Hidden In Plain Sight: Done With Mirrors

Released 35 years ago this month, and still the best thing they have done since, Done With Mirrors was the Big Comeback album for Aerosmith, Tyler’s first with Perry and Whitford back where they belong. It was such a giant flop though that John Kalodner at Geffen, who they’d just signed to, persuaded them to never attempt anything like it again. That is, write a diamond-hard rock album of the very darkest water, kicking out the jams like no other band of the time (mid-80s, pre-Guns N’ Roses era) came close to.

Which is a shame, cos this album is such a stone-cold classic. As good as anything Aerosmith in the 70s did, better than most, actually. Right up there with Toys and Rocks. The failure of Mirrors to replicate those mega-70s sales was the reason the band would in future bring in outside writers like Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Jim Valance, and Holly Knight. Proven hit-makers all. As Kiss, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Meat Loaf, and, more recently, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson – to name, literally, just a few – will attest.

But could any of them and their formulaic rulebooks write something as ouch-hot steaming as ‘My Fist, Your Face’? Or as just plain, cock-digging nasty as ‘Shela’? Or as swaggeringly high as ‘Gypsy Boots’? Or as spine-tinglingly blues-groovy as ‘She’s On Fire’? Or just plain balls-out rocking as ‘The Hop’? That was a rhetorical question, of course. Because we all know the answer. At the same time, neither Tyler or Perry could have come up with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ (Warren) or ‘Living La Vida Loca’ (Child). You get the kiddy-porn picture.

Which is why we dug them so deep in their cocaine-heavy, smack-ridden, chick-licking 70s hey-hey-heyday. And why Done With Mirrors seemed to signal a major return to form for the bad boys from Boston. Five years after Zeppelin finally admitted they were over, halfway through a decade ruined by safe-as-milk Reagnonic rock in the guise of MTV-led drivel like Ratt and Quiet Riot, a year after Diamond Dave split from Van Halen and it looked like the good stuff was gone for good, along came Done With Mirrors. I mean, baaaaaaaaby!!! Can you fucking diiiiiiiiiiig ittttttttt!!!

I could, and did. Again and again (and again) during those lost nights in the 1980s when I didn’t have a TV, just the music and the good-bad times to get me and mine through. Best album of 1985, this was. Best album of 1986, too. I mean, Bon Jovi? Whitesnake? Fuck off. And don’t come round again.

Produced by Ted Templeman who knew how to get the party started, removing the red light bulb from studio sessions so the band didn’t even know they were recording. Just telling them to stretch out and go for it, that they’d get back and tidy it up for recording later, they weren’t looking to make any hit singles here. They were after catching lightening in a bottle. And they found it, corked it, then sent it out like a message to the masses: Kiss This.

The vinyl copy I had was only eight tracks long. (An extra, dispensable attempt at Kalodner-inspried commerciality, ‘Darkness’, was later added to the CD – these were the days when record companies would make acts do that to encourage fledgling CD sales; bastards). It was the worst, most contrived track on the album. Man, if you weren’t already sold by ‘The Reason A Dog’ or ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ you were beyond help anyway. There’s the door, ok?

But it flopped, barely getting into the charts. Some blamed the backwards sleeve-writing (you had to hold a mirror  to it to read it, yes, they were very stoned when they thought of it). Others blamed the lack of obvious hits. And so John Kaldoner stepped in to ‘save’ them by bringing in the same hired help all the other would-be rock monsters were using back then. And in chart terms it worked. Permanent Vacation, which followed two years later, had ’Dude Looks Like A Lady’ and ‘Angel’ (both Child) and ‘Rag Doll’ (Knight), and consequently sold over 5 million copies in the US, and eventually went gold in the UK. Job done. If you like that sort of homogenised, one-size-fits-all thing.

But Done With Mirrors remains the bad daddy of everything Aerosmith did after they stopped taking drugs long enough to give it another go in 1985. On a personal level, I’m glad they cleaned up – in every sense – afterwards. But on a musical one, pass the bottle muthafugger and ask that big-ass gal to join us…

Season Of Death

I was wandering down the corridor at the building where my office is, dead from the waist up, when this guy stopped me to chat and ask: “How was your weekend?”

What weekend? I was here. Working. Where was he? “I took the family out to see…” I don’t remember what he said next. I wasn’t listening. Just standing there waiting for him to let me go. He wouldn’t stop though. “And then… it was great…” And blah. I don’t hate him. Not even a little. I envy him, in fact. He’s got it sorted. Whatever it is. Knows where he stands and what’s what. I don’t. Never have. Didn’t even want to. I told myself. Most of the time.

I take days and hours off in the week instead. Sometimes just to lay on the couch and doze. Dogs nearby snoring. Phone on silent. I have to or I wouldn’t be able to cope with the rest of it all. I end up working weekends because I have run out of time (again) on some deadline. This is not meant to sound cool. It is not cool. No one, certainly not my wife or kids or me, think this is cool. Certainly not my editors. Why should they? Cool it is not.

I go and see the sainted Vanessa, tell her i can barely hold my head on straight I am so sluggish and tired. She sticks the needles in, fires up the moxa, tells me to stop eating so much dairy, cut down on the booze, get some exercise. I tell her I most definitely will. And I try to.

But still.

I’ve been working on something lately to do with Thin Lizzy and some things to do with Motörhead. Because they overlap, in terms of people, times, biggest hits, etc, and because I was there for them both in the late 70s and early 80s, and before and after,  I feel like I’m living in my own personal time-machine, travelling back and forth between now and then. Mostly then. Dr Who The Hell. Doctor What The Fuck. Doctor Can You Give Me Something For The Pain.

I only laugh when it hurts. Really hurts. Digs so deep you feel it scraping your inner bones. Your thin as ice rubber soul. Your inside-outness. Then I laugh, in recognition, in shame, in black comic humour, in case.

Oh, that Guns N’ Roses thing? Absolutely happening. Everyone in LA already knows about it. No Steven or Izzy though. I DON’T KNOW WHY, SHUDDUP ABOUT IT!

Just in case.

Final Foos Extract

This is the last of the exclusive extracts from my new Foo Fighters book, Learning To Fly. If you like , please don’t forget to review it on Amazon.

Reading Festival, 26 August 2012. Sunday night. The one they’ve all been waiting for. Nearly 90,000 people, all ready to let themselves go, all ready to explode with pride on behalf of the most prideful band in rock, all ready already.

 Knowing this, feeling the occasion more keenly than the most fish-eyed fan, Dave Grohl makes his move. His timing has always been excellent. This time, though, he knows he has excelled himself, for this is a special night: 20 years exactly since he first headlined Reading with Nirvana, before the shit hit the fan and the world went all wrong.

 But now it is all right again. Now everything is just cool, brother. It’s 20 years later, a new generation, another century, and Dave is feeling so good he decides to stop the show and tell the crowd, his people, all nearly 90,000 of them, a little story. It goes like this…

 Strumming his guitar, stroking it like the hair on a baby’s head, gently, playfully, sensually, absent-mindedly, the rest of the band shutdown, hidden in the shadows, listening as intently as the crowd, Dave just wants to share, to connect, to be like Bruce Springsteen but without the self-righteous bullshit, guitar twinkling.

 ‘… so I grew up in Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC. I played in a punk rock band. We played in little clubs and squats and we toured and we fuckin’ starved and it was really, really fun. One day this friend of mine says, “Hey, you ever heard of that band Nirvana?”…’

 The crowd, Dave’s crowd, some of whom have never owned a Nirvana record, but are smart enough to play along, give this an enormous roar of approval. Nirvana, golden name, golden band, golden age, now gone, lost in the single blast of a double-gauge shotgun and the simple delirium of an OD-strength hit from a syringe, Kurt’s loaded body shaking interminably then stopping. Abruptly. Bloodily. Stupidly.

 ‘… I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve heard of Nirvana”. He said, “Well, they’re looking for a drummer and they think you’re pretty good”. I said, “Really?” “Yeah.” So I flew up to Seattle…’

 His guitar twinkling, drifting, like orphan stars high above. Black tee. Black jeans. Black-and-white sneakers. Black beard and white, spotlit face.

 ‘… and they already had a drummer. This guy named Danny. He was a fucking great drummer. Danny was in a band called Mudhoney…’ Some modest yells of recognition. No one out there can actually name two good Mudhoney songs, let alone who the drummer was on the first Nirvana album, but here’s a clue: it was neither Danny nor Dave. Yeah, and so?

 ‘… and they’d been over here and toured and played a bunch. So the first day I ever hung out with Krist and Kurt and all those guys, we were having a little barbecue and I said to Danny, I said: “What’s the biggest audience you’ve ever played to?” And he said, “Uh… 35,000 people.” I said, “Where the fuck did Mudhoney play to 35,000 people?” He said, “Oh, this place called the Reading festival”…’

 Now comes the real sweet spot as the nearly 90,000 people at this Reading have a rippling, whole-body crowdgasm.

 ‘About a year later, we had recorded the record Nevermind and we had come over here to play some festivals…’ The last of these words drowned out as the crowd erupts into another fetishistic thunderclap. They can’t believe what they’re hearing, what they’re witnessing. Dave Grohl never mentions Nevermind. Never talks about Nirvana. Not at a Foo Fighters show! Except, he is! He just fucking is!

 Dave continues to spin his yarn, about the first time he and Nirvana played Reading, even further back, how he had ‘never been so fucking scared in my entire life’, at the prospect of playing to so many people. How it was ‘beyond my wildest fucking dreams,’ and the 2012 Reading crowd continues to lap it up, baying and hooting and hanging on every gooey, sentimental syllable.

 Then a little misstep: ‘Over the years I’ve seen the stage get taller and taller and I’ve seen the barrier get farther and farther away.’ It’s leading up to something but the crowd doesn’t give him time to finish. They start to booooooo.

 But Dave Grohl didn’t get where he is today without knowing how to recover from mistakes, to find the instant rejoinder that gets the conversation back on track, the evasive action that guarantees to right the ship, that gets the show back on the road.

 Without even flinching, he just rolls it out, like a punch line, like he always knew what he was doing all along. ‘But from right here, it looks the same as it has for 22 years.’ The booing stops and the crowd melts as one. They knew they could rely on Dave. That he would never let them down, never stop making sense or call on them to get their eyes blackened.

 But still it’s not enough. He goes on, talking about his mother, who is there at the side of the stage, as she often is these days, as she sometimes was even in Nirvana days, and whose birthday it is in a few days time, getting the crowd to sing her ‘Happy Birthday’, which of course they are more than happy to do, the giant video screens flashing on her at the side of the stage smiling, enchanted, bursting with pride for her most prideful son.

 It’s like one of those scenes from a Disney movie, where the handsome young hero, having fought his up from nothing, against all odds, despite the haters, the bullies and the badmouthing, finally triumphs and gets to make his valedictory speech in front of an adoring crowd of whooping, cheering Hollywood extras.

 It’s exactly like that, except… well… this is real. Right?

 ‘This festival,’ he chokes out the words, his guitar becoming insistent ‘is not just a festival to me.’ Pauses, drama, pause, dingle-dangle-doo on the guitar, piercing stare into the crowd. ‘Tonight… is like the most important gig of my life.’ The tide of approval rolls in across the festival grounds, the mental visuals all in sweeping long shot, the dream panorama almost complete now…

 ‘So this one,’ small-breath, ‘is for all of you!’ No blam into the song though, no band follow-up. ‘It’s called ‘Times Like These’…’

 Dave, the master of delayed gratification, merely upping the stakes by singing the song alone, just him and the crowd and his almost 90,000 very best friends, on the occasion of the most important gig of his life.

 ‘It’s times like these you learn to live again,’ he croons, sounding a little like Tom Petty, who he nearly joined after Kurt died, but was too smart to. ‘It’s times like these you learn to give and give again…’

 And there you have it: the reason why it isn’t just the people at Reading festival that love Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters; it’s the millions around the world that have bought his CDs and DVDs, his concert and festival tickets; the generations that bought into his story, his dream, his self-fulfilling prophecies. Dave’s a giver. He may not have the savant glamour of Kurt Cobain, but Kurt was a taker. Kurt dwelled in darkness, on the wrong side of the moon. Dave is a sun worshipper, a lover not a loner, a bringer of light.

 Above all, Dave is a fast learner. Everything he has, all that he does, picked up along the way, from the street, from the breast of his mother, from his kids, his fans, and the band mates he tolerates and conveys fame and wealth to. Everything Nirvana did wrong, the Foo Fighters do right. Everything Kurt could not stomach, that he choked on, Dave has chewed up and spat out and allowed to make him stronger. Where Kurt was the perpetual victim, inviting the stalkers to rape him, Dave is the ultimate survivor, daring the world to try and tell him different. Vanquishing foes with that big goofy smile and warm embrace; unafraid in private to draw the knife and strike whenever he really has to.

 ‘It’s times like these you learn to love again,’ he sings that night at Reading. ‘It’s times like these, time and time again…’

And that’s when the band does finally come in, the timing perfect, the drama heightened, cathartic, real, the stage now fully lit as Dave shows again just how well he has learned the game, become at a master at it, and how we all can’t help but love the nicest man in rock, while knowing no one gets this far down the road by simply being nice. That to be a real foo fighter you have to fly so fast across what passes for most normal people’s radar that they really can’t identify what or who you are, just follow the streak as it wends its way, zigzagging back and forth across the sky, night or day, in pretty colours, both alien and human, in revolving order.

That, to be a real foo fighter you have to know how to pilot a ball of fire. Learning to fly so fast the only real trail left behind – the only truth left to be told – is all yours.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Piece Of Mind

The first Maiden album to feature Nicko McBrain, Piece Of Mind actually begins with a big drum flourish, as if announcing the arrival of the Mad McBrain into their midst. Like Bruce with Paul, in terms of sheer technique, Nicko was a far superior performer to his predecessor, and his addition tallowed the band an even greater capacity to finesse what was now recognised as the quintessential Maiden-sound: full metal jacket vocals, combat guitars, artillery-fire drums, and the ever-present rhythmic pulse of Steve’s manic bass, bulging like a vein in the foreground. The sheer strength of the material on Piece Of Mind reflecting the fact that, in master technicians like Bruce, Adrian and Nicko, allied to the gutsy, rock ‘n’ roll energy and emotion of Steve and Davey, Maiden now had all the tools they needed to stretch-out and begin to create their own first real masterpieces.


As usual, a clutch of Steve Harris-penned tracks provided the backbone of the album: ‘Where Eagles Dare’(a sky-kissing paean to self-reliance and inner-strength), ‘The Trooper’ (a Boy’s Own tale of wartime derring-do),‘Quest For Fire’ (inspired by the thought-provoking movie of the same name released in 1982) and ‘To Tame A Land’ (an epic album-closer with lyrics only comprehensible to readers of Dune, Frank Herbert’s labyrinthine novel of space-age politics, love and war). In fact, the band had originally planned to call the track ‘Dune’, and had discussed using a spoken-word passage from the book as an intro, but then Herbert sent word via his agents that he was refusing them permission because, he said, “Frank Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially bands like Iron Maiden.” Ouch!

Of the remaining five tracks, ‘Flight Of Icarus’ and ‘Sun And Steel’ were Bruce and Adrian numbers; ‘Still Life’ was a Steve and Davey tune; ‘Die With Your Boots On’ was a Bruce and Adrian idea that Steve grafted some ideas of his own onto; and ‘Revelations’ was a song Bruce had come up with on his own. All of them were superb, but two – ‘Flight Of Icarus’ and ‘Revelations’ – deserve special mention. The former, a mid-paced growler that suddenly bursts into a multi-tracked vocal chorus straight out of the REO Speedwagon back-catalogue, was the controversial first single from the album. Unbelievably cheesy or just unbelievably catchy, depending on your point of view, despite reaching No.11 in the UK, in April 1983, and gaining the band their first single release in the US (where, unlike the UK, singles were not released unless the record company was utterly convinced they had a potential hit record on their hands), ‘Flight Of Icarus’ divided critical opinion, not least amongst the band themselves.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ‘Flight Of Icarus’ as a song,” says Steve, “though I do wish we’d had more time to break it in live, before we recorded it. It was a lot more powerful live, a lot faster and heavier.” While Bruce insists that, “Steve never liked it. He thought it was too slow. But I wanted it to be that rock-steady sort of beat, I knew it would get onto American radio if we kept it that way and I was right.” Well, almost. Top Of The Pops certainly showed the video, and yes, several AOR (adult-oriented-radio) stations in America did, briefly, add it to their play-lists, but it was the stormin’ follow-up single, ‘The Trooper’, which most Maiden fans from those days still recall first when you mention  Piece Of Mind, if they know it at all.

The only people who didn’t like Bruce’s ‘Revelations’, were the ones who weren’t supposed to like it: the neo-fundamentalist religious groups in America who still accused Maiden of being Satanists. Ironically, what they appeared to take offence to most this time was the witty use on the sleeve of an actual quote from the Bible’s Revelations, Chapter 14, Verse 1, which reads: ‘And God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more Death. Neither sorrow, nor crying. Neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed.’ Except where the scripture reads ‘pain’, the band had inserted the word ‘Brain’, as a pun on the title of the album.

It was a deliberate wind-up which worked only too well and before long families all over the American South were again being urged to burn their teenage children’s Iron Maiden records. The band themselves found the whole situation so absurd they couldn’t resist really taking the piss, and at the last minute  inserted a few words played backwards between the tracks, ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Still Life’, as a joke on anyone gullible enough to believe the stories of band’s like Maiden inserting ‘evil’ messages on their albums that could only be revealed by playing the records backwards. In this case, a drunken Nicko McBrain doing what he calls, “my famous Idi Amin impression.”

Released in Britain on May 16, 1983, Piece Of My Mind entered the UK charts at No.3. Critical response in the UK was lukewarm compared to the fanfare Number Of The Beast had received, and though Piece… would outsell every previous Maiden album in the UK, it remains strangely overlooked to this day.

Against the advice of everybody, the band headlined their own US tour for the first time in 1983, a gamble that paid-off handsomely as they watched awe-struck as Piece Of Mind climbed into the US Top 20, their first album to do so, eventually settling at No.14 and selling more than a million copies, thereby earning them their first US Platinum album. Still regarded as a relatively new band in America, at that time, Piece Of Mind was perceived by the mainstream US media as almost an overnight success. It was far from that. But it was the best Maiden album so far. Tell me The Book Of Souls is better. Go on, try. I dare you…

Foos Extract No. 6: The Day The Band Died

This is from Chapter 11 of my new Foo Fighters book, Learning To Fly, out now.

What nearly finished all of them off though was what Dave did next: deciding he would rather become a member of Queens of the Stone Age. Holy shit …

For Chris, this was terrible news, worse than the limbo he’d endured in the studio. He’d joined the band, seen his ‘dream come true’ – now it looked like it was over. He could not get his head around it at all. But then neither could any of the others. Taylor, in particular, took it very badly, personally, like a slap in the kisser, payback time, maybe, he thought, for being such a fuck-up on the road. For once, Dave didn’t even pretend to care. He didn’t have to be there, struggling to keep the Foos on the right track. He could just go and do something more interesting, right then. So he did.

Formed in 1997 by the ex-Kyuss singer-guitarist Josh Homme, QOTSA were then one of the coolest bands on the planet rock. Neither their eponymous debut, released independently in 1998, nor their major-label debut, Rated R, in 2000, was a big chart success, but the band’s critical reputation preceded them. If Kyuss, from Palm Desert, in the Coachella valley, had been one of the forerunners of ‘stoner rock’, mixing wild peyote-wisdom with deep desert-sand blues, then Homme’s vision for QOTSA went several steps further, advancing the prickly-cactus rhythms of Kyuss to exaggerated heights of technical expertise and dreamlike trance-music that both rocked and ruled, majestic in its decadent splendour.

In short, though they lacked any of the Foo Fighters’ commercial success, QOTSA were, right then, a far more exciting proposition, musically, than any Dave had been involved with since the brilliantly real, frighteningly nightmarish In Utero. Always far more of a musical collective than a stand-alone group, with each album always featuring several guest performers, from Rob Halford to Mark Lanegan, Dave joining the Queens in the studio to record their third album, Songs for the Deaf, was a surprisingly easy move for him to make. Excited by the idea of simply becoming a drummer again on someone else’s album, he took to his new role with such enthusiasm he virtually became a full-time member of the band, playing on the whole album and appearing in the video for the album’s lead single, ‘No One Knows’.

For someone like Anton Brookes, who had known Dave since he was the newbie in Nirvana, there was less surprise in this latest development in the Foo Fighters’ story. ‘When the Foo Fighters supposedly split up or when the Foo Fighters ditch an album and go back in the studio, Dave’s always gone with his instincts, and his instincts, 9.9 times out of ten, have always proved right,’ says Anton. ‘From sacking musicians, to bringing musicians in, when he went off with QOTSA, everybody was like, “Oh my god, what’s happening here?” But that was part of his development. I still think that was probably part of the throwback from Nirvana. Like, what am I doing with my life? He was still a relatively young man when he drummed on [Songs for the Deaf]. I remember going to see them play at the Astoria 2, in London, and I’d not seen Dave drum since Nirvana. I might have seen him drum on the odd song for the Foos or something, and I saw him on TV drumming for Tom Petty. But to watch him drum live again … To this day, I still think that’s the best QOTSA album, and I think that’s partly down to Grohl. What he contributed to that record, it cannot be taken lightly.

‘And when you go and see him onstage … the Queens, they’re proper musicians, a proper band. And they’re a cool, cult phenomenon. There’s nothing throwaway about QOTSA, and to play with them, to do something with them, you’ve got to be on top of your game. When Dave went behind the stool onstage, or when you see him in the video for ‘No One Knows’, and he’s drumming. The look on his face, the tempo of the song and he’s breathing hard, you know, you can tell he’s had to train to get there as a drummer he’s had to go back and put some time in to get there. But I think as a musician, when he recorded with them, he just went in and did it, one or two takes.’

With the rest of the Foos left in limbo for the duration, news of an appearance together onstage at the 2002 Coachella festival, in California, in April, was seen as a sign of light at the end of the tunnel until it was explained to them that Queens of the Stone Age would also be appearing – with Dave on drums. Suddenly, Coachella was seen as a make-or-break date by all of them. ‘We nearly broke up,’ Taylor recalled in 2005. ‘We didn’t know what we were going to do. I wasn’t surprised when we binned the demo: I was thinking, ‘Should we even be making records?’ It was such a disorganised, unfocused time. I don’t think Dave was sure of what he wanted to do and, you know, he is the leader. I think he was still in love with the Queens of the Stone Age stuff; he really wanted to go and play with them.’

The closer the date of the two-day festival approached, the more the tension grew among the freaked-out Foos. With Dave rehearsing some of the time with QOTSA, the rest of the time with his own band, the atmosphere in the Foos became unbearable. Nobody was talking any more, they just gritted their teeth and braced themselves to get through the show. When, at one rehearsal, Chris joked about how you could cut the air with a knife a huge fight broke out between the warring members. Mainly Taylor and Dave. They finally had it out. All of it. For ever. Finally. Fuck it. Done.

Taylor hated it that Dave had gone off to play drums with QOTSA. Dave couldn’t have insulted him more if he’d fucked his old lady. But Dave was now playing the long game. Foo Fighters was his band. His band; his rules. His moves. Taylor and the others would just have to suck it up. But when Taylor made a point of not going to see Dave play with QOTSA at Coachella, Dave predictably got upset, though what he expected Taylor to do, nobody knew. Taylor: ‘I was supposed to be happy that Dave was having such a good time.’ But he wasn’t fucking happy at all. Why should he be? This was a piss-take, right? Right, Dave, man?

Says Paul Brannigan: ‘The Foos were in a pretty bad shape.’ Dave working with QOTSA was ‘a bit of a fuck-you to his bandmates. Like, if you’re not bothered then I’m gonna go and do what I wanna do, you know? And it spiralled into something it wasn’t supposed to be. Obviously then that sparked confrontation within the band. It led to Dave laying down the law and basically saying, this is my band and we do it this way, or we don’t do it at all. Or rather, you don’t do it at all.’

There was another quarrel between Dave and Taylor the following day, just hours before the Foos were due on stage, over the set list, during which Dave told Taylor if he didn’t like it he could fucking leave. To which Taylor replied that he would be doing exactly that – right after the show.

Then came the show. Queens had gone down exceptionally well the day before, but they had been twelfth on the bill, coming on mid-afternoon. The Foos, third on the bill, and onstage early evening, went down an absolute storm, all the tension and friction causing them to virtually explode into the set. Their first show since the desultory V festival in England eight months before, and they played brilliantly. Dave was on fire. Taylor was out of his skin. Chris and Nate just had to keep up for it to be one of their best shows ever.

When it was over, Dave asked Taylor to take a walk with him backstage, where for the first time since the drummer’s OD they talked as friends again, brothers reunited. Dudes. The following morning it was agreed they band would meet up again at Dave’s studio in Virginia, and see what happened when they revisited some of the material from the aborted album.

‘Theoretically that should have been the end of the Foo Fighters – their staring-at-the-abyss moment. Once they managed to negotiate that then suddenly everything was a bit easier. Everybody knew their place. Everybody knew how things operated. But that fight was their defining moment. Once they got that out of their system then everyone understood how things operated and whatever Dave chose to do, they always had the faith in him that he was coming back. These are the things that Dave wants to do and we’ll just chill here until he comes back.’

Their first day back at 606, Dave walked in with a brand-new song. It was called ‘Times Like These’ and it seemed to say it all, with its heightened message of ‘a brand new sky to hang the stars upon tonight’. A song that Dave admitted had been about the choice he’d been wrestling with all year: ‘Do I stay or run away?’ A choice he still hadn’t made.

Foo Fighters Book Extract No. 5: Pat Smear

Pat Smear – real name: Georg Albert Ruthenberg – had just celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday when he got the phone call from Kurt Cobain that would finally, after 15 years of trying, make him a star. A native of Los Angeles, Georg had a bloodline which was an unusual blend of African American and Native American on his mother’s side and German immigrant on his father’s. Pushed into taking classical piano lessons as a child, he insists he’d never even heard any rock music until he was at high school. ‘My parents didn’t allow rock music in the house,’ he explained. ‘I actually didn’t even know it existed until I was probably eleven years old.’ That changed when his parents bought his older sister three albums: the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. ‘She just played them over and over and over … I just thought there was The Beatles – and everything else!’

By the time he met a 19-year-old high-school dropout named Paul Beahm, in 1977, Georg had taught himself to play guitar, taking inspiration from Brian May of Queen and Mick Ronson of Ziggy-era David Bowie. Latterly, he had also become obsessed with the British punk scene, fascinated by the intersexual look as much as the spastic-elastic music. His new friend Paul, who had recently changed his name, in true punk fashion, to Darby Crash, shared similar tastes in ‘outrageous music’, although Darby was more inclined to the Sid Vicious school of ultra-violent onstage action than he was the razor-sharp attitude of a Johnny Rotten. Both, though, had a love of Queen and Iggy Pop and it was on this common ground that they found their place together. With Darby as singer and Pat as guitarist, they would form the band that was to become the start of a musical journey almost preordained to end in disaster.

Darby came from pain: an older brother, Bobby Lucas, who had been murdered in a drug deal gone bad, and a stepfather, Bob Baker, who had also checked out badly three years earlier. Brought up by an abusive single mother with her own mental health issues, Darby outlined to Ruthenberg, whom he now renamed Pat Smear, what he thought of as his five-year plan to make himself immortal. First off, form the most outrageous band ever. Next, record just one great album. Then kill himself, thus ensuring his legend would live for ever.

Pat listened to all of this and thrilled to the thought. British punk rock had already arrived in Southern California, but it was only ever a secondhand version, based on out-of-date British music paper stories and pix, and simple word of mouth. The Sex Pistols, who they worshipped, never did play live in LA, and The Clash, whom they found too straight by comparison, didn’t get there until 1979, when they headlined a sold-out show at the Santa Monica Civic. Instead, LA punk was like a sleazier version of original Detroit garage rock groups like Alice Cooper and The Stooges, with hot flushes of Bowie-as-Ziggy and Queen-as-Freddie-Mercury-plaything thrown in.

That was what Darby and Pat were aiming for anyway when they formed their group, Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens. Half boy, half girl (they advertised for ‘two untalented girls’, recruiting the bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Belinda Carlisle, whom Darby renamed Dottie Danger, but who soon left to form the Go-Go’s), all amateur, none of the band, aside from Pat, could actually play when they did their first gigs. But that was beside the point. They changed their name to The Germs because it fitted better on T-shirts than Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, and their shows were essentially triggers for full-on punk riots, with Darby, often tripping on stage, or simply high on anything anyone gave him, from booze to dope to speed to downers, throwing himself around the stage and among the audience, slashing open his chest with broken bottles and mangling lyrics to songs like ‘Sex Boy’. Key line: ‘I like it anywhere any time that I can / I’m the fucking son of superman!’

‘Whatever we were going to be, we were going to be the most,’ said Pat. ‘If we’re gonna be punk, then we are gonna out-punk the Sex Pistols! If we are gonna be the worst band ever, then we are gonna be the fucking worst band ever!’ It was a pledge they more than lived up to. Their only album, (GI), aka Germs Incognito, was released by local LA punk label Slash Records in October 1979. Produced for peanuts by the former Runaways star Joan Jett, idolized by Darby and Pat, its 17 tracks recorded in a matter of days, the comparative clarity of the tracks, as opposed to the totally chaotic live performances, where Darby would deliberately not sing into the mic for half the show, lifted the band’s reputation out of the  gutter and into the pantheon of all-time LA punk classics. It even got reviewed in the LA Times, which described it as an ‘aural holocaust’.

There was an extra element to what The Germs did, too, that some have theorized since may have had to do with Darby’s closeted homosexuality. Was that inward-turned rage really just another expression of punk rock? Or was the boy railing against something more specific? Pat, too, liked to flaunt an androgynous allure that may have had more to it than just punk ‘front’. Interviewed in the classic Penelope Spheeris movie documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, about the LA punk scene of 1979–80, Pat cheerfully tells the camera: ‘I’d probably hit lots of girls in the face. I don’t like girls very much.’ Not because he was a tough, butch guy. As he says, ‘I’ve probably punched out everybody I know at one time or another. But I’ve always run afterwards because I can’t fight.’

The question of Pat Smear’s sexuality has been shushed and tutted over ever since. Darby eventually became much more open about his homosexuality, or bisexuality, as he saw it. Pat, despite his heavy makeup, loud clothes, black nail polish and generally effeminate mien, has never been so bold, at least not publicly. And why should he? What does it matter as long as his guitar playing is up to scratch? Yet it seems likely that it was this extra aspect of his personality that helped endear Pat to Kurt, as much as his musicianly abilities. Kurt also liked dressing up in feminine clothes and wearing outré makeup and nail polish. Loved to blur the masculine-feminine, in his music as much as his life. When asked about his love affair with Courtney by Michael Azerrad, he suggested it didn’t matter whether his soul mate was a man or a woman as long as there was real love there on both sides. Or as he sang in ‘All Apologies’, one of the most affecting tracks from the In Utero album: ‘What else should I say / Everyone is gay.’

Less triumphal was the tragi-comic way Darby Crash eventually died. As good as his word, The Germs had split up in the months that followed the release of their ‘one great album’, dispirited by the near-impossibility of getting gigs (their reputation for leaving venues wrecked having turned off almost all of LA’s club owners) as much as Darby’s five-year plan for self-destruction. Then, out of the blue, a Germs ‘reunion’ show was announced for Wednesday, 3 December 1980. The venue was a packed Starwood club, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard. It was, typically, a chaotic affair, with Darby telling the crowd at one point, ‘We did this show so you new people could see what it was like when we were around. You’re not going to see it again.’ On the night, it was interpreted as a literal farewell from the band. But Pat would later recall how in the run-up to the show, Darby had confessed to him: ‘The only reason I’m doing this is to get money to get enough heroin to kill myself with.’ Pat, though, had shrugged it off. ‘He’d said that so many times I just said, “Oh, right”, and didn’t think about it any more.’

Four nights later, Darby and his then girlfriend, Casey Cola, were sitting on the floor of a backroom at her mother’s house and shooting up $400 worth of heroin. Darby shot Casey up first, then himself, then held her in his arms while the lights went out. But Casey didn’t die. Instead, she came to hours later to find a dead Darby in her arms. Blue at 22, he had kept his promise. But fate, always an unreliable witness, foiled his scheme, robbing him of even minor punk immortality when news of John Lennon’s assassination by another painfully deluded young American hit the airwaves.

Pat Smear didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, when he heard, he was too in shock, too afraid for his own future. Too busy chewing on a cigarette and hanging by the telephone. Three months later he joined The Adolescents, Orange County’s reigning punk rock kings. But left soon after when he decided he didn’t want to tour with the band. The Germs had never left LA. The thought of being stuck in the back of a van with a bunch of laughing, farting smart boys was probably too much for the hypersensitive guitarist.

Pat spent the rest of the 1980s living off the fumes of an assumed outlandish past. There had been short-lived new wave bands like Twisted Roots, with Black Flag’s former bassist Kira Roessler as vocalist, who were considered ultra-cool but too late out of the gate to get a deal; 45 Grave, with whom he recorded a single, ‘Black Cross’, before he split; a stint playing in punk-witch-queen Nina Hagen’s live band; and two solo albums – the so-so Ruthensmear (1987) and So You Fell in Love with a Musician … (1991), both released on the independent SST label, founded by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and early home to bands like Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets and Soundgarden.

Between times Pat had also built up a CV as a bit part player in various movies and TV shows, starting as an extra in an episode of Quincy, ME, then appearing as a ‘background artist’ in Bladerunner, Breakin’ and Howard the Duck. It was during this period he first met a teenage Courtney Love, whose lead part in Alex Cox’s so-bad-it’s-good cod-Western, Straight to Hell, also starring Joe Strummer, had been noticed by Pat and his one-day friend Kurt Cobain.

Foos Extract No. 4

This is an exclusive extract from my new biography of the Foo Fighters: Learning To Fly, which is out now.

In the depths of his depression Dave received a postcard from the members of another Seattle band. One named 7 Year Bitch, not nearly as famous as Nirvana but who had, nevertheless, faced a similar experience when their 24-year-old guitarist and co-founder, Stephanie Sargent, died of a heroin overdose in June 1992. ‘Basically, it said, “We know what you’re going through, we went through it too, we know that you’re feeling like you never want to play music again, but that will change.” And it did,’ he recalled in a moving 1995 interview with the foremost Australian DJ and music journalist Richard Kingsmill. ‘I’m for ever in debt to them for that,’ said Dave. ‘I’ve been touring in bands since I was seventeen years old and there is not much else that I know as well as playing music. It’s like kicking a nasty habit. I just don’t think I would be able to do it. And that is when I realised there is no way I am going to be able to stop doing what I’ve done for ten years. I can’t stop … plus I knew it was good for me to keep going, just to keep moving.’

It was on his honeymoon with Jenny in Dublin that Dave bought the mini electric guitar that he wrote ‘This is a Call’ and ‘Wattershed’ on, both destined to become cornerstone tracks on the first Foo Fighters album, and both so good even Dave recognised it. This was the next important step towards finding a future he could truly see for himself. Looking back, he admitted he had fallen ‘immediately into a depression’ when Kurt killed himself. He saw it as the end of his career, something he was never going to be able come back from. To battle those feelings he agreed to see a therapist, which ‘was good’, he said. But he still ‘didn’t know if I ever wanted to play drums again. Just sitting down at the drum set just reminded me of Kurt, reminded me of Nirvana and it was just sad …’ Writing those two new songs in Ireland appeared to him to be a sign – of life after death; of renewal. Above all, of being given a fighting chance to somehow survive what seemed until then utterly impossible.

He knew what he had to do; it was just finding a way to actually do it. The easiest – and hardest and stupidest – thing to do would have been to simply get a new singer in. The way Van Halen had done, for example, just a few years before, replacing the until then ‘irreplaceable’ David Lee Roth with the on paper more staid but ultimately much more popular and, for Van Halen, even more successful Sammy Hagar. Or, closer to home, the way Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had replaced their original singer, Andrew Wood, in their hotly tipped-for-success previous Seattle outfit, Mother Love Bone – going on to even greater success with Eddie Vedder. Or the way so many earlier classic rock acts from the Seventies had done, like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Bad Company.

But that would have been a joke, and one in very poor taste. The thought of forming a band with Krist and getting a new frontman in was something they never even tried to talk about. That would have been ‘way too heavy’, Dave said. ‘We’ve never talked about that. Ever. It’s twenty years and we still haven’t talked about it.’ In fact, Dave and Krist had explored the possibilities of at least playing together again, jamming together in secret. ‘Yeah, we thought about it,’ Dave admitted a few months later. ‘But when it came to actually making Foo Fighters a band, I’m just not sure that Krist wanted to start up and be a bass player right away again. It just fizzled and we forgot about it.’ He added, ‘There weren’t any harsh feelings or anything at all. I think we were both really happy to do our own things.’

There was another reason, though, why Dave didn’t want to become involved in trying to build something new with Krist: his absolute need to move as far away from the Nirvana narrative as possible. He knew he would never be able to step out of the shadow of the band completely, but he was dammed if he was going to willingly allow himself to be trapped there for ever. Dave also knew, though he would never come right out and say it, that any group he might put together with Krist would be a partnership, at best, and that in any partnership with his former Nirvana bandmate there would be only one real equal and that sure as shit wasn’t going to be Dave. Krist, four years older and several lifetimes deeper, had always been Dave’s senior in Nirvana. That would not change now just because Nirvana had gone. Dave may not have known yet exactly what he was going to do, but one thing he was sure of, it would have to be something that was all about him. No one else.

In the end he simply told himself he would have no plan, just go into the studio with his old pal Barrett Jones and make some music, just like the old days. He had enough songs, nearly 40, he reckoned, if you included all the scraps and half-starts. Swearing everyone to secrecy, he discreetly booked a week at Robert Lang studios, in October. Didn’t even bother to bring in any extra musicians, would just lay down a demo, playing and singing everything himself. Just to see. Just to know. Just to do … something.

The previous month he and Krist had been involved in overseeing the mix of Nirvana’s live Unplugged sessions, which DGC were preparing to release as a stand-alone album. ‘I remember … that was extremely difficult,’ he said. ‘That’s the album that it’s most difficult for me to listen to. Just because it’s so eerie and stark … It’s just so bare-boned.’

He told himself that going in with Barrett would be different, that he was doing this ‘for fun’, not as his attempt to build a bridge to a future without Kurt and Nirvana. Yet he recorded the tracks in exactly the order they would later appear on the first Foo Fighters album, beginning with ‘This is a Call’, a symbolic choice with its chorus of, ‘This is a call to all my past resignations …’ Dave would later tell journalists that ‘This is a Call’ was a song ‘just basically thanking and paying respects to everybody that I have ever been close to … Whether it was friends, or previous bands.’ But everyone knew that was a lie. That it was about Kurt and Krist and the life they had now been denied, and that Dave was free to now look back on and allow the distance to grow and be felt properly.

As if to prevent him from overthinking what he was doing, Dave raced through the recording process. ‘This is a Call’ set the pace: two takes, total playing time just under 45 minutes. ‘It became this little game,’ he later told Alternative Press, ‘I was running from room to room, still sweating and shaking from playing drums and pick up the guitar and put down a track, do the bass, maybe do another guitar part, have a sip of coffee and then go in and do the next song. We were done with the music in the first two days.’

Although Dave would later employ the production team of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, who’d recently hit the big time with their work on Beck’s Mellow Gold album, to mix the tapes – to lift them out of that sludgy home-recording vibe and onto a level where college radio, at least, would be comfortable playing them – the finished cassettes that he now started fanning out to anyone who wanted one was the template for everything the Foo Fighters would become famous for over the next three years. Twelve mainly rifftastic songs that got in, did their thing, and got out again – fast. There were no guitar solos, few real lyrics, and lead vocals so low down in the mix they effectively became another texture to the overall sound. The fist-tight rhythms were as brutal and as inventive as anything from the Nevermind period of Nirvana, but it was the sugar-shocked vocals that really did the job, where all the melody lay, all the catchiness. So that when tracks like ‘I’ll Stick Around’ – one of four major highlights alongside ‘This is a Call’, ‘Big Me’ and ‘For All the Cows’ – were pilloried in the rock press for sounding too much like Nirvana it hardly mattered. This was punk done with a bright pop sheen, unencumbered by the bloodied tendrils that had trapped so much of Nirvana’s latter-stage material.  

As Anton Brookes puts it, ‘To an extent the Foo Fighters are Nirvana-lite, aren’t they? It’s not as intense. It’s not as dark … Foo Fighters songs are not ugly-beautiful. But they have passion. It’s just that the Foo Fighters [music] is sleek and it’s well drilled and it’s got diversity and everything. But the Foos’ songs are completely different [to Nirvana’s]. I think, to an extent, a lot of Nirvana’s songs can be a little too heavy, mentally, for people to digest. It’s like listening to Joy Division or something. Where the Foo Fighters is … and I’m not dumbing down here or anything … but you can put the Foos Fighters on and it’s more enjoyable. It’s more of a good time. Nirvana was never a good time …’

Buoyed by the good reactions his cassettes were getting from friends like Krist Novoselic and Alex Macleod, Nirvana’s tour manager, Dave now sent a copy to Gary Gersh, Nirvana’s A&R guru at DGC, now running the ship at Capitol Records, along with a hope-ya-like-it-no-biggie note. Leaving as little as possible to chance, though, he also sent a copy to Gersh’s successor at DGC, Mark Kates. ‘That’s when things started getting a little crazy,’ Dave later remarked disingenuously.

It’s since become part of the Foo Fighters orthodoxy that Dave Grohl more or less fell accidentally into starting his own ‘band’. That he’d made this tape ‘for fun’ that he’d really never intended releasing, slapping the made-up name ‘Foo Fighters’ onto it to disguise the fact it was actually the new thing from the drummer in Nirvana. That as the goofy smiley one of the group he simply didn’t have that kind of shrewd, street-level suss to really know what he was doing.

In fact, the ‘craziness’ he spoke of was exactly what Dave had been banking on. His timing, as ever, was impeccable. It was no coincidence that the same month Dave began talking to both Capitol and DGC about a solo deal, the final ‘real time’ Nirvana album, MTV Unplugged in New York, was released, going straight to Number One simultaneously in Britain and America and topping the charts in six other countries. Less than three weeks later, on 19 November, Dave appeared with Tom Petty on Saturday Night Live. With his profile sky-high again and the most commercial-sounding album Nirvana never made under his belt, he was not short of offers to start again, but this time entirely on his own terms.

But this is where he really showed his hard-won street smarts. Instead of signing directly to either Capitol or DGC, or indeed any other major label, Dave Grohl, on the advice of the same Gold Mountain management team behind Nirvana, as well as the same lawyers, formed his own label, Roswell, and fashioned a production deal for himself, whereby he would retain control of all decisions pertaining to the Foo Fighters, while at the same time receiving the not inconsiderable benefit of the distribution, marketing and promotion that only a major label could provide. He also rightly decided to eschew renewing his business relationship with DGC in favour of sticking with Gary Gersh, the man who not only signed Nirvana but also helped steer it through its greatest commercial success with Nevermind.

Having spent his whole career, until then, prey to the whims of others as the last to join groups whose destinies already seemed, in some way, preordained, having spent, most perniciously, the past two years being the victim of a singer whose horrendous personal life had eventually nearly destroyed his own, Dave Grohl was determined never to be put in that position again – by anybody, friend or foe.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Turbo

It’s now considered to be the moment where it all began to unravel for Judas Priest, but in fact Turbo found the Priest operating at the very height of their always contrived yet never less than thrilling powers. Hardcore 80s metal fans never quite forgave them for it. They just didn’t get it. Why would Judas Priest want to leave behind the short pop-metal anthems that had made them so successful in the first half of the decade? But hardcore 80s metal fans didn’t know the real Priest, didn’t understand they had already been through significant changes, reaching out for whatever they felt they needed to do to keep up to speed with the then rapidly changing times in rock.

When they’d begun, in the mid-70s, musically Priest were Black Sabbath lite, with a frontman, Rob Halford, posing like Freddie Mercury dressed in Brian May’s cape, flanked by two guitarists that looked like they should be in Lynyrd Skyrnyrd, you know, all wide-brimmed bippity-boppity hats and lowrider flares, playing songs about ‘whiskey women’ and ‘bad connections’. Like a poor man’s Deep Purple. And we had a lot of those in the 70s, man.

Ironic then that it was Purple’s bassist Roger Glover who turned things round for them when he produced their third album, Sin After Sin, in 1977. The music tightened up, out went the blues and in came the proto-metal, though sped up, more Queen or Nazareth than Zep and Purple. They did, however, include a cover of the Joan Baez classic, ‘Diamonds And Rust’. Joan had famously written it about her broken relationship with Bob Dylan. Glenn and KK and the boys just did it because Roger said they need a commercial track and suggested that one. It was not a hit. But that wouldn’t stop them trying again (and again). When they toured America for the first time that year they opened for REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. You could see why they thought that would work. The frock coat sleeves had been replaced by leather jackets but the jeans and groovy shirts were still in evidence

The last two of their 70s albums – Stained Class and Killing Machine – were more of the same, but with increasingly edgier returns. The former pushed harder on the extended speed guitar solos and Halford’s vocals were becoming more strangulated as he attempted to outdo himself on every verse. The ‘commercial cover’ this time was Spooky Tooth’s ‘Better By You, Better By me’, only this time it was the best track on the album. The latter was where they first began to refine the sound that would make them finally famous. ‘Evening Star’ and in particular ‘Take On The World’ gave them a formula at last that fit. Derivative as hell but so what? ‘Evening Star’ was the first really catchy song they’d ever come up with. ‘Take On The World’ was them doing ‘We Will Rock You’ Queen but with a heavier edge. I met the band for the first time on that tour and Rob was listening non-stop to Queen. He was also dressing like New York cop-era Freddie, leather, chains, shades, even a whip. And there was the ‘commercial cover’ too, of course, this time Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Green Manalishi’.

The rest was all easy 80s action. The NWOBHM gave the band a leg up in the UK – Priest were always more Iron Maiden than Iron Butterfly – , and ‘Living After Midnight’ and the British Steel album cracked America for them. By the time Turbo came along in 1986 Priest had it made. At least, on paper. Yet album sales were slowly dropping off as new dicks on the block like Metallica came along, and Rob Halford, in particular, still in the closet, at least publicly, was convinced that the band needed to loosen their grip on the metal market and start spreading their musical wings in order to survive. He was hardly the only one. David Coverdale of Whitesnake was busy reinventing the band for America, aiming for the Def Leppard and Bryan Adams market. Kiss were now self-consciously pop metal. Deep Purple were on the comeback trail but the novelty was already wearing off. The only rock band from the 70s that had successfully reinvented their whole sound and with it a whole new audience was – surprise, surprise – ZZ Top, whose synth-driven pop boogie album, Eliminator was, in 1985, when Priest began work on Turbo, already nearing the 10-million mark in the US (as well as  quadruple platinum in the UK).

That’s when Rob got his bright idea. The next Priest album would take the band into another new chapter of their career – a wholly 80s-concieved pop-synth-rock (definitely not metal) record that would be both radio-friendly and catchy enough to keep the already established fan-base alive, while also appealing seriously for the first time to the wider mainstream rock and pop audience. Just like ZZ! If these old guys with beards could do it, why not a streamlined, leather-sleek Judas Priest?

What could possibly go wrong? Well, sadly, just about everything. Turbo, despite everyone’s best commercial intentions, fell between two stools, as they say. The people who bought ‘Gimme All Your Lovin” and ‘Legs’ didn’t see the ‘Turbo Lover’ single in anywhere near the same light,. Plus no chicks and funny guys in the video, ma! Worse, the band looked like they’d raided Ratt’s dressing up box and make-up kit. While the metalheads turned to Metallica, Maiden, Megadeth and Slayer for their serious kicks, Priest suddenly looked confused and out of touch. They still had a platinum album on their hands in America but it was their last. Which is a shame because tracks like ‘Out In The Cold’, ‘Locked In’ and ‘Rock You All Around The World’ were great Priest tracks. As was ‘Turbo Lover’.

Did they learn from their mistake, though? Yes and no. Their next album, Ram It Down, contained some of the tracks originally recorded for Turbo, but then lost its nerve halfway through by adding throwback-sound metalhead tracks like the title track. Priest wanted to go somewhere new but were now afraid to commit so they pulled out before the climax and left themselves and their now dwindling audience frustrated. They had actually worked with Stock, Aitken and Waterman on three tracks, including a belter of a cover of the old Stylistics’ hit, ‘You Are Everything’, which you can still hear a part of on YouTube, but they pussied out of releasing them at the last minute, when the American record company lost their nuts at the prospect. You can see why, of course. But when you consider the Scorpions had their own girly hit with ‘Wind Of Change’ around the same time, you do wonder what might have been. Had it been a hit, would Halford have stayed? Maybe. Certainly it was the lack of adventure, the ‘return to their roots’ of Painkiller that finally made him leave.

Priest were no longer looking for their ‘commercial cover’. No longer able to manufacture hits. They were no longer looking desperately to be up to date and were now settling for the easy-chair classic rock market. And who could blame them? Sooo much dough in that. Even Rob couldn’t turn his back on it in the end. So, yes, Turbo, was where it all went wrong for Priest. But so nearly where it all went amazingly right.

Foos Extract No. 3

This is from Chapter Six of my new book on the Foo Fighters: Learning To Fly

And that was it. It never really got any better for Dave Grohl in Nirvana after those last few months of 1991, when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was becoming the world’s favourite song, and Nirvana the world’s newest coolest band. By the time Nevermind had replaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album at No. 1 in the American album charts, in January 1992, the world had already become aware that the game had changed, maybe for ever.

The only ones still in denial about it were the band themselves. ‘When Nirvana knocked Michael Jackson off No. 1, I was there when they got the champagne,’ says Anton Brookes, ‘but it was so anti-climactic. I was excited because it was punk rock. Nirvana knocking Michael Jackson off of Number One – that is punk rock history in the making! But they were all really flippant about it.’

Taking their lead from Kurt, they were too self-conscious, too uptight about not being seen as rock with a capital ‘R’, that they didn’t really know how to react. Kurt didn’t do high-fives. Dave and Krist did, but not while Kurt was watching.  Says Anton: ‘They weren’t gonna be jumping up and down, and going like, “Yeah!” That’s not their way. But it was such an anti-climax; it almost went like … it didn’t seem to register. Nobody seemed to be taking much notice of it.’

Nobody wanted to be uncool, at least not while Kurt was around, frowning. ‘It was the same with things like limousines,’ says Anton. ‘If the record companies or promoters hired limos to pick the band up, the band would get in a taxi. It was all kind of like that. They never wanted to be seen as selling out, or that mentality. But then they were learning the game. They were holding back and not giving too much away. I think they learned quite quick that what they would give away people would grasp on to. They were still very cautious.’

Cautious and inhibited and, in Kurt’s case, increasingly, it seemed, just plain fucked-up. A feature published the same month in the high-profile San Francisco magazine BAM wrote of Kurt ‘nodding off in mid-sentence’, and described him as sitting there with ‘pinned pupils, sunken cheeks and scabbed, sallow skin’, pointedly suggesting there was ‘something more serious than mere fatigue’ about the emaciated singer.

But if becoming, as Rolling Stone noted, in April, ‘the world’s first triple-platinum punk rock band’ was spacing out Kurt, it was having the opposite effect on his two band mates. ‘Dave’s just psyched,’ Nirvana’s friend and new fan mail coordinator, Nils Bernstein, was quoted as saying. ‘He’s twenty-two, and he’s a womaniser, and he’s just: “Score!”’ Krist, who was about to get married to Shelli, may not have been a womaniser, but he was a drinker. So much so, Bernstein suggested, he had recently gone on the wagon, to try and bring himself back down off the cloud he’d been riding since Nevermind changed everybody’s minds. He’d also recently bought a five-bedroom house in one of Seattle’s more salubrious neighbourhoods. When one of his pals from back in the day remarked that the mortgage payments must be crippling, Krist had shrugged: ‘What payments?’ He’d paid for the house in cash. ‘[Krist] and Dave have had to pick up a lot of Kurt’s slack,’ said Bernstein. Krist and Dave ‘were close before, but now they’re inseparable’.

In fact, when Dave wasn’t on the road with the band, or hanging out in Seattle, where he was looking to buy a house, he was hurrying back to Virginia, to spend time with his mother and sister and old high school pals. Despite the now out-of-control media blitz surrounding the band, Dave was the only one of the three who could still walk around without drawing a crowd. Everyone now recognised Kurt’s whey-faced visage, all distraught blond hair and big blue crybaby eyes; everyone knew Krist as ‘the other one’, who always accompanied Kurt onstage, this huge, pogoing loony with the horse face and giraffe legs. Dave was the only one in Nirvana nobody ever really recognised offstage. The only one who could still show up at a Mudhoney show and no one would even notice. Shit, Dave could show up at a Nirvana show, some places, stroll through the crowd, and no one would notice. At least, not at first …

Foos Exclusive Extract Day 2

This is from Chapter Three of my new Foo Fighters biography, Learning To Fly, which is out this weekend.

Scream was a crazy dream, shared by two brothers: Peter and Franz Stahl. Peter was the good-looking singer who wrote lyrics. Franz was the enigmatic guitarist who wrote music. There were two others, the drummer Kent Stax and bassist Skeeter Thomp- son. But Scream was all about the brothers. Kent was good, solid and reliable, and knew how to fuck-up his drums. Skeeter was a river-deep bass note bouncing off the walls. The brothers had been born at the crossroad – Bailey’s Crossroads, in Fairfax County, Virginia – but behind the scenes it was Skeeter who did most of the devil’s work; beginning with weed and wine before escalating to crack cocaine. But as Franz says now, speaking from his home in Los Angeles, ‘Everybody has their moments.’

Scream were hardcore American punk at a time when the genre looked like it was screamed out; the last street serenaders of an age when playing loud and fast on instruments you had barely mastered was considered as far out as you could ever need to be. Peter and Franz fancied themselves a kind of Midwest- ern American collision between The Clash and The Damned, without the visual theatrics, but with the same almost clownish musical aplomb.

‘We got to do two nights with The Dammed at the 9.30 Club,’ says Franz, ‘which was like playing in the World Series, for me.’ He recalls with delight Kent leaning over to Rat Scabies and asking, ‘Could I bum a cigarette off of you?’ And Rat turning around and telling him to fuck off. ‘I ran into Rat years later at the Viper Room and told him that story and he was all apologetic and I was like, “No, no, no! That’s what punk was about to me!”’

Scream had the moves, the ideas, and even the momentum, each of their first three albums building on the last. And if they’d come along five years earlier – or five years later – they might have become the band they always felt they should have, could have, would have been. Instead, in 1987 bands like Scream were being supplanted in cutting-edge American youth culture by the new generation of thrash metal bands, led by Metallica, whose recent album, Master of Puppets, had actually made the US Top 30, something Scream would never come close to achieving – though not for the want of trying.

As far as the teenaged Dave Grohl was concerned though, Scream ruled. ‘They were from Virginia,’ he shrugged. ‘I had roots in Virginia.’ And though he had seen them play at the 9.30 Club many times, and knew they were local dudes like him, he knew absolutely nothing else. Scream were an enigma wrapped in a punk poster, awash in a punk wet dream. ‘I loved the fact I could be walking past them every day without knowing it.’

No FB or Twitter to check them out on in those days, not even a blip on the regular music magazine radar; all Dave had to go on was the music: hardcore, Brit-influenced punk – gritty, deter- minedly blokey and dry as grandmother’s dead bones. Typically, it was the third Scream album, Banging the Drum, released on Dischord in 1986, that Dave liked best. The speed-kills riffs of their first two albums were still here and there but they had brought in a second guitarist to flesh out their sound and the tracks now lasted longer than a minute or two. They had also let their hair grow out and were coming up with more obvious rock anthems such as ‘ICYUOD’ (short for: ‘I See Why You Over Dose’) and the sub-Who-style ‘Feel Like That’. There were even power ballads like ‘People, People’, and when Dave later talked about the album sounding more like early Aerosmith than, say, The Damned, it said everything you needed to know. Dave thought of it as ‘the album where Scream went from being a hardcore band into being a rock band’.

When Kent Stax was forced to quit Scream in 1987 – ‘Kent had been married and he’d recently had a child,’ Franz explains, ‘and he just couldn’t go on tour any more, because back then we were not making any money and he had to provide for his child’ – the band placed a handmade flyer in the window of a local record store saying they were looking for a drummer and giving a phone number: Franz’s. When Dave saw the handwrit- ten poster up on the wall the next day, he knew he had to at least call the number. ‘I thought I’d try out just to tell my friends I’d jammed with Scream.’

The first time Dave rang it though, the elder brother, Pete, blew him off, said he was too young. The Stahl brothers were already in their mid-twenties; Dave was barely 18. For anyone else, that would have finished things off right there. Not Dave. He left it a while then called Pete back: lied about his age, told them he was 20. They said awright, come on over. He did and the first thing Franz Stahl asked him was which numbers he wanted to play, maybe something by Zeppelin or Sabbath? But Dave had his shtick all worked out. Nah, he told ’em, and reeled off the titles of half a dozen Scream numbers he’d already memorised. Still not entirely convinced, Franz played along then stood slack- jawed, chewing a cigarette and marvelling at how good the kid was. Franz laughs as he recalls the scene. ‘Our first record was like twenty-one tracks or something like that? And we just pro- ceeded to blow through every one of those tracks – like that! I was just like, “Fuck!” The first thing I did was call Pete and say,

“Dude, this Dave guy, we just fucking jammed and he’s it! We don’t need to find anybody else!” This skinny gangling kid who lied about his age.’

Foo Fighters Book Extract

This is an exclusive extract from my new book on the Foo Fighters: Learning To Fly, out now.

They wanted this book to be about the Foo Fighters. But the Foo Fighters as a band is only a notional idea. Something that only exists in your head. There is only one real Foo Fighter and his name is Dave Grohl. The rest – the floating cast of members that surround him – play no part in the decision-making process. They are mere appendages. Staff members. Hired and fired by Dave. Musical actors. Who play their parts well but that doesn’t make them intrinsic to the Foo Fighters’ story any more than the Munchkins are in The Wizard of Oz. They are the dwarves in this story, dancing jauntily around the central figure of Grohl, who appears as both Dorothy and the Wizard, depending on his mood. And they are lucky to be there.

Even Nirvana – who could sustain the loss of five drummers and a second guitarist before Dave Grohl was hired, but not a single moment without Kurt Cobain – was more of a real band than the Foo Fighters have ever been. Kurt had Krist Novoselic to anchor Nirvana’s band identity, even as he later pushed him into signing a contract that took away most of his ownership in the group’s songs retrospectively. Dave has only the fantasy of a real friend in his band. Oh, much is made of his longstanding relationship with guitarist Pat Smear. But Pat bailed on Dave after just one album and didn’t appear fully on another Foo Fighters album for 14 years, by which time Dave didn’t need him any more, his empire already built. Good old Pat’s back now but only by Dave’s good graces.

Then there’s the drummer Taylor Hawkins, the ‘little brother’ whom Dave sat beside in hospital in London in 2001 after he overdosed on heroin and alcohol and nearly died. Taylor was 29 and, by Christ, should have known better, and Dave was 32 and had already seen this movie with Kurt, thanks. Yet Dave stayed beside Taylor. Cancelled a European tour and allowed him to recover back home in Los Angeles, on the promise he clean up his act. Two months later Dave was playing drums with Queens of the Stone Age, leaving his own band stewing and Taylor, in particular, standing tiptoe on an emotional ledge, threatening to throw himself off. Dave never blinked and these days Taylor is much better behaved. Or else.

How about the other ‘original’ Foo Fighter, the bassist Nate Mendel? Nate came in, like everybody else, after Dave had already formed the ‘band’, at a time when it consisted of just one member, Dave, who had written, recorded, produced, sung and played every instrument on the first Foo Fighters album. Nate came in because the guy who had been the drummer in Nirvana, the biggest band in the world, the best band in the world, the most influential and important band in the world since The Beatles, asked him to. Nate, whose own band, Sunny Day Real Estate, no one outside their own dreams had ever heard of, or could name a single song by, had folded through total lack of interest. Nate, in his earnest beard and awful dad-shorts, studiously gnawing away at his bass, who would never in a million years have had Pat Smear in the band, nor Taylor Hawkins, who called Dave one night in 1999 to tell him he was leaving the Foo Fighters, too, only to call him back at six the next morning to beg for his job back, realising what a dumb thing he had just done. Nate was lucky to still be on the scene and nobody knows it better than Nate. Except Dave, of course, who knows things none of the others could ever imagine.

As for Chris Shiflett, bless his heart; does anyone know how to pronounce his name properly, let alone what he’s supposed to do as ‘lead guitarist’ in the Foo Fighters? Chris, the real nice guy in the Foo Fighters, who plays nice guitar but had never been credited with writing a song in his life before receiving co-credits on the fourth Foos album, One by One, in 2002 – an album he later admitted he kept turning up to work on, only to be left to sit around ‘drinking coffee’ and eating lunch until he was told to go home again. Until Dave scrapped it and began again, this time with Chris in the same room, at least. Chris the nice guy whose job was threatened every step of the way by the ever-present ghost of Pat Smear, whom Dave was talking to privately on the phone about coming back to the band for years until it was eventually made official in 2006. Chris was furious. ‘I was just like, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”’ But Chris didn’t have any say in the decision. Nobody did. Just Dave. Well, duh.

So this is not going to be a book about the Foo Fighters the band. Because that would make this is a fairy-tale for idiots. This is instead a book about the Foo Fighters the man. Cos that’s what it is, millions of Foos fans. Don’t pretend you would want it any other way, either.

Foo TV Oz-style

 I was on Australia\s Channel Nine Breakfast TV show this morning (that is, last night, UK time), talking about my new Foo Fighters book, Learning To Fly, which is out both here and there today. I will post an extract later today.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to the TV clip. http://www.9jumpin.com.au/show/mornings/latest/2015/october/its-always-been-daves-show/


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…