Friday, 11 October 2013

March 1978

The end of daze

I’m beginning to lose touch with reality. Planes, hotels, lavish meals, deafening concerts, lines of fascinating powders, bathfuls of booze, world famous rock stars. I’m living the life of a wealthy man on thirty quid a week. It’s time to start living the life of a wealthy man as a wealthy man.

I’ve got enough contacts. I really feel I should be taking advantage of the music. I’ve loved it for a long time and I want to marry it. It’s only natural.

It’s time to hang up my dancing shoes and get serious. I’ve proposed to Dina. I’m going to get married, have kids, live in Cyprus, float in the pool at my villa on the coast and watch the waves break on white sand, laugh and joke with the locals in impeccable Greek and die in the sunshine. I need money. The job is great but the pay is lousy. Anyway, punk is dead.

I finally decide to quit Record Mirror after being invited to run Albion Records with leading pop publicist Alan Edwards. Albion is the name of the management company behind the Stranglers and they decide to launch a record division. Alan and I are to have complete control – signing bands, dealing with promotion, the works. It’s too good an offer to turn down. Fat Lou Grade cigars beckon.

But first I've got four more interviews to do – John Miles, Pete Shelley, Squeeze and Linda McCartney.

John Miles is the first person to tell me that Rock Hudson is gay. ‘He lives with a famous singer and they’re known as Mr and Mrs America.’

We’re having breakfast in the dining room of a Glasgow hotel and I nearly choke on my tattie scone.

John Miles is - uh - blond. Cutie-pie blond, Clearasil blond, cabin-boy blond and, now, permed blond. It's also not unknown for him to be regarded by some as a dumb blond.

Each to his own.

Me? I simply find him blond. Natural blond. In fact, he's probably the most natural blond I've ever met (Actually, I used to think a certain Californian lady was until I got to know her better . . .) The only thing a natural can stick to is what he's good at.

John Miles just happens to play the guitar like a god. So he sticks to that. He realised long ago that he was faceless. He tells me as much over a cascade of burgundy, a pool of port, and a fountain of brandy - all in the back of a Granada en route from Scotland on a promo tour. John likes a drink. It makes him feisty.

Over burgundy: ‘Maybe not having an image is detrimental to my career, but there's not much I can do about it. Sometimes I try and think of something out of the ordinary to be, but I just don't know what.’

Over port: Do you often get lost for words, John? . . . John? ‘Er, yes, I guess I do. If your face doesn't fit some people just say fuck the music, and my face definitely doesn't fit.’

Over brandy: ‘I may be old fashioned but I still think people buy records because of the music. I saw Frampton play in the States. He was the American dream. The face and not a lot more. Same with David Essex. Sure he was okay on ditties like Hold Me Close but then he started to get over-ambitious and it just didn't work out.

'Maybe people don't know too much about music. It gets so frustrating when you look at so-called artists making a living out of image while professing to be musicians. It eventually destroys your fucking faith in human nature.’

Brandy can affect you like that.

The day after I return from Glasgow, I head back north to seek out the band of the moment, the Buzzcocks, Manchester’s answer to punkpop artistry with a leader who can spot a Trechikov quicker than you can say, well, Trechikov.

They’re the new darlings of the broadsheet music paper brigade after the release of their debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

And so to a terraced quarter where headscarf houses wink in the rain and Pete Shelley lives in comfortable squalor. He sleeps on the floor in a two-up two-down squat - at least, I think it is. You don’t like to ask, really.

‘I’m thinking of buying a carpet,’ says the wistful northern punk, looking at the bare boards. There’s no furniture to speak off in any of the rooms, the roof leaks and the windows haven’t been cleaned in twenty years.

‘It’s better than living in a bedsit on your own. I enjoy living with friends. It beats living at home.’ Pete sounds like he does a lot of living.

We’re sitting in his bedroom, I think. Pete, Steve Diggle, John Maher and Steve Garvey. In a time of punk recession, the Buzzcocks have emerged as a powerful but insular force. They’ve been around just as long as the Clash and the Jam with nowhere near the same degree of success. But that’s because they adopted an intransigent policy of concentrating all their efforts in Manchester and deliberately avoiding the London blitz.

‘We have as much fun as any band based in London,’ says Pete, with Woody Allen intensity. ‘What's the point of going to London looking for ephemeral success? The only really good thing about success is it enables you to obtain the resources to do more things.’

That’s when he starts talking politics, with a p and a P.

‘The lowercase p denotes every day, personal politics. The way people react to each other. Politics with a small p is people. But when it’s spelled with a capital P it means creating a new order to change people.

‘That’s why politics with a P is shit. People, not an order, should change people. Capital P politics doesn't concern itself with the individual who is simply not part of the equation. But that, unfortunately, is the political system we have.

‘I want people to have healthy attitudes. When I write lyrics I try and get across as many different sides to an argument as possible. I deliberately insert ideas I firmly believe in, others I’m opposed to and others which are totally unproductive.

‘That way I can create moods, ploys. The songs that sound the happiest are the most anger-ridden. The dirge-like tunes contain the happier lyrics. That’s when you get the guy singing the nice tune in the bath when suddenly he notices the words and it jolts him.’

Pete was jolted while watching Crossroads the other day. He recognised a painting on one of the motel walls.

‘It was by Vladimir Trechikov. He’s a Russian-born South African artist.’

He suddenly sounded like Pete to my Dud.

The penultimate interview is with a little-known band called Squeeze, whose debut single, the semi-novelty ‘Take Me I’m Yours’, has sneaked into the charts. I’ve seen them play live and they’re shit hot.

The band come up to the Record Mirror offices in Covent Garden, above the underground station, and I take them round the corner to our local, the White Lion in James Street. They’re a hoot.

Chris Difford smiles a hairspray ad smile as he gently pulls petals off a pink rose.

Chris: He does, he doesn't, he does, he doesn't, he does. He does! I knew it. Our drummer Gilson Lavis does like girls who have strange sexual fantasies.

Glenn Tilbrook looks shocked.

Chris: You mean you never knew? Did Gilson never tell you?

Glenn: No.

Chris: Well, when he was seventeen he played with a dance band in Glasgow. . .

Glenn: I- I never knew he was . . .

Chris: Drums.

Glenn: Oh.

Chris: Anyway, one night after the show he went to a party. He's never really drank that much before and well, it went to his head. The party got out of hand and turned into one of those orgy things. Next thing he knew it was morning, he was naked and lying beside a girl in a similar condition. Well, the next thing that happened was…

Jools: Did I hear someone mention girls?

At this juncture, Jools Holland joins us. He's a torrid little fellow who plays piano like a dream and dances like a Cotton Club dandy. He’s forever chewing a cheap cigar which makes him look like an emaciated Edward G. Robinson.

Chris and Glenn in unison: Yes, Jools, you did.Jools: Good, because I like girls in Nazi uniforms. I've also got a very large collection of Dinky cars, including a rare Chrysler Airflow. But I like bigger ones too. Cars, that is. I've got a 1959 Dodge.

Chris: Really? I don't wear undies ’cos it's a nuisance to clean them.

Glenn: I like to wear women's undies, preferably belonging to someone with whom I've had sexual relations.

Chris: I like plain girls who go horse-riding and have three A levels. That way I know I'm goosing an intelligent girl. My favourite films are The Night Porter and Piersporter. I also like yachting.

Glenn: I know what you mean, that men against the sea feeling.

Chris: I think I like yachting because I'm convinced I'm a reincarnation of Christopher Columbus.

Glenn: If I can make just one person happy in this world by what I've done then my life will have been worthwhile. That's really all I can say. Apart from hello Lawrence Impeney and all residents of Bournemouth.

Jools: And I'd like to say hello to my mum and dad and brothers.

Squeeze - 'Take Me I'm Yours', spitefully hypnotic, consistently clever. And the lyricist - that's Chris - has been known to stutter. Live, they're togetherness personified, Siamese quins even. On record they're meticulous, possessing a soap-clean mean sound.

Linda McCartney beckons as some of you already know from an earlier blog.

A week before I’m due to leave Record Mirror and those spacious Long Acre offices, Alan rings to say Albion are pulling out of the deal.

‘That’s all right, though’ he says. ‘You wanted to leave the paper anyway, so why not come and work here with me, at Modern Publicity?’

Yeah, a publicist. I can do that...


Next episode – The Stranglers in Iceland

 © Barry Cain 2013

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