Thursday, 20 December 2012


With the advent of ‘Auto-tune’, and other similar tuning and timing devices, it is now possible for almost anyone to call themselves ‘a singer’. Most people will sing out of tune a bit, and after all, the human voice should not be expected to behave like a machine. But for today’s artist however, this inadequacy is a fundamental and career threatening ‘Archilles’ heel’.
Some people will sing consistently flat and some consistently sharp, (I have had a long career wincing at the latter) but this is easy to correct. Recently though I came across a ‘singer’ who has developed his own particular sub-species of sharp and flat with a bit of in-tune thrown in, that proves particularly difficult to deal with. And so, with a hard-drive full of this young man’s mediocre warble, I make my way down to my garden pod/studio to begin several hours of pain and torture.
“Work your magic” I recall him saying as we parted company, just days before in London Fields, but even David Blaine would think twice about taking this on.
As my computer comes to life and I stare at the sunny field outside my window I wonder if my memory hasn’t served me well and maybe my afternoon’s work will actually turn out to be quite easy. Maybe he wasn’t that bad? Being classically trained, I know I’m particularly anal about tuning.
My fears are confirmed. Three words in to the chorus, and I’m in trouble.
For example, the word ‘alone’ (which for some reason features a lot in my songs) has, as you know, two syllables. The first syllable is sung flat as a pancake, but this would be easy to deal with if it weren’t for the second syllable being sung out of time and with a charming mixture of sharp and in-tune. The waveform that is shamed into representing this atonally performed word will need to be painstakingly and graphically corrected. Life saving microsurgery, for the partially tone-deaf.
One word, half an hour gone, my life is shit.
The ‘artist’ in question is a very handsome boy. Indeed he has already had some success as an actor and also, fortuitously thrown into the bargain, has a famous ‘rock n roll’ parent. Despite the tuning issues, he also has an impressively distinctive voice, reason enough I think to plough on down the road to intonation hell and see if I can pull something out of the bag, even if he is clearly unaware of the man hours it takes to work my magic.

Coincidences can be cruel. It is a particularly cruel coincidence that, at 5 pm this afternoon, I’m booked in for a root canal treatment at my local dentist. It’s my first procedure of this kind and I make a poor job of hiding my fear as the chair lowers me robotically into position. We all know that when a dentist fumbles with something behind you, just out of sight, it is, odds on, more than likely to be a ruddy great syringe with a nasty looking needle on the end of it. With clammy hands and a shaky voice I urge the lady to ‘load me up’. If I’d been offered a general I’d have taken it on the spot.
This tooth has been hypersensitive for some time and after several fillings and a lot of pain it is deemed necessary to take out the nerve, thus ending all discomfort for me. Simple. Not that simple actually. In an adult molar there are three nerve cavities. Each one must be drilled out and then each nerve, once found, also yanked out. Next, a foul tasting substance will be applied to the bottom of the cavities, which should kill off anything that might remain. The tooth is then temporary filled and after a week or so I will be expected to return to have it all dug out again so the empty root cavities can be filled with cement thus avoiding the tooth to unexpectedly fall out. A needle through the eye sounds just great right now.
Surprisingly though, when the drilling begins I feel nothing painful at all. I wistfully muse that root canal is, can you believe it, actually preferable to tuning the said boy's vocal. Until that is, out of the blue, the drill wraps its good self round the deepest part of my nerve and I levitate my contorted body several inches out of the chair, all accompanied by high pitched whimpering. Mr Blaine would be impressed.
And so I leave cap in hand, with my low pain threshold and temporary filling, blissfully unaware of the dribble I’m leaving behind.
My dentist has advised me to buy Paracetamol and Ibuprofen in large quantities for when the ‘local’ wears off. I take double the recommended dose and head back to the studio.


Thursday, 13 December 2012


In 1987 we would spend more time in RAK Recording Studios, a converted Victorian schoolhouse and church hall in St. John’s Wood. In those days there were three recording rooms. One had a ‘state of the art’ SSL desk, which we had previously used to good effect. This time though, we would be in the other main room, which had a ‘vintage’ Neve desk and had a somewhat more dated feel. I can only assume this was our producers choice, as the SSL, with ‘flying faders’, automated as if by magic, was a relatively new and highly prized piece of kit. All the songs we were to record, save for the odd cover, were written by our singer. He certainly had a talent for this and although at times a more democratic approach would have been of welcome benefit, his driving force and strong overall rudder, it has to be said, kept us on an ever-ascending trajectory.
American singers have always had an easy relationship with the songwriter. Back in the 80’s their music culture was much more uncluttered than ours. The singer sang, and the writer delivered the tune. The big stars saw the importance of a strong song and were only too happy to perform it and stay away from the writing credit. With big sales figures and healthy radio play, there was food for all. A good example of this is the Supreme’s ‘stand out’ front woman and by this time, hugely successful solo artist, Diana Ross.
She had a new album in the making by the name of ‘Red Hot Rhythm And Blues’ and her eyes were on one of our very own singer’s compositions. With the absence of email and the fact that the song in question was still on the ‘2 inch’ multi track at RAK, she would have to physically show up at the studio to hear our version of the song, to assess if it was indeed suitable for her. Surely not? Diana Ross must have better things to do.
She didn’t; and it was arranged that at 2.30 PM that day she would be paying us a visit.
All the studios at RAK have windows, which is in fact quite unusual and indeed very refreshing to be able to see London go past, minding it’s own business, as opposed to some of the underground bunkers we had previously recorded in, offering no natural light whatsoever. I had parked myself next to a window at the back of the control room so as I could keep a watchful eye out for the big arrival. I wasn’t convinced she would actually show up and was more than a little nervous at the prospect of meeting her. But sure enough, at the allotted time, and not a minute later, while our engineer hastily lined up the song on the ‘vintage’ Neve desk, a large black Jaguar slowly rolled up in front of my chosen window. The driver, suited and with cap, dived out from the car to assist with the opening of her door. And there she was, dressed in what looked like a classic ‘Chanel’ black suit and manicured to within an inch of her life. This was a woman, who took the art of being a woman, very seriously. To an extent, we were all in awe of her. She was and still is a legend in the world of American black music, and so it seemed ridiculous to me that she was about to enter our scruffy studio control room.
By now, the studio had filled with extra people, not just the six of us and a producer and engineer; no, several other people had found reasons to join us. Who could blame them? As the door opened the first thing I notice was the amount of long black shiny hair she had, and how her eyes sparkled as she took in the gaping crowd. Our producer, also American, greeted her with the ease and assurance of a man who had much celebrity experience under the belt, and I fully expected her to kiss our singer, which she did, on the cheek. But, quite unexpectedly, she then worked her way round the room, giving every single person who had gathered, a peck on the cheek.
“How lovely to meet you” she said, numerous times, as she completed the line up. She was so gracious, and needlessly generous in the midst of strangers, she would surely never see again. The tune was then played, which seemed to entertain her, and then as quickly as she arrived, Miss Ross (allegedly this is how she insisted on being addressed, by her band) had left the building. Once folded back into the Jaguar by the suit and cap, she was gone.
The song in question was recorded and included on her next album, a delightfully simple transaction I thought, between singer and songwriter.

It would be a while before I would have the courage to write my own songs and even longer before other artists would want to sing them, but in time I would discover that I had ideas of my own, that needed little more than some self-confidence to bring them to life.
It has always seemed strange to me that the artist is so hugely celebrated in our country, and the very person who writes the material, almost ignored. Celebrity is king and with shows like the ‘Brits’ and the ‘Mobo’s’, successful performers are showered with high profile accolade. It is indeed rare to find any song in the top 40 that hasn’t been written by two or more writers, and commonplace for the singer not to be included in the writing credits.
There is though, one ceremony that celebrates the writer. It is not televised and we have always been led to believe that any major exposure would tarnish its honourable status and reputation. I wonder, however, if this might be more to do with our lack of interest in who pens the song.
In 1997 my manager called me to say I had been nominated for an ‘Ivor Novello’ Award. Named after the Welsh composer and singer, this trophy is without doubt the ‘Holy Grail’ for any aspiring songwriter. Held at Grosvenor House on Park Lane this yearly event aims to celebrate British songwriters and the success’s they have had in the current year. Our category was ‘Best Dance Music’ and the other two nominees were Dario and 187 Lockdown. Oblivious to the odds of winning, although I realise now that my manager’s insistence I attended, was something of clue, I was instead captivated by the vast ballroom the event was held in. There must have been hundreds of tables all set out with silver service. How the kitchens would cope serving at least a thousand people all at the same time concerned me greatly. But they did. A three-course meal and unlimited booze made me feel like a winner, and we hadn’t got down to the real business yet. With minutes to go before the results I just had enough time to go for a much-needed leak. Not one to survey the competition when daggers are drawn, it was nevertheless a surreal moment for me, as I stood there, with Feargal Sharkey on one side and Rolf Harris on the other. A star-studded room, it certainly was. Elton John and Bernie Taupin were nominated for their tribute to Princess Diana (although I don’t remember seeing Bernie and secretly suspect he doesn’t actually exist) and the great ‘Radiohead’ were nominated twice for Paranoid Android and Karma Police, amongst many other luminaries of the time.
And then it came to our category. I had been telling friends, and the handful of journalists that cared, that “just to be nominated” was enough, but it was a lie. I knew that to win would propel me forward in my career, and could potentially make a huge difference to my life. All of a sudden, there was a lot at stake. Full of food and wine and a heartbeat in danger of breaking out of my ribs, I was, at some point in the proceedings, (and in a fug of adrenalin-fuelled fear) made aware that my table was standing, indeed the whole room was standing and our tune could clearly be heard coming out of the PA. Did I hear my name come from the lips of Paul Gambaccini? We had won.
I say we, because this tune was a co-write. My writing partner and uber-talented musician and programmer was sitting with his Publisher at another table, far away from me. As we independently made our way to the stage to receive our prizes, only the closest to us would know that we were in no way on speaking terms. Looking back our differences should have been resolved. If there had been therapy sessions available for two dysfunctional ego-heads, then we should have attended, but there was no such thing, and we parted company, never to work together again; very regrettable.

I would reflect on this that very same evening, on the beautiful Greek Island of Crete. The ‘Ivors’ are always held in the afternoon, followed by a ‘free for all’ in the nearby ‘Audley’ pub. My wife and I attended for a drink or two before making for Gatwick Airport, where we would fly out for a pre-arranged holiday.
The ‘Ivor Novello’ Award itself, is cast out of bronze and is extremely heavy. I certainly wasn’t going to leave it anywhere and so decided to take it with me to the airport. A sign of the times, that once x-rayed, this potentially lethal weapon, was permitted to fly with me. Post 9-11, I would have surely lost it forever, discarded along with the nail scissors and tweezers.

Friday, 7 December 2012


X Factor and all who sail in her, surely by now should be the scourge of the ‘music industry’ nation. Yes, in the early days I would sit and watch it with my kids, protesting loudly that it was in fact for research purposes, and not at all for pleasure. Now though, and indeed for some time, the dirty bloom of that form of entertainment has rubbed off, and even though I am aware, somewhere near the back of my mind, that there is a Liverpudlian lad that would make quality cruise-ship material, this year I have stopped watching. We all know that great music will never come from this kind of show, but it is the selection process that baffles me (and angers me), the choosing of not just the promising but also the hopeless and deluded, all in the name of ‘entertainment’, something for the great British public to laugh at. Since when, was making music, something to laugh at?
Since X Factor.
We have banned ‘bear bating’, ‘fox hunting’ and ‘dog fighting’ but it seems some human beings are still ‘fair game’ for ritual humiliation on national TV. The judging panel, of course, must be aware of this and yet still manage to look bemused as the talentless are wheeled on to impale themselves on the barbs of jumped up celebrity. The final straw for me this year came as one of the judges (someone who is generally thought of as an elder statesman of the pop world, and indeed is referred to as ‘The Captain’ by one very blond Radio One DJ) thought nothing of smirking and imitating the movements of a boy, who certainly (in my opinion) had some special needs, whilst he earnestly tried to perform the said judge’s biggest hit.
It would seem that the aspirational needs of the panel, far outweigh the need for any compassion that might normally be afforded for such an individual. Such a cynical move I thought, to even invite this boy to compete, knowing he would be laughed out of town.
Unbelievably, this tired format that was always a big bag of wrong, limps on for another year. The damage it does though is substantial. There is big and quick money to be made here, not just in the huge fees paid to the judges, but also in the initial downloads and colossal airplay revenue and not forgetting the advertising (that we are all grateful for, in between segments of the show) The real issue though, is how the record industry as a whole has lost confidence in itself. Artists are now dispensed with, sometimes before even releasing anything. Long-term investment in talent and unique creativity has been downgraded, and in its place, commercial hype for the quick return is in pole position. It’s the music though that suffers the most. An average song now last for days rather than years. Pop is eating itself with unparalleled hunger.

My Dad used to frequently quote Sir Thomas Beecham, who once said,
“It’s got to have a damn good tune”
This came about though because Dad found it hard to appreciate the beauty of anything composed post 1890 and as it became apparent that my interest in pop music wasn’t going to go away, it was his opinion that this saying had particular relevance. And in a way it did. A great tune will live on.
Last night, during a particularly galling episode of ‘Made In Chelsea’ my daughter brought to my attention, during the commercial break, that the advert we were gazing and glazing at was the Ministry of Sound’s ‘Essential Anthems 90’s’ and it happened to feature a tune I had had a hand in, indeed it was playing, right there in our living room. Grateful, that at least part of the turkey this Christmas was now paid for (these compilations do not make a man rich) it struck me that this particular tune was now at least 15 years old and was still, in a bizarre way, as relevant as it was back in 1997. I will always remember how it came about. Written, recorded and pretty much finished in a cellar under my Derbyshire home, this song in a sense had humble beginnings. I had bought a new studio toy called an ‘Akai 1000’. It was a ‘sampler’ and so logically I now needed to look around for things to sample. Being lazy and at this time very much into the classical piece ‘Adagio for Strings’ by Samuel Barber (a dark and haunting outing for string orchestra made famous more recently by its feature in the film ‘Platoon’) I had the CD, it was in front of me. Was it trying to tell me something? I saw no reason to look any further and ‘sampled’ the opening chord. It was a complex chord (I could name, it but we would all fall asleep) and showed it to my writing and production partner. He recognised it as something special and once recreated (to avoid the suing of arse) he spun it back into the sampler and manipulated it into an opening riff that was ‘to die for’. This then triggered a melody from me, and soon afterwards, some words, simple ones for a message everybody could relate to, the saying goodbye to a loved one, something most of us will have had to suffer, at one time or another. Then followed the beats, supplied by my partner and looking at my watch I noticed all but an hour and a half had elapsed. But by this time, as if the song had a life of it’s own and had forced itself to be written, we knew, as we grinned to each other in a smoke filled Victorian cellar, that we had created something special. The next day our singer joined us and we were able to record her voice, which had a suitably dark and distinctive timbre and complimented the song perfectly.
All writers and producers know that this moment has to be savoured, it may never come again, it is an elusive thing that nobody knows how to harness.
All this happened at the very start of this particular project. From memory it was the third song we had written and normally we would have gone on writing for much longer before trying to chase a deal. But, with management in place and a mutual buzz around this tune, we decided to start the, usually longwinded and humbling process of finding a record deal. It didn’t take long, and soon enough we had a number of major labels all bidding to sign us up, pretty much on the strength of one song.
Interesting I think that when first released it only made it to number 41. Today we would surely be dropped, unceremoniously dumped into the ether, never to be heard of again. But no, our record company believed and after a short break they tried again. This time though things were different and as the radio stations around the country began to add us to their playlists, expectations began to rise. Some people may not be aware that there is such a thing as a ‘midweek chart’. This gives a pretty good idea of where you’re going to end up come Sunday morning when the final chart becomes available. It told us we were number 5.
Sunday morning came and thrilled just to be even in the top 40 we could now celebrate in earnest. Crammed into a white transit van and south bound for a gig that night, spirits ran high and the cramped conditions and smell of petrol were of little concern. We stopped halfway for fuel and as I perused which flavour of crisps to buy, my mobile phone began to buzz (an early Ericsson, shaped like a brick) It was our manager. My heart began to beat heavily. I answered.
“You’re the nations number one”
It can still be done this way, and there are many examples of acts that have recorded at home and showed the world, through the eyes of ‘YouTube’, what they have been up to. Surely now, it has never been easier to let people know. As technology becomes ever more accessible and affordable, we can all be creative without having to know the right people or consider soiling our hands with a talent show. We all now have a voice. It is a free, if not congested and difficult, market.

A few years ago a young male singer came to me to co-write a song. He told me in the car, as I drove him from the station to my home, that he had been approached by a senior TV executive and asked if he ‘fancied winning X Factor’. I cannot prove how much truth there was in his story, but even if there was some, it goes a long way to illustrate how much trouble we’re in.
Let’s hope there is enough rage against this machine at Christmas time to scupper the inevitable.

Friday, 30 November 2012


I often complain to friends and acquaintances who are salaried and at some point will be able to retire on a large pension, that they don’t have the faintest idea of the stresses and strains the self employed must endure.
I also conveniently forget that a nine to five job with pitiful holiday allocation is perhaps a far cry from my self-regulated meander through life. There maybe benefits and pitfalls on both sides, but while there is any doubt, I’ll continue to complain. The main issue for me is the inability to plan anything, with size of income being an uncertainty, and the annual visit from the taxman, more than a probability, a disorganised creative can fall hard.
Luckily though, for a few years in the late eighties, the government let a major loophole go unchecked, a legal tax dodge of major proportion.
The rules were simple, if you recorded an album outside of Great Britain and then lived outside of Great Britain for one year (save for sixty days, when entry was permitted) then all the income on that album was deemed tax-free. Too good to be true? Well, for a time it was true and those who benefited from it were lucky people. Some time after we tried this, the Spice Girls were sent home, mid term, as the loophole was tightened and then axed. So, somewhere back in 1988 we agreed to leave the country, our families and our friends. Italy was chosen as our temporary ex-pat location, Gallarate, to be exact, a small northern town in the province of Varese. We had come here for two reasons, by now we had developed a passion for Italy and it’s culinary delights, and also our bass player had married a local girl who, it turned out, had some experience in ‘Mud Wrestling’, a common form of Italian style ‘pub entertainment’, at the time. (A pointless digression, but worthy of entry none the less)
Our accommodation was a newly built apartment block, constructed in red brick and from memory, pretty ugly. We were each allocated our own flat and on the top floor was a large room in which we could rehearse. Word soon got round that we had moved in and crowds of kids would gather outside.
The flats were essentially unfurnished and so, with a small budget, we were taken to Italy’s equivalent to Ikea, where we were expected to trolley dash for our contents. I chose a rug, that looking back was not attractive, and from memory precious little else, but compared to my previous Hulme (Manchester’s finest) existence, this was minimal heaven. Because Gallarate was a small town and a good forty-five minute drive to Milan or any other place where civilization could be found, we would each need a car.
Our singer, (and songwriter) had pockets way deeper than ours and promptly invested in a brand new Alfa Romeo Spider (Roadster) in red, naturally. A wise choice and one I was very envious of. I lumped for an Alfa Romeo ‘Alfetta’ (the Italian equivalent to the Ford Cortina) ten years old and in black. It certainly had character and was relatively cheap at one thousand pounds, but the telltale smell of burning oil (which by now I am all too aware of) would render my investment fallow, and sure enough in no time at all I would be spending the same again, when one of it’s pistons decided to wrap itself round the engine. I loved this car though and when in good working order, it would provide me with an escape route and take me away from the band and all things music. I would drive towards the Dolomites until the snow stopped me in my tracks, have lunch in a ‘Trattoria’ and take in the view. Trips to Milan and Verona were regular events and as, for most of the time, there was very little to do, it felt like we were tourists, trapped in a red brick castle.
Although a necessity, driving in Italy was like dicing with death. Traffic lights were rarely observed and when the seat belt law came into play, replica cardboard seatbelts with Velcro attached, became available to buy in some shops. Carefully applied, they could fool a patrolling ‘Carabinieri’ into thinking the new law was being observed: anything to avoid complying.

Great Britain may have been out of bounds but it didn’t take me long to realise that The Republic of Ireland, and in particular Dublin might just be a great place to hang out. As a boy, mainly thanks to my Granddad, I had been well and truly hooked on the art of fishing. Back then I would walk down to the River Nidd and easily spend all day lost in all things nature, distracted from the drudge of school and homework. This would always take place on a Saturday, as Sunday was a day of rest and definitely not a good time to put a hook in a fish’s mouth. It was my ambition though, to catch a salmon, and no self-respecting salmon was ever likely to be found in the Nidd. As I headed over to Dublin for some expat relief, it dawned on me that the ‘Blackwater River’ in County Kerry, was a perfectly good place to start trying to fulfill my ambition.
It had been raining hard and typically, on the day I booked to fish this beautiful stretch of water, conditions were grim and the river had turned to gravy. Undeterred, I pressed on and took some advice from the river keeper.
“Be sure to try the ‘flying condom’ now”
The ‘flying Condom’ was indeed just that. A prophylactic shaped lure with hook embedded, was proving a real hit with the salmon fishermen this particular season. As I cast out my condom into the murky depths with no interest from anything resembling a fish I noticed next to me another fisherman, in full attire and with all the latest equipment. He was wearing chest waders, a waistcoat with flies attached, ‘Polaroid’ sunglasses and had a special device called a ‘tailor’ used to hook round a salmons tail to aid hauling a heavy fish up onto the bank. He was a pro and at first I thought he might not want to talk to me. I had no equipment to speak of and had borrowed a battered old rod from the river keeper. But we got chatting and it turned out that, far from being a stuffy old salmon-fishing snob, as some certainly were, he was a heavy goods lorry driver from Birmingham and a more down to earth chap would be hard to find. He confided in me that he was a none-swimmer and wearing chest waders was quite simply suicide, should he slip, death from drowning would be hard to avoid as the waders filled with water. He had smuggled them out of his holiday home, as his wife did not approve. Cheerfully though we fished on, not giving his predicament too much thought, but then suddenly out of the blue, as I reeled in my ‘Flying Condom’ I felt my line go tight, very tight. My new friend instinctively knew what had happened.
“That’s a salmon, that is”, he declared, and indeed it was. Fooled by the rubber, my first salmon had found me. I had a problem though. The bank was steep and without a landing net there was no hope of getting this magnificent fish out of the water. He sensed my panic and was soon at my side with his bespoke piece of equipment.
“It’s alright” he said in his thick ‘brummie’, “I’ll get her out”.
Relieved, and marvelling at his knowing the fish was a female (as I hadn’t even seen it yet) nothing could have prepared me for what was to happen next. As he bent over trying to reach out for the fish’s tail, he slipped and with a forward summersault, crashed in to the freezing black water. He’d been wearing a flat cap. By now this was the only thing left of him, floating silently on the surface. Seconds turned into minutes and as a non-swimmer myself I was helpless and feeling wretched that this very decent man was going to lose his life, trying to salvage my catch. Rooted to the spot, I knew I had to run and get help, but as I started to move I spotted some bubbles rising around his abandoned floating cap, and then breaking the surface like a river monster, he emerged triumphantly. Hopelessly grateful just to see him alive, I hadn’t noticed what he had in his arms. It was my salmon.
“Didn’t want her getting away now did I”
He promised me he’d never wear his waders again.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I have mentioned my Dad on a few previous occasions and I may also have mentioned the beret and cine camera and the fact that he was a local preacher. As if all that wasn’t enough, there were other idiosyncrasies that would plague me throughout my early life. School for me was a mixed bag. My inability to remember anything and hopeless lack of concentration may today have been termed, ‘dyslexia’. Back then though, it was called ‘dozy’, and slow progress was made in the classroom. Lunch however, was a highlight, and as one of the dinner ladies was my friend’s Mum, portions were big, especially chips, which from memory I had every day of the week. After this, I would meander my way down to the music block, where an indulgent and very supportive music teacher would let me mess about on a piano for the rest of lunch break.
The music block, I suppose, was a sort of haven, a place to hide from the harsh reality of school, but for me there was another reason to stay hidden; my Dad was the Head of Modern Languages. I would like to send a strong message to all teachers who might think it’s a good idea to send their children to the school in which they teach. IT ISN’T. Dad went a step further, and not only engineered it so that he taught me French, but also made sure he was my form teacher. It’s strange though, because with him being my Dad, I never really got a good objective eye-full as to what sort of a teacher he was. In the late seventies it was quite normal to hit a child, the cane was in full swing and my maths teacher found nothing problematic about using a Bunsen burner’s rubber tubing for his weapon of choice. And so, with all this in mind, I kept my head down and willed the bell to ring. Looking back, it was little wonder my concentration and ability to learn, suffered.
Being no stranger to the pulpit, my Dad was also regularly called upon to take assembly. This was perhaps the most uncomfortable and degrading experience of all. The whole school, assembled in front of the man I called Dad; As I tried to block out the taunts from behind me, I would daydream myself away to a far off place of anonymity. What I would have given for a different surname.
There were some advantages though. A ginger haired boy, who, to be fair was a bit of a loner, had come to school with a pretend bomb. It was just a crappy old box with a battery and some wires hanging out of it with the word BOMB written on the side in marker pen. Nobody thought it was funny and nobody paid any attention to him or the pretend device. At the end of the day, as I walked through the staff car park with a friend, homeward bound, I noticed it had been discarded in a nearby bin. Without thinking, we retrieved it and started to kick it around the car park, laughing at how pathetic an imitation of the real thing it was. We soon got bored and wandered off home. Without realising it though we had kicked it under the Headmaster’s car and now, in the shade and barely visible, it looked all the more authentic. I’m not sure how paranoid our Headmaster was, but spotting the device threw him into panic. Thinking logically, even if he was unpopular enough to get blown up outside school (and he was) surely the perpetrator would avoid writing the word BOMB, on the bomb. Nevertheless, he had the whole school evacuated, and summoned the police who in turn summoned a bomb disposal squad. Several hours later, with the area made safe and with ruined evening plans for several members of staff, the caretaker was finally given the go ahead to lock up the School. Back home, as I sat round the tea table with Mum and the Head of Modern Languages, we were all blissfully unaware of the mayhem that had been going on at school; until the next morning, that is. It turned out that a teacher had spotted our fake bomb kick-around from the staff room window and within minutes of registration, we were standing outside the Headmaster’s office. I have never seen a more red and swollen face on a grown man; uncomfortably reminiscent of the scene from ‘Kes’ in the Headmaster’s office (except we were all guilty) surely this was going to be my first taste of corporal punishment. The boy who made the bomb was, naturally, caned and very unfortunately, so was my friend. I was not. No explanation was given. As I juggled and struggled with the feelings of guilt and relief (for a moment or two) this incident only went to cement my firm belief that, teaching your offspring, should be banned. (I had toyed with the idea of sending a petition to number ten, but as my Dad was also ‘Mayor of Knaresborough’ at the time, and about to appear on ‘The Sunday Quiz’ hosted by Keith Macklin (Anglia TV) I decided to shelve the plan, thus avoiding further shame, that would inevitably rain down on my dysfunctional Father-Son relationship)
My Mum though, in her own way, helped smooth things along. She could see our pain (my three sisters had previously walked this difficult path) and without being obviously disloyal or taking sides, she would be there to offer some comfort. My Dad would often accuse her of settling for ‘peace at any price’ but this so called ‘peace’ was a welcome relief from his, very often, ‘Victorian’ approach. Take for example the School cross-country run. We lived just a short walk away from school as it happened and our house was conveniently en route. In those days we would be trusted to run three miles or so, out into the unsupervised countryside. Instead of crossing the bridge to the other side of the river, I would take a sharp left, and in no time at all would be letting myself into our house, where I would greeted by this;
“Hello love, I thought it might be you, have you time for a cup of tea and a biscuit ?”
The look on her face was priceless, a mixture of guilt and mischievousness, and there in the kitchen, while she robotically ironed my Dad’s shirts (with Dad, safely distracted at the coal face) I would enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit, and forget the troubles of school and the cross country run. The timing had to be good though. I would need to re-join the runners as they emerged from the other side of the river. With mud, fraudulently applied to my legs, from the garden, I would seamlessly slipstream myself back into the race, making sure I was out of breath and in no danger of winning. This was our secret, an unspoken bond of understanding, which despite the risks, she lovingly offered me.
As previously mentioned, my Dad was a lay preacher, and very often he would be required to preach at one of the many nearby rural village Chapels. This particular week it was Spofforth. We would all be required to attend. My Grandma and Granddad were also coming along, as they were visiting at the time, but didn’t need any encouragement to soak up some family pride from the altar. My Grandma was a very strict and starchy lady. She would always use my full name (she didn’t believe in any kind of shortening) and was quick to inform my Mum if something on the television was inappropriate for my young and impressionable eyes. I can clearly remember her rushing into the kitchen to summon help with censorship, as the ‘Benny Hill Show’ got underway. Granddad, on the other hand, was a comedian. A small man with one leg a good two inches shorter than the other (due to repetitive motorcycle accidents) He would always be seen with a stick, and would make it his duty to look for the funny side in everything; And he was much adored for it. As a younger man he had played piano for the silent movies. This improvisational role, required a high level of keyboard facility and indeed, he could pretty much play any tune you’d care to mention, by ear.
My Dad had asked him to play the organ at the service, something that carried potential worry, as he had been known to spice up well known tunes with a sprinkling of the ‘Les Dawson’ treatment. As we arrived it occurred to me that our family, quite literally, outnumbered the sparse and very elderly congregation. As the service began, nothing seemed untoward and eventually we got to the long boring bit they call the ‘Sermon’, where we could begin our daydreaming and my Mum could put the finishing touches to the next days shopping list (All in her head, you understand) But, out of the blue, I spotted my Granddads very small, pea-shaped, shiny head in the mirror above the organ. It was brown as a berry, due to regular Blackpool holidays, where he would toast himself for hours on end, sitting on a promenade bench. Within seconds I started to titter. Soon my sister had cottoned on and she too began to shake, and then my other sister, and then my Mum and even my Grandma too (unaware of what was funny, but that’s how it spreads) all as the sermon was being delivered by the righteous and stony-faced Preacher/Dad, Head of Modern Languages and Mayor. My Granddad, who by now had noticed in his mirror that something was making us laugh, also succumbed to it’s infectious nature, and before long, he and the whole pew our family had inhabited, was visibly shaking.
As the preacher noticed our irreverent behaviour, the schoolteacher in him triggered an audible reprimand,
But it was too late, by now things were out of hand and Dad began to lose it too.
The three old age pensioners that made up the rest of the congregation were mercifully too old and infirm to care. And so, eventually, order was restored and we could go home to enjoy the most important part of any church service, lunch.
This incident, gave birth to the term ‘Pew Shaker’ which to my knowledge although not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary, when loosely translated means,
A public and involuntary attack of the giggles in a near silent room’

It often surprises me though, that despite some of the more unconventional elements of my parenting, how much I enjoyed these years growing up. More than that, how many foibles and characteristics of my parent’s (especially my Dad’s) I have inherited; a fact I am frequently reminded of, by my wife.

Monday, 19 November 2012


It was the late 80’s and we had been touring Australia. Yes, the Sydney Opera House is impressive enough, and the sunshine can definitely be relied upon. It’s true the people are direct here and personable too, but this place they call ‘down under’ has never really appealed to me. There were some lowlights though. During a meal just in front of this fine Opera House, I spotted the ex-pat boxer Joe Bugner, also eating (what looked like his own body weight in steak) and at the same time signing autographs for adoring ‘forty something’ women. After unsuccessful consecutive fights with Ali and Frasier he had become something of a minor celebrity and had settled down in Sydney. Talking of steak, I can remember accompanying our Sax player to another Sydney meal out. We had seen a pub that, on certain weekdays, boasted a ‘Naughty Lunch’. The only responsible thing to do was to investigate further. Strangely the only option on the menu was steak and chips but in lieu of this and by means of some compensation, all the waitresses were topless. At first this seemed like a novel idea, although when our ‘naughty’ waitress came to our table to order, keeping eye contact, and a straight face was a near impossibility. Looking round the room we seemed thoroughly out of place in our T-shirts and jeans, shoulder to shoulder with suited businessmen grimly pawing the underdressed staff. The food was good enough, but this unlikely combination of pornographic cuisine somehow accelerated our mastication and in a cloud of embarrassment and shame we were soon gone. This ‘poor mans’ America though, would offer us some compensation, as it was customary to continue down to New Zealand after our ‘Ozzie’ schlep.
At the airport the mood would lift, when our tour manager revealed she had managed to get two upgrades to first class. It was a given our singer would take one of them, with the rest of us taking it in turns to feel the benefit. On this particular flight it was my turn to swank it up in first. There was nothing much exceptional about an Air Qantas flight. A four to five hour journey and predictably, steak was on the menu again, (served this time by fully clothed ladies) but in the seat opposite me, spread out like a recumbent gazelle, was none other than John Cleese. Disappointingly though, he slept for most of the journey (I’m not sure what I would have expected him to do if he’d been awake) but I can remember, as the air stewards carried out the safety demonstrations before take off, he burst into uncontrollable laughter when the words “and here is a whistle for attracting attention” were read out. No doubt he might have enjoyed running up and down the plane as Basil Fawlty, whistle in mouth, doing just that.
Safely over the Tasman Sea, we descended smoothly into Kiwi civilization. We had been here before, performing in Auckland and Wellington but this time we would be travelling down to the ‘gateway’ of the South Island to sample the very beautiful Christchurch. Named in honour of ‘Christ Church’ Oxford, and with a river ‘Avon’ running through it, this place had a stately feel, a sense of history with an air of importance. The architecture was grand here and felt more like an Oxbridge College than a city somewhere on the other side of the world.
Not wanting to blow any whistles or attract any undue attention, it has to be said, that from time to time, in, shall we say, more cosmopolitan cities, the services of ‘working’ girls were relied upon by certain entourage members, to provide relief from the stresses and strain of touring life (you understand)
In Christchurch though, this was never going to happen, the gig was only small and after which, a small party was planned in a nearby pub. We would attend out of politeness and then it would be soon to bed, and away nice and early the next morning.
The day we arrived though was our day off, and a couple of the previously mentioned entourage decided to check if this sleepy city might indeed, just be able to provide some ‘love for sale’. As it turned out, we were in the midst of a thriving community of antipodean ‘hookers’, all keen to sample something fresh from the ‘on tour’ larder. Phone calls were made and the hotel was soon awash with the sound of girls ‘working’. We were all surprised that such a prim and proper place should have such a subversive underbelly, but eventually the hotel quietened down and when tomorrow came we would prepare for our first Christchurch gig.
In such far off places it was rare to have a lengthy guest list, indeed nobody in the band or crew had anyone to put on the list that evening, except for me that is. (or so I thought)
I had never met my guests before; they were relatives of my brother in law, five in all, an elderly couple with daughter and husband who, for good measure, had brought along their young teenage daughter. Three generations of respectability, who I would need to meet and greet after the show, in a presumably desolate green room. Not so desolate as it turned out. During some miss spent youth a day earlier, each participating member of the entourage had given their ‘lady of the night’ several back stage passes. (these hookers, it turned out, restricted their friendship group to only people of a similar employ) And so, it dawned on me, as our set drew to a close, that along with one very respectable Christchurch family our green room could now be awash with a multitude of whores. And it was.
As the Grandma remarked that, she’d ‘never seen so many young ladies in one room before, and did I know any of them?’ I prayed to God that nobody would let slip about the after show party.
Once there, I got talking to one of the bar staff, who seemed to know every female in the room. He explained to me that, whilst for most of their week, sex was exchanged for money; the chance to get laid like a normal person, with no money changing hands, presented a huge turn on. Which I suppose would explain the ‘I Claudius’ like orgy that ensued.
The back stage pass has a lot to answer for.

Our sound engineer went on to work extensively with AC/DC and told me that crew members were routinely issued with back stage passes, to give out to pretty girls. This is of course is standard, but some girls were, allegedly, ushered in early and encouraged to have sex during the gig with (specially chosen) crewmembers, under the see-through Perspex catwalk that made part of the staging. The band would be fully entertained whilst churning out songs they could sing in there sleep. This was all in the name of keeping things fresh, as an average AC/DC tour could last up to 2 years and the boys would need some inspiration to see them through. Savvy members of the crew would utilize the high currency of the pass in imaginative ways. Before administering it, they would ask the willing fan to earn it, by administering something else first. Pretty girls, invariably have standards though, and would turn down this ‘tit for tat’ arrangement, thus forcing the crewmember to enlist a groupie of a lower aesthetic quality. (An unwashed rigger, three months into a tour and living on a bus would, to be fair, present a challenge to even the most rugged of groupies) When the band noticed however, that the eye candy had taken a turn for the worse, they changed the system slightly and each pass would have the crewmembers name written on it in indelible ink. A days ‘per diems’ were withheld for any sub standard ‘tottie’ found back stage, and soon the band were back in business.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Thankfully, so far in my life, drugs had not featured heavily. One thing that can be said of my strict religious upbringing is that it kept me blissfully ignorant of most things illicit. Having said that, I can remember, whilst cutting the grass of an old lady who lived opposite (aged thirteen) also finding time to secretly slip into her garage and make a cigarette out of newspaper (just newspaper). This resulted in a less than smooth smoke and how I got away with it, as I returned home stinking like a bonfire, I’ll never know. And so, for the first 18 years of my life, it is fair to say, I was genuinely disinterested in smoking and even in the pub I would limit my taste for alcohol to the odd gin and tonic, which looking back was perhaps even more dysfunctional than the newspaper cigarette.
However, when Music College came into my life, so did real cigarettes and pretty soon after, I noticed that some of my friends were rolling their own but with an added ingredient. With only a few weeks of ‘nicotine high’ acclimatisation under my belt, I was promptly thrown into a much more grown up arena of smoke. Like most cities, Manchester could provide all the ‘goods’ and for a time we would frequent the toilets in the ‘Band On The Wall’ for our combustible purchases, where, waiting for us, would be a small ‘rasta man’ by the name of Benji. We only ever heard him utter two words.
“Two Pound”
Green as the handful of tomatoes I managed to produce this summer, I put it to him that we wouldn’t require that kind of weight and perhaps he could consider selling us a smaller quantity, a half ounce perhaps?
“Two Pound” was the response and when the penny finally dropped I handed him two crisp (also) green paper pounds and left with our weekend supply.
During this period we also had heard that magic mushrooms could provide extra nuance to one’s evening and after a tip off that the nearby Lyme Park had a plentiful stash, we hotfooted it over to Disley and began to search for the elusive Psilocybe Semilanceata. We soon amassed a heavy ‘SafeWay’ bag full and returned home to begin the task of drying out the little beauties in our airing cupboard. There, they would be laid out ‘in state’ for a week or so, by which time we would have a ready made stash of ‘natural’ high. From memory we would boil up seventy or so mushrooms in a large pan of water. Coffee would be added and sugar and anything else that could mask the foul bitter taste of this special fungus. Swiftly moving onto beer, to cleanse the palate, we would then settle down on the sofa and quite literally watch a pair of drawn curtains. After about twenty minutes, when the pleats started to swirl and swim, we knew we were in. Several hours of uncontrollable laughter would follow, but in the morning a red roar throat would make us pay for the enjoyment.
In a nearby street, another student house had taken the whole mushroom thing to a higher level. They had a psychedelic light box called a ‘Skiffington’, which, whilst under the influence of the ‘shroom’, could take you to forbidden places. On the side of the box was a picture of its inventor, a man by the name of Gerry Adler, a scary looking creature with a beard and certainly not easy on the eye. One evening we decided to join forces and see for ourselves what the ‘Skiffington’ could do. It didn’t seem to take me anywhere I wouldn’t have ordinarily gone, but one of the other housemates reacted badly, spooked by the image of Mr. Adler, disappeared to the cellar below and began to smash the place to bits. It was time to go.
Post Music College and in a band of keen smokers, clearing customs could prove tricky. Even if we weren’t carrying anything, our clothes would harbour the tell tale odours of misdemeanour. Anybody who has travelled to Italy will know that it is ‘de rigueur’ to be greeted by a pack of Alsatians, highly trained to sniff out the pot smokers. When we arrived it was always a feeding frenzy of canine excitement. Lumps of expensive cling-filmed hash could be seen flying through the air, evidence scattered in panic, as the dogs moved in. Our drummer on one occasion decided to ingest his stash to avoid being detained. I’m not sure this plan had been thought out properly, as once his digestive juices got to work he became unarousable for the next twenty four hours, which luckily coincided with a day off.
It was clear that travelling with Hashish was a ‘no no’ and we soon adapted by making new European dope smoking friends.
Amsterdam, under the circumstances, with it’s coffee shops openly selling grass and hash quite legally, was a Godsend and as luck would have it Holland became one of our biggest territories outside Britain. We would visit Amsterdam on numerous occasions, staying in ‘The American Hotel’, situated just opposite the famed ‘Bull Dog’ cafĂ©. There were two menus here, one for food and drink, and one for the extensive selection of red and black ‘Lebanese hash’, ‘Grass’ (of all kinds, including ‘Thai sticks’, Sensimilla and the notoriously potent ‘Skunk’) were all on offer.
We were in heaven.
It didn’t take long for some of us to start thinking about how we might get some of this quality produce back home. Perhaps posting it might work? And so, with no thought given, and after a concerted smoke, I packaged up some quality ‘black’ into an envelope I had found in my hotel room. Needless to say, the envelope was emblazoned with the Hotels name and I had stupidly addressed it to myself. Even the most amateur of smugglers would not have made these two errors, but once it was in the post box I didn’t give it a second thought.
Landing at Manchester was usually a smooth, speedy operation, the men at customs knew who we were, and we knew who they were, sometimes an autograph was requested and we would always oblige willingly. But this time something was different.
I noticed they had pulled over one of our managers and had started looking through his luggage. I made my customary bee- line for the exit, and as usual I made it through the sliding doors without incident. It wasn’t until I was literally half way into a black cab that I felt the ‘arm of the law’ upon my shoulder. They had detained my manager in error; it was me they were after.
Once escorted back to the airport, and with a beating heart, I was shown into a small room where for the next 2 hours I would be rigorously questioned and then strip-searched. The man doing the interrogation bore an uncanny resemblance to ‘Mr Mackay’ in the British sitcom ‘Porridge’ and took pleasure in whistling one of our bigger hits, as he rummaged through my dirty laundry, with me standing on in just my underpants. In a thick ‘Glaswegian’ accent he uttered these reassuring words:
“ a hope you’ve noh planned anything fo tonight laddie”
 After what seemed like a lifetime, a lady lawyer showed up and explained to me that the dogs at the airport had easily intercepted my illicit package. If I were to pay a small fine then they would let me go. I would have given them my life savings and found out later that if I had driven away in the cab I would have eventually been arrested by the Police, and this then would have resulted in a criminal record, scuppering my chances of going to America ever again, and guaranteeing me a splash on the front pages of the Manchester evening news. My parents were never to get wind of this unfortunate incident. I was a lucky boy.

I am probably one of very few ‘forty something’s’ working in the music industry, who can claim to have never snorted a line of coke, or snorted anything for that matter (well perhaps water, whilst trying not to drown, each time I try to swim) It’s also true that in my time in bands during the 80’s and 90’s the drug of choice seemed to mainly be smoke, but when the insidious white powder did arrive, things would start to go wrong. Smoking was inclusive and a mellow social icebreaker, while coke and its admirers were banished to the toilet, sheepishly snorting, and bolstering up their paranoia levels. Coke was, of course all around us, and there are many tales of heavy users behaving badly. My favourite though is of a female singer in a very successful 70’s rock band who with an insatiable appetite for the white powdery stuff had completely worn out her septum. During the bands shows she would need to be constantly topped up, and with a, now redundant nose, had developed her own unique technique for maintaining a high during a gig. At the side of the stage, a small tent was erected, hidden in the wings, and between songs she would disappear into it. Inside the tent was a roadie. This unfortunate individual had been supplied with a straw and with it, a large bag of coke. As his musical mistress bent over to touch her toes, he would be required, with straw in mouth, to shoot a quantity of the said powder, somewhere in the vicinity of a place the sun would seldom shine. Apparently the lining of this particular orifice, is super efficient at absorbing anything you might care to mention, into the blood stream, and so really this was a perfectly logical solution to the problem. Back out onto the stage, with rear end fully supplied she would sing on, to her unsuspecting fans.
It is extraordinary, the lengths some people will go to and how cruelly the pleasure threshold gets raised when addiction kicks in. The man in the tent, I assume, must have signed the ‘Mother’ of all confidentiality agreements before undertaking the job of pimping this lady’s derriere. And today, as his grand children bounce on his knee, I wonder what words of advice he will offer them?

Friday, 2 November 2012


Montserrat is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have had the pleasure of visiting. The ‘Emerald Isle’, nestled into the Leeward Islands, deep in the heart of the West Indies, was discovered by Columbus in 1493. It was late 1988 and from Antigua we took a perilously small twin prop plane that would land us virtually on the beach at W.H Bramble Airport, a glorified rough track that has now, along with most of the south of the Island, been destroyed by the previously dormant volcano in 1995 (to add to that tragedy, in 1989, just months after we left, Hurricane Hugo also made a visit and destroyed 90% of the Islands infrastructure) Clearing customs was a ramshackle affair, much like a car boot sale, all carried out in the open with fragile looking trestle tables, our luggage and passports were given a cursory glance and we were soon set free to roam the island. Pre the afore mentioned natural disasters, this small nugget of paradise was home to ‘Air Montserrat’ a purpose built ‘state of the art’ studio, who’s proud owner was Sir George Martin. We were to stay in his ‘plantation’ house, a wooden, single story structure surrounded by a classic picket fenced veranda. As a child I was always encouraged to notice and appreciate nature. This is something that has never left me and so, typically I suppose, while the rest of the band settled in, I chose to wander round the extensive gardens. In front of the house was a large expanse of grass that had an unusually large number of golf ball sized holes in it. If this was somewhere to practice ‘putting’ then whoever had made the holes had got carried away, as they were dotted around everywhere. Instinctively reaching for one of the long blades of strong grass that grew at the perimeter of the garden, I inserted it deep into the hole to see what might live there. As soon as the grass reached the bottom, something latched on violently, attaching itself and making the blade heavy. Carefully I slowly retracted the grass wondering what might be holding on, a mouse perhaps or large native beetle? The legs came first, followed by a huge fury body. I am no arachnophobe, but I wasn’t prepared to be up close and personal with a real live tarantula. As I fled to the house it struck me that we would be living amongst these creatures for some time. To their credit though, they kept themselves, to themselves.
Morning came and with it a sumptuous breakfast, prepared by two ‘Tom and Jerry’ style apron-wearing ‘mamas’, both showing evidence of a committed eating programme. Freshly made pancakes were lovingly laid out before us and it was here that I would learn to ‘hedgehog’ a mango; each half, cubed with a knife and then turned inside out, still a delight to this day. Fruit of all kinds, grew in all places, begging to be picked.
The studio itself was beautifully positioned, set high up with far reaching views of the Island. Outside, was a large swimming pool, warm and inviting, and for refreshment, cold fresh coconuts (with straws inserted), were offered with a smile by the aptly named studio assistant, Sugar Daddy. All this and more lay on hand to cool and sooth away the stresses of recording. Food, and my hunger for it, has seemed to define and punctuate most of my life. This trip and the gastronomic delights it offered would provide no exception. Our chef, born and bred on the Island, and economically named X, was a giant of a man, who would prepare for us some of the best food I have eaten. Locally caught fresh Lobster (with curry sauce!) and fish of all shapes and sizes and of course chicken, lip tingling with hot sauce were all standards in his repertoire. We discovered in time that only chicken legs made it onto the island, perhaps breasts and thighs were deemed too expensive, so, when we saw ‘Mountain Chicken’ on the menu we fully expected to encounter other parts of, a perhaps, more local bird. But again, only legs arrived. This time though they looked slightly strange, bigger and darker in colour. They tasted great and it was only when X appeared for his after dinner applause that we noticed a suspicious smirk on his face. ‘Mountain Chicken’ was in fact, a frog, a huge local variety of the species, and the size of a melon. On occasion they would hop up to the pool and sit silently in the sun.
Meal times were the high point for me. The time spent in the studio could be exhilarating alright, but with a ‘deliver or you won’t feature’ policy in place, stress levels would rise (for me at least) At dinner though, the work was over for the day, and now there was eating to be done and some interesting banter with it. One evening when we had finished our food and the chef had made his customary appearance (to be told how talented he was) the conversation turned to the local female ‘talent’ and what bar or night club might be worth visiting, understandable given we were all male and with healthy levels of testosterone between us. Suggestions were made and long tales of fine Montserratian ‘babes’ already conquested were banded around, when suddenly, out of the blue, X hung a dubious left in the conversation. In a strong local patois, he uttered these unforgettable words.
‘Yeah but, ya aft ta *uck a duck’
 As silence enveloped our table, someone plucked up the courage to press for further detail, which resulted in the realisation that it was indeed true, our man in the kitchen, had stayed from the beaten path and had a weakness for a duck. Later that evening, prompted by this earlier revelation, our producer divulged to us that, a now famous blues legend (who’s name I will keep to myself to ensure my future health and happiness) had grown up on a farmyard and also took ‘pleasure from the feather’, in his case it was chickens. There must be an easier way, I mused, even though poultry may well provide for an uncomplicated mistress, but could this be a clue as to why only chicken legs made it onto the island, and why our chef had turned his eye to the larger ‘billed’ ladies?
Moving swiftly on and to more savoury recreational matters. At the weekends we were invited by an English expat to spend the day on his catamaran, something we ended up doing on a regular basis. The beaches on the island had a rather dark brownish sand due to the volcanic rock, but he knew a beach that was pristine with untouched white sand that could only be reached via the sea. After an exhilarating sail round the island with sightings of flying fish and dolphins we would dock up and enjoy the snorkelling (As a near none swimmer I found that with a mask on, I could submerge my face in the water, and miraculously, my body would float, although sadly I also discovered that if I laughed, I would sink) Before leaving the studio for the catamaran, our singer had commissioned X to make a cake, the kind of cake that would leave a long lasting impression on everyone who sampled it. As the snorkelling came to an end and the skipper prepared to sail us home, we noticed that our technician was nowhere to be seen. It turned out that fully stocked up on cake he had headed off into the sunset. Delirious and happily hallucinating, we would have to wait two hours for his return, by this time sobered somewhat by the third degree burns to his back. By way of compensation though, the mermaids and sea monsters he had witnessed would provide endless stories for his grand children. Tired out by the fresh sea air we would very often sit and watch a DVD from the studios varied collection. This particular evening we had chosen ‘Spinal Tap’. As we sat down (not for the first time) to enjoy this very funny film, the studio manager, an English lady who had worked at ‘Air Montserrat’ since it opened in 1979 remarked on how popular this ‘rockumentary’ was with the very type of band it mocked. Under her watch at the studio she must have witnessed some of the biggest names in the business, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, Lou Reed to the Rolling Stones, they had all been here, but it was Black Sabbath that sprung from her memory, as Rob Reiner began his introduction to this spoof.
The boys from Sabbath, she recalled, had sat in silence for the duration of the film and as the credits rolled, with misty eyes, they began to discuss what they had seen.
“that was sad”

(long silence)

“yeah” (long silence)

“yeah, that was sad ... but they had some great songs”

Having been to the top of the Soufriere Hills volcano and peered down into its molten yolk, I couldn’t have been more unaware of what would soon happen. Shocking were the images of the islands capitol, Plymouth, reduced to an oversized ashtray, this small slice of paradise is now forever tainted. I often think of the homegrown (now late) Montserratian ‘soca’ star, ‘Arrow’, who was responsible for the worldwide hit ‘Hot Hot Hot’. He was reputed to have an arrow shaped swimming pool and known for his no nonsense, direct approach to life. On one night out we would meet him and indulge in some mutual backslapping. The conversation, however, ended with his trademark honesty as he uttered the words,
“yeah I like ya music”

 (long pause and whilst walking away)

 “to a point”

Friday, 26 October 2012


As a performer, it is in my opinion, much easier to play to a large crowd than a small one. Being of a nervous disposition, I much preferred a sea of anonymity as apposed to being able to pick out the members on my guest list. With the big gig I could forget there was anybody there and just get on with the job, more intimate performances would lay bare my every imperfection. On an 80’s American tour I remember a hideous scenario where the audience were essentially, dining three feet away while we played. Burger and chips, chicken in a basket and pizza would pass under our noses as we tried to entertain, the music reduced to an irrelevant backdrop, in front of which, punters could top up their cholesterol levels. Being close up to the band is, I’m sure, great for the audience, but for me, ideally, they could listen via a ‘tannoy’ in the car park (where they could also indulge in food and beverage) I have never been in the slightest bit interested in football but when I heard we were to play Wembley Stadium, two nights on the trot, even my heart skipped a beat. This of course was the Wembley ‘of old’, known as the ‘Empire Stadium’, built in 1923 and famously dubbed ‘The Cathedral of Football’ by the great Pele. To me, and I am a football ignoramus, this fine building had infinitely more stature and atmosphere than it’s bigger, brasher replacement in 2007, but I am most definitely not qualified to judge. We were to be supported by the band, ‘Danny Wilson’. They had opened for us on an earlier American tour and who can forget, even today, their standout anthem, ‘Mary’s Prayer’. As we entered the stadium I remember being struck by how immaculate the turf was, albeit mostly covered by a layer of thick plastic in readiness for the seventy thousand strong crowd, a moment perhaps wasted on me, as I focused on the groundsman’s challenge, as opposed to the heady football scent of years gone by. (I’m afraid that lawns, along with fish and chips are areas of my life that have fallen foul of an inexplicable obsessiveness that, when indulged, can bore the pants off even the most earnest of listeners) During sound check, I looked out from behind my keyboard at a vast landscape of empty seats, in front of which, in only a few hours, would stand many more thousands of people. The stage was the largest I have encountered, larger than many gigs I have subsequently performed at and at each end was an ‘ego’ platform, somewhere to run to and deliver your solo. With video screens in place, this was big.
We had been opening our shows with a tune that started with an unaccompanied riff from a trumpet (being the bands trumpet player there was no avoiding this) In theatres I would be expected to stand in front of the curtain and blast out the said intro, and as it rose with stage illuminated, I would then be joined by the rest of the band as the tune began in earnest. To say the least this was stressful and sadly came at a time before my discovery of the trumpet players savour, the ‘beta blocker’. Tonight at Wembley stadium, as the lights went down and the vast crowd roared its appreciation, I would once again have to perform this task. It’s fair to say that in the past, my track record for acquitting myself without blemish, had not always gone to plan and certainly not unnoticed. If the man up front had been James Brown I would have been long gone and not before being heavily fined. Surely tonight, the Gods would be with me.

It’s 1996, and I am making some headway in a new band. This time it’s a three piece with a ‘Drum and Bass’ direction. After two or three releases, all bizarrely reaching the frustratingly inadequate heights of number 41 in the single charts, we would soon land a whopper, that for a brief moment in time would herald us as the new kids on the ‘Trip Hop’ block.
From time to time, as with every up and coming band, we would be expected to take part in promotional activity, that despite often being far removed from our chosen subject would somehow cross pollinate and haul in new audience members. There was to be a charity football match, held at, none other than the afore mentioned, Wembley Stadium, , where bands such as Blur, Massive Attack, and Supergrass, to name but a few would join forces to create two teams (England and Scotland) and fight it out on the ‘Hallowed’ ground. Overcome by the galling feeling that although this was one of the most inappropriate things I should consider doing (but how could I miss out on such an adventure) my ego swung into action and soon enough I could be overheard agreeing to be a team member, along with my band mate and co-producer who was, needless to say, in a different class to me at kicking a ball around a pitch. I was to play for England and my band mate Scotland, and were each issued a pair of boots and a strip with our names emblazoned on the back, however, there had been a mix up and my colleagues shirt had the, absent, Nicky Campbell's name on it. On his radio show the next day, he remarked on how he'd been able to play at Wembley without even being there. I have never much cared for Mr Campbell, but for the time it took to play out this charade, I would have happily swapped identities. As we lined up on the pitch for a pep talk with the ref, I have never felt more out of place, a fraudulent pretender with a very poor foot to ball coordination into the bargain.
As the match got underway, we didn’t have to wait too long for a goal. Daddy G of Massive Attack fame, a six foot five statue of sinew and muscle, planted a peach of a goal in the back of the net and celebrated with a mid air somersault. Shortly afterwards Damon Albarn repeated the process. In the second half my band mate broke away and beat everyone including the English keeper to score for Scotland, but there was no equalizer and the final score was 2-1. All very impressive.
For me however, this was to be a game of two halves. I was on the pitch for the first half, but off for the second, and difficult to determine which half showed the greater contribution. I do recall nearly coming into contact with the ball though. It was just before half time and I can remember willing the referee to blow his whistle and put me out of my misery (the football scene in the film ‘Kes’ will do as a good illustration) Shocked by the vast distances you are required to run and completely out of shape, I noticed a large youth approaching me with the ball. As a defender, I knew that my role was to keep the ball from going in the net and therefore I must, in theory, tackle this chap and dispossess him. Instead, as he got nearer to me, my survival instinct kicked in and I quite literally ran away. Luckily, another defender stepped in and mopped up my mess, temporarily
reducing the shame, or so I thought. To my horror, the whole match was filmed and we were each presented with a keepsake copy. I have lost mine, but Mr G (who, incidentally, has subsequently become my brother-in-law) takes pleasure in reminding me that his is safely tucked away in his DVD collection.

Back at the show and safely out onto the ‘ego’ platform without tripping myself up, deafened by the roar of the crowd I began to blow my own trumpet. I remember how it ricocheted around the stadium and from memory most of the notes were, this time, in the right place. Mid riff, I looked up to take in the crowd and noticed opposite me at the back of the venue, lost in a sea of people, my Methodist preaching and beret wearing Father with cine camera at the ready, sitting with my Mum in the Royal box. He would, throughout my childhood, refer to all pop music as ‘monkey music’ (I will leave you to evaluate alone the dubious undertones of this statement) To him, only classical music and ‘trad’ jazz were deemed acceptable exponents of the art. But here was his son, performing at Wembley stadium; surely there was something there to be proud of? (he once declared that he was genuinely disappointed that none of his children had become Doctors!) In time however, he would soften, and sometimes when off guard, could even be caught bragging to the neighbours. Music is a great communicator, and I’ve always been genuinely amazed at what monkeys can do.