Looking for new music? You might as well be looking for a hit man or an Uzi.

(First sentence to be read, Julie Burchill-style, in a Bristol accent).

I went up to that London recently.

Weird that. Bristol is an almost straight line, west to east, pointing at London. But still, you always feeling like the big city is ‘up’.

Where I lived, which was north of that London, we also referred to going ‘up’ to London. Then some chauvinist sage pointed out that it was down.

He was strictly correct. Geographically.

But he mostly meant it metaphorically.

Metaphorically, we were being told that that London was somewhat inferior to our Wolverhampton.

Then I moved to London, and it was neither up nor down. Nor was it inferior to Wolverhampton (not superior, though, either).

Now I live on the south coast, and London is definitely ‘up’.

Which is all very confusing. But not nearly as confusing as knowing where to look for new music these days.

Music has become like the internet. The mainstream is like the worldwide web. You know how to find Amazon, and Wikipedia, and how to book your holidays, and post on Facebook. With the same limits of access, you can listen to the same few records on regular rotation on Radios 1 & 2.

But what if you want to find the musical equivalent of a hired hitman, or an AK47, or mind-altering drugs that will drop through your letterbox? That’s called the Deep Web, or the Dark Web.

(Which is also confusing, because they are two separate entities. But still you and I couldn’t get to either without the internet equivalent of GPS, programmed by someone else with postcodes only they know).

The web that most of us see is reckoned to be anywhere between 5-10% of what’s actually out there. But us mere mortals can’t see the other 90-95% because a) we don’t want to buy a nuclear weapon; and b) we don’t know how to dig that deep even if we wanted to.

So anyway, I went up to that London to see a gig featuring an old friend. And being in the room at the Phoenix Artist Club felt a little like being in the Deep Web. Practically everyone I met is a performer, and you’ve never heard of them, and very unlikely to because you don’t know they’re there in the first place.

There was JJ Crash, who told me nothing about himself other than that he played with Lucy’s Diary. Lucy herself turned out to be a stunning young woman of somewhat bonkers demeanour, who, I was later told, is the daughter of my old colleague Norman Jopling. I had no idea.

Watching a couple of videos of Lucy, you have to ask yourself how, in this anodyne era of formula pop, someone of such personality and edginess has a social media presence almost as well hidden as the hitmen and drug dealers of the Dark Web’s Silk Road.

JJ himself also has quite the background as a post-punk performer, described somewhere as ‘the pearly king of anti-folk’. (He’s from Welwyn Garden City. Go figure).

Here he is with Lucy’s Diary. JJ’s the guy with the maracas and the natty hat.

And then there was Ralegh Long. My friend John Howard had told me about Ralegh, a young performer he rates highly.

I’m not often surprised, but Ralegh sat at the piano, accompanied by slide steel guitar and French Horn. It’s such a lovely combination I have to admit I couldn’t wait to get home and try it for myself with one of my own songs (Sorry, Ralegh!).

Back in the day, when the pop mainstream was a vivid rainbow of colourful styles – folk, rock, pop, jazz, singer-songwriter, Beatles, Stones, Cat Stevens, Jim Hendrix, the Animals, Bob Dylan – Ralegh Long would have found himself on regular rotation on Radio One.

In the almost monochrome 21st century, he’s lucky to get the odd play on Radio 6 Music. Why do we bother? I asked him. His answer was the same as mine: “I can’t not”. Well, good for him. I’ve had my day, and if I choose to keep making music that no-one will ever hear, it’s nobody’s business but mine.

But young musicians have to pay the rent and feed themselves. Art for art’s sake, because they ‘can’t not’, is truly admirable. You can buy or listen to his album Hoverance iTunes or iMusic. I seriously suggest you do.

On the other hand, artists today are industrious in ways we never were. On stage later were John Howard & The Night Mail. The Night Mail consists of Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Andy Lewis.

In addition to performing as Rotifer, writing songs and starting this Night Mail project, Robert Rotifer also helps to run Gare Du Nord Records, a label with some hidden delights that are well worth investigating.

Ian Button played on the first four Death In Vegas albums. Before that he was in Thrashing Doves. Today he’s a leading light of Papernut Cambridge, a collective that includes many names I’ve mentioned above. If you like gorgeous-sounding pop with an insistent beat and hooky melodies, don’t get lost in the deep web – just Google Papernut Cambridge.

And then there’s Andy Lewis, currently moonlighting as Paul Weller’s bass player. Hardly able to contain his joy on the night, Ralegh Long shouted at me, “It’s like he’s got the whole history of soul music in his fingertips”. And that’s very accurate.

Here he is with Paul Weller singing, from Andy’s album You Should Be Hearing Something Now.

Robert, Ian and Andy all co-wrote songs with John Howard for the Night Mail album. It was a truly collaborative effort. But on stage, no question, Howard is the attraction. The audience at The Phoenix went nuts for him.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll never tire of saying it: it is an extraordinary oversight on God’s part that John Howard is not a superstar. At age 62 he is writing tunes and lyrics that shame many more famous artists. If you like great pop with a bite of satire, a touch of social commentary, and a huge dollop of human compassion, I implore you to check out John Howard & The Night Mail. It’s worth signing up to Apple Music for, if you’re not in a buying mood, and it’s also on Spotify.

And in those places you’ll also find Ralegh Long, Lucy’s Diary but not JJ Crash. You’ll also find Andy Lewis’s absolutely wonderful Billion Pound Project – a lush and soulful and timeless delight, the sort of album you think doesn’t get made any more, but here it is.

It really did feel like I’d found a secret chat room on the Deep Dark Web. Except, rather than trying to buy pharmaceutical grade cocaine (which would have turned out to be sulphate with glittering bits of ground glass) I found a bunch of sweet and talented people who make music I’ve been enjoying ever since, but would never have known existed if I hadn’t popped into the Phoenix Artist Club on September 8.



Daddy, was your childhood in black and white?

I am Driver 67 and I am a one hit wonder.

There, I’ve said it. After 35 years of frustration and embarrassment, my friend John Williams told me last year: get over it; embrace it; use it.

So I started to plan this blog where, each week, I will put up a song and tell you the story behind it.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, BBC4 started replaying the old Top Of The Pops I had appeared on. Suddenly the pressure was on to get the blog out there. I was trending on Twitter, according to the BBC.

So here it is. The Driver 67 Blog.

Some of the songs will be old; most you will never have heard. One a month will be new. Most will be my own, but occasionally I will talk about songs by people I know, or have worked with.

I’m kicking off with a new one, just so you know I’m still capable. Plus, if I’m going to blog about writing and recording songs, I thought I should start with a song that was pretty easy to write. That way it’s easy for me to explain the process.

Also, I imagine that most of the people reading this will be of a certain age and will relate to the lyrics, which is another good reason for kicking off with this particular song. (If you’re not ‘of a certain age’, welcome. I’m flattered!).

Mind you, ‘lyrics’ is pushing the definition a bit. What happened is this. I started to make a list of things that had happened in my lifetime, starting with childhood and working through to the present day. The headline to this blog is something my youngest daughter Lily said when she was about six. I was driving on a motorway and trying to explain there had been no motorways when I was her age, and that I remembered the first car in our street. And that’s when she asked the immortal question: “Daddy, was your childhood in black and white?”

Well, no it wasn’t, obviously. But where I grew up, in Wolverhampton, there were still – in the early 50s – streets lit by gas. One friend even claimed to remember the ‘knocker-upper’, the man whose job it was to extinguish the gas lights as dawn broke and tap on the windows of those whose shift was about to start.

The milk and bread were delivered by horse and cart. (Milk and bread were not the only commodities the horse carried with him. The gardeners in the street, my Uncle Jack among them, would be out in the street, early mornings, waiting with bucket and shovel: if the horse crapped outside your house, that was your manure for the week).

Of course, because of the war, there were no bananas, and television was a totally unknown entity to us. No-one we knew had one. I think I was nine before I even saw a tv, let alone watched it.

So my list started like this:

  • – Gaslights
  • – Horse and cart
  • – No bananas
  • – No TV

We were Irish. We were working class. Is the Pope a Catholic? Church was demanded. On Monday mornings, the nuns who taught us would ask each class, “Who didn’t go to Church yesterday?” There was no point lying. Lying about going to Church was a mortal sin. You’d rather suffer the cruelty of the nuns than imagine the Big Black Mark on your Immortal Soul which such a lie would surely cause.

So the list continued:

  • – Church on Sunday
  • – Nuns on Monday

I looked back on those days, and then looked at the world we live in now – computers, iPads, exploring Mars, instant communication, instant gratification – and I couldn’t help but ask the question:

How did we get from there to here in 60 years?

And, Bingo! There’s the song.

By the way, in case anything I say should sound like a complaint, let me say I LOVE the progress we’ve made in my lifetime. Of course I could moan that no-one’s going to pay me for writing this blog; and that I’m putting music out there for people to listen to for free.

Well, that’s my problem. I still haven’t worked out how to make this free-for-all pay for my life.

But just look at what I’m doing. I’m publishing my thoughts to the entire world. How many will read them is down to me and how clever I can be using Twitter, Facebook, Google etc.

And I’m putting music out there that I’ve recorded, on my own, in a room, in my house. How cool is that? No studios to pay for; no engineer getting in my way; no musicians to pay for; all the time in the world to make my mistakes and no-one else around to make me feel embarrassed by my inadequacy.

So this first song, This Is A Life, is a celebration not a plea for commiseration.

It takes us from gaslit streets to global communication, and simply asks: How did we get from there to here in 60 years?

It also has a couple of significant nods, mostly to Arcade Fire, whose almost retro approach to production and arrangement gave me the confidence to record this song exactly as I wanted to. I imagine seeing AF live today is like seeing Springsteen in the 70s.

Also, Paul McCartney has a song – That Was Me – which is really worth a listen.

And finally, a nod to my friend John Howard, who has shown that it’s possible to write about being older without being maudlin. More of that in a later blog.