I've just got back from the boozer where me and the rest of the gang met up to discuss what we did on our holidays, the state of Brummie football and to enjoy the general wishy-washy bullshit and camaraderie that seems to come so naturally after a few pints. As previously reported last month, myself and Lucy didn't go away, which was more of a holiday than a holiday in fact!!
One of the joy's of doing nothing is that I had some time to re-read some of my music books. As now is the time to start dropping hints for Christmas presents you might like, I thought I'd share with you a couple of book titles that I highly recommend as essential reading about the greatest musical force of the 60's, The Beatles.
REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD
If you were to only read one book about The Beatles this should be the one -First published in 1994, the book has been updated to include the Free as a Bird release and it's always best to get the hardback version (above) too if you can, a much easier read than the paperback. From the masses of books about The Beatles this shines as an outstanding work that I doubt could ever be bettered and Ian McDonald is to be congratulated for the incredible amount of research that must have been undertaken, it is simply staggering. I find myself in conflict with some of his judgements as to the quality of certain songs, "Across the Universe' to name one, but his observations are thought provoking and we all have our favourites.
It is not a light hearted mop-top romp by any means and there are no pages of photos. It is a serious reference work that can be read again and again or just in parts. I thought that the Beatles Anthology book would have been the defining article but of course there was, and still are, obstacles of unnecessary interference from outside of the four members of the group that have prevented the whole truth being printed. Although it is still a great book, you need the muscles of Conan the Librarian to manhandle it's massive size.
One could argue that there is too much detail in Revolution in The Head in some respects but, as with all great books, it is a book to educate and captivate those who may only have a passing knowledge and now wish to delve deeper into the recording sessions, edits etc
From a musicians and songwriters point of view, it describes in detail each and every track recorded by the band and I have spent many an hour listening to the tracks, including the bad edits that I never seem to have heard before, whilst reading the information about its construction and recording. One might think that it's a bit nerdy to get that interested in small detail but what fascinates me is that EMI would actually release tracks that were imperfect, given that The Beatles were the biggest band ever to have existed. It also describes what pressure everybody in The Beatles inner circle came under and that was only half of what the band themselves had to endure.
Absolutely Brilliant, I can't recommend it enough.
PAUL McCARTNEY -
MANY YEARS FROM NOW
Written from McCartney's viewpoint with the aid of Barry Miles this is a treasure trove of information about The Beatles, the London scene, PM's involvement in that and its influences that he brought to the Beatles music.
Apart from being simply the best melodic bass player ever and a truly great songwriter, I am in awe of Paul McCartneys imagination, dedication and drive throughout his Beatles career to do his best but often feel that, following the demise of the band, his insistence at trying to convince the public and specifically John Lennon fans that he was as important to the band, has worked against him.
For me, his role and place in history needs no explanation, "You are what you are" and he is Paul McCartney end of story. Apart from a few opening paragraphs where he, once again, says he and John were the best of mates and how much he admired and loved him, this book centres itself on some fascinating insights into their songwriting adventures without the need to apologise or justify his rightful place in history.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recently recommended it to my musician son-in-law, Sean, who considered it to be the finest Beatles book he'd read. In fact, thinking about it, Paul gives us a narrative that reads like you might be having a conversation with him in the pub. I find it riveting and so will you. Naturally he talks about the writing of his songs as well as Lennon's and their collaborations. Of course John Lennon was a massive force and in 'Glass Onion", the lyrics referring to the "Cast Iron Shore' and "Bent back Tulips" that some might just think of as an LSD fuelled, psychedelic collection of words becomes a concise revelation of the massive changes that The Beatles lives had taken, from humble beginnings to unbelievable stardom and exclusivity.
There were only two people who knew about Lennon and McCartney. One is dead and the other is the fantastic Paul McCartney and I think there is more truth in this book than any other. One has to remember that most of Lennon's rants, spoken in anger, pouring scorn on PM's contribution to The Beatles came after their collapse.
He and Paul had been closer than it is possible to imagine, both emotionally and physically, and had been through the mill of public scrutiny on an unimagineable scale every single day from the moment they woke up so it came as no surprise that their parting of the ways was a divorce of bitterness probably mixed with some regret. We all handle breakdowns in different ways. Paul retreated to the wilderness whilst JL went on a round of TV grabbing headlines and stunts to promote himself and Yoko Ono and it is to Paul McCartney's credit that he had the dignity not to retaliate too much to his jibes.
We all have the same human frailties so possibly, I can even forgive Paul McCartney for Maxwells Silver Hammer - a naive judgement in the extreme and probably the final nail to be driven into the coffin of the greatest band that ever was but hey! nobody's perfect, I still love the guy.
Buy this book. It is a brilliant read.
GREAT GIGS OF THE 60'S
In the July 2010 blog I wrote a piece about a couple of the venues in Brum which attracted quite a bit of interest so here we go again but this time a little further afield.
Birmingham bands played all around the midlands and I thought I'd give some space to some of the nicer venues some of us bands played at around the midlands that don't get mentioned much but deserve to be, the first being:
WALSALL TOWN HALL
As a young sprog playing the normal round of pubs, village halls and youth clubs in Birmingham and it's environs, I never dreamed that I would play at some of those larger places but the band started to get better and better and with the help of a good manager, we became more professional and started to attract the promoters running good venues. I was lucky enough to play at some of the best Midlands places outside of the confines of Birmingham, the first being the fantastic Walsall Town Hall.
It was the first 'Big' gig we did and was such a beautiful building to play in too. We were bubbling with nervous excitement and determined to put on a good act. We were announced, exploded into the first song and within seconds, our amps went off! - some quick thinking by our vocalist, running to check the power supply saved the night and slightly red faced, we re-started and did a brilliant show. Looking at these photos now it's hard to believe that this place used to be packed with Saturday Night revellers. The audience's at Walsall were always fantastic. I played here several times with a couple of different bands but that first big show always sticks in mind. It was run by Astra Agency and I truly loved that gig.
STOKE ON TRENT
We headed into the heartland of The Potteries to Stoke-on-Trent and as well as playing the Top Rank and other smaller gigs like The Pittshill Victory Club, we were lucky enough to play a few times at Stokes three premier venues, the first being:
THE KINGS HALL
I couldn't believe my eyes as we pulled up outside the Kings Hall for the first time, it was massive and the interior was gorgeous, a bit like playing inside a heavily decorated birthday cake. There would always be two or three bands playing. It was amazing to think that we did this type of place with our little 30 watt Selmers and un-mic'd drums but the sound was always good.
Here is a Youtube clip of the place during some recent-ish rockabilly gig, with the hall quite empty in this clip but, this was a place that would be full on a Saturday night. http://youtu.be/TcbpS3fJ5F8
These two guys were influenced by the sound of early R&B and in the fifties they bucked the trend in the USA by writing songs for black artists. It would be impossible to list the incredible catalogue of songs they produced but their first biggie and probably their best known was 'Hound Dog' written for, and recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in 1954, she was just fantastic and personified the blues and R&B. Of course the world knows the song better for Elvis Presley's 1956 rendition of it but Jerry Lieber always said that she had the best version and I wouldn't disagree with that statement one bit. The real deal.
Elvis' version was dynamite, of that there can be no doubt, sung in the faster Rock and Roll style and whose visual interpretation would shock audiences world wide and give Rock and Roll music to the youth. Lieber and Stoller also provided him with Jailhouse Rock, Dont' Be Cruel, King Creole and others.
(Big Mama Thornton with Buddy Guy)
The duo wrote so many great Rock and Roll hits for a whole bunch of artists and practically each one has survived the test of time and none moreso than the incredible 'Stand By Me". On a topical note, Lieber and Stoller also wrote Kansas City, The Beatles closing number for their live shows, and what band during the early sixties didn't play Poison Ivy?
The music world and Rock and Roll in particular, owes a great debt to these two guys and it is a sad day indeed now this great lyricist has left us. Thanks for everything Jerry. Rock and Awe!!
Funny isn't it, that dogs know exactly what you're thinking before you say anything and go skulking off to hide? After retrieving one dog from under a bush and the other from under the car, I got them into the large washing container we keep in the garage for such occasions. "Dogs need to know who the master is" is my advice to you. I got the job done and met only minimal resistance. I managed to get a bit of a soaking in the process but that's a small price to pay for their recognition of my superiority.
So they both got their baths from 'The Boss' and shot off afterwards to shake themselves dry whilst I cleaned up the soaking wet area and stowed away the materials. I turned round and they were obediently sat together behind me: