This is why I like doing festivals. You get to stay the weekend, so you get to know everyone, there’s no tension about who’s who or who’s got the right/wrong pass. Everyone backstage knows you, sees you do your thing, knows your working same as everybody else. Except you’re ‘the talent’ so you also get the nice digs and the easy dressing room with the drinks and the… towel. The second night I turned up and I had two towels. Class, like.

Well, yeah. What I enjoyed most about this weekend’s Status Quo Fan Convention down at Butlin’s in Minehead though was the fans. This was a specialist crowd, for sure. They knew more about Quo than anybody else, me included, the band included, and they seemed to know more about how these conventions work, or are supposed to work. They are also extremely nice people. Friendly, not pushy, not needy, they’ve got the whole weekend to rock and they know it and are happy to roll with the whatever-you-wants.

Sitting in my dressing room with Rhino on the Friday night, he asked me if I was reformed alcoholic, because all he saw me drink was coffee. “No,” I told him. “I just don’t drink anymore when I’m working. But later…”

He asked me how old I was. (Five years younger than him.) We talked wives, children, shoes. Rhino knows his shoes. “They’re an expensive pair, aren’t they?” he said, glancing down at my Oxford Brogues. “What are they, Church’s?”

No, I said, I wouldn’t wear my Church’s to a gig. They’re like £300 a pair. The ones I had on only cost about £100. He nodded knowingly. I flashed back momentarily to the years, most of my life, when I only ever had one pair of shoes for everything. I used to spend my money on different things back then though. Now I like to sit there and look at my shoes.

We talked about his new CD, Rhino’s Revenge II. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to it yet but promised him I would play it in the car on the long drive home on Sunday. He told me about the couple of tracks on there where he… not raps, he was quick to insist. But, well, “uses words,” as he put it with a grin. “I like words,” he said. “A couple of the Quo fans I played them to didn’t like it but I do, it’s something different.”

I told him I was all for different. Especially on solo albums. Where else are you gonna try stuff like that out? Besides, as I discovered when I played the CD (very good) in the car, there is more than enough rock on there to please even the most ardent Quo fanatic.

I asked about his time in Dexys. At the Q&A we’d done onstage earlier that day he had been quite self-effacing about his time in the band, even though Dexys were then at their commercial peak with ‘Come On Eileen’. Now away from the crowd, sipping the coffee I’d made him, he told me how much he’d loved working with Kevin Rowland – even though the singer had been the one who sacked him.

“I love Kevin because he’s his own man. He’s got attitude. There aren’t many like that. Not in real life.”

He had to go, get ready for his gig. Before he did he organised for me to have a half pint of real milk in the room, instead of the sachets I’d been given. I hadn’t asked He just knew. Like the shoes.

My other best bits were: seeing State Of Quo, easily the best Quo tribute act going; Black Rose, easily the best Thin Lizzy tribute act going. Hosting the auction for replicas of Francis’ and Rick’s telecaster guitars (Rick’s went for £7850, to a very nice woman named Julie; Francis’ went for £3,600 to a tall drunk bloke from up north who kept swaying into me), and, funnest of all, judging the air guitar competition. Kudos to the viking-like geezer who just took his (Quo) T-shirt off and swung it in the air, but the winners were a father and daughter team with the hair to do a more than passable imitation of classic 75-era Francis and Rick heads down no-nonsense boogie.

Of course there were other highlights. All thanks to event organiser and angel-on-earth, Yvonne Hanvey. And the weather was nice. What more could you ask for? Dwarves with bowls of coke strapped to their heads? Sorry, you must want the bloke in the next dressing room…

Quo Fan Convention

Billy Butlin never meant it to be like this…

That is, rammed full of good-time-seeking Status Quo fans, out for a weekend at Britain’s original primo-holiday destination, ready for some top-drawer entertainment by the best of the Quo tribute acts, along with John Coghlan’s Quo and Rhino’s Revenge, an air guitar competition, a raffle and… well… me.

That’s right boogie-on-down fans, I’m going to be there this weekend, in my capacity as MC. What that entails exactly we’ll see, all I’ve been told is I’ll be introducing all the bands, interviewing Rhino and John, doing the raffle, and generally “keeping things moving along.”

So… I’m bringing my best jeans, natch, the ones with the creases from knee to ankle, my best red rock boots (the one with the heels), my best shiny black rock shirt. And my two pairs of glasses – one for reading, one for not falling over when I do anything else.

The whole thing takes place, starting today, at Butlin’s in Minehead. I believe you can still get tickets. Do come along if you can because the only way I’ll properly be able to “keep things moving” is if you turn up and help me. Perhaps we can even have a very small sherry together. Though ladeez, I must warn you, I’m a happily married man and therefore strictly out of bounds. So please try and control yourselves as I waddle onto the stage.

Right, that’s it. I will be tweeting and so forth throughout the weekend. It goes all day and night today and all day and night on Saturday. Followed by a ‘goodbye’ breakfast on Sunday. Assuming I’m still able to walk by then. (These late nights are a killer for gentlemen of a certain stage.)

Clears throat: And I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it… here we go-woah, rocking’ all over Minehead!

Making Music

What is it all about then? I mean, really? Music, that most gloriously evocative medium. More than film, which requires quiet from its audience, so much so nobody wants the so-called communal experience of moviegoing anymore. We’d much rather – quite rightly – sit at home with a choice box-set and work our way through that.

Or books, how the hell do you share that experience? Lend them out, recommend. Yes, it is enough. But… Art? Same. You’ve got to be in your own headspace to truly dig deep into the experience of art. You can go to the gallery with others and you can find yourself in some interesting places. But compared to music, none of these mediums deliver on a mental as well as physical, emotional level. Me, I’m a reader. But very little I’ve read has ever made me cry. When that series, The Transatlantic Sessions was showing every Friday on BBC4 a few years back, I would sit there with a glass of single malt and weep like a baby listening to that music. It was so beautiful, it spoke to me somewhere so deep I didn’t even where it was, just that the only way I could connect with it was to sit and listen to Julie Fowlis or whoever blow what was left of my tiny weeping fucking mind.

I still get that way when I hear a beautiful piece of Miles, or Coltrane or Hendrix, or morse and more lately, John McLaughlin. It’s the spirit within. The spiritual. Music as prayer, or meditation or sheer life-force. Music as one-ness with God. That’s what you’re feeling when you hear the chiming guitar intro to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ or the thumping bass intro of ‘Ace Of Spades’. That is to say, rock can and is spiritual too. All music is. All human life is. It’s unlocking it that’s key. That becomes the goal.

And that does apply to the best books, films, art, flower-arranging, whatever. The best human relationships, whether they be with animals or children or that miserable bastard who you hate to see. The moments of connection, of light, are all there waiting to be lit up. You just have to know how, to know how to want to, to understand the wonder of even trying. Just a little.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. Come on in, the water’s fine.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Another Perfect Day

One of us is crazy and the other one’s insane…

The pay-off line at the end of verse one, song one, of side one of Motörhead’s – let’s get this straight – fantastic Another Perfect Day album. It could be used to sum up the entire essence of that album, because at heart this was a record about two people – Lemmy and Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson – both of whom were then at the very height of their own egos, talents and craziness.

Motörhead was Lemmy’s band, Lemmy’s waking dream recently turned into a living nightmare when ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke had walked out (again) and this time Lemmy hadn’t tried to stop him. After No Sleep Til Hammersmith had gone straight in at No.1 in the summer of ’81 Motörhead looked ready to become the biggest heavy metal monsters on the planet. But then came the so-so Iron Fist, Eddie’s heavy drinking and black moods, and a would-be collaboration with Wendy O’Williams. Eddie walked because he saw Motörhead turning into a novelty act. Lemmy dug in and decided to prove him wrong by bringing in Robbo.

Robbo had been the firebrand young gunslinger in Thin Lizzy during their Boys Are Back peak. But he hadn’t been near a hit record since Phil Lynott threw him out of Lizzy for the second and last time in 1978. His next band – with Jimmy Bain – Wild Horses released their first album in 1980 just as the NWOBHM was exploding. But instead of riding that wave they were rejected wholesale by a scene that seriously did not consider Lizzy or diluted offshoots like Horses as being nearly heavy enough to sit easily amongst the company of Maiden, Leppard, Saxon and the rest.

I worked for Horses as their PR and I remember being astonished to be told by Neal Kay that they were “not heavy enough” to even be listed in the Bandwagon chart then published every week in Sounds.

Lemmy, who also had nothing true to do with the NWOBHM scene – he’d been in Hawkwind, for chrissakes, when Praying Mantis and Diamond Head were still at school dreaming of being Purple or Zeppelin – was given honorary member status purely on the basis of Motörhead’s outsider status. Too fast for 70-s rock; too long-haired and heavy for punk. Just right for the post-Zep, post-Sabbs, newly creviced early-80s.

But Lemmy miscalculated when he brought Robbo in. Determined to prove that not only could he survive without Eddie, but that he could actually improve on him, even take Motörhead to a whole other critically bullet-proof level, the thought of bringing Thin Lizzy’s former child star in was simply too tempting. Take that, you bastards! 

Robbo, meanwhile, coming from that mid-70s rock milieu that still regarded the Rolling Stones as the apex of all things strong and extra tasty, regarded Motörhead as a bit of a joke. He would come onboard, of course he would. With Horses a two-album flop and even Lizzy now split, frankly he needed the bread. The spotlight. The leg-up. He would come in, teach these grebos a thing or three, then make his next leap for fame without them. Which is what happened, to a large degree, when he and ‘Philthy’ Phil Taylor later left Motörhead to form their own (spectacularly unsuccessful) band Operator.

So the whole Lemmy-Robbo-Phil thing was a car crash waiting to happen. And yet… listen to their one and only album together, Another Perfect Day now, and what you get is a glimpse into a parallel time-line in which Robbo doesn’t send Lemmy mental and Lemmy really lets his hair down and allows Robbo to edge Motörhead into a whole new, far more musical and frankly exciting area of rock.

There were some great Motörhead moments that would follow the brief but rule-breaking Robbo era of the band – ‘Killed By Death’, ‘Orgasmatron’, ‘Eat The Rich’ and etc. But suddenly everything began to sound and look more cartoonish. More wonderfully ironic and two-dimensional. They struggled to come up with another ‘Overkill’ let alone an ‘Ace Of Spades’. And they would certainly never reach out for something as off-the-hook as ‘Back At The Funny Farm’ or unashamedly mainstream as ‘I Got Mine’. As for the blissfully far out  title track, ‘Another Perfect Day’…

There were some tracks that didn’t hit the spot. There are on all Motörhead albums. Most albums by anybody. But it’s the vibe that counts for most everything here. The deep, dark glamour that the Eddie line-up never quite had. I asked Robbo during this period how often he’d seen Motörhead play live before he’d joined. “A few times,” he said. And what did he think of Eddie’s playing? “I’d go to the bar as soon as he started playing,” he said, joking but not really.

No wonder Lemmy ended up hating him. No wonder Robbo thought he was the one doing the favours. Later people talked of the pink shorts Robbo took to wearing on stage. The moccasins. The twee hair band, even though by then his thick red mop was trimmed short. But those things in themselves weren’t what really made the difference between guitarist and bassist stand out. It was the clash of egos. The face-off of hard men. I never saw Lemmy fight so I don’t know. But I once saw Robbo go at it and, man, you did not get in the way. Lemmy had the tough guy stance, the clothes and the brilliant way with words. Robbo had had all those things once but no longer give a proper fuck about it.

When, finally, the fans understandably grew fed up with a Motörhead that refused to play the hits – by the end, no ‘Ace Of Spades’, no ‘Bomber’, nothing Robbo didn’t want to play – it was over. Deservedly so, let’s be fair. Only it was Robbo and Phil that ditched Lemmy, not the other way around. They wanted to make more music undefined by its narrow if often scintillating appeal, but ground in its own glorious refusal to toe the line. To be like the others.

Heavy metal – that music and culture that always sees itself as the ultimate rebel – is actually as conservative as David Cameron kissing a pig. (Ask Metallica.) But then the great thing about Lemmy has always been his admirable ability to simply be himself, a man alone in a world of his own creating. And in that he remains the biggest rebel of all.

Another Perfect Day, meanwhile, would go down as the worst Motörhead album in history, disowned by everyone who played on it for years, despised by fans and critics who curled their lips at the sight of Robbo spoiling their preconceived fun.

For me though it remains the moment when Motörhead proved they really were capable of almost anything. Whatever anyone thought.

How I Won The War Pt.95

I wanted it so bad I was prepared to review anybody. Whatever the reviews editor at Sounds wanted. No Dice at some pub in North London I would have to take trains and buses to get to and would never be able to find again (they were OK, I said they were great). New Hearts at the Nashville in West London (they were OK, I said they were great), Neo at the Marquee (they were crap, I said they were great). So many so-so bands, so many long nights and short fun, it went on for two years and it got me n.o.w.h.e.r.e.

Actually, that’s not right. It got me out. Meeting people. Mainly the wrong people. But just occasionally there would come a night where you went to see someone who turned out to really be great. Clover at the Nashville. The Only Ones at the Rock Garden. Dire Straits (never ‘eard of ‘em) at the Marquee. My real friends in Ealing would look at me with disgust after reading one of my over the top reviews of some band we all knew none of us would cross the street to see. Ask me why I did it. They didn’t get it. I did it because it was my only way out, the only way open to me, even if just by an inch. I didn’t care what anybody thought, didn’t care what I thought, just that I needed to get out and this was my chance. Maybe.

Oh, I would also give terrible reviews to some of the bands. Eater’s first album. Three stars and snide comments. Joy Division, one of their first ever gigs in Manchester, gave it a yawn and a seen-it-all-before. John Cooper Clarke (an insult to Bob Dylan, I cried, though I actually really liked his records and Peel sessions).

You had to practise. Getting into the swing of writing bad reviews was all part of the curve. The real talent would be in writing those reviews like the ones in the NME where you couldn’t figure out whether they liked the band or not. It took me years to get the hang of that.

And this was all before interviewing. “What comes first, the words or the music?” Shit shit shit but I still wince and pull girly faces recalling my first ‘interviews’. I didn’t know my fuck from my cunt. It was only later, after I’d quit trying to be a music journalist, and went into music PR, that it finally came together. Finally saw it for what it was. A barrel of monkey shit, nothing to get hung about, just don’t blink first. Easy when your only rivals are all middle-class ex-students surviving mainly on mummy’s money and daddy’s car.

It was so easy I kept trying to leave it behind. Quit while I was momentarily ahead. Then I’d find myself washing dishes in some burger joint, or on the dole and moving furniture part-time for cash. OK, actually, when you’re still in your early-20s and have zero interest in joining the prat race. I lived on 50p pork and rice takeaways from the Chinese and pints of beer offered by grateful friends who I had spent the whole night trying to make laugh and charm. Anything but do the right thing and find something to earn my own money. I didn’t drive, didn’t have anywhere of my own to live, didn’t have a girlfriend, took anything I could get my hands on.

Once in a while though something would come up. Some old connection from the Sounds days. A phone call from somebody that didn’t know I hadn’t written anything for months. And suddenly I’d find myself blagging my way into a money-gig, bashing out little preview pieces for Time Out (there was a young woman on the staff who wanted to fall in love with me but I was hooked on something bad at the time and there was just no fucking way). I remember once sitting almost weeping in someone’s borrowed bedroom, the old typer on a chair, as I sat there trying to write a review of something for somebody. I could hear everyone in the next room having a right laugh and it killed me having to sit there tapping out this crap. But I kept at it because there was still some tiny part of myself that knew somehow that this was all I really had. Not friends. Not life. Just this. This thing that I had gotten quite good at in a sixth-form jokey kind of way. That I could still get paid for.

Then one day I’d had enough. I was 25, no chance, the last of the gang to be without a girlfriend or boyfriend. Some were even talking of marriage and kids. Or of just getting away, Travelling. Living. Making a real go of it somewhere other than in the shithouse with me.

There was a girl too. A drunken slut and speed freak that I could only look up to. That I wanted. That I had no chance with. Unless… maybe…

Not even then, as it turned out. But it was the thing finally that got me going at it heavy. The fear of being alone. Really alone. Of being left behind. Didn’t I care about the bands I would later write about though? Sorry, haven’t you just been reading this? Find me a better question.

Fully Ledded Kate

So the Kate Bush event on Sunday afternoon at Strongroom went amazingly well. I was taken aback at how many people showed up. The last one we did for AC/DC’s Back In Black was good but drew less than half as many as turned out for the Hounds Of Love shindig. Some really good questions during the audience Q&A too. Our special guest, Haydn Bendall, who helped produce the album with Kate, was great value too. Of the many wonderful stories he told, one of my favourites was recalling spending two weeks with Kate as she tried to get the lead vocal right for ‘Running Up That Hill’.

“At one point,” Haydn recalled, “I went across the courtyard to where Kate’s mother was making tea, just to get a breath of air. And she said to me, ‘I can’t wait for her to get to the top of that bloody hill, she’s driving me mad with it!’”

When asked if Kate undertook any special warm-up techniques to prepare her voice for a vocal-take he deadpanned: “Yeah, a couple of fags and a cup of tea.”

You can’t find insight like that online. You have to be in the room with the person to hear them tell it. As a result, we’ll be doing a few more next year. Space this watch.

Then yesterday I was back in Birmingham adding some material to this two-part Led Zeppelin documentary I’m presenting for Absolute Radio, Bring It On Home. The new Birmingham New Street station has just opened and, yes, it lives up to the hype. More like an airport now than a train station, you could easily spend a day there eating, drinking, shopping, even catching the odd train. Birmingham is suddenly one of the coolest cities in Britain. Not just because of the station, of course, but because of this huge regeneration that’s been going on. Even the Bull Ring now looks like the Capitol Tower in Hollywood. I went into a men’s clothing store and they had new vinyl editions of the first Zeppelin album on the walls.

Rocking up at the Uni where I hooked up with my producer Sam ‘Cool’ Coley, i took in the mind-boggling punk exhibition they’ve got going on in the large reception area. Saw a vintage poster for The Lurkers – first band I ever reviewed for Sounds back in 1977. Couldn’t help reflect on what a long and getting even longer journey it has been from there to here. Like Lou used to sing, those were different times…

Finished the recording and was on the train home again by 7.30. ’Part One’ is scheduled to go out this Sunday, September 27, at 8pm on Absolute Radio, with ‘Part Two’ going out the following Sunday October 4, at 8pm. There will also be repeats both respective Saturday nights. But you can Google the details. Would value your opinion. Zep has been done to death, I  know, but this presents a whole new angle, as best summed up by the Radio Times this week, here’s the link: http://www.radiotimes.com/episode/dshf5s/bring-it-on-home—the-led-zeppelin-story--part-one

Kate Not Perry

This Sunday I’m going to hosting a three-hour Classic Album session based around the story – and playing, on vinyl, via mega stereo hifi – of Kate Bush’s incredibly wondrous Hounds Of Love.

This is taking place at my dear friend Richard Boote’s Strongroom Studios, you can still get tickets, link below, and will star Haydn Bendall, who worked with Kate on the production. Haydn worked with Kate on five of her albums in all and has some amazing stories to tell. There will be food and drink (strong and light) and much great talk, laughs, possibly tears, and of course some of the greatest music made in the 20th century.

Truly, you must come. We did one of these on Back In Black last June and it was brilliant. Haven’t had so much fun since… well now, let me think…

Meanwhile, having fully come out of my recent unannounced ‘retirement’ I have been busy bashing away at a great many projects. Robert my agent laughs nervously when we discuss them and says things like “I can’t keep up.” When an agent talks like that you know you’re in it up to your neck. In a good way, of course. Hence the huge steakalicious meal Robert treated me to in London last week. Hence, too, my new regime of getting up far too fucking early and going to bed again far too fucking late. And no alcohol. That can’t really be right, can it? All I know is I am now officially beyond right or wrong. I am merely here now. And now.

And now.

Until Sunday when me and Haydn (and Kate, musically, at least) will be there. Now. For a cloud-busting we shall go…

Can’t Quit You

My wife keeps asking me if I’ve retired. Ho ho. I know what she means though. Since I finished the Foos book in the summer my days in the office have been… more sparse. Not because I’ve been lying on some golden beach sharing great thoughts with my creator. Everyday has been the usual tightrope dash for safety. But it’s been bits of this and some of that. It’s also been the old machine running down after almost a whole new century of working child rearing wife pleasing tax bludgeoning and just generally not being able to afford to do anything but do what I have to. Not so much an extended vacation as that old 70s rock staple: nervous exhaustion. Or as the really dumb rock writers always put it: I’ve been in need of a ‘well-earned break’.

Whatevs, I’ve been taking a different path. One where without trying very hard I’ve ceased to care very much what the fuck goes on in the what fuck world of what the fuck rock and all that stuff. Or anything else, frankly. Beyond the fam and the immediate wolves at the shabby old door. So… a few personal appearances, a few TV and radio bits, a bit of the good stuff for Classic Rock, and a few interviews given to promote Getcha Rocks Off here and Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre which has just come out in the US. But mainly just being, busy or not, looking at the sky trying to remember what it was like to be high. Talking to my diary, as Dr Dre puts it on Compton.

All about to change now, though. Winter is coming as the Mother of Dragons keeps reminding me. And there is another book to be written. A Big One. Am I up to the task? I am. Will it be any good? It will be killer. It has to be. Because this is the one I was probably born to write. What is it?

Can’t you guess?

Meanwhile, people keep writing in asking what I think of the new Iron Maiden album. Well, I haven’t actually heard it. It’s been years since Maiden sent me their albums. Not because I fell out with the band, Steve Harris remains one of the most significant persons I have ever had the pleasure of knowing in this weird old game we are in. It’s just that we’re all older and frankly have other things going on. Anyway, just tried pulling it up just now on YouTube and listened to Empire Of The Clouds. That is, got about three minutes in then fast-forwarded to the inevitable fast bit. About 10 minutes in is when it really gets going. And, well, it sounds very Maiden-like. Which is a good thing. Only much better produced than in my (80s/90s) day. Don’t know if I could take all 133 minutes of the album though. But if I was 15 again, I’d be swinging from the chandeliers, swashbuckle dripping blood…

House On The Hill

So we sold up, paid off all the bills, threw the rest in a big pot, and rented ourselves this great big house on a farm on a hill with a million-dollar view of the valley below. Yeah, I know, like something out of a graphic novel but then, hey, as Bob Dylan once sang, I can’t help it if I’m lucky…

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning and rock keeps dying. The new Keith Richards solo album? Really, who cares anymore? We still love Keith and will pay to see him do his thing. But a new album of the same old songs – meah. I was driving along yesterday morning with Radio 2 on (it’s the law past 50) and there was Ken Bruce who is a dude, no argument allowed, playing a track from his ‘album of the week’ by Duran Duran. I didn’t know what was more hilarious: that they still have such things as ‘abums of the week’ on the radio or that Duran Duran have actually been needy enough to make one. What was the track like? Well, shit, obviously. What do you think? They were tediously trite at their commercial peak and that was 35 years ago. Now? Embarrassing. Take it from my sight now!

Then there’s someone like John McLaughlin, who also has a new album coming out. Now that I am interested to hear. Because he’s not some desperate old fart still trying to be 25. He’s genuinely old. Genuinely wiser. Genuinely artistic. Imagine if Jimmy Page had the breadth and the balls to stop releasing emperor’s-new-clothes reissues and actually make a solo album that said something about what it was like to really be him? Not a far off echo of Zeppelin, but something fresh and new and now, wrinkles and all.

Then there’s the rumoured ‘reunion’ between Guns N’ Roses. Ooh, I hope it’s true. And for purely musical reasons too. The Axl and Slash show was the best rock has had to offer since Robert and Jimmy, Mick and Keef. Maybe even better. Bowie and Ronno. T and Rex. Yet it was over so soon. Our bad. Really. Why did we let it happen? No, it wasn’t all Axl’s fault. The older and more McLaughlin-like I get, the more I see it as not Axl’s fault at all. He’s just made different. Like all great artists. And, man, has he stuck to his guns. No surrender. No ring he wouldn’t get into – with anyone.

Man, I hope that happens. Cos that I’d go to see. And be real here, so would you.

That was the week

So, yeah, no blog, nothing to gnaw on, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been drumming my fingers staring out the window counting sheep. With the kids still off school – sorry if this upsets you teachers but your seven week annual holiday is A FUCKING LIBERTY – and us getting ready to move house I haven’t had time to scratch my arse let alone make with the bon mots here.

On top of which I’ve been working. Starting with the Saturday before last when me and Harry Paterson rocked up at Blackwell’s in Oxford for my little reading and talk around GETCHA ROCKS OFF. I was imagining it being like that scene from Spinal Tap where no one turns up at their record store appearance but lo and behold there were actually people there. Good people with good questions and good laughter and even some good applause at the end. Even Harry as MC was well-behaved and professional (though he couldn’t help himself going into a rant afterwards about The Beatles, who Harry loves, to James Orton the superb b.o.s.s. at Blackwell’s). Harry and I then ‘went on the razz’ for the rest of the evening, putting in an appearance at the Sweet Tomato in Yonder Village before going forth and multiplying with wife at the Dil Raj, and then home again to settle with three bottles of whisky until about 4.30am when said wife put in an appearance and showed us both the red card.

Two days later I was on my way to Birmingham, still hurting, but full of wonder, as Sam ‘Just One More’ Coley met me at the station where he informed me I would not just be a guest on the radio show he is producing but the actual presenter and anchor. Okaaayyyy… Several hours and even more takes later we had what I feel will actually be the best radio documentary I will have ever made – to be broadcast on Absolute Radio in a few weeks, and on Led Zeppelin. (And other related things.)

The following night was the real killer-diller though. On stage with Mark Ellen and David Hepworth at The Islington in, uh, Islington, norf London, where for an hour I managed to entertain the crowd with yet more stories of glories passed and pissed over from GETCHA ROCKS OFF. Now this you can actually hear in the Podcast they have made of it and just released today. I will try and paste a link here but best you probably go to my official FB page or twitter feed for the direct doodah.

I’d love to say more but really it’s all there. Trust me, as Harry says as he tries too persuade you to gargle more Laphroiag.



Ahead of tomorrow at Blackwell’s

Here are a few questions a regular reader of my website blog named Andy sent in. Stuff that he’d ask if he was coming to Blackwell’s tomorrow afternoon. I apologise that the answers are so brief, but they were written quickly, though they are no less heartfelt.

ANDY: I’ve got a question or two. What advice would you give someone who is a writer on how to make a living being a writer? This might be a little off-topic but I am sure many would appreciate insights coming your way…

Would you realistically need to find alternative sources of income eg speaking, consulting, TV work etc. Especially when you consider things like taxes, percentages paid to Amazon etc.

When writing do you (as I think you previously said) “bash that shit out” before sculpting the mass of clay you are left with – or do you agonize over each paragraph? Do you start off with chapter 1 and expand on that, or have chapter 1-10 clear in your head?

How long would you say it takes to become a really good writer? 10 years? Or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule? Kurt Vonnegut started writing in 1945 when he returned from the war, didn’t have financial success with writing until about 1970 and even in 1968 his books were out of print.

Do you need to read a lot to become a good writer?

Do you formulate a set of questions and then set about researching them?

How do you deal with people that hate what you say?

I’ll shut up for now…

ME: Thanks Andy, I doubt I’ll be asked any of those at Blackwell’s on Saturday so here are my very brief answers, seeing as you’ve been kind enough to ask.

Becoming a published writer has always been the same. You write something then send it to magazines, newspapers, online, book publishers, anyone you relate to as a reader, or see yourself being published by. If they like what they see they WILL be in touch.

I am the only writer I know personally who makes a living solely out of writing. There are others of course but they are not rock writers. It also means I get to write about a lot of shit I couldn’t give a fuck about. Cos I need the dough. Nothing in life is without compromise, shit eating, arse kissing etc. Writing is no different.

I do not agonise over anything but I used to. Like being a musician, you agonise over learning to play, then learning to play well, then learning to play so well you can make a living out of it, then a good living, and so on. I am nearly four decades, 20 books, and a million articles in, I have written books I never once even looked back and read finished chapters of. But that’s where I am now not where I started or spent most of my life.

I start out with as much research as I can then start at chapter one. I only have a vague idea where it’s going after that. Important with biography, living history, as you have to let the story tell itself to you, not have some plan before you start. That’s where most rock biogs go wrong, they start out with the idea the band is great and work backwards. I start out with nothing and wait to see what happens.

How long to become good? It never ends.

Yes you must read. Good writers come from great readers. 

I research then formulate questions.

I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what people say, and nor should you if you want to be a half decent writer. I’ve had brilliant reviews which got it all wrong. I’ve had terrible reviews that got it all wrong. So you take it with a shrug and move on. If your shit is any good the right people will find it. If you really are a writer it won’t make any difference how long it takes or who says what, it’s just something you have to do.

Really looking forward to seeing and meeting you all at Blackwell’s book shop in Broad Street, Oxford tomorrow Saturday August 22 at 5pm

Blackwell’s Talk – Help!

So on Saturday I’m gonna be sat there in the philosophy section at Blackwell’s in Oxford – which is like the Tardis, small and olde world quaint from the outside, totally out there and arena-sized enormous on the inside – where I’m supposed to be giving a reading or two from Getcha Rocks Off, and I’m wondering… but what?

If anyone has any suggestions for which bits from the book might make for an entertaining five minutes before a doubtless largely bewildered and weary audience, I would be very grateful to know. Otherwise I’m just tempted to launch into off the cuff stories about whatever Harry Paterson decides to prompt me on and as he is the most ornery, cantankerous bastard I know that could mean anything from the evils of 80s conservatism to the joys of church-burning black metal. Neither of which frankly I think are much mentioned in the book. Not that that will stop Harry from somehow working them in there.

So help me. Please. If you are there – and you bloody better be as I’ll be taking names and kicking ass, as my other only friend Joe Daly says – what would you fancy me having a bit of a witter about then? And don’t say ‘music’, you know I know nothing bout that. Nor sex, which to be honest I know as much about as I do music. I mean, yes, they are both subjects that crop up with alarming frequency in the book, but don’t expect me to talk out loud about them. Not unless I wear an eyeless leather face mask of course but let’s not go there

Meanwhile, BBC Radio Oxford, possibly the most insightful, entertaining, intelligent and discerning station within a few miles of where I live, will be interviewing me tomorrow on their afternoon show – “About five past three,” said Jason the producer just now on the phone, which probably means more like half three but we’ll see – about this historic ‘forthcoming event’.

I hope they don’t ask how many people we’re expecting as the last time I heard from James at Blackwell’s he was mumbling something about the students all having buggered off on their holidays. Still, there will be beer, at some point, I’m fairly certain. And perhaps we will all be horrifically surprised and there will be dozens of eager faces all there to hear about the time Ozzy cooked me Sunday lunch or Steve Nicks showed me her knickers, or Axl wrote me that love letter.


Getcha Blackwell’s Tickets

This Saturday afternoon, at 5pm, I’m gong to be making one of my ‘appearances’ at Blackwell’s in Oxford. (I’ll stick some links up.) There to read a little from, discuss and answer any tricky questions about my current fuck-filled memoir, Getcha Rocks Off.

This is the book that serves both as symbolic ‘follow-up’ to Paranoid – stylistically, at least – but also covers much the same period of my life, with the emphasis this time though on the various star attractions that had the privilege to find me working with them throughout: Ozzy, Pagey, Axl, Lemmy, Lynott, the Leppards, Tallica, and so on and so forth. For the over-sensitive it should also be noted it contains stories – shock, horror – containing direct references to drugs, sex, death, drugs and more sex and more death. From London to LA, via Ealing Common, Krusher Joule, Sharon Osbourne and Mr Jack Daniels. To name merely a very few.

But that’s just the book. Really this will be the launchpad to tell some of the stories I positively absolutely could not tell in the book, for fear of either legal or personal reasons. (Mainly legal.) But you ask and I’m gonna tell. And show. And tell some more. So for christ’s sake come before I get locked up.

Helping me out onstage asking a few questions and jogging the old and rapidly getting older noggeroon, will be Harry Paterson, rock writer, political junkie, and, most fearfully, Scotsman. Harry knew me long before we had ever met, through what I shall henceforth refer to as ‘my work’. Then became a good friend over the past decade as the both of us have pursued our various ‘esoteric pursuits’ together and alone. And what might they be?

Come along and we’ll tell you. Promise. Oh and there will be alcohol. Oh dear me yes…

How To Be A Writer

I was a writer a long time before I was a published writer. Then even though I became a published writer young – 19 – it still took me years to understand the difference between what it took to be a writer and what you had to be able to do to be a published writer. It seemed to me – and it was true, at least for me – that being a published writer actually diminished my ability to write in a free and interesting way. I’m not saying original, I’m saying something that meant something, outside the usual rock writer cliches.

But to become a published writer at 19 in Sounds magazine – October 1977 – I had to resort to all the rules and cliches: floorboard bass, kamikaze guitar, rock solid drums and, of course, charismatic lead vocals. Well, shit, yeah, but it carried me for a while.

Occasionally I would manage something much more true to who I really was – until one day the Reviews Editor, Geoff Barton, asked me: “Do you write with a dictionary by your side?”

How the hell did he know that?

Tra la la…

I kind of got the hang of it over the next three years, off and on, mainly, though, when I wasn’t writing at all, that’s when I seemed to make little moves forward, I would notice the difference the next time I sat down to write something for money, maybe months later.

The big turning point for me as an actual pro doing it full-time for a living though was sharing a flat with Sandy Robertson. Sandy was the real deal. Was on the staff at Sounds, was a little older than me, and really knew his shit when it came to music. When it came to writing features though, he would laugh at me watching as I tippy-tap-toed out a 1500-word feature, agonising over it. Then turn to go back to his room where he sat crouched on the floor, the typer in front of him, and, as he put it, “just bashed the shite out.”

I copied him. Or tried to. Just bashing the shite out. And dear god almighty but it worked. It seemed working in the same space as someone much further up the road doing the same thing somehow conveyed the magic onto you, even if it was only a little at a time. Thanks to watching Sandy work, I also began to work. There was no trick, no ‘in’, no nothing, Just learn from the master – by simply hanging out and copying. Thanks Sandy, I still owe you.

There were other crossroads of course – and they keep coming. You never really know what in hell you’re doing, the thing is just to keeping doing it, keep driving all night your hands wet on the wheel, listening to that voice in your head that drives your heel.

So when they mail me at this site, or message me on FB or tweet or whatever way round they manage to do it and ask me how it’s done, what the secret is, how can they also get published, write about rock bands, cos they love my work, have always read me, even as far back as Kerrang and doodle woodle ding dong doo, I only really have one message: just bash the shite out. There are no rules. Make up your own. Oh, and stay away from phrases like ‘invaded these shores’, ‘to these ears’ and, most wince-inducing for me, ‘undoubtedly’.

The Crack

It would be around 2.00am and my mother would shake me awake and tell me: “Your father wants you downstairs, quick now!”

I was five, maybe six, and she’d help me get dressed then take me to the ‘living room’, as they called it, where my father would be sitting with the rest of his band: Johnny Lynch, Dave Harrigan, Little Joe, Northern Ireland Jimmy, Taffy Jack and Big Joe, the Jock. Every nationality of Ireland and the British Isles, except the English. Who my father hated, yet had lived amongst far longer than he ever did the Irish-Scots family he was born into.

They would have been out to a gig some place, the Pack Horse in Chiswick High Road or McGhee’s Club in Ealing. Dad on the accordion, singing, drinking, smoking, Johnny on the brushes, Taffy the little squeeze box, Jimmy the whistle, so on, so on… They would swap instruments and they would all take turns singing. There must have been summer nights this would happen but in my memory it is always a cold night in winter and the big open fire is going strong.

There would be food, what he called “a mixed grill” which meant everything in the larder, meat, vegetables, eggs, bread, whatever, into a huge frying pan, then cooked on the hearth. Endless beer of course, and a river of whiskey.

“The first born!” my father would bellow at first sight of me. That was my name to him: “the first born!” I loved him then for it and later hated him for the same. But my mother was still young then and the world still seemingly new to all of them. He would force me to drink. A lemonade shandy, light on the lemonade. Later my next brother down would be there too and he would drink straight beer, aged five, “a proper man,” as he became known. Johnny Lynch would also give me his cigarette to have a puff on but it made me dizzy. Taffy offered me his pipe instead and Christ that was even worse.

I feared these occasions but I grew to love them too. The best part would come around 4.00am when the instruments would get a rest and the men would sit around telling stories. And laughing. You never heard such loud and hearty laughter. And that’s where it started for me, not so much the music, which I really couldn’t stand that much, except for a couple like Black And Tan Band and a couple of their IRA rebel songs. But the stories – I couldn’t get them out of my head. Even though I didn’t  get great big parts of them I had to laugh too.

They were such obvious rogues, chancers, on the run from whatever so-called normal life was meant to be about. They all had big thick accents the English could never understand and would only take the piss out of. I had the same heavy accent – until I got to school and the playground knocked it out of me. But it stayed with me whenever I was home, and is still there now whenever I am yelling at my own kids, or telling them a joke, a story. Having “the crack”.

It’s the stories though. That’s where all of it came from. The love of the story and the great way it could be told. Not just once, but retold again and again, aiming for greater heights of madness each time.

Out To Lunch

I’m sitting here waiting for Andrew Watt to call me. I’m helping him out with a little promo material ahead of the release of his first solo EP. Don’t ask me for more, I can’t say, except that the first single is a massive hit in the making. You remember this kid, the flash of lightning in California Breed? Woah yeah, baby, he’s back and bouncing and sounding like he no longer needs anybody else to help him on his way.

Except he was supposed to call 45 minutes ago and I’m sitting here wasted from a long day in London. Well, a long lunch in London, with two of my favourite people in the  world, Malcolm Edwards, El Presidente of my publishers Orion, and his beautiful talented publishing director rising star Anna Valentine. They took me to the Ivy. Not the downstairs can’t get-an-appointment-at-a-good-table-for-months spot, but the upstairs private members club that no one except Malcolm and his brethren even know about. Can I just say the roasted in herb salmon was to die for. As for the Spanish red wine whose name escapes me it was so old, well, adios amigo to the dull days and hola to the muy bueno!

At some point I believe we even talked about some of the books I might write in the future. But not until dessert was over obviously. What am I – a philistine?

Let’s just say you know you’ve had an enjoyable lunch when it lasts longer than four hours yet feels like it was only two. Just think, kids, back in the day when record companies still had artists that sold in the millions lunches like this were an almost daily occurrence. Well, not anymore. Not even in publishing that much, actually. It’s just that for whatever crazed reason, Malcolm has always spoiled me and Anna is just I-don’t-know-why unbelievably kind and generous to me.

Wait… that’s Andrew on the line, throwing shapes, gotta run run  run…

Time Travel

Wella, wella, and excuse meeeee pleeeeze… been having a little break. Or rather, a long one. Been about six weeks now and apart from the absolutely essential and often not even that I have been off the leash and exploring this old world I haven’t had much chance to wander around for, what, maybe 10 years now. Finished my Foo Fighters book, sat and watched as Getcha Rocks Off got great reviews on Amazon (I truly thank thee) and provoked some very odd facial expressions amongst those who review things elsewhere. Mainly good but it is truly arse-twisting what some people have to say about it. Apparently, according to one person, I can’t write, do not tell enough stories about rock stars in the book, and simply bore people with sordid (real life) tales of sex and drugs. Er… did they read the title of the book?

So anyway fuck that. As Salvador Dali always used to say: don’t read the reviews, weigh them. Who gives a shit what they say as long as they say it enough times, right Sal? And anyway, I’ve been laying around thinking of other things. We sold the house the same day we celebrated my birthday, then I wandered off to London for what turned out to be quite a while, came back and it was the kids’ summer school hols and that took over from everything else.

I keep telling my wife I have retired. For the time being. And she laughs and says she doesn’t care. Hang loose mother goose. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Finally got my ass back to the gym, too, got me some new running shoes and have so far lost 9lbs from the poor excuse for jogging that is all I am capable of these days. Well, it’s a start, considering I put on seven pounds during the last few weeks of the Foos when all that was left of me was the part still writing the book.

Now suddenly I am back at my office. Not entirely sure where to start. Knowing exactly what I want to do and slowly slowly getting to it, like you eventually have to. Still holding tight to that good feeling though. There was a TV crew here last week from ITV, something about a Jim Morrison documentary ready to go out in the US in time for the American pub of my Doors book, and fuck you all for not buying that by the way, know nothing metal freaks and dreamy rock chicks. No respect that crowd for their much older family ruffians. No he didn’t die in the bathtub, Johnny Depp, he checked out long before that.

Next week I’m off back to London to do one for Channel Five, this time for a series about great rock conspiracies or some such. Want to talk to me about Jimmy and the Occult, Jim and the damn mythical bathtub scene again, and how the brethren at the Beeb actively plotted to keep God Save The Queen from No.1 way back in 1977 when the world was still somehow young if already terribly dull.

Between times, me and the fam are off this weekend for a few days at the beach, lord knows we need it. Sun please shine. Sea please not too cold. Kids for fuck’s sake allow me just five minutes a day and we’ll get through it without bloodshed. Have warned wife I’ll be bringing my blue tablets. She said, “I thought you’d retired?” I told her: “I’m making my comeback, baby. You better be ready!”

Die Soft

They keep dying. Chris Squire not even the latest though one of the greatest. It’s just our time. Should we fear it? No. But we do. If you’re under 50 you really won’t get it, but once you pass the magic marker of a half century two things occur: one, you cannot believe how it happened. It’s like you were watching TV or staring out the window one day in your early-30s, got up to make a cup of tea, came back and suddenly you are 50. Like, it’s not even fair. It feels wrong. There you were imagining you’d have changed somehow, grown into something more comprehending by the time you got to that late stage of the game. But you haven’t. Nor will. You just get used to the repeat prescriptions, the funerals, the aches and pains of just moving around, the weird way in which young girls no longer check you out. You think rock stars or any different? You really aren’t old enough yet then.

The other thing that occurs is the imminent arrival of your own death. It’s the secret of life, of course, the special sauce that turns merely existing into actual living. No sun without the moon. No life without death. But for most of your life you haven’t felt you would have to deal with it directly, on a one to one level. Until now. Just knowing that knock on the door could come any time at all. Now even. Or maybe yesterday, you just haven’t picked up on the signs yet.

What does it mean for rock? Nothing. Rock gave up the ghost 20 years ago, with the grunge scene. How many life-changingly great rock albums released since then? None. How many so called new bands doing anything – anything – in the rock sphere you haven’t seen and heard a zillion times before? None. Not a one.

Even the album is dead. Oh, you can make and you can download them or stream them but no one with half a brain gives a shit. I must have ‘bought’ maybe three ‘new’ albums in as many years. All by either Miles Davis or Bob Dylan. And the week before last I sold the lot to a market stall dealer I happened to meet selling some of my books in Oxford Market. I now no longer possess a single CD or vinyl record. Phew, what a relief. And Neil Young is still groaning on about bandwidth and quality. It’s like fishing or riding motorcycles. Really great if you’re into it but don’t try and make it the law. Not for me or my kind. I do not give a fuck. Love music, hate old bores.

Instead, I walk slow these days and drink plenty of water. I still lose my cool – hey, I’ve got a wife and three kids, it’s amazing I have any cool left at all. But not like the days of blood and thunder. I walk towards my own death only pausing to note the deaths of Squire and others with a short and steady gaze. I actually look forward to the death of certain rock stars. It’s the only thing they’ve got left to keep us entertained or interested.

Dirty Old Town

Been spending the past few days in London, one way or another. Was there at the weekend with my wife and kids. Not staying at the Bucket Of Blood this thine though, but at an even worse dive called the Teddy Bear, in Paddington. We had booked a ‘four-bed suite’. What we got was two rooms on top of each other, both with two beds in – and no room for anything else. The curtains by the windows were both burned from being too near the night lights, and the windows looked out over grey roofs and walls – and the smell of some cunt smoking nearby. Smoke if you must but when I book a non-smoking room I don’t expect you to do it outside my window. They didn’t even do a cooked breakfast. For that, we walked over to the Bucket where their traditional menu of burnt toast, rubber eggs and old socks sausage looked entirely edible for once.

The rest of the time was good though, much walking round Camden Market on a hot Saturday afternoon, buying an array of incense-soused tat that pleased wife and kids no end, and helped relieve me of that bundle of cash I had been squeezing so lovingly in my pocket. In the evening we went to Mele e Pere in Brewer Street where they took such care of my boy, making him an off-menu spag-bol he scoffed, I vowed never to eat anywhere else again. Then we went to wander around Covent Garden until the Sat Nite crazies started coming out and we taxied back to beddy at the Teddy.

Oddly, and I did not plan it this way, but I had to be back in London first thing Monday for some work-type… work. Meetings, don’t you know. Greetings. Everyone talking at once. Big open plan offices and small dark corners elsewhere. Then in the evening, forward to Soho and yonder public house.

Then yesterday, the same thing all over again. Except this time I ended up in Joe Allen’s with a certain editor very close to my wallet. Got there early, left there late. I believe there was food involved at some point. But mainly it was the drink. Pitchers of beer and frosted-glasses of Vodka Martinis (with a twist). I always know when I’ve probably gone a little too far the night before when I wake up the next day with my head on the floor beside the bed next to me. And I reach down for it and can’t quite get it back on the right way round.

All most acceptable most days when all I have to look presentable for is myself me and I in my little office all alone and lonesome. But not this one as I was back in someone else’s office doing the do for much of the day. Still, I will be leaving shortly so thought before I do I would bring you up to date. Admit it, you only miss it when I don’t.

I Bet You Have Some Crazy Stories…

Yeah, I do. The craziest though are not the ones that involve rock stars. The stories that I still think about the most are the ones that run much deeper, that involve real blood, not the fake Hollyweird kind, the real-life tales I often recall through the barely parted fingers of my hands as I hide my face in shame. The times when I would hang around Joe and Bareen knowing they were going out to eat – there was a greasy spoon stayed open late in Acton Vale, sold proper grub dinners for like £3. I wouldn’t have had hot food for several days, had zero spondoolicks, just knew if I hung on long enough and pretended to not know better they would just let me tag along, then at the end when it was time to pay the Greek at the counter I would feign shock at that missing fiver, sure I had one in my pocket when I came out, and Joe would look at me sideways about to say something but Bareen would squeeze his arm and Joe’s better nature would take over. Man, I think I would have died if it hadn’t been for Joe. Then years later when things were going good for me (though bad really) brushing him off because… I don’t know… because I was a cunt, basically. Then all those years since then regretting it, shuddering, still thinking about it.

The times in my life and career when I have let far lesser mortals walk over me. Back and forth, back and forth, until what was left of my so-called soul was squelched into nothingness. Hating them for it but hating myself more for allowing it to happen. Then seeing that same truck come steaming down the street towards me again, and allowing it to hit – again.

Ah, shit, so what? Lately, I feel like I am turning a corner. We – wife and I – are selling our house and using the proceeds to pay off all our (enormous) debts. We should have enough left over plus our usual income to live something like the good life. (Definition of the good life: a plate of something good and a glass of something better to go with it each night and many days of doing something I actually enjoy for a living, rather than anything I can get my hands on just to keep that rotten death trip wolf from the broken door.)

Hey, we might even have a holiday. A proper holiday. No more half-arsed trips to Norfolk (hi six!) or sending wife and kids away to Dorset while I stay behind to work, work, work. Somewhere hot and fabulous and fine where life feels like it’s forever. Haven’t had one of those for nearly 20 years. Ridiculous. Pitiful. Wrong.

Time to make it right. So this next year is going to see me doing stuff I actually want to do. So that if I die the day after tomorrow I will do so no longer a prisoner to someone else’s idea of money and the hell we most of us have to go through to get it, only to give it straight back again. Starting with a nice new tailor-made dude suit from my mainman Nino. Hey, baby!