PJ Proby and The Rip Heard Round The World

It is January 29 1965 at the ABC Croydon, a grim suburb on the edge of south London. The 2,300 theatre is in uproar. The teenage crowd has danced its way through sundry acts promoted by NEMS, Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s company, like The Remo Four, Tommy Quickly and The Fourmost, none of whom would ever enjoy the slightest success, despite their golden patron.

This is the first night of the Cilla Black-PJ Proby Show, visiting the ABCs, Ranks and Granadas in 22 towns and cities up and down the country in little more than a month. Cilla, not yet the Light Entertainment legend she was to become, had a couple of big Number One hits in 1964 , but the hysteria is for one man: PJ Proby, the wild Texan rocker brought over the previous year by the Beatles to guest in their ‘Around The Beatles’ TV special and who never went home. We thought all that over-paid, over-sexed and over here stuff had ended with the war 20 years earlier. Apparently not.

Proby’s act was raunchy for any year, let alone 1965. It was aimed at getting as many people in a tizzy as possible and as quickly as possible. He had a huge and hugely melodramatic voice and there was thrusting and gyrating on a scale we had simply not seen before. If that weren’t enough, he had hair, lots and lots of hair, long even by Beatles and Stones standards, which framed his face completely. And get this: he had a pony tail. In 1965! Blimey!

P-J-Proby-PJ-Proby-528331

At his shows the previous year, the teenage girls had thrown their underwear at him and the teenage boys had smashed up the seats and, when there was nothing left to smash, they scrapped it out among themselves, all spurred on by Proby’s incendiary pronouncements like “It’s my job to provoke fights. That’s what rock’n’roll is all about.”

Like many men of Texas he had quite a reputation as a hard drinking, fighting man, a man with the devil himself inside him. Bunny Lewis, a singer, promoter agent once said:

“Proby would run through your booze faster than anyone I ever knew. An evening out with him was an experience you were unlikely ever to forget. You’d run into problems from the moment you started. You’d probably cover about 14 or 15 bars, clubs or bordellos if necessary on the evening. If there was a fight in the offing he’d be ready to go.”

The Establishment was having a hard time getting its head round all this wild rock and roll stuff as well. The Conservative government of Harold Macmillan had just fallen because of a sex scandal, pop stars like the Rolling Stones were becoming millionaires apparently by being as unkempt and rude as possible. Mr Churchill had just died the week before too and the country was going to Hell in a hand basket. The press were in a constant froth about his antics, the Daily Mirror once described him as a “morally insane degenerate”, begging parents – presumably their readers – to keep their children away from his shows.

Something had to give and unfortunately it was his trousers. At the ABC Croydon, 50 years ago this week.

By early 1965 he was probably the most successful male singer in Britain, with some very big hits under his belt, including the throbbing ‘Hold Me’ and a hilariously melodramatic version of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. Co-headlining the Cilla Black-PJ Proby package tour was a massive confirmation of his star power, so he had 12 velvet suits, complete with skin-tight bell bottom trousers, specially made for the tour. He even had a bath robe made with the flag of Texas on both sides  a la James Brown, which was fitting given how much of JB’s act he had nicked.

As Proby walked out on stage and launched into his first number ‘Hold Me’, the crowd went predictably nuts. He paced the stage as he sang, ran from one side to the other, dropped to his knees, did back flips, front rolls, knee slides and attempts at the splits among unwise leg movements. Halfway through the song, he attempted one movement too many and his pants ripped from knee to crotch, revealing what one newspaper described as, “the most intimate part of Mr Proby’s anatomy.” Other reports say the rip was really just around the knees. Either way you saw flesh which would hitherto have been very well hidden indeed in 1965.

He explained to a frantic press that the velvet just couldn’t take the strain but they had already decided it was a publicity stunt and that his strides were deliberately weakened or held together with studs rather stitches. He managed to stay on the tour but had to promise to clean up his act. Which he did for a couple of nights, but on 1 February in Northampton, his troublesome inseams gave way again and he was arrested right there on stage. The arresting officer and arbiter of Northamptonshire public morals that night was PC Bryn Harris, who as it turns out was the father of Whispering Bob Harris, later ironically to become one of the most famous rock and roll broadcasters in the country.

07mem2oldprob_v01

This time his feet didn’t touch the ground and he was kicked off the tour, but in another ironic twist he was replaced by Tom Jones & The Squires, Tom himself of course no stranger to a snug trouser. His first single ‘It’s Not Unusual’ was racing up the charts at the time. There’s more than a good chance that Tom’s manager and the tour promoter came to, shall we say, an agreement to get Proby kicked off the tour so Tom could get the, ahem, exposure. To the point where money may have allegedly changed hands. The Texan wild man just gave everyone the excuse.

The industry slammed the door on him. The hysterical headline in every newspaper, he was banned from any theatre where teenagers might be in attendance. TV and radio certainly weren’t going to play his records, so without them he was doomed. Not that he stopped the party. He lived in a house at 5 Cheltenham Terrace in Chelsea, decorated with the helm of a sailing-clipper and wildebeest heads, drinking Bourbon like water. His neighbours complained after one many too many wild parties and he had to move out.

He worked up a cabaret act instead, which paid some bills but apparently not those sent by the Inland Revenue. In 1968, a tax bill forced his bankruptcy, with debts of £84,309, against useable assets of 12 shillings (60p). He claimed to have spent his fortune on, “wine, women, yachts, Lear jets and a fleet of Rolls Royces.” By the 1970s, when he couldn’t find stage work, he took menial jobs. He was a shepherd in Bolton, a muckspreader in Huddersfield and most humbling perhaps, the janitor of a mansion block in Hammersmith almost opposite the famous Palais de Danse, which he had once filled. There were many marriages –  four or six, no one seems to know – and his third marriage not unreasonably ended when he shot his wife in the face with an air pistol. His fourth wife said in their four years together he got one erection and was so pleased with it he just sat there smiling at it for three hours and it went, er, unused.

The alcohol caught up with him in 1992 when he had a heart attack on holiday at which point he quit drinking. He’s still with us, on the nostalgia circuit. He played 42 dates on a Sixties Gold tour last year and will go out again this year, God willing. He now lives quietly on his own in a cottage in Worcestershire of all places and we talked for three hours last week about his life and times. We’d been talking for two hours and he hadn’t even split his trousers yet.

 

Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time: the making of Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin. Probably the biggest band of the 1970s and certainly one of the best-selling music artists in history, especially in the USA, where they had to introduce a new Diamond status for their record sales – on top of Silver, Gold and Platinum – for in excess of 10 million. Five of Zeppelin’s nine studio albums qualify – I, II, IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti. And yes I know Physical Graffiti is a DOUBLE album.

There’s been quite a lot of Led Zep activity in 2014: a very good new album from Robert Plant; a splendid photo book from Jimmy Page imaginatively titled ‘Jimmy Page’; even Paul Smith Led Zeppelin Limited Edition scarves, six designs of just 50 of each and only £395. And they’ve have released also digitally recombobulated versions of their first five albums on CD, with extra tracks and alternative mixes. The updated Led Zeppelin IV came out this week, 43 years after the original was released. It’s straight in the UK album charts this week at number 6 and is apparently outselling Taylor Swift in some quarters. Which is a very good thing.

Led Zeppelin IV is the high water mark for Led Zeppelin, who had already set the bar pretty high. It’s probably the sheer variety of the album: there’s an Old English ballad (‘The Battle of Evermore’), an experimental piece (‘Four Sticks’), some airy fairy hippy dippy stuff (‘Going To California’and the first four minutes of ‘Stairway to Heaven’) and the requisite number of chest out rockin Zep tunes (‘Black Dog’ ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and the last four minutes of ‘Stairway to Heaven’). Plus a big blues tune to finish (‘When The Levee Breaks’) with an incredible drum sound that most drummers would give their right arm for.

Gatefold_4th_album_from_Led_Zeppelin

An interesting mix of soft shandy drinking Southerners, who just happened to be two of the most prolific session players of the 1960s, and two hard-as-nails, beery Herberts from the Black Country, Zep got together in 1968 as The New Yardbirds. Worn out by the drudgery of session work, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – they’re on anything from Lulu’s Shout to Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual to literally thousands off others – got together with 19 year old Robert Plant and his 20 year old mate John Bonham in a Chinatown basement rehearsal studio and never looked back, only surfacing two and a bit years later when they had trousered pretty much all of America’s money, with three Number One albums and six sell out tours. Despite the wealth, the power, the Olympic standard debauchery, the press hated them, thinking it was all hype, so by late 1970, they felt had something to prove.

In December they went to Island Studios in Basing Street, Notting Hill and despite already having a few of the tunes we came to know and love later, they got nowhere, so they took a break for Christmas. In January 1971, they thought about renting a country house to record with the Rolling Stones mobile recording truck. They enquired about getting Stargroves, Mick Jagger’s house near Newbury but Jagger wanted a grand a week and the biggest band in the world didn’t want to pay that much. Instead their manager’s secretary found an ad in The Lady for a former poorhouse called Headley Grange just south of Godalming. It was cheap and free of distractions. They rehearsed for a week then recorded for six days and by the end had the album, more or less.

The opener ‘Black Dog’ became the archetypal open-shirted-to-reveal-hairy-chest Led Zeppelin song and was named after a sexually adventuresome black Labrador Retriever that wandered around Headley Grange. ‘Rock and Roll’ was John Bonham playing the drum intro to Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’ and everyone else joined in and improvised. They did 3 takes and the whole thing took 15 minutes. ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ was John Paul Jones’ piano riff written one morning when he got up earlier than everyone else and started noodling. The rest of the band joined in still in their pyjamas and wrote the song there and then. Why’s the weird experimental one called ‘Four Sticks’? Because John Bonham used two sets of drumsticks to pound out the rhythm. ‘Going to California’, the album’s ballad, was written as a tribute to Joni Mitchell and ‘When the Levee Breaks’ is probably the second most most important song in Zep’s career. It never worked properly till Bonham created the massive drum intro, recorded when he moved his new Ludwig drums into the three-story open stairwell, added a bit more echo and pressed ‘record’. What a sound! It’s possibly the second most sampled drum break after James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’.

But the key song on the album is ‘Stairway To Heaven’, on FM radio somewhere in America 24 hours a day. We have George Harrison to thank for it. Beatle George confessed to John Bonham one night that the pity about Zep was that they had no ballads. Bonham told Page and Page decided to write a tune that was ballad, power ballad and headbanger all-in-one. The mystically leaning Plant came up with some nonsense about pipers, hedgerows and May Queens and there it was.

But not at Headley Grange. Something wasn’t quite right so they went back to Notting Hill and completely remade it a week later. In the huge Studio 1 – where the Live Aid record was later made – they did one fabulous take, so fabulous that Bonham thought they were finished and put his coat on to go to the pub for a celebratory beverage. Page thought they could improve it a little bit though and ushered the group back into studio for one last go. And that’s the one we hear. A few overdubs, including three different recorders, then the guitar solo. Standing in the middle of the room, in between four large speakers turned up very loud, with no headphones and a fresh cigarette dangling from his lips, he knocked out rock’s greatest solo.

February 1971, album done.

So let’s get the damn thing out and start making tons of money, you’d think. Nope, it didn’t come out till November, thanks to months of brinkmanship with Atlanrtic Records over the cover. Zep wanted the music to speak for itself, so wanted a sleeve with no title, no lettering, no record company logo, no nothing. It’s commercial suicide, said Atlantic, who you’d think would be a little more grateful given the shedloads of money they’d made off Zep. There was a standoff for months and in the end the band simply refused to hand over the master tapes until they gave in, which they eventually did.

The front cover is a framed picture, bought from an antique shop in Reading by Plant, of an old man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back on a flocked wall, but when you open up the gatefold, you see it’s on the wall of a semi-demolished house in a rather grim inner city landscape (actually Dudley in the West Midlands and they don’t come any grimmer, believe me, I’ve been to Dudley). The inside cover is a drawing of a hermit on a mountain top holding a lamp and the inner sleeve has the four mysterious symbols, Zoso, feathers and all that. They all chose their own and there may be some symbolism, but John Bonham’s three intertwined circles is almost identical to the logo of his favourite American beer, Ballantine.Ballantine-Premium-Lager-Beer-Labels-Falstaff-Brewing-Corporation-Plant-12_47663-1

The album was released on 8 November 1971 and to celebrate the band held two ‘Electric Magic’ shows at what I still call the Empire Pool, Wembley on November 20 and 21 1971. For a ticket price of 75p, you got a 5 hour circus extravaganza that included clowns, acrobats, platespinners, performing pigs on trampolines, two support acts and a three hour set by the Zep.

The album of course went number one everywhere it could and as at 2014 has sold 37 million copies. Everything they did after Zep IV was bigger. They started getting 90% of the takings from their shows as opposed to 50% of old. They used a private plane, The Starship, a converted Boeing 720 with marble fireplaces, bars, bedrooms and showers. And their debauchery was usually bigger than anyone else’s. In LA at the Riot House, they took over the top two floors, threw most of the furniture out of the windows and played cricket and rode motorcycles along the long corridors. They just paid the damage when they checked out and the hotel got to redecorate the rooms free. A win win, in a perverse way. One civilian in a convertible who complained that drinks and bottles were being thrown into his open car from the top floors came back to find his car flattened by a dining table thrown from the top floor.

Heartbroken by the death of their irreplaceable drummer John Bonham in September 1980, they packed it in. In December 2007, when they reformed for one night only at The Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, they got a million requests for the 20,000 £125 tickets available, the ‘Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert’. Look it up – it’s in the Guinness Book of Records.

Quivers Down The Backbone: the story of Johnny Kidd and ‘Shakin All Over’

“What are you doing on your radio show this week?” asked Mrs Routemaster. “Johnny Kidd and the story of Shakin All Over” I replied. She looked at me blankly so I hummed DUM-DUM, DUM-DUM, DUM-DUM, DUM-DUM”, tapping out a rhythm with my hands at the same time. “Ah” she said. “I know that one”. And it occurred to me that that we all know that one, even just the few seconds of the intro, an electrifying, echo-drenched glissando.

It wasn’t the first British rock ‘n’ roll single – that’s probably Cliff Richard’s “Move It” in 1958 – but it can probably claim to be one of the most influential and a whole lot fresher, more authentic and menacing than the anodyne Elvis impersonators that were Cliff and his ilk. It came out in 1960 and remains a landmark as a great, great song. Johnny was a very good singer and terrific stage performer, but is often cruelly put alongside other hapless short-lived stars or one hit wonders, which he most certainly wasn’t. His was a short and eventful life, cut short aged only 30 by a car crash up North when he was out hustling for cabaret work. JohnnyKiddPirates_FRANK151 Johnny Kidd – or Freddie Heath to give him his real name – was born, like my dad, in 1935 in Willesden, North London. After the obligatory wartime evacuation, failed Eleven Plus and National Service, Freddie fetched up by age 20 as an odd job man working variously as a laundryman, warehouseman, bookie’s runner and house painter. With a wife and kid on the way, he was so poor that witnesses attest that the lower part of his socks were so worn out that you could see his white feet, so he used boot polish to dye his feet black so you would think he was rich enough to buy whole socks. Truly a man who was rescued by rock and roll.

Starting by jumping up on stage at skiffle competitions, he was soon gigging six nights a week and was finally spotted by EMI, who signed him to a record deal in 1959. During the session for his first single “Please Don’t Touch”, Fred Heath became “Johnny Kidd” and his backing band were re-titled “the Pirates”. No one remembers why or whose idea it was – Captain Kidd was a pirate I suppose. The Pirates got pirate costumes, Fred got an eye patch, inventing a story that he’d been hit in the eye by a broken guitar string (actually he had a squint). The record got to 25. After a couple of flops, a new single was needed. The song EMI wanted for the A side sucked but they had no choice so they did a deal to write the B side because you got as much money as a writer of the B side as for the A side.

The session was set for Friday 13 May 1960 and so after a gig the previous night, they got back to the West End and went to the ‘Freight Train’ coffee bar at the junction of Berwick Street and Noel Street and commandeered the basement to knock out the B side. In a room no bigger than a storeroom and sitting on upturned Coca Cola, they wrote “Shakin’ All Over” in six minutes. The lyrics came straight outta Willesden: when Fred and his pals spotted a pretty girl in the street, they would say she gives me “quivers down me membranes”, adapted for these purposes to ‘Quivers down the backbone, shakes down the knee bone and tremors in the thigh bone’. Witty and sexy. Now it just needed to sound good. The next morning, at 10am prompt, they arrived at the EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road, in Studio 2 – where the Beatles later recorded almost all of their stuff – where they quickly knocked off the A side, a rocked up version of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby'” (you can see why they all thought it sucked) before committing ‘Shakin All Over’ to tape in one take. Session guitarist Joe Moretti then overdubbed the “shimmering” guitar effects at the end of each verse by sliding his Ronson cigarette lighter up and down the strings. Some present say it was all done in 6 minutes, longer than it had taken to set up their equipment.

It came out on June 10th and remains a landmark, not just in British pop, but also in the development of rock. The drums are big, the bass and rhythm guitar double each other, it’s drenched in echo, more than has ever been used before, so much that EMI technicians in their white coats said it can’t be done as it wasn’t not in their manual. Boosted by an appearance on early rock and roll TV show “Wham!”, it had reached number 1 by the beginning of August, the 7th biggest selling disc of the year. However in those days singles were 6 weeks apart, even if you were still in the charts and all his subsequent singles failed. They toured constantly, two shows a night, 1000 miles a week, making good money but barely a year later the best days of the group seemed over and the Pirates reluctantly left en masse. They didn’t care for long – they pretty much became the Tornados and became the first group to top the UK and US Charts with ‘Telstar’. Fred was devastated but simply recruited new Pirates and carried on as before with a pretty full live schedule in clubs and on national tours. It beat painting houses for a living.

One club booking was at the Cavern, Liverpool where he spotted a new sound and nicked it for the very Beatlesque “I’ll Never Get Over You” and just when you think he’s currently residing in the “where are they now” file “I’ll Never Get Over You” only goes and gets to Number 4 in July 1963. Alas, once again his further singles flopped and by 1966 regular work had dried up, so he tried his hand at the cabaret circuit.

On October 7, the group arrived late for a gig in Bolton, Lancashire, but the Manager threw a hissy and cancelled them. With free time on their hands they decided to travel over to a neighbouring town where they knew a club to see if they could drum up work as he still had to pay the band. In the early hours of October 8, three miles south of Bury on the A58 in Lancashire, the steering on his brand new GT Cortina froze at 70 mph and the car crossed the central reservation, colliding head on with one of the only cars on the road at that time of night. Fred and a 17 year passenger in the other car were killed instantly. He would have been 31 in a few weeks’ time and left a wife, an ex-wife and 3 children.

There are literally hundreds of cover versions of ‘Shakin’ All Over’, from AC/DC to the Beach Boys, from Led Zeppelin to Van Morrison, from the Who to most bizarrely of all Mae West. And whilst his version was never a hit in America, in 1965 a band called Chad Allen & the Expressions had a hit with it in the US and Canada. In an attempt to build a mystique around the record, the single was credited to The Guess Who? in the hope It that some listeners might assume it might be The Beatles in disguise. It wasn’t but they kept the name and had a few more hits. They later became Messrs’ Bachman Turner and Overdrive.

But cover versions is where the real publishing money is and Fred Heath wrote all his own songs. The royalties continue to go to his family.

Hey Ho, Let’s Go! The Ramones in London

The last surviving original member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died on July 11. They weren’t brothers and none of them was called Ramone but I’ll lean against the counter in any saloon bar and argue that despite their music being let’s say rather limited, there hasn’t ever been a more influential band than these four brudders from Forest Hills, New York in all music history. Especially that first album.

They were four misfits from dysfunctional middle class families, all teenage hoodlums getting into fights, sniffing glue, taking drugs and listening to Alice Cooper, the Stooges, Led Zeppelin and especially the New York Dolls. When they formed the band in 1974, Joey was the drummer, but got worse the more he practised. Tommy was the manager and Dee Dee was the singer and bassist who couldn’t actually do both at the same time so they suggested he stick to the four-string and told Joey to stand out front and sing.

Ramones_-_Ramones_cover

The idea they were just scruffy disorganised Herberts in jeans is a myth. There was a vision and Johnny made sure it was implemented with military precision. They constantly refined their act, they all decided to wear the same, they all used the same name because it would be easier to remember. They practiced every day and made their debut at CBGBs, a dive bar on a stretch of the Bowery on the Lower East Side that is now fittingly called Joey Ramone Way.

Signed to Sire, they recorded their debut album in the same huge studio above Radio City Music Hall which NBC had been built for Toscanini and his symphony orchestra in the 1930s. Clearly no respecters of history, they recorded in black leather jackets, white tee shirts, ripped jeans, and sneakers. When producer Craig Leon’s made basic inquiries such as “What key is this in?” or “Can you play that up an octave?”, they just grunted. They had a roadie to tune their guitars.

They were so loud that the drummer had to be in an isolation booth 130 feet away and Johnny’s amps were set up down the hallway into one of the Rockettes’ dance rehearsal rooms, with an extra-long guitar cord running back down the hall into the main studio room so at least he could stand near Dee Dee who stayed in the main studio. They recorded the basic tracks in three days, overdubbed on the fourth day – that’s a real chain saw on ‘Chain Saw’ – and Joey added his vocals on Day 5. Mixing took two days and that was it done, all for $6,000. And released to general disdain and deafening silence from record buyers. Well, it is a bit samey.

Except over here. The NME had been covering the whole new CBGBs scene for a few months and star reporter Nick Kent’s review describing the sound glowingly as ‘drums and bass muscle in behind the guitar, which maintains a sound like a sulphuric acid tab zig-zagging across a bucket of pitch.’ The NME liked them and we had the Sex Pistols kicking off at that time, so unable to get gigs in New York, they decided to come to London in July 1976. They were here for three days. On the flight over, they were worried about two things: whether they had brought enough t-shirts to sell, and what if nobody speaks English? To save money they stayed in a house in Shepherds Bush as there wasn’t enough for a hotel. They hated London. They couldn’t get American food so survived on sandwiches, there were only three channels on TV, they hated the warm beer. The weather was at least stunning in that hottest of all possible summers.

They played two dates. A Bicentennial Independence Day show on July 4 at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm to a sold out crowd of 2,000; and at Dingwalls in Camden Lock the following night to 200. Most of the crowd were familiar with the songs, but as they all sounded a little similar, it took a while to recognise the exact song, maybe thirty seconds, and by the time you did, it had finished and they’d started a new one.

They were some of the most pivotal gigs in music history. It’s that only-200-people-bought-the-first-Velvet -Underground-album-but-they-all-formed-a-band thing. Anyone who was to become anyone in Punk was there: the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Billy Idol, Siouxsie Sioux, the Stranglers, the Damned, Chrissie Hynde, Adam & the Ants’ and Sid Vicious, who if you think about it was basically a mini Dee Dee Ramone. They’d all bought the debut album, most were learning the guitar or the bass by listening to it and pretty much everyone there formed a band or started a fanzine.

London raved about the Ramones, but after three days they were gone. Their success here did nothing for the band’s reputation back home however. When they returned to the USA, they went straight back to playing to 50 people at CBGBs. In fact, as the Pistols gained in notoriety over the next few months, being associated with English punk acts meant commercial death for the Ramones. No radio station would touch them and no one bought their albums. Their debut album finally went gold for 500,000 sold – in April 2014.

Tommy left in 1978 worn down by spending 250 days a year in a bus with three very difficult personalities. They just got a new guy called Mark Bell and said ‘now you’re Marky Ramone’. No slouches to start with, their set apparently got 2 minutes faster with their new drummer. They usually took their girlfriends on tour with them, but by 1981 Joey’s Linda had gone off with Johnny and they never spoke to each other again. For the next 14 years on their small, cramped tour bus, messages were passed via an intermediary. Significantly the song Joey wrote right after Linda left for Johnny was ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’.

Johnny, always obsessed with saving enough for his retirement, finally decided he’d done just that and quit in 1996 after 2,263 shows. He had barely 8 years to enjoy it, succumbing to cancer in 2004. Joey had died of lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee OD’d a year later and Tommy went this year aged 67, so that’s everyone gone, but a legacy that remains forever.

By the way, they nicked the ‘Hey Ho Let’s Go!’ off the Bay City Rollers of all people, commandeering the chant from the Rollers’ US number Saturday Night. Dee Dee was huge fan – who would have thunk it?

We Are The Mods, We Are The Mods!

We made our own entertainment in those days, says anyone a generation older. It’s just that 50 years ago ‘our own entertainment’ seemed to mean one thing: a Bank Holiday punch up in hitherto dull-as-ditchwater seaside resorts like Margate, Bournemouth, Clacton and of course Brighton. The Whitsuntide 1964 Bank Holiday saw running battles between new, young tribes known as Mods and the Rockers in holiday towns all over the South of England, followed closely by a startling level of media hysteria that added new phrases like ‘moral panic’ and ‘folk devils’ to the lexicon.

Though from the same post-war working class stock, kids deviated into Mods and Rockers somewhere around the mid late 1950s. Your Rocker didn’t believe in style, preferring black leather jackets, motorcycle boots, longer hair and listened to rock and roll. On the other hand the Modernists – Mods for short – were all about the style. In post-war austerity they looked abroad for their inspiration: to America for their music and to Europe – especially France and Italy – for their clothes. A booming economy and full employment meant they had the money to pay for it. A cool Italian suit was £20 and the same amount got you a deposit on a Vespa or Lambretta scooter, the rest paid on the newly available never-never.

british-crime-civil-disorder-mods-and-rockers-brighton-1964

The other working class tradition back then was a day out at the seaside on a public holiday, so at Easter 1964 a thousand Mods head to the traditional East London-on-Sea
holiday resort of Clacton for a run and some fun. After all it’s less than 60 miles and two hours by Lambretta down the A12. But Easter was early that year so we had that other holiday tradition: foul weather, the coldest since 1884. On Easter Sunday, it was tipping down, miserable, the tide was in at midday so you couldn’t even go to the beach, all the shops were shut because it was Sunday and on top of that the pubs opened at 12 and closed at 2, even if you could get served. And you had a thousand kids with nothing to do and minds full of mischief.

Alas, at the same time, thanks to the miserable weather a group of 20 Rockers decided to put into Clacton for a warming drink rather than continue their Easter burn up the
coast to Southend. And so the need for a mug of hot tea kicked off the whole violent tradition. Two cold, bored groups of lads met and fought all along the sea front:
deckchairs thrown through windows and beach huts smashed. They did £513 worth of damage and even allowing for half a century of inflation still isn’t that much, to be
honest. No one was hurt but there were 97 arrests but it got in the papers. They hadn’t had much to sound off since Profumo the year before, so this was their chance to fulminate a bit, although the purple prose was mainly made up because there were no journalists there.

The country was in uproar, so by Whitsuntide, the next Bank Holiday, Clacton was ready. Except no one went to Clacton. Instead they went to Bournemouth, Brighton and Margate on a gloriously hot weekend where the beaches in our seaside resorts were packed with normal families. In Brighton, the papers told us 3,000 Mods and a couple of hundred Rockers came to blows along the promenade Marine Parade and on the beach, with fists knives and deckchairs being their weapons of choice. In reality, 3000 people watched about 200 mods trying to attack about two dozen Rockers, despite the fact that they were being protected by police. 76 arrests and and the headlines screamed ‘The Wildest One Yet!’

download

The smaller battle but bigger story was in Margate. There were 64 arrested, most of whom came up in front of the chairman of the local magistrates, a Dr George Simpson. First up was young Patrick Stoddard from Blackheath. Dr Simpson began:

“It is not likely that the air of this town has ever been polluted by hordes of hooligans, male and female, such as we have seen this weekend and of whom you are an
example. These long haired, mentally unstable, petty little hoodlums, these sawdust Caesars who can only find courage like rats, in hunting in packs, came to Margate with
the avowed intent of interfering with the life and property of its inhabitants. In so far as the law gives us power, this court will not fail to use the prescribed penalties. It will
perhaps discourage you and others of your kind who are infected with this vicious virus that you will go to prison for 3 months.”

Three months! Even the policemen in court whistled with surprise. Everyone had already pleaded guilty thinking they’d get a light fine, not porridge. He sentenced several others to months in prison or detention and handed out heavy fines of £50 and £75 to the rest like they were Purple Hearts. In panic the Government rushed the Malicious Damage Bill through Parliament so that it could become law before the next Bank Holiday in Auguts. They even considered declaring a state of emergency in any and all seaside resorts, although chose not to. They did however put an RAF transport plane on standby, with a cadre of 70 Flying Squad officers so that they could quickly fly off to whichever resort had the most need. After a couple of calm Summer days sitting by the runway eating sandwiches, they were finally scrambled late on Sunday afternoon and flew to Hastings, where a fighting had broken out. After newspaper headlines ‘The Battle of Brighton’ and ‘The Battle of Clacton’, they could finally genuinely use the headline ‘The Battle of Hasting’s – and they all did.

And that was it. Summer was over. Whilst Mods and Rockers spent the winter planning their tactics for 1965’s Bank Holiday battles, so did the police: heavy tactics, even heavier fines. A general diluting of the original mod spirit meant they were barely mentioned. And  the fashion moved on, new bands, new drugs and new styles. Me? I’d have been a Mod in 1964 – they had the better suits and much better music – but when it came to the seaside, I’d have been at the back watching rather than fighting. Well, it would have messed my suit up wouldn’t it?

Rotten to the (Apple) Corps

Poor old Macca, he always gets the blame for splitting up the Beatles. Well, he did sue the other three and he did inadvertently let the cat out of the bag that it was all over in the Daily Mirror, lifting the veil on what had been a fairly open secret for several months.

Buckle up, it’s a long and complicated story…

In late 1962 The Beatles signed a management contract with Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises, with NEMS taking 25% off the top. A year later, once it looked like the band might be slightly more than a flash in the pan, they formed Beatles Limited for their collective earnings and now that they’d had their first number ones, Northern Songs to handle the copyrights of all Lennon-McCartney tunes. Now you would think Lennon and McCartney would own 50% of Northern Songs each? No, they each had 20%. Brian Epstein owned 9% and the other 51% was gifted to a journeyman music publisher called Dick James by a supernaturally naive Epstein. Just imagine the amount of money that literally just fell into his lap over the next few years.

applesleeve

But this was the 1960s and Beatlemania reached every corner of the globe so there was more than enough money to go around, despite Eppy’s dreadful business deals. And all would have remained well for ever had Epstein not tragically died of an accidental drug overdose at his house at 24 Chapel Street, Belgravia on August 27 1967, thus began the beginning of the group’s downfall.

A couple of months later, presented with a huge £2 million tax bill, the Beatles hurriedly sorted out their taxes. As company directors of Beatles Limited, they had paid personal tax at the most punitive rates, sometimes 94% (“There’s one for you, 19 for me”). They formed a more tax efficient partnership called Beatles and Co, soon to be renamed Apple Corps (‘it’s a pun’ said Paul helpfully), so they paid the lower Corporation Tax. Their advisers recommended spending some of the £2 million quickly on something before the taxman could get it. They decided to use their money to subsidise anyone with a good idea. Western Communism, they called it.

“If you’re a singer sing for us; if you’re a writer write for us” they advertised’ so not surprisingly they received a torrent of packages, few of which were ever opened. They formed hundreds of new Apple companies – Electronics, Tailoring, Retailing, School – each run by one of their hopelessly unqualified friends. Apple Electronics was run by a Greek friend of John Lennon’s Magic’ Alex Mardas, whose bizarre and expensive electronic ideas never actually worked, and whose only electronics training was as a TV repairman.

Most infamous was The Apple Shop which opened at 94 Baker Street on December 5 1967 with a star-studded party, where the only drink available was … Apple juice, of course. Fabulously fashionable Dutch design collective The Fool got £100,000 to design and stock the store. Squads of local art students painted technicolour murals over the exterior walls but neighbouring shops and residents were not impressed. They immediately complained and the walls were repainted white. The shop was so badly managed and the security so notoriously lax that even The Beatles’ enormous tax shelter funds were exhausted and it closed after less than nine months.

In July 1968 they bought some very serious real estate at 3 Saville Row, which is where they played in public for the last time – up on the roof at lunchtime on Thursday January 30 1969 – and where the Apple dream came to a bad-tempered end around their boardroom table. The three non-Paul Beatles chose fearsome New York showbiz accountant Allen Klein to handle their stuff; Paul chose high powered New York entertainment lawyer Lee Eastman, who also happened to be his father-in-law, so there were two sides – Lennon and the others were on one and Paul could only ever be on the other. Their mutual loathing and mistrust meant that they totally failed in anything they tried to do that wasn’t musical. The chance to buy back Northern Songs, their own publishing company which they had never owned, slipped from their grasp when Dick James sold to Lew Grade for what would be squillions in today’s money.

By the end of the Summer of 1969 they were all sick of each other and wanted at least to take a break. John was under Yoko’s spell and doing his Peace Campaign thing; Ringo was in movies; and George had stockpiled tons of songs the Beatles had rejected and wanted to do an album. They now only ever met for business and the last time they were all in the same room was 20 September 1969 when it ended in acrimony and Lennon quitting. If the Beatles were over, argued Paul, then let’s dissolve the Apple partnership. No! said the other three repeatedly, so it was left to Paul to sue the other Beatles and Apple in the High Court in London. He finally won on 26 April 1971, 43 years ago this week.

The Beatles may have been over but temporarily at least we all won: each if them had new singles out – Another Day, It Don’t Come Easy, Power To the People and My Sweet Lord. Four for the price of one indeed.

Hit the road, Stax

What a way to launch a record label. And not just any label. We’re talking about Stax, the Memphis label acronymed from Mssrs Stewart and Axton, who boasted Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Booker T & the MGs on their roster among very many.

If you have a Stax record from before March 1967 it’s on Atlantic if you bought it here or it’s on import. To launch the label a package tour of their artists – The Stax/Volt Revue – toured Europe, mainly the UK, for a month in March and April of 1967. This was a classic play-the-hits, two shows, early and late, a night package tour. That’s Otis Redding at the Finsbury Park Astoria, Sam & Dave at the Hammersmith Odeon and the MGs at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon.

They stacked the tour with an all-star team. Along with Otis, Sam & Dave and the MGs, there was Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd, the Mar Keys and Carla Thomas, who ran straight into the fanatical UK following no one has expected. There were fan clubs and newsletters and fanzines devoted to Stax, there was an Otis Redding Appreciation Society and best of all a National Soul Board which published monthly magazines like Soul music Monthly, Soul Beat and Home of the Blues.

 

This was the first time a Stax revue had hit the road and it was the first trip overseas for pretty much everyone except Otis. Actually it was first time they’d been outside the Southern states and this was a racially integrated set of musicians. In 1967. The MGs is 2 black guys and 2 white guys, the horn section is 2 white guys and a black guy. They couldn’t believe it when they got to the May Fair GHotel – nice digs by the way – and there was only one entrance. In the US experience there were hotels for whites and different hotels for black people and there were restaurants for white people and different ones for blacks. Here any hotel would take them and the bell hop treated them like stars. Amazingly they had never see that before.

gallery_6836_1066_55458

After two days of rehearsals and a warm up gig at the Bag O’Nails, the first gig was Friday night March 17th at the Finsbury Park Astoria for two sold out shows at 6.40pm and 9.10pm, 3000 a show. Tickets were 17/6 top price ranged down from 20/ 15/ 12/6 8/6. The cars were mobbed as it arrived for the sound check at the stage door and the queue to get in snaked all the way down the Seven Sisters Road despite the cold.

‘Gimme an S, Gimme a T, Gimme an A, Gimme an X’ chanted compere, DJ Emperor Rosko before Booker T and the MGs opened the first half was for a few songs. Even the backing band were superstars! After the MGs, the 3 piece horn section came out and joined the MGs to form the Mar Keys for 3 tunes and then they stayed on for the rest of the show as house band. Next came Otis Redding protege Arthur Conley whose Sweet Soul Music – on Atlantic not Stax – was riding up then charts Music as far as Number 7 , Carla Thomas, daughter of Stax star Rufus ‘Walking The Dog’ Thomas, with Eddie Floyd closing the first half. His Knock On Wood had been at no 11 and Raise Your Hand entered UK chart the day the tour arrived.

After the short interval, you got the Dynamic Duo, the Double Dynamite, the Sultans of Sweat, Sam and Dave, who were sensational performers with a bunch of sensational songs. There was bedlam throughout their set, the stage was rushed, but with some provocation. Utterly amazing performers, they ran, danced, jumped into the audience, police dragged them back on stage, pretended to leave the stage and then came running back on, pretended to faint, miraculously revived.

As Otis Redding hit the stage, there was a moment of hush as all the mods present took in the fact that it actually was Otis Redding before them. Then straight into Day Tripper, his new Stax single, followed by Shake, Satisfaction, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, Respect, My Girln and the set closer, Try A Little Tenderness. Followed by total chaos as he left the stage.

And that was it, a devastating 70-80 minutes. Audience and musicians were exhausted at the end of the show – and they had to do it all over again in an hour. And then the next night at the Upper Cut club in Forest Gate before Paris and 29 cities in 31 days in all, most of it in a 52-seater coach zig-zagging around the UK, all in the days before we had the network of motorways we do now. With Cardiff and Glasgow scheduled together, with a day off inbetween, they couldn’t all the way to Scotland in ojne day so had to stay overnight en route in Carlisle. So that’s Otis Redding and friends, staying in a small hotel in a large B&B called the Crown & Mitre. In Carlisle. There was no heat in the rooms and this was up North in March so they all slept in their clothes – they are from the South after all.

After one more stop in London, at Hammersmith Odeon, they all flew home. Otis went back to America and wowed the crowd at Monterey Pop in June but of course died December 10th 1967 in Wisconsin when the new plane he’d bought crashed into a lake. Pretty much his only pop hit in the US was the posthumous Dock Of The Bay.

Luckily those thoughtful (and commercially minded) people at Stax immortalised this unique tour on tape: there’s Stax-Volt Revue Live In Europe Volume One, Stax-Volt Revue Live In Europe Volume Two and inevitably Stax-Volt Revue Live In Europe Volume Three, as well as an Otis Redding Live in Europe release and the Booker T and the MGs live album ‘Back to Back’. There’s also an extraordinary DVD of a gig they did in Oslo so really no one has an excuse for not having some of this wonderful music.

Georgie Fame (and Christine Keeler) bring down the Conservative government

Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames were the band that rocked so hard that they brought down a government. Unwittingly of course, but in 1962 Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, not forgetting Christine Keeler, Johnny Edgecombe and Lucky Gordon – kicked off a chain of events which led, it could be said – mainly by me at this point – to the fall of the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.

In 1962 Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were the house band at the Flamingo Club at 33-37 Wardour Street in London. They were white guys playing jazz and R&B to ‘black American GIs, West Indians, pimps, prostitutes and gangsters’, to quote Georgie himself. The Flamingo was something of a home-from-home for the GIs, mainly based at suburban London air and army bases like Ruislip and Northolt. Georgie played their kind of music, despite the fact that he was a small, white 19 year old  Northern bloke who was known as Clive to his mum, Mrs Powell from Lancashire.

Spotted knocking out tunes in an East End pub by Lionel Bart, he was recommended to famed impressario Larry Parnes, who liked what he saw and immediately hired him as his charge Billy Fury’s piano player, on the condition that ‘Clive Powell’ became ‘Georgie Fame’ on the spot.

In March 1962, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames landed at the Flamingo club for the the All-Nighter, the after-hours club that opened at midnight and ran till dawn. They did two sets a night, at 1.30am and 4am and in the end were there for three years. Their gigs are the stuff of hushed Mod legend, but fortunately there is a document of how good a live act they were. It’s an LP called Rhythm & Blues At The Flamingo which was recorded genuinely live in September 1963 in front of a loyal, noisy audience of All-Nighter regulars.Rhythm+and+Blues+at+the+Flamingo+GeorgieFameRhythmAndBlues44950

But how did they bring down the government? I hear you cry. Good question, here’s the answer.

At the Flamingo All-Nighter on Saturday 27 October 1962, there was a fight between Lucky Gordon, a West Indian part time musician and dealer, and another West Indian drifter/dealer called Johnny Edgecombe. The fight went outside to the Wardour Street pavement where Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife. The police were called and names were taken. Lucky Gordon was the former boyfriend of a girl called Christine Keeler and Edgecombe was the current boyfriend. She had also been for a short time the previous year the mistress of John Profumo, who as it turned out happened to be the Minister of of State for War. Oh, another of her lovers had been Eugene Ivanov, cultural attache at the Soviet Embassy which we all know was Cold War speak for ‘spy’.

Hubristically indiscreet in the way the British upper classes thought only they could be in those days, everyone got to know about their dalliance, including the newspapers, although none were yet bold enough to print an expose. However when they saw Christine Keeler’s name in the police report of the Flamingo fight, their interest was suddenly reawakened. They were further reminded a couple of months later when a now-jilted Edgecombe was arrested for firing several shots at the door of the house she was staying in at 17 Wimpole Mews W1.

What follows is a fantastic tale of intrigue, grudges, revenge, backstabbing, press, MI5, old school ties, public school solidarity, espionage and the power of the press. The Press arrived at Wimpole Mews before even the police did and offered Keeler £1000 for her story. Profumo’s Establishment friends panicked, despite Profumo assuring the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the rest of the cabinet that it was all tosh, and tried to pay off Keeler, who by now was talking to everyone. Terrified by what she might say at Edgecombe’s trial where she was to be a witness, she was mysteriously spirited her out of harm’s way to Spain and was unable to testify.

The press smelled a rat and convinced of Profumo’s guilt, pressed ahead with some serious inquiry, finally getting a Labour MP to ask a tricky question in Parliament under privilege, which they could then legitimately report. Profumo, forced into making a statement to the house, issued the same denial of impropriety he had given to the PM and the Cabinet. They may have taken him at his word but the HM Opposition and the press weren’t having it.

Labour kept the pressure on, knowing full well he was lying through his teeth. The press too were ready to print more stories saying he had lied to Parliament, so after a weeks of extraordinary pressure, a tipping point was reached and Profumo had to go. He resigned on June 4 1963. Harold MacMillan, already rather old and doddery and looking totally out of touch with the new mood of the 1960s with the Beatles, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and all that, succumbed to the stress of the whole affair and resigned due to ill health. His aristocratic but admittedly slightly less doddery successor the Earl of Home – quickly de-nobled to plain Alec Douglas Home – led the Conservatives into the 1964 General Election but lost by just four seats, thanks mainly to a brilliant campaign by the Daily Mirror playing on memories of the Profumo affair to depict the traditional Conservative ruling class as out-of-touch and over-privileged toffs.

If Labour had been beaten in 1964, it would have lost four elections in 13 years. Who knows what would have happened to the Labour Party then?

Beware of Mr Baker

There’s a new film out in the cinemas now at the moment called ‘Beware of Mr Baker’, the Mr Baker in the title being Cream drummer Ginger Baker. It’s kind of the film-of-the-book because he released an autobiography two or three years ago, modestly called Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer, which being a semi professional in these matters, I read with interest.

There was a reasonable amount of detail for the anorak like me – dates, names, addresses, inside leg measurements – and a few decent stories because well, he has had quite a life. It was perfectly serviceable as a memoir but nothing special. But the two things I learned most from the book were a) where he got his heroin and b) that Ginger Baker is not a nice man. Really really not a nice man.

It’s hardly surprising then that in ‘Beware Of Mr Baker’, he’s a complete twat.

_67626018_67626017

Any number of talking head rock stars are interviewed and bear out that Ginger Baker has been “fairly consistently horrible to people for the last 50 years” but even bearing that in mind, he raises curmudgeonliness, grumpiness and irascibility to whole new levels. He’s nice about no one and I dare say Mick Jagger’s formidable lawyers may be taking a close interest. The film’s director Jay Bulger had been advised to stay clear of Ginger as he’d heard he was a bit manic, even dangerous and so the film opens and ends with Baker is filmed clocking him on the nose with his walking cane and drawing blood.

However no one interviewed disputes the fact that he’s the greatest drummer in the world. At one point Eric Clapton is asked if he’s as good as Keith Moon or John Bonham to which Clapton simply scoffs and swats the question away. According to Slowhand they shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath.

He was certainly probably Rock’s first superstar drummer, invented the 20 minute drum solo and was the first to use two bass drums although he nicked the idea from Duke Ellington’s drummer, Louie Bellson. And his influence has extended to virtually every drummer of every rock and heavy metal band that has followed since that time has sought to emulate some aspect of Baker’s playing, especially African rhythms which he learned in the late 50s from UK jazz greats. But call Ginger a rock drummer to his face and you are likely to need two drumsticks surgically removed for your nether regions. He prefers being called a jazz drummer which is where he started when he turned pro in 1956.

Scuffling for gigs, married young with a child, he did what all sensible people would do of course – he got hooked on heroin, turned on by one of the best British modern jazz drummers of the 1950s, Dickie Devere. Heroin was everywhere in British jazz in the 1950s. “Its like grass, only better” Dickie said. It made him feel great and what’s more, he played fantastically well on it.

Hooked at 21, he took advantage of a fantastically liberal British scheme where addicts registered with a doctor and were prescribed a weekly amount to manage their addictions rather than have to drugs off teh street. Trust Ginger to pull the old trick though, of telling his GP that he as taking more than he actually so that he could sell what he didn’t need for proper cash money. Every monday for years he collected his prescription on Wimpole Street and then walked 200 yards down the road to pharmacy John Bell & Croyden (it’s still there!) at 50-54 Wigmore Street to pick up his, ahem, medication.

When he took smack, people told him he played incredibly, so he took smack before every gig. But when he’d turn up to a gig stoned they’d fire him. It took five years for him to work out that taking smack was a bad idea. Up to 1964, he was getting high and thinking he was wonderful. After that, heI was always trying to quit, which he did 29 times. It wasn’t until 1981, when he was 42 years old, had three kids and moved to a little village in the middle of nowhere in Italy (without the kids – that’s another story) that he kicked the drug for good, mainly because there was none available. He’s been clean since then. But it hasn’t helped his temper….

Libel, Liberace Style

In a quick round-up last year for my Robert Elms Show slot of pop stars who had had their collars felt – shooting racing pigeons? The Clash. Covering a BA flight attendant in yoghurt? Peter Buck of REM – I came across a bizarre and almost forgotten libel case. In 1956 staggeringly successful American piano player Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for implying that he was a homosexual.

Now granted, the 1956 Liberace was not the flamboyant, camp-as-Pontins, star-spangled red-white-and-blue hot pants, full length minks and rhinestones Las Vegas Liberace we all remember from the 70s and 80s, who frankly couldn’t have possibly been anything but homosexual. No, flamboyance in 1956 was a white suit and a gold leaf piano with a glass lid. But still and all, it’s a pretty astonishing tale. And what’s more he won.

The Daily Mirror of 26 September 1956 carried a column which described Liberace as ‘the summit of sex – the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter, everything that he she or it can ever want … this deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love… He reeks with emetic language that can only make grown men long for a quiet corner, an aspidistra, a handkerchief and the old heave-ho. Without doubt he is the biggest sentimental vomit of all time.’

And so it continued. For several more paragraphs.

Liberace and his specially imported Cadillac-with-the-piano motif had arrived the day before by ocean liner at Southampton to be greeted by 3,000 fans lining the dock. There were thousands more at Waterloo to meet his private train, The Liberace Express, and they threw so much confetti that afterwards the place was ankle-deep. It took mounted police and dogs to get his car through the crowds and on to the Savoy. The Mirror’s review then was not of his show, but merely of his arrival. He had yet to play a note on his golden piano.

When copies of the Mirror were delivered to his Savoy suite, he was so shocked he almost fainted. His dear mum’s reaction was even worse. After finding the copy her dutiful son had attempted to hide, she read the offending article and had an attack of the vapours and a doctor had to be summoned. No one upsets Liberace’s mum and gets away with it. He decided to sue.
Pianist Liberace Inside His Car
The trial didn’t take place till June 1959 because of Liberace’s busy performance schedule. His Dickensian QC, Mr Gilbert Beyfus, at 76 the oldest practicing barrister on the London circuit, looked like ‘a toothless old lion’, according to Liberace’s own account, apparently fumbling with papers and forgetting his half-moon glasses when they were atop his head the whole time. Ah, but he was lulling the Mirror into a false sense of security (he wasn’t called ‘The Fox’ for nothing). The Mirror didn’t know what had hit them. A sober-suited Liberace spent six hours in the witness-box, defending his reputation and shedding a tear when recounting his sainted mother’s earlier distress. He denied outright and point-blank that he was homosexual, adding that he was ‘against the practice because it offends convention and it offends society’.

The Mirror countered with some feeble retort like their columnist had merely been exercising his right to free speech right to find Liberace so nauseating and was entitled to write about it. The jury didn’t have to agree with what he had written, they just had to agree he had the right to say it. They didn’t agree, as it happened, because after 3½ hours of deliberation – less time than Liberace had spent on the stand – the jury of 10 men and two women found the Daily Mirror guilty and awarded him a then-record £8,000 in damages, plus costs for both sides estimated at over £27,000. That’s nearly £2 million in today’s money.

Leaving court Liberace issued a statement saying he was delighted that his reputation had been vindicated by a British jury. He later quipped that he had cried all the way to the bank. Actually he cried all the way to the Chiswick Empire, where he played his show there that night as scheduled, to a three minute standing ovation before he’d even started

For the rest of his life no one dared inquire about his sexuality, even after his assistant-slash-lover wrote a tell-all book. He still denied everything, although perhaps by that point I’m sure nobody cared or at the very least was terribly surprised.

Liberace died of AIDS-related pneumonia in February 1987 and even in death tried to remain in the closet. The coroner who conducted the autopsy stated that there had been a deliberate attempt to hide the actual cause of death on the original death certificate. The Daily Mirror’s headline was ‘How About A Refund?’ They’re still waiting.