Friday 29 November 2013

September 1978

Picture This

I get to Heathrow an hour early only to find Dina’s flight is delayed by two hours. I haven’t seen her in three months – what’s three hours? The time now is two fifteen p.m. She’s due in at 4-25 p.m.

So I have a coffee and read the paper.

Shit! 2-30 p.m.

I take a walk. I’ve never been so full of longing and desire and friendship. It’s too hot a potato for my patience to handle and I’m on fire, a hunk of burning love, a many-splendoured thing. I sit down and read the paper and have a coffee.

Shit! 2-53 p.m.

I honestly never believed Dina would come back. Everything she ever wanted in life was in Cyprus − sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away. And here there’s me, full stop. Okay, I know she enjoyed the freedom that London offered, freedom from the shackles of a traditional seventies Cypriot mother -- but I ask you, sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away, or me?

Well, she chose me. Maybe she knew she’d never find another living soul who loved her as much I did. Maybe it’s women’s intuition. If it is, then it’s not as sharp as women make out because if you ask the 2013 Dina she’d stab me a million times to get through to the sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away. I thought you gals had something going for you, but it turns out you’re just as dumbarse as men are.

Shit! 3-20.

I get up and wander around the shops. WH Smith is full of Stephen King, Robert Ludlum and John Le Carré – ghouls, guns and gumption. I read the first pages of half a dozen novels, glance through the NME, scratch my arse, check out the latest Louise Brown story in the Guardian, scratch my arse again, have a coffee and read the paper.

Shit! 3-50.

Will this plane never come?

I’ve written to Dina while she was away and spoken to her, courtesy of the Cupid on the switchboard at Record Mirror. Her face was beginning to fade, with the trace of a smile the last to go like a Cypriot Cheshire cat. Suddenly I can see her again. She hasn’t passed through the gate but I see her perfectly, see her loveliness. She’s close by and my memory can sniff her out. She’s still at the baggage carousel but she’s all I can see, all I can hear, all I can feel.

And there’s my dream, come true…


My first meeting with Debbie Harry starts a chain of events that alters the course of my entire life. It’s a funny old game.

Picture this: Debbie in black in transit i
ncognito in shades in London.Incandescent coffee-cup laughter in the hotel garden. Cheesecake smile, creamy frown, peachy patter. The fifties starlet without a Tab Hunter shoulder to cry on. Forget the odd bark line of maturity -- it’s just another dream gone wrong.

She's younger looking than I expected. The Bitch Brothers had instilled in my innocent mind visions of a hoary, gum slithering club hostess with honeycomb features. Instead, I encountered a face of eyes; two Roaring Twenties crystal balls reflecting the miasma below.

Yes, below. For Debbie more than any other female singer of the seventies has been elevated to those untouchable heights reserved for movie stars. Y'know, every guy's gossamer sexual fantasy − blissfully unattainable combined with a masturbatory elegance. Visions of her swathed in and out of a focus wonderland on
Top Of The Pops'wearing silk shorts − looking for all the world like a blonde Ava Gardner pickled for thirty years to preserve that pristine promiscuous look − only serve to perpetuate the myth.

If ever there was a Venus in blue jeans it's Debbie Harry.

But moments before she was in schoolgirl regalia for a national-newspaper photo shoot. All black stockings and suspenders peeping out from beneath a short pleated skirt like war wounds. ‘I don’t mind posing for photographs. It’s part of my art form.’ A disposable voice. It’s there, you listen, it disappears, you forget. ‘Being a photograph, being an actress, being a sculpture. It’s all creating image simultaneously.

‘Okay, so maybe that whole image thing can backfire. Now people review Blondie less in terms of music and more in terms of how I look. All I know is, I’ve always tried to stimulate interest in this group through whatever channel’s possible. Sure I have some regrets about that, but I’ve learned to accept them. I used whatever advantages I might have to sell records.’

Hence the wet-lipped Marilyn Monroe come-on. ‘I used that kind of image a lot in the early days because it was convenient and made for easy reference. But I’m not at all like Monroe.

'She got sort of lost inside. I have more creative outlets. She was a legend, but not in a Da Vinci way. All she really did was turn people on and that’s not what I want. Anyway, I don’t cultivate that image any more. I’m more sure of myself now . . . and the music. I don’t ever want to end up a legend.’

But she’s already halfway there with a history that reads like a B movie. Left her comfortable home, where her mother ran a candy store, for the bright lights of New York. Predictably the bulbs went out, leaving a twilight zone of Times Square druggos and groupies. Debbie became an addict with a pillowcase view of the rock world.

‘I finally decided it was about time women took the initiative in rock and roll, so I formed a band, the Stilettos with Chris Stein, and kicked my habit. I have no regrets about those days. I had to get away from home. I had to experience life to the full. I had to. I suppose I was lucky to come through unscathed. I’ve been left with an inner feeling of contentment. I made up my mind to do those things and it’s all turned out worthwhile. Surely that’s better than sitting in front of the TV all your life wishing you had done the things you’re watching other people doing.’

That indeed may be so − but the corpulent bozos among us would rather watch in their claustrophobic cells of splendid voyeurism than venture one step beyond. Stardom appears to have landed her with one hell of an age hang-up. When asked that delicate question she pauses, lowers her shades and replies, ‘My published age is thirty-two. I think most people lie about their age when they pass twenty-five. And being in this business only makes things worse because the accent is on youth, so I guess it’s crucial that I should be marketed in the right way.

‘What these marketing men tend to forget is that rock ’n’ roll is a part of everyone’s life now, no matter how you react to it and what your age might be.’

She is wary, forever on guard against giving any kind of reply that could be misinterpreted, thanks to previous interviewers, she says, who managed to carve her up nicely. Sometimes she looks older than those thirty-odd years, sometimes younger -- it depends where the sun happens to be in the sky . . . So, what of persistent marriage rumours with guitarist Chris Stein?

‘Totally unfounded. Sure, Chris has proposed, but I'm just nowhere near ready. We have a great relationship and I'm sure marriage would ruin all that, leaving at least one of us unhappy. I sort of feel sorry for the man in a married situation. For a woman it's a business proposition and since I already have a career I don't need it.

‘A wife has to help her husband’s career, which limits her chances of doing something stimulating with her life. If I had a kid I’d like to make it legal to give the child some kind of identity. But I think Chris would rather I gave birth to a guitar anyway.’

She says it’s only the true love she’s found with him that has helped her overcome her fears of sexual come-ons. ‘I don’t worry about them anymore, thanks to Chris. Now I can even let girls approach me after a show and I think it’s flattering. It’s the drunks in bars who spit in your face while they try to chat you up that I can’t stand.’

And it’s not only the drunks. The era of the Blondie slag-off is upon us. It was just a matter of time. You’re heralded as the next big thing and before you know it you’re given away free in a packet of cornflakes. Blondie’s sex-on-the-beach sound has, according to some sources, lost its Alka-Seltzer.  

‘On the new album Parallel Lines we’ve tried to make as many singles as possible. The songs are better than ever simply because we’re now a fully fledged band. The image and the music are working together for the first time. We’re touring again in the States, which is a great challenge and gives our music a bigger bite. And the lyrics, which were always third-person transsexual anyway, are improving all the time. I was always a Walter Mitty character and that whole romantic detachment is beginning to show in the songs.’  

Walter Mitty, huh? There surely can’t be much left she can imagine.

So that’s it. A quick chat with a production-line dream. Oh, and there was something she asked me as I motioned to leave. ‘Listen, er, do you think you could mention the rest of the band? See, er, everyone seems to just talk about me and it makes me feel kinda guilty, y’know.’ Blondie are Chris Stein guitar, Clement Burke drums, James Destri keyboards, Nigel Harrison guitar, Frank Infante bass and Debbie Harry vocals.

Ooops . . .

Ooops indeed. A few days after the interview appears in
Record Mirror, I receive a phone call from a guy called David who says he wants to reproduce it in a magazine he’s publishing about Blondie.

I enquire what sort of magazine and he tells me it’s an unofficial poster mag.

‘What’s a poster mag?’

‘An A4 magazine that opens up into an A1 poster.’

‘In that case I don’t think it’s appropriate . . .’

‘I’ll pay you two hundred and fifty pounds in cash.’

‘Er, yeah. Okay. Go ahead and use it.’

The next day, in a pub around the corner from my house, he plants the cash onto my palm and I feel like I’ve just participated in a smack deal. David is of indeterminate age – anything between twenty-five and thirty-five. He wears a cream suit with a couple of stains, teeth likewise, and appears to be a slightly eccentric chancer. He intrigues me.

A few days later he gives me another £250 for my Boney M interview . . .

Next: Boney M and David Essex

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Monday 25 November 2013

September 1978
10cc in a Jam

10cc are shrewd hippies who used to be a good band, verging on greatness. Loved ‘Rubber Bullets’, ‘The Dean and I’, and, of course, ‘I’m Not In Love’, but when Kevin Godley and Lol Creme split to pursue the bizarre and make ingenious pop videos, the writing seemed to be on the wall for 10cc. Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman continued the good name but their first few releases – The Things We Do For Love and Good Morning Judge – were running alive with mediocrity, even though both were hits. And now they’ve hit the big time again with Dreadlock Holiday for cricket lovers everywhere − and it’s number one with a rubber bullet.

I’m in Bristol with the band, near the end of their mammoth UK tour. The show is slick and safe and the dreamers in the audience light-up the twisty lanes of I’m Not In Love with flaming lighters held aloft in the darkness.

After, we head off to a night club where we drink champagne like cherry cola.

‘We’ve found that certain chords can make you laugh while others make you cry,’ says sleepy-eyed Eric Stewart. ‘In one tune we can make you feel down, then up, then back down again just by altering the structure very slightly.’

No wonder they’ve been dubbed the Professors of Rock.

That don’t worry Eric none. ‘That nickname is meant to be derogatory − but I consider it a great compliment. We do analyse, we do create in a very technical way. Our aim is to achieve perfection,’

Some may argue they’ve already attained such dizzy heights with the classic I’m Not In Love − recently voted the best song ever written.

‘It’s a total love song. Look, you can only say the words, "I love you", once in your whole life and really mean them. If you happen to say them again it’s nothing more than an aside. Wives are continually asking, "Do you love me?" They shouldn’t have to be told over and over again. I’ve only said those words once and I don’t intend repeating them. That is what the song is all about. When I first heard the completed version, I broke down and cried. It meant so much.’

Yet it wasn’t so very long ago when 10cc looked like a washed-up 5cc. When Lol Creme and Kevin Godley quit the band everyone assumed that was the end.

‘When they went, there were many hoped Graham and I would decide to scrap the whole thing, go home and bloody die,’ says Eric.

‘We were criticised for perpetuating the name,’ adds Graham, who has just torn himself away from an army of autograph hunters in the club. ‘But what people tend to forget is that Eric and I were responsible for 80 per cent of the singles hits the band had. We parted with them on very friendly terms and they were only too pleased that we carried on with the name.’

‘Right from the start, we knew we could survive without them,’ says Eric.

Eric and Graham are the antithesis of your average rock stars. For starters, both are happily married.

‘Neither of us has ever gone out with Britt Ekland,’ laughs Eric. ‘And we always telephone in advance when we’re planning to wreck a hotel room.’

Eric lives in Dorking in a house he designed himself. Graham has decided to stay in his native Rochdale. ‘I’d hate to live down south. Up there, I can be anonymous. I can relax with my family away from all this. See, if you’re truly dedicated you’ll find yourself married to your band and your wife but the two just don’t go together.’

‘Working ridiculous hours has kept my marriage strong,’ says Eric, as he opens another bottle of champagne.

‘If I did a nine-to-five job, I reckon I would’ve only been married for two years. I’d have gone stark raving mad. I need to work all the time. It keeps me alive.’
Y’know what keeps me alive? Seeing The Jam from time to time. Listening to Paul Weller whistle while he works…

Paul thinks there’s one in every classroom − he's teacher's pet, team captain, top scholar and goes out with all the best-looking girls. David Watts is his name, the title of the Jam’s new single.

‘I had a kid like that in my class,’ recalls Paul, twenty with a bullet. ‘He really used to fucking infuriate me, y’know. While I was smoking in the toilets, playing truant and generally being one of the lads, he swept the boards both academically and on the sports field. The last I heard he was a copper.’

The single, written back in the sixties by the Kinks, is the Jam's first big hit for almost a year. ‘Everyone was saying we were all washed up. But it doesn't worry me if I never have a number one single. But a number one album ... that's a different story.’

We’re sitting backstage at Top of the Pops. Neat. I’ve never been here before. The dressing room ain’t up to much but, shit, I’m on TOTP. And it’s just as you imagine it would be − kids, clumsiness and catchy chaos.

The boys are casually slipping into suits sharper than samurai swords. It’s just another day.

‘I was really depressed earlier this year,’ says Paul. ‘Nothing seemed to be going right. I kept looking at myself and thinking I’d sold out. I always thought it’d be great to get everyone together, audiences and bands. Just one united force with a common dream. I now realise that was idealistic dream shit. Okay, I miss coming off the stage after a gig and walking straight to the bar for a drink and a laugh. But you’ve got to progress. To keep the same lifestyle is ridiculous and it’s only human nature to try and better yourself.’

Meanwhile, Rick Buckler is trying to butter (sic) himself. He’s left home. ‘I got sick and tired of my mum giving me brown bread. I fucking hate the stuff,’ the twenty-one-year-old blue-eyed blond − though his hair is dyed jet black at the moment – told me as he slipped into his strides. ‘I only ever eat white bread yet for some reason, when I came back home after a tour, my mum insisted on serving up brown. She even started toasting and frying it to disguise the colour − but she couldn’t fool me.’

So Rick cleared off and now shares a flat in Croydon with a friend. He says that living on the breadline was only half the problem. ‘When you play in a band you tend to keep strange hours and it begins to affect the lives of everyone where you live, in my case my parents and twin brother Pete, especially when they have to work regular hours themselves. After setting up home on my own, I’ve never looked back.’

But Bruce Foxton is a happy home boy. He’s flicking his neat barnet and nervously clapping his hands. ‘I prefer it. The only time I’ve ever had any hassles was when I brought a bird back once. My mum and dad weren’t too keen on that. But that’s the only grouch. Why should I move out when all my friends still live in the area? Besides, I’m away half the year touring so it doesn’t matter much anyway.’
Next: Debbie Harry

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013 

Check out Barry's debut novel Wet Dreams Dry Lives www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY

Wednesday 20 November 2013

September 1978
Spex and the single girl

On the opposite page of my Jean Jacques Burnel feature, there’s my interview with Poly Styrene. That means I have the whole centre spread of the Evening News. And a photo by-line thrown in for good measure. Who’s the man, the man bringing punk music to Fleet Street instead of punk mayhem?

And it turns out Poly isn’t as cool as we all think, ‘cos when the lights went out in her Day-Glo world, the princess of punk found herself flat on her back in a psychiatric ward. Doctors pumped her full of drugs, and when she emerged from a chemical coma two weeks later, that famous bracing smile wasn’t quite so wide.

‘The band had just come back from the States and we went straight into another tour,’ says the 20-year-old lead singer of X-Ray Spex. ‘We kept playing gig after gig and I started to feel exhausted. I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake every night, fighting to close my eyes, desperately trying to rest. Everything seemed to be closing in on me. It was all so claustrophobic. Finally I collapsed, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital bed.’

Poly says the main reason for the breakdown was exhaustion. ‘But there were other reasons. Things like kids pretending they knew me and trying to find out where I lived really got me down. And I used to hang out a lot after gigs. I chain-smoked − but that was all I did to calm my nerves.’

Now Poly has made a complete recovery. ‘But it’s taken a long time,’ she says. ‘I haven’t played in front of an audience for ages. My body was really wrecked and I still have to take things pretty easy. In the future I’m determined to be more selective with gigs. I’m not going to play sweaty little clubs any more. I want to stick to bigger venues.’

She’s sitting in the garden of her manager’s Fulham home, sipping coffee in the rain. Those recent traumas are swept aside in one glistening, metallic smile revealing a mouthful of braces. ‘I use them like jewellery, complementing my ear-rings and bracelets. I still have to wear them for a while yet.’

Poly is an anti-glam heroine, singing anti-melody songs for an antiseptic world. She writes of rayon trees and synthetic fibres and germ-free adolescence.

‘We all seem to be preoccupied with cleanliness − but the type pushed in adverts. A clean, tooth-pasty love is used to sell anything from washing powders to floor polishers. Sex and romance help to sell food − what on earth is romantic about that? Especially today’s junk food. I get this recurring dream. What happens when we die after years of eating all this

chemical muck and are buried? Can you imagine all the plant life that will grow up around our chemical-ridden rotting bodies? It’ll be like another planet.’

Strange thoughts from a half-Somali girl raised in Brixton who left school at fifteen to pursue a fashion-buying career. Predictably, the job only lasted a few months. Poly, restless by nature, wanted to see what life was like outside the confines of the city. She travelled all over the country, sleeping rough when she had to, and taking a succession of jobs − including a short spell as a mushroom picker.

She finally settled in Somerset and remained there for eighteen months before returning to London to form X-Ray Spex.

‘I guess I love doing different things. I like changes. I like creating images around me. But I don’t think I would embark on such a journey now. When you get older, you become aware of the dangers of hitchhiking and sleeping on beaches and meeting different people. I was young and naïve, ignorant of the fact that the world is full of odd people, cranks. Sure I met them, but I didn’t realise they meant me any harm. Simply by thinking along those lines, nothing happened to me. Lucky, I guess.’

It was a logical progression for Poly to venture into rock. She had nurtured an interest in fringe theatre for some years and regarded music as an artistic pursuit on a similar level. Attired in obligatory plastic bin-liner and sporting a decadent pose, she acquired both notoriety and a fan club. Many thought her appearance a cheap trick to gain fame – that she was spending hours in front of the mirror trying to look ugly.

Not so, says Poly. ‘I’m not women’s lib, I’m myself. People have said I try so hard to be ugly that I become beautiful. I’m myself. For some people it’s a struggle to be themselves. Sometimes I’m shy, sometimes I’m not the person you see, sometimes I may be myself, but I’m also schizophrenic − an entirely different person on and off stage. I used to fantasise at school, and the songs I write now are merely extensions of those fantasies.

‘I used to hang out, posing, going to endless parties. But that’s all over now. Whenever pos-sible, I flee to the country and lead a separate life.

‘I also ride around London on my bicycle, looking at museums and buying clothes from street markets. Cheap clothes, preferably. Clothes I can wear just as easily off stage as on. I go for those styles you see in old English films of the thirties and forties.’

One more brace-ridden smile. One more sip of coffee. No more Poly. Poly-gone.

(Poly, real name Marian Said, went on to join the Hare Krishna movement. She released a solo album, New Age Flower Aeroplane, in 2004. In 2008 she fronted the re-formed X-Ray Spex for a live show at the Roundhouse. She eventually moved to St Leonards, near Hastings, where she lived alone. Funny how so many punks turned into hippies, the original objects of their venom. She sadly died of cancer in 2011 aged just 53)

Next: The Jam and 10cc

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Saturday 16 November 2013

Strangled up in blue

Saturday, 16th September 1978, and the Stranglers are playing in Battersea Park today. What fun.

I interviewed bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel three days ago and it appears in today’s Evening News so I thought I’d toddle off to watch the boys in blue watching the boys in black, while clutching my feature, tightly…

You could be forgiven in assuming The Stranglers are essentially nocturnal creatures.

That their eyes squint in strong daylight, that they go about their work under cover of darkness, that they pursue their prey along the corridors of the night. Such is their expertise.

Their music instils in the mind twisted visions of decay and depravity, all acted out in a scenario of everlasting night. Edgar Alien Poe reads like Enid Blyton by com-parison.

All the more surprising then that they should decide to play at Battersea Park this afternoon, home of stray dogs, defunct funfairs and a Pink Floyd album-cover power plant. To top it all, they’re making a grand entrance on a tank (apparently they intended to fly in by way of rocket packs strapped to their backs, only to discover at the last minute that such a stunt required a two-year training course).

They maintain the GLC has made life difficult for them and prevented the band from playing more suitable venues.

‘They hate our guts,’ says bassist Jean, 25.

‘This is simply a PR exercise on their part. They never exactly ban you, just quietly nobble you.’

Maybe the council is simply bored with washing down paint-splattered walls all over London that boldly proclaim, ‘The Stranglers Must Play’, or sick of being inundated with petitions from irate fans.

For the Stranglers can rightly claim to be the first dinosaurs of punk. They are the only band to have emerged from the grand old days of new wave with a cast-iron reputation of almost Zeppelinesque proportions. Three gold albums, a succession of memorable hits and -- bang! Superstar status. They’re assured of a tax-haven future. But all is not well. Indeed, the band is in danger of forgoing the lot for a little bit of peace and quiet.

‘There are many people out to destroy us and it’s getting us down,’ says Jean. ‘Sure, it’s nothing new, we’ve always been the band everyone loves to hate because our clothes aren’t cool and we’re all over twenty. But it’s getting out of hand. What with bans − though none of them will admit it − by the BBC, radio stations, journalists, it’s all beginning to look a little hopeless.

‘Even America is turning its back on us. I’ve received three death threats this week from the States over comments the band made about the smallness of American brains compared to English ones.’

Quelle surprise!

So Jean has decided to lie low after today’s show . . . in Japan.

‘I’m going to live there for three months to continue my karate studies,' he says. 'I’m already a brown belt, but I want to attain black-belt status and return to teach the art. Karate has taught me self-control. I guess I was a little headstrong as a kid, maybe because I was French and living in London. I had to fight a great deal to prove myself.’ His battleground has now switched from the street to the concert hall. At a recent gig, he jumped off stage into the audience and got into a fight.

‘This guy kept spitting in my face. It’s no fun trying to play with spittle dripping down over your guitar. The rest of the band came to my assistance.’

Was he hurt?

‘We never get hurt. The Stranglers always win their battles.’

Such flagrant displays of nihilism have earned the band a dubious reputation and a money-spinning fascination.

‘We seem to attract intellectual psychopaths at our gigs. Sentient beings who like to exercise a little muscle. We don’t encourage them. It’s not such a good idea to have a uniformed group in attendance at concerts.’

But they do have the Finchley Boys, a gang of fanatical fans with good intentions. ‘We’ve learned a lot from them, and they from us. See, we’re one of the most intelligent bands around. That, and a determination not to take anything from anybody, is the real reason for our longevity.

'There’s a biochemist, an economist/historian, an international gourmet and a cosmic cowboy in this band − a winning combination if ever there was one.’

Jean, the economist/historian, has achieved a certain individual notoriety. Although reports are often grossly exaggerated, he did punch a journalist who vilified one of their albums, he was once a Hells Angel and he does have love affairs with motorbikes and an endless stream of women.

‘I hit the writer because he attacked me personally and that is totally uncalled for. But, contrary to opinion, I’m not a stud. I just have a habit of sending myself up occasionally. The only guy I would honestly call a stud was George Simenon, the creator of Maigret. He’s supposed to have slept with around fifteen thousand women in his life − give or take a thousand. In comparison, I’m just a good, clean, wholesome chap.’

Although Jean has made a great deal of money, he still hasn’t found a regular place to stay. ‘The last time I lived in a flat permanently I kept getting raided by thieves who would smash everything up. That’s how I came to write "Five Minutes". What do you do with money? Lose it, I guess. Some of it appears to be vanishing mysteriously recently . . .’

Few can deny that the quality of Stranglers’ music is extremely high. But many question the ideals they reflect in their lyrics − in particular, a so-called preoccupation with misogyny.

‘It’s amazing how many people actually believe what they read in the papers,’ says Jean. ‘Some women are actually afraid of seeing us play in case we beat them up. Even representatives from our record company refuse to come along and see us. It’s just an excuse. We’re back to the same old problem − people hate us and that’s that. But I must admit, recently the band is getting pretty depressed about the whole situation.’

Jean, what do you think you would’ve been if you hadn’t joined a band?

‘A yob.’

The show? It was nice. And sleazy.

Next: Poly Styrene

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013



Wednesday 13 November 2013

August/September 1978
Sham, Jam Thank You Ma’am

Bearded Record Mirror writer Robin Smith lives up the road from the Reading Festival site with his mum and dad. I think we’re the only two guys working for Record Mirror who still live at home. Must be something to do with the beards.
Robin’s covering the event and I tag along. I’ve never been before but the Friday night line-up looks a bit tasty – the Jam, Sham 69, Ultravox, Penetration, the Pirates, Radio Stars – so if I’m going to lose my Reading cherry, tonight’s the night.

I drive down in the afternoon, park in the VIP area backstage and meet up with Robin, a teetotaller inhabiting a drug-free zone. He’s without doubt the straightest man in music journalism, possibly the entire music business. But he’s open and honest, and his self-deprecation is unashamedly charming.

I, on the other hand, could murder a beer and, as the day progresses, turn into a serial killer of the bottled lager that abounds in the caravan dressing rooms dotted around the backstage area. My two favourite caravans of love belong to the Jam and Sham 69. One of the roadies backstage shares a few lines of sparkling crystal speed.

Both bands are riding high again after a ’78 hiatus and they’re eager to please. Predictably, Sham 69’s performance is interrupted by skinheads in the crowd beating the fuck out of each other.

While Ultravox are playing, I sit in the backstage bar with Paul Weller and Jimmy Pursey, drinking lager, smoking endlessly and bemoaning the state of the industry. We talk for ages and I can’t believe they want to spend so long in my company. Good job I’m pissed and speeding, good job they’re pissed, but not speeding – they’re not those kinda guys. Jimmy may be the chalk to Paul’s cheese, but when it comes to illegal drugs they’re both no shows. But they can drink for England and most of northern Europe and smoke fags for Scotland and southern Europe.

Jimmy, at twenty-three, is assertive and loud and determined to get his point across. Paul, just twenty, is more uncertain, his timidity revealing ever-changing moods and a nascent passion. His opinions are still taking shape while Jimmy’s are set in stone.

I’m just happy to listen. I don’t have any opinions on any subject whatsoever because I’m pissed and speeding. I just want to smoke and drink some more and hope the night never ends. And the Jam show is some kinda wonderful.

Robin has arranged for me to stay over at his house. The car cannot remain where it is, so I decide to drive, much to Robin’s horror. By the time we arrive at his house I’m feeling really ill. I drive onto the front lawn, jump out and spew, almightily, over the grass.

I recover sufficiently to make it through the front door but that spinning sickness sloshing the booze around like a washing machine hits the back of my throat like a train and transports six packed carriages across the kitchen floor, hurling splashes of sick onto most of the pinewood cabinets. It’s a Megan moment, all right.

I’m incapable of cleaning up the mess and collapse on the settee. Waking up at six a.m. – I always do in strange houses no matter how fucked – I stumble out the door, reverse the car back over the lawn and speed off. On the way home I have to stop nine times to vomit, four of those on the M1.

Two days later I contract pneumonia. I blame the sparkling crystal speed and the fact that my life is empty without Dina. But mainly I blame the sparkling crystal speed.

When my temperature creeps up to 107, the GP decides to call the hospital. It’s the least he can do. But by the time the ambulance arrives, I’m dead. Or is that Keith Moon? Who gives a shit? They’re coming to take me away hohoheeheehaha. The funny farm burns down and my temperature drops and the ambulance guys decide I’m over the worst of it so I stay in my steaming bed and vow never to touch drink and drugs again.

That’s something Keith Moon vows when he downs 32 Heminevrin pills – one for every year of his life − to combat the withdrawal symptoms of chronic alcoholism before dying in his sleep at Harry Nilsson’s Mayfair apartment.

Mandy Bruce from the AdLib team at the News rings me at home, enquires after my health and asks me what I know about Keith and the Who in general. I tell her, which isn’t much, and crawl back to my bed.

My own favourite Who tale was related by John Entwistle when I went to interview him at his West London home a few months previously. He didn’t come across as a particularly generous bloke – I remember we sat in a room with an enormous bar that stocked every drink imaginable and he never offered me one the whole time I was there. Okay, so it was eleven in the morning but, shit, I was a guest. Still, he did tell me the best LSD story I ever heard.

‘I was never tempted to drop acid,’ he said. ‘The idea of losing complete touch with reality was just too terrifying for words. One night in 1969 at a party, I was handed a glass of punch and after a while I started to feel strange. Then it clicked, the punch was spiked with acid.

‘I panicked. I tried to reason my way out of it but the strangeness was getting stranger. Then I knew what I had to do. I grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the bar and ran upstairs to a small bathroom. I locked the door behind me and my intention was to drink the lot, pass out and hopefully sleep off the whole trip. But I was suddenly overcome by a fear that I’d inhale my own vomit like Hendrix because not only would I be out of my mind, I’d be drunk and out of my mind.

‘Then I saw it − a small window above the bath. I figured I’d drink the entire bottle very quickly, open the window and poke my head and shoulders through until I got wedged in. Then, even if I wanted to inhale my own vomit when I passed out, I couldn’t.

‘So I drank the bottle in ten minutes – I was that scared – and then squeezed the top half of my body through the window. I woke up ten hours later staring down at a garden patio, still jammed in the window and suffering the worst hangover I’d ever experienced. And every part of my protruding body was covered in pigeon shit.

‘At that moment, I wish I’d fucking inhaled my own vomit.’

I can’t afford to stay ill and within a few days I’m up and at ’em. I’ve added a few more publications to my portfolio and the cheques are making dents on the welcome mat. My mum, who’s left work through ill-health, spends her day answering the phone and taking messages for me. It’s all getting too hot to handle.

Enter Tim Lott. Tim is still on staff at Record Mirror. He’s a marvellous writer with ambition and is currently doing a few stints at Capital Radio. One afternoon, about a week back into the swing of things, I’m sitting with him in the Nags Head in Covent Garden. We’ve always liked each other’s company and got pissed together on several occasions. I’m telling him how much work I’ve got on and how sometimes it gets a little too much, and he suggests we team up.
By the time we leave the pub, we’ve already decided to set up a press agency supplying local newspapers across the land with weekly pop columns, including interviews, reviews, the works. In return they would each pay us just twenty quid. We’d mail every paper with a freebie taster to get the ball rolling. If only ten took it up that’d be two hundred quid a week, Imagine if we had fifty, or a hundred.

Great idea. On top of that there’s all my stuff that Tim can start helping out with, plus his Capital Radio spots.

We begin to look for a suitable office…

Next: The Stranglers at Battersea

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry's debut novel Wet6 Dreams DrytLives  www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY

Saturday 9 November 2013

August 1978

Holly Buddy

Life is pretty sweet, but my smile’s only there trying to fool the public because I ache for Dina. It’s the longest we’ve been apart in two years and pretty sweet soon turns to shit without a focus. Maybe I should’ve married her before she went back to Cyprus.

Meanwhile, I’m mastering the art of mainstream journalism, skimming across the ocean like a stone and ending up on the doorstep of a Holly...

After fifteen years in the pulverising world of pop, Keith Richards doesn’t look too well, Bob Dylan is positively ancient and John Lennon looks just plain weird.

But Tony Hicks of the Hollies looks, well, like he did fifteen years ago. He confounds the axioms of the live-now-pay-later brigade with his pristine features and boundless enthusiasm. Those big, doleful eyes have surveyed the erratic eccentricities of rock ’n’ roll − Merseybeat, psychedelia, glitter, punk and power pop − but the guitarist has steered round them all, preferring to chart his own course to stardom.

Result? At thirty-two, Tony has escaped unscathed.

His rewards? A pretty wife, a four-year-old son, a beautiful home in South Kensington, a pair of Stan Bowles football boots and an album standing at number two in the charts.

The band’s 20 Golden Greats record has caused something of a nostalgia wave. Every song showcased is a pop classic. Every song bears testimony to the fact that the Hollies are Britain’s oldest surviving pop band.

‘I’ve looked after myself over the years,’ says Tony, sipping vintage red wine in the pine wood splendour of his spacious lounge. ‘Sure, I’ve raved it up in the past − but I’ve never gone over the top. I’ve merely kept myself on a separate level to the music business. I feel sorry for the new bands around today. They’re virtually forced into "enjoying" themselves, with all the consequences that entails.’

Tony is laconic − the sign of a contented man. And who wouldn’t be with his bank balance?

‘I guess I’ve always had enough to buy what I wanted for most of my life. But money does slow you down. If I didn’t have the music anymore and was just left with the bank account, I’d go out of my mind with boredom.’

The Hollies were the epitome of the pop boom − John Collier dummy lookalikes who pierced the sixties with gems like ‘Stay’, ‘Just One Look’ and ‘I Can’t Let Go’.

‘I suppose it’ll be hard to shake off that old image,’ he says. ‘And you know how it came about? Our first manager was a tailor who insisted on pushing his latest lines − with us! But it didn’t prevent the band going through changes. First there were the Hollymania days of screaming girls and seven-week tours with the Stones. Graham Nash was with us then, before leaving to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Then when all that eventually died away, we were confronted by a very boring period of ultra-smart suits and violins. But now, who knows ? Look at the Bee Gees. Five years ago you couldn’t give them away.’

And it was five years ago that the father of an attractive blonde called Jane gave his daughter away to Tony. That’s not very long, considering the time he’s been in the business.

‘I don’t believe in early marriages,’ he says. ‘I figure a man shouldn’t even consider marrying until he’s at least thirty.’ He keeps his wife and son Paul hidden from the music glare. ‘Family and music just don’t mix.

I’ll never take them on the road with me. But I decided a long time ago that I should live well while I’m on the road for my health’s sake. I’ve spent a lot of money getting around in comfort.’

He doesn't smoke and plays squash. ‘I've got into sport a lot recently − especially football. I have a pair of Stan Bowles’s boots he wore at Wembley when he played for England.’

His main ambition is to see his son become a Wimbledon champion and then throw a celebration party at the wine château he dreams of owning one day.

The Hollies may be an institution, but the Holly-days can’t last for ever. Or can they . . .?

Tony rings me after the article appears in the London Evening News to say it was the best interview he’d ever read about him and the band. ‘If there’s anything I can ever do for you, please don’t hesitate to call me.’ The sweetheart even gives me his number. I’ve got a Holly for a Buddy.

I was always a big fan of the Hollies, especially the Graham Nash days of ‘I’m Alive’ and ‘I Can’t Let Go’. They poured honey on my lemons as I tried to break free and they looked cool on stage. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined that baby-faced guitarist on Ready, Steady, Go would one day compliment me. I feel like King Midas, in reverse.

I’m liking this freelance malarkey. The more interviews I do, the more money I make; the more people I meet, the more money I make. But late nights partying and writing will take their toll.

I’m lost in a forest of snappy intros and staccato paragraphs. The tabloid effect haunts everything I write so I leap at the chance to replace Record Mirror’s resident gossip columnist, Juicy Luicy (who shall remain nameless) while she’s on holiday. I adopt the alter ego of Dirty Berty, Luicy’s public-school nephew who doesn’t give a toss.

The first column goes well, and contains some juicy items, including the fan who breaks into Wilko Johnson’s dressing room after a gig at the Marquee, covers the ex-Dr Feelgood man in kisses before dropping his trousers to reveal a multitude of running sores. A member of Wilko’s band, Solid Senders, is about to throw a bottle of disinfectant over him when the fan grabs the bottle and proceeds to drink it before running off into the night. ‘Police are looking for a man with very clean insides but very dirty outsides.’

I also mention that Sid Vicious is playing a one-off gig at the Electric Ballroom, fronting a band comprising Rich Kids’ Glen Matlock, Steve New plus Rat Scabies. They’re calling themselves Vicious White Kids. Every paragraph is an intro and I’m hooked. I’m living the part: I am Dirty Berty, the tabloid hack with the adolescent brain. A lethal concoction.

But the second column almost ruins my career.

I run a piece about Phil Lynott and his relationship with the now pregnant model Caroline Crowther – daughter of comedian Leslie – and hint the father might be thin and answer to the name of Lizzy. But naturally, as a naughty-boy gossip writer, I embellish it. Anyway, somebody up there doesn’t like it and the day after the paper hits the streets, everyone of note at Record Mirror’s publisher, Spotlight, is hit with a heavy-duty libel writ accusing Dirty Berty of everything from allegations of homosexuality to bestiality.

I find one on my desk addressed to Dirty Berty. My sulphate-soaked blood collapses and I can feel it gushing through my body and cascading over my trainers.

Thank God they don’t know my identity.

Alf Martin is on holiday when Spotlight’s publishing director, Mike Sharman, calls me into his office.

‘I take it you’ve seen this?’ He waves the writ in the air.

‘Yes.’ I’m suddenly back at school and Megan is calling.

‘It’s pretty damned serious. What have you got to say for yourself?’

‘Er, it was just a bit of gossip. It’s not that heavy.’

‘Well, these writs suggest otherwise. I can tell you now, you’ll never write another word for Record Mirror.’

I’m speechless, but manage to stand up and go to the door.

‘Oh, and Barry . . .’

‘Yes?’ Maybe he’s changed his mind. Maybe they’ll laugh the whole thing off. Maybe, just maybe, the world is full of goodness after all.

‘I suggest you get yourself a very good lawyer.’

I nearly shit myself on the spot.

After collecting my stuff, I say my goodbyes. Someone mentions a strike, but someone else points out that I’m only a freelancer and, besides, she couldn’t afford it. I guess I’d have said the same. You could replace the entire editorial staff overnight with the freelancers who’ve contributed to the mag over the last year. Plus, regional newspaper journalists across the land would jump at the chance to work in Covent Garden, writing about pop stars and flying around the world. A strike is definitely a no-no.

The next few days are a nightmare. I’m not worried about being sued -- they can’t get blood out of a stone. I live at home with my mum and dad in an Islington council flat and have about five hundred quid in the bank, for Chrissake. Thin Lizzy won’t get fat on that. My fear is of not being able to write about music again. God in his infinite wisdom decided not to give me the fingers of a musician so writing about music was the ultimate consolation. To deprive me of that while my heart is flapping around like a dying fish on a Cypriot beach would be a blow from which I might never recover.

Pass me that axe, Eugene.

Maybe it’s destined to end like this. Maybe 1977 is as good as it gets. Maybe this is my 10th Avenue freeze-out. Maybe it’s nature’s way of saying pop music is dead, that I’d only be shagging a corpse if I carried on. While I’m busy patting myself on the back for not being a necrophiliac, Record Mirror editor Alf Martin returns from holiday. When he finds out I’ve been tossed aside like a snapped plectrum, he does his nut.

‘If he goes, I go,’ he tells the suits and, within a day, I’m reinstated. The following week a big retraction appears at the bottom of Juicy’s column and, as far as I know, that’s the end of it. I meant no harm. It wasn’t me. It was someone else. I swear I’ll never write another gossip column as long as I live.

On my first day back in the office the switchboard girl puts Dina through . .

Next: The Jam, Sham 69, The Who and The 1978 Reading FestivalAdapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Tuesday 5 November 2013

July 1978

Only women bleed?

Now I’ve got to check my heart for a little love and affection because Joan Armatrading ain’t exactly my idea of a carnival ride with a mouth full of candyfloss.

She’s never really appealed to me. Adored Love And Affection but not much else. Saw her live once a couple of years back and her melancholia got a little intense sometimes. Maybe only women bleed . . .

So the prospect of an interview is kinda intriguing. I’m not in love, but maybe open to persuasion. You don’t get to interview many women in my line of business. And the ones you do get to meet are pretty special. They have to be. It’s always been that way and is due a change.

Lester Bangs got it right − ‘The only hope for rock ’n’ roll, aside from everybody playing nothing but shrieking atonal noise through arbiter distorters, is women. Balls are what ruined both rock and politics in the first place, and I demand the world be turned over to the female sex immediately.’

During the interview I suss out a few things about Joan. She talks intimately only to very close friends. She could be the little girl who never grew up − like, she taps her knees together throughout the interview and fiddles incessantly with her cap. She answers each question immediately and there’s not of hint of the ‘er’s that rampage through the words of a considerable number of pop stars. This is one erudite lady.

She adores flat caps. Well, she never told me that exactly but she wore one throughout the interview and didn’t even bother to doff it in a gentleman’s presence. What is this ultra-feminine make-up bag of a world coming to?

What of the current race problems manifesting themselves in the Bengali twilight zones of the East End? Not the coolest opener.

‘Journalists are always trying to make out I have a problem because I’m black,’ she says. ‘Let me tell you something . . . I don’t. Journalists are always trying to make me say I grew up in a deprived Birmingham ghetto. Let me tell you something . . . I didn’t. Sure, it happens in some cities, and don’t think I had it easy.

‘I was one of six kids and we were very poor. We just didn’t happen to live in a ghetto. I never had to fight for anything on that score. So don’t ask me about contemporary
race problems. I refuse to voice an opinion publicly. I may talk about it to friends but I don’t want to see what I think, politically, in writing. Besides, people in my position who do talk openly on political matters have the unfortunate tendency to influence the thoughts of their fans and I don’t think that’s quite ethical.’

She doesn’t like journalists. ‘I just get disappointed when I read my interviews.’

So do I, Joan. So do I.

Time for an up question − the Blackbushe festival.

‘Bob Dylan contacted my agent and asked him if I would play at the festival. I’ve been told he really enjoys my work. I must admit, the first Dylan album I bought was Blood On The Tracks so I guess I’m not an ecstatic fan. But I do like some of his stuff.’

That’s one of the most refreshingly disarming answers I’ve ever heard. Joan is as straight as they come and you can’t help admiring her honesty in the face of such an accolade from a rock god. Ordinary women are more fascinating than extraordinary men. Special women are goddesses.

Don’t forget, I am only twenty-five.

‘The last time I played an open-air festival was Reading − and I spent my entire set untangling the chains around my neck, which I fiddled nervously with beforehand.’

Shy, huh?

‘I was very shy. When I was younger I had to spend a lot of time with my brothers. But they didn’t really want anything to do with me so I found myself alone most days. They were too busy having boy fun, so more and more I had to rely on myself for company. I just reached the point where I couldn’t relax with people.

‘Suddenly it was a case of having to. I had to teach myself to be natural around people and I had to tell myself that it was pointless making a hard job of it. Eventually I got the message and from then on I started enjoying myself. But I won’t relax completely until I do everything I want − like playing more gigs and making more records and having more people like me.

‘That’s not to say I’m a different Joan Armatrading from the one that first started out in this game. I once wrote, "No, you haven’t changed − I’ve just got to know you better." You don’t really get to know someone for three years.’

What type of person do you take the trouble to get to know?

‘Unselfish, considerate people. People who think of others − though not necessarily putting others first. How can you help others if you can’t help yourself?

‘I guess I’ve only got one really good friend. She would do anything for me and I would do anything for her. She was very good to me when I first started out and let me stay with her until I found my feet. My income then was six pounds a week and my rent was five pounds − but I didn’t want for anything. That’s how good she was.

‘I’m not really very close to my family. I occasionally see two brothers and a sister but not my parents. They still live in Birmingham and it’s just a question of time.’

One of those memory bubbles seems to burst.

‘My dad kicked me out when I was fifteen. I’ll never forget, he was fixing the television, which had gone wrong for the umpteenth time, and I made a silly remark and he just blew his top. It was the damnedest thing. I ran into my room and packed my school satchel with some books, a toothbrush, limericks I’d written over the years and a camera. Know something? To this day I’ve never been able to understand why I took a camera. No food, no clothes, no money − but a camera.

‘I went and stayed with my brother’s girlfriend for a while − until my parents begged me to return home. But when I walked back through the front door I finally realised I could never stay. I’d looked after my brothers and sisters for most of my childhood. I knew that was no way to carry on and I couldn’t spend the rest of my life doing that. So the row I had with my dad just brought everything to a head. I left home as soon as I could.’

Sometimes, just sometimes, this non-smoking, non-drinking introvert, does give a little bit more than she realises. And it’s hunky-dory.
(Joan’s album, Into the Blues, debuted at number one on the US Billboard Blues Chart in 2007, the first by a British female artist to do so. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award. Her follow up album, This Charming Life, reached number 4 in the US Billboard Folk Albums chart. She was awarded an MBE in 2001 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012).

Next – The Hollies???
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain © Barry Cain 2013


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