”, “Savior Machine”, “Bewlay Brothers”, “Life On Mars?”…

Not since the demise of FZ had I felt so much empty space.

Message to a Spectator magazine columnist whose name I forget (she was a right-wing feminazi type): You can claim that people mourning Bowie are simply using him as a symbol for their own heightened awareness of mortality (mourning their younger selves). But it’s not as simple as that.

Everything Bowie – and rock music – represented is under threat from, if not actually extinguished by, the right-wing socio-political hegemony.

Issue #1: The way young people are disempowered, as never before.

The school leaving age has been raised to 18. (Instead of being lowered to 13 – as the first stage in the process of official acceptance of what we all know from personal experience – formal education

    doesn’t work

, it’s not just counter-productive but destructive, a psychological abuse we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from. First step in reversing this millenia-old crime against humanity / reality is abolishing the unmitigated waste of time that is secondary education, and replacing it with work-based training schemes, for which the attendee is paid a small wage!)

The age of consent has “effectively” been raised to 18 (via laws against “indecent communication”, laws imposed on hotel keepers in the wake of the Rotherham scandal, etc). And people in power in the UK and US have been heard arguing that it should be raised to the mid-twenties! (Instead of being lowered to 13 [or whatever the standard age of pubescence is now] in line with biological reality – which would have the effect of at last breaking the destructive hold on young minds of falsities like the desirability of monogamy, the indesirability of “promiscuity”, that there is any such thing as “enduring romance” (a.ka. “true love”). Concurrent with this, the powers-that-shouldn’t-be have lost their ability to distinguish between paedophilia and ephebophilia. (How many people were saying, of the Simon Dancszuk affair, that there was something inherently wrong in a 40 year old man desiring a 17 year old?! When such a desire is not only normal but absolutely biologically proper – it’s the natural-selection/survival-of-the-fittest instinct? See also that Spectator feminazi who, in her dissing of the Bowie cult, described him as “a man who almost certainly had sex with an underage girl while his wife waited in the next bed” If underage means “post pubescent / consensual”, good on ‘im! )
The tragedy is that so many young people are weak-minded enough to believe they do need protection from “sexual predators” including their own peers – to believe they are being harmed, not educated / toughened-up, by “sexting” and by access to pornography (which is the greatest weapon for demolition of those myths I listed five sentences ago – and for revealing to men how they have been defrauded by feminism, revealing what they are entitled to and, in real life, being denied, in terms of fulfilment of sexual desires or should I say “fetishes”).
In which case – shame on parents, teachers and the media for making so many teenagers so abnormally, dangerously, timid and lacking in self-knowledge and self-confidence. (No wonder they reach university feeling so threatened by contradictory political views, or by song lyrics that someone has ludicrously misinterpreted {q.v Robin Thicke} !) But shame on the teenagers themselves for allowing it to continue – they’re not pitiable, they’re detestable, because they threaten other people’s basic human freedoms as they fail to embrace their own.

Why am I associating Bowie with this?  Because he more than anyone before him represented sexual revolution.  Championing bisexuality, homosexuality, the transsexual or at least transvestite, all the nuances of sexuality and gender-identification.  We should take a moment to remember how much worse the world would be if he has not existed.  But he left the job unfinished – he forgot how much there was still to do in terms of liberating (or rather rationalising) heterosexual life.


So, to finally come to the main argument, the voting age, the drinking age, the driving age, and the sex age, should all be lowered to 13, in line with biological reality. All of these five age-related barriers must be lowered simultaneously in order for any one of them to make practical sense.
(For anyone who dredges up a load of false pseudo-science to deny this “biological reality”, to argue that humans don’t achieve even a modicum of “maturity” until the age of twenty-something – I say: who do you think you’re fooling, when you can’t fool yourself? You know you’re slandering your own younger self as you spout this toxic cack!)


Now – Issue #2: Rock culture also represented emancipation from religion. But now representatives of and adherents to religion are grovelled to and guaranteed access to positions of government, more than they have been for decades.
Religious people would be pitiable if they were isolated eccentrics who only afflicted themselves. They’re not. They deceive, intimidate and defraud not only their families, but everyone else – via their influence over state education (which brings us back to Issue 1a above) and over the state itself (Who is it that blocks liberalisation of abortion laws, sex laws etc? Religious people, and people who deny being religious but are clearly motivated by half-submerged religious indoctrination which they cling to in defiance of inconvenient realities).

People whose every decision in life is in some way informed by belief in things that don’t exist (“God” and “the afterlife”) – these beliefs being invariably accompanied by an array of easily disproven pre-scientific beliefs (often cloaked in the gibberish language of false pseudo-science) about everything from how the universe works to how the human body works (and the latter is more dangerous – it brings us back to Issue 2b above). Such people are not mentally in a fit state to occupy any position of responsibility whatsoever. Which is why all equal opportunity laws need to be scrapped – no religion should ever be “respected”. You publicly identify yourself as a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or pagan (I know from experience they’re as bad as any of the above) or whatever – it’s unemployment for you (and readers will know I don’t say that inadvisedly!)

David Bowie, like so many of his generation, flirted with, and almost succumbed to, religion at times (1975 and 1992) – a “flirtation” potentially far more dangerous than his passing interest in fascism. That he eventually returned to sanity / atheism, using religious symbolism (in the lyrics of the albums Blackstar, Heathen, Reality etc) as merely that – symbolism – is easily deduced and therefore widely documented.

King Crimson: the Starless Box

I havent posted here for ages – I’ve been waiting until I had something to say.

It was absurdly expernsive – and even as of this date no alternative, sensibly-priced-if-priced-at-all methods of acquiring the material have presented themselves. But I hope someone, somewhere, who was more of a casual Crimson fan than a diehard, took the gamble and bought this box. Because this – more than anything else – demonstrates all the reasons for Crimson’s enduring cult legend status.

Few people reading this will need the facts about the Starless album, or will need to be told about the more well-known concerts in this huge box set – i.e the awesome Zurich, the spotty but sometimes terrific Glasgow, the sadly-still-incomplete Amsterdam.
(Added note: But I don’t see why they had to include an amateurish edit of the Distress/Mincer sequence including the overdubbed vocals, on the main Zurich disc, given that they already had the classic board/bootleg hybrid edit, which is here on Disc 26).

What you want to know is – are there any more shows (meaning “any more improvisations”) on that level inside the box. The answer is, nearly – and bear in mind that even a second-division Crimson gig from this period is better than most people’s best. The Red box set disappointed us with its revelations that there were so many shows on the US ’74 tour in which they didn’t (capital-I) Improvise at all, or where they were limited to the pre-Exiles buildup (you know what I mean…). Rest assured: there is lots more improvisation here. And there is lots more atonality, more orchestral percussion, more of David Cross’s violin, more arhythmic bass, more moments where one person unexpectedly recapitulates and develops a phrase which someone else had recently dredged up from their memory banks…more of everything we love about this KC era.

Hardcore fans: you can finally ditch your bootlegs of the Mainz show – the missing songs are here on one of the subsidiary discs. (Added note: But beware – the last portion of the Mainz main disc was defective on my copy – you’ll still need your Collectors Club disc).
Udine (the “Guts On My Side” show) is here in full, again split into two parts, with the audience tape mildly polished up (the pity is that the sound there is slightly weaker than the “Guts…” track on the Starless 40th Anniversary Edition – but at least we have the whole show).

Anyone slee: The German shows toward the end of the first tour are especially great – Bruford-ologists certainly will like Kassel and Gottingen a lot! (Actually there’s great use of tuned percussion in several of the improvisations, but those two shows take the cake for Bruford-steps-into-Muir’s-shoes stuff).

The only small disappointments – there are a couple of shows short on improvisation (in Augsburg Cross drifts into a gentle solo but finds himself suddenly overtaken by the Exiles chords – they were working against a curfew). The RF announcements aren’t quite as entertaining this time. And the excellent London “press cuttings” show isn’t included (though if you’re looking for Laments with the rapid-fire guitar solo intact: there are a few! There are a couple of Fractures with the short-lived improvised solo section too!)
Fracture incidentally seems to have been a continual trouble-spot: on both tours there are versions where RF gets his fingers stuck more than once, or the (a)rhythm(ia) section lose their place. But that’s part of the fun – sometimes RF will quickly turn a mistake into a new arrangement idea.
Starless (the song) is heard developing a bit – not just in the ever-changing lyrics but in the solos (Cross was still playing the manic solo on violin in this era – and RF was quicker to deviate leave the drone behind) – and at one point they added an extra chord leading into the drone section: nice idea.

Eric Clapton

He was never the world’s greatest guitarist. It goes without saying that as a soloist he was nothing next to Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Adrian Belew [the best representatives of “guitar virtuosity” we’ll ever witness}, but he also compares poorly with Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Howe, Pete Banks, Robert Fripp – hell, even Jerry Garcia and Richard Thompson are better harmonists! And as a guitar texturalist/arranger he wasn’t outstanding even for his time (remember, these were the days before McGeoch, Guthrie and R. Smith re-wrote the musical rulebook permanently – therefore…people like Gilmour and Hackett have him beat]. What he was was a credible, skilful imitator of other guitarists – it’s easy to hear how much careful study and practice he put into his replications of early heroes (R Johnson, F King, BB King, O Rush) and peers (D Allman, J `R’ Robertson, and his friend/enemy G Harrison].

And one thing that doesn’t get said often – he was a really good singer. Once he’d grown into it, anyway – in the early days it was easy for Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood and even John Mayall to make him look stupid on the mic. But during the 1970s, his vocals – understated but with plenty of character and, for want of a better word, soul – were very often the best thing about the albums on which he appeared.

So, let’s run down his core solo catalog:

1970’s Eric Clapton (the album), probably the best thing he ever did post-Cream. Not a solo album per se but a “spotlight on EC” album by the Delaney and Bonnie band. Blues-rock with real soul, and real muscle (and a real horn section: they’re the first thing you hear!). Even when the songs are threadbare (“Bad Boy”, “Bottle Of Red Wine” – the latter does at leat raise the question: was he a borderline alcoholic even then?) they’re carried by the performances: in short, great singing, great playing. In another taste of things to come, there’s a Beatlesque ballad (“Easy Now”) stuck in the middle of it. And the tracks everyone knows: “After Midnight” (I prefer the alternate mix with the horn chart, from Crossroads) and “Let It Rain” (to create the ideal version of this song, one would have to crossfade the vocal verses and choruses of the studio version into the long live version from Derek and the Dominoes’ In Concert)

Next stop in Eric’s career was Derek and the Dominoes. Then depression and drug addiction (heroin). And rather dodgy detox (not for the last time) as a result of which he became an alcoholic. And then…

1974’s 461 Ocean Boulevard, which creates that very same archetypal Clapton Sound that I lashed out at earlier. But this album is one of a handful that are actually nice Guilty Pleasures. Importantly, he was still at, or near, his peak as a singer – and that’s what carries the album. Once heard, songs like “Mainline Florida” (rocker), “Please Be With Me” (countryish ballad) and “Motherless Children” and “Give Me Strength” (both trad-arr) can’t be forgotten easily. There’s also “Let It Grow” (whose resemblance to “Stairway To Heaven” is often pointed out – but in its verses and middle-eight I hear “Echoes” of a certain Floyd opus as well!). And, of course, his legendarily awful cover of “I Shot The Sherriff” which couldn’t sound whiter and wimpier if it tried.

1975’s There’s One In Every Crowd sounds like what it undoubtedly was: the “work” of a lazy drunk who couldn’t care less. Some songs are so devoid of ideas they virtually evaporate before your ears (one of the worst, “Opposites”, he tries to resue by grafting on very-George-Harrison-esque guitar/keyboard motifs which belong on a better record). He even throws away the token blues standard (nominally “The Sky Is Crying”, though it’s barely that, or anything). And we don’t need one, let alone two, religious songs. And – pointing to another mistake he hadn’t learned from – he even writes his own sequel to “I Shot The Sherriff” (if Marley ever heard “Don’t Blame Me” I imagine he contemplated suicide).

1976’s No Reason To Cry is better – and not just ’cause he sounds awake on this one. A return to the collaborative method of his first, it’s basically an album by The Band, in which EC assumes frontman duty and writes some of the material, ceding the spotlight to Bob Dylan (on “Sign Language”) and the-then Marcella Levy (on “Innocent Times” which turns out to be the best track on it) and ceding much of the lead guitar duty to Robbie Robertson (footnote: Jssse Davis and one Wah-Wah Watson have briefer lead-guitar cameos too). Eric’s only real guitar moment of note is the Otis oldie “Double Trouble”. Other pick tracks: “County Jail Blues”, “Hungry”, “Last Night”.

After that qualified success, it must be time for another bad album. Or one-and-a-half. (1977’s album is just about passable, 1978’s is a near total wreck). There seems little point in discussing Slowhand, which is dominated by (a) songs we’re all sick to death of (the John Martyn and Don Williams covers, as well as the first three tracks: you probably know what they are), and (b) songs that aren’t very good. Elsewhere, he throws away an Arthur Crudup number (already recorded in much tougher form by D+tD). Only two non-single tracks are worth keeping: the instrumental which concludes the album, and “The Core”: this album’s Marcella moment (it has some really hot solo breaks too).

Backless is a multi-platinum garbage dump – Eric resumes some of his worst habits here. We get another JJ Cale song (one of a few times on the album where Eric sounds half-asleep or in a drunken stupor, certainly physically unable to “make love…any old time”) . We get a lot of bad country songs – two written by himself, one by gnash-tooth-ville nobodies, and … not just an actual Don Williams song (Eric tries his best to “rock up” the feeble “Tulsa Time”), but one obviously song written with dreary Don in mind, full of his mannerisms (“Promises”). Marcella is out of luck this time: her final feature on a Clapton record is a half-baked jam in which neither she, Eric, nor the band seem to have a clue what to do. So what does that leave? Three good numbers: A blues in which Eric has some guitar-playing energy. And two Bob Dylan songs…

It’s a pity Bob couldn’t drop in again and sing them as Eric’s voice, by now, is starting to change from soulful tenor into the gravel-throated baritone we eventually came to hate. (If his 1980s voice conjures up a picture of a white macho idiot who probably idolises BB King for all the wrong reasons, well, try reading about Eric’s “stormy” relationship with Patti Harrison…)

I could almost leave the story on that sour note, but I’ll say that in the eighties, as he struggled to quit drinking (a near-death experience alone couldn’t stop him), and his marriage unraveled, there were moments when he showed signs of finding a new musical direction. No “revelations”, but on Behind The Sun and August he showed signs that he could at least make AOR that wasn’t hateful, that had some grit and guts to it.

The former is more interesting – mainly because you can read Rumours-type subtexts into it. He was trying in vain to save his marriage at the time. (Patti left him due to “bad behavior”, returned briefly when he begged her to come back, then left him again due to “infidelity” [they’d both had bits on the side, but there was now a pregnant woman involved, and it wasn’t her]) Key tracks: “Forever Man” (one of his best singles); “She’s Waiting”, which unwittingly predicts what was about to happen in his home life; “Same Old Blues” (not the JJ Cale song, oddly enough) which has some great guitarwork (one should also hear the version on the Live In Montreux video, where Nathan East and Greg Phillingales also get to take solos); “It All Depends” which isn’t much of a song but has a measure of infamy, having been plagiarized for the `Bob Geldof’ milk advert jingle (!), and the convincingly miserable “Just Like A Prisoner” which has the most balls-out soloing on the record. Some of the feebler songs carry a sliver of interest because they can be related to the aforementioned soap opera behind the scenes: in particular the two songs which confirm that he only knew one way to communicate “persuasively” with his wife, and that was by musically impersonating her ex-husband! The short and relatively sweet title track sounds Harrison/late-Beatles-esque, while the longer “Never Make You Cry” contains a nearly subliminal musical quote from “Something” (and one from his own “Wonderful Tonight”), although there are no other points of interest: as a song it verges on the pathetic/infantile.

August has a lot more drab stuff seemingly written with ’80s AOR radio in mind (and you can’t blame his collaborators: Robbie Robertson, Lamont Dozier, Robert Cray, and – yes, even – Phil Collins, were capable of better work than this). What’s worth saving? “Behind The Mask” and “Tearing Us Apart” (two more decent singles), maybe “Grand Illusion” and “Miss You” (they have a bit of energy to them and aren’t irritating).

There was never likely to be a mid-life creative-revolution/late-flowering-of-genius a la Tilt/The Drift – the nearest thing to it was his soundtrack to the TV series “Edge of Darkness“. He began the creative process by adlibbing to the rushes of the incomplete film, and during this, seemingly glimpsed an alternative future to himself. Of course, it’s likely that the music that resulted was more Michael Kamen’s work than his own (EC can’t arrange music for orchestras: he’s no FZ), but judged within the context of his work the music can almost be called harmonically and texturally outre. Though – as is the nature of “film cues” – it doesn’t really stand up out of context, it’s the most adventurous music he’d participated in since the sixties. Download the live 24 Nights version of the main theme tune (you already know it, even if you think you don’t) – and get the DVD of the series, which I may review on another blog someday.

The Crossroads four-disc compilation is interesting in that it reveals Eric’s capacity for misjudgement when it comes to separating material into “main catalogue” and “marginalia”. He shares a trait with artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and Dead Can Dance: repeatedly failing to accurately determine what is worthy of “mass consumption” and what isn’t. In its day, the main selling point was the fact it rescued the best studio outtakes from D+tD (and the double bill of “One More Chance”/”Snake Lake Blues” is rather lovely), but the real revolution is the outtakes from the mid ’70s and mid ’80s. Evidently One In Every Crowd need not have been a total waste of money and electricity – if he’d only thrown out four songs to accommodate his contemporaneous covers of Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, Peter Tosh (an improbable success, especially in light of Eric’s “politics”) and whoever it was who wrote “I Found A Love” (which isn’t the Wilson Pickett song). And two of the weak tracks on Behind The Sun could have been thrown out in favour of “Too Bad” (acoustic blues, b-side) and “Wanna Make Love To You” (Hendrix-tinged, outtake).

A few notes on the live albums: Rainbow Concert – bit of a shambles, sloppy ensemble playing and sore-throat singing, but the version of Winwood’s “Pearly Queen” is worth hearing, and at least it’s not a badly-edited mini-album anymore; EC Was Here – if all you want is blues, this pretty much fits that particular bill, although George Terry seems to be playing half the solos, and the best bit is a version of “Can’t Find My Way Home” harmonised with (Bee Gees protege) Yvonne Elliman. Just One Night – a hit and miss microcosm of his seventies. Wretched lowpoint: a Dire Straits cover [salva nos!] Good bits: the solos on “Worried Life Blues”, the fast version of “After Midnight” and “Double Trouble”, “If I Don’t Be There By Morning”, “All Our Past Times” (never thought I’d be saying that!) and “Cocaine” (it’s hilarious the way the crowd so strenuously identify with that song!). Timepieces Two – Live In The Seventies – an inexpertly chosen comp, mostly from the above three albums, but it does include a fun rarity, a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (let’s damn it with faint praise by saying it’s far better than Michael Jackson’s version!) 24 Nights – here you have to live with his latterday bad points: the changed voice, the inexpertly handled blues numbers – to get to the good points: surprisingly intense versions of Cream and D tD songs, one Nathan East solo, the aforementioned “Edge Of Darkness”. Crossroads Two – Live In The Seventies – starts by recapping the EC Was Here material and adding a lot of similar stuff (including noticeably-drink-impaired performances); ends with songs you didn’t want to hear again from the Slowhand/Backless era. Oh well, at least the jam with Santana (on “Eyesight To The Blind”) is worth keeping.