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.


Brian Jones: the man who made the Stones

He formed the band. He named the band. He chose the members. He chose the music. He got the gigs. Without him there would be no Rolling Stones, that group currently on tour in the USA, still hoovering up millions and millions of dollars 53 years later.

He tends to get written out of the story. Last month, Dartford Council agreed to remove a plaque on platform 2 of Dartford railway station which states that ‘Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first met here before they went on to form The Rolling Stones – one of the most successful rock bands of all time’. Former Stones bass player Bill Wyman complained, saying that Brian Jones formed the band, not Jagger and Richards. To their credit, the council will replace it with a re-worded tribute.


Brian Jones was an incredible musician. He was that guy who pick up any instrument, give him 20 minutes and he could get a tune out of it. That’s his sitar on ‘Paint It, Black’, his recorder on ‘Ruby Tuesday’, his Appalachian dulcimer on “Lady Jane”, and his marimba on Under My Thumb (it was just lying around in the studio so he had a go and voila!). Try and imagine any of those songs without those sounds. He also played oboe on The Beatles’ “Baby, You’re a Rich Man and sings backing vocals on ‘Yellow Submarine’.

And then he lost it, slowly at first, but then very quickly wasted away, from paranoia, drugs, heartbreak, alcohol and betrayal, but mainly drugs and alcohol. Aged only 27, he drowned in the swimming pool of his home in Sussex 46 years ago this month. Only a few weeks earlier, he had been asked to quit the band he had formed seven years earlier.

He was born into a very middle class family in Cheltenham on 28 February 1942 as Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones (some sources double barrel that). Despite that and his angelic looks he was a bad boy. At 17, he knocked up his 17-year-old girlfriend, a massive, massive scandal in that twee West Country town. Except it was his second child. A 16-year old girlfriend had already had his child and put it up for adoption. The next year a one night stand with a young married woman resulted baby number 3 and he was still not 18. Another year, another child: his steady girlfriend gave birth to his fourth child in October 1961. In 1964, came his fifth child and finally in March 1965, another girlfriend gave birth to his sixth child (she was paid £700 and signed an agreement that the matter was now closed and she would make no statement about Brian Jones or the child to the public or the press).

Back in Cheltenham, he had discovered the blues, when musician Alexis Korner had played at the Town Hall. They became friends and stayed in touch, so when Korner opened the Ealing Jazz Club at 42a Ealing Broadway, W5, Brian was first in the queue. There he met two Herberts from Dartford – Michael Philip Jagger and Keith Richard – who had driven all the way from Dartford to see what all the fuss was about. They liked what they saw and heard, and in particular the slide guitar of that Brian Jones bloke.

In May 1962, Brian placed an advertisement in Jazz News and Jagger showed up with his mate Keith. Initially Brian wanted only Mick and not Keith, but Mick said he wouldn’t do it unless Keith came too. Okay then but here’s what he plays. They needed a name so The Best of Muddy Waters album was lying on the floor—and track five, side one was ‘Rollin’ Stone'”. So the Rollin’ Stones it was.


Brian and Keith spent day after day playing guitar while listening to blues records in a squalid flat on the first floor of 102 Edith Grove, Chelsea, SW10 in the coldest winter since 1740. Jagger’s student grant was their only income after Brian was sacked from Whiteley’s for stealing. Gigging regularly, they added Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman and by January 1963 they were complete. Brian, to all intents and purposes the band’s manager, was a hard taskmaster, reviewing each gig in the van on the way home and constantly going over how they could improve.

Things began to go wrong when they got a proper manager, a young PR man called Andrew Loog Oldham. Brian lost influence, although he persuaded management to pay him £5 a week more than the other guys. When they finally found out, this created more than a little resentment. Fifty years – and a personal fortune of over £200 million – later, Keith mentions it in his autobiography. Jeez, get over it, Keith.

He also couldn’t write a song to save his life. But Mick and Keith sure could and the real money and power is not in playing versions of Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters songs, it’s in writing your own tunes and controlling the publishing. Not that he didn’t earn a few quid and he certainly enjoyed the lifestyle of a Sixties pop star: nice gaffs in Chester Street Belgravia SW1 and a mews flat in Elm Park Lane, Chelsea SW3, all fashionable Moroccan carpets and beautifully chosen art and antiques. He romanced a lot of women too, and met his match in Anita Pallenberg, a beautiful and mysterious European actress and model. They were a Swinging Sixties couple, like a really decadent and dangerous Posh & Becks.

Alas, the forces of the Establishment were ranging against the Stones. The ‘ Would You Let Your Daughter Marry A Rolling Stone’ line may have been PR spin but they were actually still quite naughty. Their famously al fresco wee in March 1965 at the Francis Service Station in Stratford was the least of it. On TV they smoked and grunted their way through ‘Juke Box Jury’ and in January 1967 they snubbed the traditional ending of Sunday Night At The London Palladium: standing on a revolving platform and cheesily waving goodbye. The nation was outraged.

And then there were the drugs.

They’d been indulging for years but Mick and Keith were properly nabbed at Keith’s country house, ‘Redlands’ in West Sussex and charged with possession of drugs. The very same day they appeared in court, 10 May, the police raided Brian’s flat at 1 Courtfield Road SW5 and found him along with 50 grams of cannabis resin. Brian was arrested as was his friend, the flamboyant Prince Jean Christien Stanislaus Klossowski de Rola, who – perhaps inappropriately given the context – had the nickname ‘Stash’. As if being busted wasn’t bad enough, in March after one violent row too many, Anita had dumped Brian for Keith, his best friend. Oh! The betrayal.


Brian’s was advised to plead guilty at trial, using his mental state as mitigation, you know brilliant man brought down by addiction. At sentencing, his counsel pleaded that he should not be sent to prison as that would have a detrimental effect on his mental health, but the jury was unmoved the jury and sent him down for a total of 12 months. Bail was denied and off he went for a night in Wormwood Scrubs. Only on appeal was the verdict set aside in favour of a huge fine and psychiatric counselling. Now visibly diminished, the Man got him again less than six months later. In May 1968, they busted him at his new home at 15 Royal Avenue House, Kings Road, SW3. A dozen coppers piled in and just happened to find a big lump of dope in a ball of wool. Asked if the wool was his, he replied ‘I don’t knit’. As he’d only lived at the flat for a few weeks, his defence was that either the previous tenant had left it or that it was planted, so he elected for trial by Jury. Alas, the jury weren’t Stones fans because they found him guilty. Incredibly the judge had sympathy for the broken Jones, seeing jail would serve no purpose. “For goodness sake, don’t get into trouble again or it really will be serious” he said.

The former musical polymath had hardly been participating in Stones’ recordings for months and with two drug convictions against him, he had no chance of getting a work visa to the US, which the Stones intended to plunder for much-needed cash later in the year. In June 1969, seven years on from that ad in Jazz News, he was fired from the band he founded. He got a nice pay off, a lump sum plus £20k a year as long as the Stones continued to exist, but he never got to spend it. Less than a month later, on 2 July 1969, he was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. On a warm and humid night, he had gone for a swim to cool off with two much brandy and too many pills inside him. The coroner’s report stated “death by misadventure” and noted both his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.

He was buried on 10 July back in Cheltenham, in a grave 12 feet deep to dissuade trophy hunters. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were the only Stones to attend. Mick Jagger was on the way to Australia to film ‘Ned Kelly’ (he shouldn’t have bothered, it’s awful); Keith and Anita did not attend either, which considering their history, was probably not a bad idea, as it goes.

Jet Harris: The One-in-a-Million Who Threw It All Away

‘Who was Jet Harris?’, most of you will ask.

Well, the quick answer is that he was the bass player in The Shadows, backing British rock and roll perennial Cliff Richard in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before easing into an equally successful solo career. In 1963, his annus mirabilis, he was earning an extraordinary £2,000 a week. That’s Premiership footballer money.

He was a great musician, a terrifically good looking bloke, well dressed, mean and moody with fabulous, truly fabulous hair. If the Shads were basically Cliff was the Elvis and Hank Marvin the Buddy Holly, then Jet Harris was definitely, most definitely the James Dean.

But the better answer is that he was a one in a million guy who blew it. With drink and bad luck. But mainly drink.47234ded7135c9728a20f0044ddce280His average drinking day would include two bottles of vodka and ten pints. He would keep half a bottle of vodka by his bed, drink half as soon as he woke up, go and make some tea, then drink the other half. And he did that for more than 30 years before finally giving up the bottle in 1996 and spending the last 15 years of his life completely sober.

Fifty years on, it is easy to forget just how successful the Shadows were. They had 15 Top Ten hits, including Apache, Kon-Tiki and Wonderful Land, which were all Number Ones. On top of that they backed Cliff on 18 Top Twenty hits, five of which were number ones, including ‘Living Doll’, ‘Travellin Light’, ‘Please Don’t Tease’, ‘I Love You’ and ‘The Young Ones’. Jet played on almost all of them. When ‘Apache’ hit Number One, it knocked ‘Please Don’t Tease’ from the top spot.

He was born Terence Harris in Willesden, North London in July 1939 – he would’ve been 76 this week had he lived – and grew up at 40 Brenthurst Road NW10. At school he excelled at sprinting earning him the nickname of ‘Jet’. Leaving school at 15, he followed his dad into United Diaries in Park Royal as an apprentice sheet metal worker, making milk churns. Luckily for him, rock and roll hit when he was 17. A natural musician, he was soon at the ground zero of early British rock and roll, the 2Is coffee bar on Old Compton Street. There he met Brian Rankin and Bruce Cripps, a couple of likely lads from Newcastle, and a young Elvis-alike from the suburbs called Harry Webb. They all changed their names – to Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Cliff Richard respectively – and in November 1958 became Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

On only a flat wage of £25 a week from Cliff, they decided they should branch out and make their own records as The Drifters. Unfortunately the famously litigious manager of the popular US vocal group of the same name threatened to sue, so over a few beers in a Ruislip pub, Jet came up with ‘The Shadows’, naturally because they were always in Cliff’s shadow.

During an engagement at the Finsbury Park Astoria, Jet met a rather vivacious girl called Carol Costa from Chiswick and they were married at Hounslow West Church in Bath Road, Hounslow in June 1959. He was 19 and she was 17. However within a year, despite the birth of a son, they were in trouble due to his drinking and his roving eye. Even at this age he had a drink problem that was noticeable to many around him. He was always nervous before going on stage and would drink to calm himself. And he was not a nice drunk either. He was only 5′ 6″  and often compensated by picking fights, usually with much taller men. He caught some flack too for his wonderful Barnet, which was often dyed blonde and always piled high.

Unfortunately there was a bit of an attraction between Carol and Cliff. Alone most of the time with a new baby, she turned to the virginal Cliff for comfort and it blossomed into a full blown affair. When his strict parents found out, they insisted he end the relationship immediately lest the public find out he was romancing a married woman. A bit of a career-ender that in 1960. As at the time of writing in 2015, it’s the only occasion Cliff has acknowledged having sex with a woman.

Already a heavy drinker, Jet went into an alcoholic spiral. ‘I pretty much knew something was going on between him and my wife but I went on stage every night and stood there behind the man, looking at the back of his head backing him up.’ The more money he made, the more he drank. He thought that’s people with money did. If you work in a factory, you can’t drink during the day so you do it in the evening. If you don’t have that schedule, well you can just drink, can’t you?

As his behaviour became more erratic, he risked wrecking everything his working class band mates had worked so hard for. Rock and roll had helped them all escape a life of factory work and they weren’t about to throw it all away because their bass player couldn’t keep out of the pub. One night at the Cavern club in Liverpool, during the Shadows’ famous trademark walk, he fell off stage. They offered to stop work for 3 months so he could get help, but he didn’t think he had a problem so he refused.
It all came to a head in April 1962 at the NME Poll Winners at the Empire Pool, Wembley. There there was a free, all-day bar backstage for performers and you will not be surprised to learn that Jet took full advantage. He was sacked right there in the backstage bar, moments before he went on stage to collect the NME’s Best Instrumentalist award. He then played three songs with the Shadows, put his bass down and walked out, never to return.

Easily the best looking guy in the band, he quickly signed with Decca and released moderately successful solo instrumental singles, in particular The Man With The Golden Arm, a mad, twangin’ version of the Elmer Bernstein theme from the 1956 Sinatra movie. Always nervous before performing, he simply drank even more to calm himself now he was (literally) out of the Shadows and out front. Management paired him with former Shads drummer Tony Meehan to spread the pressure and improve sales. Which is precisely what it did. ‘Diamonds’, featuring a young Jimmy Page on rhythm guitar, went to Number 1 in early 1963, replacing The Shadows ‘Dance On’. Other huge hits ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ and ‘Applejack’ followed, and package tour after package tour were in diary. The future can not have looked any brighter.

And then it all went wrong.

On the way back from a gig in the Midlands with his girlfriend singer Billie Davis, his chauffeur-driven car collided with a bus and he was knocked unconscious. He suffered some brain damage – certainly his moods got worse –  and needed 34 stitches in his head. As if the injuries weren’t bad news enough, the papers were full of the fact that the lady with him was not his wife. No one knew about his separation from Carol, but this was at the time of Profumo so prurience was in that year and a number of newspaper commentators voiced their disapproval of 17 year old girls consorting with married men and married men consorting with 17 year old girls. Billie bore the brunt as Jet explained that he was actually separated and awaiting a divorce, but the damage was done.

Under pressure to get back to playing very quickly, he cracked and disappeared for six days till he was spotted in Brighton by the press. They were unrelenting – he was after all one of the biggest pop stars in the country. He was advised to rest for 6 months, which in the fickle world of Pop would have effectively ended his career. Worse was to come. Three days later, he was arrested on the seafront for being drunk and disorderly. His solicitor tried the old my-client-was-taking-some-prescribed-sedatives-and-unwisely-drank-a-beer approach but to no avail.

He now went completely off the rails. He couldn’t  get work, was depressed and when he said he was popping out for a paper, he’d disappear for 3 days on a bender. He did some shows in early 1964, but he was in the papers mainly for his chaotic private life. His romance with Billie was on/off and was hospitalised at St Mary’s Paddington after one particular drunken row.  A year later in March 1965, he was arrested again, and charged with common assault after being arrested at home in Portsea Place, Marble Arch after pointing an unloaded shotgun at a group of people he had drunkenly fallen out with. In July 1965 he was arrested for drink driving after crashing his car into two parked cars. Running out of money and unable to get any work, he sold his story to the papers, not for the first time.

By 1966 he was living in Cheltenham with a new girlfriend, working in a pub for £15 a week, barely three years after earning two grand. He tried out as bass player for the newly formed Jeff Beck Group in January 1967, but after their first rehearsal, Beck, Rod Stewart and he went out for a drink and the next thing he knew it was 6 o’clock. Unfortunately it was winter and dark, so he had no idea whether it was 6am or 6pm. He was quietly dropped and replaced with Ron Wood.

From then on, his life was largely outside music and involved moving around the country getting manual work for drink and rent. In September 1968 he was found slumped over the steering wheel of a car in Marylebone, with a blood alcohol level four times over the legal limit. Unfortunately the car was a mini cab and he was the driver. In the next few years, he worked on a building site, as a barman, potato planter, trawlerman, gravedigger, hospital porter, dog trainer and sold cockles on the beach in Jersey. Occasional royalty cheques were swiftly blown on benders. Any relationships including marriages, collapsed because of alcohol.

He finally quit drinking in 1996 and basically stayed sober for the last 15 years of his life. he made a nice living on the fan club circuit – he always remained very popular with Shadows fans – Shads tribute bands and Stars of the Sixties tours. He made a point in his stage shows of saying how long it had been since he quit drinking, winning applause from audiences who knew how it had wrecked his career. He bagged an MBE in 2010 for services to Music but was already battling cancer. Always a very heavy smoker, he died in March 2011 aged 71.

Motown in our town: the 1965 Motortown Revue hits the UK

It was 50 years ago today: The Motortown Revue landed at the Finsbury Park Astoria on Saturday 20 March 1965, on the first night of a package tour that took them around the UK. A 24 day trip visiting 21 theatres for two shows a night – plus a live TV special.

For your ticket money, you  got Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Little – he was still only 14 years old after all – Stevie Wonder and headliners The Supremes, all backed by the Earl Van Dyke Six, crack members of the Funk Brothers, the in-house studio musicians who played on just about every great Motown you ever bought.


Motown had snagged itself a few hits by  this time – The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’ had even got to Number One – but the real reason for the tour was to launch the Tamla Motown label. Up to March 1965, there were no Tamla Motown releases in the UK because Tamla Motown didn’t exist. All those classic records from Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandella and the Supremes came out on Stateside. The tour then was an important milestone in Motown’s international expansion and crucial in Motown breaking the UK, an ambitious label from Detroit, a booming city. And you would imagine there was a rabid audience for the music as this is 1964/5 and we were Mod-mad. Not to mention Motown’s huge influence on our own groups. The Stones did Can I Get A Witness and The Beatles sang three  Motown songs on With The Beatles – Please Mr Postman, Money and You Really Got A Hold On Me.

But the Motortown tour was a mixed critical success –  and a complete commercial disaster. Outside London, theatres were half full. The whole Mod thing was very London-centric so why any promoter thought they could attract 4,000 punters to then Stockton On Tees ABC or the Gaumont Theatre, Ipswich is beyond me. And the top price tickets were 17/6, then 15/, 12/6 and 10/, a good five bob higher than name groups charged in 1965. The highest priced ticket to see the Rolling Stones on their Spring 1965 tour was 12/6. On the plus side, if you went to the first show and were blown away as most were, you could go to the box office (if you could afford it) and easily get tickets for the second show.

In fact ticket sales were so sluggish even for a bill with that line-up that the Number One act in the UK, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames whose Yeh Yeh was the currently top of the charts, was added to the line-up for extra box office appeal.

The entourage arrived at London Airport on 16 March 1965 by a crowd organised by the British Tamla-Motown Appreciation Society and headed straight to the Cumberland Hotel overlooking Marble Arch. After a day of two of press and photo-ops, including one in Marble Arch itself – well, it was handily across the road – the first order of business was to tape a one hour Ready Steady Go! TV special called ‘The Sound of Motown’ at Rediffusion Studios, 128 Wembley Park Drive in Wembley.


All the Revue acts played as did The Temptations, who didn’t tour but flew in for the label launch. The Special was devised and introduced by Dusty Springfield and RSG producer Vicki Wickham, both Motown zealots who had previously booked Martha, Marvin, Kim Weston, The Isley Brothers onto RSG! It was a challenge to convince Associated Rediffusion to put on an hour of Motown, and it was apparently only after Dusty agreed to host – and she hinted she’d never again appear on RSG! – that the powers that be agreed to make the show. Associated Rediffusion, who made the show, was a company run by “ex-Navy people,” who, says Wickham, “almost rang a bell for tea. It was so conservative that how we got something like the Motown special by them, I will never truly know.”

In the dressing room, the Supremes and Diana in particular needed some dance moves for Stop! In The Name of Love and begged The Temptations for some inspiration. Paul Williams made a hand move like a traffic cop and it stuck. Some say it was Melvin Franklin. It became a trademark move though. They also changed costumes and wigs between each of the three songs they did. Afterwards Dusty threw them a party which they all attended at her flat at 113 Baker Street. Martha and Dusty remained friends until Dusty’s death.

The first night of the tour was 20 March and two shows 6.40 and 9.10 at the Finsbury Park Astoria at 232 Seven Sisters Road N4, followed the next night with two at the Odeon Hammersmith and 6pm and 8pm. It then went off round England, Scotland and Wales to places like Bristol and Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Newcastle, Wolverhampton, 21 towns in 24 days. They all travelled together in a 52 seat coach on A roads. After a long trip to Bristol on the A4 – the M4 didn’t open fully till 1971 – Berry and the three Supremes opted to rent a limo for themselves for the rest of the tour. Everyone else stayed on the bus and bonded, including the Blue Flames. The Earl van Dyke Six went on first, followed by Martha & the Vandellas, a comedy spot by Northern comedian Tony Marsh before Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, hit from a 3 year residency at the Flamingo Club’s Allnighter at 33 Wardour Street W1 closed the first half. After an interval, Earl van Dyke kicked things off again followed by Smokey & the Miracles, Little Stevie before the headliners The Supremes closed the show. On many nights the entire revue came back on and finished with a version of ‘Mickey’s Monkey’.

The fans were very passionate, even if the venues weren’t full, although in this country we wait till the end of song to show our appreciation; in the US they were used to crowds going nuts throughout the song and couldn’t work out why we were so quiet. The critics though were not keen. Some criticised the acts’ dance moves for being too polished, like a pre-war Hollywood production number. The acts had put an awful lot of time and effort into working out their dance steps and moves, they all wore tuxedos. Motown had a whole department in Detroit called Artist Personal Development Department, and had dance teachers and the fearsome Maxine Powell – always called Ms Powell – who taught ‘grooming, poise, and social graces’. By comparison, British acts of the time basically stood in front of the microphone and didn’t move hardly at all.

As for the country, well, they also thought it was cold – and these guys are from Detroit – and they all kept shillings to operate the radiators in their hotel rooms. and as usual, they hated the food, all too bland for them and no American food – except of course the good old Wimpy which clearly made an impact on Diana Ross because she mentions it in her autobiography. The hamburgers were definitely not the hamburgers they were accustomed to. And all Americans love lots of ice and every hotel has an ice machine on each landing and they could never find ice. and were laughed at when they asked. And don’t get Martha Reeves started on the loo paper, which in hotels was slick brown waxy paper

Berry and Diana got together on the tour. They had a massive fight in Manchester about a song he wanted the Supremes to perform, but she refused point blank to his face, the boss of the label, but did it at the show anyway and he realised she did it for him. Every time he thought about Manchester he thought about her and how much he loved her. In Paris, he sent everyone else home – including his three children! – and stayed with her in the Georges V for two days, beginning a six year relationship.

The tour was a huge boost for Tamla Motown, crucial to establishing it here, albeit not as as quickly as Berry Gordy had thought. It took another 18 months to crack the UK properly. Only one of the first six Tamla Motown singles went into the charts in 1965 as a result of the tour, when ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’ got to No 7. Over the next 18 months, Little Stevie had his first hit here, Uptight. Smokey had Going To A Go Go but in the Autumn 1966 it was the Four Tops who broke through biggest with Reach Out I’ll Be There. When Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, who had bought the 1200 seat Saville Theatre at 135-139 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1 ( now the Odeon Covent Garden) he wanted the Number One band in the World to headline the first of his Sundays At The Saville series and paid the Four Tops at fortune to fly in and play in front of London’s new pop and culture royalty. Top Duke Fakir says it was the best show they ever did. At that point Motown had arrived.

There is a four-CD box set compiling the four issued albums of Motortown Revue live performances was released in 2002, celebrating the Revue’s 40th anniversary of the first revue. None of the UK shows was recorded, although the last show of the tour was two nights at the Olympia Theatre in paris and that was released in 1965 as Motortown Revue in Paris. The other shows are recorded in America in 1963, 1964 and 1969. The RSG! Sound of Motown special was released on video 20 years ago but as yet not on DVD. The RSG! rights are owned by Dave Clark of the DC5.