Sunday 22 June 2014

30 April 1979

2000 Light Years From Home

In Chicago 14,000 Stones fans gather outside the International Amphitheatre, which resembles an obese Roundhouse.

Perusing the horde from the back of a cab, I conclude that spotting a Stones fan is a cinch. They always look younger than they really are and they’re more fashion-conscious − not a flare in the world − than the average Who/Zep/Deep Purple partisan. They also can’t tell the bottom from the top.

Yet there’s a subliminal sixties approach to their fanaticism, their rational exuberance, their walk. If they’d been born twenty years earlier, Liberace would’ve been the diamond-studded object of their indestructible affection.

But it’s not the Stones these predominantly hirsute resurrectionists have come to see. Well, not all of them. No, it’s none other than Ronnie Wood, that desultory epitome of the hackneyed phrase, ‘good-time rock’, who’s about to brighten this domed Chicago night with a song in his heart.

Oh, and there’s Keith Richards. A mite less lugubrious than Mr Wood but that’s just his way. And, of course, there are a few other good-time Joes in the shape of ex-Small Faces/Faces Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, Weather Report’s Stanley Clarke, saxophonist Bobby Keys and Meters drummer Ziggy Modeliste.

This disparate combo answer to the name of the New Barbarians, a title apparently suggested to Ronnie by Neil Young when it looked likely that the man with the bollock-squeezing vocals might join the band as well.

They were hastily assembled to promote a solo Wood album, Gimme Some Neck, on a hastily put together US tour neatly slotting into a Stones time warp of sunbathing, divorce suits and writing.

The crowd at the Amphitheatre, where The Beatles played and where Elvis first wore his gold lame suit, is plagued with ‘Willy’ rumours. ‘Will Jagger play?’; ‘Will Stewart show?’; ‘Willy?’

‘Who needs guests?’ yells Ronnie, at the outset of the show, to dispel all the rumours, and piss off the crowd

Woody nips around in blue jeans and musketeer shirt like a soccer sub who’s just been asked to warm up for an FA Cup Final appearance. He sings, predictably, the whole of Gimme Some Neck – the morbid infection of ‘Buried Alive’, ‘FUG Her’, ‘Lost And Lonely’, the unadulterated optimism of ‘Worry No More’ and ‘Don’t Worry’, a suitable inscription for Woody’s gravestone. Big cheers.


More cheers for Keith Richards’s two contributions –’Apartment Number Nine’ and ‘Let’s Go Steady’. Biggest cheers for ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. Chicago becomes their kind of town. I even see a guy dancing with his wife.

A few hours later I follow the mesmerising scent of music and marijuana through a Milwaukee wood in the dark to a large timber building set in the grounds of the Playboy Country Club. The music, folded into the immobile shadows on the window, is vaguely familiar. I wander up and peer through the glass. The New Barbarians are huddled around an elaborate hi-fi, listening to a tape of their Chicago show like gaunt-faced pathologists slicing up a fresh cadaver.

The post-mortem is complete. All’s well in Wood’s wood.

‘The deciding factor to actually make the album came during the Some Girls sessions with the Stones in Paris,’ says Ronnie.

He sits cross-legged on a huge red leather sofa in a room off the main lounge where the others are gathered. Blonde London model girlfriend Jo Howard serves the drinks, JD on ice. They’ve been living together − that’s Ron and Jo, not Ron and Jack − in California since Ronnie and his wife Chrissie split and have a ten-month-old daughter, Leah.

‘In between takes, Charlie, Bill and me mucked around with some of my songs and Bill turned round and said, "Do you realize how quickly you could go through these?" And he was right. I laid down all the tracks in just ten days. And so my first solo album in four years was recorded.

‘The album and tour have certainly given me a new lease of life. Getting such a bunch of guys together like that was absolutely amazing. Despite all the different managers and record companies involved the project proved to be no trouble at all. Not one single trauma. And what was so flattering was the way they all insisted on playing my songs alone. When the tour started in Toronto, I tended to let the weight fall on their shoulders because I knew they could handle it better than me. But now I understand how to approach the whole thing. It ain’t as crazy as I originally thought.’

Ronnie’s career with the Stones started back in 1976 after the demise of the Faces. His face popped up on the cover of the Black and Blue album, which confirmed he was already a member. Many argue that he hauled them out of an artistic quagmire and gave them the shot in the arm they desperately needed.

‘I’ve always felt well at home in the Stones. After all, they always were my favourite band … always. I’ve been able to do my own thing in the band. Mick and Keith will always listen to a song I’ve written which I think might be suitable for the band.

‘So many people think the Stones’ approach to everything is simple and direct. What they don’t realise is in that simplicity there are so many subtleties that you’ve got to be on top all the time otherwise you’re bound to get caught. It’s not that I’ve helped to liven the Stones up – it’s that they’ve helped to liven me up. There’s such a tremendous democratic framework within the band. Everyone is encouraged to do what they want.’

How did they react to him doing a solo album?

‘They were great,’ he says, a fag in his mouth, a glass of bourbon in his hand, a one-way ticket to cloud nine in the back pocket of his jeans. ‘It’s really funny. Every time Mick sees me with a fag in my mouth he rushes up and grabs it, saying I’ll ruin my voice if I don’t stop smoking. He also says I should cut down on the ol’ Jack Daniel’s … but what can a poor boy do?

‘Besides, Mick would love to do a solo album himself – he’s definitely got it in him – and he’s also got more than enough material. And Keith is getting closer and closer to doing just that. He’s written some incredible stuff recently.’


How is Ronnie coping with being a front man for a change?

‘Now that took some working out. See, when you’ve been playing with people like Mick and Rod for years you tend to let them take the limelight. Hell, they’re naturals so they’re gonna take it anyway. But now I’m gradually coming to terms with it myself. I now know all the things they go through – and it’s real hard.’

Aha, an ego is born.

‘Nah, I’m no egotist. I’ve lived with too many to be one. I guess that’s why I like to show off a lot on stage – I know it don’t mean anything. I could have done solo tours years ago but by now my force would’ve been spent and I’d just be existing. I’ve done it in the right way. All I’ve ever wanted to do is give value for money -- giving just me is self-indulgent. That’s why it’s great to be surrounded by guys who are incredible talents in their own right. It takes you down a peg or two and you’ve got to come back smiling. I think the tour affected everyone like that. Keith was giving things that people could never imagine. And I broke my balls to get it right.’

Why does he think he’s been dubbed rock’s Mr Nice Guy?

‘Dunno. Maybe it’s ’cos I don’t bullshit unless it’s absolutely necessary. A lot of people I play with happen to be really famous and it can sound very flash when you talk about them. But it’s just the same as anyone talking about their mates. It’s perfectly natural. Like the other night Bob Dylan popped around my house for tea. It was on the eve of the US tour and he was checking up on me. He wasn’t sure whether I’d go through with it.

‘I love living on the West Coast. I like to stick my roots down wherever I am. My family lived in the same house for over twenty years, and when we moved it was just a hundred and fifty yards down the road.’

He attended Ealing Art College and is an accomplished artist − he did all the artwork on his album, which includes a brilliant self-portrait. Why didn’t he bring the album out much earlier, when it had been knocking around for such a long time?

I didn’t want it to surface until it felt right. I could never have done all this eighteen months ago. It takes a certain approach – it helps if you’re a little crazy – and right now I can enjoy it. I believe that’s the key to lasting in this business. The Stones’ longevity is down to that – approaching the right thing in the right way at the right time. That, plus the way they live. It’s always been five guys and five women who are very close at all times.’

Moot point.

‘They’ve learned to search out what’s gonna be the next fashion and ride with it – very often they set the fashion themselves. And they’ve also got the ability to suss out anyone who’s gonna try and put the spoke in.

‘Would you like to meet Keith?’ he suddenly asks.

What the fuck do you think? ‘Er, yes, that would be nice.’

‘Keith’s a bit nervous about hanging with journalists after that bust in Toronto. But I don’t think we’ll have any problem with you.’

I guess I’m just that kind of guy. I follow Ron through to the lounge where Keith Richards, Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones, Stanley Clarke, Bobby Keys and Ziggy Modeliste are seated on chairs or the shag-pile carpet drinking Jack Daniel’s, laughing, being rock stars, smoking cigars.

The smell of dope is intoxicating and that night I snort the best coke this side of Colombia. The Jack Daniel’s is premium and the grass is, well, sublime. I kinda pity people like Keith Richards. Nights such as these are customary for rock gods, like watching Coronation Street. For me, it’s like watching Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

When the sun rises it’s time to go…

Next: Malcolm McLaren

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



Monday 9 June 2014

May 1979

White dopes on punk

Back in New York and I find myself asking the age-old question: what do you want from life?

To watch a meretricious show pumped full of more costume changes than Liberace had in his entire career.

To enjoy a showroom dummy spectacle as transient as it’s torrid?

To whistle one song on the way home and wake up the next morning totally devoid of musical memory, just the routines, and the high heels, and the big tits, and the chainsaw, and the bondage?

Or. . .

Do ya wanna see some kick-ass rock ’n’ roll with the occasional embellishment to accentuate rather than drown?

Me, I’d rather suck my choc ice while watching the TV Tubes!

Yes, by special request, brought to you at great expense (but not nearly so much as last time -- or the time before that), we have the meticulous, the desultory, the alarming, Tubes.

The San Franciscan sluggers with the neat line in swashbuckle have now become neophytes in the land of three-minute rock. The Tubes ain’t so gross any more. Sure, it was fun while it lasted but they eventually discovered there are more important things to attend to – like making music without the blinding flash of techno-theatre, and like making money. So they’ve stripped the rococo trimmings from their show.

Now, how do I know this? After all, they don’t play their first show of a sell-out British tour until this Friday.

Come with me now to the backstage area of the Palladium in New York City where Fee Waybill pulls me to one side. ‘Hey, do you know a writer called Tim Lott?’

‘Not personally,’ I lie. ‘Why?’

‘Well,’ he says, pounding his right fist onto his left palm, ‘if I ever meet him again I won’t be responsible for my actions.’

‘Why?’ Fee’s a big guy. He looks a little menacing.

‘Because when he did a review of one of our concerts he kept talking about the size of my nose. That’s fucking wrong, man. It’s not fucking relevant. So, you don’t know him?’

‘No.’ My nose nearly grows a foot. Shit, I hope he doesn’t find out in the next two days. Could be a little awkward. Gee, these guys are touchy.

Fee is brimful of nervous energy while watching Squeeze, who are supporting The Tubes, win over yet another bunch of fastidious Yanks. ‘Great band, huh? I love ’em.’ The feeling, I later discover, is mutual. ‘Hope you like our show,’ he says, continuing to boogie to ‘Take Me I’m Yours’.

In the Tubes’ dressing room the rest of the band limber up. Drummer Prairie Prince does a tricky little two-step twinkle around the floor, which percussionist Mingo Lewis paces conservatively. Tension around the huge plastic bins packed full of ice and cans of beer.

Out front, that unmistakable US rock-show smell pervades the air – grass. As pungent as fish and chips, as thick as cold porridge. The audience is curious. They’ve obviously heard of the Tubes’ metamorphosis. Would they still cut it in that old cynical, spectacular style? Or would they now simply be another bunch of rock ’n’ roll rookies looking for somewhere to hang their burnt-out blues?

‘Would you please welcome from San Francisco . . . THE TOOBS!’

The show spells the end of Fee’s alter-ego, Quay Lude, who is finally banished to that great exposed clit in the sky. Oh, it’s still over the top, but the big bucks are missing. The technoflash may have gone, but the rock has really set in complete with a Who encore − ‘Baba O’Reilly’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’.

The show’s an unqualified, unequivocal, underarm success.

Cecil B. DeMille has been replaced by John Cassavetes, but it’s a change that had to happen.

And that’s the point Fee makes in the Tubes’ tour bus the next day on the road to Providence, Rhode Island, the submarine capital of the world. ‘When we started this US tour we were really apprehensive of blowing it in front of the fans who only came to see the Tubes for their theatre as opposed to their music,’ he says -- he always looks so innocent with those big eyes and curly hair. ‘Granted, we amassed an impressive following because of that – but that wasn’t necessarily a following of record-buying fans. Christ, they’d see our show, then go home and build up their movie systems, not buy our albums.

‘We’d been doing the show for four years and we were flat broke. Oh, sure, we’d make thousands of dollars on the road – but that was all spent on the show and providing for thirty people in hotels every fucking night. I got fed up with going home after a tour and having to borrow money from friends. I was killing myself. It was time to change. We had to become the new Tubes. We’d created a monster that just kept getting fatter. We had to kill it.

‘But it’s a lot more than just economics. We’re trying to make a career out of this business. Listen, five years down the line I don’t want to end up playing in a Bonzo Dog Band. They went on for years – lots of people know their routines, but how many remember their songs?’

Not the urban spaceman, baby, that’s for sure.

‘We decided we had to make people listen to the music, not just get off on the million dancing girls, the elaborate sets and the costumes. We wanted to become a kick-ass rock ’n’ roll band. The music had been suffering. Weak songs were being reinforced with extreme visuals. It got to be such a headache, thinking of different scenes to match the songs. I was spending more time on changing my costumes than actually singing.’

The initial dates on the tour were, as Fee put it, ‘murder’.

‘I was dressed in little kid’s clothes, which was supposed to signify how I was brought up on TV and never left the set. But unfortunately nobody understood it. So there we were, changing the format of the show after two concerts.’

That night in Providence, the Tubes play an ice-hockey stadium this time without the Who encore because the Rhode Island doss-heads thought ‘White Punks’ was the final song and left.

Silly puckers.

(Fee left the Tubes in 1985 but rejoined eight years later to tour Europe and release a few, largely unsuccessful, albums. Vince Welnick committed suicide in 2006 and the following year the remaining members of the Tubes reunited in Phoenix for their induction into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. The band are currently on a US tour).

Within five minutes of my getting back home to London the phone rings. It’s Tim. ‘Can you do a phoner for me? I’m double-booked with Iggy Pop.’

Who is it?

‘Your favourite, Billie Jo Spears.’

Throw that blanket on the ground, I think I’m gonna be sick …

By the way, Fee Waybill sends his love. Click.

Next: Ronnie Wood in Chicago

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



Tuesday 3 June 2014

May 1979

Rush hour

I arrive at the Newcastle hotel where Rush are hanging out before their second-night concert at the City Hall.

Outside there are a dozen fans jumping in front of anything on wheels to catch a glimpse of the Canadian capers. They’ve been on ice all day − school’s out and this is dole-queue rock, sonny. This is the punter’s paradise. This is what mitigates their unconditional surrender to the inevitable grey. This is the early pay cheque, the visit to the movies, the undignified grope in the back row.

Rush and their ilk tamper with their dreams. Epic allusions, day excursions to Parnassus (where the nuts come from), huge diaphanous characters battling for Good in a galaxy far, far away.

Rush’s music is an extravagant, electronic enema, complex and facile, gross but with the occasional delectable nuance.

One critic recently condemned the whole operation (and it is nothing less) as fascist. But there’s no attempt to indoctrinate. Rush are simply true purveyors of pomp-and-circumstance heavy metal. Three-piece suites are their forte: some may be a little chewy and difficult to digest, but their music is a glorious overkill. In fact, it’s a two-hour maim.

Alex Lifeson (‘Hey, isn’t that Schencker?’ asks the air steward, peering over my shoulder as I read a Rush review on the flight from Heathrow to Newcastle), with the glittering Gibson solos, Geddy Lee of the stoned-choirboy voice and multifarious moogs, and drummer Neil Peart.

Neil has just ordered a steak, with sherry trifle to follow, in the hotel restaurant a few hours before the concert. ‘It’s really difficult to get trifles on the other side of the Atlantic.’

He’s Rush’s lyricist and was instrumental in changing the band’s direction from a bottom-of-the-heap HM a-go-go band to top-flight spectacle when he joined four years ago. Neil, with the Edwardian moustache and Georgian barnet, came to London from Canada in the early seventies to seek fame and fortune as a musician. After bumming around with a few bands he eventually ended up selling souvenirs in Carnaby Street.

His rock-star ambitions thwarted, Neil returned to Canada and started work with his father, a farm-equipment dealer. He was promoted to parts manager, selling the odd tractor track or combine cog and looked assured of a fairly affluent life in the agricultural world. It was around this time he was approached by Alex and Geddy who were on the lookout for a drummer after the departure of original percussionist John Rutsey.

There then followed a series of albums that showcased Peart’s predilection for the myth, the fantasy, the sci-fi scenario, the magic.

They toured Britain early last year to a tumultuous reception. Their last two albums −
A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres have now gone silver over here and the current tour sold out weeks in advance. Yet their songs have been dismissed as immature and pretentious.

‘That’s ridiculous,’ says Neil. ‘I’ve matured a great deal during my association with Rush and managed to maintain my integrity. I’ve come to understand a whole new aspect of life which I’ve never been able to articulate before.’

Hence the ‘message’ accusations.

‘Okay, maybe there are messages in the songs. I just write about anything that seems important to me. If I have a "pure" idea to express I’ll put it over in grand style to blend in with the structure of the whole thing and to illustrate my point. The songs are specifically aimed at people my own age, twenty-six, and younger.’

Another accusation leveled at Rush is that their songs praise capitalism.

‘To make it clear once and for all, I believe totally in personal freedom. As long as I have the choice I don’t care. I went through the stage when I was interested in politics but now I’m interested in other, more spiritual, things. Our integrity is not for sale, our art is. It costs us a lot − both financially and personally − to produce our music and we deserve a just reward. We are, first and foremost, a hard rock band − and the cornerstone of all hard rock is excitement.’

Neil in a nutshell: he’d like to write a novel if he ever gets the time. He reads voraciously, anything from Agatha Christie to Plato. The Who were the first band he ever really got into. He has a sweetheart and a child back home and he visits them every fourth week during the tour. He never drinks before a gig and smiles when he talks about anything he considers important.

Then I get this headache.

It thumps through the journey to the Newcastle City Hall of the crimson kings, does a Chinese burn on my brain during the support, devours rational thought during Rush’s two-hour set, and totally blinds me in the
apr├Ęs-gig Rush dressing room. As I crunch a clutch of Anadin, I try to convince Geddy Lee that it wasn’t their music that caused it.
Rush leave early and decide to drive through the night to the next concert in Glasgow.

I stagger back to the hotel. No dreams for me that night. No Apollo. No Dionysus. No Xanadu. No mighty oaks or shimmering palaces.

Just a world of pain.

(Rush went from strength to strength in the eighties and nineties but then hit a brick wall in 1997 when Neil’s daughter Selena was killed in a car accident and his wife Jacqueline died of cancer ten months later. Neil took off on a motorbike, rode across America and clocked up 55,000 miles. He remarried in 2000 and the band released a new album,
Vapor Trails, in 2002. The album Snakes & Arrows was released in 2007 and sold 100,000 copies in its first week. The band also embarked on an extensive world tour to promote it. Their last studio album was Clockwork Angels released in 2012. A June 8, 2013 show the band played at the Sweden Rock Festival was their first festival appearance in thirty years. To date, Rush have sold over 40 million records.)

Next: The Tubes in New York

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY



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