Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s lost genius

Pink Floyd are one of the biggest bands in the world. They’ve sold 250 million albums, sold out football stadiums and will have a song from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on the radio somewhere in the world right about now.

But there are two Floyds: the prog rock behemoth of course, but also the very English psychedelic pop group of the 1960s. That Floyd was led by guitarist Syd Barrett, who wrote all the songs on their first album and the early singles, like ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’ but who left us early, one of the first and most enigmatic casualties of the 1960s, the victim of too much of what you could have too much of in 1967. Ironic then that deprived of their chief songwriter, the Floyd’s subsequent songs are almost entirely about Syd, viz Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Comfortably Numb and just about all of Dark Side of the Moon.


Post-Floyd, its lost genius made two solo records that have achieved cult status, ‘The Madcap Laughs’ and ‘Barrett’, both essentially the sound of a man with a very fragile and delicate state of mind actually falling apart. At the age of 24 he was gone, disappeared, unable to function.

Roger Keith Barrett was born on 6 January 1946 in Cambridge, into a very middle-class, cultured and musical family, all piano lessons and ‘Wind In The Willows’. He got the nickname ‘Syd’ when he showed up at Scouts wearing a working class flat cap instead of his Scout beret and “Syd” was the only working-class name they knew.

After his father died a month before Barrett’s 16th birthday, his mother, eager to help her son recover from his grief, encouraged him to join a band with his new guitar.Always a good looking guy, it was all the encouragement he needed be bohemian. Awful at everything at school apart from Art, where he was properly gifted, he applied tor Camberwell College of Art in London, where he arrived in the summer of 1964 to study painting. He lodged at 39 Stanhope Gardens, Highgate N6 with an old mate from Cambridge called Roger Waters, who was studying architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic. Along with a couple of guys from his course, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, Waters was playing student parties in a band known as either the Sigma 6 , the Tea Set, the Meggadeaths, Spectrum 5, The Architectural Abdabs and finally The Screaming Abdabs depending on which day of the week it as. Syd joined almost immediately. They were just an occasional party band playing the few old blues numbers they knew and improvising with lengthy solos just to fill the time. They got a new name, in late 1965, The Pink Floyd Sound  courtesy of two very obscure American blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

The also had a light show, which turns out was the key because no one else did. It was little more than painted spotlights nailed to a wooden frame but it got them noticed and a booking for a private Sunday afternoon gig  in early 1966 at the Marquee Club  called the Giant Mystery Happening. They went down well and did more of Sundays at what was generally known the Spontaneous Underground (well, it was 1966).

By the summer, he moved into the attic room of 2 Earlham Street in Covent Garden and wrote most of the Floyd’s first album while all the other Floyds were on their summer hols. He was helped along by copious amounts of grass and the then still-legal LSD, which he had first discovered before he left Cambridge , where it was rife among Bohemian academics who you could via contacts get the best stuff straight from Sandoz the Swiss manufacturer.

After headlining a series of fundraising happenings for the London Free School throughout the autumn at All Saints Hall, billed as ‘London’s farthest out group’, they were the Darlings of the Underground. And Syd was its heartthrob. They were the house band at The UFO Club at 31 Tottenham Court Road, London’s premier psychedelic nightspot. Only when they signed to EMI did they give up their studies to turn professional. Syd agonised over leaving art college and Roger Waters was actually working as an architect, designing new vaults at the Bank of England.

The first single ‘Arnold Layne’, a dark piece of pop about a young man who steals ladies’ undergarments off washing lines of a night, got to Number 20 but its follow up ‘See Emily Play’, specially written by Syd for the ‘Games For May’ concert that took place on May 12 1967 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, got to number six in the charts. That meant going on Top of the Pops and that meant being pop stars, a difficult transition for the band who only three weeks earlier had headlined that quintessential counterculture freak out, the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, attended by 10,000 people at Alexandra Palace, taking the stage at 3.30am just as light of a new day was breaking through the stained glass at the Palace. It certainly helped that just about everyone present was stoned or tripping or both.

From the middle of 1967, Syd began to unravel, initially only rarely, on occasions he wasn’t there but a day later was at the peak of his powers again. Ultimately though there were more bad days than good ones and the feeling that they weren’t phases that would pass. It didn’t help that he moved to a flat ar 101 Cromwell Road SW7 sharing with a number of loony messianic acid freaks where it was unwise to accept a drink unless you had actually poured it yourself. By December 1967, back from a disastrous US tour, he fell apart in front of 15,000 people at a festival at Olympia in West London standing immobile and speechless on stage throughout the show. In January 1968, David Gilmour, an old Cambridge school friend, was added and for a couple of weeks they were a 5 piece, but on the way to Southampton for a gig, someone said shall we pick up Syd? and they all agreed no.

Within a few months, he started recording his first solo album ‘The Madcap Laughs’ at Abbey Road, but he was in no shape to complete it. He took a year off and stayed in bed most of the time at 101 Cromwell Road, where a powerful drug called Mandrax – Quaaludes to my American readers – became his drug of choice. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell said he once took half a mandy and it wiped him out for three days; Syd took three at a time. He tried painting but by early 1969 he finally had enough songs to record again and completed his album.


He started recording the even more psychotic follow up ‘Barrett’ a few weeks later, produced by Dave Gilmour. Syd rarely played with the other musicians because it was too difficult to get him to turn up or perform when he did. It was mainly basic tracks that Gilmour then got musicians to tart up to highlight his old friend’s talent. He only played live once, back at Olympia in June 1970, but the show was a disaster. The PA was terrible and Barrett raced through four songs before fleeing the stage before the final song had ended, leaving the band to carry on Syd-less.

And that was it. Career over aged only 24. There were some abandoned sessions in 1974 but he made no further musical contributions of any note. He lived in London and the back in Cambridge for the rest of his life, kept going on a steady flow of royalties from his Floyd work. He lived alone, painting all day then quickly destroying whatever he had created, and had no friends to speak of, only a devoted and protective family around him.

He was kept afloat by royalties from his songs. To give the Floyd their due, they made sure that every compilation album included at least one Syd Barrett song for no other reason than the royalties would help their fallen friend. Dave Gilmour in particular made sure the money got to him. In an average year, he made £200,000; in 2001 when Pink Floyd released greatest hits set ‘Echoes’ he made £2 million. Poor Syd indeed. Not surprisingly he left £1.2 million in his will when he died of pancreatic cancer in July 2006 aged only 60.








There’s a Riot going on…with Cliff Richard? Are you sure?

Cliff Richard is possibly not the first name to spring to mind in answer to the question ‘Whose show at the Chiswick Empire was stopped by a riot?’ But I swear it’s true. It was 1 May 1959 and you never know, there may be a few readers out there today who were in the Upper Circle that May evening 57 years ago.

It’s odd to think of Cliff as a dangerous rock and roll star. People of my vintage grew up with his shows on Saturday evening BBC1 or being robbed of winning Eurovision or talking about God with Billy Graham.

Believe it or not in the late Fifties the man who began life as Harry Webb from Cheshunt was mad, bad, dangerous to know – and had quite an effect on the ladies.

He was little more than an Elvis impersonator of course, with a curled lip, a decent quiff and a good agent (Tito Burns: that’s him in Dylan’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ playing the BBC off against Granada) but he was all we had. And his effect on young kids was electric and his shows throughout 1959 were plagued with serious trouble.


Cliff’s 1959 had started at the Lyceum in Wellington Street. He had begun his week-long, two-shows-a-night residency on 2 February, headlining ‘The Big Teenage Show’ with his band the Drifters – within weeks changed to the Shadows – on a bill that also featured early mad rock and roller Wee Willie Harris, previously a biscuit factory worker from Bermondsey and an 18 year old Liverpudlian compere Jimmy Tarbuck.

Things were going well, though not everyone was impressed. The Evening Standard’s opening night review reported: ‘Like a thousand tortured canaries screaming for freedom from the cage, the yells went up at the Lyceum last night.

But this they told me wasn’t agony it was ecstasy. Or was it? For me and perhaps for two or three more in this audience aged mainly between 14 and 18, it was agonizing – and perplexing and a little frightening.’

Anyway, 4 February 1959, two nights into the run, was a significant date in rock and roll history. Due to the limits of international communications of the time, it was the day we found out that the music had died: Buddy Holly, along with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens had died in the early hours of February 3, 1959 when the light aircraft Holly had chartered crashed shortly after take-off from Clear Lake Iowa where their ‘Winter Dance Party’ package tour had played that evening.

The news only filtered through to London the next day. Heartbroken Teds from all over London congregated up West to commiserate and seeing that Presley-a-like Cliff was at the Lyceum, decided to pay a visit. It all kicked off the moment a revolving stage brought Cliff into view of the 2,000 in the audience.

The show opened with fabulously bequiffed bass player Jet Harris starting up the bass line for ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ as the revolving stage swung into action and slowly revealing Cliff and the group in silhouette.

As they came into view, the girls started screaming. However their heartbroken and above all violently resentful Teddy boy boyfriends started hissing and booing. In fact the only reason that the booing and hissing stopped, was that it was replaced by a volley of missiles and the Teds could obviously not do both at the same time.

Within seconds of spotting Cliff, a barrage of missiles including fruit, eggs, tomatoes, bottles, cigarette packets, strips of linoleum ripped from the floor of the Lyceum, even bizarrely lampshades and coins (let’s all take a moment to remember how big an old penny was). Fights broke out all over the dance floor, girls fainted and were carried out by stewards above their heads to escape the crush.

To give him his due, Cliff tried to carry on, singing at a microphone stand whilst hopping from foot to foot dodging the missiles. Then Teds tried to storm the stage, pushing musicians out of the way to get close enough to aim a missed punch at Cliff’s head.

Luckily several stewards ran on stage to drag Cliff’s assailant off before he could land a follow up. Who knows what would have happened to British rock and roll if he’d connected?

Cliff and the band had not yet stepped off their slowly rotating stage so they just stayed on till it went round the back, where they ran off to the safety of the dressing room where Cliff was shaking with fear. The curtains came down and that was the end of the show, the concert abandoned.

Outside in Wellington Street, the Strand and the Aldwych, several hundred fans crowded around the hall booing and holding up traffic as fights broke out along the Strand. Cliff promptly cancelled the rest of the five shows that week, said to be worth £300 in fees, conveniently blaming it on a ‘troublesome throat’.

Things only got worse at later shows. At the Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, pennies, halfpennies and bottles rained down from the balcony.

At Romford, the tour bus was attacked just before they got on, bricks and planks of wood smashing many windows. The band, who had been trapped in the dressing room for an hour, made a dash for the bus, then got on the bus to make a swift getaway and many missiles including a lit firework were thrown inside.
And finally to Chiswick for the Chiswick Empire Variety Show on May 1, where unknown to Cliff, two groups of Teds, one from Hackney and one from Hammersmith, with a long standing vendetta, met for a pre-arranged tear up at the Chiswick Empire for the second show on Friday night.

Where had they arranged to meet? Why the upper balcony of course, in the cheap seats. Scuffles became battles and coins, eggs, light bulbs and bottles rained down on the stalls and stage. Within moments, said the local paper, ‘the stage looked like a miniature Covent Garden’.

The show continued for a while but opening act the Dallas Boys were hit by eggs every time they opened their mouths to sing. Most bravely, compere, none other than Des O’Connor, broke off from his routines to try and quell the row with jokes but failed and abandoned.

Eventually someone ripped a fire extinguisher off the wall in the balcony and threw it down into the stalls, where it hit two girls, one a glancing blow on the head causing concussion and one square in the chest, breaking her collar bone. At which point another of the acts on the bill, ventriloquist Ray Alan, pulled the curtain down himself and the show was called off with the theatre in absolute pandemonium.

Paul is Dead: the old world goes viral

The greatest hoax since Orson Welles ‘War of the Worlds’ panicked New York at Hallowe’en 1938 is 46 years old. It’s a rock and roll story that started as a gag, but was picked up by the proper newspapers and spread virally – as virally as you could get in 1969 and it concerns Paul McCartney. Being dead.

The story was this: after an all-night recording session at Abbey Road NW8 on Wednesday, November 9, 1966 Beatle Paul had a furious row with the others and stormed out of the studio into his car. He picked up a female hitchhiker but she became so excited when she realized who had picked her up that she threw her arms around Paul and caused him to lose control of the car. Both Paul and his passenger were killed when the car swerved off the road and hit a stone fence. Not wanting to their Golden Goose, record company executives suppressed the story of Paul’s death and brought in a lookalike to replace him, a man named William Campbell, who was an actor and who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest. With a little plastic surgery, Campbell had taken Paul’s place in photos of the group. The surgery had been successful except for a small scar above his lip. And, by an extraordinary stroke of luck, William Campbell  just happened to be a songwriter with an exceptional ear for pop melodies. And for some reason, the surviving Beatles agreed to go along with the scheme. However as a protest, they decided to leave clues on their subsequent albums about Paul’s death and the imposter who took his place. Hunting for those clues  proved infectious for obsessive types and within a few weeks had become an international phenomenon. In particular fans examined the most recent album Abbey Road, which was of course chock-a-block with them.


The entire album cover symbolises a funeral procession, they claimed. Lennon, dressed in white, symbolises the preacher, Ringo Starr, dressed in black, is the undertaker. George Harrison, in denim jeans and shirt, is the gravedigger and McCartney, barefoot and out of step with other members of the band, is of course the corpse. Paul is holding his  cigarette in his right hand but hang on, Macca was the most famous left handed person in the whole world. and what’s that over George’s shoulder: a VW Beetle with the number plate LMW 28IF – the age (28) Paul would have been if he were still with us (actually he would have been 27).

When they’d exhausted ‘Abbey Road’, fans also went back through past albums, even those made before any of the alleged silly macabre nonsense had happened. Here a few of my favourites:

  • On Sergeant Pepper cover if you put a mirror half way up the drum skin that says LONELY HEARTS you get I ONE IX arrow Die – the arrow points up to McCartney – IX being 9 and McCartney has 9 letters
  • Paul’s Pepper uniform has an armband on his left arm which says OPD interpreted as London police jargon as Officially Pronounced Dead, although it’s actually the Ontario Police Dept
  • On the ‘Pepper’ lyric sheet George is pointing at a line from She’s Leaving Home which says Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock, the time on Wed 9 November 1966 that Paul was supposed to have had his accident
  • On their greatest hits set, A Collection of Beatles Oldies, the letters O and L in the word ‘Oldies’ are of course the letters immediately before P & M in the alphabet, so it could really read PM DIES – in the same way people think that HAL the evil computer in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is actually IBM shifted by 1 letter
  • There was a rumour that the word ‘walrus’ as in ‘I Am The Walrus’ derives from Ancient Greek for corpse (it’s not – it’s Old Norse for ‘horse whale’). And whilst the Beatles and George Martin were finishing the recording of the song in September 1967, they decided to insert some random stuff direct from the radio so they tuned into the BBC Third Programme which was broadcasting William Shakespeare’s King Lear, (Act IV, Scene 6 to be precise) and included the lines ‘Upon the British party. O, untimely Death!’
  • Funnier still is the attempt to explain John Lennon’s wacky lyric “I am the eggman, Goo goo ga joob.” as the last words of Humpty Dumpty as he lay dying after famously falling off that wall. Actually it’s just nonsense he made up under the influence

So how did it all happen? Well, on 17 September 1969, The Drake Times, the student newspaper of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, published an article entitled, “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?”, based on a rumour the author had heard from a Californian student with too much time and marijuana on his hands that clues to McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and artwork of the Beatles’ recordings.

In a really slow analogue version of re-tweeting and Facebook-sharing, the University of Illinois’ student newspaper, the Northern Star, picked up the story and ran it as an article a weeklater on September 23, 1969, as did other college newspapers in that part of the country. One of these newspapers found its way to Detroit radio station WKNR FM and on 12 October, DJ Russ Gibb hosted a call in show about the rumour for the next hour, with the effect that hundreds of hysterical fans calling in to see if it was true.

Two days later the story appeared in the Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan’s newspaper, with a whole lot more completely made up detail. The author had actually been asked to write a review of the Beatles “Abbey Road” LP but was listening to WKNR-FM the night of Russ Gibb’s broadcast, and he thought it would be funny to submit an article based on the tosh he’d just heard. He created the identity of Paul’s replacement, William Campbell – he originally considered Glen Campbell but he thought that might be a little too obvious – and inserted new made-up clues from the album he was supposed to be reviewing. The author assumed everyone would think it as a spoof and was then astonished when the story was picked up by proper mainstream newspapers across the United States and even The Times in London in quick succession

In the absence of a statement from the Beatles record company Apple saying it was untrue, the rumour became so widespread that both the BBC and Life magazine sent reporters to Paul’s farm in Scotland and get photos. Paul had taken refuge from the Beatles’ legal battles at his farm in Scotland and he was not at all happy to be confronted by reporters. When the crew from Life magazine appeared on his farm, an angry Paul doused the photographer with a bucket of water as he took pictures.
Life_magazine_nov_69The reporters quickly left and Paul, realizing that the photos would cast him in a negative light, followed after them. In exchange for the film of his outburst, Paul agreed to let the Life crew do an interview and take photos of him, his wife Linda, adopted daughter Heather and their new daughter Mary born at the end of August to prove it. Life printed the story as Paul Is Still With Us on 7 November 1969. Paul declared that the rumour probably started because he hadn’t been much in the press lately and didn’t have anything to say.

After the Life magazine article, coverage of the rumour declined rapidly, but there’s always an upside and in the weeks that the hoax ran all over the world, the sales of the records which held the secret clues increased significantly, leading some to suppose that the hoax itself was perpetrated by Apple to generate much needed cash. After all it was only a few months since John Lennon has said in an interview that “Apple is losing money. If it carries on like this, we’ll be broke in six months.”

Which is perhaps the key to why people believed it so readily? They were crazy times of great paranoia: Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther Kingt, Vietnam, Civil Rights, the Tate-LaBianca murders, where the Manson family murdered six people. And on top of that, people sensed that all was not well with the Beatles. They were still frighteningly successful and their last 3 albums – Abbey Road, Let It Be and The White Album – had all gone to No 1 in every available country (even the ropey ‘Yellow Submarine’ soundtrack album sold in the millions). and they’d had two Number One singles in ‘Get Back’ and ‘The Ballad of John & Yoko’

But they had stopped touring and had apparently been receiving fan mail since 1966 asking why their music got so weird. Well, drugs is why and by 1969 both John and George had been busted. And they were now all married, Paul being the last to fall when he married Linda Eastman at Marylebone Registry Office on 12 March 1969. And divorced too, Lennon having left his wife for a shrieking Japanese muse called Yoko Ono and had spent much of the year in beds or bags, apparently for peace.

The final straw was when they appointed Allen Klein, a New York showbiz accountant with a fearsome reputation – someone described him as ‘having all the charm of a broken lavatory seat’ – as manager. Paul however was not keen, preferring his new father-in-law, high powered New York entertainment lawyer Lee Eastman. This fundamental disagreement over Klein and the appointment of Eastman as legal advisers were the factors in the eventual break-up of the Beatles. Eastman & Eastman were appointed Apple’s legal advisers and Klein was their business manager. It all depended on co-operation which never happened – each side wanted the big prize and they hated each other.

By the end of the Summer of 1969 they were all sick of each other and wanted at least a break. John was under Yoko’s spell and doing his Peace Campaign thing, Ringo was in movies, George has stockpiled tons of songs the Beatles had rejected and wanted to do an album. They only ever met for business and last time they were all in the same room on 20 September it ended in acrimony and Lennon quitting. The same week someone decided in Iowa decided to start a little bit of student mischief…


At last London was ready for Bruce Springsteen

Over the years Bruce Springsteen has been a frequent visitor to London. In fact it’s difficult to think of a place he hasn’t played in London: Wembley Arena, the O2, the Royal Albert Hall, Brixton Academy, Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium, Wembley Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the Emirates Stadium, Hyde Park, Milton Keynes Bowl, Earls Court, LSO St Luke’s, not forgetting the Stanhope Arms at 97 Gloucester Road, London, SW7. On 24 May 1993 he apparently jumped up and sang Jumping Jack Flash at their Karaoke night.

And of course at the Hammersmith Odeon, where he played his first ever show outside the US on 18 November 1975, 40 years ago today. He played two shows, six days apart, another on 24th, with a trip to Sweden and Holland in the middle, and was under immense pressure, after a massive, massive promotional campaign designed to make him a star but instead heaped masses of pressure on him. It’s odd to think of him under the cosh or commercially unsuccessful or critically unappreciated, but that was the situation in November 1975.

Playing in bands in New Jersey from 1964, he was finally spotted in 1971 by an ambitious manager named Mike Appel – described as ‘Ed Sullivan meets Joseph Goebbels’ who became his manager and who got him an audition in May 1972 with legendary A&R man John hammond at CBS, the man who had signed Bob Dylan, Billie Holliday, Leonard Cohen and Count Basie, at the CBS Building in New York. As it happened, Dylan had just left the label so they were looking for The New Dylan and Bruce was it

His debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. came out in January 1973, to great critical acclaim but no sales. It’s a folk album, very lyrical – CBS used the line “More words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums” in early publicity campaigns. His second album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle had a bit more R&B about it, but still no one bought it. For a while he was known as Hammond’s Folly.

Then just as he was getting over the Dylan thing, he played  a sold out three night stint at a club called Charley’s in Cambridge MA in April 1974. The first night was reviewed ecstatically in the local papers and the second was attended by heavy-hitting rock journo Jon Landau, who liked what he saw. Then next month, Springsteen was back in Beantown, this time if you can believe it, opening for Bonnie Raitt on the condition he did his full two hour show. She may have regretted that decision as he went down a storm and half the audience left when Springsteen finished.

For Landau too it was a transcendental moment. He went straight home and wrote a review on  called Growing Young With Rock and Roll, which included the deathless lines: Last Thursday, I saw my rock ‘n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.

The future of rock and roll line is one of the most infamous lines in rock and roll journalism. CBS Records liked it so much they used it as the headline in press ads for the latest album. It turned out to be a bit of a millstone for Springsteen. Over the next few months, every critic In America (and the UK) gave Springsteen the greatest reviews. CBS were obviously keen to capitalise as well and get a new album out there, given it was a year since the last one and in those days artists released one, sometimes two a year.

There was huge pressure on Bruce to make a record as good as the live review. So he started recording and pretty soon had one song recorded called Born To Run, which CBS wanted to release it as a single but at four and a half minutes it would get played on top 40 radio. They tried to edit it but could never agree which bits to edit out so nothing happened.

His first album had taken 3 weeks to make, his second 2 months but they had been trying to record the album for 8 months before Jon Landau was invited to join in in the studio. At that point, they thought they needed two more months; it took six, from March to the end of July 1975, with the sax solo in Jungleland the last thing they recorded, three weeks before the Born To Run album was released. Springsteen obsessed over details and if he was pushed he would say the release date is one day; the record’s forever. He fussed to the last moment and nearly scrapped it all because he didn’t like it. The cover shot, a black and white photo of Bruce Springsteen and sax player Clarence Clemons taken on 20 June, was one of 700 frames snapped in his two-hour session.

The album received highly positive reviews. Rolling Stone said that Springsteen enhances romanticized American themes with his majestic sound, ideal style of rock and roll, evocative lyrics, and an impassioned delivery. Someone else said that anyone in America with a chip on their shoulder can accept these stories. And these stories add up to one big story: about a boy and a girl getting through a long tragicomic day.

CBS, keen to get some of its investment back, launched a huge promotional campaign, spending $250,000 on ads. His music was everywhere and the album went Top Ten, which he’d never achieved before. It went gold – 500,000 sold – very quickly, amazing given the last album sold no more than 150,000. By Christmas 1975, Born To Run had sold 1 million units and the single was in the Top 20

There was an outburst of interest from the serious press for interviews, indeed the demand was so great that Mike Appel only said yes if they’d put Bruce on the cover.  It all reached its apotheosis on October 27, when both Time and Newsweek put him on their covers, making history by becoming the first rock star to land such an honour. Bruce was rather overwhelmed by it all, and whilst he reasoned that the effect on his career  could only be positive, he could the pressure and a backlash building. Luckily he had a great album and an amazing stage show to back it up.

Bruce Springsteen’s first ever show outside the USA (he and the E Street Band had not even played Canada at this point) was  on Tuesday 18 November 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in Queen Charlotte Street W6. History records it as a disaster, a rattled artist with an aggressively unimpressed audience and he considers the show one of his worst. Still, on the weight of the promotion alone, the show had sold out quickly so a second  was added the following Monday, once he returned from two concerts in Europe, one in Stockholm and one in Amsterdam.

Springsteen described the trip as descending into hell. After the Time/Newsweek hype, there were posters all over town proclaiming him the future of rock and roll. Even the marquee of the Odeon said ‘Finally London is ready for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’, as captured in a wonderful Chalkie Davies photo (below) from that week’s New Musical Express.


The legend is that he went round London ripping down posters with his bare hands. Not quite true, although he did tear down a poster at the front of the Odeon. He did however go round the whole of the auditorium and remove all the flyers the record company had put on every seat in the venue advertising his new album. The pressure was getting to him. London was strange, none of them had been here before, London had barely got its first McDonalds so you couldn’t get a cheeseburger anywhere but Wimpy’s. And the beer was warm.

Which clearly all affected his performance on the 18th. He was sombre,  downbeat and not the usual live wire. He was 45 minutes late on stage. He wore a thick woollen hat pulled down over his eyes for the whole show. His mood was perhaps most evident in the introduction to “The E Street Shuffle”. Normally a rambling tale, he tails off after just a few sentences, going straight into the song. Having said that there were 3 encores, finishing with his rocking version of Gary US Bonds’ 1961 hit ‘Quarter To Three’

The return show a week later though was a completely different affair. He played for three hours and nine encores, including Elvis’s “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”, “Pretty Flamingo”, “When You Walk In The Room”, “Twist And Shout”, and “Little Queenie”. And there was no woollen hat.

Despite this, the press were not convinced. The NME said Bruce Springsteen, when he was finally ready for London, was wonderful. Sounds was less gushing: When they were good they were very very good, and when they were bad they were so-so. There was an immense feeling of strain about this show, following a press and publicity campaign of unparalleled intensity. Make your own mind up. Thirty years later, in February 2006, a recording of the first week’s show was released as a live album called Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 and a video of the concert was released as a DVD as part of the Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition package.

In the meantime he didn’t come back to the London for six years, until six nights at Wembley Arena in May/June 1981, missing out London shows around the next album Darkness On The Edge of Town. He joked that it was he couldn’t find any cheeseburgers. And he only played Hammersmith again 30 years later, one night in May 2006 on The Seeger Sessions tour. I paid a small fortune on eBay for a ticket and  30 years on, it may just have made me feel young again.



‘I like a bit of a cavort’: Mick Jagger and ‘Performance’

Took a trip in Powis Square/Pop star dyed his hair
No fans to scream and shout/When mobsters came to flush him out
Gangland slaying underground/New identity must be found
On the left bank for a while/Insanity Bohemian style

The second verse of Big Audio Dynamite’s E=MC2 is a perfect recap of the plot of ‘Performance’, Mick Jagger’s film debut, which was made in 1968 and came out in 1970. The song also contains a dozen samples from the clip including “Why don’t you play us a tune, pal?”, “Comical little geezer. You’ll look funny when you’re fifty.” and my personal favourite “I like a bit of a cavort”.


45 years on and after a period of reappraisal, Performance has been called the best ever British gangster movie, the best psychedelic movie and the best Swinging London movie. It would certainly seem to be to be a spot on portrait of the late 60s Chelsea scene: rock stars, drugs, sex, decadence, money and more drugs. Just the sort of life you imagine Mick and the Stones themselves were living, out in Chelsea, in a bohemian set of posh people with good taste but too much money.

The film wasn’t well received at the time though, most outraged reviewers focusing on the sex and drugs. Rolling Stone said: ‘We would not recommend seeing it while tripping‘, Time magazine said ‘The most disgusting the most completely worthless film I have ever seen since I began reviewing’ and the New York Times gave us ‘You do not have to be a drug addict, pederast, sado-masochist or nitwit to enjoy Performance, but being one or more of those things would help.’

It’s certainly very violent and very rude. There’s only one F bomb, but there is a lot of nudity and sex, especially for 1968, lots of gratuitous close ups of nipples, threeways and a very ambiguous bit of romantic activity between Mick Jagger and co-star James Fox. Jagger himself only appears after 42 minutes, although he doesn’t actually say anything till 46 minutes, because for the first 4 minutes, he’s enjoying a menage a trois with two girls. In fact he doesn’t say anything for the first 8 minutes because he then has a bath with them both. Why not I say.

This was Mick Jagger’s first film. The following year he made ‘Ned Kelly’ – many wish he hadn’t – but oddly the Rolling Stones never made a film in their mid-Sixties heyday, when pop stars were making films at the drop of a hat. They had had offers, especially Jagger, who was apparently in the running for the role of Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange. Donald Cammell was a posh Chelsea friend who had a screenplay Jagger liked, so with the world’s biggest rock star attached, there was little difficulty getting the budget of £1.1 million from Warner Brothers. Warners were expecting some slightly bohemian, psychedelic Swinging Sixties A Hard Day’s Night with the Rolling Stones.

How wrong they were.

It’s actually posh, old Harrovian actor James Fox’s film. He plays Chas, a violent member of an East London gang led by Harry Flowers. When he kills a bookie without Flowers’ approval, he has to go into hiding before he can leave the country. He overhears a conversation at Paddington about a room for rent in a house, assumes a new name and turns up wanting a room. The house belongs to Turner, a reclusive former rock star, who lives there with two girls. Then first half si a cracking Sixties gangster movie, ace suits, great motors and lovely shots of 1968 London. The rest of the film though is basically lots of sex and drugs as they explore each other and merge into one, with a very ambiguous and very violent ending.

Fox was not known as a method actor but he completely immersed himself in the role. He trained three times a week at the Thomas A Beckett gym above the pub on the Old Kent Road and was assigned a guy called David Litvinoff to transform him into an East End thug. What helped was that Litvinoff – memorably described as ‘a man for whom there are few truly reliable facts and it is unclear how genuine his expertise really was’ – was in fact a real East End thug. When Keith Richards and Mick had been busted the previous year and had wanted to find out who had ratted them out to the Old Bill, Litvinoff was charged with finding out who. Which he did by kidnapping a suspect and beating the crap out of him – before deciding it wasn’t him after all.

Turner’s two concubines in the film were played by Anita Pallenberg, fellow Stone Brian Jones’s ex and Keith Richard’s current girlfriend, and Michèle Breton, a young French girl who had in fact lived with Donald Cammell and his wife in a menage a trois, where she had replaced Anita Pallenberg in a similar arrangement. Jagger based his character in a mixture of Brian Jones who was by this point a rather weak, washed out drug addict, and Keith Richards who was going the same way but was altogether tougher.

Turner’s house is shown in the film to be 81 Powis Square W11, although no such house existed or existed. They actually used 25 Powis Square on the corner of Talbot Road W11 for exterior shots and changed the number to protect the innocent. But the interiors and the vast majority of the film was shot almost entirely on location inside 15 Lowndes Square, Belgravia, a crumbling mansion they rented for 3 months. They even built sets inside the house because it was cheaper than going to a proper studio.


The house was owned by Captain Leonard Plugge, a colourful and wealthy man, whose collection of paintings apparently including many Rembrandts, Rubens and Velasquezes had to be insured for £2m. The pictures were removed and stashed with the caretaker who disappeared shortly afterwards as did the pictures. He was caught 2 weeks later at Paddington Station after selling the paintings at auction for only £3,800 as they were actually all fakes.

Performance benefited from a lack of interference from Warner Bros. studio executives, who believed they were getting a Rolling Stones equivalent of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. They might not have been quite so hands-off if they’d known about the rampant drug use on set. The art director said ‘You took one breath and you got stoned.’ Someone else quipped that the drug supply was more reliable than the location catering. ‘You want to get a joint, they’re coming out your earholes. You want a cup of tea, you got no chance.’

The soundtrack was meant to be completed by Jagger and Richard but the sex scenes between Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg were so realistic that rumours flew around that they were real. Keith refused though to come over a watch the filming, but when he heard the rumours, he apparently took to sitting in his Bentley outside the house where the film was being shot, stewing in his own juices. Needless to say, he refused to write anything for the soundtrack. He says that he did get revenge by having a one nighter with Mick’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull in Mick’s bed at 48 Cheyne Walk, where he had to jump out of the window leaving his socks behind when Mick came home early. Bizarrely Mick and Marianne and Keith and Anita all went on holiday together by boat from Lisbon to Brazil once the film had wrapped

Filming was done by November 1968 so they made a rough cut of the film to show Warners. They were were outraged, one executive’s wife apparently vomited with shock. More re-edits were ordered, removing a lot of the bloodshed and putting Jagger earlier in the film but it sat on a shelf for a year until Warners was sold in 1970 and the new owners looked at their inventory and thought ‘hang on we’ve got a film with Mick Jagger that had cost over 1 million dollars and it hasn’t been released for two years?’

Performance finally opened in the USA in August 1970 with most voices dubbed because the studio had feared that Americans would find their Cockney accents difficult to understand. It was a box office and critical disaster. It opened here on 4 January 1971 at the Warner West End in Leicester Square, but got an adults-only X certificate which made sure that young Stones fans had no chance of seeing it. It also meant that most of the newspapers refused to review it.

Jagger is one of the only ones to emerge from Performance unscathed. Making Performance had such an effect on James Fox that he didn’t make another film for over 10 years. He became an evangelical Christian, working with an evangelical group called the Navigators and devoting himself to the ministry. He only returned to the screen in 1982 and since has worked steadily indeed.

Both Anita Pallenberg – who was Keith Richard’s partner for the next ten years with whom he had three children, one of whom died – and Michelle Breton succumbed to serious drugs. Donald Cammell only made two more films and when his film Wild Side was cut by the producer, he committed suicide in Hollywood by shooting himself. His wife claimed he wanted a mirror so that he could watch himself die and asked her if his injuries resembled those inflicted in the final frames of Performance.

Mr Parnes, Shillings & Pence

Who was Larry Parnes you ask? Well, he was the most famous English pop manager and impresario of the early pop era, if you will the Simon Cowell of his day (but with slightly more taste).

He managed our early rock and roll acts like Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde, plus ran a larger stable of very nice young men he had discovered and championed. His heyday was the mid-50s to the mid-60s when his acts largely got swept away by The Beatles and guitar groups. Luckily by then he had made enough money by then to move on.


By the summer of 1959, Parnes had seven singers under contract: Steele and Wilde, plus Billy Fury but also-rans too like Vince Eager, Dickie Pride, Johnny Gentle and Duffy Power. He specialised in taking ordinary working class lads and transforming them into extraordinary stars, with sexy evocative stage names. Tommy Steele had begun life as merchant seaman Tommy Hicks, Marty Wilde  as Reg Smith and Billy Fury as Ronnie Wycherley, a tugboatman from Birkenhead.

A 1959 BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary referred to him as a Beat Svengali and christened him “Mr Parnes, Shillings and Pence”, not because he made a lot of money, but because he took 40% as his management fee. Actually he offered his acts two types of contract: a straight percentage, where he paid all the expenses; or a guaranteed weekly salary of something like £25 a week over 5 years, which to guys who otherwise would be on £12 a week in a factory sounded like they’d won the Pools.. In his defence he did have substantial overheads: they had the best of food, they were taken to the best of restaurants, they were bought cars, they had decent tailors and hairdressers.

He was born Lawrence Maurice Parnes at 98 Christchurch Road Kilburn NW6 on 3 September 23 1929, into a wealthy Jewish family in the rag trade. The family owned three ladies clothes shops and several properties along Oxford Street, which provided him with a nice private income and allowed him to indulge in his theatrical ambitions, the same way as Brian Epstein did 6 years later.

As a young gay wealthy man of means he spent time in certain clubs – often described as after hours places for a ‘select clientele’ (lest we forget homosexual activity was illegal in Britian in the 1950s) –  and one evening in 1955 was in La Caverne, a basement bar in 34 Romilly Street. With money to burn, he became part owner and was persuaded to invest in a play entitled ‘The House of Shame’, which was losing money until a publicist called John Kennedy was recruited. He changed the play’s name to the far racier ‘Women of the Streets’ and paid two actresses from the cast to stand outside the theatre dressed as prostitutes during the interval. They were arrested of course, but it got in all the papers and the play took off.

In August the next year, he bumped into Kennedy again in The Sabrina coffee bar at 15 Wardour Street. Kennedy asked him what he thought about rock and roll and he had to admit he didn’t know what it was (he was more of a Johnny Ray man). Kennedy said he had found Britain’s first rock and roll sensation and with backing and management. there was money to be made. He went to see 19 year old Bermondsey-born merchant seaman Tommy Hicks perform at The Stork Club at 9 Swallow Street and was blown away. He agreed to become Tommy’s joint-manager alongside Kennedy and took offices at 245 Oxford Street, on the corner with Argyll Street.

The first thing to change was the name. Tom Hicks sounded too much like Tom Mix so they came up with Steele. With their contacts, Steele shot quickly to fame in the UK. He signed with Decca in September 1956, released his first hit single ‘Rock With The Caveman’ in October, headlined his first tour in December had his first Number One with ‘Singing The Blues’ in January 1957 and in February cameras started rolling on biopic ‘The Tommy Steele Story’

As the money was rolling in, he went on the look-out for more acts. Songwriter Lionel Bart, who had written Tommy Steele’s earliest hits, recommended take a look at Reginald Smith from Greenwich, who was playing in the coffee houses of Soho. He signed him without even seeing him play, just turned up at his house in Greenwich with a contract. The first thing he said was ‘Reg Smith is dead, you’re now Marty Wilde’, Marty from a rather sentimental Ernest Borgnine film and Wilde because it was sexy, with an ‘E’ stuck on the end for good luck. Reg hated it and they tossed a coin to decide if he should keep it, Reg lost but before long was featured singer on TV’s ‘Oh Boy!’ to 20 million people a week, so he didn’t really care.

One night in September 1958, in Marty Wilde’s dressing room at the Essoldo Birkenhead , 18 year old tugboatman Ronnie Wycherly walked in and asked to play a few of the songs he had written. According to legend, Parnes was so impressed that he added him to that night’s bill. Ronnie Wycherly became Billy Fury – ‘a first name with a touch of sensitivity and a surname with sex appeal and mystique’. According to Ian Dury, ‘There’s only ever been two English rock ‘n’ roll singers – Johnny Rotten and Billy Fury’. And he did know a thing or two did Ian Dury.

Christ, Billy Fury was a good looking guy. Great cheekbones, a hell of a mover and a fabulous quiff that somehow slipped and fell on his forehead and bounced back. Parnes got him on Oh Boy! too and he was off on a seven year career of hit after hit, which survived even the beat groups’ arrival.


Parnes had a couple more successes, with cheeky Cockney chappie Joe Brown, the only one to resist a name change (Parnes’ suggestion was Elmer Twitch. Seriously, Elmer Twitch) and Billy Fury’s piano player, Georgie Fame, who as Clive Powell was given the ultimatum that if he didn’t use as the Fame name he wouldn’t be signed.

Alas, Vince Eager – Roy Taylor on his birth certificate – was not a success, despite Parnes pulling in favours and getting him lots of TV work. He failed to trouble the chart compilers and was never heard of again. The same fate befell Richard Knellar from Thornton Heath, who became Dickie Pride. he was a great stage performer – the Record Mirror said that the theatre shook so much during his performance that he should be known “The Sheik of Shake” – but he went off the rails and disappeared.

Next was Ray Howard, from Fulham, renamed Duffy Power, after the recently-deceased Tyrone Power. He never survived passing on Lionel Bart’s ‘Liivin’ Doll’ which went to Cliff Richard of course. And who remembers Nelson Keene, Lance Fortune or Johnny Gentle. Actually Beatles nerds remember Johnny Gentle, because  in 1960 on one of the most godforsaken tours imaginable, of small towns in the north of Scotland (‘Good evening, Alloa!), he was backed by a bunch of Herberts from Liverpool called the Silver Beetles. Yes, the same Beatles whose enthusiastic guitar-and-harmonies approach rendered all of his acts obsolete overnight only a couple of years later. No one was interested in mean and moody solo James Dean-type singers in 1963.

Luckily he had made his proper money promoting live shows, the package tours playing one-night stands at theatres wherever an audience could be packed in. Tours like the Big New Rock and Roll Trad Show or the Big Star Show of 1962 which trailed round ABCs and Granadas two shows a night. Parnes’ ‘The Fast Moving Anglo American Beat Show in 1960 had starred Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, but after the last night in Bristol that the car taking Vincent and Cochran to London Airport crashed near Chippenham in Wiltshire and Cochran was gone.

Parnes moved into the theatre, with his client Tommy Steele in Half A Sixpence in London and on Broadway. Joe Brown opened in Parnes’ Charlie Girl in the West End in 1965 and ran for five years. He bought his own theatre in 1972 and owned racehorses but was retired ny 1981 and lived alone in a penthouse on the Cromwell Road.

He died at Westminster Hospital on 30 July 1989 of pneumonia aged only 57. Alas Billy Fury died in 1983 but Parnes might get some satisfaction that his first client Tommy Steele is still going at the age of 78 and currently on tour around the country, 76 year old Marty Wilde’s diary is pretty full for the next six months and Georgie Fame and Joe Brown too are still going strong.

John Lennon and Jesus

Fifty years ago on 15 August 1965, The Beatles played at Shea Stadium in Queens NY, then home of the New York Mets. It set records for both attendance and revenue: 55,600 people (mainly screaming and fainting teenagers as it happens) were there and they paid a total of $304,000 for the privelege, the greatest gross in the history of show business to that point. Tickets were $5 (plus taxes of 65c) and the Beatles’ share was £57,000 for the one night’s work – and actually only 30 minutes’ playing at that.

Fast forward a year and only 45,000 turned up at the 56,000-seater Stadium for the show on 23 August 1966. The noise was still deafening and it still grossed $292,000, of which the Beatles kept 65%, more than they had received a year earlier.But there was no rioting, only isolated cases of fans breaking through the heavy police barrier, and no mass hysteria, either.

There’s no doubt The Beatles were still insanely successful in 1966. Just about everything they released shot to Number One, including what I would argue is their finest LP, ‘Revolver’, which replaced their US-only ‘Yesterday & Today’ collection at the top of the pile. The Beatles had sold 150 million records worldwide in a little more than two years, half of them in the US. Their previous album  Rubber Soul had sold 1.2 million copies in the US during the first 9 days of its release.


They also were doing pretty strong business on their annual money-making Summer tour of the US, 19 mainly stadium shows in the US and Canada. If you can believe it, thanks to a legendarily parsimonious record contract with EMI where they shared one old penny for each single sold in the UK (and half that for singles sold abroad) and a rotten publishing deal where Brian Epstein gave away 50% of the Beatles’ revenue to publisher Dick James (and have the nerve to keep his 20% manager’s cut of what as left, most of the Beatles income came from their live appearances. Their cut of most shows on this 1966 US tour was $100,000 a night, with the gigs at Shea and Comiskey Park in Chicago bringing in a whopping $160,000 each.

So what went wrong?

In March 1966, each of the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein were profiled in a series of five weekly features in the London Evening Standard, entitled How a Beatle Lives. They were written by journalist Maureen Cleave, a friend of the Beatles, a writer at the heart of the Swinging London and after a possible dalliance with John, some say the inspiration for ‘Norwegian Wood’. She interviewed Lennon at his house in St Georges Hill, Weybridge and at Brian Epstein’s management company NEMS’ offices at 4 Argyll Street W1

John’s interview was published first on 4 March 1966 and was astonishingly frank. There was no PR present – imagine that today! – especially as he was beginning to bristle at the Fabs’ cuddly public image. He was keen to talk about key political issues of the time – Vietnam, taxes, Civil Rights. And religion.

“Christianity will go,” he said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

This and other comments drew almost no notice in March 1966, not even when they were eagerly reprinted in Newsweek magazine later in March. So they went off and made ‘Revolver’, shot to Number One everywhere with ‘Paperback Writer’, planned their tour and thought any more about it. There was a bit of trouble on tour in Japan and the Philippines, but nothing a few quid couldn’t solve. And then they went to America.

A US teen magazine called Datebook had bought the rights to the Evening Standard article, on the basis that they would reprint it when the tour started on 12 August in Chicago. Their July 29th edition duly republished the Lennon story but crucially its savvy publisher Al Unger, did two things. Firstly he took out the most incendiary quote  “I don’t know which will go first – Christianity or rock and roll” and put it in large type on the magazine’s cover. And secondly he sent advance copies of the mag to conservative radio stations throughout the South, the Bible Belt. Talk about light blue touchpaper and stand back.

It didn’t take long for there to be a reaction. Local papers, radio stations, the KKK and anyone else with an axe to grind against these Limeys with long hair, who made too much money, had their girlfriends in love with at least one of them and whose music suggested they liked way too many black groups, suggested a boycott. In Birmingham, Alabama, one DJ was immediately incensed and asked for listeners’ views on Lennon’s comment. They weren’t especially positive, it has to be said and he smashed their records on air. The little local outrage went national when the bureau manager for United Press International put it on the wires. The New York Times put on their front page on August 5th. Now it was national and had gone 1960s equivalent of viral.


By August 6, 30 radio stations had banned Beatles records. Some stations in the Deep South went further, organising demonstrations with bonfires, drawing hordes of teenagers to publicly burn their Beatles records and other memorabilia. In Mexico City there were demonstrations against the group, and a number of countries, including South Africa, Holland and Spain, made the decision to ban the Beatles’ music on national radio stations. The Vatican issued a public denouncement of Lennon’s comments.

While Datebook had simply intended to sell are more copies, for the Beatles and their promoters the stakes were millions of dollars higher. Initially the plan was to get John to record a humble apology and a studio at Abbey Road was booked, but instead Epstein released a communique explaining that John’s remarks had been taken out of context.

What he said and what he meant was that he was astonished that in the last 50 years the Church in England and therefore Christ has suffered  a decline in interest. He did not boast about The Beatles fame. He meant point out that the Beatles effect appeared to be to him a more immediate one upon certain of the younger generation

That did no good so when the group arrived in Chicago on August 12th, a nervous John was forced to give a humiliating press conference. He tried to explain that he was specifically talking about the decline in church attendance in the UK and was stating  a quantifiable fact that the Beatles actually had more young fans in the UK than the number of young people who went to church (he’d to re read the article from the Standard because he had forgotten what he had said).

Many were able to accept his apology, but not the Bible Belt. On August 13, radio station KLUE in Longhorn TX – near San Antonio – organised a public burning of Beatles records and memorabilia (George was quoted a saying well they have to buy them before they can buy them). The next day though, the station went off the air when a lightning bolt struck their transmitter tower and the surge destroyed equipment and knocked out the bloke who’d organised the burning in the first place.

In Memphis on the 19th, the city council had voted to cancel both afternoon and evening concerts rather than have ‘municipal facilities be used as a forum to ridicule anyone’s religion’, but Brian Epstein  decided to go ahead anyway. During the evening show, someone threw a firecracker on stage. When it went off, the three Beatles on stage all looked immediately at John Lennon, assuming he’d been shot.

The tour finished at Candlestick Park, in San Francisco on 29 August 1966, their last ever live concert (okay, you can split hairs and say the last gig was actually on the rooftop of 3 Savile Row in January 1969). There were 25,000 in a stadium with a capacity of 45,000. The combination of the backlash, the death threats, and the fact they couldn’t hear a damn thing when they were on stage persuaded them to stop touring and become a studio band. Well, at least we got Sergeant pepper out of it.