Author Archive

Fab Art Pop!

Posted: January 10, 2020 in beatles, pop

the_beatles_magical_mystery_tour

 

 

Although enough has been written about the Beatles to circle the Earth at least ten times, one more credit to be added to their many plaudits is that they invented Art Pop. Or, to put it in basic terms, bringing arty ideas into Pop Music.  It was after all, the Beatles who continually pushed the studio envelope around the time of ‘Revolver’ and warped Pop music into something weird and thrillingly original, paving the way for more progressive ideas in pop and rock music that took its influences from the avant garde as much as Chuck Berry.

By 1966, Paul McCartney especially, had become interested in the more fringe aspects of art and music. The most man-about town of the Beatles, McCartney visited art galleries, independent art house films and performance art happenings throughout that year with his friend Barry Miles, who was a hip mentor to McCartney when it came to all things arty and esoteric. McCartney was blithely eclectic, also going to classical concerts while keeping his ever hungry and competitive ears open to anyone in pop music who was doing freakier and more outlandish things. It is well documented that when McCartney heard the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, he knew that the Beatles had to up the ante to compete and surpass songs such as ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Don’t Talk (Put your head on my shoulder)’. Pioneering innovation was in the air; perhaps McCartney and the other Beatles knew that it was time to really rise to the zeitgeist. Rise to it they did.

‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a surprise to people when it was released in August 1966. After the euphoric summer high of England winning the World Cup, here was a song that was a monochrome downer.  Where had the chirpy upbeat Beatles gone? It was the first indication that McCartney’s approach to songwriting was becoming more sophisticated and taking a much bolder step into an uncharacteristic darkness. The song’s over familiarity now sounds conventional, but this was absolutely not conventional for the time. As bleak as a Samuel Becket play, this was no happy clappy fab song. It ended with the pessimistic and atheistic line ‘no one was saved’ Tellingly, this line came from John Lennon, who always brought the shadows into McCartney’s usually sunny compositions. But on this song, Paul too was not glossing over his subject matter with optimism. The character in the song is lonely and abandoned, nobody comes to rescue her, and even the other character, Father Mackenzie, finds no resolve to his loneliness. McCartney may have surprised people with this wintry composition, but he offset it with pleasant ditties on ‘Revolver’ like ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ as if he couldn’t resist getting back to being the one who entertains the audience.

Not so Lennon. He now gave the impression he was willing to jettison his cuddly mop top image. His infamous ‘we’re bigger than Jesus now, Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink’ remark caused an uproar when he said it. Now he had gone too far wailed the tabloids. Beatle John, he with OBE, must conform! Lennon was on a quest to distance himself from almost everything the Beatles had done before. It was like he killed off the John who wrote ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and forced a re-birth through the ego death effect of LSD or acid.

Lennon’s compositions on ‘Revolver’ showed that his mind was being altered by his increasing drug intake. Even the jaunty ‘And your bird can sing’ asserts a druggy ‘you don’t get me’ arrogance as if Lennon was relishing his new experimental self, happy to be someone on the outside of reality. Lennon was always the most unconventional of the Beatles and he didn’t need to visit art galleries or hob nob with painters to be an outsider artist. He was a natural surrealist, as evidenced in his writings and drawings in his books ‘In his own write’ and ‘A Spaniard in the works’. He was also a supreme piss taking debunker and walked the line between being a put on and a genius. In an interview, Lennon once proclaimed ‘avant garde is french for bullshit’. Of course, he didn’t mean it, this was more his working class chip on the shoulder speaking.

‘Revolver’ is for me, the Beatles most enduring artistic achievement. Sure. ‘Sgt Pepper’ took the monochrome of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and re-decorated it with gaudy psychedelic colours, but it is ‘Revolver’ that shows the Beatles as being the Masters of Surprise.

Lennon had been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead’ and came up with ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – the first time a drone had been used in Pop (yes, the Kinks ‘See my friend’ was the precursor of this drone, but it shifted into a different key for the bridge so was not a total drone) ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is also the first song to use tape loops, something that is more from the avant garde fringe, with composers like John Cage experimenting with cut ups of sound. This Art Idea came from Paul McCartney, and although he had no hand in the writing of this one chord song, his contribution was crucial to the song’s pioneering spirit.

The drone was also being explored by George Harrison, whose first Indian classical music influenced track, ‘Love you too’ mirrored Lennon’s psyched out journey into the void (the original title of Lennon’s track was ‘The Void’) Taken in this context, it is possible to see that Harrison was probably closer to Lennon’s couldn’t give a stuff about being commercial any more persona in this phase of the Beatles, with McCartney keeping up the tunesmith role more than the others (brilliantly of course, not to lessen Paul’s artistic standing)

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is that much over-used phrase, ahead of its time. And it really is. Predating the tape experiments of German bands like Faust and Can and also, Eno from Roxy Music, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is what rock would be exploring some four years later. So, although it’s a bit of a leap of faith to say so, the Beatles anticipated Kraut Rock.

The Beatles were now a band looking to see how far out they could take Pop music and it was their good fortune that their audience stuck with them. Chiefly, it was Lennon who drove the band into weird waters, as his next major Art Idea was ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Starting off as a plaintive folk flavoured song, Lennon wanted this one to be really special and something in his creative yearning made him seek the impossible – to splice together two different versions, both in different keys, which at first, producer George Martin said couldn’t be done. Varying the speed of both versions and then matching them was an incredible serendipitous move; it could have been a total mess, but instead, it came out as the strangest and most haunting dream pop single of that year, 1967. George Martin described it ‘as an electronic tone poem’ and this is not far off an accurate description.

Although the Beatles were in essence, a traditional guitar bass and drums outfit, it was plain to hear that they had now outgrown these limitations and their studio creations were morphing them into something else entirely: a studio band who were using the studio like an artist uses a palette, creating new sounds and new innovations. ‘Sgt Pepper’ is too immense to discuss here, and such a lot has been written about it that to add more would be superfluous. What must be mentioned though is the cacophonous orchestral surge in ‘Day in the Life’, in which Lennon abstractly ordered that the orchestra would rise and explode like a musical orgasm.

As with ‘Strawberry Fields’, George Martin had to bring Lennon’s off the wall ideas to reality and he did this by instructing the orchestra to start on the bottom note for each instrument and to rise to the top note on their instruments. The result still sounds astonishing today, a musique concrete surge that metaphorically drew a line in the sand – the Beatles could never be the same again after this, and neither could any musician in rock. The race for the freakiest sounds in rock and pop was on, and the Beatles, with ‘Sgt Pepper’, leap-frogged a march over Brian Wilson’s masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’.

The Beatles next major weird pop moment after ‘Pepper’ was ‘I am the Walrus’. The innovation of this song was it used ‘found sounds’ and integrated them into the remarkable layers of electronic distortion and effects treated backing track. ‘I am the walrus’, with its anarchic Goons type of lyric and Lennon’s over-driven vocal, is as extreme as the Beatles ever got on a pop single. It was relegated to be played less than its A-side, Paul’s bouncy piece of pop fluff ‘Hello Goodbye’.

The radio planners were not yet ready for the pop extremist Beatles and neither were large chunks of their audience. The Beatles now crossed over into Rock, albeit a tuneful kind, as a strong melody and sense of pleasing harmony was always present in most of their songs. It was now official that the lovable mop tops had joined the counter-culture. The Mums and Dads who had liked ‘Yesterday’ and their bouncy upbeat style now had the sneaking suspicion that they had ruined themselves with drugs. And John Lennon especially, seemed to be becoming more and more weird.

The aural perversion and subversion of sound on ‘Walrus’ was yet again, another Beatles first and the ripples of this one track alone would inform Progressive rock, Space rock and – like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – Kraut Rock. The random radio interference on the play out of ‘Walrus’ is also a bold experimental move; the interruption of an external sound source alien to the track was more from the realm of the avant garde than pop and rock.

This random approach of found sounds ultimately led to the track ‘Revolution #9’ on the Beatles 1968 double album, also known as ‘the white album’. That particular track is often called the self-indulgent stinker on the album, the one track that most people skip and the one track that at least two other Beatles tried to keep off the album. But when you put it in the context of Lennon’s creative trajectory since ‘Revolver’ is actually makes perfect sense. Lennon was determined to challenge the Beatles audience with freaky weird sounds and soon, McCartney took up the weirdo art gauntlet too, making the minimalist ‘Why don’t we do it in the road?’ on that album, a song stripped back to its bare bones and so unlike anything else McCartney ever recorded (apart from the extreme ‘Helter Skelter’ of course)

By 1969, after four years of fevered innovation and pioneering sounds, the Beatles took a great leap backwards and decided to get back to their rock n roll roots. Ever the restless spirits they were, we all know what happened soon after – they imploded, with John Lennon determined to stick to his ‘freak artist’ agenda and for the others to pursue more conventional solo careers. Lennon continued to be the controversialist and genuinely seemed intent on burying the Beatles and starting all over again; another death to re-birth persona, as evidenced on his remarkable ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album of 1970, which was like a personal exorcism of the past.

I suppose the final question remains to be posed – did the Beatles, as well as everything else they achieved – also invent Art Pop?

The answer, given the wealth of evidence, has to be a resounding YES.

One more feather in the Fabs already over-feathered cap, then.

 

*article is from the forthcoming book, a collection of essays:  ‘Pictures of Jap Girls in Synthesis (The influence of Art in Popular Music)

Rockers Reunited – a ghost story

Posted: December 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

rockers

I came to social media late. I kept hearing people say ‘are you on facebook?’ and didn’t have a clue what they were on about. Finally, I decided to take the plunge, and got myself an account. I did it in the library and admit I had to get someone to help me. I’ve just about got the hang of it now.

Like a lot of people, it irritates me. Remember the time when you groaned if someone brought out their old wedding photos or holiday snaps? Well now it seems everybody does it and nobody groans anymore.

It’s great though to be back in touch with old mates I haven’t seen for decades in some cases. The old gang. We used to ride to the coast on our motorbikes and meet at the Seafront Café in Scarborough. We got a bit of bother from those posers on hairdryers – Mods – but that was mostly at bank holidays.

We were rockers. Leather and bikes and rock n roll. That was our thing.

I had a Triumph 750. A beast growling between my legs. If I could have taken that bike to bed with me, I would have. I loved to ride. We all did. In those days- thinking around ’64 here – nobody wore a helmet either. Having the wind in your hair. Man, what a feeling that was.

The Seafront café had a great jukebox in it. Sixpence got you two plays. My choice was always Gene Vincent, and I liked Eddie Cochran too. ‘Race with the devil ’ and ‘Something Else’’.

The café isn’t there anymore sadly. It got closed down in the 1980s and now it’s a tacky Bingo place, totally rebuilt and unrecognisable.

Looking back now, it was all so innocent although we had a good try to be bad lads and lasses. The permissive society? It was hard to get a girl to ‘go’ in those days. A lot were still taking their mother’s advice of ‘keeping it’ till marriage.

The word ‘respect’ was still in use back then and most people knew what it meant. We didn’t even swear in front of women back then. That’s how old fashioned we were. Bad boy Rockers? Not really, we were all pretty well behaved in reality. We just looked mean and moody. The Brando thing. We all wanted that.

Greg. He’s one of my oldest and best friends. We used to laugh a lot together. Always playing pranks like once we put axle grease on the seat of Thommo’s Norton 650. He didn’t find it funny but we did.

I remember once we did something really bad. We broke into a cigarette machine. I don’t know why I went along with that one, but I did.

Greg’s just uploaded some old photos to facebook. I don’t even remember anyone having a camera back then, but Greg did. (Now, coming to think about it, I do remember, just one of those details that left my memory)

There we are. The young dream team in the Seafront Café. Drinking nothing stronger than Coca Cola or Hubbly Bubbly through straws. I was 20 and had just got my first proper bike. The photo has on the message below it ‘Autumn 1964 or was it ’65?;

It was 1964. I remember because it was my Mam and Dad’s silver wedding anniversary that weekend. We did drink beer by the way and we did go to pubs. But pubs back then were places old men went to. Usually, we’d buy some bottles from the off-license and drink them outside. Cider was my thing back then.

We didn’t go to discotheques because they didn’t play the music we liked. Our music was on jukeboxes. Rock n roll was thought to be not with it in the 60s, until later in that decade and almost every group wanted to get back to basic rock n roll. I used to have on the back of my leather jacket ‘Rock n roll is here to stay’ spelt out in studs.

Two more photos are uploaded. On the beach front, bag of chips in hand (that’s me) and all the gang standing proudly around our bikes. It’s the second one that gets me.

Sharp intake of breath.

It’s Julie. My ex-girlfriend I was planning to get engaged to. Smiling, not a care in the world. Poor Julie. Only 19.

I still feel the pain today. They say time heals but I’m not sure it does. It just makes you put it further to the back of your mind, like an old box in an attic with things you haven’t opened for years. Julie died and it was my fault. An accident yes, but an accident that happened because of my stupidity.

Greg is now organising a reunion. In a private message, I tell Greg that I’ve got mixed feelings about it and maybe won’t be coming. It will make me think of Julie. Bring it all back.

“Vic my old mate, it’s life” Greg types.

“It’s not all wine and roses. People die and things happen…

The accident was just that. Stop beating yourself up over Julie…

Come along. It’ll be great to see you. Please mate. Do it for the lads. They’re all going to be there. Even old misery guts Ken’.

I’m still not sure. The photo with Julie in was like a punch in the gut. My memory of the accident is vague to be honest. I was hospitalised for two months, unconscious for a week. They thought I was a gonner. I was told about Julie when I came around. I hated myself for it and worse still, I couldn’t remember. I kept thinking someone was going to say ‘it’s ok. We made a mistake’…but they never did.

I got hate mail from Julie’s brother. He never forgave me. I remember the Xmas after Julie was killed, opening a card that said ‘why are you still alive?’ It was obvious it was from him. I had to move in the end. I couldn’t tell the police. I had no right to do that I felt. Greg always had a talent for persuasion. He could charm the knickers off a nun as one of my salty uncles used to say.

I decide to go to the reunion after all. I’ve got a few of my own ghosts to lay to rest. I’ll stay over in Scarborough so I can have a drink and drive back to Middlesbrough the next day. I then realise it will be 40 years coming up since Julie was killed. Did Greg know this or is it a coincidence?

We meet in the Hole in the wall pub on Vernon Street, a place we used to go back in the 60s from time to time. I’m early and Thommo is the first to show. He moved to Scarborough from Middlesbrough back in the 70s and it’s his local.

He hasn’t changed a bit. Still has that boyish twinkle in his eye and still up to mischief. He tells me he’s got a Harley Davison now. It was always his life dream to have one. Lucky sod managed to retire early with a good pay off.

It’s great to see the lads after all this time. There were also another few women from those days. Wendy and Marj. But they live abroad now. Julie. No, try not to think about her I tell myself.

“Rockers reunited!” shouts Mark, another of my old biker mates as we’re three pints of bitter into the evening. We all cheer, like an old football or rugby team.

The stories of our rocker days fills most of the evening.

Like the time we all went to see Geno Washington and the Ram Jam band and loads of Mods turned up. We ended up running along the pier, chasing them with chains. Being a young man was sometimes violent. You couldn’t run away or not wade in or you’d be thought a nancy.

It wasn’t all like that of course. Plenty of things to laugh about too. We always seemed to end up at somebody’s place at the weekend. Life was like one long party back then. The 60s were a great time to be young.

The night went in a flash. It’s suggested that we have a yearly reunion from now on and despite earlier reservations, I’m up for it. I say goodbye to the lads and head back for the guesthouse I’m staying in.

Good job I chose to do this; I’m pretty pissed. I haven’t had a good drink like that for ages. I look on my phone and end up staring at the photo of Julie on facebook.

I must do something. It’s been 40 years. I decide to go to take some flowers to the place of the accident. I’ll do it tomorrow on the way back.

I’m also going around Thommo’s place tomorrow to see his Harley. I’m in no hurry to get back. It’ll be nice to see his wife who I knew from back then. His kids are all grown up now and long since left home.

My head hits the pillow and I’m out for the count.

The next day I see Thommo and his magnificent Harley. He asks me if I want to have a spin on it but I tell him I haven’t ridden a bike for donkey’s years.

“No you daft get. I meant I ride, you be on pillion”

Thommo takes me around the block a few times. It feels great to be back on a bike. I might even have a late mid-life crisis and get one myself.

I tell him what I’m going to do. Leave my little tribute to Julie.

“That’s a nice thing to do mate” he says.

“Do you want me to come? In case, you know, it gets a bit much? I know how you had a bad time for years after she was killed”

“No thanks. I want to go on my own. You know…just have a little think while I’m there. I haven’t been back since the accident. I’ve never been back to Scarborough either. I nearly didn’t come yesterday” I say.

“So glad you did mate. It’s ok. I understand about Julie”

“Did you hear her brother died about three years ago?” says Thommo.

“Yes I did. I never made my peace with him though”

“That ball was in his court. Don’t think about it” says Thommo, putting his hand on my shoulder.

I then stand with Thommo and his Harley and his wife Jane takes a photo of us on my phone. Thommo and Jane wave me off as I leave.

I then park my car in the town and go to a local florist. No garage flowers for Julie. I want something nice for her. I’m not an expert on flowers but I like the look of a bouquet on display.

“Can you make me up one of those?’ I ask the young girl in the shop. She asks me who or what it’s for.

I lie to her. “My wife” I say.

“Oh how nice. Is it her birthday or some special occasion?”

“No. Not really”

I know she’s making friendly small talk but I want her to shut up as I’m feeling edgy now.

I hand pick an arrangement of flowers and decide to write up a message when I get back to the car.

“That’s 15 pounds please”

I pay and make my way to the car park. I look at my watch. It’s already late afternoon. Best get a move on.

Can I do this? Can I go back to where Julie was killed?

I run it over in my head a few times.

I’ve got the sodding flowers now I tell myself. I must go. I have to go.

The accident happened on a stretch of the A171 on the road back home. I just follow my nose and hope something comes back to me when I get there.

Just around the bend and I start to recognise the location. There’s a huge oak tree on the left that was there back then. And the farm just across the field. That was there too. High Grange Farm. Yes, I recall the name too.

Just to the side of the road is a country lane with a stream and an old stone bridge. I pull over the car and park it off the road in the lane. I get out of the car and walk back to the road, looking down it both ways. I’ve got the flowers in hand that I intend to leave in memory of Julie.

I’ve written a little message too.

‘Julie. 40 years gone. You’re in my heart and memory still. I’m sorry. Rest in peace. Until we meet again.

Love, Vic.

Yes, it’s coming back to me now. This is where it happened. Somewhere close to here.

I wish I could recall the detail but can’t. All I remember is that I was tying to do a ton up with Julie on pillion. I was showing off and it was a stupid thing to do but when you’re so young you don’t think anything can happen to you. I could hear Julie screaming with excitement as we picked up speed. She held me really tightly around the waist. I recall her long blonde hair in the rush of the wind ; the blur of the trees and the white lines on the road coming up faster and faster until they looked like a continuous line. The wind was roaring in my ears.

Then I must have lost control of the bike and…blackness. A blank. Nothing.

I decide to sit down on the grass verge. Cars and lorries rush by. It’s so busy on the road compared to what it was all those years ago. There’s no way you could open up a bike to top speed on these roads now.

I sit there thinking and then realise I’ve been sitting for about half an hour in a kind of nostalgic trance. I can see Julie’s face in my mind. I can even remember the sound of her voice, the way she used to flip her long hair back out of the way of her beautiful eyes. Yes, she was beautiful and so young. I ended her life. I totally understand her brother’s hatred of me and her family, who never spoke to me again or even asked me how I was after the accident.

This is not me torturing myself. I’m being matter of fact. Coming to terms with the reality that she isn’t here and hasn’t been here for the last forty years because of me.

I lay down the flowers and message by the roadside because to be honest, I don’t know exactly where the accident happened. It frustrates me. I wish I knew the exact place.

I go back to my car and sit there for a while. I put on an Elvis Presley best of CD. It’s got Julie’s favourite Elvis song on: ‘It’s now or never’.

I let it play all the way through.

The autumn sun is sinking lower on the horizon now and the sky is a beautiful bruised purple. I fill up and start to cry. After all this time, I finally cry. I let it all go. I let the past wash over me and pass through me.

I decide to leave before it gets too dark. I turn the car onto the road and set off back home.

I only get about maybe half a mile and notice there’s been an accident. I can’t quite see at first, but notice there’s a truck and its front is all bashed in. It’s up on the embankment, obviously careered off the road.

Something weird happens. Goose bumps appear all over my arms and I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The road is blocked with debris from the crash and I’m forced to pull over. I get out my mobile and phone the emergency services. This crash must have just happened and nobody has reported it yet.

I get out of the car because I can see the driver of the truck looking shaken, standing by his vehicle which he only just clambered out of.

“Are you okay?” I ask as I approach him.

He nods but is clearly dazed. Looks like his head hit the windscreen because he’s got a bump coming up already. His nose is bleeding.

“Hold on. You’ll be fine. I’ve phoned for an ambulance” I tell him.

“The bike just appeared in front of me. On the wrong side of the road” he sounds frantic with stress, holding his head in his hands.

I ask if there is anything I can do and he just waves me by almost dismissively.

I walk in front of the truck and see a motorbike about twenty yards up the road, sprawled on its side, right across the middle of the highway. The road side lights have just come on and cast a sickly orange glow over the crash scene.

The front handlebars are warped, the bike is a mesh of twisted steel. I can see a puddle of petrol from the tank, I can smell it, then become nervous in case it explodes. I keep my distance and brace myself, knowing this is going to look very nasty. A fluttering feeling of nausea makes my stomach churn. I almost go back to my car thinking there’s nothing I can do. My morbid curiosity gets the better of me.

I look but don’t see a body. Must have been thrown off the bike. God knows where the body is. In accidents like this, a rider can get thrown somewhere further than you might think is possible.

Then I glimpse a figure standing on the rise of the embankment.

As I crane my neck to get a closer look, I can the just about see the figure in the dimming of the daylight, a silhouette against the darkening sky. The figure then stumbles and falls over, out of my line of vision.

I run up the grassy bank to help. What can I do? Maybe give mouth to mouth? I’m now running on gut instinct. Where is the ambulance? Hurry up.

I get to where the figure was. Where the hell did it go?

Crawled off somewhere? I look around, confused. Just a minute ago, it was there.

I gasp under my breath: “What the hell?”…

Then, I feel a presence; a strong feeling of somebody behind me. A sickly feeling of dread comes over me. I want to leave. I want to stay. I don’t know what I feel now. Once again, goosebumps and shivers come all over me.

A sudden wind blows, the grass ripples and the bushes rustle. I turn around in what feels like slow motion. God, no.

A woman is there in motorbike leathers, about ten yards away. She is staring directly at me. Her long blonde hair blows across her face, obscuring it momentarily, but I recognise the face immediately.

I freeze.

“Julie…is that you?”

Lana_Del_Rey1

Album review ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ – Lana Del Rey.

Roll back 7 years to 2012. Lana Del Rey has had a hit with ‘Video Games’ and followed it with ‘Blue Jeans’. Her debut album as Lana Del Rey ‘Born to Die’ has stormed the charts both here and in the US. In the US, it stays on the Billboard top 100 for over 300 weeks, making her only one of three female artists to ever achieve this. (the others being Adele with ‘21’ and Carole King with ‘Tapestry’)

Her music has a singular vision and here is an artist who was like the anti-Katy Perry, the polar opposite of the feel-good bouncy pop of ‘California Girls’. Calling your album ‘Born to die’ isn’t exactly an invitation to a beach party.

Lana Del Rey created a sonic twilight world where she’s on a kind of road trip of self-discovery and carnal longing. Dennis Hopper might even turn up at some point. It’s sexy noir pop in other words, with a slightly twisted psychological undercurrent. There is an unease in this Lana world. The Prom Queen gone to the dark side? Maybe.

Lana appealed to everyone from moody teenage girls, to indie rock guys and middle aged perverts. Her voice is more of a coo in your ear on the pillow, like she is singing just for you and the effect is intoxicating. It really helped that she had an image too that perfectly mirrored the music. In her own words ‘a gangster Nancy Sinatra’. Younger fans might have to google who Nancy Sinatra was, but to the rest of us old enough to remember the Banana Splits and when Batman was on TV, we got the vibe exactly.

And then, everybody started to ask ‘Who is she and where does she come from and how did she get here on the radio, on TV and bust the internet on youtube?’

As with all seemingly out of the blue successes, the trolls started to research Lana’s past and soon were accusing her of being a manufactured hype who was bank-rolled by her rich father. Here was a total faker who was an invented persona, a calculated corporate career whore and us real music fans were all being –shock horror – duped by her.

I read all of this after the fact of hearing her music for the first time and not having any pre-existing bias. The first words that came into my head on reading what a fake Lana Del Rey was, were ‘David Bowie’. He too had built a career on inventing different personas. He too had stirred up similar criticisms of ‘is this real music or is it a kind of theatrical put on?’ And my next thought about the lack of authenticity charges against Lana Del Rey was ‘so what?’ When did authenticity ever matter in rock and pop music except to beery old pub rockers and boring anti-image musos?

Pop and rock has always been about fantasy, about creating alternative realities, about taking you out of yourself and your surroundings. It’s not real and it never has been.

And Lana Del Rey does just that, like so many others before her – takes you somewhere else and out of yourself.

For me, I admit I hit a ‘bored with Lana’ wall with her third album ‘Honeymoon’. After the compelling ‘Ultraviolence’ album before it, this album to me was Lana-by-numbers and apart from a few tracks, more or less passed me by and the CD ended up in a box in the back of my car, never to be re-visited.

However, her last album ‘Lust for Life’ drew me back in again and there was definitely a shift of mood on this album. Maybe Lana wanted to cheer up. Just a little bit. She was even smiling on the cover, but of course, smiling in a creepy Karen Carpenter type of way. Or was I reading too much into it?

Now, we’re five albums in and the authentic or artificial arguments are now more of a mumble in the corner, as Lana Del Rey has outclassed and outlasted most of her critics.

So what’s her new album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ like?

I bought the album before I read the reviews (which I’ve since been pleasantly surprised have been overwhelmingly positive) and find this to be another blissed out road trip through pop culture references and glamorous despair, only this time, the sound and stylings are impeccably refined. The songwriting is more honed and nuanced; this is an artist in total command of her craft and rolling it out with confidence and ease. The lines she writes and sings sometimes come with an arch wink of the eye. She knows we know. And she knows what her audience wants from her. It’s a whole lotta Lana in other words, with a deep and richly layered production. Her singing on this album is fantastic; she stretches out words playfully and puts in little extra trills. It is the sound of a singer enjoying and loving what she does.

The stand out track for me out of the album’s really strong opening three tracks has to be ‘Venice Bitch’. In this, she maxes out the Lana-isms with a sweary opening line that comes across as more tongue in cheek than edgy. The rise to the chorus is one of the best vocal lines she’s ever come up with. It has a lift to it that echoes some vague and hazy radio memory of 60s pop. That’s the thing with Lana Del Rey – she somehow manages to straddle the border between the mega-pixel present and the black and white past. ‘Venice Bitch’ also has a long play-out which I can only describe as a kind of psychedelic dub. It’s something she’s never done before and it works a treat. For almost ten glorious minutes, this is her fuck it, I’m going to let this one run and run moment.

Elsewhere on the album, from beginning to end, we get Lana is your angel, Lana is your femme fatale, Lana is your ‘man’ (in ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex) Lana is your whatever-you-want-her to be. This is an actress with a well-rehearsed script but it’s ok, she can improvise some scenes and see where it goes.

‘Love song’ starts with the Lana-come-hither line of ‘In the car, in the car on the back seat, I’m your baby’ and it’s the Lana seduction scene of lonesome sounding piano, hushed vocals in the front of the mix and a dream-pop chorus that is not unlike anything she has done before, but it’s now something she does so well and you still want more of it.

Another track worth mentioning is ‘Doing Time’. I didn’t realise that this is actually a cover version of a song by Sublime, who I have to admit I’d never heard. This track is the most breezy and casual on the album and stands out as being stylistically opposed to the rest of the album but is a welcome frivolous diversion.

‘Next best American Record’ is a later in the album highlight, starting with a simple sparse guitar riff and building to a lush chorus that lifts itself out of the neon gloom of the verses. The lyrics are perhaps personal, perhaps fantasy – who cares? The words name-check Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’ and once again, Lana probably realises us pop culture spotters are listening in. Is this calculated nostalgia or is it just an image of a living loose, dope-happy time? Again, who cares? I don’t need authenticity anyway. I don’t need autobiography. It’s a vibe and it feels good. You’re either in the car with Lana or you’re on the road-side.

So how does this album rate alongside her others?

If you bought or heard her last album ‘Lust for Life’ I suppose you could say that this new album lacks the light and shade contrasts of its predecessor, yet this album has a consistency about it that makes it one of those albums that the longer you stay with it, the more rewarding it becomes.

‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ then is a triumph overall but it also feels to me like Lana Del Rey is at the peak of her noir pop stylings and where she goes next should be interesting.

So Lana, when are you going to make a weird cosmic country album? I think it would really suit you.

jamie hawkesworth scottwalker_exclusive2 copy

 

The magnificent awkwardness of Scott Walker is a quality that I most admire him for. Scott was the first pop star who refused to play the inane teen pop game and didn’t care to pander to commercial concerns, at least, not when he went solo. From big moody ballads, with a Spector-like widescreen production in the Walker Brothers, Scott delivered a unique debut album in the last autumn quarter of 1967 that was evidently at odds with the prevailing peace love and flowers pop zeitgeist.

He was the first western pop singer to bring Jacques Brel to a wider audience and a certain unknown singer called David Bowie was busy taking notes and would later re-visit some of Scott’s song choices,

Scott’s take on Brel’s ‘Jackie’ gave him his biggest solo hit single; the song was banned by the BBC, who deemed the lyric to be not suitable for a young pop audience with its homosexual referencing lyrics (‘Cute! In a stupid ass way!)

Then, there were Scott’s own compositions, which ranged from baroque vignettes to glimpses into outsider characters – ‘Montague Terrace (in Blue)’ was a song unlike any other at the time. What Scott insisted on was that pop could have philosophical depth as well as emotional resonance.

It didn’t insult your intelligence and it didn’t care too much if you didn’t quite get it.

‘Scott 1’ was a success and Scott’s transition from teen-pop idol to a kind of Frank Sinatra if he’d read Albert Camus and re-located to the left bank of Paris, was complete.

A second album followed quickly, with more of Scott’s unique songs and then there was ‘Scott 3’, an album that perfectly juxtaposed Scott’s torch song persona, with his own songs that were becoming more and more obtuse. ‘It’s raining today’ started with a droning dissonance that provides a startling interference with the song’s pretty melody. Despite inching further away from the mainstream with each release, he was given his own TV show, which ran for six episodes in 1969. The show was somewhat incongruous as it presented Scott as a middle of the road entertainer, duetting with Dusty Springfield for example, but it soon became evident he was left of the road with his song choices for the series, which included more dark chanson by Brel, alongside songs more associated with crooners like Tony Bennett with the odd contemporary composer like Tim Hardin thrown into Scott’s increasingly catholic mix.

The series was cancelled after its brief run, the BBC not really knowing how to pitch Scott. Who was he? The enigma continued to grow around him.

To make matters even more confusing, he released what has now become regarded as his solo masterpiece, ‘Scott 4’ in the closing months of that epicurean decade. It did nothing but alienate the light entertainment audience of his TV series and Scott found himself in an impossible conundrum, torn between his true art and the need to keep an audience.

To this purpose, he further confused his audience by seemingly reverting back to what was expected of him – lush, heart-yearning ballads that a middle of the road older audience would take to. (this was because he had contractual obligations to fulfill and not because he had an artistic volte face)

The problem was, his audience mostly ignored him, so Scott found himself in a wilderness for the next 5 years until he relented and agreed to a Walker Brothers reunion, around 1975.

Scott, although only barely into his thirties by this time, was now a pop veteran, ill suited to the more frivolous side of the 70s, just coming out of its Glam rock phase. Scott, with the reunited Walker Brothers, appeared on Top of the Pops, with the hit single ‘No Regrets’, as if it was a personal reflection on his artistic endeavours. Despite this slight career resurgence, the Walker Brothers didn’t follow through with anything particularly remarkable and looked set to tread the 60s has-beens circuit.

But Scott wasn’t going to be satisfied being a nostalgia whore. He threw another career curve-ball in 1978, with the release of ‘Nite Flights’ billed as a Walker Brothers album but it is Scott’s songs that are the centrepieces.

The songs, ‘Nite Flights’ and in particular, ‘The Electrician’ were elliptical pieces of electro-noir that nobody at the time could fathom. It was like The Carpenters has suddenly decided to go satanic heavy metal, as many still saw Scott Walker as a singer of big torch ballads from the 60s.

Indeed, by the early 80s, Scott’s mystique and outsider status as a pop weirdo was given a further push by Julian Cope of all people, who curated a compilation album called ‘Fire escape to the sky – the god-like genius of Scott Walker’.

Thanks to Cope’s determination to write a fitting resume of Scott’s artistic brilliance, a new audience – albeit a tiny one – were now discovering his solo albums which could be found in second hand vinyl shops and charity shops for very little money. Me included.

Scott re-emerged in 1983, on the Virgin label, with a new album ‘Climate of Hunter’. It was a startling mix of synthesisers and sparse, seemingly random songs, that went over the new shiny pop conditioned heads of the 80s and sank without trace.

Scott once again did another disappearing act and went back to his difficult shed in the obscure forest that nobody else but him lived in.

Like a ghost that had vanished into mist, he came back in the mid-90s, with his most radical work up to that point – ‘Tilt’.

It was an album that was impossible to categorise: often disturbing, challenging and downright weird. It was also hauntingly beautiful, as the deep sweeping strings of ‘Farmer in the city’ take you somewhere you’ve never been before.

Scott continues to not only push the envelope today, but also burn it.

His last studio album was as enigmatic and impenetrable as it was brilliant. Simply, nobody is making music as out there as ‘Bisch Bosch’.

As Scott said in an interview around the release of the album ‘I don’t see the point of mining seams of music that have been over-mined already’.

Long may Scott piss on the conventional and lead us to strange dark mines.

Amen.

*this article was written six months before the death of Scott Walker.

1973-07-14

The Zig Kid and other assorted freaks

I am walking through mist. Strange words are coming at me, like ripped up bits of newspaper blown by the wind from some kind of neon-lit fantasy world where people talk in random snippets. I’ve just bought Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ single and its got me hypnotised. Something in that sound, that dirty murk, that haunting noir harmonica and the persistent rhythm really gets me. Bowie’s voice is a cool rap; the way he intonates the words, the way he phrases, is pure insouciant cool.

David Bowie is now a huge part of my teenage life. ‘Starman’ was no flash in the pan and Bowie’s star is now starting to go into its own stellar orbit. ‘The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ finally had Bowie jettison into a million teenage bedrooms, including mine.

I go to Marton coffee bar and put ‘John I’m only dancing’ on the jukebox, asking the Saturday job girl who works there what she thinks of it but soon find out she’s more of a David Cassidy girl. To like Bowie is to render you an outsider, a freak, but that’s fine because I want to be a freak.

Another freak is on Top of the Pops tonight and I can’t wait.

‘What the hell’s a ‘Metal Guru?’ says my Dad, as Marc Bolan boogies around, singing lines like ‘Sitting there in your armour plated chair, oh yeah!’ and ‘Just like a silver studded sabre tooth dream’.

The record is magnificent. A nuclear blast of Bolan’s ego, now at critical mass state.

Soon after, I buy ‘The Slider’ LP, with saved birthday money and hold it as if it’s a sacred relic all the way back home on the 263 bus. I pore over the red inner sleeve, reading the lyrics like they are runes from the Wise One Who Knows Your Inner Dreams.

I am now cultified, converted and irredeemably lost in music. I can’t get enough of it. My mania for Bolan and Bowie is a deep obsession I can’t shake and never do. Soon, Roxy Music are to enter my teenage soul and steal it too.

Top of the Pops is a bizarre window to another world, a world away from grim chip shops on council estates and graffitied library walls.

One week, Hawkwind are number 2 with ‘Silver Machine’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘ School’s Out’ is number one. Roxy Music appear on Top of the Pops for the first time, playing ‘Virginia Plain’. They sound like a rock band from the 23rd century. The glam rock train started by Marc Bolan is now almost careering off the tracks at breakneck speed.

I like Slade too and find ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ to be so exciting, I knock over a glass of Dandelion and Burdock in sheer exuberant freak dancing in my bedroom.

Sweet appear, taking the piss out of Glam, with their bass player Steve Priest wearing hot pants and on another appearance, a Nazi armband and heavily made up face, with the guitarist Andy Scott blowing him a kiss.

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls it’s a crazy hazy shook up world sang the prophet Ray Davies in 1970 and here they are.

The New Musical Express, Sounds and Melody Maker with the occasional Disc or Record Mirror become my new bibles of rock n roll tales of excess and are an arcane gateway to cool records and more bands I’d never heard of like Faust, whose album ‘The Faust Tapes’ I bought mainly because it was only 49p. I listen to John Peel every now and then, who plays loads of bands I haven’t heard of. I began to realise there was a whole galaxy of music that wasn’t in the top thirty.

Bowie name-dropped the Velvet Underground in an interview, so of course I checked them out. The first thing I ever heard was ‘Sweet Jane’ and I loved it immediately. Bowie’s name also was associated with the Stooges and I remember seeing the cover of ‘Raw Power’ and looking at the song titles like ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Your pretty face is going to hell’ and knew that these were the anti-christ to the squeaky clean Osmonds.

I listen to Alan Freeman one Saturday and he previews ‘Houses of the Holy’ the new Led Zeppelin album. Already a legendary band, because of ‘Stairway to heaven’, I get to listen to them at length for the first time on Fluff’s show.

‘Houses of the Holy’ is rock as I’d never heard it, such a feast of different styles and even has a reggae track on it, ‘D’yer M’ker’ which has serious overcoat music types up in arms because it’s ‘too commercial’ and ‘it’s not serious, it’s a joke’. The phone in on Freeman’s show reveals an audience of fans who are split down the middle. Some hate it, some love it but at least none are indifferent. I try to phone in from a phone box outside but can’t get through. I put 2p in the slot for dial-a-disc instead and it’s playing ‘Drive In Saturday’.Bowie is now everywhere, with three of his pre-Ziggy albums in the charts.

Marc Bolan is starting to boogie a little bit too much and an appearance on the Cilla Black show earlier that year seems to suggest he has succumbed to light entertainment. Cilla Black sings weird lines like ‘I could have built a house on the ocean’, and does it absolutely sincere and straight.

‘20th Century Boy’ is a great single though and perhaps the last of the great T.Rex singles as it’s a long slow slide out of the charts from hereon.

By late ’73, the pierott mask is starting to slip from the cool face of Glam and it is all becoming a bit of a seaside pier farce with Mud taking it to parody Elvis imitations. Alvin Stardust duetting with Basil Brush sums it up. Bowie senses the sea change, is now wearing a suit and Roxy Music are in their own weird world anyway, so it doesn’t affect them. Bryan Ferry takes to wearing tuxedos as if to distance himself from the more pantomime aspects of Glam, reinventing himself as a cocktail lounge lizard persona.

Roxy make magnificent albums in ‘For your Pleasure’ and later that year, ‘Stranded’.

The first time I heard ‘Do the Strand’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was so original; it signaled that the 60s were over for good and the Beatles and that entire ilk were now pretty much erased from the pop collective memory. We were the dudes as Mott the Hoople sang, and we never got off on that revolution stuff.

I’m now half way past 14 and not bothering to go to school on Wednesdays so I miss double Maths with Mr. Moody. No point going in on the afternoon either, because then it’s double PE and I don’t fancy running cross country in an icy north sea gale.

I have one burning thing on my mind – I must get a guitar, I must get a guitar. I say it over and over as a mantra, forcing it to come true.

I do get one that Christmas 1973, a second hand one that my Dad bought off someone at work. I still don’t know to this day what make it was but it was white, had a single cut away and f holes in the body.

It sits there in my bedroom for about three months before I bother to find out how to tune it up. When I do, I buy a chord book and take to it very quickly. So quickly that my Dad is amazed when he asks if I can play ‘Peggy Sue’ by Buddy Holly and I work it out in front of him and play it perfectly about five minutes later. Maybe I was born to boogie too.

Chapter thirty-five

BAND2_JPG1

The Nashville Rooms is a small venue in Kensington, London, and it’s hosted many a Punk band since the Pistols first blew the doors open for other bands to come through.

We’ve got a gig there coming up soon in July, supporting a band called Shake.

We’ve organised for a coach full of our supporters to come down with us so we can make an impression and we easily fill a coach and others make their own way down in various shared cars.

It’s a beautiful summer’s day when we travel down, the band going down in the coach with the Teessider crew.

Tubeway Army, with the soon to be solo Gary Numan, have just been number one with ‘Are Friends Electric’ and the electronic vanguard is soon to be upon us, although it takes a good year or so for all those synth bands to start coming through in the wake of Numan.

Gary Numan seemed to come out of nowhere, although I’d heard ‘Down in the Park’ earlier in the year and had a feeling we might be hearing more of him.

It’s encouraging that such a strange and different record as ‘Are Friends Electric’ can get to number one.

We’re not exactly a purely electronic band, but the synth is a big feature of our music so we feel the timing could be right for us.

In truth, we’re pretty confused musically. We have a Kraftwerk side to our music but we also have a more new wave guitar side to it and the two are battling it out in a struggle for direction. This is the wisdom of hindsight speaking now; we never had big talks about musical direction because we were too busy flying in the moment and just doing what we did.

Such thoughts, if we ever had them, are banished because this is a London gig and this is a chance to get some music press.

London gigs always have this strange pressure because we’re all aware that London is where the major music industry is and we’re all aware that we mustn’t waste an opportunity. It all starts to feel vaguely desperate but exciting too.

John always tried very hard to attract press and did eventually manage to get us featured in the newly published ‘Smash Hits’ magazine when they ran a feature on the Teesside scene. We waited for journalists to show up after the very positive feature, but nobody ever did. We were always having to fight apathy and indifference.

Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Edinburgh and soon Glasgow were the outside of London focus cities for music in the music papers, but Teesside was ignored.

It used to frustrate and exasperate us, because we knew that apart from ourselves, the Teesside music scene had a lot of bands worthy of wider coverage but it was like we were living in the forbidden zone and nobody wanted to come up to Middlesbrough and the surrounding towns to check out the scene.

So, because of that lingering feeling of being in obscurity, this London gig was a big deal for us.

We arrive in London in good time. Enough time to walk around. John goes off with Alan and buys some singles from a flea market, Jeff goes to buy a reed for his sax with Mick Todd and I walk around with a lad called Dom who is dressed in a black shirt and asks me if he looks like Gary Numan.

I later meet up with Benny Fuchsia with Jeff and Mick. Benny is a Punk character from Teesside who is now living in London. Benny turns up with another ex-Teesside Punk called Greshy. He is dressed in clown-like clothes, is wearing a small pointy hat and his face has silver greasepaint on it. The London scene has changed and clubs like the Blitz and Club for Heroes has characters like Steve Strange and Boy George spearheading something new. I am yet to find out what this scene is called because nobody has yet named it. I just presume it’s a London fashion scene, but I thought that about Punk and it exploded into the provinces within a year. We promise to put Benny and Greshy and some other ex-Teesside punks we know on the guest list.

We go back to the Nashville to do the sound check. We end up sitting around while the headlining band buggers around for ages, as headlining bands always do. We eventually sound check and it sounds shit but we’re almost used to it now and with a shrug, just get on with it.

It’s now time for the venue to open.

The place starts to fill out and the crowd who came down with us is in good spirits. The drinks start to flow and soon it’s time to take to the stage.

I go on stage dressed in an overcoat which is a bad idea because I already feel the lights start to make me overheat and sweat profusely, before we’ve even started.

Overcoats had become fashionable but that’s in Teesside and I’m probably about a year out of date in London, where fashions change so quickly.

Somebody down the front shouts ‘take your coat off you twat!’ in a London accent. I ignore him.

We open with ‘Success’, a song we always start our set with. The sound on stage is abysmal. I can’t hear my singing and my singing becomes more of a shout because of this. Alan keeps shouting back to have more guitar and bass in his drums monitor and we get ear shredding feedback squeals instead. The Teessider crowd is down the front, cheering us on, oblivious to musicianly concerns.

The rest of the set becomes a blur as we play too fast, the adrenalin motoring us up a notch of two. I can’t remember much about the set we played but I do recall that ‘Hollywood Strut’, already a fast tempo song, was played so fast, I could hardly get the words out. ‘Kirlian Photography’ was a bit of a mess because the synth stated playing up again but I don’t think anyone in the audience noticed.

We get an encore and come back on to play ‘Death’, a song I actually hate but it seems to have become a staple part of our set.

The local Teessider and Rock Garden crowd start to chant ‘We’re the barmy Basczax army!’ to bemused onlookers who can see we’ve brought rent-a-crowd with us.

The set finishes and we come off stage, having gone down great with our own lot but I notice the rest of the crowd were polite but pretty indifferent.

It’s the curse of the support band. You are just a band to pass the time until the main band comes on to most people. This is how it is. Plus London audiences are known for being notoriously cool with an ‘ok then, impress us’ folded arms attitude.

We mingle with the crowd after the gig and notice people like Paula Yates there, and various members of XTC and we wonder what they thought of us but don’t bother to ask because that would be uncool.

We meet a journalist from Sounds called Phil Sutcliffe who tells us he liked us, despite our complaints of the sound being bad. He takes down our set list and promises to review us.

A certain person from Smash Hits also tells us he thought we were good. His name is Neil Tennant, who will go on to be a mega pop star in the 80s, in Pet Shop Boys.

Shake come on; they are professional sounding but mediocre. Joe Callis will soon go on to join the Human League where he will be important in helping them write hits, but there is nothing in Shake that hints at this.

I am not being bigheaded when I say I think that we were the more interesting band, even if we only had a half hour to play and the sound was crap where we were standing.

Time has flown and it now all seems like something we dreamt as we travel back up north. The journey is long and boring and we don’t really know what to think about the gig but we seem to have impressed the right people.

A week later, we are thrilled to see that Phil Sutcliffe of Sounds has given us a favourable write up, calling us ‘an angry urban Roxy Music’. I am flattered by the review but wonder where the ‘angry’ came from because I certainly wasn’t angry up there. Another word is used, that I have to look up in a dictionary. The word is ‘belligerent’ and again, I think, why did he write that?

But it’s nice to get write ups and we’re all pleased that we got the coverage.

Back in Teesside it’s back to Friday nights at the Teessider.

We play ‘Waiting for the man’ and I dedicate it as thanks to our loyal followers who travelled down to the big smoke with us.

A memorable night that summer is when the Flowers come down to play with us. They top the bill and we charge 75p on the door so we can cover their travelling expenses. The Teessider is packed and they play a great set, with people dancing in front of them in the small cramped space. An enduring memory is of Drop singer Richard Sanderson dancing with his newly backcombed shock of hair and his dangly earrings with his new girlfriend Philippa.

The Flowers go back to Mick Todd’s house to stay over and that is the night I got chased by skinheads with a friend of mine called Robbo as we go for the train.

We ended up running alongside the railway track in the dark, with the skinheads pursuing us. We eventually lost them, but not before I got multiple stings from running through waist high nettles.

Robbo plays bass in band called Discharge and I remember one winter night when Robbo was drunk and he started to shout and swear at the icy wind and snow as he made his way to the train station to get back to Redcar where he lived. He ended up throwing his bass at the falling snow and I ended up having to retrieve it before a passing car ran over it. Robbo came to most if not all of our gigs and he became a great friend who I regularly kept in touch with.

Skinheads were starting to turn up at the Teessider to cause trouble and would often pounce on Punks and anyone who looked different to them coming from the Teessider.

One weekend, I go out with some friends from the Teessider and skinheads started on us, trying to incite us to fight them and they would fight you whether you wanted to fight or not.

Life was beginning to get scary, just as it has been when I was 12 and 13. Skinheads were also starting to sour the atmosphere at the Rock Garden. They were a total blight on the local scene and most people hated them.

(note: this extract is an edit of the chapter)

marc_bolan-t-rex-20th_century_boy_the_ultimate_collection-booklet

 

A first musical crush is an intense experience.

Mine, as most people on here know, was Marc Bolan. He caught me at a time in my young life when I just on the cusp of becoming a teenager. His image and music totally gripped me and I became a big fan. He seemed unstoppable for about three years and then sadly and perhaps inevitably (where else is there to go when you are that huge?) went into a swift decline. Like a lot of that early 70s generation, I went on to David Bowie and Roxy Music , with T.Rex becoming a sideline interest; the odd single getting my attention, but not interested in the albums as such, after ‘Tanx’ in 1973.

In only five short years after his peak of popularity in 1972 with ‘Metal Guru’, Marc Bolan was no longer with us. Killed in a purple mini. Not a Cadillac or a glamorous American car that often inhabited his lyrics, but a humble and very English mini. There is something very Marc Bolan about that though, because he was prone to exaggeration and flights of fancy, when in fact, he didn’t ‘drive a Rolls Royce ‘cos it’s good for my voice’ (Marc couldn’t actually drive)

As is often the way with pop stars that die young, we tend to think of only the good times and ignore or make excuses for the not-so good times. The emotional connection is so strong; the jukebox of the mind keeps playing those songs over and over.

The truth is, Marc was creatively lost –or at best at an impasse – when he died and had been for the last three years. He had struggled to find a new and credible direction and came across as increasingly ridiculous on tacky pop shows like ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Get it together’, where he stumbled through smoke machines, looking like a relic of another pop age by 1975.

I remember hearing ‘Zip Gun Boogie’ on the radio only once and thinking it was awful – because it was. Bolan by that point had boogied himself into a stubborn cocaine denial and had a bunker mentality when he should have taken some time out to re-think his direction.

I believe he was certainly capable of doing this. He had, after all, transformed himself from a fey hippy cosmic-folk troubadour, into a fabulous Glam rock peacock pop star in the early 70s. Why couldn’t he change one more time?

I can only speculate of course. I suspect that fame – that hall of mirrors that claims the souls and senses of so many who enter it – went to his head and cocaine made him ego deaf, refusing to listen to those around him such as producer Tony Visconti, who tried to persuade Bolan to re-invent himself and his music. He threw in the producer towel after the album ‘Zinc Alloy’, sometime in early 1974.

Tellingly, Marc’s fortunes took a dive. Visconti had been so important to the success of T.Rex and by now, Marc was running on hubris and a smaller but loyal fan base barely kept his profile above obscurity.

He tried to give his music more of a funky soul flavour for the next year or so– largely with the help of his girlfriend Gloria Jones, now in T.Rex on keyboards and backing vocals. But it all sounded so incongruous and didn’t go far enough to convince as a change of direction. Bolan going soul just didn’t suit him either – his voice was too idiosyncratic and his lyrics too surreal to fit soul music’s more direct lyrics and emotional rawness.

A single, ‘Dreamy Lady’, billed as ‘disco T.Rex’ was actually more of the old doo-wop structure than soul.

Then, in 1976, Marc was suddenly back in the charts with a new single: ‘I love to boogie’.

It was Bolan doing what he did best. Toe tapping, upbeat fun pop rock n roll. The delusional period of trying to go soul was over and Bolan was up for the pop rock game again. He even had his hair cut, as if shedding the baggage of the past.

Marc had recently aligned himself with the emerging Punk scene in London and put his money where his mouth was by having the Damned as his support act in early 1977, when a new slimmed down Bolan, took to the road for a T.Rex tour to promote the album ‘Dandy in the underworld’.

The album had been trailered by a single, ‘Soul of my suit’, which I liked and felt hopeful that Marc was on a creative up.

I got the ‘Dandy’ album and to be honest, didn’t think it was the ‘return to form’ as it had been feted as in some quarters. However, it was a lot better than the previous two albums and Marc seemed to have got his mojo back, sparked by the Punk movement.

He got his own TV show on which he showcased Punk bands that nobody would go near. But the show itself was awful – typical 70s late afternoon tasteless tack, with Marc being flanked by dancers as he ran through old hits with a band that consisted of session musicians. It was great to see Marc back on TV but a lot of it made me cringe. I just wasn’t that star-struck 13 year old anymore I guess and had more sophisticated tastes by then.

An exclusive was announced: that David Bowie was going to be on Marc’s show. I couldn’t wait – two old Mod friends and rivals in Glam together at last.

Marc’s latest single was ‘Celebrate Summer’, a disposable piece of 60s surf-pop with glib lyrics that rhymed ‘punk’ with ‘junk’ and with a slightly punky edge. Maybe if the Ramones had covered it…it might have made sense?

‘Celebrate Summer’ didn’t chart but for now, it didn’t matter.

With a new buzz around Marc, and a new-found credibility among the Punk generation, I decided to forgive and forget the kitsch naffness of the ‘Marc’ show and looked forward to Bowie appearing on it.

Then, on the morning of Friday, September 16th, I turned on the radio and caught the back end of ‘Ride a white swan’. The DJ said ‘I hope that’s of comfort to fans of Marc Bolan’.

I turned on the TV and waited for the news, an agonising half hour or so away. ‘Pop star Marc Bolan has been killed in a car crash in the early hours of this morning. He was 29’.

I suddenly felt guilty for having negative thoughts on Marc. I also felt a strange hollow numbness come over me. Marc figured so highly in my early teenage years, it was like a part of me died with him.

I went upstairs and played ‘Electric Warrior’, an album of Marc at his creative peak (one he managed to sustain for ‘The Slider’ and most of the ‘Tanx’ album)

All the memories flashed back at me: Marc on Top of the Pops, loving every moment of his fame, Marc bizarrely on the Cilla Black show duetting on ‘Life’s a Gas’, Marc in interviews with headlines like ‘T.Rextacy!’ and ‘Bolan’s Triumph’. Marc Bolan posters in the Jackie magazine that you had to collect for three weeks to get the three parts of them. Hearing ‘20th century boy’ on Radio Luxembourg for the first time and thinking it sounded fantastic and thrilling.

The final episode of ‘Marc’ – with Bowie appearing and jamming with Marc, was transmitted a week or so after his death. It was great to see them together but also a sad, shambolic finale, as Marc slipped and fell over before the song hardly got started. The camera crew had pulled the plug on them too, over a union dispute. Two legends, stopped in their tracks by officious union men. Didn’t they know that his was a unique event? Or were they secretly Carpenters fans who just hated strange exotic pop stars?

Then suddenly, as if time quickly forward-wound itself to a horrible present – there was a photograph in the papers of Marc’s funeral, with Rod Stewart’s head bowed in grief and David Bowie, visibly upset. A white swan made of flowers spelling his name. It was all too surreal for a fan like me to take in.

Marc Bolan’s death felt like the end of an era, and maybe it was. It was after all, the death of a Proper Pop Star – the kind of star that does not apologise for who they are, a star who is pathologically individual and could never be anything else other than a Pop star. You could never ever imagine Marc Bolan going to a 9 to 5 job, or living a normal life. He really did seem to be someone who was born to do what he did.

When I think about it now, it was Marc Bolan who first showed me the possibility of another world beyond the factory lined horizon of Teesside. A world where it was ok to not fit in, to feel different, to celebrate your strangeness and to meet others who felt the same. It’s weird when I meet other fans of Marc; there is an instant connection, an unspoken understanding.

I still play his music and a lot of it I never tire of.

The elegant and funky simplicity of ‘Hot Love’ and ‘Get it on’ still amaze me. Marc took three or four chords and made them into something magic and enduring. His words were mostly a mixture of beat poetry and playful nonsense, like a child discovering the sound of language for the first time. He was a master of the pop hook too and for catchy as hell evidence, listen to ‘Telegram Sam’.

The acoustic and very English whimsical Marc was another side to him. Listen to ‘Cosmic Dancer’ or ‘Mystic Lady’ and be charmed.

Marc could merge Syd Barrett and Chuck Berry too: try ‘The Slider’ to hear this cosmic fusion.

In retrospect, Marc Bolan didn’t really need to change musical direction. He just needed to keep making good Marc Bolan music.

I have his latest album in my head right now, but you can’t hear it, because it’s personal to me.

Boogie on in peace, Marc Bolan: the original cosmic Punk.