Zeppelin Exclusive Extract 2 – Live Aid

Phil Carson offers another perspective. ‘It started out that when we heard about Live Aid I was managing both The Firm and Robert, at the time. But I was out on the road with Robert, and he said: “We should do this. Let’s do it as The Honeydrippers”. I said, that’s a good idea. I’ll make a call and we’ll get it on. So I call up [Live Aid’s American promoter] Bill Graham, and he agreed it was a great idea and that we should do that. Then as soon as everyone heard Robert was doing it, the questions came: why isn’t it Jimmy doing it? So I go to Robert and I said, “Look, Jimmy did play on the Honeydrippers’ record. Why don’t we get him over?” Robert says, yeah, okay, give him a call then. So I call Jimmy and explain and say how about doing what you did at [ARMS], you know, it’s a big event. Well, he hummed and hah-ed a bit, then he said all right, I’ll do it – but as Led Zeppelin. So that idea actually came from Jimmy Page, to do it as Led Zeppelin.

‘Of course, Robert was a bit lairy about it, to say the very least. But because it was for a good cause he agreed it. And then things became very difficult, because while Bill Graham was into it, the guy directing the piece for American television, said, “Well, you know, Led Zeppelin’s over, who cares?” So here’s Bill Graham trying to explain what a coup it would be to have Zeppelin but this guy’s not having it. So originally, we were not actually going to be in the televised broadcast. This was how much respect this television director was giving them. We weren’t gonna be in the televised part. In the end Bill and I get in touch with the top brass at the TV network. Ahmet gets involved. And eventually they grudgingly agreed to do this. You’ve got to remember that Phil Collins at this particular point was at his zenith, and he did both shows. And I’m trying to tell this fucking director, I forget his name but he’s a fucking moron, this is Led Zeppelin. It is not the Phil Collins show! But what can I do? It’s a live television show; he’s got the controls. Watch it now and you’ll see there’s more Phil Collins than anyone else. In a way it’s just as well because Jimmy’s fucked-up guitar tech, who handed Jimmy the twin-neck, didn’t tune the fucking guitar! It’s not Jimmy’s fault it sounds like that! The tech just completely let him down on that day. There were other things that went on that day, tech-wise, that were not Jimmy’s fault. It was really bad. Really a bad show, for that reason.’

John Paul Jones was also left with mixed feelings but for entirely different reasons. ‘I had to barge my way into Live Aid,’ he later told Classic Rock writer Dave Ling. Only finding out about Page and Plant’s intention of playing together the week before the show, by the time he had ‘barged’ his way into the reckoning, Paul Martinez, from Plant’s solo band, had been confirmed as bassist, forcing Jones to take the only available option left open to him and play the keyboards. It was an ignominious way to make one’s return to the big time and naturally Jonesy took it badly. ‘It was Plant again, you see,’ he told Ling. ‘Basically, I had to say to them, “If it’s Zeppelin and you’re gonna be doing Zeppelin songs, hi I’m still here and I wouldn’t mind being a part of it.” Plant went, [adopts Black Country accent] “Oh, bloody ’ell!” But I elbowed my way in.’ He added: ‘It’s all about Robert and what he wants.’

In fact, Plant had been moved enough by the reaction at Live Aid to begin to consider the previously thought impossible. ‘The rush I got from that size of audience, I’d forgotten what it was like. I’d forgotten how much I missed it … I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really drunk on the whole event. The fact that they were still chanting for us fifteen minutes later and the fact that there were people crying all over the place … odd stuff. It was something far more powerful than words can convey …’ So much so that when, ten days later, Page joined him on stage again, this time at one of his solo shows at the Meadowlands arena in New Jersey, jamming on the old blues classics ‘Mean Woman Blues’ and ‘Treat Her Right’, they agreed to ‘get back in touch and have a cup of tea’ when the tour was over – and this time bring Jonesy too.

Looking on from afar was Paul Rodgers – a man not known, particularly in his fiery drinking days, for suffering fools gladly, or their back-channel antics. Despite his apparent good humour on the subject when we spoke about it twenty-five years later, it was no coincidence that the working relationship between the singer and guitarist in The Firm rapidly went downhill after Live Aid – and the resultant rumours of a more committed Zeppelin reunion. Tony Franklin now admits he was also somewhat put out by this latest beyond-The-Firm development. ‘Maybe I was secretly glad that it didn’t go so well,’ he says of Zep’s calamitous Live Aid appearance. ‘I don’t know if I was or not!’ he laughs. ‘No, I didn’t think of it as being in any way a threat to The Firm, because to me we were a band and we were going to be making another album and we were going to tour. I never for one second saw it as a problem. I actually felt bad for Jimmy and the guys that it didn’t go well, because there were so much expectations.’

Nevertheless, with his contract to play in The Firm running to just two albums, with the option of a third, should Page and Rodgers wish to continue as such, he did see the possible return of Zeppelin as adding to the pressures the band was now under. ‘With touring, no matter what level you’re at, it’s hard work. We had our own plane. We’re staying in the best places. But even so, it’s extreme. People don’t realise that. It can really fray friendships and relationships. We should have just had a six-month break, because everything was back-to-back. Everything was just quick. If we’d have taken [some time] off and then come back and do something after that.’ He adds more specifically that Paul and Jimmy ‘should have had a break from each other. At the same time my understanding was that their friendship was more important than the business. Like, are we just going to keep doing this and potentially hurt our friendship, just keep grinding it out?’

The answer was no. ‘We should have taken a step back. There was magic happening. It’s a shame, it really is. We could have still been going now, in some form or another, who knows? But it wasn’t meant to be.’

Instead, the fall of The Firm led directly to what was very nearly a full-on Led Zeppelin reformation, the first of what would become several such occasions over the next twenty years. Rehearsing in Bath, away from prying eyes in London, with Tony Thompson taking Bonzo’s place, ‘The first day was all right,’ reckoned Jones. ‘I don’t know if Jimmy was quite into it, but it was good.’ However, over the course of the next two weeks, tiny cracks in the relationship between the three principal members began to fissure into caverns, Robert moaning about how long it took Jimmy – who had gotten off heroin but was now drinking heavily – to set up, and generally concerned that things were slowly sliding out of his control again. Then Thompson was involved in a minor car accident, being driven back from the pub one night, and it was seen as an omen, certainly by Plant. ‘What I recall is Robert and I getting drunk in the hotel and Robert questioning what we were doing,’ Jones told Lewis. ‘He was saying nobody wants to hear that old stuff again and I said, “Everybody is waiting for it to happen.” It just fell apart from then – I suppose it came down to Robert wanting to pursue his solo career at the expense of anything else.’ Says Lewis now: ‘I think what happened was Robert said to himself, one moment I’ve got a successful solo career, the next it’s back to car crashes and bad karma, I don’t need this.’

According to Phil Carson, though, this was just the latest episode in much bigger drama that was unfolding in Plant’s mind. ‘Robert and I parted company, as his manager, right after the second Robert Plant solo tour of America. That was the tour where we would also feature The Honeydrippers as part of the act. Robert would do his solo set then there would be about twenty minutes at the end when he would come back on and do a Honeydrippers set. It was a great show and it actually saved Robert’s arse on that tour, because The Honeydrippers’ album had sold a couple of million in America and we billed the tour in such a way it looked like it was Robert headlining with The Honeydrippers in support.’ Ticket sales for the tour had been sluggish, ‘and that kind of saved the day.’

When Carson, in the wake of Live Aid, persuaded Jimmy to come and make a guest appearance at Plant’s solo show in New Jersey, as part of The Honeydrippers segment, it was the trigger to much bigger changes in Plant’s solo career. ‘As soon as Jimmy came out on stage it was like the fucking roof came off the place! Afterwards, we all get in cars and drive back to New York. I’ve got my girlfriend with me and Robert’s got his lady with him, not his wife Maureen, but her sister Shirley – but we won’t dwell on that! Anyway we’re in the car and he’s fuming. Absolutely fuming. He’s sold out this arena and he says, “Is it always like that? You know, when Jimmy Page gets onstage?” I said no, but it’s always gonna be like that when Jimmy Page gets onstage with you. Then we had a heart-to-heart about doing Zeppelin songs and we sort of fell out. I remember the argument didn’t stop there. It carried on through this meal we had at a restaurant. It was one of those places where you’re eating out on the sidewalk someplace. I’ll never forget it, because by coincidence Robert’s band has got a table for the four of them, and between Robert Plant and them, at another table, is Nile Rodgers and his girlfriend. So as I’m having this argument about doing Zeppelin songs this fucking band – comprising great players like Robbie Blunt, but honestly, nobodies in the scheme of things – they’re going, “We’ll never do Led Zeppelin songs!” So Robert’s going, “Well, I don’t see why we should do any Led Zeppelin”. I’m going, “Robert, are you crazy? Did you not just see what happened [when Jimmy came on]? If you do a couple of Zeppelin songs it will ease your journey, and take people with you on your journey into new music”. He wasn’t having it. Anyway we agreed to part company after that night.’ He laughs. ‘Of course, then Bill Curbishley comes in to manage him – and Bill talks him into doing Led Zeppelin songs, and the rest is history.’

Curbishley, who had managed The Who through their most fractious times, including the drink-related death of their wild man drummer, Keith Moon, was in fact the perfect man to put Robert Plant’s solo career back on a forward-looking footing – not least succeeding where Phil Carson had failed, in getting the singer to at last acknowledge his time in the biggest rock band in the world, by including some Zeppelin covers in his solo act. In fact, on Plant’s very next solo album, Now And Zen, released in 1988, which Blunt pointedly did not appear on, Robert had Jimmy Page guest on two tracks, ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Tall Cool One’ – his presence denoted on the album sleeve by the ‘ZoSo’ symbol. Indeed, the latter track also featured no less than five sampled moments from various Zeppelin classics: ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Custard Pie’ and ‘The Ocean’, as well as sing-quoting lyrics from ‘When The Levee Breaks’. Surely no coincidence then that Now And Zen became Plant’s biggest-selling solo album – which it remains to this day.

NEW Led Zep Biog

My 2008 Led Zeppelin biography, When Giants Walked The Earth, has just been published in the UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand in a new, vastly updated anniversary edition – the 10th anniversary of the book, the 50th anniversary of Zeppelin forming and making their first album. It has an additional 40,000 words, some of it added to the original text, including a brand new start to Chapter One, see below. Some of it updating the story to cover the past 10 years. It also features brand new interviews with a great many people that I didn’t get to speak to first time around, including Jason Bonham, former Atlantic Records chief (and later manager of both Plant and Page) Phil Carson, plus the late Chris Squire, Paul Rodgers, Kevin Shirley, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Eddie Kramer, Lemmy and many, many more.

Here is an extract from the new book , beginning with that new beginning to Chapter One. You can buy a copy by clocking onto the link at the side of this page.

Saturday night in New York: 30 March 1968 – the summer of hate almost upon us. Five nights later Martin Luther King Jr. will be shot and killed in Memphis. Two months later Bobby Kennedy will be similarly assassinated. By the end of the year Richard Milhous Nixon will be elected 37th President of the United States. ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles may be the biggest-selling single of the year but it’s the record’s B-side, ‘Revolution’, that speaks loudest to the generation of longhairs and head-trippers lining up outside the Anderson Theatre on 66 Second Avenue this cold spring night. Here to see The Yardbirds – Britain’s grooviest band. Or what’s left of them. Three dates into their eighth US tour in four years, though guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja don’t know it yet, this will be the last tour the band will ever do.

‘We lost enthusiasm for it,’ says Yardbirds drummer and co-founder Jim McCarty now, speaking from his home in France. ‘We couldn’t really … we just didn’t have the energy for it. If we’d had a long break and sat down and had a rest and taken time to think of new songs, it might have been an idea. But everything back then was based on working, playing every night.’ He sighs. ‘They thought if you had six months off no one would recognise you any more.’

Nevertheless, it seemed a strange time to call a halt to what had been one of the most inventive, famous and influential bands of the Swinging Sixties. The world may have been going to hell – aka Vietnam’s Mekong Delta – but rock music was fast approaching its apotheosis. When serious music fans weren’t out on a Magical Mystery Tour in chase of an under-clad Mrs Robinson, they were tripping in a White Room listening to Janis screaming for them to take another ‘Piece Of My Heart’, or leaning over wide-eyed at innocent passers-by telling them ‘Hello, I Love You’, while all the while Two Riders Were Approaching.

The Yardbirds – famous for proto-psyche hits like ‘For Your Love’, ‘Shapes Of Things’ and ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ – had also been home to the three best guitarists in England: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and, now, Jimmy Page. The Yardbrds had appeared in seminal art-house flicks like Antonio’s Blow Up. They were worshipped by up-and-comers like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Gary Moore, Tom Petty… The Yardbirds were walking, talking history – even by 1968. But instead of sticking around for the transformation into album artists that would propel contemporaries like The Who, The Kinks, Cream and the Stones into global superstars in the late sixties, The Yardbirds were about to throw in the towel. Why?

The trouble, says McCarty, was ‘we were desperate. We didn’t want to do another Yardbirds tour.’ He and singer Keith Relf had been talking privately about splitting for months. ‘About doing something completely different. We wanted a change – to do some other kinds of songs, some different music. Something refreshing. After playing that heavy stuff night after night, in the end it wasn’t going anywhere…’ A wry chuckle: ‘But they wanted to carry on.’

‘They’ were Dreja and Page. And yes, they bloody well did want to carry on.

Or Jimmy Page did anyway…

It was a real sliding doors moment that night at the Anderson Theatre. You only have to listen to the live recording of the show – immortalised for the first time officially with the 2017 release of the Yardbirds 68 album, produced and digitally remastered by Page himself, and now available on various formats through his official website – to grasp what might have been had McCarty and Relf not wanted out so badly. It’s not overstating the case to describe this as proto-Led Zeppelin. And there’s no shame in wondering exactly what this band would have achieved had Jimmy Page not had to go out just three months later and find a new singer and rhythm section to play with – in what was originally announced at the time as being The Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page. Then, just weeks later, The New Yardbirds, and then, even more suddenly, spookily, a whole new other thing – supposedly – called Led Zeppelin.

In fact, listening to the live Yardbirds 68 album, The New Yardbirds really would have been a more accurate description of the outfit that Page pulled together in the months that followed that Anderson Theatre show. Because, baby-baby, it’s all right there in New York in March 1968. Not just the sonic templates of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘White Summer’ – but in the whole smart-arse, don’t-try-this-at-home, we-are-your-overlords vibe. The Yardbirds had always been fantastically flash, inscrutably cool, fabulously out of reach. Their early shows were self-described as ‘rave-ups’ – wild, hair-down, knickers-off parties for the wilfully far out, the fashionably fuck you. They weren’t dirty rockers but they were photographed riding Harleys, they weren’t poncey mods but they dressed to the nines, part King’s Road, part Haight-Ashbury.

‘You couldn’t touch them,’ Lemmy of Motörhead would tell me years later. ‘Especially the line-up with Jeff Beck in it. It was the same feeling I got when I later saw the MC5 – they just attacked you, went for the jugular. When Page joined it became a bit more experimental but it was still the same sort of vibe – very daring. I always liked that. And the fact they always had a lot of good-looking birds at their gigs.’ Indeed, the musical journey The Yardbirds undertook in their short but adventure-filled five years together went through so many twists and turns their career seemed to nutshell the melting-pot atmosphere of the sixties as clearly as did that of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Chinese Democracy

By the start of 2008, a zillion dollars and a million years down the line, an actual release date for Chinese Democracy was no longer even being speculated on. Most serious people had stopped even asking about it, demoting it to the same category in their minds as those other great ‘lost’ albums in the past like The Who’s Lifehouse, or Smile by The Beach Boys. But not even those had inspired more bare-knuckled hammering. The album’s incessant delays, middling dramatic sub-plots and bloated, eight-figure budget had reduced the project to an industry punchline.

And then, on 23 November that year – miracle of miracles, and to almost no fanfare whatsoever, not even a video or a tour – Chinese Democracy was finally released. Distributed exclusively through US electronics retail giant Best Buy — a deal struck by then-manager Irving Azoff similar to the one AC/DC struck with Wal-Mart the same year for their album Black Ice, intended as a shrewd means of recouping at least some of the eye-watering $13 million that had been the estimated cost of the album. It was reported that Best Buy ordered 1.3 million copies up front in anticipation of a frenzied assault by GN’R fans.

The album debuted at No. 3 in the US, No. 2 in the UK and made the Top Five in eight other countries, selling over a million copies worldwide in the first week alone – impressive numbers in an era when physical CD and vinyl sales had declined drastically. Critically, opinions were generally favourable too, with outlets like Spin and Allmusic awarding decidedly positive reviews. Few, though, were as effusive as long-time GN’R watcher David Fricke, who gushed in Rolling Stone, “The first Guns n’ Roses album of new, original songs since the first Bush administration is a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard rock record. In other words, it sounds a lot like the Guns N’ Roses you know.” While Robert Christgau, the godfather of American music critics wrote, “This effort isn’t just pleasurable artistically. It’s touching on a human level. Noble, even. I didn’t think he had it in him.”

Note that ‘he’, as opposed to the ‘they’ a real band would have deserved. At the same time, the detractors were many, with the Village Voice calling the album “a hilariously painstaking attempt to synthesise that lightning, a lost cause taken to delirious extremes, a fascinating catastrophe inspiring equal parts awe and pity.” Others lambasted the album for a perceived excess of pretence and absence of heart.

Acclaimed American biographer Stephen Davis described Chinese Democracy as simply “the worst album ever.” You had to wonder at such extreme views, though. The truth was, had Axl released Chinese Democracy within three or four years of the Use Your Illusion releases, it would have been hailed as a mature and sharply focused follow-up to the meandering over-indulgence of its evil-twin predecessors.

Drawing deeply from its industrial, pop and classic rock influences and spangled with flourishes of keyboards, electronica and even flamenco, Chinese Democracy fitted awkwardly into the GN’R canon, no doubt, but only in that it is really an Axl Rose solo album in all but name. And, as such, was a masterwork of its type, towering over the Velvet Revolver albums, barely able to register such specs of dust as whatever Loaded or the Juju Hounds may have been up to these long gone years, it soared so much higher than they.

Thematically, Axl had tapped back into the jagged vulnerability, sneering resentment and embattled paranoia that dominated Use Your Illusion. Mighty salvos like ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’ and ‘Scraped’ deliberately harked back to the pugnacity and wild abandon of the band’s early works, though what Axl meant exactly with lines like ‘Blame it on the Falun Gong’, from the aggressively romping title track was anybody’s guess.

Described as ‘a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance’, it seems an odd addition to verses otherwise powered by words like ‘hate’, ‘iron fist’, ‘hell’ and ‘masturbation’. Perhaps Axl was merely applying a bit of yin to his yang?

It hardly mattered. Not when placed in the context of meatier fare such as ‘There Was A Time’ – with a breathtaking build-up that eclipses the song’s hopelessly puerile acronym – and the poppy tunefulness of ‘Catcher In The Rye’ revealed a provocative cinematic vision tailor-made for the new generation of ear-bud listeners.

Nevertheless Chinese Democracy was confounding for those who had been chomping at the bit to pass judgment on it; for many, it became a creeper album that divulged new secrets with each progressive listen. For others it was a mystery wrapped within a mania. Compared to historically similar overworked classics it yielded no obvious hits. When, in 1976, Fleetwood Mac had entered the studio with unlimited time and money at their disposal they emerged a year later with Rumours, one of the best-selling records in history.

This though was different. Notoriously averse to speaking with the media, Axl granted an interview to Jonathan Cohen of Billboard magazine in February, 2009, in which the singer explained the album’s withering delay with a now familiar raft of excuses. “There aren’t too many issues of the hundreds [we ran into] that happened as quickly as anyone would have preferred, from building my studio; finding the right players; never did find a producer; still don’t have real record company involvement or support; to getting it out and mixed and mastered.”

In short, everybody’s fault but Axl’s. Didn’t he already have the right ‘players’ in Slash, Duff, Izzy and Matt? But that was a stupid question. Axl also expressed satisfaction with the final product while seeming to address criticisms that perhaps the original GN’R line-up might have put the album out more quickly, by pointing out, “It’s the right record and I couldn’t ask for more in that regard. Could have been a more enjoyable journey, but it’s there now. The art comes first. It dictates if not the course [then] the destination artistically.

“For me, once the real accompanying artwork is there with a few videos and some touring, the package was achieved and delivered. And to do so at this level in terms of quality, both artistic and performance-wise, both on record and live, is something that’s a miracle at minimum and something that wouldn’t have happened, no matter how anyone tries to convince others, with old Guns, regardless of anyone’s intentions. It was just as ugly in old Guns, regardless of our success.”

Hidden In Plain Sight: Lulu

This is the review I wrote of this album in 2011 that Classic Rock refused to print. Told me to rewrite, but with the stipulation that the most I could give it was 7/10. Amazing to think it caused such uproar at the time.

Lou Reed & Metallica



The arguments about this deliciously self-regarding project began the moment news of it escaped like bad gas from the manholes of New York City. The arguments will only grow more heated now everyone can at last hear it. That’s how it’s always been with great art. And make no mistake, this is rock at its’ artiest – and greatest.

Boohoo, go Lou’s fey army of post-punk disciples. Foul! Cry the metal community. Yet when all is said and done and you close your eyes and actually sit down and listen to what Reed and Metallica have made together, what is it we’re actually left with?

A masterpiece, that’s what. One that compels you to leave your preconceptions at its threshold as it ushers you into its darkly shimmering shadow.

The outline you already probably know. Reed, whose last solo album, The Raven, in 2003, was an outing of similarly collaborative ambitions based around the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe (contributors included Steve Buscemi, David Bowie, Willem Defoe, Laurie Anderson, and Antony Hegarty), had planned to come back this year with a set of songs inspired by two early 20th century plays by the German expressionist Frank Wedekind: Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. Both originally published in 1904 and set in Germany, Paris and London in the 1890s, the stories revolve around Lulu, a woman-for-all-seasons and magnet for the suffocating desires, backhand love and unfettered abuse of all the men, good and bad, who fall upon her. Until, finally, left with ‘no real feelings in my soul’, she meets Jack the Ripper, whose ‘love’ proves greatest and most fatal of all.

Along the way we get river-deep meditations on what WB Yeats described as “the only subjects seriously interesting to an adult” – sex and death. And this is nothing if not adult-oriented music.

Reed, as connoisseurs know, has built a career based on the hope that, as he says, “the intelligence that once inhabited novels and films would ingest rock.” But while his best work, with and without the Velvet Underground, has always benefited from that creative impulse, he has skated so close to self-parody so many times, his energy has often become dissipated, spread as thin and hollow as the mocking sneer that appears to hover over his work.

This is where Metallica come in. A genuinely clubbable for-real rock band – as opposed to the expensively hired hands Reed has spent the past 40 years working with – so straight in their musical ambitions it’s as if they have a pole up their collective spine, there’s never been much kidding going on in Metallica’s best music.

What they bring to Reed’s latest muse then is pure blissfully un-ironic fire; a fist of fury to replace the limp wrist. It makes for an absolutely shattering combination.

Recorded at Metallica’s studio in San Francisco, the pre-release hype has centred on how little afterthought or reworking went on in the studio. Yet what we encounter on first hearing Lulu are incredibly manicured soundscapes, layer upon layer of beautiful noise that leaves you dizzy and unsettled, enchanted and repulsed, wizened.

It’s not about individual tracks, though there are immediately several stand-outs like the chilling opener Brandenberg Gate (‘I would cut my legs and tits off,’ intones Lou, cutting straight to the chase) or Pumping Blood, whose demented violins reminds one of Street Hassle before building over several pendulum-like minutes to a full-on Metallica-sized aural assault.

It’s about the overall piece. A conceptual work that has to be absorbed as a whole to even begin to traverse its sonic foothills, at 90 minutes-plus this is not exactly an iPod-friendly trip. Unless, maybe, you happen to be horizontal by the time you get to final track Junior Dad, the final 12 of its skin-peeling 19 minutes taken over by seductive waves of drone that recall John Cale’s viola, Nico’s harmonium, and Cliff Burton’s beautiful bass-washes and neo-orchestral effects on instrumentals like Orion.

Not then the retrograde thrash classic Metallica’s more bovine followers might be hungering for. Nor the kind of fidgety, post-modern punk-poetry the broadsheet critics can easily assimilate. But, as Kirk Hammett recently put it: “something else. A new animal.”

One with teeth and claws…

Mick Wall



Life = Death = Life

So I’ve been trying to have this week off. But with a phone in your pocket you are never off, of course. So for the good of my mental health I have been ignoring the phone. Except for those occasions when you simply can’t, of course. Now at the end of the week off I feel… horribly half-on. And fractured mentally. Which is the reason I needed a few days off. I haven’t been ‘off’ since last July. There are many here amongst us that can say the same. While others have weekends, evenings, Xmas, Easter, chill-out days etc, I am so strapped for the readies I can’t stop working. I mean, I actually can’t.

And yet the more I work the deeper in debt I seem to get. Three teenage children and a wife that is out of control do not help. But then I join in. I get so mind-numbingly wrecked by it all I don’t care come 8pm and just go for dinner somewhere I can’t afford. Or a shop I can’t afford. See friends I can’t afford. Listen to my eldest daughter telling me she needs a car I can’t afford. While my other kids want dogs, pugs, guinea pigs, McDonalds, Chinese, chips and fish, and more clothes and toys and you name it that I can’t afford.

In the midst of which there are all those out there that claim I owe them money. It’s amazing. There are quite a few and funnily enough they all have a lot of money themselves, it’s just that they want whatever I can’t afford too.

There is the occasional oasis, yes. The Dead Rock Stars podcast is taking off. No money, obviously, but at least people like it. Then there are the Other Projects, almost all of which I can’t discuss because they are mostly book deals in various states of processing – i.e. lots of talk and meetings and yadda-yadda but so far NO MONEY. I find myself involved in dozens of amazing projects I can’t actually afford.

This is a pain in the arse for several of the people I am working with on these things. Why is he always going on about money? Because when you don’t have any and the whole world is holding a gun to your head demanding it, it sends you insane. Not crazy and sad and angry and frustrated. Insane. Until you find yourself saying weird things even too yourself. Especially to yourself.

Dead Rock Stars 2

OK, I’m going to see if I can do this properly this time. As most of you noticed, my first Dead Rock Stars blog was full of typos. Ian the producer wondered if this was because I was deliberately trying to make Joel sound stupid. Joel just got mad at me. That’s Joel McIver, by the way, my fellow rock biographer and blood brother. And that’s Ian Callaghan, my newly made brother and digi-whiz of 7Digital.

Breathe out…

So… let me tell you a little more. First, what this podcast isn’t – one of those cringe-inducing YouTube-type channel abortions where you get uber-fans slavering about their all-time fave rock star type people. Then ‘inviting’ other ‘fans’ to ‘get involved’. Fuck that.

This is me and Joel talking turkey the way we do in real life. That is, telling the hideous truth, come what may. What anyone else thinks does not matter. Do your own podcast if you want to say something different. But if you want to hang out with us and hear the real malarkey, you will have come to the right place.

The idea of guests has been mentioned. I say no. That would make us more like all the other pods. The idea of ‘broadening things out’, that is, covering people that aren’t really rock stars, in order to ‘attract more listeners’. Again, we say no. We do not want to sound like ALL THE OTHERS. Just us.

And that’s the way things should be done. Did John Peel prise open his arse cheeks to be more ‘popular’ or did he just do his own thing and become the greatest along the way, someone the others could never even come close to?

That’s us. Not John Peel. Not Bob and Bill with their cheese and biscuits patter and listener-friendly play-nice rules.

Just us. Talking about dead rock stars.

Tomorrow: John Bonham.

Dead Rock Stars

So me and Joel are having dinner at my favourite Indian place and Joel starts talking about us doing a podcast together. Sheesh, these days everyone is talking about doing a podcast. But Joel has this idea to do one based on dead rock stars – “So they can’t sue us!” he says.

I agree, this might be funny. Then he says he can’t think of a good enough title for it. But he keeps referring to the podcast as “the Dead Rock Stars” idea. I say that’s a good title. He says, “Yeah, but I’m not it’s good enough.”

We sit there eating and thinking about it.

“I like it,” I say. “Dead Rock Stars – it’s got a ring.”

“Does what it says on the tin,” says Joel.

So we agree to give it a go and no more is heard until Joel unearths a friend that happens to be BBC radio producer name Ian. Ian produces podcasts. Proper ones. For a proper company. Joel arranges a pub lunch.

I’m on the defensive. I know that Joel and I know what we’re talking about but I don’t if Ian will. Turns out he does.

And so a couple of months ago we sat down, Joel and I, to record our first episode – on Lemmy. No script, no pre-discussed plan. Joel has a couple of notes to help him do a really cheerful and cheesy intro and I have years of ugly hurt to help me pour out the rivers of anti–love. And… it’s such fun. Like when we’re having a curry, only a little more focussed.

We have now done a few, with many more to go. Ronnie James Dio was second. Freddie Mercury is third, and there will be a new one every Friday – next up John Bonham – from now until we either run out of dead rock stars or Joel or I die.

Zappa 84

I was searching for something and accidentally came across this. I read it and was surprised how relevant it still seemed. So I thought I’d out it here. From Kerrang! October 4, 1984

MICK WALL gets uncomfortably numb in the company of the terminally cynical FRANK ZAPPA.

AT SCHOOL I was never quite the same as other normal kids. At least, not after The Accident.

It happened one stormy night when I stayed over at a friend’s house. It was pissing with rain and I’d missed the last bus and, anyway, my friend, through the infinite kindness of his stinking rich parents, was the proud possessor of a brand new Hitachi stereo with all the multicoloured trimmings.

Now he was weird my friend; for instance, he was the first kid in class to have an Afghan Duvet and a colour television, but his older brother was even weirder. It was the older brother who owned all the records in the house. At the time I was going through my Alice Cooper period and so I figured I had the boundaries of rock and roll pretty well figured out. I mean, Alice was the wildest back in those days, you can hang your skeleton on that one boy.

I was 16 and I was trés k.o.o.l.

So when Big Bro’ suggested kicking off the night’s entertainment with something I’d never heard of before called Frank Zappa, snickering right into my face, I felt like I was ready for anything. Like, impress me …

That was when The Accident occured.

It turned out that the music I was listening to was at least five years old at that time, but to my innocent soul it sounded light years ahead. It reached out of the Hitachi and seized me by the hair. My mind began to travel very fast and I could feel my bowels turning to water. It was an easy intelligent groove with lots of busy drums to stab home the misty mood-swings. It was called ‘Peaches En Regalia’, and the album was ‘Hot Rats’.

Slight pause and then came ‘Willie The Pimp’, all fiendishly funky guitars stomping across your back and a grisly lead vocal digging its dirty nails into the frontal lobe …

“What is this s**t?” the youngster I was asked incredulously. I still don’t know all the smart answers to that one, and I don’t expect I ever shall. It’s that kind of music, y’see; it doesn’t go away when you tell it because, God forgive it, the wicked stench of truthpervades all of Frank Zappa’s work.

The Reality Clause is the primary equation in the complex Zappa scheme of things. It’s got a funk of its own, fused by direct identification with rock, Be-Bop, a cappella, jazz, blues, name it … and it’s human enough to accommodate the Theatre Of The Absurd, ruthless enough to twist the knife in good where it hurts. That’s what makes it so interesting, so special, which is precisely why Frank Zappa holds such a unique, untenable position in rock and roll …

So back to The Accident. The plain truth was that I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t go all the way that first time, and I felt a bit jolted, a tad soiled by the experience. And I solemnly vowed to put the ghastly matter right out of my tiny walrus mind forever and ever.

IT’S WEEKS before I got my next taste of Zappa and by then I’m going half-crazy because I can’t get little bits of his extraordinary music out of my head.

Keeping it brief, what followed was a period of years where I took my Frank Zappa wherever I might find it. Apart from scoring my own copies of ‘Hot Rats’ and ‘Joe’s Garage’ (a masterpiece), I relied on tapes of his music friends would run off for me, I read bits and pieces here and there about him, I saw his film ‘200 Motels’ – probably the ultimate, uh, on-the-road rock movie (haw! haw! haw!) ever made – and I never so much pursued his vast career as let his music come to me, wheresoever I lay.

To date, Frank Zappa has to his name 39 albums including a variety of doubles and triple-boxed sets, not to mention the recent seven-disc set of Mothers Of Invention early LPs; 32 compositions for orchestral and choral groups; four ballets; two feature films and two video specials.

In the distant past he has worked with Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer, he even produced and played guitar on a Grand Funk Railroad album, ‘Good Singin’, Good Playin”. Just over a year ago he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of one of his ballet pieces, and for the last three years he has disengaged himself completely from the rock world, devoting time and money to his more ‘classical’ musical pursuits, hovering on the fringes of the ‘serious’ music world like some predatory rhino grinding a magnificent horn up against the goal-posts of paradise.

In 1971 a fracas at his concert at the London Rainbow resulted in Zappa receiving a broken leg at the hands of some, uh, overzealous‘fan overtures’.

When he returned to London a year later at Crystal Palace[1] he walked on stage with his new personal assistant John Smothers who closely resembled Mr T’s godfather. Big, black, and completely bald, Smothers was introduced to the crowd by Zappa as the man hired to kill anybody from the audience who wanted to try a re-run of the Rainbow incident. 10 years on, Smothers remains by Zappa’s side, wherever he walks, sleeps or eats.

Zappa is always an imposing figure on stage, his much-vaunted ‘contempt’ for sections of his public the source of many a True Story …

There’s the one about the time he was performing in America, when the band hit the stage and the first number of the set turned out to be a long 15 minutes-plus jazz improvisational piece with more time-changes in it than the Tardis on a good night. At the climax of the piece some lunkhead at the back of the auditorium started hooting and whistling for some rooocckkk an’ rooolll. “You liked that one, did you motherf**kers? Well, we’ll do it again for ya…” was Zappa’s response, and they did the whole damn thing again.

One time in Italy, it is said, the local promoter had promised Zappa his money in cash and up-front of the actual gig. When the moolah failed to arrive as promised Frank and the boys went out on stage and charged into the grandest, most vulgar and verbose intro they could manage – white noise melting into slow death – and ended it with low bows followed by the uniform raising of long index fingers up the nose of the crowd. “F**k you!” said Frank, and walked off.

Oh God, there’s hundreds, some funnier, some not. When word got out that the kid had an interview arranged with the man, the looks of anguish and the words of condolence he received from all sides, plus the strange words of warning foisted upon him by previous scarred and beaten Zappa interviewers, was enough to make his balls ache.

“He is a very, very bright person and he doesn’t tolerate arseholes, so just don’t try to f**k around with him. HE’LL EAT YOU!”

Oh God…

AND LO! It came to pass that in the rainy streets of Brussels, Belgium, where he was rehearsing for the start of his first European tour in many a bygone year, I plucked up my courage and whiled away a half hour or so with Mr Frank Zappa.

There’s a new rock album released this month called ‘Them Or Us’, available on Zappa’s own Barking Pumpkin Records (through EMI), his first for three years.

A double (of course), ‘Them Or Us’ harks back to the ‘Joe’s Garage’ era, which means we’re in for a joy-ride through Be-Bop [doo-wop] (‘The Closer You Are’), fused with the more instrumentally eloquent chaos of tracks like ‘Sinister Footwear’ and ‘Truck Driver Romance’. The humour is as convoluted and hysterical as ever, and the scenarios are all pulled from the same generous black cloak of fiction worn by ‘Catholic Girls’ or, going right back, ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’.

The other thing to mention here is Zappa’s guitar. He’s a stunning guitar player and a meticulous technician and has to be heard to be believed and understood.

Anyway, the reviews can come later. For now, let’s have a word or three with the wise. Let’s talk to Frank …

It’s widely reported that you hate coming to Europe and England, but you’re here now. Do you still dislike the Continent? 

“Of course, and for a very good reason. When people think of the Continent they think of little cathedrals and quaintness and everything being nice, nice, nice. But I’ve been over here often enough to recognise that there’s more hatred on the Continent than in any other place I’ve ever had to work. There’s ethnic hatred that goes back thousands of years, and it permeates everything. And when you’re forced to tour around, when every day is a different country, then every day you find a different prejudice, a different hatred. It’s lurking everywhere.

“Belgium is in a preposterous state, the people there can’t even agree on what language they’re gonna speak. Everything’s written in at least two different languages, if not three, sometimes four on the signs. It’s as ignorant as the situation in French Canada.

“In the United States you have a land mass much bigger than the size of the Continent and, sure, we have our regional differences, but nothing like the ethnic hatred I’ve experienced in Europe. And when people are filled with that much hatred it’s difficult for them to laugh at anything, and basically what I do is very humour orientated. It’s music, but the most important ingredient is humour.”

Do all those thoughts and feelings come out when you perform in Europe?

“They don’t come out immediately, but it comes out of the audience. They’re responding to what you’re doing in a certain way. And the other thing that alters the response of the people over here is barometric pressure! The weather over here is so much more detestable than it is in the United States. Over here everybody is suffering from the low pressure syndrome, you know? So you’ve got the language barrier, which means no-one knows what you’re singing about (even if they’ve seen the words on a record sleeve they still don’t know what the songs mean); you’ve got the inherent ethnic hatred; and you’ve got the low barometer. So five weeks in Europe is not as much fun as five weeks in the United States.”

OVER HOW long a period was the new album ‘Them Or Us’ recorded?

“Over the last two years. Same time as I was doing all that symphony stuff, I kept working in the studio on ‘Them Or Us’, ‘Thing Fish’, and the ‘Francesco’ album.”

How do you keep all that going on at one time in your head? Going from chamber music, to conducting, to some of the wilder rock stuff’? 

“It’s no problem. You just have to schedule it right, that’s all.”

Did you ever have any classical training? 

“No. Just the library and practical experience. That way I’ve learnt to conduct and construct … it’s not as much fun as playing lead guitar though!”

You play a different show every night, right? 

“Every single night it’s a different show. Right now the band (Ike Willis, guitar and vocals; Ray White, guitar and vocals; Bobby Martin, keyboards, sax and vocals; Alan Zavod, keyboards and exotic dancing; Scott Thunes, bass; Chad Wackerman, drums) have a repertoire of 66 different numbers. When a couple of the guys have been with me a little longer they’ll know more.

“It’s better that way, it keeps us from getting bored. Right after the soundcheck every night I write out the set list. Sometimes I write out five different lists before I get it right, then the final list gets circulated to all the people that need to know and 15 minutes before we go onstage I get the band into a huddle and I tell them how the different songs connect to each other. We have a non-stop, seamless two hour show …”

You have a reputation for being wildly unpredictable on stage. You’re not afraid to give an audience verbal abuse … 

“Hey, if somebody gives me s**t I’m not gonna stand there and bend over; I’m not a jukebox, I’m not a robot, you know, I’m a human being and I’m not up there to do anything but entertain. If you want entertainment I’ve got it for you, if you wanna be an asshole, believe me, I’ve got ways of dealing with assholes!”

With your vast backlog of work and diverse artistic talents, have you ever thought about going into the Theatre? 

“I’ve tried, I wrote a Broadway musical, but I couldn’t raise enough money to do it. They needed five million dollars and I could only raise $400,000, so I gave up on it. It’s coming out as a three-record box set in September though, so you’ll be able to hear it at least, even if you won’t get to see it. It’s a musical based on the concept that somebody invented AIDS on purpose …

Going back a few years to the time you produced Grand Funk, would you ever be enticed into producing another Top 40 band now? 

“Doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I produced Grand Funk because I liked the guys, I did it as kind of a favour. I mean, I’d never heard any of their albums before, but they played me some songs and they were nice so I did it. No big deal, but I wouldn’t wanna do that now. Besides, being the producer is a thankless task … if the record sells millions it’s your fault it didn’t sell more, and if it bombs out it’s your fault for that, too. Somebody’s career goes down the toilet and it’s your fault.”

Do you still enjoy performing live? 

“Yeah, I do. Especially with these guys. They’re all great musicians, but they are also FUN FUN FUN guys too. I’ve played with some great musicians but you wouldn’t wanna do three month tours with them, boy, they’d put you to F**KING SLEEP! I won’t mention any names or pee on anybody’s sexuality, but there was this one band I had and the hottest thing they could think to do after a gig was little quiz games. On the f**king tour bus, in the hotel, it wasn’t like, hey, let’s go get some girls, it was what f* *g score is it?”

Yeah, rock and roll, eh Frank? 

“Forget it! I can’t relate to people like that, it doesn’t make any sense…”

Am I right in supposing that your rock albums and shows finance the other projects you like to get into? 

“Yeah, absolutely.”

Given the situation where all your projects were financially autonomous, would you gradually fade from the rock field altogether? 

“No, I wouldn’t stop the rock and roll. You have to remember that if I conduct a symphony orchestra it’s the same people that come to see it. I don’t have two different audiences. It’s all my music. It’s just so happens that the audience that listens to what I do has a wider range of musical tastes, that’s all.”

In the recent press pictures your record company has been sending out, you are pictured holding one hand high at the camera. There is an oven-glove on that hand. Is this your own personal Michael Jackson backlash? 

“Well, it’s not just to do with him, but Prince, all of ’em. I call it the Numb Hand Syndrome. All these fabricated Eighties stars giving the Numb Hand they got from jerking off too much to an audience of Numb Hands so’s everybody can get a Numb Hand together when listening to this garbage.”

You’re not a big fan of modern music, then? 

“Of course not. None of it’s real any more. The record companies are so corrupt, the A&R executives are so frightened of losing their jobs they’re not gonna risk their careers on anything new or dangerous. And as a consequence, there are several fine musicians who can’t turn a buck without dressing up in the right Superman suit and singing the same old s**t.

“Honestly, you should see these poor bastards when they walk into the record company looking for a deal. They waddle in backwards, their head scraping the floor, their two hands holding the cheeks of their asses open, yelling: ‘Oh stick it to me please, do anything, but can I have a contract please …’

“I’m telling you, there is no hope for the world.”

WOULD FRANK Zappa ever consider writing an autobiography? 

“I wouldn’t know where to start, and besides, the amount of lawsuits and suicide attempts and death threats that would undoubtedly result from the publication of my autobiography I can really do without right now.”

One last thing. I hear your son Dweezil is a big fan of Kerrang!. 
(Zappa has four kids: Moon Unit aged 16, Dweezil aged 14, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan aged 10 and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen aged 4).

“Yeah, he gets a subscription to every issue.”

He likes his rock ‘n’roll then, does he? 

“He likes Heavy Metal. Randy Rhoads is his big hero. He plays a pretty mean lead guitar also.”

Has he stolen any licks from the old man? 

“No. He loves Randy, though.”

Fast Eddie No Hammer

Metal Hammer asked me to write something about Fast Eddie and Motörhead. I wrote the following but they rejected it, said it wasn’t what they were looking for. Maybe you will enjoy it.

“I should have seen it coming,” said Lemmy years later. But he hadn’t seen it coming and when Hawkwind sacked him while touring America in the summer of 1975, Lemmy was devastated.

“I was fired for doing the wrong drugs,” Lemmy would tell me during one of our many nights on what he called “the old buck-you-uppo.” Hawkwind were all were “acid heads,” he explained. Lemmy was “a speed freak.”

He got his own back, though, when he returned to London. “I shagged all their old ladies. Take that you bastards!”

And that children, is how Motörhead came into being. Or rather that is how Bastard came into being – Lemmy’s original name for the group. Until his manager Doug Smith told him: “Come on, Lem. You’ll never get on the radio or the telly with a name like that.’”

When Lemmy refused to listen, says Doug, “I just went ahead and put out a press release saying his new band was called Motörhead.”

Lemmy was furious. Until everyone kept telling him what a great name it was – it being American slang for ‘speed freak’ and Lemmy being… well, you know…

Already a rock star having sung the lead vocals on Hawkwind’s 1972 mega-hit Silver Machine – “When Lemmy sang of having ‘an electric line’ to ‘your Zodiac sign,’ he meant it,” says Doug – getting Motörhead off the ground still took slog and luck and drugs and the help of some friendly bikers and willing groupies.

“I wanted it to be like the MC5,” Lemmy told me, referring to the Detroit legends whose infamous call-to-arms, “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” defined the hardcore rock scene in America in the late-1960s. “Fast and vicious.”

Former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis was first to join. He had a low-slung style and attitude that fitted. The trouble, said Lemmy, was “Larry worries. As soon as he gets hold of anything, he drops it on his toe.”

The drummer was a street urchin named Lucas Fox. He had never played in a ‘name’ band before but what he lacked in experience he did his best to make up for in nervous energy.

They did a string of shows around the UK, billed as Lemmy’s Motorhead (no umlaut in those early days) and got nowhere fast.

Lemmy: “We were doing a lot of covers and I had this blue-painted skull on my amp. It didn’t help. It was terrible.” A review in NME described one show as having ‘all the panache of a butcher stripping meat from an overripe carcass.’

Fox was fired soon after for daring, as Lemmy put it, “to try and keep up with my habit – the veins were standing out on his head.” Wallis simply stopped coming to rehearsals.

Fox’s replacement was a 21-year old former skinhead from Leeds named Phil Taylor. “I met Lemmy through speed really,” Taylor explained. “You know, dealing and scoring.” It was Phil who brought a new guitarist in: a part-time TV repairman named Eddie Clarke.

Eddie was 25, had played in a succession of no-hopers, and saw this as his last chance.

Eddie did one audition, he recalled when we spoke last year, and thought, “Oh, well, that’s it. Then the following Saturday morning, I’m lying in bed comatose and there’s this banging on my front door. I go downstairs in my underpants and Lemmy’s standing there with a leather jacket and a bullet belt in his hand. He gave them to me, said, ‘You’ve got the job,’ and walked off again. I just stood there in my underpants gobsmacked.”

It wasn’t just the clobber that went with the job. As with ‘Philthy Animal’, Lemmy would now add a sobriquet to the new guitarist’s name, making him forevermore ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. And so was born the most famous line-up of Motörhead, the Three Amigos, as they became known – the one that over the next five years would record all Motörhead classic hits, beginning with the first thing they ever wrote together, the supremely aptly titled ‘White Line Fever’.

“After we got Eddie and Phil in I knew we had something special,” Lemmy recalled. While Clarke confided that, “It wasn’t until after three or four rehearsals that I realised we didn’t sound normal.”

Indeed, over the next five years Motörhead would release six bones-into-dust albums that came to define a ‘new’ normal in rock and metal that would influence both the early-80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene and the birth of what became thrash metal.

“It’s simple,” Lars Ulrich, who ran the Motörhead fan club for a while, told me, “No Motörhead, no Metallica.” It was the same for Slash from Guns N’ Roses. “Lemmy, man, is the real fucking deal. When I die I want (We Are) The Road Crew played at my funeral.”

Of the albums they released between 1977 and 1982, when Fast Eddie told them to fuck off for the final time, the four must-haves-or-die are Overkill and Bomber – both released in 1979 – Ace Of Spades (1980) and the live No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981).

You think you know how to rock it? You think you know the meaning of metal? Kid, you don’t know shit until you’ve plunged your head deep into the apocalyptic whiteout of classic Three Amigos Motörhead.

Four Top 20 singles, three of which went Top 10. Six Top 30 albums, including two that went Top 10 and one all the way to Number 1. It was also now that Lemmy (words) and Eddie (riffs) co-wrote all the songs that would make Motörhead a legend.

“Lemmy was still finding his feet as a lyricist,” Eddie told me, “ and I’m not a virtuoso. But Eric Clapton never came up with the riffs to Ace Of Spades or Bomber. My job was giving Lemmy something to sing over. I mean, Stone Dead Forever, fucking hell! Did I really play that guitar?”

What’s more, these fuckers lived it. The idea of ‘stage clothes’ was not a concept Lemmy recognised. ‘Philthy’ wore whatever he liked when he liked. Eddie favoured a black shirt, done up to the collar, long dark jeans studded along the seams with metal stars. For Lemmy it meant a black shirt open to the navel, an Iron Cross dangling from his neck, dark blue jeans, and always but always those dirty-white cowboy boots.

The band’s blood-oath: Born to lose, live to win.

“I walked into this chick’s flat once,” Lemmy told me. “ And she goes, ‘Argh!’ I said, ‘What the fuck’s the matter with you?’ She said, ‘You’re dead!’ I said, ‘I assure you I’m not.’ That was a rumour. I heard that one twice. From the time I stayed up for two weeks solid on Methedrine. You used to get it in glass amps. They used to put it in with hydrochloride BP with a skull-and-crossbones symbol underneath it. You were supposed to inject it but we didn’t inject it. We used to put five in a glass of orange juice and drink it – and go and talk to everybody in Hyde Park within half an hour! Zzzz! Ahhhh! Buzz saw mouth, you know?”

He narrowed his eyes. “That shit is lethal. But good fun, you know?” By the time Lemmy had stopped, “All me teeth had gone…”

It didn’t matter. When ‘Philthy’ Phil broke his wrist on tour, they simply gaffer-taped the drumstick to his hand each night. When Eddie kept quitting they just ignored him and dragged him to the next gig.

Lemmy had an answer for everything. I quizzed him once about his immortal line from Ace Of The Spades, about being born to lose, and how gambling’s for fools, ‘But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever!’

How true was it, though, I asked. Wouldn’t it come back to haunt him? “Of course!” he laughed. “But ‘forever’ is a long time. You could be 294 and not reach ‘forever’. But I think you’d be sick of it by then. I think anybody would be sick of it by then. Even me. And I like to stay up late, you know?’

He paused to blow cigarette smoke in my face. “Actually, I’d like to die the year before forever. To avoid the rush…”

When Eddie left for real in 1982, after an amphetamine-fuelled argument with Lemmy about keeping Motörhead metal (and not doing a cover of Stand By Your Man with Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams), it was the end of the classic Motörhead line-up.

When ‘Fast’ Eddie died last month at the age of 67, it brought about another ending for the Three Amigos, following the deaths in 2015 of both Lemmy and ‘Philthy’ Phil.

What lives they lived though. As Eddie told me the last time we met, discussing the controversial track, The Chase Is Better Than the Catch from the Ace Of Spades album.

“It’s about the true life experience of what it’s like being in a band like this. Cos when you haven’t got a pot to piss in and slogging around the country and having a fucking laugh, you haven’t got time for thinking. If you got a drink and a joint and toot you figure your fucking life’s sweet, man, and a bird’s fucking sucking you off, what more do I ever want?”

The Essential ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke Motörhead Playlist

Ace Of Spades

As Eddie Clarke acknowledged there were many other technically superior guitarists, but none of them could come up with a death-grip riff like this.


(We Are) The Road Crew

If a guitar could learn to drink and smoke and fight and fuck all on its own, this is what it would sound like. Bludgeoning, relentless, undeniable, all bloody nosed.



Eddie’s secret ingredient as a guitarist – and the special sauce in the classic Motörhead line-up – was the comic invention of his playing. Like one punchline after another, ha fucking ha.



One of the all-time epic Motörhead tracks, maybe even the best thing they ever did. Lead drums, lead bass, lead vocals and that glorious, crazed, speed-twitching lead guitar. And repeat…



Another quintessential bugling, manic-laughter ‘Fast’ Eddie riff, so simple only a very complex, intensely fucked-up mind could have conceived of it. Not even a real solo just riff-riff-riff. Mental-metal deluxe.


Damage Case

Lars Ulrich was 16 the first time he heard this. Four years later when Metallica recorded their first album Kill ’Em All, it was like this track split into 10. Geddit?


White Line Fever

Lemmy sounds like he’s got a bottle stuck down his throat, Phil’s trying to sound like a proper drummer, and Eddie clearly doesn’t give a fuck. Nurse, quick, the screens…


Stone Dead Forever

Killer riff. Blood-spattered solo, spunk stains down the jeans. Lemmy, a giant gargling with nails wielding his bass like a knife. Phil fucking giving it… Did I mention the killer riff?


The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

Some female rock crits had a shit – calling it sexist! Most boy fans testified to its telling-it authenticity. Eddie ignored them all and just rode his guitar like a bitch. Oh, right, sorry…


Iron Fist

The last cool thing the Three Amigos did. A rewrite of Ace Of Spades, but so what? This was Motörhead, baby. They could do what they liked. Until Eddie left and they couldn’t anymore.







Hidden In Plain Sight: Slip Of The Tongue

“Any time, any place, I’m just the fool who puts a smile on your face…”

It’s 1989 and David Coverdale is putting on the moves like never before. The previous Whitesnake album, 1987, went mega-plat, MTV rolled over, and David (never Dave) even got his new “excellent piece of ass”, as he described her to me, in all the videos, helping him have even more hits.

Two years on what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything. Except the music, which was glorious in that shamelessly, brilliantly, look-at-me Coverdale-way. And that voice, of course. Which after ‘Mistreated’ on Burn could never be thought of in any other way than utterly superb.

But no one was paying attention to that. They were too busy whispering to each other about how Steve Vai had – literally – been bought-in to bolster the line-up after Adrian Vandenberg had already co-written all the songs with David. Publicly, this was because Adrian had damaged his wrist and couldn’t play for a while. In reality, Vandenberg’s guitar parts were already recorded. But Vai refused to come onboard unless they stripped Adrian’s existing guitar parts from the tapes – and allowed Steve to re-record them, plus add his own ‘sonic tapestries’ on top.

Then came the videos. Where the videos for 1987 had all featured Tawnee Kitaen and had all been deliciously sexy and fun, the first for the new Vai-ramped ‘Fool For Your Loving’ was so dark you could hardly see the band, then had to do with just quick glimpses of Tawnee in drive-by silhouette. Instead it was now down to Steve Vai to do the slut writhing on the floor bit. I feel a little bit of sick in my mouth when I see the video even now.

And the song. ‘Here I Go Again’, upgraded from its 1982 Marsden-swagger into a John Sykes propelled MTV firework had worked brilliantly two years before. Attempting the same with the even older Marsden-Moody classic had the opposite effect. Swapping heartfelt shimmy for wank-off homo-erotica. The single was not a hit.

And nor was the next one, ‘The Deeper The Love’, but at least they brought Tawnee into the video within the first 10 seconds – only blonde, instead of the tawny (geddit) brown she had been before. And she was in a long black dress. With frills. Like a younger Stevie Nicks. Without the witchy-power. It didn’t work. Everyone just looked too smug.

By the time ‘Now You’re Gone’ was released as the third single, no one cared anymore. Same same same, only not as good.

And yet the album… I travelled with the band on some of their US tour that year and they were still awe-inspiring. The new material fit like a velvet glove (wrapped around a dildo, natch) and tracks like ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ and ‘Judgement Day’ were positively titanic. Vai was brilliant, the addition to the show of his extended solo spot adding thick icing to a very hot cake – the best two tracks from his also new then solo album, ‘The Audience Is Listening’ – action learned at the knee of his previous boss, David Lee Roth – and ‘For The Love Of God’ – celestial brain-quake learned at the knee of actual God.

And all the good stuff from before – ‘Slide It In’, ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’, ‘Still Of The Night’, ‘Here I Go Again’. In those days of Bon Jovi for breakfast and Motley Crue for tea, this was the real fucking deal. But the weird vibes surrounding the Vai appointment, the lack of one decent video and hit, the mistaken grasping for same-again likeness to 1987, it left the album stranded.

And that’s a shame. Listen to it now and hear how 1980s big-hair rock ruled the world, baby, when done right the way the ‘American’ Whitesnake could it. Hairy balls guitar. Hairy chest vocals. Hammer to head drums. Private jet sex and cocaine stained $100 bills.

‘Kittens Got Claws’? Oh yeah. And doncha wish your favourite band was hot like that?

Meat Loaf extract

Chapter Eighteen

Helicopter Al

Al Dellentash had balls of steel. He needed them to be. In the seventies, he had begun heading multimillion-dollar operations flying Pablo Escobar’s primo manufactured cocaine from Columbia to Carlo Gambino’s crime family in New York. Neither Escobar – then busy massacring police officers, judges, locals, and prominent politicians with impunity – nor the Gambino organisation – responsible, though never convicted, for nearly 200 contract-killings during the late-seventies and mid-eighties – had reputations as soft and fuzzy new-age employers, so you did your best not to fuck up. Al found out what the drug smuggling business was about when he flew his first mission, somewhere around 1974 he reckoned. Born in 1948, he’d had a pilot’s license since he was sixteen years old. It just seemed magical to him, a chance of freedom and escape from his humdrum life in New Rochelle, Westchester County, one of the plusher environs in New York State.

Al’s dad – Alfred Senior – was in construction – the chief ‘legitimate business’ owned by the Gambino family – and his mom was a local Republican and fine, upstanding American. Growing up, Al had just two passions: music and flying – well, three if you counted women, and four if you counted drinking and having a good time. He followed his father into construction, married young and had two kids, but he found suburban life stultifying. He bought a wrecked plane from a dead guy called ‘Flamin’ Eddie’ and discovered in the process that the bank would give him a substantial loan against the title of the aircraft. He set up a sales and charter operation at an airfield in New Jersey, where he ran into a guy called Lenny, who wanted to buy as many of these Swedish light planes with trapdoors in the bottom as Al could get his hands on. It turned out that flying drugs into America under-the-radar was a fast-growing business in the mid-seventies, and planes with trapdoors were perfect for the job. The New York Times had even written about it. Al read that some guys were making $50,000 per flight! That sounded good to Al, who seemed to be permanently on the breadline and struggling to keep his business going.

His first job for Lenny involved a trip to Belize. He used a Cessna Skymaster 337, which had its propellers on the front and rear, an unusual design. One of the Belize guys walked into the rear propeller almost as soon as Al had taxied to a halt. As he lay on the runway bleeding to death, a man pulled out a revolver and put the poor guy out of his misery right in front of Al. No fucking around.

Welcome to the jungle, baby…

Al got into the music business when he was chartered to pick up Mick Jagger and fly him from Woodstock to New York. He got talking to Mick and discovered that all of the rock bands that were making millions of dollars on the road in America were chartering their own planes, so Al forged a bank loan agreement to buy a Falcon jet and soon he was flying ELP and the Grateful Dead, Kiss and the Doobie Brothers, his plane full of rock stars, groupies, booze and everything else on the menu in the star-crossed 1970s. Al loved the action, absolutely fucking adored it, and soon he was rocking the skies with his own fleet, each chartered out to a different band. People magazine wrote an article about Al and his floating palaces of excess, kitted out with ‘thick carpeting, plants, phones, telex printer, electric typewriter, bedroom and bar’ – everything a self-respecting rock star might need at 30,000 feet.

Al boasted to his friends about his money and his lifestyle, about all of the contacts he’d made in the entertainment industry. Then he began to think that maybe he could become a mogul too, like Albert Grossman and all of those fat cats. He signed up a few bands and tried to manage them, but that didn’t really work out until one day in 1980, when a couple of guys he’d chartered flights for introduced him to David Sonenberg, music business lawyer, and manager of the writer and singer of the biggest album of 1978, Bat Out Of Hell.

The only problem was, Al was still in the drug-smuggling business via the Gambino family’s main drug trafficker, ‘Steve Teri’: a ruthless mobster named Salvatore Ruggiero – aka ‘Sal the Sphinx’, aka ‘Sal Quack Quack’, aka ‘Sally’. Steve Teri introduced Al to his ‘Columbian connection’, aka Carlos Lehder, a big-time cocaine supplier with a direct line to Pablo Escobar. Al pondered, it was strange how the drug business was a lot like the music business – you knew a guy who knew a guy, and you sort of hooked it all together and you were away, up into the clear blue skies, where no-one on earth could touch you… At least, that’s what Al thought, anyway. The perfect guy, then, to manage an overweight, oversensitive singer in a mid-career crisis – yet that’s what happened in 1981.

Around the time that Meat was finishing up Dead Ringer and making plans to go on the road: ‘David Sonenberg had come to me and asked if he might transfer half of my management contract to Al Dellentash,’ the singer later wrote. ‘I gave him my permission. Dellentash leased planes to celebrities. They called him ‘Helicopter Al’.’

Meat knew that Sonenberg was super smart, and that in many ways Dellentash seemed to complement him, to fit Sonenberg in the same way that he fit Jim. Sonenberg was a Harvard lawyer who dressed in expensive linen suits. Al was a more classic Noo Yawk Italian-American street guy… shirt unbuttoned to the navel, shades, chunky jewellery, moustache, respectable wife, lots of sexy girlfriends. Al was now the frontman in Meat Loaf’s management company, the negotiator, the guy who walked in and demanded the money. After all, once you’d negotiated with the Mob and Pablo Escobar’s guys, how hard was it to walk into CBS Records and get them to write a cheque? As the British writer Jeff Maysh put it: ‘Dellentash brought street charm and muscle to the bargaining table; Sonenberg crunched the numbers.’

It was Helicopter Al who’d tough-talked CBS into paying $1.5 million for the Dead Ringer movie. By the start of the eighties and his increasing involvement in Meat Loaf’s career, Al had money pouring in from all sides: from CBS (he’d got another $250,000 out of them for a Bay City Rollers album, which he had Dead Ringer producer Stephan Galfas oversee); from the aircraft leasing business, where he now owned three Convairs, two helicopters, a Boeing 707 and a Lear Jet; from the other business he conducted in the skies between central and North America…

With all of that cash burning a hole in his pocket he decided he needed an HQ fit for a mogul like him. He found a grand place on Riverside Drive on the West side of Manhattan and set about filling it with expensive crap. He had Louis XV furniture in reception; a pink ‘party room’ with a pale pink grand piano; a gold lobby; an in-house chef; all real rock star shit. In his office, Al’s desk was twenty-five feet long and his chair was from the first-class section of a decommissioned airliner. He had a bodyguard called the Brick, and as he told Jeff Maysh, had: ‘a full-time guy just to keep the fireplaces roaring at all times and a theatre room with a twenty-foot screen. We’d host sex parties with all the best girls.’

Sex parties were of no interest to Meat Loaf, with Leslie now expecting their first child together; a girl, Amanda, born in January 1981. In fact, Al’s excesses were starting to seriously freak Meat Loaf out. Al was full of stories – the Pakistan gunrunning trip that ended in a shoot-out; the box-loads of US currency he was moving to an offshore tax haven using his own planes… He’d get up in the middle of meetings and disappear, too, sometimes for days on end… As Meat Loaf recalled in his memoir, “The music biz was just a sideline for Al… He would tell these stories of flying to Libya with a load of automatic weapons.’

The idea was that the movie would not only be great (obviously, how could it not be with Big Al behind it…) but that the videos for the singles would be re-cut from the footage. The castings for Dead Ringer were held on Riverside Drive. While Al was calling-in girls to jiggle about in front of his twenty-five foot desk, he met Bonnie, a Playboy bunny for whom he would eventually leave his wife.

Rockin’ Rick Remembered

A year ago today we lost Rick Parfitt. A proper rock star, he was one of the loveliest musicians I ever met. We had been working on a show together at the time he died – An Evening With Rick – which with his new autobiography and solo album would have set him fair for 2017. But then he died last Christmas Eve.

So… I thought I’d show you this little biog I wrote for him just before he died. Nothing too deep, just bullet-points really. But hopefully with some of the real flavour of what it was like to know Rick. Merry Xmas everyone and god bless all of us.


When Rick Parfitt appeared on stage with Status Quo at what was supposed to be their farewell performance –at Milton Keynes Bowl, on July 21, 1984 – few amongst the 60,000 fans there that day truly understood why the band was breaking up – least of all, it seems, the band themselves.

Billed as The End of the Road show, “Up until the moment we walked off stage at the end, I’d sort of looked at the whole thing as a publicity stunt,” says Rick Parfitt now. “Then as the helicopter took off and I looked down at the crowd below, it started to sink in. This was no stunt. The band was over. Thank you and goodnight. I was heartbroken…”

With inter-band relations at an all-time low, behind the scenes his and Rossi’s personal lives were now in such drug-induced disarray friends privately expressed fears that one or both of them might die if they didn’t curb their excesses.

“The trouble was,” says Parfitt, “we were both completely gone in those days, so there was no one to apply the brakes. We didn’t know if we were coming or going and it didn’t matter, we didn’t give a fuck. Nothing mattered other than getting your next fix. We were gone and we weren’t coming back. Ever…”

The story of Status Quo was always essentially the story of two people: Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi: “The blonde good-looking one and the balding one,” as Rossi once said. Or: “A faggot and his friend,” as Rick jokingly puts it.

Parfitt continues. “These days, people see us as two peas in a pod; different sides of the same coin. But it wasn’t always like that and how we got there is still something I scratch my head about sometimes. All I know is, at some point the original band broke up but that, ironically, it proved to be the start of me and Francis really getting our acts together. First as people – and then as Status Quo.”

It was a rollercoaster ride that would see the band through some incredible highs – from opening Live Aid at Wembley Stadium with ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, to Rick nearly dying several times through multiple heart attacks and cancer scares, precipitated by two decades worth of drugs and alcohol abuse.

“Drugs are such a cliché,” observes Parfitt. “Like the one that goes: things have to get worse before they get better. Well, that was certainly true for me. Things got as bad as anyone could imagine.”

The lowest point, he reveals, came with the death in 1980 of his two-year-old daughter, Heidi, drowned in the family swimming pool.

“It took me a long time to recover from the death of my beautiful little girl. I remember going into the garden at night at screaming at God, crying hysterically, demanding to know why.”

Over the years the band broke up, got back together again, shed members, managers, record companies, wives, girlfriends. “Some people say you have to sell your soul to rock’n’roll,” says Parfitt. “There’s definitely some truth in that.”

At sixteen, Richard John Parfitt (b. Oct 12, 1948, in Woking, Surrey) was already a veteran of the “holiday-camp cabaret circuit” when he met Rossi. At the time, the fair-haired guitarist was going under the name of Ricky Harrison in a cabaret trio called The Highlights. Rossi was fronting his band The Spectres.

“My first impression of Rick was that he looked like a flash poof,” recalled Rossi. Rick, who in reality was neither camp nor gay, simply remembers watching Rossi and his group rehearsing and feeling jealous. “They were playing ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ and it sounded absolutely fantastic. I was terribly jealous because by then I was starting to grow up and want to do my own thing – just like they were doing.”

It was another two years before Parfitt joined the band as rhythm guitarist. Signed to Pye Records in 1966, they were about to enjoy their first Top 10 smash with the flower-power derived ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’, replete with trendy Carnaby Street “threads.”

Parfitt: “People say what are the highlights of your career and it’s obvious to say Live Aid or working with Prince Charles and all that. But for me the major highlight of my career was hearing the band on the radio for the first time. I nearly fainted! I literally went weak at the knees. I was like, ‘Mum! Mum! Come quick!’ No drug ever gave me a high quite as good as that one…”

A follow-up single, ‘Ice In The Sun’, also made the Top 20 but subsequent releases flopped. Ironically, it was their failure to produce more copycat hits that allowed the band to “try things our way”; ditching their ornate pop style in favour of basic, unpretentious, four-square boogie.

They also grew the bobs out of their hair, swapping their cod-psychedelic image in favour of the basic T-shirt-and-jeans look they have maintained ever since. “It was a very easy look to maintain,” smiles Rick. “The older and more horrible the jeans looked, the better. I think I wore the same pair for about ten years.”

Such determination finally found its reward in 1973 – the year both the ‘Paper Plane’ and ‘Caroline’ singles hit the UK Top Ten – and the next ten years saw Quo enjoy an unbroken run of number one albums and countless hit singles that are as well-known today as they were when they were first performed on Top Of the Pops. ‘Down, Down’, ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, ‘Again And Again’, ‘What You’re Proposing’…

By the start of the eighties everybody was familiar with the Status Quo sound. It didn’t matter whether you actually liked the jaunty riff to hits like ‘Whatever You Want’ or ‘Just Supposin’’, one listen and they would be stored in the memory forever, like a nursery rhyme.

“There’s no doubt a lot of our hits were what you might call ‘whistling milkmen’ songs,” laughs Rick. “Some people look down on stuff like that, but that’s what pop music is all about, isn’t it – making catchy songs? I did actually hear my milkman whistling ‘Whatever You Want’ once. I don’t think he even knew he was doing it or that it had anything to do with me. It was just something he had stuck in his head…”

But where other seventies rockers like Rod Stewart’s Faces or Thin Lizzy were eulogised for such populism, Quo were always stereotyped as being little more than ‘three-chord wonders’. An idea gleaned from their bloke-next-door image. By 1976, the sight of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi hunched over their guitars, their hair obscuring their fretboards, had become such an enduring one that the Levi Jeans company offered to get involved in the promotional campaign for that year’s ‘Blue For You’ album and subsequent tour.

Because of that, says Rick, even after several hit singles and albums, “we still never considered ourselves big. We always felt like underdogs. But that’s showbiz. Whether people think you’re a bunch of wankers who can’t manage more than three-chords, or that you’re the greatest rock band in the world – that’s all that people want really, the fantasy.”

By the start of the eighties, even the “perks of the job” failed to excite. “I fell into the lifestyle very easily,” Parfitt admits. “I thought it was fantastic, but it was the start of a downward spiral. For years I was completely out to lunch – it cost me huge chunks of my life and two marriages. I still meet people who say, ‘Remember me? I’m the guy who put the roof on your house’, and I go, ‘What house?’ I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, plus two or three bottles of wine and doing three grams of coke – every day.”

Life on stage and off became one long blur: “I only just remember doing Live Aid. I was already out of it before we even went on stage at midday! Francis was the same. I’ve seen pictures of it since of course and the funny thing is I look quite normal. You’d never guess I was so fucking gone I thought I was still in the pub…”

Nevertheless, the worldwide acclaim that followed Live Aid revived Quo’s fortunes. ‘In The Army Now’, in 1986, was their first single to go to No.1 for nearly ten years and with a new line-up behind them, Status Quo was about to be re-born as a new, much more family-oriented attraction.

First though, they had to sort themselves out. “It wasn’t easy,” says Rick. “For years, I was either totally up, or utterly and completely down. No middle ground; no time when you were ever ‘normal’. We didn’t do ‘normal’. We thought normal was sitting there in a darkened room for five days with an ounce of coke.”

Even when he had a quadruple bypass operation following his first major heart attack in the late-nineties, within days Rick had discharged himself from hospital, “then went home, bought four grams of coke and a case of champagne. I figured I owed myself a big night after that.”

What finally brought an end to such dedicated rabblerousing, he says, was “mainly just getting older, I think. I just couldn’t take the hangovers anymore. The gap between feeling good and feeling bad was getting longer and longer. In the end, it starts to frighten you. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. You’d think, god, where am I going to end up this time? I just couldn’t stand it anymore…”

As a result, here in the second decade of the 21st century, the name Status Quo has become a British institution – darlings of the tabloids, relentless fund-raisers for royal charities, headliners of Glastonbury. Loved by students, grandparents and big sisters everywhere.

“You look out from the stage some nights and you can literally see three or four different generations of Quo fans, all bopping along together. It all makes for this wonderful atmosphere at the shows. Like the best of both worlds – a rock gig and a right old knees-up down the pub!”

The personal cost for Rick Parfitt, though, has continued being high. His first marriage to Marietta ended after the death of their daughter. Then he went through a multi-million-pound divorce case in the nineties with second wife, Patty – before getting back together again.

Then, in 2008, Rick married for the third time and became a father, at 60, to twins: Lily and Tommy. “My relationships with women have all be unbelievably complicated,” Parfitt admits. “I’m still trying to figure them out myself! All I can do is be truthful and let people make their own minds up.”

Parfitt admits he never dreamed his career would last so long. “I remember Francis and I having a chat back in about 1973 where we agreed that if we could hold on to our success for five years and put fifty thousand quid in the bank, we’d have made it. If somebody had told me then that one day I would have tax bills for more than that I would have keeled over!”

But then Rick Parfitt has never let anything get him down for too long. He cheerfully recalls how, after a spell of insolvency in the mid-1980s, the first thing he did was buy a Rolls Royce. Then get Patty to dress up as a chauffeur and drive him down the Kings Road.

“I was sat in the back waving at everybody and people were waving back. It was great!”

He says his main regret about the collapse in June [2016] which led to him leaving Quo and reconfiguring his life, was the five long months he was deprived of his driving license.

A petrolhead to rival Jeremy Clarkson, who swaps Bentley’s and Rollers as often as he changes socks, being unable to drive his latest love, a custom-built Porsche Panamera GTS, “nearly killed me all over again.”

However, having recently taken his driving test again and passed with flying colours he is now back behind the wheel.

“You couldn’t make up my life. People don’t now the half of it. Stand well back!”

One Thing About X-Mass

I like that small space of days before the Big One. When companies close early, when people flee from work. That’s when I enjoy driving around, turning up unexpectedly to get some unscheduled ‘stuff’ done. When everyone else has thrown in the towel or left early to get ‘ready’. It lets me off the hook. No pressure to get anything ‘done’, or not the usual kind. That moment when just briefly you may find yourself somewhere – else.

So I’m in the butcher’s. They don’t know me. And I ask: is it too late to buy a bird for X-Mass? The guy, tall, tash, traditional, looks at me, trying to size me up. Am I taking the piss? I add: not a turkey, a big chicken. He looks relieved. He won’t have to throw me out after all. Yes, he says, 3 kilos? Perfect, I say, not really knowing but imagining a lot of chicken sandwiches too.

That’s when the spirit jumps me. Next thing me and wife are driving around looking for somewhere  to buy vegetables. What shall we get? EVERYTHING! I say. A fish suddenly dreaming of warm water. So off we go. Cabbage, sprouts, carrots, parsnips, pigs-in-blankets, potatoes, chocs and sweets and… We see a book shop.

Too late. I’m in there in a trance. It is not a very good shop but I can’t help it. Trance, wander, trance, pick up, wonder, wife says: I’m carrying on down the street. Call me when you’re done. She’s still waiting…

There Ain’t No Sanity Clause

“Are you ready yet for Xmas?” Everyone says it like it’s somehow never been said before. Like we’re in some big arms race where should you get caught out, not having splurged on enough presents, cards, cakes, drink, TV, trees and tinsel and lights and please-kill-me-shitting-Xmas-songs-fuck-you-George-Michael, you will be shot.

I can’t stand it. I never have been able to. As a child my Xmases were so shite it would take me years to recover, if I ever did. Then in my late teens and 20s, as a loan soldier out there in the cold dark emtpywank, I would pretend to ‘get into the spirit’ then get as quickly out of my brain as possible. Not that that helped. Even my late-20s when I would be with she-who-was-dangerously-insane, we would start Xmas morning with a glass of champagne, Phil Spector’s Xmas album and present opening… ooh! Ahhh! Woooooooow! I love you too!

Only I didn’t. I hated the whole rotten ritual. When people tell me, “I love Xmas.” Or: “I love this time of year.” I take a step back and inwardly shudder, wondering what must be so wrong with them that they actually like all this skin-crawlingly horrible shit.

When my babies were small, it was fun. For five minutes. Except they would get you up way too early in the hungover dawn, then make a huge mess with all the wrapping and search for batteries and sugar-high choccies for breakfast and fighting and screaming over whatever. The whole such a fucking ordeal.

I dread it every year. And every year it gets worse. Oh, I get moments of disconnect pleasure. But then I get that throughout the rest of the year too. And yes, I feel the time-passing and forced refresh of the ‘new’ year. But I always fall towards the end of the year like a man passing out from a brain haemorrhage. An arrow through the head. A sudden shove under the train. And it’s cold and it rains so I feel like an actor and I think of Ma and I want to get back there…

Your face, your race, the way that you talk, I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk. And Xmas has nothing whatsoever to do with that. And never will have.

Freezing Asses

Snow up the wazoo. Ice in my fingers. Schools closed, roads undrivable. Keep going, Joe. You got to go, ho. Go ho go, like in New York City. Back in 72. When Thunders was still young and the boy with the name like a knife was still frantically learning.

Or not like that at all. Agency blues. The uber-agent anxiety. The proposal and counter-proposal. The end of the line looking you straight in the freezing ass. Cancer of the career. Give you 12 months. That’s the fear. The endless nightmare. Check the tarot. The End, but don’t be sad face, it’s all about new begins. New begins at 60. No consolation. No phone call. No ez-fx.

Not even a decent blog out of it. Just some kind of pressure. In the head. Outside the head. Frozen.

Robin 2 Post Mortem

I was surprised when I got to the gig last Tuesday night that I would be walking around with a mic in my hand, delivering my stuff to a seated crowd. At my readings, from which this show has sprung, I’m always seated too.

Not tonight. Also, instead of there being two 45-minute sets, with a 20-minute interval, they told me just to run straight through. 90 minutes, walking around, me and the mic, to people seated, no pressure whatsoever.

Well, maybe it’s the grand old age, maybe it’s the brand new pills, but I just thought, yeah, all right, and went for it.

And… flat start when I made a joke about Robert Plant (a local) being tight with money, and got dead silent disapproval as my reward (a joke!!), then – blimey! – it all warmed-up very nicely, to the point where the whole joint was laughing and applauding by the end.

I haven’t done anything exactly like that before. Oh, I’ve acted the goat on TV, on radio, in person, and all over every pub in the known rock world. But not straight like that, to a paying audience, no breaks, just me and them – us – for 90 minutes. Like a comedy act with the occasional horrors.

I loved it. When I got the signal from Keith the kindly sound guy that the time was up, I was amazed. It had flown by. Well, staggered briskly. And I hadn’t been pilloried, hadn’t seen any walkouts (which I have at my readings when the f and c words come out, as they always always always do, sorreee).

Then stood there signing books and doing selfies for another hour. What a incredibly lovely – and very funny in their own right – bunch of people. Got some honest feedback too. Told I should go and see Danny Baker, I might pick up some tips (cheers for that, I promise I won’t) and asked for the real real REAL story behind stuff I had just told them. (Which I did, sshhhh…)

What a night. The place was closed by the time I finished so I just went straight to my room and slept. Woke up like I’d just been hit by a truck. Then drove to work. And eventually into the back of another car. (Very minor, 1st gear kiss of bumpers, I came off worse, to the tune of £600 excess, thank you rock god.)

Would I do it again? Of course. The real question is: would you?

Robin 2 – Tonight!

Tonight – Tuesday, 8pm, December 5 – I will be appearing at the Robin 2, in Bilston. One of the country’s best rock venues. There will be ROCK. There will be METAL. There will be DRINKING. And there will be STORIES!!

Do come along. It’s about time we met – in person. About time you got to hear what happens when no one else is listening. Sssshhhh….

You can ask me anything you like. And I will tell your fortune. And reveal the truth behind such fun people as Ozzy, Pagey, Lars and James, Francis and Rick from Quo, Malcolm Young, Bon Scott, Rob and KK from Judas Priest, Axl, Slash, Phil Lynott and Robbo, the Lepps, Jon Bon, Lemmy, or should I say LEMMY.

And more.

Please also remember to bring your lady friends and family. For rock means nothing without the ladies. Let’s be honest, nothing means much without the presence of the female-spirit. Us men only live in their world because they let us. And here’s the sweetener, they have some of the very best stories to tell and you know they do. I have been lucky to know quite a few, from Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks to Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro, and that whole generation of Ladykillers we used to worship and adore in Kerrang! – Doro, Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Lorraine Lewis, Kim and Kelly from Girschool, the Rock Goddess family, Pat Benatar, the Great Kat, Anne and Nancy Heart, Anne Boleyn, Motorcycle Irene… and of course not forgetting Shazza Oz in her younger rock heyday, when she really did have the X-factor.

£8 for tx if you buy before the show, £10 on the night. I’ll also be bringing a ton of my books to sign, all cheaper than you’ll ever find them anywhere else.

Feeling strange… like you need to just fucking ROCK? Step this way, the doctor will see you Tonight…

Meat Loaf Would Do Anything – And Did

The latest extract from my new biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, the Larger Than Life Story of Meat Loaf, out now.

The video they shot to accompany the ‘I’d Do Anything’ single was excessive even for those progressively over the top MTV-dominated times. Directed by twenty-eight-year-old Michael Bay, a graduate of the Jerry Bruckheimer-Don Simpson school of production aesthetics and soon to become better-known as the fast-cutting, style-over-substance, explosion-obsessed director of such ‘high concept’ action movies as Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, and the Transformers franchise, the seven-and-a-half minute video for ‘I’d Do Anything’ perfectly mirrored the convoluted, death-or-glory romance of Jim Steinman’s music.

There were two versions of the video – Bay’s extravagant almost-eight-minute spectacular, and a shorter, MTV-friendly version. The concept was based squarely on a cross between the Beauty and the Beast story and that of The Phantom Of The Opera. The full-length version begins with the noise of Eddie Martinez’s motorcycle guitars, the words flashing across the screen, ‘I Have Traveled Across The Universe Through The Years To Find Her…’ and then we’re off. A cloaked Meat-as-Beast-Phantom roaring towards the city limits on his customized Harley Davidson pursued by cops on bikes, in cars and helicopters, the outlaw chasing his destiny. Finally he escapes into his mist-encrusted gothic castle, past crosses and headstones, the cops mysteriously unable to follow up through the gates.

Cut to Meat-Beast-Phantom in profile, his face made-up to look very much like a commander of the Klingon Empire, all warts and ridged forehead, as he croons the opening lovelorn lines of the song, while regarding his long, werewolf-like fingernails. It’s ludicrous, bombastic; laughable even; an overfamiliar, sick-making fairytale we already know the ending to – and that’s just the first 45 seconds.

After that Meat-Beast is back on his bike, riding straight through walls as grand chandeliers crash to the ground, vanquished cops scattered to the four winds as Meat-Beast leaves his bike and begins swinging through a dark forest like an overgrown Quasimodo. The queasy spell only broken by the appearance of the beautiful Dana Patrick, not so much miming to Lorraine Crosby’s vocals as slinking around like the lead actress in a soft porn Playboy shoot.

At the video’s long climax, there is the moment when the goddess-like Patrick holds the beast in her tender embrace and – wait for it – he begins to turn human again. If only the beautiful princess had kissed the ugly frog, the way Karla De Vito had all those years before, the moment might have had at least a semblance of pathos. But she doesn’t of course because that really would have scared the big kids who owned the playlists at MTV.

Filmed on location in LA County in July 1993, the opening chase was shot at Chávez Ravine, with the interior gothic castle scenes filmed at Ned Doheny’s famous old Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The cinematography was by Daniel Pearl, best known for his work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who described the video as ‘one of my personal all-time favourite projects.’ Meat’s make-up took two hours a day to apply and was designed to be scary, yet ‘with the ability to make him sympathetic.’ Filmed over four days in 90-degree heat, naturally, the whole thing went madly over budget. According to one executive, it ‘probably had the budget of Four Weddings And A Funeral’ – the hit movie being filmed at around the same time, which had a reported budget of $2.8 million.

The success of the single – and the album that followed in its wake – more than justified the outlay. Released in September 1993, ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ went to No. 1 in almost every country in the world that bought pop singles – including spending seven weeks at No. 1 in Britain – and in the rest it went to No. 2. In January 1994, it won Meat Loaf a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, and is now remembered as one of the defining songs of a decade otherwise supposedly hung-up on grunge, Britpop, alternative rock, nu-metal and a dozen other sub-genres that meant nothing to most people. Most people may not have known much about the bleeding edge of popular culture but they knew what they liked and suddenly they all liked Meat Loaf again.

When it reached No. 1 in America, even Jim Steinman had to admit he was impressed. Meat Loaf nearly went out of his mind again. In the sixteen years since his only previous hit single at home in the US, ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth’, Meat Loaf had released 27 singles – all flops. Now with the video in heavy monster rotation on MTV, the song all over every radio station nationwide, the biz was going crazy.

Meat became the must-have guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, he was asked to give and receive awards at various music, film and comedy shows. He was invited to sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which he breathlessly described as one of the biggest highlights of his career. Even Dana Patrick received several offers for solo record deals from overexcited executives who hadn’t checked the small print and just assumed she was actually singing in the video.

After what felt like a lifetime of no one really seriously believing anything Meat Loaf did or said, now as the singer celebrated his forty-sixth birthday he had the whole world hanging on every word.

Sometimes, Meat Loaf told Rolling Stone in 1993, when he first heard Jim Steinman’s lyrics, ‘I think they’re the funniest things I’ve ever heard.’ Once he started singing them, though, they became as serious and unyielding as night. Because, he explained, he and Jimmy were more like an actor and playwright than a singer and songwriter.

‘I play everything for real. That’s the best comedy.’ He wasn’t a clown though. He was a method actor. ‘I’m different from Bette [Midler] or Cher or Sinatra,’ he declared, as though there was some confusion over the matter. ‘This might be a huge ego thing, but I tend to think of myself as the Robert De Niro of rock. I know that’s absurd, but my idols are either sports figures or Robert De Niro.’

It was as if he couldn’t stop looking in the mirror, asking fitfully as he flipped out his gun, ‘You talkin’ to me?’

And that the answer was and always would be: ‘Well, who the hell else are you talkin’ to?’

Ritchie Mysterio

There is always light beyond the dark. And for all my sticky-fingered stories from the past, there are just as many that bring me joy. And often laughter. Working with superb musicians like Jimmy Page and David Bowie, sitting round the campfire listening to the stories of Phil Lynott, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy… priceless moments spread over many years. I was first published as a music journalist 40 years ago this year. Then worked in music PR, management, and for major record companies. Spent a lot of time with the heavy end of the spectrum… the righteous Iron Maiden, the fabulous Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Metallica, Dio and etc.

Easily one of the most fascinating musicians I ever encountered though was Ritchie Blackmore. As a teenager some of the first albums I ever bought were Fireball, Machine Head, Made In Japan and Burn. Then later my good friend Pete Makowski introduced me to the Blackmore-Dio line-up of Rainbow. Went to see them and said goodbye to my mind. Ritchie liked to play fast. He could burn a hole right through you with his guitar. But he also knew how to put the wind under your wings and send you soaring to the heavens.

There was obviously so much going on behind that inscrutable expression on his face, not just the multi-level music, but… something more.

When Purple reformed and made their UK comeback appearance at Knebworth in 85, I was supposed to do a phone interview with Ritchie Blackmore, to publicise the show. Then was told that, no, Ritchie had decided he didn’t want to do a phone interview, he would only speak in person. Only snag: I would have to fly out to New York to meet him. When? Uh, right now.

Oh shit. Really?

Yes, really.

Fuck it, let’s go! I got the plane later that day from Heathrow, and landed at JFK that evening, NY time, a few hours later body-clock-wise for me. I was told which hotel to go to and that Ritchie would be waiting for me in the hotel bar at 8pm. On the dot of eight, I went into the bar, did a thorough scour of the room – no Ritchie. I waited half an hour, sipped a beer, then sloped back to my room thinking maybe I’d got the wrong time.

I went down to the bar again an hour later and checked again. Still no Ritchie. I waited another half hour. Still nothing. By now it’s 3.00am UK time for me, and I am v-e-r-y-t-i-r-e-d. So I give up and go to my room thinking there might be a phone call and…zzzzzzzzzzz.

Until the phone rang. It was around 2.00am US time. It was Ritchie’s manager on the phone berating me for not showing up to meet Ritchie. “He waited for you all night in the bar!”

But, but…

“Well, he’s pissed off at you now and says you’ll have to come to him.”

And where was that?

“Long Island, where he lives.”

(For those of you that don’t know, Long Island is about 50 miles from New York.)

But, but… how on earth would I get there?

“You’ll have to get a train.”


“Oh, and he says you’ll have to play football with him. He’s got a game on tomorrow. He’ll lend you some boots.”

Then he hung up.

Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep after that. Long Island… train… boots… Ritchie pissed off…

Looong story short… They eventually sent a car to ferry me out to Long Island. It was after the football match. I was taken to a beautiful restaurant where they clearly knew Ritchie and had saved him the best table in the place. I’d been there about 10 minutes when in he came – the man in black – along with a couple of friends. We sat down together, had a wonderful dinner. I got out my old-fashioned cassette recorder, and he gave me one of the best interviews I had ever done.

I laughed quite a lot because Ritchie Blackmore has a wonderful sense of humour – blacker than blacker, but of course – and when we were done I was taken in my very flash car back to the airport and flew back to London.

There were other occasions our paths crossed, at Purple gigs, until he finally bailed. Not for Mr Blackmore the inanities of stringing out a career based on past triumphs.

When he formed the marvellous Blackmore’s Night in the mid-90s, it was thrilling. Yes, he received a certain amount of WTF from hardbitten rock crits, but for me what he was doing with the obviously incredibly talented Candice Night was astonishing – brave and bold. I even loved the stage outfits. Medieval? But of course. Why not? I caught the show at a venue I don’t recall the name of but in Aylesbury (I think), somewhere in the mid-00s, and it was fantastic. Candice not only sings, she charms, she radiates. While Ritchie also radiates but in his own deeply individual fashion, that is, unique.

Then just when you thought you had it figured out, out came Blackmore’s singing electric guitar, sounding better, more mellifluous than ever.

I love traditional music. My father played it, my mother sang it. Albeit with more Irish and Scots emphasis. But so much of the sound and instruments – the deep spirit and ancient magic – overlap. It was sitting listening as a child to the stories my father and mother would tell deep into the night after a gig, laughing and drinking with their other beardy muso friends, that I acquired my taste for storytelling. How I became a writer – and lover of music.

Cut to now and we have Blackmore’s Night touring and Rainbow. Why doesn’t he get more credit? No offence to certain other guitarists of Blackmore’s generation but where are their bold new musical directions? Their risk-taking? Mayhap they are all Wind-Suckers! Hufty-Tufties with Noses of Wax. (Look that one up.)

The Castle

This is a thumbnail of some of the stories we might get into at the Robin 2 show in Bilston next Tuesday December 5. I’ll also be selling signed copies of several of my different books, all brand new but cheaper than you can buy them anywhere else including Amazon. Hope you can make it.

I’m writing a piece at the moment about a certain rock festival from the past that has since gone down in history. It has stirred up memories of other festivals from the past I found myself an often confused participant in: the US Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985; Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989; both the first and second, utterly calamitous Rock In Rio festivals in 1985 and 1991; various Readings, Milton Keynes Bowls, and so on down the years. Plus all the Castle Doningtons that I was a more willing, if often less reliable witness to. Back when no one referred to as the Monsters Of Rock festival, even though that’s what it was, but simply Donignton. As in, “You going to Donington this year” Answer: “Do bears wank in the woods?” Well, bears will wank anywhere but you get the drift…

Back when men were men and women stayed well away – unlike the rock festivals of the present century, where the place is pleasingly overrun by women of all ages, backgrounds and bra-sizes.

My first visit was 33 years ago, in 1984, the year when Van Halen – with a JD-guzzling, ray-catching Diamond Dave – blew the place up only for AC/DC – with a cloth cap-wearing, possibly ferret-concealing Brian Johnson – to send the pieces spinning like shrapnel into orbit. I don’t remember much about that end of the day, though. For me the festival was all but over before it had begun. Me and my drug buddy Krusher and our friendly record company girl, Kelly, had set off from the tower block we all lived in, in the pre-gentrified London Docklands, in a car fortified with a bottle of Mescal (worm curled up invitingly in the bottom), a bottle of Old Granddad whisky, two cases of warm lager, three grams of sparkly pharmaceutical cocaine and a small plastic sack of jolly green giant weed.

I mean, man, we were fuck-headed before we’d even hit the Watford Gap. How we ever got to the site without killing ourselves and/or others none of us could say the next day, but somehow we did. I remember falling out of the car in the VIP parking area before hobbling on my knees towards the backstage enclosure. The only bands I remembering reviewing were Y&T, who I enjoyed while lying face-down on the ground, and Gary Moore, who I managed to turn onto one side for. Well, I was being sick at the time and it seemed like the right thing to do.

But then I don’t recall much about the next 12 months either. Indeed, in my memory it’s like I woke up again at the 1985 Donington festival just in time to catch Marillion sloping onstage. We had a hotel to stay in that year. The same one I stay in now whenever I’m in the Notts/Derby area, weirdly, but while I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, I did recall sitting in the bar the night before the show when an impossibly young and keen Jon Bon Jovi came bounding over to tell us how excited he was to be there.

I remember us all smiling indulgently and waiting for him to go away so we could go back to our drinking. Later that same night, Venom singer Cronos, who was also there for some reason, passed out at the table and me and Lars Ulrich of Metallica had our pictures taken standing next to his prone, face-down figure. Our cocks out and pointing at his ears, big silly grins on our faces.

The following year wasn’t any better. The crowd was mean, throwing bottles of piss at the stage throughout the entire show – so much so Radio 1 DJ Tommy Vance went on in an American football helmet. “You’d think they’d be grateful,” said the presenter of the only national rock show in the UK in those days. “But they don’t give a fuck!” No one did. Hanging out with ‘spoof’ Comic Strip rockers Bad News, who were filming themselves pretending to be a real band, Ade Edmondson was so ‘in character’ he seemed genuinely upset when the crowd proceeded to bottle them off.

Motorhead fared better, of course, as no one had the guts to try throwing anything at Lemmy. But only Ozzy, who was headlining, really got away with it, after picking up the first bottle of piss that hit him in the face and drinking it. “More!” he screamed. “I’m thirsty!” That halted the bottle-throwing – briefly.

The following year, 1987, when Bon Jovi headlined, was more together but dull as ditchwater by comparison, enlivened only by a seriously pissed-off James Hetfield threatening to kill Jon Bon for daring to helicopter over the stage during Metallica’s set, thus causing the for once female-oriented crowd to begin screaming at the clouds and forcing their boyfriends to take their eyes from the stage right in the middle of chanting “Die! Die! Die!” during ‘Creeping Death’.

Biggest and best of all, though, was 1988, the year it all went so spectacularly right with what we knew even on the day would be the best Donington bill ever (Iron Maiden, backed by Kiss, David Lee Roth, Megadeth, Guns N’ Roses and Helloween) – and yet so tragically wrong when two young fans were trampled to death in the rain-swept swampland surrounding the stage during GN’R’s set. “Don’t kill yourselves!” shouted Axl unwittingly as he exited. Oh, how we laughed. Not knowing yet how hard others would be left crying.

Earlier on the tour, when the festival reached Holland, I had been the onstage host. No helmet needed that day. The hash tents kept the crowd happy and high. Anthrax was on the bill that day and they dared me to jump onstage with my trousers round my ankles. Like I ever walked around any other way at festivals. I also recall standing with an intensely morose David Lee Roth as he perused the crowd before he went on. Within seconds of hitting the stage, though, he was the laughing, jiving, rock clown of all the videos. “Wow!” he trilled. “We’ve got a lot of people here tonight!”

Paul Stanley, who was there with his new ‘girlfriend’ Samantha Fox, stood next to me watching Roth, mouthing the words. I looked at him, puzzled. “Shit,” he smiled, “Dave’s been saying that every night for the past 10 years.”