Brian Presley here. My brother’s famous.

Did I not tell you about The Brians? Really? Well, let’s put that right, right now.

Mind you, I’m not making any promises. You probably had to be there. But it ranks as one of the maddest and funniest experiences I ever had making music.

It started with a phone call. My friend John Williams needed help. “Help!” he said. He was in Matrix Studios, where Driver 67 had recorded all of his hit. Oh, and his album.

“Working on a track here,” said John. “Struggling a bit. Could you and Pete pop by and lend a hand?” So I called Pete Zorn, and off we went.

John explained he had two problems. Actually he had three, but we didn’t find out about the third one till much later on. (And the third problem had problems of its own).

Problem one: the track had to be delivered to the record company, mastered and ready, at 9am the following morning.

Problem two: he just couldn’t seem to pull all the disparate parts together to make a coherent record.

So we had a listen. Well, Pete and I, we laughed like drains. This was a seriously funny concept, and mostly brilliantly executed.

The Brians are made up of the unknown brothers of big and famous stars. There’s Brian Brando, Brian Travolta, Brian Presley and Brian Costello. You’ve never heard of them, naturally.

The song, written by John Williams and his flatmate Anthony Pryce, was a series of rants about how ungrateful the famous brothers were. “My brother Frank, he did it his way. But none of the cash came my way!”

The vocals had been done by the engineer, Simon Heyworth – he of Tubular Bells and Car 67 (and the guide to the Driver’s Last Guided Tour. Versatile chap, young Simon).

It didn’t seem such a big deal. Mix the track, have some dinner, go home. We’d done it 1,000 times. But, when we started listening, really listening, and pulling up different instruments, the problems began to manifest themselves.

To cut a long story short (because there’s a much better one to follow) we eventually focused on the guitar as the problem. So we got the guitarist back in and re-recorded his parts. Since he was imitating all sorts of iconic players (Hendrix, Harrison, Clapton, Richards) it required a tour de force. But he was more than up to the task and we got what we needed.

Hours later, Pete and I thought we had it pretty much fixed and the stress levels were descending. John Williams even took a nap on the studio sofa. At 3am, we shook him awake to have a listen.

“That’s great,” he said. “Now, what about the B-side?”

Which was problem number three. Well, three, four and five. First of all, there was no B-side. There wasn’t even a song to go on the B-side.

But – and here’s where you kinda had to be there – the song that hadn’t been written or recorded did have a title.

And the title had already been printed on the labels.

And the master for the B-side also had to be delivered at 9am, with the A-side.

So, five hours to write, record, mix and master. No dinner. No sleep. Definitely no going home.

And so it was, at 3.30 in the morning, that Pete Zorn started scouring Matrix Studios for any spare instruments, while I sat at the piano trying to write a song – a song whose title had to be “Brian’s Sister’s Sue“, because ….. that was the title already printed on the label!

Now I don’t want to make a fuss, or claim that songwriting is a mystical art that requires some form of alchemy. But, honestly, the last place to start is with a title. And what kind of title is “Brian’s Sister’s Sue“? It’s a bit too precise in its punctuation to leave much room for poetic licence.

This was my first verse:

“My sister’s name is Sue, and I’ll tell you what I’d do, if I was you, I’d stay away from Sue. She’s a mean kind of mother. She’ll make a mess out of you”.

By the time I came up with that gem, Pete had found a rusty old Fender in a cupboard under the stairs. The strings were about fit for building a chicken coop. He also found a bass drum and a cymbal.

As he set it all up, he listened to my first verse and delivered one of his own:

“She drinks her own bathwater through a dirty straw and as sure as my name is Brian, I swear she ought to be against the law.”

Honestly, I don’t know how we did it for laughing. The very long day had definitely been chemically enhanced and by 6am it was all getting a little hysterical. Simon Heyworth, true pro that he was, foreswore anything but coffee, and kept the show on the road.

Of course, he had to learn the song, and sing it. Vocalist on the A-side; vocalist on the B-side – no getting away from it. He delivers it perfectly seriously and with some fabulous little emphases that rescue some dire lyrics.

But the funniest thing on the track, for my money, is Pete Zorn’s guitar solo. It is beyond wild and crazy. It’s the kind of thing Captain Beefheart would have given his right hand for; but Pete just did it. I can’t help it. Every time I hear it, I burst out laughing at the sheer balls of it. It’s so bad it’s brilliant.

And there we were, 9am the following morning, frazzled and hysterical (well, I was anyway) and in walks this perfectly coiffed and tailored woman, just to remind us that most people had had a night’s sleep, and were at the beginning of a new day.

She was Carol Wilson, the boss of the label this masterpiece was to be released on. We handed her the tapes, and we shot the breeze. I got the impression she was a bit surprised that it was all done and dusted, but she didn’t actually say so. She was perfectly lovely, and perfectly professional. Our paths crossed twice again, years later, nothing to do with music. She’s a big shot in the world of Professional Coaching now.

We ended up on TV, y’know, The Brians. We don’t have the clip (it’s not on YouTube). But I have ITV searching for it as we speak. My friends in the FB group Popscene tracked it down. (Thank you, guys). It’s catalogued, and it’s officially available. If I get my hands on it, you’ll be the first to know!

There’s a last little irony to this story. John Peel, in his eternal search for the bizarre and ridiculous, played the Brians. But he didn’t play the A-side. Well, he wouldn’t, would he? He was John Peel.

But I can say that the maddest song I ever wrote, accompanied by my most hackneyed piano playing, is the only track I’ve ever been associated with that was played on the John Peel Show.

Brian’s sister Sue achieved at least that much immortality.

 

 

 

 

John and Paul, a new record, 40 years on!

Sorry … what?

Oh don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s not.

No, it’s me and John Howard.

John wrote a fabulous song called The Time Of Day, which I’ve now recorded, with John adding backing vocals and harmonies. How Fabs is that?

This is what happened.

Five years ago I was in the throes of depression – divorced, but stuck with my ex-wife in a house that refused to sell.

I had just celebrated (!) my 60th birthday and it was very clear that once the house sold, I would be all but broke.

Always one to like sharing life, it occurred to me that I may spend the rest of mine alone. Who would be interested in a broke, overweight 60-year-old with no work, and no prospects of any?

And then John Howard sent me his album, As I Was Saying. As I listened, alone in my garrett (well, the top of the house, which I had colonised), this lyric poked through:

“Who in his right mind would give the time of day
To a man, no longer young, the space to stand and say: 
I am young in my heart, I am young in my heart.
Though some days I look much older than I feel.”

Well, you can imagine, can’t you?

I had tentatively started writing and recording again after 30 years, and this just seemed like a gift. There was no question I was going to record it.

First of all, let me say that John Howard is a proper musician. He plays the piano as if it is his orchestra. And he has a particularly expressive and emotive voice. He also happens to be gay.

But for him, Time Of Day had nothing to do with sexuality or even romance. It is “an introspective song to oneself about the process of getting older physically”.

When I heard it, the word ‘his’ immediately transposed to ‘her’ and it became a song about how no-one in their right mind would take me on at this stage of my life.

Which provides an opportunity to demonstrate for you the influence a producer can have on a song.

I’m not saying it’s a good influence, or that I haven’t ruined a perfectly beautiful song. But it is a perfect – as the Americans say – case in point.

John’s own version is a slow, elegiac lament, accompanied by a wonderfully controlled piano arrangement. I have no doubt many will prefer it to mine.

There was no point me trying to match John’s style. I don’t play like he does, and I don’t have the voice or the technique to carry off his soulful balladeering.

So I thought, I wonder how this would sound if it was covered by an indie band?

And that’s what I did. Built it up from an indie drumbeat and a non-stop eight-to-the-bar bass, some jangling acoustics and a lead guitar.

But when he heard it, John immediately wanted to put “a big backing vocal wodge of harmonies coming in and out”. Eventually, we got round to that, and it changed my version all over again. We are a pair of Beatle nuts, and his contribution introduced that element.

It took me quite a while to remix and incorporate John’s harmonies. In the end, I had to let go of the ‘indie’ idea, and go with what I was working with. After all, a Driver 67 track, featuring John Howard – irresistible. It’s forty years since we last recorded together. There’s a perfect symmetry to it.

So here it is – my version, then John’s (although you can listen any way round you want). Decide for yourself (it’s not a competition!). I still prefer John’s. It’s a stunning rendition of a beautiful song.

But I’m glad I recorded my version, which I hope to include on a new album to be released later this year.

Well, I didn’t wake up this morning….How the blues gave me the blues

It’s one of my favourite music jokes – the shortest blues ever.

You may not be amused, because you’re not familiar with the genre. So let me completely ruin the joke…

No, no. Not ruin it. I’ll deconstruct it. That sounds more, I dunno, Radio 4.

Many, many blues songs open with the line, “I woke up this morning” or something similar. There follows a litany of miseries the like of which would fell a tree.

But if your first line is, “Well, I didn’t wake up this morning….” there’s nowhere to go.

Which always makes me chuckle.

Unfortunately, and generally speaking, a cul de sac opening line would more often than not be a blessing these days. Because, good Lord!, there’s a lot of shit passing as ‘der blues’ in the 21st century.

I was listening to the Paul Jones Blues show on Radio 2.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Why would you do that, Driver (as my friends call me. More formally I’m addressed as Mr 67). 

But, y’know, it’s Monday night, you’re in the kitchen and in a panic to stifle the Archers you quickly flick the dial and there’s some grown guy going, ‘I love you baby, I really love you baby, you don’t know how much-a I love you baby, and I got the blues’

And I think to myself, What?

This is definitely not what Robert Johnson had in mind when he met the Devil at the crossroads. Robert Johnson sometimes wrote lyrics of heartbreaking beauty; sometimes they were chilly and scary. So this, for instance:

And I followed her to the station, with her suitcase in my hand,
And I followed her to the station, with her suitcase in my hand.
Well, it’s hard to tell, it’s hard to tell, when all your love’s in vain,

And this:

Me and the Devil
Was walking side by side

And I’m going to beat my woman
‘Til I get satisfied

What he never did was throw off a lyric just to showcase his guitar skills, which were phenomenal.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the model today.

The old blues guys, they knew it needed more than some slick riffs on a pawn-shop Gibson or, more commonly, something from the Sears catalogue costing $10. (Some of those old catalogue guitars are now worth small fortunes by the way).

Lead Belly, for instance, brought a whole bunch of classic songs out of the cotton fields and into the daylight of popular culture. Rock Island Line, Black Betty, Goodnight Irene, Midnight Special, Pick a Bale of Cotton.

If you already love Lead Belly, or want to know more, follow this link .

For Robert Johnson, Lead Belly and all the greats, the song was the thing. Always the song. When white guys began singing the blues – the Stones, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Jeremy Spencer – they either covered the great songs, or wrote their own great songs.

Sometimes, they were covering the covers. Jeremy Spencer learned his slide guitar from Elmore James. Elmore James learned Dust My Broom from Robert Johnson.

(By the way, Dust My Broom is neither about a broom, nor about dusting.

‘I’m a get up in the morning, I believe I’ll dust my broom….’

Now what do you suppose he means by that?)

My favourite Robert Johnson song is Come On In My Kitchen.

Woman I know
took my best friend
some joker got lucky
stole her back again
he better come on
in my kitchen
it’s goin’ to be rainin’ outdoors
Well she’s gone
I know she won’t come back
I took the last nickel
out of her nation sack
you better come on
in my kitchen
well, it’s goin’ to be rainin’ outdoors

You haven’t got a clue, have you? What is he talking about and what’s a ‘nation sack’ (Google it); who is it that better come on in his kitchen; and why a kitchen?

But it sounds great, and even in your incomprehension, it paints a picture.

It’s a long, long way from ‘I loves ya baby, you done did me wrong, if I don’t wake up tomorrow, you know it’ll be too long‘. I made that up, as I was typing. Took me as long to make it up as it took me to type it. And that seems to be the standard of many of today’s blues lyrics.

Which is a shame, because in the right hands, the blues can still surprise and entertain. Have a listen to this Joe Bonamassa track. The first few seconds is a mini-history of the blues – the African roots, the familiar guitar lick. And then off he goes into a mix of Cream and Led Zep, but with his own maestro touch. Man, he can play.

But those lyrics – they are dark. This is the song of a man who knows he is gonna wake up tomorrow, and suffer all over again.

And from reader M. Sacree of Hove comes this much pithier deconstruction of the blues cliche.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ89xtmyqT4

Should we be worried about the guy in the Jethro Tull t-shirt?

I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time watching prog rock bands when I was a reviewer at Music Week. Jethro Tull, The Nice, King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer.

People stabbing Hammond Organs, men wearing long flowing dresses, drum solos that went on for days. You’d have to pay me to go.

Unfortunately, Music Week did pay me, so I went.

One review in particular got me into terrible trouble. I described Greenslade as “music to throw yourself off the balcony to”. The press officer at their record company had specifically leaned on me to see the band. But she hadn’t told me she was carrying on a torrid love affair with one of them.

She cried real tears when she read my review. I know she did, because she marched down to the Music Week offices and cried, right in front of me.

Her bosses weren’t best pleased either. Nor was her lover. Ah well.

The thing was, still is, I’m about songs, and prog was never about the songs. It was about young music students showing off their cleverness in tattered jeans and flowery scarves.

(A propos of nothing, Ian Anderson, flautist and singer of Tull, was reputed to wear his jeans 24 hours a day until they just fell off. That raises a lot of hygiene-related questions. Bathing? Sex? Toilet? Sleep? I do hope it was just a rumour.)

I did, though, discover something quite interesting during this period. The sheer volume of a band you’re not enjoying will put you to sleep. So that was handy.

There is no chance of going to sleep watching Wojtek Godzisz.

Who?

Oh, did I not say? I went to a gig recently.

I know! Still going out at my age.

It was local, and the pop star who lives in my house was performing. So no gold star for me.

There were three other acts on the bill and one of them was wearing a Jethro Tull t-shirt. My friend Alison pointed it out and said, “Do you think we should be worried about that?”

Unequivocally, with hindsight, the answer is a resounding, “No!”

The minute Wojtek Godzisz (I don’t know; probably as it reads?) opened his mouth I was hooked. Which is surprising. I was never much of a Tull fan. But then Wojtek Godzisz is not Jethro Tull.

At one point, as he held a glass-shattering note for about 20 seconds, Alison turned around and said, “That boy’s got no fillings”. And indeed you could – such is his full-bodied commitment to performance – see the entire inside of Wojtek’s mouth. At times like that a lack of fillings is a definite plus.

Alison’s husband Arnaldo is from Cuba. Given my devotion to The Buena Vista Social Club and its various offshoots, it’s a bit of a surprise to meet an actual Cuban who dismisses them as “old music”.

Arnaldo, in fact, grew up with Led Zeppelin and heavy metal. Of course, this was decadent western culture, and therefore not really allowed. But that’s what happens when you ban stuff. People want it.

It’s always funny to see the look on grownup faces when Arnaldo gets down with the fourteen year olds on Spotify, rocking out to AC/DC or Metallica.

And he was definitely rocking out to Wojtek Godzisz. Wojtek is some sort of cross between Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention and any combination of heavy metal bands you could think of. Not my usual cuppa at all.

But the guy is such a consummate performer, accomplished musician and take-no-prisoners singer, it would be rude not to enjoy him as he so obviously enjoys himself.

In case you’ve ever heard of them, he was previously in a band called Symposium, referred to as ‘punk pop’. I think I get that.

But Wojtek’s solo stuff seems to be rooted in Olde England paganism.

Honestly, if you asked me to go and see a heavy metal folkie singing about wassailing and magic, I’d probably tell you I was busy that night. Got to wash my hair; or lard the cat’s boils.

But I’m telling you, if you see the name Wojtek Godzisz (forget the pronunciation, just remember the letters) at a music venue near you, go. Just go. All your prejudices will fall away as mine did, and you will almost certainly hand over a tenner at the end of the night to take home a cd.

I did. And I bought one for Arnaldo as well. Rock on, Arnaldo!

Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe

For almost a year, I have been working on a book (which isn’t a book, it’s an app) about making music in the digital age.

A couple of weeks ago, late on a Friday, I wrote what I later realised was the last sentence in the book that isn’t a book.

Sometime during the following day I realised that I had missed my own deadline – not for the book, but for my weekly post to this blog. Well, it’s coming up to Easter, I consoled myself. Everyone’s busy. No-one will miss it for one week.

The following week went by in a rush as I gathered together an army of statistics that will be turned into graphs, bar charts and illustrations for the book that isn’t a book.

And then on Easter Saturday morning, I realised that I’d missed the deadline for this blog – again. Two weeks in a row seems like bad manners. Sorry.

Honestly, sometimes I have to tell myself to breathe.

It’s true. I get so involved in what I’m doing, that I frequently become aware that I haven’t taken a breath for quite some time, at the very least not a deep breath.

So this week, just for fun, I set myself a target that would challenge my focus and my breathing patterns.

This is the challenge – start from scratch with a new song, and build a track in time for the blog.

And then – just to keep it exciting – I gave myself just two hours in which to write this post. (Usually, I write it across three days).

It helped me that I have been studying the pop star who lives in my house for the past few months. She has a technique for writing her songs that I find fascinating.

Most of the time, she is a gobby and frequently scatological teenager, supremely irritating to her mother and to me. Sometimes, though, she’s sweet and charming, and you think, “Oh, yes, that’s why I put up with the rest of you”.

And then she writes these songs that tear at your heartstrings, and seep into your brain. I can’t help but think of Mozart as portrayed in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.

There’s an unforgettable scene in the film version where his arch rival Salieri finds a newly written Mozart piece. No mistakes. No rewriting. Just a perfect and sublime piece of music straight from the brain and the pristine pen of the pranking, irritating, rude, scatological boy whose behaviour torments the formal and mature Salieri.

Now, confronted by such precocious genius, he is doubly tormented.

I am not Salieri. I am not tormented by the pop star who lives in my house. But I am fascinated by her process and progress. Doubly fascinated, because when she is not in the process of recording her darkest thoughts and forming the musical framework around them, it’s like living with Tigger.

Except, this version of Tigger swears like a trooper, drinks vodka (occasionally) and is an unending source of appalling tales of the weirdos who follow or stare at her (on buses, in Waitrose, on the street, at college).

A teenager, in other words.

So, as I said, she has this writing technique. She’s had absolutely no formal training. She knows the back of a stamp’s worth of music theory. But somehow she has intuited – from learning to sing and play her own favourite pop songs of the moment – the current way of writing commercial pop and r’n’b.

I’m not giving away any secrets. But let’s just say that modern pop music has reduced itself to a chord palate which, in painting terms, might be Piet Mondrian’s.

In order to help me achieve my target of a completely new track in two days, I decided to take the same approach. And – bugger me – it works.

I made it easy on myself. Another thing I’ve noticed about some current pop hits is that lyrics barely matter. In dance music particularly, the ‘song’ is mostly reduced to a simple line of lyric that provides a hook.

So here it is: Breathe, a work in progress, whose only line of lyric is “Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe”.

Warning: put on your dancing shoes, and try to play it loud. And let me know what you think, please.

 

They think it’s All Over. But it’s not. It’s All Over Now.

I was really amused a couple of weeks ago to see Bob Dylan get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, The Rolling Stones first number one.

I’d always known it as a Bobby Womack song. I’d also always assumed that Shirley Womack, who co-wrote it, was his wife. In fact, she was Bobby’s sister-in-law.

And that’s the trouble with assumptions.

Big rule of journalism: assume makes an ass out of u and me.

Which begs the question: how big can an ass possibly be, since at least 50% of the internet seems to be built on assumptions?

It has to be nearly 10 years since I had my introduction to the internet version of ‘I search, therefore I am’. My son, Remi, 14 or 15 at the time, insisted on playing me this ‘brilliant Eric Clapton track’.

He searched it, brought it up and played it. Eric Clapton my arse.

“That’s Classical Gas by Mason Williams,” I said.

“No. It’s Eric Clapton,” he said. “Look, it says so here.”

“Yes, I can see it says it is, but it’s not. When did you ever hear Eric Clapton play like that?”

“Well, that’s the point. It’s so different.”

“Yes. It’s different because it’s not Eric Clapton. It’s Mason Williams.”

Which got me looking ‘under the hood’ as they say and I was shocked at what I found. iTunes meta info rarely includes a songwriter credit. When it does, it’s frequently wrong. Elsewhere on the internet these mistakes are legion, and will probably never be corrected.

I once found You’re My World – Cilla’s number one, famously adapted from an Italian original – attributed to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. This was on a big compilation cd, so of course, the information found its way onto iTunes.

Even funnier, they apparently also wrote Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The giveaway there is, Cole Porter. He wrote the song in 1934 when Burt Bacharach was six years old. Burt didn’t meet Hal until 1957.

Now you might think, “Does this really matter?”

To which I might reply, “Yes, it fucking matters!”

On reflection: yes, that is how I would reply.

Imagine you’re Harlan Howard, a relatively obscure country music writer and performer. You write a song called Busted. It’s picked up by Ray Charles, who has a massive top 10 hit with it. That’s your pension, right there.

Now imagine you’re Harlan Howard, and years later, you find that some lazy, feckless, ignorant, highly paid jackass has credited your song to Ray Charles as writer – forever to remain so on databases and download sites worldwide. Well, you’d be a little cheesed off, no?

Mind you, it’s a wonder Harlan didn’t get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, along with Bobby and Shirley Womack and Bob Dylan.

Because the way Bob Dylan got a co-write credit on that song was that he did, in fact, write a song called It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. And that’s what another feckless jackass had in mind when he put Bobby Dylan’s name alongside Bobby Womack’s. It was in his mind, so he made an assumption.

But, of course, he didn’t know that Harlan Howard had also written a song called It’s All Over. Poor Harlan doesn’t get a look in. Not on his own song; nor on one he didn’t write.

This is how the record industry lets itself down. No attention to detail.

Some years back Virgin released an album called John Lennon’s Jukebox. John used to have a portable jukebox on which he carried 40 singles that had had some influence on him.

At least four of the songs on the album were credited to John Lennon as writer. How lazy do you have to be? You’re working on a project about the influence these songs had on someone. And then you credit that person with writing the songs that influenced him.

Two of these were classic Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream and Do You Believe In Magic, written by John Sebastian. How come you’re filling in a database that determines where the money goes, and you don’t even know that John Sebastian wrote Daydream? Or at least, that John Lennon didn’t write it?

I write as a victim of the same kind of laziness, but from a different angle.

There are two versions of Car 67, the UK hit and the American version.

On Radio 2’s Pick Of The Pops a few years ago, in the chart rundown for the week when I was in the top 10, they played the American version. The following week’s Feedback on Radio 4 devoted seven minutes to this catastrophic event. (I thought it was quite funny. But I also thought ‘Get a sense of perspective!’)

The next week – that’s right, two weeks after the original broadcast – Feedback devoted another eight minutes. So across just under an hour of broadcast time on the most important consumer show on radio, I had been given 15 minutes of time for outraged fans to vent their spleen.

Some while later, I was given a private glimpse at the database the BBC uses for its music radio. And there it still was, Car 67 (US version). And there it still is eight years later.

All anyone has to do is listen to the competing versions, and delete the wrong ones. But that would require a revolution of attention to detail and pro-action that seems beyond the wit of the lazy jackasses we trust with our precious work.

Net result for me? The record rarely gets played any more because no-one trusts to get the version right. That’s a couple of curries a year I can no longer afford.

When I talked to Phil Swern, producer of Pick Of The Pops, he was more outraged at the level of complaint he had received than embarrassed by the mistake.

“I could have understood it if it had been a Cliff Richard record,” he said. To me. On the phone. “But Driver 67?”

I’m on the phone, Phil. You’re talking to me. I am that Driver….

Anyway, it’s not Phil’s fault. A man more dedicated to exposing the obscure and forgotten would be hard to find. He’s made a 30-year career out of it.

But next time you hear some solid gold artist complaining about royalties and copyright and piracy and streaming, try not to get all up in his face and “Oh you greedy bastard, haven’t you had enough money yet”.

Because what’s happening to the solid gold greedy bastard is also happening to me and Harlan Howard. And, really, aren’t we allowed just a couple of curries a year out of our meagre contributions to popular music?

Meanwhile, for a quick giggle, have a look bottom, centre for the writing credit on this.

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rollingstones/itsallovernow.html

And if you want to hear Eric Clapton playing Classical Gas, well, you never will. But you’d never know.

 

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.