Saturday 26 April 2014

Playing the percentage game

Nick Lowe once told me that if you've got enough lines in the water then sooner or later you're going to get a bite. Landing Johnny Cash in your keep net (covering Without Love and The Best in Me) and having one of your songs placed in a blockbuster movie (What's so Funny 'bout Peace Love and Understanding in The Bodyguard) is all about playing the percentage game.

Jimmy Greaves was just the same.

'I used to make 500 runs a season in to the 18 yard box. And I connected with about 100 balls coming in. Half of those would be on target and half of those would end up in the back of the net. And 25 goals a season was good enough for me.'

Greaves' stats speak for themselves. A career that started in 1957 and went through 'till 1971, he made 602 appearnaces for Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs and West Ham. He scored 422 goals. And for England he netted 44 times from his 57 caps.

Friday 18 April 2014

Billy Mitchell

Anyone who read this from earlier in the week will know that Billy Mitchell was the guitarist and lead singer with Jack the Lad - and would later go on to replace Alan Hull in Lindisfarne. Like so many other musicians from the North East - Eric Burdon, The Wilsons, Jimmy Nail, Bob Fox, his songs have been shaped in no small way by where he came from. And no, he's never been in East Enders.

I rang Billy up in the week and did a quick Q&A, but before that, here's the opening paragraph from his online Bio:

"Billy started playing the guitar in the early sixties when they were all made of wood and mostly the same colour. He joined a folk group during the folk revival of the late sixties: The Callies showed the good people of Newcastle what folk music should sound like. They made one album, went to London, didn't like it and came home."

Whatever we call ourselves we've got to be able to spell it
So who were The Callies then Billy?

It was me and a couple of mates. We weren't even meant to be The Callies; we were going to be called The Ceilidhies, as in a ceilidh band, but nobody could spell it so we became The Callies.

What sort of stuff were you playing?

Irish songs, rebel songs. It was 1968/69 and we were doing the folk club circuit.

Were you a folkie or a rocker?

I liked folk music and I liked rock and roll. Prior to The Callies I'd been in group with my friend Ray Laidlaw and other future members of Lindisfarne. We were called The Downtown Faction. It never lasted and I picked up my acoustic guitar and hit the folk clubs.

Billy then took time out away from music and emigrated to Vancuver for  couple of years.

So how did the Jack the Lad gig come up?
Lean on me

When I came back to the UK in April 1973 I got a call from Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw asking me to be their replacement live singer as Alan Hull was going to leave the band and concentrate on writing and pursue a solo career. This never happened: Alan stayed and the other three left! So Alan kept the Lindisfarne name and I joined the others and we became Jack the Lad.

Jack the Lad went on to record four acclaimed albums on the Virgin imprint Charisma Records and toured the UK and Europe. What about America? Did they get it?

They did! But sadly we never cracked America; despite strong sales of the first album a promised tour never materialised. Another story to add to rock and roll's What If section.

Lindisfarne would subsequently get back together and Billy was happy to be recording and touring with his own band. But Billy would return to the fold when Alan Hull bowed out for the last time.

I've had some great highs in my career but the Alan Hull Tribute concert at Newcastle City Hall, home of so many Lindisfarne Christmas concerts, in 2005 was certainly up there.

They'd have been big shoes to fill.

They certainly were, but I never set out to directly mimic him in anyway. And, anyway, we'd all been friends for many years. 

Billy recorded two albums with Lindisfarne - Here Comes The Neighbourhood and Promenade before they split up for the last time. Billy now tours on his own but is often joined on stage by his son Tom.

Yes, I play on my own these days or with people like Bob Fox (currently Songman in Warhorse) or Tom - we've got another generation of Mitchells coming through now.

Billy is also touring The Lindisfarne Story with Ray Laidlaw a show with words and music - well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Out of time

Anything over four minutes was stretching it
Before 12" singles and extended mixes the seven inch 45 was, to use current speak, the only platform to support artists' single releases. And if the piece of music lasted longer than four minutes your choices were limited. Release a truncated radio edit and leave the long version for the follow up album. Or, continue the party on the B side: that's what many soul artists did in the 70s. Fade out, turn over, and fade back in again. As with a lot of things from the period, this quaint way of going on seemed perfectly acceptable at the time.

It certainly did to The Detroit Spinners. In my head I still hear the clunky fade out half way through The Rubberband Man; but of course Youtube is oblivious to how it would have sounded on a Jukebox nearly 40 years ago. And the same goes for the sublime Soul Train instrumental by The Ramrods.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Don't spare the horses

A line in Rocking Chair by Jack the Lad makes great play of the fact that riding between London and Leeds in one day was a big deal. It would have been.

Jack the Lad: Charismatic
Time was when the fastest way of getting between the two cities would have been aboard the mail coach. Averaging speeds of between six and eight miles per hour and stopping for fresh horses horses every 10 miles and you can see why packing an overnight bag would have been wise. That and a pistol: highwaymen weren't just a figment of Adam Ant's imagination. Having said that, East Coast Trains will take anywhere between £100 and £150 off you for travelling with them for the two hours and 10 minutes the journey takes today.

Jack the Lad were formed after Lindisfarne disbanded (the first time) and Alan Hull, vocalist and chief songwriter, went solo. The other three brought in Billy Mitchell, another Geordie singer, and together they made a handful of cracking albums on the Charisma label. I remember Fluff used to play them on his Saturday afternoon radio show in the mid seventies. He probably squeezed them in between Tony TS McPhee's Groundhogs and Genesis.

Friday 11 April 2014

Leeds, 1972

Dave Mackay: not a big fan of Billy Bremner

Living in Leeds in 1972
If you didn't like Billy Bremner
There wasn't a lot to do

© John Medd 2014

With apologies to anyone out there who really did live in Leeds in 1972; not least my two favourite wessies, Phil and his glamorous assistant Jane. Anyway here's my rough and ready homage to the city that brought you Ernie Wise, Keith Waterhouse and Marks and Spencer. And contrary to repeated taunts in the 1970s, I'm assured it's very clean.

John Medd: Leeds, 1972

Monday 7 April 2014

The 70s: brought to you by the letter B

Living through the 70s was by turns grim and grimmer still. Thank you to The Dabbler for pointing me in the direction of Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain 1974-1979 by Dominic Sandbrook. I shall of course be reading the tome in its entirety, but just a quick glance through Sandbrook's index tells you everything you need to know about the decade that still haunts us. Just a few of the Bs: Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Brain Salad Surgery, Black & White Minstrel Show, Brentford Nylons. Says it all really.

Here's the author being interviewed about his book.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Trip Advisor

In case you've not heard, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are reprising their roles in The Trip tomorrow night on BBC 2. The Trip to Italy sees the comedy duo hamming it up as fictionalised versions of themselves all in the guise of another culinary road trip. Apart from the warmer weather - the original was filmed in a typical north of England winter - it's business as usual. Kicking off in Turin in their open top Mini, the food is a long way down the menu - Coogan and Brydon's riffing, complete with extra helpings of Michael Caine, is, as you would expect, the main course.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Phil Wilding

Phil Wilding is a music journalist, radio producer and presenter and most recently author of the acclaimed Cross Country Murder Song. And with his good friend Phill Jupitus he was one half of The Perfect Ten - a real time podcast they used to take out live on the road. Phil kindly agreed to answer a few questions. Sadly I didn't ask him about his fascination with fountain pens.

I hear you're a born again runner. Did I hear right?

You did, I used to run in my youth and then touring with bands and drinking in the daytime took over for a while. Then I found myself working at Men’s Running magazine for a few years (I did a column and wrote and edited for them) and being in that kind of environment pretty much ensured that you were out running along the Thames at least three times a week. I actually started enjoying it and now I do it for the solitude and to think, and to keep fit too, obviously.

You're back on the radio. Are you having fun? Do you prefer being in front of the mic as opposed to knob twiddling?

I do both, I joined Team Rock Radio to produce the Metal Hammer Magazine Show five nights a week, Alex, who presents it, used to be the occasional music contributor on the 6 Music Breakfast Show with me and Jupes, so there’s a certain symmetry to it. I literally presented the Prog Show as they needed someone to cover for a month and I’d done a lot of work on the actual magazine, so knew a lot of the music and musician involved. I was just my usual scathing self, but going into tunes by Yes as opposed to someone like the Manics. Then oddly, the bosses at the station heard it, liked it and asked me to stay. It’s just gone to two nights a week; I’m expecting to be found out anytime soon.

Now you're a published author do you swan around at literary gatherings calling everyone dahling?

Not as much as Jupitus does. No, you’ve met me, I don’t play well with others, I did a few literary and music festivals when the first book came out, and readings were fun if only to watch the way people reacted to the things I’d written (appalled, shocked, angry), but I don’t want to buy into that strange little world, though I think my agent wouldn’t mind if I did.

How's the second book coming along?

The second book is pretty much done, it just needs a final polish and then I need to be able to let it go – harder than it sounds. On the book tip, we’ve finally got the film rights for Cross Country Murder Song away, some North American producers have picked it up, more news on that if and when I get any.

You've interviewed some of the greatest bands rock and roll bands in the world. But who was the dullest?

Kip Winger (of the band Winger), you probably wouldn’t remember him, but at the time his band had sold something like three million albums, and he’d become something of a pin-up, he wore torn T-shirts on stage and fingerless gloves (he sang and played bass) and was in pretty good shape. So even though his label, Atlantic, had flown me to Chicago to talk to him at some festival just north of there, he told me he could only give me ten minutes as he had to work out before he went on stage and he kept his mirrored sunglasses on the entire time. I did not make him my friend and I never did write the article either. I remember all the teenage girls screaming as he came on stage, I’m sure the memory of that kept him warm after Beavis and Butthead eviscerated one of his videos on their show and practically halted his career overnight. Strange days.

And who came closest to Spinal Tap?

Mötley Crüe were pretty close, they were living in a strange world of excess and hype and had been on tour far too long, they were always pretty kind to me, but just caught up in this weird bubble, I’m sure you’ve read The Dirt, it was just like that. I remember being on the side of the stage at one of their shows and Nikki Sixx ran into the wings, threw up into a bucket that was there for that very task – it happened more than once on their tours – gave me a big grin and a thumbs up and went straight back out before the audience even noticed he’d left. You have to sort of take your hat off to that kind of thing. The last time I saw him backstage at the Roundhouse, he was drinking green tea and was incredibly serene.

You're Welsh. Do you sing? Can you sing?

Wilding in his back garden (back row, 2nd. from the left)
Of course I can, like all Welsh people. I also live in a big house on a hill in Camarthen with MSP and the Stereophonics and everyone in Wales was born on St. David’s Day, you berk.

Would you share your bag of boiled sweets on a long train journey?

Of course I do, I’m always first to the bar in the catering carriage too. What are you having?

What's your Saturday night record?

Last Saturday it was Marah’s Kids In Philly, it makes me want to put junk in my hair and sit at a bar and do shots, preferably in New York. Though my neighbourhood is very far from NYC both mentally and physically, sadly.

Who was the last band you saw and did they give value for money?

I’m very lucky in that I don’t have to pay to go to most gigs – though I did pay for my Kate Bush tickets – but the last band I saw was Red Fang at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and they were worth the price of admission, I’m sure. It’s the Manics next and even though they’re mates they’re always great value live, I think they still mean it, so many bands don’t.

Got any advice for Mick Jagger?

Mean it.

Any plans to do another Perfect 10?

Yes, we always have plans to do another 10, there’ll be no more live ones, but there will be more 10s at some point, probably in the field somewhere, as it were, but we’ll do it.

Tell us something about yourself we might not know.

Geddy Lee is my homey. Though I think quite a lot of people might know that, and I have the last paragraph of the Great Gatsby tattooed on my person.

Geddy Lee. Or is it Bono?

Tuesday 1 April 2014

I'll get my coat

It's the winter of 1976 and there's a positive nip in the air. You could even call it Derby Road. Time to dress for the Tundra. Back then you had three choices - four including John Collier: Burtons, if you were feeling flush; Army & Navy Stores, if you weren't, and Kays Catalogue. Good old Kays Catalogue: if you bought a coat in December '76, and availed yourself of their easy payment plan, there's every chance you'd have owned it outright before the onset of the eighties.

That's what Foreigner did. Looks like they bought matching luggage too.