Friday, 28 September 2012


Every successful band must have an identity. It is not enough to have a standout front man with his own individual look. Although we certainly had this in abundance, we also needed to be dressed, in what could hopefully be described as, a stylish and fitting way, something to reflect and perhaps compliment the music. In the early days though, we would make do with what we already had in our wardrobe, and myself, with one foot by this time in the world of Factory Records, would bring to my own sad party, a plethora of long grey rain coats and other charity shop dourness. This was, after all, 1985.
The ‘blue-eyed soul’, I have previously referred to, would in due course require a much more sartorially elegant accompaniment and so, by some pulling of strings from high up, a Mr Paul Smith was enlisted to help out. Today of course, Mr Smith’s empire is colossal, with shops and outlets worldwide, a far cry from his debut operation in Nottingham (1970) and his soon to become ‘flagship’ store in Floral Street, Covent Garden. It was here we would meet the man himself to discuss our ‘look’. In the head office, a smallish room above the Floral Street shop, we gathered round a large antique-looking table, strewn with samples of material, new designs and clippings of glowing editorial. His ‘English Gentleman look’ with trademark flashes of eccentricity, usually manifested in colourful linings and mismatched check and stripe, would soon earn him the stellar reputation he has today. As the shop closed to the public, and with certain budgetary guidelines in place (we were to avoid anything made from cashmere or silk) a spending limit of £800 was levied (with 40% discount) and we were let loose to begin the most decadent ‘supermarket dash’ of our lives.
I am not a ‘natural’ shopper. Even today, if the need for new clothing is deemed quite essential, only then, will I very reluctantly, enter a shop. It is perhaps because of the above scenario, with young stylish sales assistants attending to our every need and Paul himself, on hand, advising and adjusting, and with no money visibly changing hands, that I feel the way I do.
And so it was, that these six young musicians would attend their next photo call, suited and booted with waistcoats and ties in place.
One of us though, had chosen a ‘bow’ tie to complete his look, a departure I had put down to being a practical joke, until I was invited to admire his large collection. Classical musicians and businessmen at gala functions, can all legitimately ‘rock’ the ‘bow’ tie look, but to my knowledge we were qualified to be neither. I was the youngest though and as the shutter blinked, I would have to cringe in silence.

The hardest part of my job is the never-ending dilemma of where to take the ‘artist’ to have dinner. In London of course it would be easy, with a myriad of options to suit every diva-fuelled diet. The macrobiotics, the pescatarians, they would all be catered for. Where I live however, there are just two food types to go at, ‘Good Pub Food’, and ‘Pub Food’. With that in mind, it is a pub in Wardlow, by the name of ‘The Three Stags Heads’ that I have selected for none other than the ‘princess of pop’ Ms Kylie Minogue. I know already she is a vegetarian, but for some un-explained reason I plough on with the plan, on the grounds that she will always remember the experience.
This pub, to say the least, is eccentric. As you descend into the two small rooms, each with fires burning, folk musicians playing (and telling the occasional story), lurchers and whippets
outnumbering customers and with the air reassuringly thick with ‘roll your own’ smoke, you know you are somewhere special.
The husband and wife team that run the place, he a ‘potter’ by trade and her a talented chef (who makes full use of said pottery) don’t exactly go out of their way to make you feel welcome. The first thing that greets you is a sign saying ‘do not ask for lager, as a punch in the face often offends’. Food takes ages to arrive and on one occasion when I nervously enquired as to where my lamb might have got to, I was told “it’s in the field” (everybody else had been served ten minutes ago)
But, when it arrives, ‘oh boy’.
Lets get one thing quite clear. I have been a huge admirer of this particular singer (a list of reasons I will not bore you with) for many years, and even in the midst of the rather disappointing ‘Indie Kylie’ period, as we are when she arrives, I will have nothing said against her. Our sixteen year old ‘tape op’ is virtually hyperventilating with excitement (along with me) and as we prepare to leave the studio for the pub (and as if the icing on the cake could get any sweeter) she offers to perform a dance routine she has choreographed for the tune we have just written.
“what, here? now?” I gasp.
“yeah , if you like?” she says.
The pub will need to wait for this.
The entire room dies and goes to heaven.
The meal itself is pretty much disastrous. The heavily meat led menu is of course a triumph, but the disappointing vegetarian option, sits unloved, on our chanteuse’s plate, until the waitress, who is the only person in the place young enough to recognise her, comes to clear. As the recognition kicks in, it is not just the penny that drops and simultaneously, everything she has collected ends up on the floor. Lurchers and whippets, more liberal in their dietary demands, move in to begin a feeding frenzy, which we take as a signal to leave.
On a plus point, nobody ordered lager.

Our new Paul Smith wardrobe would now begin a worldwide tour. One of our band however, was (although I don’t think still is) a committed Jehovah’s Witness and point blankly refused to wear the clothes on stage (the detail of his problem I forget). His views were grudgingly respected, until that is, one sunny American Sunday morning, our female tour manager woke early, drew back her hotel curtains, and witnessed a young man fully clad in Paul Smith attire, complete with copy of ‘Watch Tower’ embarking on a days impromptu door-stepping. It was put to him that, ‘if Paul Smith was good enough for Jehovah, then he was sure as hell good enough for our audience’
That night we were, for the first time, the united front of Paul Smith.

Friday, 21 September 2012


We are bound for Riva Del Garda, Northern Italy, and this is a gig I am uncharacteristically looking forward to. Why? You may well ask. Surely this would be a trip anyone would be gagging for? And you’d be right. We are staying at the ‘Hotel St. Vincent’, set amongst the splendours of lake Garda, overlooked by and in the picturesque bosom of the Dolomites. We are surrounded by breath taking scenery. Smartly dressed waiters, hover for the chance to serve us ice cold ‘spumante’.
Way back when, in the days when record companies had more money than sense and un-recouped balances were just a twinkle in a ‘head of A/R’s’ expense budget, it was customary to send bands, ‘per diems’ in hand, out to these exotic Euro-festivals to promote their latest single.
“We would be miming”.
These words were gold plated and studded with diamonds.  I would lovingly caress the true meaning they had for me, for the full duration of the trip.
Most bands, I think, took this miming thing for granted, but here was one nervous trumpet player who would cartwheel with joy, (if he could) in the sure-fire knowledge that our lead singer would have no recourse or reason to chastise said trumpet player for the inevitable array of split notes he was fast becoming renowned for. (A subject I will undoubtedly return to in due course)
As our white Italian-style transit van deposited us at the hotel we could see ahead of us, and alighting from a black stretch limo, none other than Boy George, milliner in tow (I made that bit up) along with The Thompson Twins, Paul Young and several other 80’s luminaries.
The show was a blast. Thousands of screaming Italian children singing the wrong words, I would mime my face off adopting ridiculous poses that no self respecting trumpet player could possibly entertain and as long as ‘His Masters Voice’ didn’t turn round to witness the charade, all was well with the world.

My Father-in–Law seasonally points out to us that the Turkey we eat on Christmas day has ‘changed out of all recognition’. Being the son of a Poulterer, he should know.
Song writing I fear has suffered in the same way and being the son of a Methodist preacher I should have no good reason to know. But, by some quirk of fate, after an abortive spell at Music College and a decade of pretending to play the trumpet, I find myself with that dubious title.
In the last 15 years the number of people who now call them selves ‘song-writers’ has multiplied like bacteria in a petri dish. Sixteen year-olds will now emerge from school, iPad in-hand, quietly confident that this is what they have become and before you accuse me of being a Luddite, I will be the first to acknowledge that a handful of them are fiercely talented.
It’s 2002 and tomorrow I have the pleasure of writing with none other than Gareth Gates. At 10AM I’m still lying in bed perusing what I might buy him to eat for his lunch. No rush though, as this is all happening tomorrow. We live in a remote rural spot deep in the heart of the Peak District. I pride myself on ‘laying on’ a tasty sandwich for lunch, which always necessitates a lengthy shop in 'M and S' the day before the session.
As my wife enters the bedroom I instantly know something is wrong.
“there are two people at the front door! I think one of them is Gareth and the other looks like his Dad?”, she worryingly observes.
“Impossible”, I shout. “the session is clearly tomorrow!”
The one thing I have learnt in this business is that the artist is always late, never early, and never ever a whole day early.
To my horror it is indeed Gareth and Manager/Father standing at the front door and I feverishly spring into action. Donning yesterday’s dirty clothes I descend the stairs to meet and greet.
This is not how it was supposed to be.
They are apologetic and very sweet, blaming the mix up on bad diary keeping but I know this is a bad omen. Gareth has a stinking cold but insists on wanting to write something along the lines of, Bon Jovi’s ‘Living On A Prayer’, periodically snorting salt water (yes that was salt water) over the kitchen sink. The only thing in the fridge is a frozen chicken tikka massala.
I am doomed and before long they are gone.

The day after St.Vincent, with an early evening flight to catch, we had some time to kill. Our drummer and I decided to take a walk by the lake. We both knew there would be hoards of screaming Italians waiting to spot Boy George’s hat and perhaps recognise us, but as we effortlessly meandered through the crowds, we suddenly bumped into some of the members of Depeche Mode.
I loved their brand of synth-fuelled electronic music, a far cry from the ‘blue eyed’ soul we served up, so when the blonde curly one in the dress invited us back to their hotel we eagerly accepted.
As we entered one of their several suites I couldn’t help noticing two people having sex, fully clothed, on a nearby bed. Fan and band member in joyful union, and with no apparent need for the removal of clothing, I was witnessing for the first time, the art of the ‘dry shag’. So this was Rock and Roll.
Whilst trying to avert my gaze, we finally reached the balcony, below which, stood hundreds of excited fans.
Champagne flute in hand, like the Queen at a Jubilee celebration, we waved back, importantly.
I’ve often wondered what exactly went on behind that balcony at Buckingham Palace.

Friday, 14 September 2012


25th May 1985. The ‘Godfather of Soul’ is coming to town, which would be exciting enough, were it not for the fact that, through deft management or someone doing their job at the record company (I cannot remember which) we are also ‘supporting’ him. Three gigs are planned at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. This will take some beating. There are ground rules though. Mr Brown will approve the set list and personally scrutinise the first nights performance. If we are deemed worthy, we get to play the remaining two gigs. If not, we go home.
The Hammersmith Odeon is a truly great venue and as our crew set up the gear for sound-check, in front of Browns rather amateur looking ‘New York skyline’ set, we are unaware that over the next few years we will revisit this hallowed ground several times, but in the future, as head liners. Strangely though, nothing would compare to what was about to come. James Brown had not played the UK for some time and with ‘Living in America’ still commanding the airwaves, the buzz was palpable.
Our sound check was brief, but, somewhere in the middle of it, an eerie presence descended from behind. He was on stage. With a fairly large entourage and wearing what must have been his ‘everyday’ cape, he had come to say hello. I stayed well away, but our singer, not known for being backwards in coming forwards, approached with uncharacteristic caution. With reverence, like one might reserve for the Queen, (after shoulders have been touched by her sword) the two front men exchanged words. There was nothing ‘new bezzy mates’ about this and almost instantly, it was over. Swiftly, we shuffled back to our dressing room to digest. Nobody was allowed to watch the James Brown sound-check. Despite the closed set, open only to his crew and minders, it was still possible to hear, emanating from beneath our dressing room, a muffled soundscape of pure legend. A medley of hit after hit, with slick stops and starts, all segued beautifully together.
After a while though, everything became quiet. As the crowds gathered outside, the building filled with anticipation. All gathered in our dressing room, contemplating, in near silence, two faint taps on our dressing room door were clearly heard. There, in the doorway standing somewhat nervously were two of Browns band. After introductions and pleasantries were exchanged, it became clear that they hadn’t come to just say hello. They had their sights (and noses) set on a particular kind of combustible form of contraband we had become rather partial to. Both men were duly gifted, and retreated gratefully to there own quarters. It was well documented that Brown ruled his band with a rod of iron. Wrong notes were rewarded with fines, and drugs of any kind, before, during, and after gigs were strictly forbidden. Ironic, considering his own ‘alleged’ weakness for ‘Angel Dust’ and a partiality for ‘Class A’ specialities.
Everyone who was anyone was at this gig and the press especially would be ready to slate us if we bombed. But we played well and somewhere in the middle of it all, Brown appeared in the wings, wearing only a pink dressing gown, with rollers to match (the kind Bet Lynch would have killed for) Satisfied, he disappeared to complete his look.

With the Millennium safely behind me, and still enjoying the novelty of living in a new, very rural part of the Peak District, I must face up to the task of trying to earn some cash to float my burgeoning and costly lifestyle. I am often heard moaning about the artist’s inexplicable reluctance to traipse four hours north to work with me, and instead choosing to hop, skip and jump on the nearest tube to a hit maker just down the road in London. And so, to quash this problem, I have lavishly renovated a barn next to my house to entice the unwilling. I say I, it is my wife who has effortlessly styled the operation, with me standing by, trying not to open my wallet too widely. It is a very lovely space, with the idea being that when I disappear home, the ‘artists’, will be left behind in a sumptuous country pile they can call their own. (until, that is, I’ve had enough, and take them back to the station)
Today I am the victim of a young lady who frankly has very little talent to speak of (let alone sing of) She is not signed and doesn’t have a publishing deal, and is unlikely to achieve either in the near future. Why then, you rightly enquire, would I waste my time?
My publisher has explained to me that the girl’s manager is a ‘big noise’ and also has on his roster a hugely talented and successful writer that I could possibly collaborate with. Ah now I get it. Go through the motions with this one and it may lead to gold.
Confidence is, of course, one of the main ingredients in the singer-songwriter’s check list of things to bring to a session and when she offers to play me one of her recent demo’s, with inner dread concealed, I willingly oblige and listen, in the hope that her ambition matches her talent. I am missing ‘Woman’s Hour’ for this, a programme I particularly love.
“I’m thinking it could be my first single” she says
“Oh yes?”
“yeah, it’s called ‘My Aura’”
Oh my God.
Needless to say, it is worthless and the first day’s writing spawns nothing but rage and anger in me. I am committed to making her comfortable though, and take her through the contents of the fridge, not just out of politeness, you understand, but also to affirm the notion that breakfast can be eaten at anytime, as long as it’s made by her. All seems well, and with a large glass of red, winking at me from my house, I hear a sentence I never thought I’d witness at the end of a days writing. (or, at anytime for that matter)
“I’ll need to ‘Feng Shui’ the bedroom” “would you help me?”
With incredulousness and bulging eye I go upstairs to assess if the bed can be moved. It is heavy and made of oak and if pulled would scratch the floor. I’m a little anal about floors (a subject I will have to return to) If I were living and working in LA a request like this would be ‘de rigueur’, indeed I would have fitted castors to the heavier furniture to ease the re-positioning. Couldn’t she just sleep facing the wrong way for one night? I persuade her to sleep in the living room on a ‘Futon’ that can be easily manoeuvred into the optimum position. Several other pieces of furniture are lugged into place and the mood lifts. With my aura in tatters, I leave.
When her manager hears of this ridiculous charade, he is, to be fair, very embarrassed and promptly offers me a session with his super-star writer. Lovely. I like it when a plan comes together. To date, I still haven’t heard from him. A lesson learned.

Back at the Hammersmith Apollo and with gig number two under our belts we stand near the mixing desk to take in the James Brown show. (Always stand near the mixing desk if you can, to get the best sound, as I have yet to come across a sound guy with removable ears)
It is a spectacle I will always remember. With fifteen plus people onstage, the percussionist perched high up on the tallest skyscraper, being periodically and bizarrely acknowledged by Brown and the band.
The musicians are tight. Maceo Parker shines like a jewel and a personal MC fusses round Brown, mopping his brow when things get too emotional.
There is something different though. One sax player is missing.
An older player with ‘salt and pepper’ Afro has been sent home for playing too many wrong notes.
As we leave the venue and head for our hotel, my heart bleeds for him.

Friday, 7 September 2012


When I think of LA I have an image in my mind of concrete. Single story flat-roofed prefabs mingle with a sprinkling of high-rise glitzy hotels. The cars are big and vulgar and the people in them are not the walking kind. In the sky is a giant fireball, an organic hide and heal illuminating the set much like theatre lights transform a dirty stage.
I now know there are other, nicer parts of LA to enjoy, but here on Sunset, (it’s 1986, I’m 22) I begin to form my first opinions of this alien space. It’s my first time here and my North Yorkshire roots I’ve left behind feel precious, humble even and I know instantly that I would never want to live in LA. We are staying at the ‘Hyatt on Sunset’, dubbed the ‘riot house’ as it’s often frequented by the good, bad and the ugly of Rock n Roll and also, of course, was featured in the classic ‘Rockumentary, if you will’, ‘Spinal Tap’. If you stay here, check out the roof-top pool! I’m in a band, by the way. We are successful in Europe but less so in the States and tonight we play the Roxy. It’s on Sunset. Everything seems to be ‘on Sunset’. As the arduousness of a long American tour kicks in, gigs seem to merge together, details and memories fade, anecdotes become folk law. This gig however, will always stick in my mind. The Roxy is a smallish dirty little theatre, damp and absorbent, it has over the years soaked up all the juices of Rock n Roll. Neil Young was the first to perform here back in 1973, it’s previous incarnation being that of a strip club. I wonder what kind of punter will turn up to see our so-called ‘blue-eyed soul’?

Fast-forward 26 years. I am in B n Q eyeing up a plastic and aluminium greenhouse that looks a bargain at £199. (All real men know they should have their tomatoes in by May) I really wanted a wooden one, maybe made of cedar. It would silver in the sun and blend well with my garden pod/studio I have just had built. This extravagance has however cleaned me out so I leave with the plastic one. (I think I mentioned earlier where I was from) A friend arrives to help assemble and as it’s pouring with rain and there are no less than 500 nuts and bolts to deal with we have the bright idea of using my living room to complete the task. I muse that when we finish we will majestically open the French windows, carry out and unveil this plastic and aluminium beauty.
Six hours later (no exaggeration) with me, and said friend sweating profusely, the greenhouse is fully assembled. And then it dawns on us. It won’t go through the French windows. Too tall by just one inch we are forced to de-assemble the said piece of crap and finish the job outside in the pouring rain.
How can my life have changed so much? How did it come to this? You see, these days, I’m a songwriter. No longer a band member, no longer a musician. I have joined another fraternity entirely and it’s a room I feel much less comfortable in. Before, I created when I felt creative. Now I drag myself to a garden pod every weekday to turn on a computer and try to write a hit song. ‘What shall it be today sir’ ‘why a smash hit me thinks’ I know very well that this is not how great music comes about but never the less I struggle on and force myself to go through the motions.

Back at the Roxy and half way through the gig our lead singer turns to me and says
“I recognise that nose”
 “what nose?” I reply
“behind the pillar at the back, look at that nose”
 It was true that behind a pillar there was a man hiding himself, but still revealing a distinctive nose, that seemed strangely familiar. Who could this be that had us all talking about his nose whilst playing through our well honed set? It turned out to be Jack Nicholson who had heard our record and thought he’d like to see us live at the Roxy. For good measure he’d brought along Harry Dean Stanton and Deborah Winger. After the show we are ushered upstairs to Jack’s private bar. It’s tiny, just us and them and a blonde bar maid. Nervously, we try to feel at home. Some of the band stand with Jack, transfixed by his story telling. For some reason I find myself sitting between Harry and Deborah up at the bar. Paris Texas is one of my favourite films not least because of Nastassja Kinski’s performance, but I resist telling him. We talk about life on the road instead. Also, during our performance, and with no affiliation to Jack and friends, standing at the very front of the crowd, was the porn star and ‘tour de force’ tour bus video favourite, Amber Lyn. Wiki tells me she is exactly my age. I wonder if she got her tomatoes in, in time?