Friday 30 October 2020

Baby Baby Baby! (It's a Beano Friday)

Welcome to another Be-Bop Friday - slightly rebadged today in honour of one of my best friends. That's Mark (Beano to his buddies) pictured above - the photograph will make perfect sense, I'm sure, by the time you've read his love letter to a band that still make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, some four decades after he first discovered them.


"Do you remember your first kiss? Of course you do! Mine was from a girl called Sarah Blackburn, she lived on our street and I would have been maybe 10, fancied her like mad for ages. Likewise, I bet you remember the first band you discovered. I do too, and their music still gives me goosebumps to this day. At one time they were the biggest band around. They reached the dizzy heights of Number 1 no less than six times in the 70s - and remember you needed to sell a million copies in those days to reach the top spot. Three Number One 1 albums followed; one of which is considered up there with the very best live albums ever (I’ve just voted for it in Classic Rock’s best live album poll). 

They made a film too, a proper one, which you went to the flicks to see. It was way ahead of its time and showed the dark side of the music business. Years after its release it would be described by BBC film critic, Mark Kermode as 'the Citizen Kane of rock musicals.' The movie subsequently went on to achieve critical acclaim.

Know who it is yet? Well, Q magazine once described  them as ‘the missing link between Oasis and the Beatles’ - Oasis would go on to record a splendid cover version of one of their hitz and then play it in front of an adoring 60,000 fans at Maine Road, Manchester. But let me guess, you still don't know who it is. (I think we do, Mark! John).

The band is SLADE, and they get little recognition for their considerable input to this great nation’s music scene other than for a certain festive hit. Not that is until you venture into my world: bitten by the bug in the early 80s via one of those compilation albums SLADE Smashes, I couldn’t believe what I was listening too. It was awesome, with that voice hitting you between the eyes like a sledgehammer. The Black Country Boyz even returned to the charts for me, reinvented with Noddy as the Rock 'n' Roll Preacher. Every locker in my school had the words ‘BEANO – SLADE’ plastered all over them: Beano being my nickname (still is, 40 years later) and SLADE being my band

Their second coming lasted till the mid 80’s when they were cast aside chart wise, but I still got my fix by going to Slade related TV shows & and conventions - attended by the Magic 500, a bunch of like minded super fans whose sole purpose was to turn it up to 11 and 'Stamp your feet and clap your hands.' These events have created some amazing friendships which go far wider than just the love of music, and nobody can take that away; no matter what the non-disciples may think.

And the love affair continues to this day, with walls full of memorabilia and guess what? My band returning to the album charts (in the Top 10, again) with a look back at past glories in the shape of Cum On Feel The Hitz. Time for this SLADE super fan to feel normal again, well at least for a little while!

So, don’t forget your first love, and, remember, SLADE are for life, not just for Christmas!"

A huge thank you to Mark for this. As you can see, Beano is now the proud owner of Jim Lea's confetti jacket - the one he wore on the front cover of their 1972 album, Slayed? Though I'm told it's a little on the snug side.

Monday 26 October 2020


One day I'll tell the story of the Dap-Kings, the funk powerhouse behind Sharon King, and the band who provided all things funkular on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album. That they are signed to Daptone Records shouldn't really come as any surprise. As I say, one day. 

Another horn heavy act on the label is The Budos Band. Their sound is a tad more aggressive but with a sprinkling of soul and Afro Beats thrown into a glorious mix of loud guitars, horns and percussion. Think Rocket From the Crypt (sans bowling shirts) rubbing shoulders with John Barry. Kinda like this:

Budos Band - Gun Metal Grey (2020)

Friday 23 October 2020

Jack Jones

The ultimate social distancing song? Well that's easy, innit? When Billy Idol and Tony James visited Tokyo in 1979 they went to a couple of clubs where they saw kids dancing on their own in front of a bank of mirrors. On the plane back to the UK James scribbled a few lyrics down and Idol, once back in London, hung a tune around them (it was always that way around). 

There were to be several versions of Dancing With Myself; the original demo featuring Generation X guitarist Bob Derwood Andrews - that never saw the light of day for 20 years as the band broke up the minute Derwood unplugged his amp. Idol and James then licked their wounds and regrouped (literally) - as Gen X - bringing in a raft of session guitar players including ex-Pistol Steve Jones. But they too split up - only two months after the finished version made its way on to their Kiss Me Deadly album released in January 1981.

And then Billy took it to America where he faded all the guitars and instead cranked up the percussion - turning it, you've guessed it, into a dance track. The song made him (with a little help from MTV) and he never looked back.

So which version have I gone with today? The answer is: none of the above. I hope you like it!

Chloe Feoranzo - Dancing With Myself (2019)

With thanks to Rol

Monday 19 October 2020

Swiss Time

In 1964 Switzerland held a national exposition. The Swiss like expositions - they have one every 25 years; you can almost set your watch by them. This one was was known colloquially as Expo 64 and was hosted by Lausanne, situated on the Lake Geneva shoreline. Amongst the myriad of attractions were the Spiral Tower and the Monorail - which amazingly survive to this day. However, looking at the monorail it was no match for the one at Butlins - both of a similar vintage.

One of the many Kodachrome slides in my collection is this one dated September 1964 - written on the back is LAUSANNE EXPO. 1964. Researching  what was on display at the time I think this photograph may have been taken in the L'art de Vivre (Art of Life) section. It's a personal favourite of mine.

Sunday 18 October 2020


Edward Hopper - self portrait

I slipped anchor this weekend; a getaway to the seaside for 24 hours in a bid to energise my failing batteries. With a fair wind and a watery sun I pointed the car in an easterly direction and trusted to luck. I can't remember the last time I visited Skegvegas, and even if I could I doubt very much it would make my Top 10 Memories list.

Like a lot of seaside towns its fall from grace (if grace was indeed where it fell from) is apparent the minute you clap eyes on it. The kebab shops and amusement arcades look even more tacky than before and the air was thick with chip oil, candy floss and despair (not necessarily in that order). Wait till it gets dark I thought to myself; like Ray Davies' Lola she'll look better at night. And, sure enough, at the stroke of dusk, with nothing more than a splash of neon, the turd, though not polished, is temporarily rolled in glitter. I took loads of photographs to commemorate my smash and grab raid on the town, but the one I want to share with you is a terrific Art Deco Italian restaurant down a little back street away from the glitz. It was like something Hopper would have painted - if he was unlucky enough to find himself billeted 22 miles north-east of Boston, Lincolnshire, that is. 

Sunday 11 October 2020

Love Comes in Waves

I split my Saturday evening listening between BBC Radio London's perpetually excited Gary Crowley and BBC Radio Nottingham's Dean Jackson (more becalmed than GC but still excited on the inside - celebrating 30 years of his excellent Saturday show 'The Beat'). But I can't for the life of me remember which one of them played this next tune I'm featuring. It's by Andy Bell (yes, I know there's two; it's the Ride and Oasis one, not the Erasure one).

Unlike his previous employer, Noel Gallagher, who was forever channelling Beatles tunes overlaid with Marc Bolan riffs, Bell appears to be picking up where the Stone Roses left off and is resurrecting a sound that many listeners will remember as part of the Madchester/Baggy scene; whilst others (with younger ears) will probably tell you it's a sound that never went away.

Either way, here's his new single. It skips along at quite a pace and I think it's worth four minutes of your time. Can't say fairer than that now can I?

Andy Bell - Love Comes in Waves (2020)

Saturday 10 October 2020

Is all Hope Lost?

I went out on Thursday evening. My sojourns into town have been getting less and less frequent. Hopping on a bus and going out for a drink is no longer the carefree, joyful experience it once was; yes, even going into the city on a No. 17 bus was, I realise now, joyful - I just didn't know it at the time: no masks, no drivers behind  perspex screens, no sanitising stations, no Orwellian safety announcements on the tannoy. And disgorging at the other end, piling into a bar and meeting friends is now a very different proposition; the hoops we now have to jump through just to make any of the above happen have ensured that every last bit of fun has been utterly squeezed out of life. 
This isn't living; this is nothing more than existing - we're all, every last one of us, merely going through the motions. And it's gonna get a whole lot worse. When the widely predicted stricter restrictions come into force next week (as they surely must), any last glimmer of hope for a return to even just a modicum of normality will have finally been extinguished.

(I took one last photo. It was dark and miserable. Quite.)  

Friday 9 October 2020

Can You Make This Thing Go Any Faster?

e lost another one of our own this week. I think it's safe to say that Eddie Van Halen was the guitarist's guitarist. We were talking about him in the pub last night and my friend Richard said he always played with a smile on his face. Not something many guitar players do; think of any guitarist off the top of your head and you can almost see them grimacing as they squeeze out another tired solo. Not Eddie. Rest easy, my friend.

And how many guitarists sound even better when you speed them up 2X? Even 3X? I can only think of one:

Apollo 440 - Ain't Talkin' 'bout Dub (1997)

And for the purists:

Van Halen - Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love (1978)

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen (1955-2020)

Thursday 8 October 2020

How Men Are

I've said it on here before, but I love songwriting. The idea of starting the day with a blank piece of paper and finishing it with a bunch of lyrics hanging on a melody that hadn't existed when the sun came up is still a fantastic feeling. My dalliance with the craft can best be described as fleeting - I only flirt with it (I'd love to commit, but I'm hampered by my questionable ability), hence if I write two songs a year then I'm doing well. To make up for my cripplingly low output I bask in the songs of others; proper songwriters.  

So what makes a proper songwriter? You know how good a songwriter is when your peers want to cover your songs. Roddy Frame is one such exponent. Both with Aztec Camera and solo his mastery of the dark art is not up for debate. Clive Gregson (no songwriting slouch he) obviously concurs. In 1990 when Clive was still knocking around with Christine Collister they recorded a beguiling version of one of Roddy's signature tunes as part of a blinding covers collection entitled Love is a Strange Hotel. It still knocks me for six every time I hear it. But here's the original. And this knocks me for seven.

Aztec Camera - How Men Are (1987)

Friday 2 October 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#10)

I was certainly standing on the shoulders of giants when I commissioned myself to write this homage series; the idea that there are 10 objects I'd run into a burning building to rescue is really nothing more than me storing my thoughts in a safe place so that I can maybe look at them again when my memory maybe isn't as sharp as it is now. Which, in all honesty, is probably why, a decade after I started, I regularly update this journal, this web log. (Without getting too deep here, I'm not afraid of dying; but I am afraid of getting old; there, I've said it. When I look back at my life thus far I often think that much of it happened to somebody else, not me; a version of me, but not the me I recognise through the lens of 2020.)

But I digress. I said at the outset of this project that I would also mention the items that didn't make the cut. Of course I can't possibly list all the trinkets that have come into my possession over the last six decades. But here are a few that just missed the crucial cut off: my paperback copy of Magnus Mills' All Quiet on the Orient Express; my guitar; the bagatelle Santa put in my sack in 1966; a square of my Nanna's sewing; a set of Beatles autographs (fakes, but I don't care); one of my (many) watches; my mother's music box; the mixing bowl I use to make bread. All precious to me, but not as precious as this.

I've wanged on about this band quite a lot around here so, I won't bore you any further; suffice it to say this is my last item and these are the stats.

What's it called? Block Buster!

Who's it by? The Sweet

When and where purchased? January 1973/Grantham Market

How much? 25p

Number of plays? 17,550 in its first year alone*

Has there ever been a better single released since? Hell, no!

Will it be going in my coffin with me? Of course

* That's a very precise number, I hear you say. But I reckon I listened to it at least 50 times a day thru 1973 (less my two week holiday in Ireland). So, I make that (365 -14) x 50 = 17,550.