Gym Rats

Strange time, the 1980s. The 70s, where I came from, had been about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, in any old order you fancied. Sure, there had been money too, for groovy pads and road trips to Katmandu. Even occasional health fads: vegetarianism, TM, bathing more than once a week. But mostly there had been an overarching emphasis on simply doing your own thing. Taking it to the max, Jack. Especially if it involved a degree of what these days they call self-medicating.

To wake up one day, then, rub your eyes and discover yourself in a land called the 80s, as I finally did in about 1984, was decidedly disturbing. Thrust suddenly into a world where something called Perrier Water had replaced Jack Daniels and everyone was giving up smoking – even joints, dope now being regarded as thoroughly déclassé – was like a bomb going off. The whole thing left behind a trail of devastation. Even the music had melted into an amorphous blob of niche-driven nonsense. Reared on Hendrix and Zeppelin, I had no idea what to make of distant descendants like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. It was still rock music, even my damaged senses could see that, but apparently rebuilt out of Leggo by a spotty teenage boy with no female friends. Whatsoever.

Nevertheless, this is where we were in the world, it seemed, and I was determined not to be left behind. So I plunged in. Not just with bands like Priest and Maiden, who made much more sense to me once I’d seen them live, but with the whole 80s shebang. I didn’t exactly lose my 70s perspective – dope would always be in fashion chez Wall, as would bottles of tequila, large breasts and noisy cars that went fast and broke-down easily – but I did take on some new, post-Thatcher, rocking-Reagan type habits. Most life-changing of all was joining a gym.

Ah, yes. The age of No Pain No Gain was upon us and while I would never Just Say No I was weirdly willing to subject my body to the full wrath of a personal trainer named Jamie who was so fierce he had been thrown out of the Australian Navy for frightening the others. Or something. It was hard to take in what he was saying as I gasped, sweated and often just howled my way through another of what Jamie called his “heavy metal regimes.”

It wasn’t just me, either. At one point in the late-80s, I looked around the gym in London that Jamie ruled with his various rods of iron and saw Steve Vai, Bruce Dickinson, Phil Collen from Def Leppard, Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde and – bloody hell! – even that icon of late-80s reprobation and ill-wind, Zodiac Mindwarp.

No, wait. I must have been suffering from a protein-shake induced brainstorm. They weren’t all there at one time, it just seemed like it to me sometimes as I sat there trying to move my arms and legs again. Mostly, I would see Phil Collen. Which was weird as on the road with Leppard I mostly hung-out with the other guitarist Steve Clark, and the only workouts we took part in involved much smaller mirrors and much longer white lines. By day, though, there I would be, furiously pedalling away on one of those bikes that go nowhere, while Phil sweated it out next to me, going nowhere even faster. For a skinny guy, he was surprisingly strong too. Able to lift weights guys twice his size would shy away from.

Zakk Wylde was another regular whenever he was in town. No big bushy beard or half-empty beer bottles for young Zakk in those days, I can assure you. Just big muscles and a handy paper bag full of yoghurt-coated raisins for afters, as I recall. It was like having a Great Dane puppy hanging round you. All huge paws and big smiley eyes, leaping around letting everyone know how happy he was just to be there while the rest of us waited impatiently for his owner to come back and retrieve him.

Steve Vai, who also came along during one trip, was much more low-key. Slender, sensitive Steve took one look at bones-into-dust Jamie and informed him he wouldn’t be needing his “help” as he had his own “special programme” worked out for him by a Tibetan monk in Los Angeles reincarnated from Buddha himself. Or possibly David Lee Roth. Either way, Steve gave Jamie a very wide berth.

In hindsight, this was probably wise. For Jamie didn’t take prisoners. When Bruce Dickinson put in a surprise appearance one day, Jamie gave him what those of us in the know called his two-in-one special. That is, he made sure this would be Bruce’s first workout at the gym – and his last. Sure enough, 60 agonising minutes later Bruce hobbled out swearing never to return. He later told me “it was three days before the pain stopped.”

Not that we found that sort of thing funny, of course. (Not much.) Jamie just didn’t know when to stop. Once I overheard him telling Phil Collen’s then girlfriend that she had “the biggest minge I’ve ever seen!” Fortunately, she appeared to take this as a compliment though none of us who overheard this exchange were entirely convinced Jamie meant it that way. Indeed, compliments were few and far between down on Jamie’s iron-pumping killing floor. The nearest I ever got to one when he came over to check I was all right after throwing up my breakfast in the changing room. “That’s when you know you’ve trained hard,” he told me and I felt momentarily proud. Then added: “Not like the snivelling little Sheila you usually train like.”

Oh, and Zodiac Mindwarp? Yes, he did come in one day. Only to stand around in his distressed leathers, blue granny glasses and three-week beard and pull a face when he saw me. I had just given his first album a review which suggested he had only ever written one good song – and simply repeated it over and over.

He looked at me as I hung upside down from another of Jamie’s torture machines and sneered: “Who’s a cunt now then?”

At least, that’s what I think he said. It might have been, “just two more,” or some such. But somehow I doubt it…

Record Store Day

Actually, I don’t miss them at all. After all, it’s not like they’re completely extinct. If you want to spend your hard-earned on over-priced plastic that you can buy a lot cheaper and easier on Amazon, there are still a ton of places to do it. I was in Camden Market two weeks ago today and there she was, one of those stalls just off the canal selling plastic and CD and videos and DVDs and etc. The first thing I spotted was a DVD for the Oliver Stone Doors movie. It was selling for £10.99. Considering the book I’m writing at the moment, I might have bought it too except I’d already done so a few days before – via Amazon for £5.61 including next day delivery. That was after I’d browsed some clips from it online.

I did find myself thumbing through a couple of racks though, my eye falling inevitably on the various bootlegs. But then all that stuff is also available online now so, like, what’s the point? Unless you’re a collector. But then collectors are like trainspotters. You either totally get it or like me you totally don’t.

Not that I am completely off-message about the whole Record Store Day thing. Right now as I type this I am listening – online – to the still exquisite Terry Reid album, The River, originally released in 1973 and sold to me by the cool cat behind the counter at my local Ealing Broadway record store, Beggars Banquet (this was long before they were a record label too), purely on his personal recommendation. Those were the days when the cool-quotient of your local record store actually counted for something. For everything, in fact, as there was simply no place else where you could a) listen to the stuff before deciding to buy, b) actually have a meaningful conversation with the heads behind the counter, whose opinions you came to know and use as a gauge against what your own feelings about a particular platter – as those of us in the know called them (sort of) – might turn out to be. Oh, you might have gone gliding in there after reading a great review in the NME or Melody Maker, but it was your man with his back to the shelves of black gold that really knew the answers to the meaning of the universe.

In my case there were three top spots you could hit for a dose of the real deal. Cloud Seven – which was just a little bit before my time which meant they often saw me in my school uniform which meant they never considered me in the same way they would the heavy cats in the afghans and beards, dig. The ones with the best looking chicks you had ever seen in your short impoverished life. I always felt more at home at that time in Lullabies, a 207 bus ride away in West Ealing, where the guy behind the counter was older, but totally tuned into the singles charts, often getting the new Bowie or Elton or whatever a few days before anyone else. Lullabies also stayed open later – sometimes as late as 6.30! – and you could hang out. They didn’t have listening booths like Cloud Seven but the old guy would happily blast the stuff out over the main speakers hear it coming down the street. Glorious!

But then Cloud Seven closed and the best of the staff turned up around the corner in the recently opened Beggars Banquet. Beggars didn’t have listening booths either. The trip now was those big headphones, you’d queue for your turn on them. Beggars also had the advantage of nestling halfway between the Queen Vic pub – replete with rock jukebox and willingness to serve under-18s – and Crusts hippy-burger restaurant, also recently opened and kind of like the Beggars version of a burger restaurant in the days when there were no such things as burger restaurants, outside Wimpy Bars. Like, picture this, the first time I went into Crusts on a Saturday afternoon, not long after it opened, the groovy chick who served me and my zonked-out friends smiled blissfully and asked why we were only ordering coke and fries. When I explained we had no dough she just tinkerbell laughed and went and got us all the biggest, juiciest, cheesiest burgers we had ever seen – like, free, baby. Which is one reason why I still recall Crusts so fondly after all these years and centuries of eating in cooled-out places all over this big hippy-burger-filled world.

Well, Beggars never dealt me a freebie LP but it had that same vibe. Like this one is for us, man. And you either got it or hey that’s not our problem, right? By now I was out of school and into my own full-time seek and destroy scene so I fitted right in. Anyway, The River… yeah, that came via personal recommendation from Steve-O. I think that was his name. Steve Webben? Webber? Someone out there will recall. Steve was my idea of what it must be like to die and come back as the Perfect Guy. Mr wine bar and long scarf. Good looking but without shoving it down your throat. Chicks dug him special. Had a place of his own, didn’t need to share. First floor of some groovy pad (I imagined) I was never cool enough to visit. Anyway, I’m in Beggars looking for something to spend my Saturday dough on. But I just could not connect with anything in the racks. Then Steve took the No.6 from his mouth, smiled that hazy jane smile and said, “Have you heard this yet?”

Of course I hadn’t. I knew nothing and he knew everything. But he spinned it and truthfully I didn’t quite get it. I just knew he was dealing me some good shit cos that was his trip and if there was a gap in my instant appreciation, the deficit was all my end not his. So I bought it, took it home, played it and played it cos those were the days when you still had time to indulge artists that way, until finally it got into me, found me, and has stayed there ever since, right up to this minute over 40 years later writing this here now now now.

So, yeah, I get why people are so nostalgic for the old record store days. But come on, amigo, they are goner than gone now. Just like wine bars and the idea that burgers could somehow be just for the cool. I stood in Camden in that largely empty market stall of CDs and vinyl and let it touch me gently then walked away, the way I would an old photo of the far too long ago. Nice just no longer relevant or even that interesting. Mind you, put me into an old book shop, especially one selling rare or secondhand or both of all type books, I go dizzy just from the musty aroma and my wallet falls flat on its back, legs wide open like the book whore it will always be.

Terry Reid’s The River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvrRHvvVAMY&list=PL3FE645C858A26020&feature=share

 

Festival Fun For All The Family

Just caught the press release about Sonisphere this year adding a bill of comedians and wrestlers to the overall ‘package’. Hey, why not? The days of rock festivals being all about who’s onstage are long gone. I mean, Metallica? Why does it feel like they do Sonisphere every year? Wait – it’s because they do! Four times in the last five years – five in the last five if you include the year they did Download instead. Iron Maiden? Well, all right, they’ve only done it once before, in 2010, but then they did do Download last year and, like, this is going to be much different? Actually, we don’t even want it to be different. God forbid they don’t simply do a jukebox hits set. Then we really would have to watch those wrestlers and comedians. As for The Prodigy… please. Does anyone even care anymore? When did they last have a hit anyway? Wait, I’ll Google it. Ah… 2009. I’m sure we all remember what the hit was called too, right?

Yeah. Anyway, the point is it really doesn’t matter much these days who’s supposed to be headlining or which night they’re playing or even what they’re playing. We just want the same thing again and again, please. Or at least the promoters desperately seeking a band big enough to help sell enough tickets to make the whole thing worthwhile to the big bands in the first place. We don’t even need any fresh twists anymore, just the name. That classic album again in its entirety? Naw… seen it, done it, lost the T-shirt. How about getting together with your long lost buddies who you have spent your entire career putting down privately while staying far, far the fuck away publicly, and calling it something like, um… the Big Four? Naw… too small fry these days, mother.

I know. How about digging up some relic from the past and putting the ‘classic’ lineup back together – well, as many as you can manage, anyway, three out of four being good enough, probably, right? No, wait… that was last year at Download, wasn’t it? Or was it the year before?

Who knows? Who can even remember that far back anymore? When it comes to the big summer rock festival we are all living on fumes. On our collective memory. Not even of how things used to be. But of how we think they used to be. Or should have been. Only different. In that if I can’t get a specialist espresso and sushi on my way to the still disgusting portaloos then I’m just not happy. And why should I be? At almost £300 for a weekend camping ticket, I want something more for my money than some fucker playing me his boring new album. (Note to the Under 25s: albums are those things the Old Ones used to release in the days before you could just download the entire history of music on your phone.)

But where is this going? What is it I want? What’s wrong with checking out the wrestlers on your way to the comedians, on your way to playing football, on the way to the ‘silent disco’ on the way to the – most important this still whatever century you’re in – merchandising stalls to buy the so-cool event T-shirt and lots of other crap I never knew I needed, on the way to some selfies of me doing the horns next to a couple of drunk people poking their tongues out?

Well, nothing obviously. See you there. (Though not if I see you first.)

Rock – the Saga Years

So AC/DC are considering retirement? That’s the rumour currently buzzing around the internet anyway. Well… so what? Shouldn’t more of these monster acts be considering doing the decent thing and taking that Saga cruise they’ve been promising themselves for years now? And wouldn’t it be better they stop when they are still good – even if in AC/DC’s case that would have been about 30 years ago?

Look at the Beatles. Now there was a band that knew when to fuck off and leave us all in peace. Went out in their prime, all guns still smoking. The proof of that being how none of them ever came close again to reproducing the same magic over the space of a whole solo album. (Honourable exception, George Harrison’s wonderful All Things Must Pass, but that was all songs from his Beatles days anyway.)

Wouldn’t it be great though if more bands knew when to knock it on the head. Like the Stones. Christ those poor fuckers haven’t made a decent album since the early-70s yet they’re still out there staggering around, haunting us like the ghosts of rock past.

Even when they do decide to do the honourable thing and bid us adieu before all four wheels fall off, like Pink Floyd did in the mid-90s, there’s always that sneaking suspicion that really they probably should have done it long before. In Floyd’s case, it should have happened when Roger Waters walked out in a snit in the mid-80s. The two albums they later produced without him were fine and dandy in a Floyd-tribute kind of way, but hardly in the same mould-breaking category as Dark Side or The Wall.

Judas Priest tried it of course. But again they too should have gone sooner, arguably, after Rob Halford left the first time. Hey, Ripper seemed like a cool dude but who actually plays the stuff they made with him anymore? Who played it then? Compared to British Steel, say? Or Turbo, or even Sad Wings Of Destiny? And yes, when Rob did come back, they were absolutely killer again live, but hand on heart, none of the albums that resulted, despite some great moments, were a match for the glories of the past.

No. If it’s true, more bands should take a – very old and dry – leaf out of AC/DC’s well-thumbed book and get the hell out of the dodge while the going’s just about still good. You know who I’m talking about, right? Like, move over Rover, let someone else take over.

Thank god Robert Plant still refuses to entertain Jimmy Page’s wet dream and get Zeppelin back together. That is, on a permanent basis, whatever one-off shindig they eventually agree to, to support the re-release of the CDs (does anyone still buy these things, btw, or like me just wait for them to come on YouTube, which should be about 24 hours after their ‘official release’ in the case of Zep?). Or as they used to say in the days of music hall, for you have surely delighted us too much…

Hall Of Shame

I am surprised how many emails I have had asking for my thoughts on last weekend’s Hall of Fame show. I had assumed most people felt as I do and simply didn’t give a shit. But then I noticed a familiar theme – most of the ‘asks’ were from Kiss fans. This explains a lot. You see, even the most ardent Kiss fan – and I assume there really are such people out there of otherwise apparently sound mind and above-average intelligence – knows deep down inside that the band, well, aren’t really much cop. Or put another way, have never made an album worth playing past the second track. Most not even that. Oh, they’ve made the occasionally good single – ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ and, uh, well, I’m sure there’s another somewhere – but then so did Sweet and Gary Glitter and Duran Duran. Even bands like Poison, who actually made more than one good single, that anyone can now recall anyway.

The point being, because any reasonably intelligent Kiss fan knows this, they are more inclined than most to leap to the band’s defence at any opportunity. There are doubtless many hundreds of them right now, not even bothering to finish reading this who are already scrawling messages in blood, calling for my worthless heart to be ripped from what’s left of my body and fed to the ants. Similarly, any vague sense of the rest of the world actually failing to properly acknowledge the ‘greatness’ of Kiss is seized upon with vehement HOW-DARE-YOU-NESS to the point where they make the most swinging of dicks look like wriggly worms by comparison. Hence also the embarrassing need many feel to type the name Kiss as KISS. Shades of Michael Jackson announcing that henceforth he was to be called the King Of Pop. Call yourself what you like Mike, you’ll always be just another child molester to me. Indeed, instead of the Kiss Army, one feels  that a better nom-de-charge might be the Kiss Asses.

That’s not to say that Kiss aren’t a great band onstage. I have seen them play a few times over the years and they have nearly always been magnificent. The most memorable occasion being when they did Wembley Arena in 1984 when I smuggled in Jon Bon Jovi as my plus one at the party afterwards. Bon Jovi were the openers on those dates but none of them were actually invited to the Kiss party. But, yes, to get back to the point… that was one of the best, most rockingest gigs I’d ever seen up to that point. Paul Stanley was amazing, slinky, sly, raunchy, naturally high. While Gene Simmons, just as you’d always imagined, was a bit dull by comparison, slow-moving and robotic. I saw them again more times over the years and they were just as good, sometimes even better. Especially after the make-up went back on and you really could just float off on the delicious cartoonish-ness of it all.

I also bow to no man in my unreserved respect for Gene Simmons as a frontman and spokesman. The way he hosted the Classic Rock awards a couple of years back was masterful and, best of all, very funny. I have also enjoyed their pinball machines and hope one day to also sample the greens at one of their various Kiss golf courses.

But on record… well, there was ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ but I think I may have already mentioned that. The rest… I mean, seriously? Or as we used to say on Kerrang! back in the 80s, give it to Geoff or Dante, they like that shit. And then we’d shrug good-naturedly, assuming they were just somehow wired differently to the rest of us. (Which of course they were…)

Of course it is different in America, where Kiss have always been more like The Osmonds than Led Zeppelin. A whole generation of pre-MTV kids grew up on Kiss. They were the safe, feel good option in the 70s for pre-teen boys and their slutty older sisters that couldn’t get into college. All of which is FINE BY ME. But please, please don’t ask how amazed and thankful I am that they finally opened the doors of that ridiculous sham they call the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame to them. Castles made of sand like that were purpose-built for bands like Kiss: self-regarding, over-weening, self-absorbed mirror-worshippers who would turn up to the opening of an envelope if it had their name on it – preferably in giant BLOCK CAPS.

Meanwhile, rock bands from a similar era that actually made music of real significance, including dozens of hits the world will never forget, like Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Deep Purple, Status Quo, Yes and Bon Jovi, to name just a few, are sidestepped. Actually, that’s a different argument, and to start it again here would be to suggest I actually give a damn anymore than Lemmy or Joe Elliot do.

What’s that you say – Nirvana? Oh yes, thank god they got in. I mean, they are so under appreciated, it’s about time someone threw a little spotlight their way, right?

Foreigner Unplugged

It’s an idea so old it wasn’t even new in the early 90s when MTV suddenly turned it into a show, but seeing a band as good as Foreigner do the unplugged thing in London last night was still a refreshing experience. At least, for those of us who had forgotten just how talented all these musicians are. Especially, it has to be said, Kelly Hansen, still regarded by many as the ‘new guy’, but who has been singing with Foreigner for nearly a decade now. What a voice. To hear him belting it out in the same room as you with zero production behind him and only some strumming guitars and percussion and the occasional spray of piano to aid him, is to understand fully how all about the unreality two-bit shows like The Voice or The X Factor really are.

And of course there is always a special thrill in seeing a truly Big Beast of the rock world like Mick Jones still pulling on the white jeans and flowery shirt, to give us the hits. Mick is 70 this year. Considering he’s actually more like 170 in drug years, it’s a miracle of self-belief and immaculate insouciance that the old boy is still going so strong. This being something of a homecoming show (sort of, he’s actually from Somerset), only added to the warm feelings undulating around the room. And being 2014, all this without a whiff of spliff or the merest I-should-co-co of a line. (Well, not from where I was sitting, though there were plenty of ‘vintage’ warhorses at the after show party later to suggest some habits simply can’t be broken, poor old sods.)

Even the tedious Q&A section – where ‘fans’ get to ask such compelling questions as ‘What’s your favourite Foreigner song?’ – was lifted by the general sense of intelligent bonhomie that now emanates from the Foreigner stage. Best of all, though, are the several occasions where Mick Jones explains how the songs were written, and what was going on at the time – always where the real gold is.

Of course, we’re here for the hits but it’s clearly the years of flops that have been the most character-building. So that when the balding, white-haired Jones explains he too hates it when he goes to a concert now and the band announce they are about to play their new album in its entirety, you can immediately relate. Not so much rock god as top bloke down the pub.

The biggest accolade though remains the fact that songs like ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’, ‘Hot Blooded’ and ‘Juke Box Hero’ still do the business, in terms of forcing even the oldest, most brittle bones in the audience into action. When they end predictably but no less delightfully with ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ – and a three-line ‘choir’ of what appear to be blonde babes of all shapes and sizes join them to belt out the chorus – you forgive the cheese because it just goes down so easily. Yum yum, sugar plum.

After that, the after show was a let down. A nice excuse to say hello to some of the usual suspects, but a bigger reminder of how old everyone is these days. I include myself, obviously. But then I don’t dress like a 25-year-old anymore. But then I haven’t read a copy of Kerrang! for 25 years either. Or stalked the Planet Rock chatroom. The same, rather appallingly, could not be said for most of the haunted-looking gang of rock zombies that flocked to the free bar. Seems there are lots of people out there who still don’t know what love is no matter how hard you try to show them.

Voewood Festival

So I’m sitting here usual thing dark outside darker inside scratching my balls trying to write The Doors book while worrying the cover image they have suggested looks a bit too Fifty Shades of Gay, and in comes a message via FB from one David Donley, professional musician, asking if I’d like to pitch up this summer at the Voewood Festival which I’ve never heard of but turns out is this cool music and books weekend event up in North Norfolk (that’s cool boho Norfolk for those that don’t know) doing a Q&A and generally hanging with the people. It’s in August, I get to stay in a stately home and who knows the sun may even shine. I mean what the fuck, right?

So… some messages go back and forth, no of course they don’t pay, well maybe a little, but not what I usually ask for, but look it feels good the vibes are fine and I go a lot on vibe as all do know that know me, and well… I decide it might be better to talk on the phone to David. Which we do and don’t you know there is a house on fire somewhere and suddenly we are on. It’s on the weekend of August 15, 16, 17, I do my thing on the Saturday, which will also involve me giving a little ‘talk’ (try and shut me up) and possibly ‘something’ with a couple of those good old boys from The Darkness, time and etc TBC. And I might even be bringing the family along to help sell a few signed books and generally keep me focussed.

I’m excited. You can get all the details here. http://www.voewoodfestival.com

Low Times On High Seas

Mark Kelly phoned me the other day to talk about something from the Old Days, and in passing mentioned that Marillion were about to leave to take part in one of those rock cruises, this one alongside Yes, on what was being billed as Cruise To The Edge. That is, Yes, Marillion, and a ton of others like Steve Hackett, Queensryche, Tangerine Dream, UK and so on and so on. About 26 progtastic explorers of musical space and time,  sailing from Miami to Honduras to Cozumel for five days. Cozu…? Me, either…

“Wow,” I said, sounds like a paid vacation. “For the musicians, anyway.”

“I don’t know,” said Mark. “Apparently they did it last year and the storms were so bad everybody was seasick for five days.”

Christ. That made me think. So I did what we all do these days when we want to know something – I Googled it. Billed as more than just a glorified rock festival on a boat, Cruise To The Edge offers what it calls an ‘interactive experience’. What could that be? Hanging out with Chris Squire in the Bolivian Room, perhaps? Or wandering blinded by mushrooms through the section titled The Art Of Roger Dean?

Hey, why not? I once spent a week in a hotel Germany waiting for Ozzy Osbourne to sober up long enough to come out of his room and actually play a show – he never did but we still enjoyed ourselves, damn it.

But then I checked the prices. Over $6,500 for the biggest ‘package’ – a Yacht Club Suite that can fit all the family with ‘panoramic views’ – and $550 for the very cheapest – a single- berth marked as simply Category 1. None of which includes “… government fees and taxes, fuel surcharges, transportation to/from ship, shore excursions, sightseeing or meals ashore, meals in specialty and à la carte restaurants, laundry, wine, beer, liquors, cocktails, soda, mineral water, medical expenses, spa, beauty salon, casino gaming, onboard shopping, onboard gratuities to the ship’s personnel, or any other items of a personal nature.”

Sitting here in admittedly grey drizzly England on what will be the third day of what they are billing as Prog Rock Paradise, I’m imagining something like a prison ship sailing grimly on through full sou’wester storms of Jurassic Pomp and Windy-Widdly. I tell you, by now I’d be ready give a thousand dollars to anybody able to get me on a life-raft.

Would I have enjoyed myself more, perhaps, on the just concluded Monsters Of Rock cruise, that set sail from Miami just over a week ago and took in a day at Nassau, followed by a day at someplace called Monster Island, followed by A Day At Sea? All this to the possibly storm-assisted, vom-bucket soundtrack of Tesla, Cinderella, Ratt, Winger, Kix and Many Others?

Well, it’s like what you say when asked if you’d fuck Doro or Lita Ford these days. A couple of grams, a ton of beer and whiskey, and the lights out for the duration…

A bit like the 80s in fact.

Leee Black Childers

I know it’s sad about Mickey Rooney and all that but is it, really? Guy was 93. That’s way past time. Unless you’re Swami Vambo Marble Eye and stand on your head doing yoga eight hours every day what joy can there be to being 93? Naw, close the door, turn out the light, I really don’t want to be home tonight…

Naw, the guy I’m feeling for today is Leee Black Childs, who you won’t read much about out there in Meeja Land but whose death for those of us who knew him or of him or both, is actually a more significant passing. Leee was one of the Warhol people – one of the talented Warhol people – a drag queen and scene-stealer who took photographs, managed bands, directed theatre productions and most of all lit up every dark, dank basement he ever prowled in.

I did not know Leee. But I certainly knew him. Back in the days of my earliest career hikes, when it was the biggest deal for me to be a Sounds writer sent to watch The Only Ones at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden one night, followed by The Heartbreakers at the Speakeasy later the same night. Leee managed the latter, did drugs with the former, and had no need whatsoever to notice even a wisp of my still then knife-thin presence at all.

Yet he did. Well, yes, I was a cute teenage boy and he was… well, he was Leee Black Childers, come on! But I was oh so low on the totem pole, a speck on the shoeless paws of real Sounds notables like Jane Suck, Giovanni Dadomo and Pete Makowski. Nevertheless, Leee took that extra second to shake my hand, to get someone to buy me a drink, to light my cigarette and pretend to give a damn about what I thought. To look at me and see I was there. A rare honour for me back then, mid-70s, no traction, less future, all half-arse and meenie-mynie-mo hope.

I watched as the real heavyweights – Nick Kent, CSM, the big boys who’d just swapped their flared jeans for straights – circled him and gobbled up the vibes, the quotes, the amuse-bon, then read the recycled, hipped-up versions in the following week’s NME and such. Leee was simply one of those cats who oozed charisma, far more than his bands. Even Johnny Thunders seemed like a little Chaplin take-off next to Leee’s burning moon persona. You could see how easily he’d once fitted into Bowie’s Mainman complex, grooving with Cherry Vanilla and Mick Ronson, Cyrinda Foxe and Iggy Pop. Grooving on the sheer dazzle of his own special indoor fireworks.

And I am sorry to hear he has now gone. Not because I’d had any encounters these past 35 years, just that the music biz is so shorn of real-life shakers like Leee Black Childs these days his death is a reminder of how far we have come since then. And how tediously low  we have fallen. Who is there out there like that now? The scene-stealers behind the scenes? The ones that are such stars they make the stars look dim and broken? Simon Cowell? See what I mean? You could have served Cowell to Childers for breakfast and he would have done a little burp then asked for some real food.

So long then Mickey. We didn’t know you were still alive. At least we won’t have to get confused about that anymore.

Farewell Leee. We never knew you at all, yet you once knew us too damn well, didn’t you?

A New Start

Well, I’ve been talking about launching a new website for a long time now but finally here it is. You’ll notice the sections are not that different yet to what I had before. That will change, and much quicker than in days of yore. The fact is, the original site was never meant to last longer than about six weeks – the fact that it then turned into a sort of ghost ship sailing on with a crew of one was never the plan. 

This new site will be a better portal to my work, too. There is going to be a series of eBooks – Mick Wall’s School Of Rock – coming very soon. Plus a couple of other e-titles that will be available first through this site. Also, more of a YouTube and internet presence too, as some of the programme ideas I’ve been working on behind the scenes these past couple of years start to reach the screen.

You’ll notice the blog is still here. Though the original one has now been ‘retired’. I never really knew what I was doing with that one, hence the years of mainly family-oriented stuff, what I use to think of as my arse-scratching blog entries. I loved the best of them, but they became self-drafting as more people from my so-called ‘real’ life began reading them on a regular basis. I found I was having to watch what I said, which ruined the whole pretext.

This new blog will also include the inevitable personal details, rants and mental derailments from time to time. But it will throw the spotlight more back on that thing I’m supposed to actually know about – i.e. rock music, rock people, rock life. You know – that stuff. You can still contact me at the same site address, mick@mickwall.com, and you will be able to link direct my FB page and twitter etc. Thems the rules even I have to play by here in the second decade of the 61st century. (Yes, 61st, look that one up…)

Mostly, the new flexibility this site will give me will open up the doors to many more different ways to do what we all love to do and the way in which we love to do them. If you have any bright ideas of your own fire away. Meanwhile, check out this link to the best new band of 2014:

As Lou Reed used to say, see you on the street…