Amy Winehouse was a rare talent – a soulful, intuitive singer with music radiating from every pore. Watching her towards the end of her life, screwing it up while the whole world watched was truly horrible.
If Lindsay Lohan wants to pose for Playboy (oh yes, she did!); if Charlie Sheen wants to pose as an intellectual giant whilst being moronically self-destructive; if Britney Spears wants to pose as a bald person; well – honestly? – I don’t really care. These are not major talents, plus they still manage to function in their day jobs.
But Amy squandered her massive and unique talent, on stage, in front of the world, not just once, not just twice, but to the point where people were buying tickets to her gigs so they could say they were there when she fell off the stage or, even better, died.
There was a time when this sort of thing was de rigeur.
I once went to see Tim Hardin at The Rainbow in glamorous Finsbury Park. He was so off his head he leaned on the microphone for support (never a good idea) and just mumbled. He didn’t seem to know where his hands were, so the guitar hanging from his shoulders was a complete mystery.
We watched this for about five minutes before a stage hand came on and gently led him off. Here’s the man who wrote If I Were A Carpenter and Reason To Believe and now he can’t even stand up to play a few songs. I found this so depressing, I had no stomach for the main attraction, The Steve Miller Band.
Hardin’s Bird On A Wire album was a favourite road album – not driving rock for driving fast to, but summer day reflective and melancholy as I drove from town to town in a search for talent in my first weeks as an a&r man. If you like your heart broken from time to time, have a listen to Love Hymn.
Another time I went to the Marquee in Wardour Street where Granada Television were filming the Stones playing a small gig. Well, that was the idea. As it turned out, two of the boys were ‘indisposed’, so we all milled around tut-tutting (I was all of 19, so my tut-tutting was quite precocious). Eventually we were ushered out without a note being played.
My abiding memory of that night was of how small the available Stones were (Mick and Bill in particular), and how their heads seemed too big for their bodies. These people who look like giants on stage or on screen, are dwarfed by a normal six-footer. Keith and Brian were the two I didn’t see, so I guessed it was they who were indisposed. It’d be a fair guess, wouldn’t it?
A happier memory is of going to see Leon Russell (again at the Rainbow; if my tickets hadn’t been free, I’d have saved money by paying rent I was there so often).
Leon Russell had seemingly gone from nowhere to superhero by saving Joe Cocker’s American career. The US Musicians’ Union refused to let Cocker tour with his English band. Russell called Cocker and told him he could put a band of American musicians together and that’s how we were bequeathed the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, album and film.
Then Russell played a major part in George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh.
So there was high excitement for his first London gig. We got there, we waited. And waited. And waited.
Concerts were supposed to start around 8pm and be over by 10.30 so we could all get home before the tubes and trains stopped running.
Musicians began filing onstage just before 10 o’clock, and finally Leon Russell appeared. He had, he admitted, been drunk, but he was now sober-ish, and he was truly sorry, and for our patience he would reward us by working super-hard.
And, oh my gosh, did he. We all stopped worrying about how we were getting home, and just rocked right out. I think it was almost one o’clock in the morning before we left, and I doubt anyone there has ever forgotten that night.
But these stories don’t always end so well.
My job at Music Week required me to go out several times a week to review live performance. This was often a joy, but sometimes a chore, and on the nights it was a chore, I got more irritated by the fact that I could be back home with my wife and children.
So it was on a night in September 1968 that I left my pregnant wife at home and set off to see The Doors and Jefferson Airplane at The Roundhouse. I wasn’t keen on The Doors (I know; shocking, eh?) and as for Jefferson Airplane, I could scarcely have cared less.
Still, sometimes you see people you don’t rate, and it turns out that live is where you need to see them. This may have been the case with The Doors and the Airplane. I never got to find out. By 10.30, the stage was unsullied by musical persons and I finally decided enough was enough. I went home.
Google tells me that the Saturday performance would be filmed by Granada TV “due to problems with filming last night”. So maybe it was the Friday I was there, and maybe, like me, the camera crew got fed up waiting. It would certainly qualify as “a problem” for a film crew if there was no-one to actually film.
In the 21st century we expect our stars to have more discipline, maybe even to have learnt from the mistakes of others.
But we don’t, do we? Getting drunk, getting high. We’ve all done it. But few of us have let it ruin – or even end – our lives. This week’s song – Just The Night – is about the things we do when we’ve over-imbibed, it’s dark, and we think maybe no-one will notice. It’s just the night, after all.
I know you know what I’m talking about….