Sounds and Snapshots

"Music was my first love..."

So sang John Miles back in 1976, and so it was for me. When in 1959 my sister and cousin went into Enfield town to buy me Little White Bull by Tommy Steele and came back with the theme from Rawhide by Frankie Laine, I threw, what my mum called, a "paddy". A full kicking and screaming tantrum. I'd seen Tommy the Toreador featuring the toothy erstwhile rock and roller, and I wanted that bloody song, not the whip crackiin' refrain of an old country singer who was Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' with gusto - even if I did follow the adventures of Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates on a weekly basis.

I'd graduated from Danny Kaye's Tubby the Tuba and the Archie Andrews story records. I was developing definite, if slightly skewed, musical tastes.

I mention all this because my latest literary projects are the Jack Callum Mysteries that begin in the1950's, and music plays a significant part in the narratives. You can read about them elsewhere on the site. 

But back to me...

The Tornados/Joe Meek instrumental Telstar was my next remembered musical passion. Barry Hill (a childhood friend) liked to play in the bomb-damaged houses in our local area. In one house we came across a dilapidated upright piano. In true small-boy fashion I removed all the black keys and took them home, knowing I could make use of them later. And make use of them I did. I glued them to the lid of a long cardboard box that had once held my mum's bath salts and talcum power, and I had an electric organ. It didn't play of course - it was just pieces of wood glued to a cardboard box, but in my head I was Roger LaVern, the Tornados' organist, while Barry was Alan Caddy. their guitarist, and we'd mime `(is that the right word?) along to the record.

But enough about my childhood for the time being. I'll pick it up in the following links, starting with the pop group who I can honestly say changed my life. along with millions of others. but before we get to the fab four. I've mentioned the records that started me off, so here they are.

Little White Bull - Tommy Steele


Rawhide - Frankie Laine


Telstar - The Tornados

Written by the legendary Joe Meek and recorded at his "studio" above a handbag shop in Holloway Road. A worldwide smash but because of a spurious lawsuit Meek hardly received a penny for. I'm not sure how much the musicians made. Probably very little. Rhythm guitarist was George Bellamy, who son, Matt, is the front man and guitarist with Muse. I bet he gets paid.

Sgt Pepper - The Beatles

When I was a teenager I learned to play guitar and, like Eric Callum in the Jack Callum Mysteries, I quickly became obsessed, moving quickly onto bass guitar and joining a band We reached  the stage where we were gigging locally, but the at the age of nineteen I managed to get my girlfriend pregnant and by twenty I was married with a baby son to look after. As penance I was forced to sell my guitars and amplifier and quit the band. Seeking some kind of artistic outlet I started to write stories...and I've been doing it ever since. The music business's loss was the literary world's gain (don't argue at the back there). What follows are a few albums that inspired me then and have given me pleasure since. The pictures are links that will take you to Youtube where you can listen to the songs yourself. I'll start with the second album I ever bought. The classic Beatles long player that really changed the music world forever.

Waiting For the Sun - The Doors

This was the first Doors album I ever bought. I remember being at school and copying down the lyrics to Not to Touch the Earth in my maths book and my teacher looking over my shoulder and nodding approvingly. I think he imagined I made them up myself. I didn't disillusion him. My love of the Doors bordered on the  obsessional. I scrawled their logo on my school books, my pencil case, duffel bag and any flat surface I could find. I still have a certain fondness for this particular album. It's where my obsession began

Aton Heart Mother - Pink Floyd

A blistering hot day in 1968, lying on the grass in London's Hyde Park, listening to Pink Floyd playng this and tripping out - without the need for drugs.

Pet Sounds - the Beach Boys

Sgt Pepper was the second album I bought. My first was the Best of the Beach Boys, but this was the album for me. Brian Wilson's masterpiece.

The Flock

This was an album I bought after hearing the track Tired of Waiting on an early CBS sampler Fill Your Head With Rock. And fill my head I did. It was a strange, almost unearthly mixture of jazz rock with soaring violins and on first listen it was just plain weird. The first side was also very short.That didn't matter. Nobody had heard of them and it fitted in with my need to be "a bit different" so I embraced it wholeheartedly. It was only when I turned the record over and saw the great lump of fluff on the stylus that I realised the diamond tip had skidded over the grooves, hence the otherworldliness of the Flock's sound. Fluff removed the album was fairly conventional, but I love it to this day.

Snapshots

1969

And I was on my way. My first electric guitar and amplifier. "So you wanna be a Rock and Roll Star?" You bet...but why was I wearing a milkman's hat with brown tweed trousers and desert boots? I don't think I ever learned the meaning of cool.

1971. Too cool for school.

Two years on and I was a fully paid up member of rock bands, Little Plumb, Sun God and Raven. All the same band but with very different names and playlists, ranging from 'fifties rock n' roll, through the pop hits of the day, and finally to self-penned rock songs with a hint of Prog. Someone told me my hair looked good swaying under the strobe lights on stage at a Southgate College gig, and you believe that kind of guff when you're seventeen.

1975.

Out of the band and a full-time husband. An yes, I was as hacked off as I looked. My first book was three years away. Enough said.

Back to the music

In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson

Was there such a beast as progressive rock before this album? Arguments can be made for some of the Beatles stuff, and maybe the Moody Blues. But this really was the daddy of it all. A group that included Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, and Ian MacDonald, all bringing their "A game" to make this album. Powerful and unique when it was first released  it still exerts a strong influence over bands playing today. I heard it and was smitten. Still am. The original and best King Crimson Album.

Aqualung - Jethro Tull


I think it was with this album that we realised that Ian Anderson wasn't just some kind of wild-eyed eccentric who hopped about on one leg and played the flute. He was also a gifted and intelligent songwriter whose songs have lasted  decades and who is still relevant today. Aqualung was followed by Thick as a Brick, which is probably my favourite Tull album, but the former still resonates today whereas TAAB requires a dedicated listen, and there's not always time to spare.

And Then There There Three

A great, but certainly not the best Genesis album, but it was my introduction to the band. I found I could identify with this incarnation whereas before I just regarded them as a group of public school tossers led by a front man who was so far up his own backside he was likely to disappear. Perhaps I was a Phil Collins fan at heart, but whatever the reason I bought the album, fell in love with it and went out to buy their entire back catalogue. I soon realised that I'd been labouring under a misconception. The earlier albums were great as well. And as for being a Phil Collins fan...well there's no shame in that.

Machine Head - Deep Purple

Deep Purple had been around for a few years when I was playing in the band, but I  didn't get to see them until 1972 when they were promoting this album. Everyone remembers Smoke On The Water, but I remember grooving along to Space Truckin' at a gig at the Rainbow and it was here that I got it together with the girl who would become my first wife. I still play the album to this day.

Stephen Sills - Stephen Stills

I did a lot of my courting to this record. I took the first track on the album, Love the One You're With, literally and by the time I got around to buying Stephen Stills 2, I was no longer courting, but married, had given up music and started writing horror stories. I think there's a message in there somewhere. Thanks, Steve.

Steely Dan - Greatest Hits

For some reason the track, Do It Again, reminds me of the early days, writing with Mick and having intense editorial meetings at my in-law's house where I was living with my new family.

Mick and I would be exiled the the back room to have our, often fraught, meetings, arguing over a mis-placed comma or disputed plot point. There was a lot of storming out in a huff, or else there were deathly silences while we sulked until we got our own way.

The fact the Mick and I are still working together, while three wives have come and gone - Mick one, me two- says a lot about our friendship. I suppose we kept on doing it again...and again...and again.

A Song For You - The Carpenters

Okay I admit it. I've always been a Carpenters fan. Going right back to Close To You when I was 18. I believe that Karen Carpenter had one of the finest, most beautiful voices of the twentieth century and Goodbye To Love from this album remains one of most heartbreaking songs of all time...and as for Tony Peluso's guitar break...well, what can I say? I was playing air guitar before the term was even invented

The Original Soundtrack -10cc

Do you remember the days when you would go round to a friend's house just to listen to a new album they had bought? That was the case with this record. I remember lying on the floor in a darkened room at Mick's, listening to the musical soundscapes four boys from Manchester dreamed up and recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport. As far as production was concerned 10cc were ahead of the game, and they opened my my mind to the possibilities of standing out from the crowd by trying something a little bit different. I'm not sure I succeeded, but they certainly did

Fire of Unknown Origin - Blue Oyster Cult

I remember walking through a shop in Holborn and hearing Burning For You coming from the speaker behind the record counter and just stopping to listen to it. I was aware of BOC from Don't Fear the Reaper, but this was new and exciting. I bought the album and discovered such delights as After Dark, Joan Crawford and Don't Turn Your Back and also discovered how to combine dark subjects with a degree of tongue in cheek humour. I saw them in concert on numerous occasions, once, when I was in my fifties and feeling rather washed up, and there they were on stage, all older than me and still rocking out. It was inspirational.

More snaps... A few years on

Promotion for my first radio interview


And so I take to the mic

I was invited in to SG1 radio in Stevenage to talk about horror and ghost stories.

With the presenter and interviewer Sweet "T"

Sweet "T" worked hard, creating an eerie soundscape to accompany the interview.

A meeting at Peter James's house.

It was the first British meeting of the International Thiller writers. Among those attending were Leigh Russell at the front, next to Peter James, with Alex Shaw behind them. One thing to come out of the meeting was an anthology that we edited with Alex - Capital Crimes

Q&A at Letchworth Library

Mick and I talking about our writing as part of the Letchwoth Festival

Len Maynard holds forth.

I was in full pontificating mood that night. I think Mick nodded off at one point. And who could blame him?

A little bit of Phil

The Geese & The Ghost - Anthony Phillips

It's widely accepted that Anthony Phillips was the best musician  in the original line up of Genesis when they formed at Charterhouse public school, but only made two albums with them before crippling stage fright made him leave the group.

I knew nothing of this when I won this record on coconut shy at a fun fair, so I was delighted when I got it home and played it and heard an album of brilliantly played 12 string guitar music with medieval overtones, and songs sung by Phil Collins. It beat a cuddly, fluffy duck any day.

Face Value - Phil Collins

By now you've probably guessed I'm something of a PhilCollins fan - not very fashionable I know. I think he's a fine musician, a very good singer and a pretty good songwriter to boot.

This album means a lot to me because it's about the break up of a marriage and, boy, can I identify with that having been in that dark place twice in my life.

Collins does not deserve the brickbats that have been aimed in his direction. He's not perfect, as his autobiography reveals but, give the man a break. He's only human and has given pleasure to millions. Thanks, Phil.

And So To F - Brand X

And if any of the cynics out there doubt his musical abilities , listen to the drumming on And So To F from the album Product, a tune he also wrote.

A Rockabilly Story

A small world...

I was never a fan of the Rockabilly revival that swept Britain in the 1980's. The Jets, Matchbox and band of that ilk left me cold. Some of the The Stray Cat's singles were tolerable and the Polecats' version of Bowie's  John, I'm Only Dancing wasn't too bad. While mooching through the remainder box in my local record shop I came across a record by I band I'd never heard of. Who the hell were Beltane Fine? Well the track titles were intriguing. Captain Blood, King Arthur's Cave, Night Fishing, Run (Light the Beltane Fire) This could be a bit of "me" I thought. When I got it home I discovered it was a "white label" pressing. No details on it at all. When I slipped it it onto the turntable  I was in for another shock. It was really like nothing I'd heard before, and yet there was a certain Rockabilly feel to it, and it was really rather good.

A year later I went to see Marillion on their  Clutching at Straws tour at the Hammersmith Odeon, I only caught the last few songs of the support act but, bugger me, there they were in all their glory, Beltane Fire, and boy did they rock!.

Fast forward a few years and I was newly single and trying to impress my new girlfriend with my record collection. 

She took one look at the picture on the cover and pointed to the band member on the far right and said, "I know him. That's Stef Edwards. I cut his hair, and that's his brother Carlo. I thought they were in the Blue Cats. In fact I'm sure that is the Blue Cats, a Rockabilly band. I thought you didn't like Rockabilly." 

"I don't, but this is different."

"Barry Worman, Tim Polecat's dad manages them," she said. "I cut his hair as well."

I'll pause here for a quick explanation. Her ex was the drummer for the Polecats, and my new girlfriend was a Rockabilly fan. Despite this I went on to marry her. And I'm playing Beltane Fire as I write this, and I still love the album to this day. And yes, they were, and still are, the Blue Cats, still gigging, still rocking up a storm, still a favourite of all those disaffected Rockabilly fans. A few  months ago they gave a concert under their Beltane Fire guise. Alas I couldn't make the gig, but I'm hoping they'll do more,

Click on the left image (the while label cover) for a track from the album, click on the right image (the official cover)  for a link to Amazon to buy it.




Manassas -Steven Stills

Another entry for Steven Stills, this time with the band/supergroup Manassas. I saw them twice: once at the Rainbow and two weeks later at the Sundown in Edmonton. I was a couple of years away from publication and the music gene refused to die, so I bought an acoustic guitar and set out learning some songs from the album. I learned to play and sing the song Johnny's Garden. Kind of prophetic in a way as, some years later, my second marriage ended.  We remain good friends and, ironically, she went on to marry a gardener called Jonnie.

Dreamboat Annie - Heart

Crazy on You has been on my playlist since the album was first released. Ann Wilson, one of the best female singers in rock, and her sister's not bad either. Saw them at the Dominion Theatre and Brian May joined them on stage. Some night.

Music - John Miles

I've started so I'll finish...for now. I'll be adding more as the memories come back to me. So I'll finish for now with John Miles. one of the UK's most under-valued and under-appreciated singer, songwriters  and instrumentalists.

He first appeared on my radar back in '76 with his single Highfly, and I've followed his career ever since. Despite his lack of commercial success he has always delived quality music - great songs, brilliantly played and produced. 

Tina Turner recognised his brilliance even when the record-buying public didn't and he was her MD for a number of her tours. One day I hope there will be a re-evaluation of John's contribution to British rock and pop. Meanwhile visit his page on Amazon and start trawling through some great music. Click here.