Driver 67 is having the time of his life

Thinking about it the other day, it dawned on me that I’m going through a bit of a golden period.

Of course, there are always bloody problems. Stuff doesn’t just happen. First off, you have to get out of bed every morning and put one foot in front of the other. You know what I’m saying, Lucy Joplin? It’s tougher than it sounds, innit?

There’s always another cup of tea to be made. Or maybe you’re compelled to get along to the coffee shop because you need to read a few more pages of your book. And in any case, you haven’t been out of the house for four days.

I can, hand on heart, say that I’ve never fallen into the Jeremy Kyle trap; nor any kind of daytime telly, except for when the Test Match used to be transmitted live by the BBC.

But when the butterfly in my mind flaps its wings, on the other side of the kitchen a piece of bread hits the toaster and the kettle starts boiling.

Still, things do get done. My book on the music industry is nearly finished (with the publishers; doing their thing. Mind you, no predictions from me about publication dates).

I’m also, finally, writing a novel. Again, I wouldn’t hold your breath. It’ll take some time.

And on January 1, 2016, Driver 67 will be 67. So that’s got to be an auspicious year, hasn’t it? I’m waiting for a blocked ear to clear so I can mix my new album, which will be called….

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 15.09.07

On top of all this, for the first time in my life I’ve been asked to sing someone else’s songs. Not that it’s a done deal (I’m auditioning the songs at the moment). But to be asked alone is worth the price of entry. Apparently my ‘crooning style’ could be well suited to the material.

I’ve never thought of myself as a crooner. But quite quickly, after picking myself up off the floor, I realised it’s probably the most accurate description of my singing ‘style’. I’ve never thought of myself as a singer; but I’m happy to think of myself as a crooner!

Just to add to the load, I’m trying to redesign this blog into a magazine. I may not watch Jeremy Kyle, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time trolling around Facebook baiting the loony left (mostly my own family) and giving the anti-Israel lobby a dose of (my) reality.

So I thought, isn’t it time you put all that effort into something of your own? You could be the anti-Huffington Post, the anti-38 Degrees, or, simply, the anti-Christ – because that’s what it feels like when the online world tips its manure on your head.

Of everything I’m doing, the blog redesign is the hardest. I have no trouble writing (Look! I’m doing it now!); and music is a joy, until it becomes work and you have to finish and release.

Usually, with anything online, you just Google your problem and thousands of posts appear telling you how to do what you want to achieve. I’m a bit of a Noddy to Big Ears type when it comes to online building and design. I need all the help I can get. But I invested in Newspaper 6 before I found out that the usual user videos and forums aren’t out there. Nothing like someone who’s faced the same problem posting their solution. But it’s not happening.


So I asked WordPress and BlueHost to point me at some easy to understand advice. And they did. Except, their idea of step-by-step involves you understanding coding and showing you loads of templates that, despite looking exciting and inviting, all end up looking almost exactly like the blog I’ve been posting for nearly two years.

So if anyone out there can lend a hand, just a few Noddy to Big Ears directions will do.

Once I’m up and running I can usually figure it out. But with Newspaper 6 I can barely get out of the starting blocks.

Still, I’m off to Cuba on December 17, back on January 1. Like I said, Driver 67 is having the time of his life.

Now, I haven’t got all day to chat. The toast is burning, and I haven’t even put the kettle on yet.

Meanwhile, being deaf in one ear, I have no new music of my own this week. So – sticking with the crooner theme – I’ll leave you with one of the greatest of all time (Sinatra, of course, being the greatest. But after Frank how many cigarette papers would you put between Crosby, Bennett, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley?).

I was a bit horrified when I heard about the latest Elvis project – overdubbed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

But it settles one argument for ever and a day. Elvis was a truly great singer, blessed with a voice of exceptional quality.

When the black dog barks, there’s always a song to be sung

Have you seen those Facebook posts, urging you to copy and post in friends’ Timelines?


I don’t know how useful this is. But I do know this:

You wouldn’t want to live in my head.

There’s a never-ending conversation going on in there and it simply will not shut up. Sometimes I’ll be reading and the conversation gets louder and louder till it drowns out the words on the page. No wonder I watch so much crap on telly.

And this conversation – it’s deadly serious. What’s wrong with the world, what I would do to put it right, how stupid are the people in charge, and why are none of them fucking listening to me!!!!!?

Are you paying attention?

You’re not, are you? Well, good for you. Not paying attention is surely the answer.

I saw a Facebook post last week that nearly broke my heart. It was from a FB ‘friend’ – we don’t know each other, but we’re connected through a musical network.


A few weeks ago I referred to Lucy as a “stunning young woman of somewhat bonkers demeanor” and left you a video of her performing Not Your Type At All. Watching her apparently total commitment to appearing bonkers, you would never guess that she’d rather have been a world-class ballerina.

I know exactly how Lucy feels. I gave up making music thirty-odd years ago because of frustration at not being as good as the musicians I worked with. I wanted to be Steely Dan; my band practically were Steely Dan. I could not compete, and I was never going to be able to.

It took me thirty years to understand that my gift was my songs, not to play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix, or to sing like Otis Redding.

And then I saw this from Lucy –

and realised we probably had even more in common.

Cheryl Rad’s reply gives the clue: “Lucy what’s all this???”

I think Cheryl sensed, as I did, a red light for danger.

I was in the process of recording a song about mental health. I felt compelled to ask Lucy if I could use her FB posts in the accompanying blog post. I told her I was bipolar. She said she wasn’t. “Common or garden clinical depression is all”.

“Common or garden clinical depression” strikes me as the response of someone who feels the weight of responsibility not to burden friends. So maybe that Facebook meme does have a role to play. Yes, indeed – let’s ‘stop sweeping mental illness under the rug’.

In another post, Lucy listed things ‘I should be doing – reading, writing, dancing, listening to music, singing …..(and lots of other things); what I am doing….sweet FA, losing it’. Others in the grip of depression will recognise that immediately, and only we know that the answer is not as simple as ‘pull yourself together’.

Which brings me back to the song I was recording. It was written by my friend Lon Goddard. As soon as I heard it I knew I had to record it. It really hit the nail on the head about the mess inside my own, even though he was describing the mess inside his.

It’s about getting a handle on yourself. It’s called Handle. Isn’t simple great?

It’s hard to explain the inside of your brain, but there are those of us who prefer a dark room to bright sun. I used to love gloomy winter afternoons. The lights and fires in people’s front rooms were always more inviting and evocative than beaches and palm trees. Mind you, there weren’t many palm trees in Wolverhampton, plus you could never find a beach when you wanted one.

And fog. I bloody loved fog. Stupid environmentalists ruined that. Talk about the law of unintended consequences. What’s a melancholic depressive to do when the air’s so clean fog won’t form?

Well, there’s always a song by another melancholic depressive to cheer you up. It was The Beatles’ Rubber Soul that introduced me to that concept. Norwegian Wood, You Won’t See Me, Nowhere Man, Girl (aah, girl!), In My Life – tailor-made for the less cheerful.

Then came Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. Joni Mitchell filled some of the gaps in between with her tales of vaguely unsatisfactory relationships and a jaundiced view of the world (Both Sides Now). Later, the entire Hejira album fed my soul for years (and still does, when I need it to).

I’m a bit better now. I won’t sit in the sun, but I do like a blue sky and a shiny sun. Just as well. I’m going to Cuba for Christmas.

But, y’know, meds notwithstanding, this thing never really goes away. Which is why, when I heard this lyric from Lon –

Now I need a hole into my brain
What a lot of bullshit I could drain
I could watch it go and let my whole life
Flood out on a plain

– I just knew I had to sing it, record it, put it out there.

So here we go Lucy (and Lucy’s dad Norman who I’ve known, on and off, for nearly fifty bloody years), and anyone else who struggles to get a handle on their life.

But mostly, of course, to Lon Goddard, who saved me from writing my own song by just doing it better than I would have.



A legend is gone; the gentleman editor bows out


Do you remember it?

Revolution in the air. Something In The Air. John and Yoko naked. The Beatles in their pomp, unassailable Kings Of The World. Nixon in the White House. Muhammad Ali out of the ring and in the US courts. Monty Python’s Crunchy Frog and Dead Parrott.

That’s what you call a year, that is.

And at the heart of it, in London, in Carnaby Street, one man – imperturbable, immaculate, a gentleman to his fingertips – held court to pop stars and PRs in the alcohol dens of Soho.

Peter Jones was only the second person I knew to earn more than £100 a week. The first was Derek Taylor, PR to the Beatles. But Peter was fast on Derek’s heels.

Derek managed it by being a supremely talented part of a money-making machine.

Peter Jones managed it by writing, writing and more writing.

When I first met him he was Editor of Record Mirror, one of the four pillars of pop music journalism. There was New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Mirror – not necessarily, and certainly not always, in that order.

Peter would get into the office at some ungodly hour – certainly at or before 8 am. Believe me, in the music industry, that was ridiculous. Before the rest of us turned up and boiled the kettle, Peter had done the equivalent of one of our day’s work.

On the other hand, he would leave the office between 11.30 and noon, and be at his favourite spot at the bar of one of the pubs behind Carnaby Street. There he would be joined by the likes of Alan Clarke and Tony Hicks of the Hollies and other pop royalty, and a succession of supplicants seeking coverage for their clients.

But more important for his heritage, was the family of writers and contributors he built up at Record Mirror. Norman Jopling, whose recently published Shake It Up Baby contains some great Peter Jones stories, quickly spotted – as the newly employed office boy – that Peter Jones was a ‘proper’ journalist, unlike some of his colleagues.

But ‘proper’ was not as important to Peter as knowledge and enthusiasm. He encouraged those with particular tastes: Norman and his obsession with r’n’b; Charlie Gillett (within two years of his journalistic debut in RM, Charlie’s seminal Sound Of The City was published in 1970); James Hamilton, a dj who knew what was filling dance floors; Lon Goddard, an ex-pat American who became the go-to guy for your singer-songwriter updates and much more besides; and Rodney Collins, a radio obsessive whom Peter encouraged, and who built a career in the radio industry from that initial push.

My own experience with Peter was less glorious. When Billboard bought Record Mirror in 1969, I was seconded to RM to help with production, which meant sub-editing the copy and laying out the pages.

The reasoning was sound. As the youngest Music Week employee, I was also the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the current music scene. Unfortunately, having been trained in the disciplines of a business magazine, I was utterly unfit for purpose at a consumer weekly.

Peter was incredibly patient. The worst criticism I heard from him was, “I do find it troubling that no-one here seems to be able to picture a page that might look good to the reader”.

‘No-one’ was me. My secondment lasted a year – which demonstrated inordinate tolerance on Peter’s part.

But there was one incident that slightly altered the balance sheet in my favour. The illustrator Alan Aldridge was causing a stir with his absolutely brilliant psychedelic art. It seemed like a coup to commission him to create the cover for a Record Mirror relaunch.

It arrived late, the day before the magazine was due at the printer. I can’t remember if it was Elvis or Jimi (Lon Goddard will certainly remember).

But it was a rock god, with a guitar and, no question, it was amazing.

Unfortunately, on not-too-close examination, the head of the guitar – the bit where the tuning keys are – revealed itself as the head of an erect penis. The left hand of the guitarist appeared to be masturbating the neck.

It was a fantastic analogy. But even in the revolutionary air of 1969, the senior management at Billboard UK had a panic meltdown. It could not be used.

Lon Goddard and I stayed behind that night, Lon creating a new, non-pornographic artwork, me watching as it took shape, and creating a front page around it. The only cover line I remember writing was ‘Plastic “Oh No! Banned”‘. It wasn’t the classic cover it might have been with the Aldridge drawing, but it saved the day.

I went on my first transatlantic flight with Peter Jones, to Montreal in 1972. I was 23 and very excited. Peter’s sang froid and alcohol intake was breathtaking. He bought me my first drink in a Montreal bar – all dark wood, and low lighting, just like in the films.

We travelled by train from Montreal to Toronto. Such a baby was I, I went to Niagara Falls just so I could look at America across the water. Peter just went to another bar.

Forty years after these events, Record Mirror had a reunion in 2009. I was fortunate to be included. I wasn’t really one of ‘the family’.

But Rex Gomes – the sweetest of men – was coming over from Australia and contacted me. Before we knew it, a full blown get together was taking shape and Lon Goddard planned a trip to London, staying at mine. Photographer Allan Messer, once Dezo Hoffman’s assistant, flew over from Nashville.

Val Mabbs was there, she of the definitive 60s look and innumerable pop star interviews. She kept guard over Peter’s office and became a presence to be reckoned with. And Derek Boltwood, an urbane and witty man who singlehandedly reminded me of the civilised qualities that so enraptured me – an exile from the English Midlands – in my earliest days in London.

Charlie Gillett was there. He never mentioned he was sick, and it was the last time anyone of us saw him.

Most of us gathered again seven months later for Peter’s 80th birthday. That was a more crowded event, including the legendary Clem Cattini, drummer on Telstar, the first US number one by a British group, and Barry Cryer, best man at Peter’s wedding, and lifelong friend.

As you might imagine for a journalist who cut his teeth on 1950s showbusiness, there was barely great star that Peter hadn’t seen.

One day I was burbling away about all my own favourites. “Do you know who was the greatest performer I ever saw live?” he asked me. I thought he was going to say The Beatles; maybe, at a push, Tom Jones, or maybe Judy Garland.

“Billy Fury,” he said, and described in vivid detail the almost supernatural power Billy had over the females in his audience. So here’s a reminder of an underrated star (also, very possibly, Britain’s first pop singer-songwriter).

Thanks, Peter. Enjoy Paradise. You deserve it.

The drug dealer and the crossbow. And the great Wrigley’s heist.

You do some stupid things when you’re young.

Unfortunately, I have no such excuse.

I was probably 30 when the following story happened. It has only a tangential connection to music, in that you do all sorts to feed your creativity – including trying out various illegal substances. I had a short acquaintance with speed, which I found to be a lot of fun, until I realised I wasn’t sleeping for days on end, was talking at about 100 miles an hour, and grinding my teeth to the point of migraine.

Still, any experience in life that produces a good story is worth having (as long as it doesn’t ruin your life). So here goes, with a story I need to tell you up front is absolutely true. Nothing here is made up, or exaggerated.


I’m in my second day of an amphetamine binge and not yet ready to stop. But the supply has run out. So my friend Pat takes me to her dealer’s house, which is in the bowels of Plumstead, South London.

The guy’s front room is like a sweet shop. Literally. All around the room are confectioner’s sweet jars on shelves, full of black pills, blue pills, red pills, yellow pills, all the colours of the rainbow.

The man himself is seated in a Captain’s chair, in the middle of the room, talking very fast. As he talks, he’s spinning around in the chair – talking to us, talking to the wall, talking to us again, now the wall again.

Which is pretty disturbing in itself. But what makes it really scary is that he’s brandishing a crossbow. And it’s loaded. We know it’s loaded, because he’s shown us how it’s done, by doing it. Loaded, ready for action.

“So what’s with the crossbow?” asks Pat, keen to distract him from the mechanics of the trigger. He taps his nose. “A job,” he confides. The ‘job’ requires a weapon, and he’s always fancied owning a crossbow. So the crossbow is his fee for ‘the job’.

Then his head comes up, like he’s emerging from a reverie. “Want some shoes?” he asks, apropos of apparently nothing.

I’m still speeding, but I’m coming down. The combination and the situation is really messing with my head. I don’t know what’s going on. Shoes? What’s that about? I’m still glued to the crossbow – back and forth, up and down.

“Upstairs. Front bedroom,” he says.

I’m losing the plot, but Pat leads me up the stairs, and there in the front bedroom is a mountain of shoes. No bed, of course.

“Back of a lorry,” says Pat. They’re not even in pairs. And they’re all children’s sizes. So she starts hunting for shoes for her two nephews, first finding the style they’ll want, in the size they need. And then searching for the matching shoe. It’s not a short process.

There’s a knock at the front door. No concern of ours. But then there’s a commotion downstairs and the house is plunged into darkness.

Suddenly, it is our concern.

I look over the banister. Our dealer is creeping down the unlit hallway towards the door, crossbow still in hand. “Who’s there?” he rasps, whispering and shouting at the same time.

“It’s me,” comes the answer.

“Who the fuck’s ‘me’?” In the circumstances, it seems a reasonable question.

“Me, you stupid fuck. Open the door, quick.”

Caution to the wind, the dealer opens the door, and a guy rushes in with a pile of boxes, followed by two more guys with more boxes. Back out they go, back in they come with more boxes.

“Just turned over a delivery van,” says one of them. The lights go back on. Now we can see clearly. These desperadoes have turned over a delivery van full of – Wrigleys chewing gum. Boxes and boxes of it. Even in my muddled state, I know this is not the best-planned heist in history.

The dealer is incandescent. Now he has a house full of drugs and children’s footwear. And chewing gum.

Pat’s given up on finding matching shoes. All shoes in the mountain of leather appear to be for left feet. So we go back down, me hoping for a fast getaway, but Pat still remembering we haven’t got what we came for.

The dealer is really agitated. His movements, and his control of the crossbow, are looking even more erratic. He’s shouting at the Great Train Robbers, and they’re shouting back. Something about how it was supposed to be cigarettes. How were they supposed to know it was chewing gum?

I’m standing partially shielded by the door frame, eyes fixed on the crossbow. But Pat marches through, takes one of the sweet jars off its shelf and pours pills straight into her jacket pocket. In the middle of the room, she hands the dealer fifteen quid. He doesn’t question it. “Yeah. Cool.” And then carries on berating the Great Train Robbers. We leave, supply renewed, limbs intact.

Three weeks later a news story in the local paper catches my eye. A car abandoned near Crystal Palace has caught the attention of the police. Having attracted a small blizzard of parking fines, it’s eventually been clamped and finally booked to be removed.

But the removal guy smells something funny. So the police attend. They agree with him. That’s not a normal stale kind of smell. It’s something more pungent and unpleasant.

They force open the boot. Inside they find the body of a man, clearly dead for some time.

And there’s a crossbow bolt between his eyes.

‘Serial starter’ or ‘completer finisher’? Well, yes and no…

Early in 2014 I took on a commission to write a book about the music industry in the 21st century.

I’ve never written a book. Oh, I’ve tried! But as Rachel (mother of the pop star who lives in my house) never tires of telling me, I’m not a completer-finisher.

‘Completer-finisher’ was a term I’d never heard till we got together, and frankly, I wish I never had. Labels, once attached, have a tendency to be self-fulfilling.

When I was a kid, constantly injuring myself (including breaking both my wrists in two separate accidents) my mother told me I was ‘accident prone’. To an eight-year-old that sounded like ‘a thing’. I thought I was doomed to a life of breakages, bruises and bandaging.

This belief was compounded age 11 when I lost the sight in my left eye, playing with swords backstage at the school production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Princess Ida. (This was back in the Irony Age, before Health & Safety was invented).

In due course, I found a cure for ‘accident prone’ syndrome. It wasn’t hard. I just learnt to take care, watch where I was going, and understand my physical limitations.

‘Complete-finisher’ though – that’s harder.

I am a serial ‘starter’. Which is why, currently, there are five musical projects sitting on my hard drive in various states of undress.

Some are fully clothed, ready to hit the town. Others are virtually naked. Others still look slightly foolish in socks and underpants, unable to decide on smart-casual, or the fully suited and booted look.

When I say ‘project’, I mean album. So, five albums – that’s 60 tracks or more. Ask me why I don’t finish one track before starting another. Go on. I dare you.

I imagine most songwriters think, as I do, that the song they are currently writing is among the best they’ve ever written. Which is fine if you’re in a band, or have a record deal and can get in a studio with a producer and other musicians. You can go in the studio tomorrow and fully realise your song in two or three hours.

But if you’re me, you have to write them, record them, add all the instruments yourself, produce it, arrange it, engineer it and mix it. After a while the process gets in the way. Another song comes along, fresh as a daisy, so you hop on for the ride.

And that, my friends, is how you end up with 60-odd songs at various stages of development. Don’t give me ‘completer-finisher’.

And in any case, I finished the book. Yes I did. It’s now with the designer and in a week or so I’ll be reading the finished proofs from beginning to end, and then it will be let loose on unsuspecting teenagers with £6.99 to spare and a smartphone or tablet on which to download it.

My ‘book’ (which will be an App) might end up being the Brief History Of Time for wannabe music stars. We all bought Brief History, didn’t we? Nine million of us. But did we read it? No, we did not. Well, a few did, and came out none the wiser.

At least The Music Business is easy to read. Its ‘big bang’ (the invention of the phonograph) is not quite as complex as the beginning of the universe. And there are no black holes to explain (well, except, where did the artists’ money go?).

But would I care if even one million people buy it and no-one reads it?

There’s a lot of crap spouted about the music industry. And if you have the energy to go and check the ‘facts’ as reported by the media, you’ll find the internet an absolute cauldron of spite, inaccuracy, debt-settling and bungle-headed opinions.

I’ve spent 16 months reading and discarding this rubbish on your behalf. I’ve distilled 200 years of history and millions of internet words of advice into a book of somewhere between 80-100,000 words. (Yes, I lost count. So shoot me.)

I talked to people in the industry, some of whom were incredibly nice, and incredibly helpful. Others were mealy-mouthed and miserable. But all their wisdom, separated from their dross, is in there.

I suffered all this for you – well, you and the other 990,000 people I hope will buy it. So, funnily enough, yes – I do care if no-one reads it. I feel a bit like comedian Flip Wilson, who would finish his act by explaining to the audience why he’d like some applause; “a big hand”.

As he put it: “Damn right, I want a big hand. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr want a big hand, and $10,000 a night too. All I want is a little old jive big hand.”

And while we wait for that big hand, life slowly returns to what passes for ‘normal’ in my world. Hopefully, for instance, this blog may pick up pace again. And if I can stifle my natural instincts, perhaps I’ll work on one song at a time, till I’ve finished each project.

But am I going to become the consummate ‘completer-finisher’? Hmm. Sorry, Rachel. I seriously doubt it.


The Summer Before The Summer Of Love

Anytime I like, I can close my eyes and transport myself back to the summer of 1966.

The sun is shining and pop is becoming sublime.

Monday Monday, Summer In The City, Sunshine Superman, Paperback Writer, Good Vibrations, Revolver, Pet Sounds – it’s easily the best summer for pop music to date. Possibly ever.

It’s the summer of me, John O’Sullivan, Jenny Cropper and Jenny’s cousin.

John is moping about the cousin. Jenny is moping about John. I’m moping about Jenny.

The cousin isn’t bothered either way.

Talk about (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

Still, aged 17, everything points to a future of magic, hope and optimism. The next few years were not to disappoint.

Talking about 1966 and classic songwriters, Michael Brown is not a name that would spring to many people’s minds. But he did write one stone cold classic. He was 16 when he wrote Walk Away Renee with two of his bandmates in The Left Banke. It made number 3 in the UK charts, number 14 in America.

It was a nice record, but not a great one.

Given where pop was by 1966, Left Banke were slightly behind the curve. The singing is rigid and uncertain and the production and arrangement are over-elaborate. They’re trying too hard. Phil Spector or George Martin would have sorted it, although they might have struggled with Michael Brown’s vocals.

But George and Phil didn’t get the gig. It fell to Motown’s top production team – Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier – to reveal the true greatness of the song when The Four Tops recorded Walk Away Renee for their phenomenal Reach Out album.

This was an album that included 7 Rooms of Gloom, If I Were A Carpenter, Standing In The Shadows Of Love and Bernadette. Any song would have its work cut out to shine in this company. But Walk Away Renee fearlessly followed the smash hit opener, Reach Out I’ll Be There, and did the job so brilliantly it became a pop standard.

At number 220 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, it sits just above Walk On The Wild Side, Pretty Woman, Dance To The Music and Good Times.

So Michael Brown has his own little corner of pop eternity.

He died earlier this week. In keeping with the pop fraternity’s efforts not to live into old age and become a burden on society, he was only 65.

In the last month alone Lesley Gore (68), Andy Fraser, bass player with Free (62), Chris Rainbow (68) and Steve Strange (55) have all done their bit to reduce our burden.

I was saddest about Chris Rainbow. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Chris and my music partner Pete Zorn did a lot of work together. They would frequently end up back at my sister’s in Gipsy Hill for mind altering substances and the best cheesecake on the planet.

Chris spent the last years of his life on the Isle Of Skye.

After I chose Denis Blackham to master my 2012 album, Now That’s What I Call Divorce!!!, it turned out Denis was also living on Skye. (Skye Mastering. Duh!). It stood to reason he would know Chris.

Sadly, he told me, Chris was suffering from dementia. He also had Parkinson’s Disease.

Remembering a young man who had scared the pants off me driving around London in his Rover 2000 (once was enough) and – despite a debilitating stammer – could have you laughing into the early hours of the morning, it seemed a terrible end.

No worse than for anyone else who suffered similarly, I’m sure. But Chris Rainbow was preternaturally talented, and it’s a cruel God who doesn’t allow full rein to such gifts.

Back to that summer of 1966. As it drew to a close, I was on my way to London in a black Humber Hawk estate (‘the hearse’ my mother called it). On the radio Satisfaction was still being played, and Monday Monday.

Listening to music cocooned in a big car was a much better way to experience it than on our Dansette player back home. Everything was enhanced. Most of all from that four hour journey I remember Lee Dorsey’s Working In The Coalmine.

Obsessed as I was with The Beatles, I was unaware that r’n’b and soul music had crept up on me. Hearing Lee Dorsey as if I was inside a hi fi speaker suddenly coalesced my taste for something different – the rougher, tougher descendants of the blues.

As the summer before the summer of love turned into the actual Summer Of Love, you would find me dancing myself dizzy at parties all over London to Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music.

I didn’t need a dance partner. Didn’t want one. I was in what was then the greatest city in the world, at the best time it was possible to be there. I was 18, and I was a dancing fool. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin, Carla Thomas, Booker T – oh my goodness, were there ever such riches? It’s a wonder Sgt Pepper got a look in.

And the fun didn’t really stop until round about the mid-70s, when the beginning of years of social unrest revealed the fine line that separates civilisation from our more primitive selves.

But even the three day week and the winter of discontent couldn’t take away those memories of 1966.

And, for me at least, there’ll never be another summer like the summer before the summer of love.

Hard to find decent video for Walk Away Renee from that time, but you should watch at least the first 30 seconds of this, if only to see how hard the stylists and the cameraman have worked to make Michael Brown look like Paul McCartney (15 seconds in).

And this will hopefully take you to Spotify for a pristine Four Tops.

Walk Away Renee – Single Version (Mono) – Four Tops

Cool? Or uncool? Oh, away with ye and get a life.

Do we really listen to certain music because we think the band or the singer is ‘cool’? I do hope not.

We certainly weren’t giving the matter any thought at as we luxuriated in the riches of 60s pop that rained down on us after the success of Love Me Do and Please Please Me.

The whole ‘were you Beatles or were you Stones’ question was a post-rationalisation by NME writers more interested in their own philosophical musings than the music itself.

I was 13 when I heard Love Me Do, 14 when Please Please Me was released three months later.

It was a momentous time for me. Between the release of those two records, just before my fourteenth birthday,  my mother had given my sister and I a carrier bag each – containing underwear and pyjamas – and told us to go to a friend’s house down the road.

And that was the last we saw of the house we had lived in for seven years with a stepfather who had beaten and bullied us. We had been, largely, cowed into submission.

But in my fourteenth year, I had grown five inches and with increased height had come physical strength. I used the height and the strength to fight back. Oddly, it was that – me fighting back – that made my mother decide it was time to go.

Three days later, pathetic carrier bags in hand – all we had left of our previous lives – we were back at my grandfather’s house, where we had lived for six years prior to this disastrous marriage.

Back to me sharing a bed with Uncle Jack; back to one tap, cold water only, in the scullery; back to the toilet out in the back yard; back to bare floorboards and such cold that ice would form on the inside of the windows.

Do you remember that winter? January 1963 was the coldest of the 20th century; the coldest recorded for 150 years. But I was comfortable with my background and the emergence of The Beatles – touted at first as working class lads from Liverpool – could not have been better timed.

These four guys were like me. If they could do it, so could I.

Love Me Do shone through the dross of pretty young Americans called Frankie and Bobby and Ricky.

Mind you, the name – Beatles; that sounded stupid. But, you know, we got used to it.

And then, as the snow took hold and yesterday’s Daily Sketch made do as toilet paper in the iced up backyard loo, Please Please Me came out like the sun.

But even that was eclipsed nine weeks later by the first album.

The Please Please Me album was a revelation. Now we began to realise – these guys are writing their own songs!

But they were also covering songs by people we’d never heard of.

There was the sophistication of Arthur Alexander’s Anna (my personal favourite), the sweet pop soul of Baby It’s You (part-written by Burt Bacharach), the throat-tearing excitement of Twist And Shout (a Motown classic before we knew about Motown).

And standing alongside these ‘professional songs’ were the McCartney-Lennon songs – every bit as good, making excuses to no-one.

And by the way, if you think I got that wrong, check out the back cover of the album sleeve. McCartney-Lennon was the order and stayed so until She Loves You (where it reverted to Lennon-McCartney, as it had been on Love Me Do).

We were now in a different world, and things started moving at a speed that only 14-year-olds could keep up with. In the middle of 1963, along came The Rolling Stones.

Their cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On didn’t sound like a cover (we barely knew who Chuck Berry was at the time; we found out pretty fast); Come On sounded like The Beatles on speed (we didn’t know what speed was……etc).

Which was not altogether a bad thing, because their follow up single was a Lennon-McCartney cover. Jagger and Richards were in the room and watched John and Paul ‘knock out’ I Wanna Be Your Man in 15 minutes. That, and a lot of pressure from their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, persuaded the two Stones they should give this songwriting lark a crack.

Their first attempt was As Tears Go By, a top 10 hit for Marianne Faithfull in June 1964. The Stones themselves took another seven months to ‘dare’ (according to Keith Richards) to release one of their own songs as a single. The Last Time made the top spot, and even cracked the US top 10 for them.

But look at the speed of all this. Between October 1962 and February 1965 – 29 months – the world had been stood on its head. Apart from The Beatles and The Stones, we had The Hollies, Billy J Kramer, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, Gerry & The Pacemakers.

Not to mention Bob Dylan.

I was studying Grade 7 piano. I refused to attend any more lessons. I told my mother I wanted a guitar. In early 1964, having learned to play three chords in three different keys, I formed my first band.

So do you think, honestly, we had time to sit around asking ourselves, “Is this cool?”

It just was. Bloody cool. And it kept getting cooler. We weren’t bothered whether The Stones were cooler than The Beatles; whether we should be listening to Sandie Shaw; whether Freddie & The Dreamers were just bloody embarrassing.

We understood quality though. We knew Dusty Springfield was a touch above. And we understood that sooner or later we would have to take Bob Dylan seriously. And that it was all over for Elvis.

But we also knew, and you can’t post-rationalise this, that The Beatles were the vanguard, the leaders and the high water mark.

They went from Beatles For Sale to Rubber Soul to Revolver in barely 18 months. They went from Love Me Do to Tomorrow Never Knows in three and a half years.

Now that is cool.

But it doesn’t take anything away from The Stones, who made live their arena. After following The Beatles down the road to psychedelia – a blind alley for The Stones – they put their heads back on straight, recorded Beggar’s Banquet and slowly established themselves as the world’s biggest concert draw. They also, during the next ten years, recorded seven albums replete with stadium anthems that have kept them going for another 40 years.

Which is also cool.

So – all I’m saying – don’t ask again. We didn’t have to take sides. It was all just bloody wonderful. And it still is.

And if you don’t believe me, believe this – Mick Jagger less than a year from his 70th birthday; The Stones celebrating 50 years, and still delivering.

Twelve Months of Wonderful Things

It’s a year since I launched this blog, and this is my 50th post.

I’ve written about The Beatles, Mott The Hoople, Scott Walker, The Wombles, Driver 67 (of course!), Yewtree’s investigations and Simon Cowell.

And which post got the most readers?

I’d give you 50 guesses and you’d finally get there.

Wonderful thing No 1: Kokomo – they were the subject of my most read post. A band most people have never heard of.

Those who have, though, are passionately devoted. As am I. So it was wonderful to get a rush of attention for writing about artists who have never hit the charts, or sold a million.

And it didn’t happen just the once. When, a few weeks later, I recounted an incident that ended with several of the band in A&E, the numbers peaked again. Maybe I should just start a Kokomo blog!

Wonderful thing No 2: Because I wrote about Kokomo, Nick Hornby read my blog. Say no more.

Wonderful thing No 3: If this blog says anything about me, it’s that I have half a foot in the past, but most of me is in the present. Using computer technology and social media to create and promote my own new songs caught the eye of a book publisher.

He wanted a book which would guide young music hopefuls through the maze of the digital age.

So I was commissioned to write that book. Nearly done. Out by Spring, we hope.

Wonderful thing No 4: In my fifth post, I wrote about being backstage at a Bob Dylan concert in 1978 with my friend Heather.

Completely coincidentally – nothing to do with the blog – she contacted me last week. We hadn’t heard from each other for almost 35 years.

She asked if I remembered her. The usual response is, “Of course I do!” whilst searching your mind for some clue. But I was able to point Heather back to my post last February, and there she was.

We’ve since been reminding each other of escapades we got up to, including leaving the fabled Wembley ELO spaceship gig after just two songs. We weren’t much for the grandiose, Heather and I. Although we did go to a party Barry Manilow threw for Bette Midler. That doesn’t count as grandiose, does it?

Wonderful thing No 5: I was invited to join the Illuminati. Yes! I was!

And what had earned me this privilege? Last September I wrote about the ‘Paul Is Dead‘ conspiracy and talked about the current online obsession with the Illuminati.

I had an offer from to get (notice that: ‘get’) $2,500 every three days, and $1,000,000 ‘membership blessing for doing what you love to do best’.

“Change your life for the better, We holds the world.”

Those mistakes are not mine – that is verbatim how the invitation was put. I don’t care how much money is involved. Where grammar and punctuation are concerned, you can’t buy me.

Wonderful thing No 6: In November last year, I wrote about mental health. It was a slightly nervous post – not the happiest of things to admit to, being bipolar, or to talk about.

But the post attracted attention from outside the music sphere, and ended up in my Top 10 posts of the year. That’s pretty wonderful, don’t you think?

Wonderful thing No 7: One of my (very small) band of Twitter followers, @maxkelp tweeted “You are responsible for the Beta Band. Thank you.”

I was baffled. I had never heard of The Beta Band. I had certainly never imagined a one hit wonder inspiring anyone. So I took his ‘Thank you’ to mean, ‘You git’.

I replied: “Sounds like you don’t think that’s a good thing!”

And he replied: “No, they’re good, but they sound like you.”

So of course, I had to check them out. Seems the main guys would have been at primary school when Car 67 was a hit. So I guess it’s possible that Driver 67 became part of their cultural subconscious.

But I’m not claiming it. They remind me more of The Grease Band or Black Rebel Motorcyle Club, and I suggest if you like your music more on the acoustic and interesting side, The Beta Band is well worth a YouTube visit.

Wonderful thing No 8: Did I mention – Nick Hornby read my blog?

Wonderful thing No 9: I sent a box of 40-year-old tapes off to be digitised and received back a treasure trove of memories. Sessions I’d produced in some amazing studios: Apple, Air, CBS (mostly CBS, to be fair – I did work for the company!), Olympic.

As a result, I wrote my Kokomo post, wrote about South African Tony Bird, and about some completely bonkers sessions I did with crooner Vince Hill. Sadly, I haven’t heard from Vince, but Tony called me from New York and we talked for over an hour.

I have to say again, if the wind had been in the right direction, you would not now be needing me to tell you that Tony Bird is one of the greats.

Wonderful thing No 10: A couple of weeks ago, comedian Tim Vine Tweeted: “Hey who likes Car 67 by Driver 67?”

I love Time Vine (my favourite line: ‘Velcro. What a rip off!’). I like him even better now.

His Tweet resulted in a sequence of tweets mostly consisting of lines from Car 67. Even for an old cynic like me, that was heartwarming.

Wonderful thing No 11: In May last year, I wrote about my friend John Howard, and how the powers that be at Radio 1 deliberately stifled his career in the mid-70s.

I put up a video of John singing My Beautiful Days. It describes a trajectory where today, if you’re attractive enough, being camp is a career move (think Graham Norton, Rufus Wainwright).

But back then, his handlers were trying to make him more ‘butch’. My Beautiful Days is a very affecting song. I’ve seen people reduced to tears by it.

One Very Famous Person emailed me to thank me for introducing him to the song, which he had duly downloaded from iTunes. “What a should-be classic!” is how he put it.

Wonderful thing No 12: The Driver 67 catalogue (all 21 songs!) was reissued (online only) – after 35 years languishing in the vaults – by Cherry Red Records.

This year, I will release the follow up (!) album, called The Return Journey. This old cab still has some fuel in the tank.

I’m going to indulge myself here (it is the blog’s birthday!) and show you a performance by Lisa Hannigan, whose videos kept popping up while I looked for The Beta Band.

Lisa achieved some prominence as part of Damien Rice’s band. But solo, she is a revelation. Not since Joe Cocker have I seen anyone whose movements and facial expressions suggest such total immersion in the music. Except in Lisa’s case, it’s sexy. (Sorry, Joe).





How do you solve a problem like Maria? And other musical family matters

What do you suppose it feels like to be the runt of the litter in a family of super-talented people?

Well, I’ll tell you. Because I am that runt.

I’ll start at the beginning, which is when I met my dad.


I met my dad when I was fourteen. He and my mom had split up when I was about 15 months old. She took my sister and me back from London to her home town, Wolverhampton. I never saw him again till I was a teenager.

Anyway, in my milieu in Wolverhampton, I was pretty hot stuff musically. Aged 8, I’d won first in class in my first competition at the Wolverhampton Music Festival.

Later, having achieved a distinction in my Royal Academy Grade 5 exam, and a credit at Grade 6, I was two grades away from a home run.

And then I went to London to meet my dad. Of course, I had to play for him. I can’t remember what I played, but what I do remember is that when I’d finished, he came over to the piano and said: “Have you thought of trying it like this?”

He sat down next to me on the piano seat and proceeded to deconstruct my whole view of what a musician should be. It was the best piano-playing I had ever personally witnessed. I was mesmerised. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Families, eh? Nobody had told me. The man was unbelievable. He knew the entire Great American Songbook, with chords even Cole Porter hadn’t thought to use.

And he could boogie woogie like nobody’s business. To this day people say to me, “Come on, you must like Jools Holland!”, and I say, “You never heard my dad”.

When I got back home to Wolverhampton, I refused to attend any more piano lessons, and insisted my mom buy me a guitar. Within three months, Beethoven, Mozart and the piano were forgotten. I could play the three guitar chords required to form a group and rip up the Milano Coffee Bar in Queen Street.

I might now be only the second best musician in my family, but the flame still burned.

Fast forward a few years, and on a train from Dublin to Killarney I meet an American named Pete Zorn. He’s just been signed to a record deal, and we hit it off famously. Then he meets my sister, and they hit it off even better, so they get married.

Now I’m the third most musically talented person in my family. But there’s a long way to go yet.

Because then it turns out that my brother, Dudley, instead of studying at university, has been sitting in his lodgings playing bass all day. He’s been doing this for some time. He is, in fact, the embodiment of the 10,000 hour rule. If you don’t know it, it’s a theory that says the people who are best at anything (music, writing, computers, sport) have put in a minimum 10,000 hours of practice before they break through.

Dudley, the little bastard, had put in his 10,000 hours and then some. Not only is he a brilliant bass player – you might have seen him here and there with the likes of Mark Knopfler – but his understanding of jazz and harmony is such that he lectures at the Guildhall in London, and other places around the country. He plays the piano better than I do, and he’s a bloody bass player!

So by the time I’m 30 (Dudley’s 12 years younger) I’m now the fourth most talented person in my family.

And we’re not talking slim margins here. We’re talking aeons. We’re talking the difference between you running the 100 metres, and then finding yourself in a race with Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis and Donovan Bailey.

Still, we’re not done yet. Because I made the mistake of bequeathing a bunch of instruments, the makings of a primitive recording studio and 30-odd years worth of vinyl albums to my then 16-year-old son. And how did he show his gratitude? You guessed it – by becoming a better musician and a better songwriter than me by a factor of, ooh, about 20.

He worked his way so quickly through my albums that by the time he was 18 he had put away childish things and was ingesting Steely Dan and Frank Zappa like they were his mother’s milk.

Now I love Steely Dan, but frankly they’re in a different league musically and it’s beyond my ken. Still, I know the songs, and can even dance to some of them.

Frank Zappa on the other hand – well, nice bloke and all, but some of his music is so complex it makes my head hurt. I’ve certainly never found myself tapping my foot and humming along.

Not my son, though. Somehow or other, Noel decided to teach himself composition and harmony. Next thing I know he’s leading a band of pretty amazing players and he is the Frank Zappa figure, the master of ceremonies, the writer, the arranger, the almost virtuoso keyboard player. It’s stunning. A revelation.

Worse than that, I’m now the fifth most talented person in my family, and in terms of the 100 metres race, it’s all over before I’m out of the starting blocks.

And believe me, it’s not going to get any better. Two of my grandsons are already showing promise – one as a drummer, the other as a guitarist. And one of my granddaughters is already ‘making up’ her own songs which, while they’re never going to get played on Radio 2, would certainly make the nether regions of weirdness on Radio 6. She’s 8.

There are moments when I’ve just wanted to give up. In fact I did give up, for about 30 years. But I can always cheer myself up by reminding myself, “You’re the one who made the Top 10, you’re the one who sold half a million singles, you’re the one who appeared on Top Of The Pops.”

And then there are the moments like the time Noel, then in his mid-20s, played me a song he’d written and recorded called Maria. At first, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. And then about one minute in there’s a moment that just overwhelmed me, and the tears started.

Sometimes, being the runt of the litter has its advantages…

So here’s Noel’s 20-year-old demo of a song I believe would by now be a stone classic if he’d ever signed a deal and recorded it.


Lazy-assed Driver overtakes himself

I consider myself a lazy person, on the basis that I could always have done more.

At the very least, I’m easily distracted by visual, aural or olfactory stimuli. However peripheral the distraction, I’m on it like a snake on a rabbit.

So it’s quite a surprise to look back at 2014 and find that I’ve not only written a book – 65,000 words and counting – but that this is my 46th blog, which accounts for another 50,000 words. Well over 100,000 in the year.

In addition, I’ve written and recorded eight new songs and two instrumental pieces that I hope to release as an album in the Spring.

If I wasn’t so lazy and easily distracted, I might have had the time to achieve my wildest ambition – to run the country (kidding!).

Since that’s never going to happen, I’ve constructed a new website from which, in the run-up to the May general election, I hope to sell some reasonably amusing political slogans on t-shirts.

Oh yes, that’s something else I’ve been working on: the political t-shirt website.

Actually, now I look at my 2014 in the round, it’s making me feel tired. I think I’ll go and have a lie down.

But before I do, I’d like to ask you to have a listen to my last track of the year. Return Journey is named for this blog and for all the wonderful people who have paid it even the slightest attention since it launched just under eleven months ago.

It really has felt like a return of sorts.

I said back in February that I had spent decades trying to hide from the spectre of one-hit-wonderdom. Having finally given in and owned my cab-driving alter-ego, I have discovered a whole world of appreciation.

Most of all, I’ve realised I had nothing to be embarrassed about in the first place. The most recent comment I’ve had is from Benjamin Lee Matthews who says he’s a “70s-born 80s child”. He recently downloaded the Driver 67 album, Hey Mister Record Man, and has “just discovered The Secret. What a fabulous song. Why didn’t this become a million seller?”

Well, Benjamin, I wish I could tell you, but I don’t know. That’s the thing about music and the music industry – you never can tell. But I can tell you this: the sort of feeling you get from being told, out of the blue, that something you did 30-odd years ago still gives pleasure cannot be bought.

So thank you, Benjamin.

An equally warm feeling is to hear that something you’ve done recently has hit the spot. Malcolm Coles wrote, back on December 12, that he “can’t get enough of More Like That” which is from my 2012 album, Now That’s What I Call Divorce!!!

Malcolm, thank you.

So, here’s Return Journey, my last track of 2014. It’s an instrumental. Stylistically, it’s what used to be called ‘chill’ music. Pour yourself a gin and tonic, relax and give yourself over to the atmosphere.

I’d really love to hear, from anyone who has the time, what story appears in your head as you listen. It will be your story, not mine, and I would love to know what the track conjures up for you.

Meanwhile, let’s look forward to 2015.

Apart from anything else, the election promises to be gripping. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Scottish Nationalist Party ran enough candidates for Westminster that they ended up holding the balance of power in a new coalition?

I speculated about that on Facebook during the week following the Scottish Independence Referendum, and I still don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of possibility. We do live in interesting times.

Bon voyage!