Thursday 29 September 2016

Hunter gatherer

Ten things you need to know about Ian Hunter:

* He was 29 when he joined Mott The Hoople.

* That's why he's 77 now - nearly as old as my dad. Just for the record, my dad was never in Mott The Hoople.

* He sings in a fake Cockney accent - hailing, as he does, from Herefordshire. That's nearly in Wales.

* His sunglasses are fixed to his head with No More Nails.

* Hunter is actually his middle name. I think it's got something to do with tax.

* He's prickly. Very prickly.

* He invented the Sex Pistols. Seriously. Listen to this if you don't believe me.

* I saw him play The Running Horse in Nottingham the day after Diana died, and he insisted on a minute's silence before the gig started.

*   'Ships', the song he wrote about his father, was recorded by Barry Manilow. I know, hard to get your head around, isn't it?

* Hunter has just released an eye watering 30 CD anthology. It's called 'Stranded in Reality'. You really should go out and buy a copy. Apart from 'Once Bitten, Twice Shy' and a booklet containing 841 photographs of him in his sunglasses (most of them taken indoors and/or at night), you'll find this favourite of mine:

Ian Hunter : Death of a Nation

For Steve

Sunday 25 September 2016

The only way is Essex

Between 1973 and 1975 David Essex dominated the UK singles charts. He was our David Cassidy. Or Donny Osmond. You couldn't turn your telly on or open a magazine and not find his Colgate ring of confidence staring back at you. Like dog sh*t n the park - he was everywhere.
Around this time Danny Baker, famously, was passing himself off as Essex's brother. Wearing the same white suit as Essex and tossing his mane รก la Essex, he was getting as many babes as his 'brother', if not more.

Anyway, anyone who read Stud, and is still wondering who the hell I'm going as to this fancy dress shindig, I will put you out of your misery.

On Saturday night, Matthew, I'm going to be David Essex. Jump up and down in yer blue suede shoes.

Though something tells me there's probably more mileage in touting myself as Danny Baker's brother.

Sunday 18 September 2016

360 Degrees of Separation

My fellow diner and I spotted the band slipping out of the club's stage door on the other side of the street from our table in the window. They'd just finished their soundcheck and were all having a good gleg at the poster outside advertising the gig: Dodgy - Warehouse 23, Wakefield - Friday 16 September - Doors 7.30 pm.

I've lost count how many times I've seen them live. The first time was way back in 1996. They'd just had their Barnets shorn and dyed blonde - a couple of weeks before they released their third album Free Peace Sweet. I remember another blondie introducing them that night - Jo Wiley broadcast the whole gig live that night on her Radio 1 show.

But within a year the band had folded. Nigel Clark's decision to call time stunned everyone. The other two probably still haven't forgiven him.
Since getting back together in 2007, Warehouse 23 is typical of the kind of venue the band play these days; but nearly twenty years ago, just prior to Clark pulling the plug in 1997, Dodgy were on the verge of great things. Their records were selling by the shed load, their guitarist was walking out with Denise van Outen. Life was sweet.

However, things are on the up again: these days they're probably writing the best songs of their career. They've got that knack of releasing material you swear you already know. Take this one for example, California Gold. They played it on Friday as part of a blistering set - it's taken from their new album What Are We Fighting For.

Thank you to JT for the photos

Saturday 17 September 2016


Mick Tucker (1947-2002)
What I know about drumming and tuppence probably wouldn't get your hair cut. But I'd like to think I know the difference between a good drummer and, shall we say, a not so good drummer. And, as a breed, they probably have the same set of chromosomes as goalkeepers: slightly unhinged but someone at the back you can depend on.

The Sweet could never have plied their trade in Glam's top flight if Mick Tucker (the man at the back) hadn't made the drum stool his own. Tight as a duck's bottom and never frightened to set-up the entire contents of the nearest percussion factory on stage and take up residence.
Added to which, Tucker was so good at the windmill trick with his sticks, you'd swear there was a motor hidden between his middle and forefinger.

Here's a bit of archive footage I found for the first time the other day on Youtube from a German TV show in late 1974. Brian Connolly has obviously gone to the bar, leaving our aforementioned drummer about to take to the stage with guitarist Andy Scott and bass player Steve Priest - both looking considerably more svelte than they do today.

Even if you don't fancy watching the whole thing (spoiler alert - contains drum solo), please just watch the opening frames while Tucker performs his windmill straight to camera before throwing his sticks in to the crowd. As a period piece this really is vintage Glam. And they're playing totally live.

So, sit back and enjoy the three-piece Sweet as they chuck the kitchen sink at Elmer Bernstein's 'The Man With the Golden Arm' - taken from their long player Desolation Boulevard released earlier that year.

Postscript - it transpires that women can even take their clothes off to this piece of music. Who knew?

Tuesday 13 September 2016

But I did not shoot the deputy

Just back from a few days in Suffolk. They do things differently there. Driving through bandit country - between Saxmundham and Southwold - and I spotted him. On the corner: a lone gunman aiming straight for me. I slammed the anchors on and, with the engine still running, threw myself out of the car, reached for my Canon* and shot him. Twice. What was I supposed to do? It was only then that I spotted the badge.
Too late. But I did not shoot the deputy. I swear.

* Canon IXUS 265 HS - 15X Optical Zoom

Sunday 11 September 2016


This is me and Emma. I let Emma do something to me yesterday that no other woman has ever done to me before; or will ever do again. She did it to me in Lincoln, but I know this sort of thing happens all over the place. It probably even happens where you live. If you look carefully at the above photograph you will see what she did. Can you spot it? Maybe a squint at the photo below will help. 

And if you were to ask me why I let her do it, I can give you two answers: one, 'I'm going to a fancy dress party in a couple of weeks.' Which is actually true, and is really how it all started. And, two, 'It's a long story.' Shorthand for 'I don't really want to talk about it right now.' Also true.

But it's shiny. And I like it.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Matt Beer

Beer. Matt
Matt Beer is a fellow member of York Songwriters: we're a bunch of ragtag singers and musicians who meet up every month in The Black Swan in York. We each play a new song and talk about it - whilst we drink beer; I fear I may be better at drinking beer than writing songs. Matt, on the other hand, is a fabulous songwriter and has just released his new album 'Coming in to Land'.

What sort of music was playing in your house when you were growing up?

Mostly classical I think - my mother liked Mozart a lot - but when I got older my brother got me into Dylan, Van Morrison, Bowie and Roxy Music and I found people like the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury myself in the late 70s.

For anyone not familiar with your material, describe the kind of songs you write.

I write lyrics first, so that shows a little what my approach is. I like people like Randy Newman and Paul Simon where the lyric is almost the hook in the song - wordy songs like 'You Can Call Me Al' seem so much richer to me than the usual stuff. Although I love pop music and there's nothing wrong with a boy meets girl lyric - I just can't do it myself. I do try to be accessible - even in the early 80s when I was playing in a band and we were all long overcoats, floppy hair and general doominess I wanted to write cheery tunes.

Be careful how you answer this one - how much of you is in your songs, and when was the last orgy you went to?(!)

Ha! Well my wife was slightly worried about that song! I've never been to an orgy in my life, although there is a little of me in that song still because the title came to me and I thought 'well what would I do after an orgy?' and I thought I would be awkward as hell, which is how I wrote it. Some songs have more of me in them than others but they all have some made up element in them, even though they might be about things that have happened to me.  All but one of these songs I wrote three or four years ago when I'd just written a novel and I thought to myself 'if I can have characters and tell a story in a book then why not in a song?'.  So it's sort of me, but an exaggerated me.

'Coming in to Land' sounds like a family affair. Your kids have obviously been influenced by their dad - do you road test new material in front of them first?

I have all three of my children on it and my wife Mel plays sax on one of the tracks. I went into the studio intending to play all of the instruments, but I wanted real drums and I'm a lousy drummer.  My eldest Tom on the other hand is a great drummer, event though he taught himself and he's the guitar player and singer in his band Bull. Tom also plays trombone on a couple of tracks and Holly my daughter and Paddy my youngest son do backing vocals - Paddy's voice hadn't broken at the time but it has now so it's a historical record. I didn't actually encourage them to write songs and be in bands when they were growing up - I spent a lot of my 20s doing it and as a career choice it's a rotten idea, but everyone taught themselves and did it anyway! Which doesn't mean to say that I'm not very proud of them. I very occasionally play songs to them but not really - I think I played Tom a couple of them, but with all of my kids writing songs it would be horribly competitive if everyone was saying 'listen to me! I've got a new one!' Also when I was in my 20s I used to play songs to anyone and everyone and I got to dread that glazed look people got, so I got out of the habit of playing them to anyone for quite a long time.

Do you have a favourite songwriter, someone whose work inspires you? Is there one song out there you wished you had written?

It's hard to pick one person and at different times of my life different people have inspired me. Right now there's a bloke called Dan Willson who has a band called Withered Hand who is brilliant and I like Steven Adams who was in the Broken Family Band a lot too. Over my life it would have to be Dylan and Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon - there's so many really. I was just listening to random stuff in the car and 'Something Changed' by Pulp came on - I'd have loved to have written that. What a star Jarvis Cocker is!

Can you see other people singing your songs?

No I don't think so - I'd be delighted if they did though. 

What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?

I think you have to write for yourself - if you like it, that's good enough. If someone else likes it even better. I should share my pet theory that the humble song is the greatest art form of all time. Cinema, photography, painting - they all have a claim to the odd century maybe, but songs have said more to more people than anything and they always will. From Robert Burns to Smokey Robinson a melody will always delight and a lyric will always connect. It's just a matter of how much. I'm not sure where death metal fits into that but I'm sure it does somewhere... 

How do you consume music these days? Old school vinyl, CDs, iPod, Spotify?

Like lots of people I've started listening to vinyl again - with the emphasis on listening. I'm not much on hi-fi, but it's much more of a complete experience to hear a piece of music from start to finish the way it was recorded. I would miss my old MP3 player on public transport though - for years I thought you should be engaging with the world and disapproved of shutting yourself off (this is back in the days of tape and Walkmans) but as I got older it seemed a good idea to withdraw from certain environments, like crowded trains! We all probably do it too much though.

Who was the last band or artist you paid to go and see?

Other than family, the wonderful Rozi Plain at The Crescent in York.

Do you share your bag of sweets on long train journeys?

Well I just got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes so my sweet eating days are behind me. I don't think I did when I ate sweets though - too much of a sweet tooth!

Sensible shoes or Converses?

Definitely converses - I've been wearing them all of my life and my feet rebel against anything else. It's a bit embarrassing I suppose, to be in your 50s wearing baseball boots, but not embarrassing enough not to. 

Coronation Street or Netflix?

Neither really - I've never watched soaps and I really can't be bothered with all of those endless American TV series that are eight seasons long. The amount of people who've said to me 'oh it gets good half way through season 3' or whatever - that's a hell of an investment of time! Virtually everything I watch and enjoy seems to be on BBC Four nowadays - which is probably the most middle class/middle aged thing anyone has ever said!

Sunday 4 September 2016

Hello from the other side

To the best of my knowledge Gary Sparrow does not own a sonic screwdriver. And, I think it's safe to say, he wouldn't know a flux capacitor if he fell over one. But, and here's the thing, none of the above credentials (or lack thereof) make him any less of a time traveller than The Doctor or, indeed, Marty McFly. In fact, what makes Gary Sparrow so good at time travel (and by good I really mean rubbish) is that he comes at the whole concept of space time continuum with absolutely no knowledge of how it works. It just does.

Well, it did until seventeen years ago. That was when the BBC parted company with the hapless, but very likeable, two timing star of Goodnight Sweetheart - the Corporation's gentle wartime/time travel small screen rom com - leaving him stranded in 1945 with no way of ever returning home: home being 1999.

However, that all changed last week. Fast forward to 1962 and Sparrow decides to hot foot it to the hospital on the day of his birth (yes, his *birth day*) and hang about outside the delivery ward. And, faster than you can say 'ration book' finds himself fast forwarded to 2016 and a world he has absolutely no comprehension of (I know how he feels some days).

All the usual gags are telegraphed well in advance - phone shop speak, hipsters, coffee shop saturation, overtly gay couples holding hands in the street - you know the sort of thing that tells us that the world has moved on. But, as a one off, it sort of worked - for the most part. The writing was just as strong, and the familiar characters were all rolled out looking, in the main, recognisable from just before the turn of the Milleneum - with the exception of his best mate, Ron, who, clearly, is still carrying out the world's longest paper round.

Finally, we witnessed Sparrow's stock in trade (always the show's highlight for me) of passing off pop hits of the future as his own compositions and playing them on the pub's piano, decades before they were written. And, in this one off special, it was special: Gary, just back from 2016, where he'd just met the seventeen year old daughter he never knew he had, sat down at the Joanna, on his birthday, and played Adele's Hello From the Other Side. Timeless.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Smoke on your breath

They call it the irresistible force paradox: when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
In 1986, when XTC had a clutch of songs they were desperate to turn into their next album, the band were told by their record company, Virgin, that rock and roll veteran Todd Rundgren would be at the helm.
With his producing hat well and truly on, Rundgren listened to all their demos, and without discussing it with anyone in the band, chucked all the songs he didn't like in the bin and got them to record the rest in the exact sequence and running order he had already preordained for the album; Andy Partridge - Managing Director of XTC plc - wasn't happy.

The band based themselves at Rundgren's remote studios in upstate New York where Partridge and Rundgren were at each other's throats the whole time. 'It was like having two Hitlers in the same bunker' Partridge said many years later when looking back at the making of the record. Perversely, that's probably what made Skylarking one of XTC's finest hours and a truly gorgeous collection of songs.

XTC - The Meeting Place