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I feel in the mood to burble a while. The recent viewing of “Oil City Confidential” has had me thinking more than a little about music and life. I’m absolutely fine as long as I never look in a mirror. On the odd occasion that I accidently stumble in front of one, the true extent of the rift in the space/time continuum becomes glaringly apparent. Am I really that old? Yes, I am. I could, perfectly legally, have great grand children – and I had the gall to moan about how old and shambolic Wilko Johnson looked last week.

… but I really don’t feel as old as he looked!

Oddly, my reaction has been to have a nostalgia binge. In the main, I was concerned with the music but as is always the case, I strayed into the realms of the internet and computers. They are, of course, all connected. It’s fifteen years ago that I opened my web site. In those days, you could leave your machine on overnight to download music and maybe, if you hadn’t dropped the connection, you’d have an album sitting on your desktop in the morning. Try it nowadays and it can take just one minute.

The sad thing about that is nothing has any real value. If you’ve got a Rapidshare account and a free day, you can download hundreds, if not thousands of albums. Browsing http://www.rlslog.net will mean that albums, games, TV shows, films and even e-books are just a free click away. In many ways, I think the music we listen to, like so much else in our lives has truly become disposable.

Back in the days, you could go into real shops selling real records, where you could stand in a booth and listen before buying. If it was an album, you’d sometimes eschew the ubiquitous carrier bag, unless it was transparent. Then, at least, your peers could wonder at your taste and style and envy the record you were taking home to play. Sans carrier, it was an under the arm job and that was fraught with danger. Would your garb clash with the latest artistic statement you were carrying? In these days of iPods filled with a lifetime’s listening, people really haven’t got a clue.

In my teens, I wore an khaki Army greatcoat when most around me were clad in Air Force blue ones. My personal feeling was this was a far better background for most albums one might be transporting. While it never seemed to be compulsory to have a Roger Dean cover under the arm, there does seem to have been something about them that appealed to the teenage male psyche. Those were innocent days. It was perfectly possible to walk out of a record shop and, because of the vinyl you were carrying, find yourself in someone else’s home, listening to them try and out play you in a rather sad version of top trumps.

Essentially, everyone was trying to garner “Prog Points”. The weirder the cover, the longer the tracks, the more unpronounceable the track titles or band name, the more inaccessible the music – the higher the “Prog Points”. These “innocent” days were possibly marred by a misuse of copious quantities of cannabis that dictated when an album scored incredibly high “Prog Points”, the listener could at least declare, “Oh, wow man!”

The 1980’s were a big let-down for me. I’d liked the energy of punk but the styles of the New Romantics were too bizarre for my tastes. I can easily accept that it probably had little to do with musical trends and far more to do with me, in my twenties, trying to find identity when it seemed that all around me had lost theirs. Decades can change but that doesn’t mean my listening habits had to. They didn’t but that was no excuse for some bands to treat their fans as lab-rats and expose them to a fanciful form of musical experimentation that would see some groups blatantly try to jump on any passing band-wagon.

In some cases, we even had musicians with hugely successful albums behind them, turning their back on on the recording studio and opting, instead, for the soundstage to create that most hideous of entities, the pop promo video. Now, of course, everyone is a video director, a reporter and … a blogger. I can accept that it offers everyone a freedom to communicate and artistic expression but it doesn’t seem to have any excitement.

For a collector of rock video like me, YouTube is a dream come true but it’s also my worst nightmare. I spent more than a decade trading video around the world and now, it would take you weeks to garner what I’ve collected. It all seems so lifeless. There may be ease of use and speed of download but it feels moribund. The fact that ad agencies now use viral e-mail campaigns is surely proof of this.

Rockmine, as a web site went online on July 18th, 1995. The world wide web, as it then was, had been in existence for 20 months. They were strange, exciting, halcyon days. I had an Apple Powerbook 180c. A stunning machine that looked a bit like a Tonka Toy computer and had a 9 inch colour screen and a massive 3mb RAM. With RamDoubler and MaxRam, I could con the poor beast into thinking it had 36mb RAM. Enough to run an email client, browse the web and work in PhotoShop! New, it cost well over £ 2,000. I bought mine second hand for £ 800 and have never had the heart to throw it out, even although it has long since ceased to boot up.

I used to frequent the newsgroups in those early days. The Internet Marketing Digest and the VRML list were my two favourites. Everyone was trying to work out how to market themselves and some of us had hopes of a true virtual reality in cyberspace. One day on the IMD, a member was kind enough to give all the other members a mail to which we could post details of our sites. He was Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo and he guaranteed we’d get listed within 24 hours! On the VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) list, the members once got an even stranger posting. We were asked to check out the US Army’s tank battlefield simulator that they were building on the web.

Technology keeps expanding and yet I seem to remain unexcited by it. The nearest I’ve got to it of late is a bit perverse. For the last 4 months, I’ve been without a Mac laptop which, sadly, has troubled me deeply. It’s the first time in nearly 15 years that I haven’t had a Mac portable with me at almost all times. The straightened strictures of the current economic climate have discounted any possibility of getting a new one.

I do have a PC laptop which, like any PC’s is a tad unstable but at least it is a portable computer – made all the more acceptable by the fact that it now runs Mac OS 10.5.5! How sad am I that instead of getting excited about music, I’m genuinely pleased to have conned a poor unsuspecting PC into running Apple software, even if it has to be as a virtual machine.

Here’s a screen grab of my desktop

and a close up of the System Profiler

OS X running on an Intel Celeron M! How cool is that?

Oh, and just in case you wondered, it is perfectly useable.

I found myself in Aberdeen last night, in the middle of a blizzard of snow, wondering if it were possible to be further away from the Canvey Island of Dr. Feelgood. Not that odd a thought, as I was there to see “Oil City Confidential” at one of only four cinemas in Scotland showing this hybrid rock/cinema event.

Sitting at the start of the second decade of the 21st Century, watching a paean to proto punk, pub rock is probably pretty weird as evidenced by the almost embarrassing smattering of people that left probably 90% of the seats vacant. Director, Julian Temple had melded a strange amalgam of home movies, film noir clips, reconstructions, live footage and talking heads into a fatally flawed film. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a good film, or an interesting one. It was, but it didn’t gel as a film about Dr. Feelgood. Far more, it seemed to be an homage to Wilko Johnson.

If Wilko was dead, not Lee Brilleaux, I could see the point and how it would work; friends and band-mates recounting anecdotes and tall tales but this didn’t work for me – because of Wilko. His stage persona was lithe, frenetic, focussed but as narrator of his own story he seemed largely lost. It didn’t help that I seemed incapable of accepting that the old shambling figure before me seemed nothing more than a detached observer of his own life. This really couldn’t be Wilko.

From time to time, we’d see this narrator play something to illustrate part of the story but the playing, like his words, was all over the place. I met him once. Dr. Feelgood were in the middle of their first U.S. tour but during a few days off, Wilko flew back to London. I was at United Artists offices in the city, sitting in reception when he walked in. The exact details are somewhat clouded by the passage of time but the trip home had been prompted by the non-appearance of a bag of white powder in The States.

The receptionist greeted him warmly and having ascertained why he wasn’t on the other side of the pond, found the missing bag. Wilko then asked for a room with a typewriter and disappeared. On my way out from seeing the press officer, I was walking past an open door when the, by then wired, guitarist called out to me. He’d been busy battering out lyrics on a portable and asked me if I’d listen to some of them and give my opinion. I remember being impressed both with the occasion and words but that’s all the information I’ve retained.

That’s the crux of my problem. I remember the Wilko that I met and yet I seem unprepared to accept that I have aged as much as he has. Somehow, the juxtaposition of the 1970’s high-energy performances seen in the captured live footage, with the guitarist as he is now seemed all the sadder. I wanted an unsullied celebration of this all too English amphetamine fuelled, electric, delta blues. I wanted the snapshot in time.

Canvey Island was itself a major player in the film. The faded fifties glamour of the casinos and holiday camp were a powerful backdrop to the evolution of the band. Even seeing it now, it offered far less pathos than inspiration as we followed one of the regular 2 hour tours that takes fans round all the important Feelgood landmarks.

The fact that fans still take those tours is testament to something hugely important that was sidestepped to a large degree: there was a Dr. Feelgood after Wilko left the band. It might not have been as exciting an era as when he was part of it but it saw the band continue to grow as a group of musicians and Lee Brilleaux take his rightful place as one of Britain’s best blues men. They may never again have had the startling effect that their early years made on the music industry but it can easily be argued that without Feelgood, there would never have been Punk. Unlike Punk, of course, Feelgood weathered the changing musical tastes of several decades and stayed true to their roots. They also remained in the hearts and minds of fans of basic rhythm and blues.

For me, the most poignant part of the film was Wilko sitting with his life in cuttings and pictures spread out before him. I had a deep sense of intruding on a private moment, watching someone access personal memories that should never be lightly shared. That, more than anything else troubled me. It seemed that he had lost his own connection with those events; was seeing them as a third party and yet I understand the reasoning (if there is one).

Despite that pathos there was one real sense of emotion in the film. It came from Shirley Brilleaux, Lee’s widow. She was filled with such feeling for this man that saw her smile, laugh and cry whilst thinking of him. Such simple emotions that were obviously heartfelt left me hungering for more knowledge of her husband. In many ways, Shirley was the unexpected star of this film. She did Lee proud.

When the film petered out there was a break before the video feed was turned on again. It was just enough time to hit the bar and hope for better things to come. I wasn’t expecting much, based on what I’d seen of Wilko and the announcement that Alison Moyet was going to be a guest did not bode well for me. “Alf” from Yazoo with Wilko Johnson? No way!

Strangely, that was the unexpected highlight of the evening. She looked great and sounded amazing! As for the shambolic narrator, a simple truth became self evident – all he needed was an audience. Not a film crew but a real audience that he could strut his stuff in front of – and boy, did he strut! The moves, the energy and, of course, the licks were all there. I just wanted someone to put a “Wilko” wig on him and take me back 35 years. The video feed was stunning. To see every chop of his fingers on those strings, every chord change, was incredible. I just didn’t want to see the bushiness of his eyebrows or the lines on his face that the high definition picked out in minute detail.

Playing counterpoint to Wilko’s machine-gun like guitar was Norman Watt-Roy on bass. Watt-Roy goes back to 1968 with The Greatest Show On Earth, an early signing to the Harvest label. From there he joined Glencoe, then Loving Awareness and finally Ian Dury & The Blockheads. It was an odd sight. He seemed unaware of his guitarist but somehow, as is the case with all great bass players, totally attuned to him. Odd isn’t really the word. More outlandish. Part gargoyle let loose; part Orang Utang; part octopus. A figure dancing to his own tune yet producing the most incredible runs far beyond the reach of many. His dexterity on the fretboard and his obvious skill with picking and slapping the strings between the bridge and first pick-up was totally breathtaking.

There was one other guest onstage. A leather-jacketed harmonica player that looked totally familiar and yet I couldn’t believe I was seeing. Charles Shaar Murray, one of the greatest music journalists ever, showed he really knew how to blow a blues harp and paid a fine tribute to the one man missing from the stage – Lee Brilleaux. Somehow, that tied it all together. Wilko’s guitar was as good as it ever was but his singing was weak and reedy.

Alison Moyet lifted the event, as did C S M but really all it did was point out that Dr. Feelgood was at its best when the original line-up was together. A stunning guitarist capable of great lyrics and a wonderful vocalist who could make a harmonica wail unlike anyone outside the American blues elite. One thing is certain, Lee and the Feelgoods are missing from today’s music and that’s sad.

 
From the Rockmine Almanac for today (Monday 10th February):

Birth

1940. James “Jimmy” Merchant (Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers) born in New York.

On Tour

1980. Sammy Hagar‘s UK tour which should have started today at Portsmouth’s Guildhall is postponed. His son is in hospital in the States with kidney problems and Hagar wants to be with him.

In Court

1988. The breach of contract case brought by Zang Tumb Tumb Records against Holly Johnson finishes at the High Court in London. Mr. Justice Whitford, presiding, rules that restraints in Johnson’s contract were unreasonable. He dismisses the label’s action and refuses to grant the injunctions they were seeking to ensure that Holly would not record for another company. Giving his verdict, the judge said: “Mr. Johnson, who I found entirely reasonable, was, in my judgement, entitled to free himself from these onerous obligations… He is a singer. He wants to make a living”. Holly, who was tied into a ZTT contract as a member of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, had been looking for a solo contract with another label. The judge adjourned the case until a later date when the matter of costs will be decided. On leaving the court, Holly (27) said, “This is a great day for recording artists everywhere and I believe this will help them in the future to get better and fairer agreements. Now I just can’t wait to start work again”.

In Hospital

1998. Frank Sinatra is once again admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles following reports that “Ol’ Blue Eyes” is suffering from blood in his urine which may indicate bladder cancer.

On Television

2004. The Ellen DeGeneres Show including musical guest, Sting

Death

2002. Folk singer Dave Van Ronk dies in New York University Medical Center, where he’d been undergoing treatment for colon cancer. His management company said that during the treatment “his cardio-pulmonary system failed”. Van Ronk (65) had been an influence on many of the singer songwriters from the sixties onwards, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Suzanne Vega.

Music Paper From Today
 
nme-68-02-10.jpg
 
New Musical Express from 10th February 1968. A copy taken from Rockmine’s almost complete run of U.K. music papers. The front page is mainly given over to a rare gem of UK psych pop from The Nerve. Original copies sell for more than £ 30. Both the A and B side can be found on the Psych compilation CD, “Magic Spectacles”. 

Daily Babble
 
As you can see from the image above, I’ve got a working A3 scanner again. Now all I have to do is work my way through the thousands of music papers I have! I need to sort my system for scanning. I pulled out 4 last night and my office is now in total disarray. I took 4 piles out from different shelves and different papers and now I can’t move around the 8 piles I created. Aarghh!
 
I went out to the garage to look for some other mags to scan and found a load of “Sounds”. All had paper tabs in for news stories that I was meant to include in The Almanac. What was that I was saying about having a system? I suppose I better try and tidy up – or do some more scanning… 


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© Copyright 1995 – 2008 Rockmine Archives. Use of this content is prohibited unless licensed by Rockmine Archives.

From the Rockmine Almanac for today (Sunday 9th February):

Birth

1942. Carole King born Carole Klein in Brooklyn, New York.

On Tour

1963. On the Helen Shapiro tour, The Beatles perform at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland, Durham, playing two shows during the evening. The first leg of the Shapiro tour is due to finish tomorrow with another two shows in Peterborough but The Beatles will not be appearing. Their place will be taken for one night only by Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers as they’ll be in London recording their first album. The Beatles will be back with the tour when it restarts on February 23rd.

In Church

1991. Andrew Lloyd Webber and his new wife Madeleine have their marriage blessed at a church service followed by a reception at the couple’s mansion in Ecchinswell, Hants. They were married in secret at Westminster Register Office on February 1st. Only five close family members and friends attended. They had originally planned a full church service for today but felt the publicity would not be appropriate during the Gulf War.

In Hospital

1967. Lulu is admitted to hospital in London to have her tonsils removed. The 18 year old singer is cancelling all engagements for this month, including a series of six shows for Scottish Television.

On Television

1973. The Midnight Special (U.S.A.). Show 3. Host: Johnny Rivers. Guests: Ace Trucking Company; Albert Hammond; Merilee Rush; The Spinners; Steely Dan; Paul Williams; Wolfman Jack.
The Partridge Family (U.S.A.) in an episode entitled, “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex…But Couldn’t Pronounce”.

Death

1981. Bill Haley is found dead on his bed by one of his children at his home in Harlingen, Texas. The rocker was fully clothed and it’s thought he died from a heart attack, probably six hours before being found. He was 55.


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© Copyright 1995 – 2008 Rockmine Archives. Use of this content is prohibited unless licensed by Rockmine Archives.

From the Rockmine Almanac for today (Sunday, 8th February):

Birth

1946. Alfredo Fito (Canned Heat) born Adolpho De La Parra in Mexico City, Mexico.

On Stage

1963. Shane Fenton is pelted with eggs when he appears at a lunchtime rock ‘n’ roll session at the Lyceum Ballroom in The Strand, London. Fenton was a last minute replacement for Jess Conrad and was miming when the eggs started to fly.

In Court

1980. David Bowie‘s marriage to Angie ends as their divorce is finalised today. David gets custody of their son, Zowie (now calling himself Joe). Angie gets a cash settlement of £ 30,000. She’s also telling the world that she expects to make another £ 100,000 by writing her memoirs!

In Hospital

1997. The New Edition reunion tour runs into problems in Los Angeles. Bobby Brown fails to show for the gig claiming he has flu and couldn’t perform. If that wasn’t enough, Ronnie Devoe walked off stage during the set after seeing his uncle, the group’s manager Brooke Payne, collapse with chest pains in the wings. Devoe accompanied his uncle to hospital where he was checked over before being discharged to rest at home.

On Television

2008. Later… With Jools Holand. (BBC-2, U.K.) Mayra Andrade; Morrissey; Ida Maria; British Sea Power and Joe Brown. Morrissey performs four tracks. Here he is with one of them, “All You Need Is Me”.

Death

1973. Max Yasgur, the farmer on whose land Woodstock was staged, dies of a heart attack in a Florida hospital.

 

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From the Rockmine Almanac for today (Tuesday, 27th January):

Birth

1961. Gillian Gilbert (New Order) born in Manchester, England.

On Tour

1977. Patti Smith falls fifteen feet from the stage at a gig in Tampa, Florida. She fractures the seventh vertebrae in her neck and requires 22 stitches.

In Court

1992. Country singer Sydney Devine is fined £ 75 and has 3 penalty points added to his driving licence at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court. Although he was not in court, the singer admitted driving at 79 m.p.h. on a 60 m.p.h. stretch of the A77 on October 24th last year.

In Hospital

1984. Michael Jackson‘s hair catches fire during the filming of a Pepsi advert. He is rushed to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center suffering second and third degree burns to the scalp. Media interest in the story forces hospital authorities to move Jackson to Brotman Memorial Hospital for treatment.

On Television

2006. The Ellen Degeneres Show. (Syndicated, U.S.A.). Guests include Heather Headley who performs “In My Mind”

Death

1967. Italian pop singer Luigi Tenco shoots himself in a fit of depression having been eliminated from the finals of the San Remo Festival. Police say the 27 year old took his life with a single pistol shot to the head. He left a suicide note saying he had “devoted the best years of my life to singing and writing songs” and was doing this “as an act of protest against the public and the jury” for their selections for the final. Tenco was not alone. Some big names including Marianne Faithfull never made it into the final.

Babble

It’s odd how differently we see things as the years pass. Browsing old copies of Melody maker for TV listings, I came across news of a blanket radio and TV ban on a Parlophone single. Titled “Nothing Better To Do”, it was released on July 3rd, 1964, and took the mickey out of mods and rockers. The wording suggested that they had nothing better to do than invade towns.

Whether the broadcasters thought it would be a call to arms for the two factions is unclear but ABC-TV, producers of “Thank Your Lucky Stars” said, “The record is not in the best interests of the general public”. MM merely said “the BBC have shunned the disc”.

Odd then, to think that the artist singing the song would later go on to become a much-loved national institution within the BBC – Bill Oddie OBE. 

 

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From the Rockmine Almanac for today (Monday, 26th January):

Birth

1963. Andrew Ridgeley (Wham!) born in Windlesham, Surrey.

On Tour

1997. Lars Ulrich (Metallica) secretly marries his girlfriend Skylar in secret at a small ceremony in Las Vegas. James Hetfield does the honours as best man/witness.

In Hospital

1998. Joey Ramone‘s appearance as DJ at Toronto’s Phoenix Club is cancelled when it’s announced that the 46 year old punk has been ordered not to work for two monts. Ramone was hospitalised for tests earlier in the month. Although his management told The Toronto Sun that “Joey’s condition is very serious” they gave no other details.

In Church

1962. The Catholic Bishop of Buffalo, New York State bans The Twist being danced, sung or talked about at any catholic school or youth event.

On Television

1978. Rockpalast. (WDR, West Germany). Roy Harper (WDR Studio-L, Koln). Here he is with “Another Day”

Death

1991. Singer Karen Young dies in Philadelphia from a bleeding ulcer.

Babble

It’s amazing the things you find by accident. Looking for the clip of Roy Harper I was more than a little taken aback to see the man himself pictured in Sky Trax “studio” back in 1985. What took me by surprise was that I set up the interview and live set that he did and apart from my own VHS copy, thought it sunk without trace. It seems that “Rock Arena” rebroadcast the “Pat Sharp Show” session.

I’d set up a small Scottish tour for Roy and was looking to get as much publicity as possible. He was touring in Europe before hitting Scotland, so Sky Trax was perfect to promote him there and would certainly help me. Anyone I contacted in the BBC or ITV stations seemed to take fright at the mention of his name and his promo video for “Elizabeth” was deemed unplayable by most stations. That meant getting Roy in to do a live set.

Sky Trax studios were hidden away behind the Post Office Tower in London and he’s pictured in a loading bay, straight off the street. they weren’t used to live sessions and we were plagued by mains hum that no-one seemed able to eliminate. Happy days indeed! Here he is with “One Man Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”:

 

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