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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

‘Kaleidoscopic Colour, Beautiful People’: Hoppy and the Sixties Underground

Hoppy, the Pied Piper of the Underground and involved centrally in virtually every key counterculture event in this city in the 1960s, died on January 30, 2015, aged 77. He co-founded the International Times, which became the voice of the hippie movement; he set up the London Free School which in turn brought us the Notting Hill Carnival; he established the UFO psychedelic club which brought us Pink Floyd; and promoted the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at Alexandra Palace, which kicked off the Summer of Love in London.

He was also its martyr. As nominal leader of a movement that didn’t really have or want a leader, he was targeted by the Establishment so while all his hippie friends were turning on tuning in and dropping out in the summer of 1967, he was doing 8 months hard time in Wormwood Scrubs for possession. By the time he was released in January 1968, he wasn’t the same and the counterculture had clicked over into a new less peaceful year and he was never at the centre of events in the same way again.

Originally a nuclear physicist for the Atomic Energy Authority – seriously! – who lost his security clearance after an episode in Moscow with Young Communist Party members in 1960, he turned to photography, specialising in fabulous black and white portraits of jazz and R&B stars of the day, mainly for the Melody Maker. He did pop stars too. He was – may still be – the only person ever to have photographed the Rolling Stones before lunch. Nice to know Mick and Keef were thoroughly unreliable even in 1964. A studio was booked for 11am and after five minutes it was clear it wasn’t going to work. They were all asleep and they were literally holding up Keith, so they went to a café nearby and had the shots taken while they were drinking restorative cups of tea. 

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He was front and centre for the event that is often cited as the beginning of that radical Sixties Underground, which most people figure started on Friday 11 June 1965 at the Royal Albert Hall, with Poetry of the World/Poets of Our Time which is usually known as the International Poetry Festival or The Poetry Olympics. It featured famous American Beats, poets like Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg who happened to be in London – he had already inserted himself into Bob Dylan’s entourage at the Savoy hotel and can be seen cavorting behind Bob dropping his big cards in Don’t Look Back. He gave a fabulous reading of ‘Howl’ at Better Books at 94 Charing Cross Rd and everyone thought, wow we should rent the Albert Hall and put on a  poetry festival.

The organising committee – they called The Poetry Cooperative, obviously – included Hoppy doing the photos and using his contacts to get publicity in all the papers. The Albert Hall was booked for £400 (plus £100 for every hour they overran – we’ll come back to that) for June 11. Tickets were 10/ downstairs and 5/ up in the gods and many brought their own picnics or smokeables which were shared communally. All 7000 tickets were sold, at which point thought this might be a movement and thus started of the Underground in London.

Ginsberg headlined but was drunk an slurred his words, something you can get away with at a Stones show but not at a poetry recital, although not many people noticed. It was more of a social event an refused to leave as  the lights went up, something the Poetry couldn’t afford. It overran by 2 hours adding 50% to their costs. It did make £1000 profit all told but someone on the committee ran off with the money.

Next on a trip to America, Hoppy saw the Free University of New York, an educational enterprise set up by professors who had been sacked for protesting against the Vietnam War, so he returned to London and helped set up the London Free School in the basement of 22 Powis Terrace W11, as a community adult education project for the downtrodden. To raise funds, they held a series of benefits on Fridays throughout the autumn in the church hall of All Saints Church opposite featuring the band described as ‘London’s farthest out group’: the Pink Floyd. The Free School didn’t last – most remember quite a lot of sex and drugs but not many lessons – but the Floyd did. And so did the Notting Hill Carnival, which began in August 1966 with one lorry and about 50 people marching with one steel band that sort of went on a walkabout and everyone followed.

If 7,000 people could pack out the Albert Hall, then they might want a newspaper, which as it turns out they did: the International Times, an intense mixture of radical thinking and avant-garde carryings-on, where you could check out where to get your macrobiotics and the price of hash. When they needed start-up funds, they approached Paul McCartney, MBE, a far more radical and switched on Beatle than John Lennon, who wrote a cheque. The launch issue was 14 October 1966 with a launch party and fundraiser the next night at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road. Not the beautifully and stylishly refurbished Roundhouse we know now mind, but one with no proper floor, grime everywhere, no heating (this was October), an electricity supply only sufficient to power a small house and most importantly only 2 toilets for 2,000 people. There were films and a psychedelic light show projected onto a plastic sheets hanging from the balcony. The Soft Machine were on first and the Underground’s house band the Pink Floyd headlined. Just as their set finished, the electrics blew.

A few weeks later, on Friday 23 December 1966, he and friend Joe Boyd opened the UFO Club – always pronounced Yoo-Fo – in the basement of ‘The Blarney Club’ at 31 Tottenham Court Road, opposite the Dominion Theatre. Actually the club was called ‘UFO Presents Night Tripper’; the ‘Night’ relevant because it ran all night and ‘Tripper’ because…well, you can probably guess.

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Hoppy ran the lights, Joe ran the business. Hoppy played the music and sat atop a scaffold at the back of the club, making gnomic announcements, showing old Charlie Chaplin or Marilyn Monroe films, and projecting dazzling light shows. The live music was once again provided by the Floyd, who despite the times showed their breadhead creds by negotiating an increase from £50 a night to £75 the moment they sighed a record deal. UFO also gave us The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Procul Harum, who followed the Floyd as house band and played there the week ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was released and again 6 weeks later when it went to Number One.

The Police pressured the landlord to kick them out after six months so they moved to the Roundhouse and the Man didn’t like the look of the International Times either. In early April 1967, they raided their offices in a calculated attempt to close the paper down, so to raise money for its legal defence,Hoppy and Joe organised the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream benefit concert, held at Alexandra Palace on 29 April 1967. The flyer promised 30 top groups in a night of kaleidoscopic colour and beautiful people. All for a quid.

An estimated 10,000 punters crowded into the hall. Two stages had been erected inside the cavernous hall – bands often playing simultaneously! who could tell anyway? –  with a smaller central stage designed for poets, performance artists like Yoko Ono, jugglers and dancers, with names like the Tribe Of The Sacred Mushroom and The Exploding Galaxy. Top of the bill of course were Pink Floyd, who went on stage just as dawn was breaking. The light of the new spring day streamed through the huge glass window as the band played and many watched the sun come up lying on the grass outside

But the Establishment cannot tolerate such goings on and Hoppy was busted at home at 115 Queensway just before Christmas 1966He was out of the country at the time but the Man found people smoking exotic cigarettes in his living room so he was charged with allowing his place to be used for taking drugs. There was a big campaign to free him but the authorities wanted to make an example. Rather than take a caution and a fine, he opted for trial by jury, so he could treat the court to a full-on exposition of hid “tune in, turn on, drop out” philosophy. Pot was harmless, he explained, the law should be changed. The judge disagreed not surprisingly, called him a pest to society and sent him down for 9 months on June 1 1967, the day ironically Sgt Pepper was released.

Shaken by the severity of his punishment – most thought he’d get a fine – he was never the same force after his release, directing his energy into less confrontational causes and making his living as an academic and from his photography. The Free School lasted but a few months, UFO didn’t survive the move to Chalk Farm, someone ran off with the Technicolour Dream’s benefit money, but the International Times survived and belive it or not, is still going online only in this brave new world.

‘Hiroshima In A Pint Glass’: Dr Feelgood and the Naughty Rhythms Tour 1975

Can it really be forty years since the juggernaut that was the Naughty Rhythms Tour rolled through your town? It was 15 February 1975 when it hit the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, N4, a Damascene moment for many who had previously been fascinated with Rick Wakeman’s capes and Keith Emerson’s 20 minute synthesizer solos but from that night on cut their hair, went drainpipe in the trouser department and could tolerate nothing longer than a 3 minute dirty R&B tune.

The reason was an evening of music provided by three bands from London’s thriving Pub Rock scene: Kokomo, the fabulously-named Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and the tour’s breakout success, Dr Feelgood. Pub Rock was that music played from 1972-76 in ‘Victorian pubs north of Regent’s Park ‘, as someone once said, a very back-to-basics mix of rock, pop, R&B, country and folk. The hair may still have been long but there were no feather boas or lurex strides. The uniform was jeans, checked shirts and thrift shop whistles. The Feelgoods in particular looked “like the villains on The Sweeney” but it was the Naughty Rhythms tour that took them out of London’s pubs and made them stars.

As for the dramatis personae, Kokomo were a 10 piece white soul/funk band, four of whom were singers and the others were very serious musicians indeed. The sax player had been in King Crimson, bass player Alan Spenner had been in Joe Cocker’s band at Woodstock and the rhythm section were in such demand for lucrative session work – £150 a day! – that by the time of the Naughty Rhythms tour, the band had only played outside London five times. Their debut album had been just been released and was hailed by the NME as the best debut by a British band for several years.

Dr Feelgood had formed in Canvey Island – US readers think somewhere slightly nastier than say Perth Amboy NJ – in 1971 but didn’t break through into London till 1973. Musically they were perhaps still a little one-note (but what a note!) but their brand of stripped back R&B more than cut the mustard. They looked like they might be panel beaters by day, mainly because they were. The drummer was an enormous, non-smiling big figure of a bloke, so he called himself..er.. The Big Figure. The singer Lee was a skinny little bloke in a filthy jacket who took his stage name from the fact that he had hair like a Brillo pad but spelled it Brilleaux, to add a frankly needless hint of the exotic. And the guitarist. Well, the guitarist had a pudding basin hair cut and held his Fender Telecaster like it was a machine gun. Which was coincidentally the kind of sound it made. And his name was Wilko Johnson.

Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers were more at the country and R&B end of the movement. After a couple of years scuffling around getting gigs anywhere that would have them – “any sniff of a microphone and we were there”, they collided with one Andrew Jakeman, Jake to those who knew him and later Jake Riviera to all, when he co-founded Stiff Records and gave the world Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. He had a vision for the Chillis and thought he had found a great way of promoting them to the masses. Their latest album, the splendidly named Bongos Over Balham was dying on its feet. Kokomo and Dr Feelgood both had debut albums out on major record labels, doubtless with big promotional budgets but no idea how to spend them. He thought he might help them do just that, especially when he found out that Kokomo were managed by the same guy who managed Pink Floyd. Pub Rock may have been conceived as the antidote to dreary stadium rock but ironically it was the Floyd’s money that paid for the PA, the bus and a team of roadies.

The ticket price was pegged at 75p to attract lots of casual punters and they took turns to top of the bill, even when the Feelgoods were clearly emerging as the tour’s stars. The tour started with two try out nights in Bristol and Guildford, the latter attended by Paul Weller, Graham Parker and Hugh Cornwell – then it was off round the country, with the Feelgoods causing riotous scenes wherever they went.

It didn’t get everywhere. Those like me who didn’t get to see the tour had to wait till 134 March to see what all the fuss was about, when Dr Feelgood appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test, one of those TV moments after which life would never quite be the same again. The visual impact has never left me or to be honest my mum, who was watching it with me.

Ironically despite the fact this was all born from pub rock, the tour drove more than a few nails into its coffin. Pub rock had always been an eclectric mix of musics, whereas the Feelgoods were just R&B, and rather dirty R&B at that. Movement pioneers and leaders Brinsley Schwartz split in March as did most other bands, although happily once Punk had burned itself out, they all came back as the New Wave and gave us The Rumour, The Motors, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and of course Ian Dury. Sadly Chilli Willi didn’t survive the Naughty Rhythms tour either. Halfway through it they split up when they saw that their clever mix of musicianship and eclecticism was being swept away by the Feelgoods two chord juggernaut each night. Kokomo limped on for a year or two, then split but happily did reform last year for several shows. The Feelgoods however go on and on with a full gig book for 2015 but alas none of the original members. And Wilko seems indestructible…

Further reading: ‘No Sleep Till Canvey Island’ by Will Birch. Will is an author and journalist and as drummer in the Kursaal Flyers has an interesting perspective on Pub Rock.

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!

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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.

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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.