Summer of ’72. The freaks were making the charts. Hawkwind at number 2 with ‘Silver Machine’. Alice Cooper number 1 with ‘School’s out’.

Then, on came the real freaks.

They had a singer who looked like a glammed up Lawrence Harvey. A weird guitarist in bug eyed shades. A sax player in lurid green satin turned up collar.

Then there was the real weirdo on synthesizer. Brian Eno. He twiddled knobs like a boffin, had a sci-fi vibe about him and rivaled the singer for adulation.

Taking the contrived, the Oscar Wilde anti-authentic credo to new areas, Roxy Music was a band like no other. You could hear no Beatles or Rolling Stones or Beach Boys in their music. You could hear no heavy blues rock, no folk rock, no Dylan. It was like the sixties never happened for this band. But maybe the 2060s were happening for them.

I of course, loved ‘Virginia Plain’. It had a relentless 12 bar brilliance about it but somehow didn’t sound like a 12 bar. It had strange imagistic lyrics that referenced some kind of unattainable Hollywood glamour, pop art pastiche and camp archness. It was words with permanently upturned supercilious eyebrows.

I didn’t buy it, but I did buy their second single, the fabulously weird ‘Pyjamarama’. Even the title intrigued me. I knew I’d like it before I heard it – first on Johnny Walker’s radio one show one lunchtime when I was home from school. I remember Johnny Walker, obviously at a loss for description said ‘that’s great, so unusual’ or words to that effect.

I didn’t get to hear Roxy Music’s first album. I remember looking at the sleeve and feeling disappointed that ‘Virginia Plain’ wasn’t on it. And one of the songs was over seven minutes long. I didn’t bother with it for the time being.

It was ‘For your pleasure, their second album, ’ I heard first.

I borrowed it from a school friend’s older brother.

I had never heard anything like it. I was stunned by the opening track ‘Do the strand’. At that point, it was the weirdest pop I had ever heard. Was it pop at all? Was it rock? What the hell was it?

Roxy Music seemed to me to have a year zero approach to their music. They were punk before punk because they seemed to sneer at the past, or if they did reference it, they were clearly using it as a pastiche to elevate or desecrate if you prefer – rock n roll, doo wop, to kitsch levels. There was an audacious lack of respect for the past – this was music that was forcing pop into new elliptical shapes.

‘Do the strand’ captures the essence of everything that makes Roxy Music in 1973 so great – loopy, unpredictable chord sequences, brilliant and witty lyrics, Ferry’s un-rock voice – and the chaotic and thrilling interplay of the band, all taking cameos.

Ferry’s songwriting on this album leapt into a new dimension. Sure, his songwriting prowess on the first album must have given Bowie something to think about, but on this outing, Ferry really hit his stride.

‘Beauty Queen’ is a gorgeous melody, set to lyrics that play with clichés and have a knowing sense of the attraction of fading glamour. ‘Your swimming pool eyes…in sea breezes they flutter’…

It’s an album that explores the nether regions of beauty, glamour, decay and depravity. It has a creepy undercurrent to it.

You meet it head on ‘In every dream home a heartache’ which has the infamous reference to a blow up doll and a Ballardian sci-fi sex vibe about it.

The vacuous materialism of the consumer dream was a topic new to me at the time. It was a considerable lyrical advancement on ‘Metal Guru’ that’s for sure.

Roxy Music were weird. In a good way. They pinned it all on great songs and without Ferry’s skewed pop sensibility, would have been a great weird band – but without tunes.

It sounds lazy to use the word ‘weird’. But you must remember, this was a 13 year old mind’s reaction.

I was not prepared for the opening track on side two: ‘The Bogus Man’. To be honest, I thought at first it was rather turgid and droned on and on in a non-poptastic way. It had no chorus. It was repetitive. It went on even longer than I expected. No, I think I’ll take the needle off this track. But then, one night I put on some new headphones and I got it. It was a trance track before trance. Eno mentioned a band called Can in an interview. An influence on him apparently, as Eno had a big part in the writing of this track. I never got to hear Can until several years later and to be honest, I couldn’t hear the connection. Then I heard ‘Tago Mago’ and got it. But I admit this was only last year. So it took me 42 years to join the dots.

The time came to give the album back. I didn’t want to give it back and hoped the big brother of my friend would forget it. But he demanded it with menaces as I recall.

So I had this memory of this great album and my first introduction to music that was arty and strange and showed me that pop didn’t have to conform to the linear trajectory of its past.

I didn’t hear the album again until 1977, when I finally bought my own copy.

It sounded as fresh as when I first heard it. Still had that weird edge to it.

I still get that feeling today.

Sure, familiarity has made me render it normal. The strange is no longer so strange, the exotic now everyday to me. We’ve had jerky quirky new wave, the art punk of Devo – and it all owes a huge debt to Roxy Music.

Roxy went on to become hip yuppie music, culminating in their slick sound scapes of ‘Avalon’ in 1982. Bryan Ferry had long since perfected his tuxedo lounge singer image to the point of parody.

The Roxy Music of 1972-1975 are long since lost to an era when music seemed to willfully engage itself with the art fraternity and became the soundtrack for strange boys and girls that dressed like 1940s film starlets.

‘For your pleasure’ should be pulled out when your son or daughter asks you ‘Daddy…what does original sound like’.

You say, ‘THAT…is what original sounds like’…roxy 73

Advertisements

bowie and spiders

 

Absurd really.

A man pretending to be a bi-sexual space alien, five years before the end of the world, makes it big as a rock star and then at the end of his fame, commits suicide. That is the basic idea of David Bowie’s ‘The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. How did it happen and how did a generation of young dudes fall for the hammy and extremely contrived persona of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust?

Well, it was the 70s. And like most places in the past it is a  foreign country now. This was a country of economic gloom, post-sixties epicurean comedown, post-Beatles, post optimism. And pop music was being re-born again, this time around, dressed in satin and tat. Marc Bolan had signalled it was tongue in cheek party time, with his sexually infused blues pop and glitter under his eyes. He made Top of the Pops something worth watching again.

So, mid 1972 and the freak party that was Glam rock, was in full swing, with Marc Bolan at the centre of it all…well, that is, until Bowie came along.

Except Bowie’s glam rock party was taking place in an end of the world setting: ‘Ziggy Stardust’ was a pretty gloomy affair, when you think about it…

Bowie’s pessimistic take on culture was one of those zeitgeist defining moments. He would often refer to himself in interviews as ‘an actor’ and ‘ a Xerox machine’. His ironic detachment made his Ziggy Stardust persona a Grand Pop Experiment. It appealed to the teeny boppers who dug T.Rex, but also the ‘heads’ into progressive rock. Hey man, ‘Ziggy’ was a concept album after all…well, kind of. It was also an escapist fantasy ride, a diversion from the IRA bombings and terrorist-threat atmosphere of the early 70s.

But of course, I was blissfully unaware of all this at the time. Like most kids and teenagers, I lived in the sensation of the moment.

I had just turned 13 in June 1972. I was already reading the music press like New Musical Express (not yet, ‘NME’) ‘Sounds’ and ‘Melody Maker’.  I was aware of David Bowie of course, because of ‘Starman’, a recent hit. I was taken by its camp ( I didn’t even know what the word meant then) aura and its sci-fi vibe, being a Star Trek and Dr.Who child of the space age sixties. Bowie tapped into my on-the-brink-of –teenage-psyche, as he did for millions of others. ‘Starman’ was also a great tune with a chorus that soared, not unlike ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. Plus it had that great boogie chug on the ‘la la la’ play out.

Shit!

I didn’t see the Old Grey Whistle Test appearances, heralding the arrival of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, in around early 1972. But I DID see Bowie on a late afternoon pop programme for kids called ‘Lift off with Ayshea Brough’. This was when ‘Starman’ was not yet a hit. I asked my friends if they had seen this ‘weird bloke singing this weird song’ as I broadcast it to my school mates. They hadn’t seen it. I felt like someone who had seen a UFO, and found it hard to relate it back to reality bound terrestrials. If someone had told me he was indeed, Martian, I probably would have believed them.

The next I knew, aided by airplay by the unlikely Bowie champion of Radio One’s Tony Blackburn, Bowie was on Top of the Pops; that famous arm with the calculated limp wrist, adorned with bangles, draped around guitarist Mick Ronson. (thinking of it now, Bowie’s ‘gay persona’ was more Danny La Rue end of the pier camp than anything)

It was the appearance that made your ICI process worker Dad, squirm.

(Interestingly, a couple of years ago, I played this famous TV appearance via youtube to a class of Year 8 kids (ages 12-13) and their response was to laugh at it – they just thought he looked silly and funny)

Everyone was talking about him now. The perception at the time was that he was some kind of novelty – but reading the music press, now gushing about his singular talent- it became apparent that this was man who was about to become huge.

If only Middlesbrough Town Hall had reflected this, when Bowie played there as Ziggy, in June 1972. It was apparently only two thirds full, the Teesside macho rock ‘n’ blues contingent perhaps too embarrassed to attend a concert by a man in a Japanese designed jump-suit and a jock strap, who sang vaguely gay themed pop songs such as ‘Lady Stardust’. (‘People stared at the makeup on his face / laughed at his long black hair/his animal grace’)

I remember seeing the advert for the tour in the music press. Bowie was drawn as a cartoon character and the tag line on the advert read: ‘David Bowie IS Ziggy Stardust’. I had read about the amazing show he put on and desperately wanted to go. I was now buying any publication with Bowie in it, absorbing his interviews and being totally entranced by his image.

I begged my cousin to take me to the gig, but she was more of a Tamla girl and not really interested in strange insectoid men with bright red hair. In her opinion, he was ‘probably a bum chum of that other talentless freak, Marc Bolan’ (well, she was from Middlesbrough, remember and she was strangely accurate in one way)

So alas, I did not attend this gig – my parents would not let me go on my own, possibly fearing I would be abducted by drug addled homosexuals, who would convert me to a life of debauchery and start quoting Oscar Wilde. And so, the Ziggy Stardust stage show passed me by, much to my eternal regret.

I did not even own a copy of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ until the following year. The copy I heard, and tried to hang onto as long as I could, belonged to an older brother of a school friend of mine.

But how I remember playing that album. It was a teenage bedroom moment: my imagination stolen away by the opening track: ‘Five Years’. The soft pitter patter of the drums fading in;  it was the musical equivalent of curtains being raised, when Bowie sang ‘Pushing through the market square…so many mothers sighing’…and then there was that weird echo repeat on the last word of the line, making it sound like he was walking through empty city streets at night. It conjured to mind visions of clockwork orange droogies stalking deserted alleyways. (Another influence on Bowie was this film: it is not hard to see that he based the Ziggy and the Spiders outfits on the droogie characters, except making them into ‘cosmic yobs’ as Bowie called himself at the time)

Ziggy Stardust had arrived, and his tenure for me, was to be a life long duration.

For someone who pored over the lyrics of Marc Bolan, I think that by the third track into ‘Ziggy Stardust’, I was aware that Bowie was a talent operating on a much higher creative plane than Marc Bolan. Sure, Bolan was my first major musical crush, and his weirdo pop still haunts me today, but with Bowie it was something else entirely.

Bowie’s songs took unexpected turns that made the hairs on the back of my neck raise. The play-out of ‘Moonage Daydream’ sounded like a band being transported into warp drive deep space. The bridge on ‘Soul Love’ delighted and surprised, and this was uplifting, life-affirming music too. The ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ show stopping moment in ‘Suffragette City’ was another ‘wow’ moment on the record. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ was a great album because it had great tunes, great hooks, as well as being the compelling work of a pop art imagination.

The closing track ‘Rock ‘n roll suicide’ was simply amazing to my fresh teenage ears at the time. The whole song is a psycho drama, climaxing in the audience of the mind plea of ‘gimme your hands! You’re not alone!’ Instantly, I wanted to be in that audience. And I was.

I had no idea why I was responding to the emotional resonance of the album, because it was a strange, sexually ambiguous atmosphere that emanated from the grooves of the record – but that is what it was: emotional. Despite Bowie’s ironic detachment from his subject matter, despite his claims in interviews to ‘being a bit of an ice man’ – this was emotional music and it lodged itself into my mind like a kind of bomb. It blew my mind to listen to ‘Ziggy Stardust’ at the time, in other words.

Now, the stench of the familiar and the over-played, has given the album the aura of being a period piece – a kind of ‘Sgt Pepper’ of the Glam rock era in Pop music.

But on the right day, the opening power chords of ‘Moonage Daydream’ still manage to jettison me back to that initial thrill, that euphoric moment of ‘what the hell is this?’ excitement.

The jangly intro to the title track ‘Ziggy Stardust’ still gives me an excited flutter in the stomach. The way the song unveils its vignette of a rock star ‘killed by the kids’ still takes me on a journey, if I let go and remember how I used to feel as a young teenager.

The barely pausing for breath near segue from ‘Ziggy’ to ‘Suffragette City’ is still one of the most exciting pieces of track sequencing on any album. The Who-like power chords are traditional, yet the synths on the track give it a futuristic flavour. Droogie rock ‘n’ roll is what it was. You can imagine Alex and his friends getting reading for a night out of ultra-violence to this track.

Bowie of course, went on to make decade defining music after Ziggy. (In fact he was already doing this with the two albums before ‘Ziggy’ – ‘The man who sold the world’ and ‘Hunky Dory’ – but nobody but a tiny minority of hipsters were listening then)

I am not going to use this piece to go into pretentious piffle about how Glam rock was a kind of social and sexual revolution (it wasn’t – it was mostly a Top of the Pops phenomenon and collision of effete cross-sexual fashion meets post- Warhol rock ‘n’ roll sensibility)

(Now that’s pretentious – I can’t help it, can I?)

I would however, like to simply say that ‘Ziggy Stardust’ still sounds like a tremendous achievement of the pop imagination and that the songs – after all the space alien drag act hype – still stand up today, forty years after its release in 1972.

And let us not forget: discovering Bowie was a world that led to other rock ‘n’ roll outsiders like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, hitherto, unknown to most. Bowie brought the perceived rock ‘n’ roll losers out into the mainstream and basically initiated some kind of weirdo ball that was to cast its long shadow up to and including Punk: which when you think about it, was as much about the art of self re-invention as Bowie’s ‘Ziggy’ was.

But now I am stating the obvious.

Awwwwwwwww….

Wham bam thank you ma’am!

Happy 40th birthday, Ziggy Stardust.

A Basczax reunion?

Like a lot of enjoyable things in life, it was not planned.

In January 2010 I wrote a song called ‘Disco Apocalypse’ – it was an affectionate and droll retro-recall of the Post Punk and early New Romantic era – when you would go to certain nightclubs and come across garage mechanics in make-up and bank clerks in what looked like their Mum’s blouses and table cloths draped over their shoulder. With that song, it was a feeling of coming full circle: looking back on those halcyon post punk days of my young band days. For some strange reason I also went back to listening to bands like Magazine, PIL and Wire. I hadn’t heard them for years. They sounded every bit as great as they did back then.

I was at the time, in touch with Richard Sanderson (a friend from those post punk days, himself in bands: Drop and Halcyon Days, later The Euphoria Case) through facebook, sending some improvised vocal vamps for him to mess around with. We did a couple of things – ‘Your shoes’ – which he put a really cool mash of Kraftwerk and Dr.Feelgood to. And one called ‘Dancing with the martians’ – with suitable Martian disco backing. It was just for fun of course, no agenda.

One of my missives to Richard came under the eyes of a certain John Hodgson – ex-keyboard player from Basczax way back from the late 70s. He asked if we could do some collaboration, so I sent him my basic demo of ‘Disco Apocalypse’. He put some nifty keyboards on it and I was impressed with what he did. I then mentioned that I had some ‘lost songs’ from the late Basczax days that I was thinking of recording for fun. One of them was ‘Sexy Robot’ – a song originally inspired by the German electo outfit DAF – except of course, when it went through my T.Rex and glam-art filter, it came out as something else entirely. John suggested a Basczax reunion – he was already in touch with bass player and founder member Mick Todd and also, suggested getting in touch with Jeff Fogarty – ex-sax player, now a keyboard and guitar player. We were now spread all over the globe: John and Mick in the North East of Britain, Jeff in Australia and me at the time in Manila, the Philippines.

I think it happened in a day. Suddenly, everyone was back on board, apart from drummer Alan Cornforth – sorry, Alan, I was using a drum machine on the demos and didn’t see how a drummer could be recorded over the internet.

‘Sexy Robot’ – a drum machine beat, an acoustic and my voice demo, was sent to the other members. Again, it came out great: this was better than I ever could have hoped. And it felt natural and easy – although we later fretted over a lot of things as musicians always do.

From my point of view, we were maybe recording an EP or mini-album – four or five songs, no more. Three ‘lost songs’ and one, a new version of a Basczax oldie ‘Hollywood Strut’. I also happened to have an idea for doing another old song ‘Neon Vampires’ in a strident acoustic style. To be added to these was the new song ‘Disco Apocalypse’. Oops, that makes six already.

What was a trickle soon became a flood.

I found myself subconsciously tuning into my formative influences from those post punk days of 1978-1981. New songs – and even more remembered ‘lost songs’ started to form in my mind.

I was writing songs almost all the time – about two to three a week average at one point.

This new Basczax reunion was turning into something else. It seemed natural or rather, inevitable to make an album. And that is just what we did.

I had a bit of a panic about using the old band name. Couldn’t we call ourselves something else?

John dug his heels in and insisted if we were four-fifths Basczax, we might as well call ourselves that. I fretted over the spelling of the band name. Couldn’t we change it to something easier to pronounce and google? Something like ‘Bassax’, as that is what we were phonetically called?

But then I realised I was getting far too uppity about this. A Basczax reunion is what this was: so that is what we stayed.

‘Hollywood Strut’ was one song we recorded early on in the making of the album. I had always wanted to record a version with a tempo that allowed the tune to breathe, as I always felt the old Basczax version was played way too fast – but it was post-punk days, then, after all.

Similarly with ‘Neon Vampires’ –I was strumming around with it and slowed it right down, making a bit of a gothic melodrama out of it. I wrote a new chorus for it as I always felt the old chorus was not very good. Some new lyrics were written too – mostly because I could not remember all of the old ones. This was the album’s first ‘production number’. John surprised me by putting strings and effects on it and some very ‘european’ sounding piano. It took it to a completely different musical place to the old version and it works well, I feel.

As the album progressed, there were many highlights. It really did feel like it got better and better as we went along.

The band did a great job on an old song of mine called ‘Velvet and She’. It was far better than the original, which was a new wave pop song back then. Now it had a cool tempo and a Bowie cum Velvets feel to it. It also had a much better chorus as the old one was only really two thirds written and needed that elusive ‘something else’.

Another highlight was the recording of a new song called ‘Automania’. The original lyric for this dates back to the early 80s, but I never got around to making music for it. A simple three chord strum into the drum machine and the tune came straight to me. It felt like it wrote itself; one of those songs that fall into your lap from nowhere.

‘Darkstar 17’ was another ‘instant song’ that happened when I was jamming along to the drum machine. I was originally thinking of using an old riff from a song called ‘Influence Invasion’ – but it turned into something else. I sang the words ‘Darkstar 17…goddess in a limousine’…having no idea what the song was going to be about. Sometimes songs start like this : a line that sparks an idea and is then developed from thereon.

‘In a room’ (originally called ‘someone turn the lights on’) was another new song that came to me quickly.

It was one of my ‘follow the mood of the music’ songs – the riff sounded dramatic and elliptical in some way and the lyrics ended up being loosely based on that horrific abuse case where a girl was kept in a room for years and sexually abused. I didn’t even know what I was going to sing about when I followed the mood of the music – the words just came out and I thought ‘ah, so that’s what it’s about’…

About half way through the recordings, I had the idea of making instrumentals from each member – each one, kind of reflecting our musical personalities in some way. John returned to his prog-rock roots for his contribution: Track XXX, which was meant to be a kind of battle of the bands between Captain Beefheart, The Carpenters and a fictitious punk band. Yes, it was pretty barmy idea, but listen to it and it makes sense.

Jeff contributed a beautiful instrumental piece called ‘The Calm’ – one of my favourite tracks on the album, incidentally.

Mick came up with an update of an old Basczax riff with ‘Mekanik 2010’ – a mash of samples, beats and sound effects.

Me?

I came up with a twangy guitar instrumental for an imaginary spy thriller: ‘Spies in the wardrobe’.

Jeff contributed another instrumental piece called ‘Russian Winter’. By coincidence, it perfectly fit a lyric I had called ‘Siberian Eyes’. This was one of those ‘eyes down, straight ahead’ tracks. Surprisingly, it was the one track that took the longest to nail. I later wrote a separate instrumental opening to it we edited it onto the song. Getting the mix right proved to be tricky and this song probably had more remixes than most – but I think we got it in the end. This was the last song we worked on for the album.

The last song written – but not really intended for the album – was ‘That Dress’. Again, a drum beat and a riff started it and I started to sing the hook line into the mic at the same time. The song was, in my head, a kind of Phil Spector throwback. It also felt off the cuff and throwaway and not at all right for the Basczax album. But everyone loved it when I sent a basic demo, so the song went on the album. John followed my brief of trying to get that ‘epic Spector’ feel to it. The band all did a great job on the song, and their enthusiasm for the song can be heard – at least to my ears, anyway.

It seemed a great fitting ending to the album – a trashy, feelgood pop song.

But it wasn’t the last track.

I had the idea of recording a second version of ‘Velvet and She’ – more in an actual Velvet Underground feel – slowed right down and with a different ‘downtempo’ mood.

We had actually recorded it earlier in the sessions when we were trying arrangements out. I couldn’t make mind up about this song and then thought: why not have two versions?

So that is what we did, and John sang it –his laconic voice suiting it perfectly. He also added some staccato strings that surprised me when I heard them. In a good way.

When we came to sequencing the tracks, it became obvious that ‘Sexy Robot’ should start the album, and that ‘Velvet and She (slow version)’ should end it as a kind of winding down.

The album took six months to make – mostly because of time differences and people’s busy working and personal lives.

If we had had none of these distractions, it probably would have taken much less time.

One thing I found that surprised me with the reunion and the album, is that we still had a chemistry between us: we instinctively seemed to know what songs needed and how to execute them. If I said ‘it needs to sound like a kind of out of control juggernaut in Europe, with Iggy Pop driving’ they knew exactly what I meant.

I feel good about the album –proud even – and I think it is a good representation of where we came from musically and where we are at today.

Yes, it is partly a retro-experience as the music is intrinsically linked to a different era, but I feel that we managed to ‘update’ ourselves in a way that felt natural and with good instinct.

It is also a real ‘DIY’ album, recorded initially on a low budget field recorder and then sent to multi-tracking facilities – all done over the internet.

The spirit of ’79, filtered through thirty years, arriving in a time capsule in 2010.

Rip up the flag and dance.

Again.

Electric Warrior – 40 years on…

Posted: September 14, 2011 in 70s, marcbolan, pop, rock

I remember the first time I dropped the needle onto side one of ‘Electric Warrior’…because it changed my life, or at least, the world around me. It was an internal dialogue, like entering a church. Yes, it sounds corny, but it was almost like I imagine getting religion to feel.

It was also simultaneously external: I could make sense of the world through the music of Marc Bolan, I could meet other like-minded people: I felt alone, but not lonely. I had the vague sense of belonging to a sect, a cult even. I imagined signs and strange incantations. I became a fan in other words.

My head became a maelstrom of sex, identity and music, battling it out on some cosmic plane between the good the bad, the cool and the uncool.  I entered the mind of Marc Bolan: I was connected. My universe – the universe of me, started to form. I was 12, and Marc Bolan caught me at the right time. If I had been three years older, maybe the impact would not have been the same. I had no preconceptions of what was cool, or even what good music was – but hearing T.Rex earlier in the year with ‘Hot Love’ on the radio, I was transported to the wonderful fantasy world of near-adolescence. I was transformed by the experience. I started to think differently, to dress differently. The old ‘child’ me was dead, or rather, buried for now, as my butterfly persona started gradually to emerge and awkwardly form.

Yes, it was that intense.

‘Electric Warrior’ was a major landmark in my emotional development, to say the least. It was the first album to really captivate and steal me away.

Even the cover fascinated me. Black and gold, with an outline image of Marc Bolan hunched over his guitar; the ‘Vamp’ amplifier behind him: it seemed cool and enigmatic at the same time. The inner sleeve had drawings of Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn, cosmic images weaved into both faces. The label on one side had the ‘Fly records’ logo; the other side a colour picture of Marc and Mickey: two pansexual men challenging traditional ideas of how men should look. A pre-Raphaelite iconography exuded from them.  This was an album as a whole auditory and visual package. The image was the music and the music was the image.

So the needle hit the grooves of the slightly crackling vinyl and the rock ‘n’ roll tablets from the mount were handed down to me. I can still smell the hot valves of the Dansette record player.

Track one, ‘Mambo Sun’, was Marc directly addressing me and his new found audience:

‘My life’s a shadowless horse…if I can’t get across…to you’…the invocation hypnotic – he really was seducing us all, and we were for some reason ready and willing to be seduced.

That was the effect: a sonic seduction as much as anything. T.Rex records were produced in such a way that the sound drew you in, made you want to swim in the sound waves, to live inside those grooves. I studied every nuance of Marc’s voice, I pored over every sound that I could hear hidden in the mix, or imagined in the mix. The off-mic talk back, the casual ad libs, the snakey weavings of the guitar: I spent many hours listening very intently.

In a dream-like state, I await track two…

‘Cosmic Dancer’ is the first Marc Bolan song and track I would call superb. It is a whimsical and haunting song, built around a cyclical chord sequence, mirroring the song’s theme of reincarnation. This is Marc playing up the ‘mystic’ – still perhaps conscious of his old hippy audience. The song has a rather oblique spiritual atmosphere. Marc was not yet the hardened rocker of ‘20th Century Boy’, he was not yet on the conveyor belt of hit after hit: it was all new and fresh to him. He was exploring his musical options and open to new ideas, new avenues.

This is the track where the production of the album really shines for the first time.

Tony Visconti was Marc’s producer. He was also crucial to his success; a musical partner who gave Marc’s songs form and shape from Marc’s vision.  I cannot stress enough the importance of Tony Visconti. He did after all, help Marc form T.Rex: bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend were Tony’s strong suggestions. Conga player Mickey Finn was also Visconti approved: Tony knew a great visual foil when he saw it too; Marc and Mickey made a very photogenic pop subject matter – until it soon became ‘all about Marc’…

T.Rex as a whole band is exemplary throughout the whole album. On ‘Cosmic Dancer’ the performance is great; all locked in to the trance like tempo of the song; great drum fills from Bill Legend and excellent sympathetic bass from Steve Currie. Micky Finn too, weaves some great congas throughout: he was just as essential to the sound of T.Rex as anyone else in the band. Pity he got such short thrift from the press, who saw him as surplus to requirements mostly. This persists today too. Let’s set the record straight and repeat so it sinks in: Mickey Finn was part of the T.Rex sound too. Got that?

On ‘Cosmic Dancer’, the string arrangement by Visconti is excellent; it takes surprising turns and introduces new counter- melodies to Marc’s vocal melody. It spirals and snakes around the tune; a perfect piece of Beatle-esque strings, but uniquely Visconti. His strings elevate the song to a classical plane. It is for me, the best example of the Bolan and Visconti partnership: and at this point, it was a partnership, not a dictatorship.

It was this track, ‘Cosmic Dancer’ that really reached me at the time. I had not expected such a soft, mesmerising song from Marc Bolan. I had ‘Hot Love’ and ‘Get it on’ in my mind, but this acoustic side was new to me. Two tracks in, and ‘Electric Warrior’ already cast a powerful spell over this listener.

‘Jeepster’.

Had to put a full stop there because what can you say about this track that has not already been said? It is a classic toe-tapping rock ‘n’bop song, a party on record, a sexual come on loaded with innuendo; a great, catchy tune. It is Marc Bolan knocking out cool couplets – they come in rapid fire: ‘Your motivation/is so sweet/your vibrations are burning up my feet’…’you slide so good/with bones so fair/you’ve got the universe reclining on your hair’…and the killer line ‘just like a car/you’re pleasing to behold/ I call you jaguar if I may be so bold’…

The car as sexual metaphor was a lyrical theme that Marc returned to a few more times. He liked his cars, even though he couldn’t drive. He also liked his rock n roll and blues. ‘Jeepster’ is a great example of Marc Bolan’s pop and rock nous:  the riff is lifted, sure, you’ve heard that rock n roll riff before, but somehow he makes it all his own. Talent borrows, genius steals: something that applies very much to Marc Bolan at his best. He was a rock magpie, a library of musical references, a doo wop aficionado, a lover of 60s pop and also The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys. Hell, ‘Hot Love’ lifts the riff from ‘California Girls’ pretty much wholesale.

Speaking of Doo Wop – a mostly vocal harmony, ‘barbershop’ form of music popular in the fifties and early sixties – track number four: ‘Monolith’, reinvents Doo Wop as a kind of cosmic meditation on the meaning of meaningless things. The lyric is one of those Marc pranks – making nonsense sound good. What is ‘the throne of time?’… ‘lost like a lion in the canyons of smoke’ is more Bonzos surrealism than anything else. Marc Bolan was great at sounding like he meant every word of it. And you believed it. You sang along. You talked to friends about the meaning of the words. And all the while, Marc Bolan was probably giggling to himself: his lyrical schism was mostly word play and playful nonsense; with a bit of mysticism and eroticism thrown in. He blended words for the way they sounded; it was all part of the overall sound: a sonorous mash of vowel collisions and pop culture references. And he started to use the word ‘baby’ a lot and whoop and scream on his records like he was having the time of his life. Because he was.

So ‘Monolith’ – why the title? – who knows? – it fuses mystical bollocks to ‘Duke of Earl’. And it works a treat. Haunting backing vocals from Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – both ex-Turtles – give the track a weird aura.  And Marc gets to show off some of his weird blues guitar riffing, with his foot on the Hendrix wah-wah pedal.

The last track on side one ‘Lean Woman Blues’ sounds like any blues song you ever heard really. It comes across as a fun track, a goof off from serious artistic duties. It is also immensely enjoyable and fits in great with the vibe of the album. T.Rex music was also plain fun, let’s remember. ‘I’m like a child in the sand on the beach of the land…of you’…Marc gets to explore the infinitesimal. Done with tongue very much in cheek. Let us not forget that Marc had a wicked sense of humour too and was referencing riffs for the hipsters in his audience. He was enjoying himself on these sessions and you can hear the exuberance of the whole band on the album. It is a unit in tune with each other. It is T.Rex as a band with Marc Bolan as the singer, songwriter, guitarist and front man. Not yet ‘the Marc Bolan show’…

Speaking of referencing riffs, the opening track of side two, ‘Get it on’, references Lightning Hopkins, via Chuck Berry and the vocal is almost Peggy Lee in its ‘come hither’ intonations. It has a similar sexy atmosphere as ‘Fever’ – yes, it lifts Chuck Berry of course, as often has been said; Marc’s own ‘Little Queenie’ – but it is also drenched in the horny coo of female singers like the aforementioned Peggy. There was a feminine as well as masculine power in Marc’s peacock blues poetry strutting: it is the indefinable essence of his vocal charisma that is so hard to really pin down. It creates a kind of enigma: these are sexy words, but with strange mythology referencing lines ‘You’re dirty and sweet/you’ve got the teeth of a hydra upon you’….and ‘a cloak full of eagles’…are not your regular pop song words. This was another quality that gave T.Rex records a unique aura: the words were often a potent blend of the strange and the sexy. But somehow, not sexist, or macho blues braggadocio…that came later with ‘Groover’ and the feeling that Marc was becoming all rock but no roll. This is the essential difference between the Marc Bolan of ‘Electric Warrior’ and later albums like say, ‘Tanx’. ‘Electric Warrior’ had some great grooves going on: latter T.Rex did not, they became rather hard edged, concrete rather than liquid, clompy rather than slinky. ‘Electric Warrior’ was simply an album that was almost impossible to better: it has all the great and quintessential elements that make Marc Bolan so great: he out classed and out gassed himself on ‘Warrior’.

‘Planet Queen’ is another strange seduction song. Quasi mystical verses give way to obvious sexual intent:  ‘flying saucer take me away/ give me your daughter’…is almost a grooming line: Marc’s young female (and male) audience would have gladly been stolen away by Marc Bolan. The song takes the basic blues template of ‘Get it on’ but recasts it as a funky kind of shuffle. In the key of E, like a lot of Marc’s songs, it threatens to sound too samey, but gets away with it as the chorus takes a different turn. It also has more great backing vocals on it – Kaylan and Volman echo and response Marc’s vocal line perfectly, giving the song a textural depth in the production.

‘Girl’ is another Marc ballad: a philosophical troubadour song, a kind of vignette to off-set the boogie tracks. It starts, like ‘Cosmic Dancer’, with a spiritual atmosphere: ‘O God, high on your fields above Earth…come and be real for us’. The lyrics then move through different scenarios: ‘the boy – sunk like a boat’….the ‘electric witch’ and the subject matter of the song, the un-named ‘girl’ of the title. The melody is also a similar shape to ‘Cosmic Dancer’ – circular and looping back onto itself – something of a trademark of Marc’s songwriting. The track is beautifully scored – again, like ‘Cosmic Dancer’ – by Tony Visconti, with some unusual Flugel horn, giving the song a chamber pop feel.

‘The Motivator’ is another of the album’s fun, feel-good tracks.  It is like ‘Get it On’ and ‘Planet Queen’, another blues pop song in the key of E, this time played choppy and to maximum repetition. Still, the song has a playful, seductive (that word again) atmosphere to it, before ‘Electric Warrior’ unleashes its final two killer tracks: ‘Life’s a gas’ and ‘Rip off’.

‘Life’s a gas’ is arguably Marc’s most popular acoustic love song, although being Marc Bolan, the words were anything but straight forward. They replace love song lyrical clichés with a series of couplets, short but memorable all the same: ‘I could have loved you girl like a planet/ I could have chained your heart to a star’…is almost Shakespeare in its use of cosmic imagery, but let us not get pretentious: it was a catchy tune with some unusual words that sounded romantic. It also has an air of self-pity about it: ‘But it really doesn’t matter at all/ Life’s a gas’…was probably an irony lost on Marc’s new young audience. I certainly had no idea what he meant by ‘Life’s a gas’…a friend unhelpfully told me he didn’t mean that life was good at all…which I admit, went over my head at the time.

‘Life’s a gas’ could have been released as a single. It turned up in fact as the b-side to ‘Jeepster’, and doubtless many casual single buyers may have been surprised by this track – something very different, and more conventionally ‘songwriterly’ from Marc Bolan. Cat Stevens fans might have liked it.

The final track on ‘Electric Warrior’ is the most bizarre recording by T.Rex. It is a thrash with mostly shouted lyrics: spinning around a loony tune chord sequence that is a strange, almost gothic sounding heavy metal progression. It is almost a proto-rock ‘n’ rap track, with the drums and congas playing a break beat loop over which Bolan riffs in block bar chords. It ends with a kind of musical nervous breakdown, Ian Macdonald riffing some hard bop sax over the feedback fade out, that ends with sustained strings that quickly disappear after the track finishes. ‘Rip off’ is a total surprise, and gives ‘Electric Warrior’ a kind of enigmatic yet manic finish: rock n roll madness, Marc vamping and ad-libbing his way into a frenzy of nonsense: it was the wordless spirit of ‘awopbopaloombop’ revisited: a cool ending to a cool album.

So, ‘Electric Warrior’ was an album that did not disappoint: it hit all the right ‘teenage’ buttons and was the start of Marc Bolan’s three and a half year reign as a hit maker. It crossed over from Marc’s old audience and initiated a new pop audience, average age 13. Me included.

But is ‘Electric Warrior’ an album as great as any great album? I am talking ‘Revolver’… ‘Ziggy Stardust’…any acknowledged and critically sanctioned ‘classic’?

I say yes it is.

‘Electric Warrior’ has endured over the passage of time. It is not nostalgic ears that say this: the album still sounds fresh, funky and vital today as it did then. Other T.Rex records do not: ‘The Slider’ for example, although a strong album, is too rooted in the glam rock summer of its release in July 1972. ‘Electric Warrior’ in comparison, is an album that seems timeless. It was an early ‘birth of glam’ with the production values: handclaps on the back beats for example on some tracks. But, apart from the glitter on his cheeks and the flamboyant dress sense, no one had yet uttered the term: ‘glam rock’. That came a little bit later.

‘Electric Warrior’  captures an important time in British pop: the moment when a mass teeny pop audience emerged after the sixties had sunk into a kind of serious sulk with itself, and  Marc Bolan made pop music  invigorating, catchy and cool again. But this was a different kind of pop: it was informed by psychedelia as well as sixties pop and blues. It was retro as well as forward looking and not everyone understood that at the time. ‘Electric Warrior’, was a synthesis of the Warholian pop art/trash aesthetic, but also of ‘progressive’ musical ambition. Although Marc Bolan’s songs are essentially blues in form, 12 bar, and elsewhere folk like ballads, they are arranged with a musicality (Tony Visconti mostly) that gives the album a sheen of sophistication, contrasting and complimenting the raw and edgy rough take quality of T.Rex. The album has a spontaneity about it, inhabiting a place in time that is somehow then but also now.

The album is Tony Visconti’s, as well as Marc Bolan’s triumph.

On ‘Electric Warrior’ you are hearing a ‘live performance’ in the studio, but also a pop production par excellence: the perfect marriage of Marc Bolan’s songs and ideas, realised and in sympathy, by Tony Visconti.

There is also magic in the grooves, something unique and unrepeatable happened during the recording of the album: I won’t even try to define it.

It not only reached a new young pop generation, it also inspired a whole host of musicians, who were very encouraged by the almost punk-like simplicity of Marc Bolan’s songs. This album was made in an era of musical noodling and increasing self-indulgent virtuosity.

It was a big two fingers up at so called progressive rock, at authentic rock and blues bands.

Some musicians at the time, doubtless, were scornful of its simplicity.

But, just like the blues, which are easy to learn and play but difficult to play really good and get the feel, ‘Electric Warrior’ reminds us that simplicity that is engaging and magical is very difficult to achieve.

The illusion is: Marc Bolan, T.Rex band members and Tony Visconti, make it sound so effortless and easy: herein lies the greatness and lasting appeal of ‘Electric Warrior’.

So this is it: I officially declare and confirm ‘Electric Warrior’ to be a classic and important album in the canon of great British pop and rock.

It was all over then:  official.

Sometime in April of 1988, the Flaming Mussolinis lost their record deal. We knew it was coming, but probably hoped that they might go for one more single. I spoke to our A@R man and he told me he was sorry how things had worked out, but there was nothing he could do about it: the decision had come from the board room and was a financial one. They didn’t see us as a viable proposition any more.

We continued to demo regardless, around our old friend Don Cox’s house on Oxford Road, Middlesbrough. We had now given up our own rehearsal room as we simply could not afford to pay for it. We still had lots of songs, lots of ideas; the well was far from dry. The Flaming Mussolinis third album would have been a strong album, I am sure. But it was not to be.

Don Cox was someone who let us demo songs around his house; we had all known him going back to the early 80s. He was a generous and accommodating man and we appreciated his ‘no charge’ offer to demo at his home.  He was also a gifted photographer and why we never used his services as a photographer, I don’t know!

He also had an endless supply of ginger nut biscuits I seem to recall!

In the meantime we wondered if we should just wipe the slate clean, change our band name and come up with a new plan. We were worried that the band name had left too much bad feeling in some music business corners as we found out our management had left a trail of unpaid bills in our name. A change of name would give us a fresh start too.

Our agent Dan Silver said no: he could get us gigs if we were the Flaming Mussolinis, but not if we were a new name band, as nobody would know us.

In time honoured career suicide tradition, we didn’t listen to him. We decided to go for a name change. As usual, settling on a name was difficult but in the end we opted for ‘Zoom’ as it was short and dynamic. (There was also an acid house club called ‘Shoom’ that may have been on our minds – maybe)

Music was changing again. Acid house was starting to gain prominence and it was music that to be honest, I could not relate to, although I got used to it. I recall going to a nightclub and seeing people dancing like puppets to bleepy acid house music, arms waving in the air. I also remember hearing of a band called Happy Mondays at the time. A good name, I remember thinking. When I got to hear them, I thought they were rubbish though. Sean Ryder could not sing at all and they all looked like a bunch of car thieves from a rough housing estate. (Which in fact, they probably were!) But I was totally missing the point and later realised how good they were for at least a couple of years. Manchester was becoming the new musical lightening rod, the so called ‘Madchester’ scene was already coming to the fore and the rest of the country caught on to it around late 1989 – 1990.

Rave and cries of aciiiiiiid! seemed to be everywhere within six months. Once again, I felt outmoded and outdated.

I wondered if guitar bands were dead?

No.

The Melody Maker one week ran an article on the Pixies and the ‘new noise bands’ that were coming up. I decided that being a guitar band was not a bad thing after all. I heard the Pixies and to be honest, at first, they went over my head, but I eventually got it: elliptical guitar rock that sounded like it didn’t give a shit about making the radio. A good thing, I decided.

Another band catching my ear was the Sugarcubes. They had a unique sound and of course, a great singer in Bjork. I got to see them the following year at Newcastle Riverside and they were fantastic live.

The ‘new alternative’ sounds were starting to catch my ear, but I was also getting more retro in my listening habits: Led Zeppelin, Cream, Sly and the Family Stone, late sixties rock generally.

There was something in the air, something was coming: you could feel it.

Meanwhile, Clune left the band. It was a big blow to us but he was living a totally different and separate life in London. I didn’t bother to try and persuade him to stay, there was no point. The next time I saw Clune he had turned into a Manchester ‘rave’ clone, with forward combed hair like a choir boy. He went on to get involved with ex-Killing joke bass player Youth, calling themselves ‘The Mouth’ and made an acid house 12 inch that I cannot remember the name of. Clune later – ten years later, that is, went on to find success as the drummer with David Gray. He now doesn’t even drum – he left David Gray in 2007 and has done nothing since, living off his substantial royalties from his co-write of the single ‘Babylon’.

A tragic waste of talent…he should be drumming.

Gradually, over the next few months, The Flaming Mussolinis all started to fall apart, leaving only me and Kit.

Doug went to Australia and Jeff got a job as a photographer on a cruise ship, eventually ending up in Australia too.

In summer 1988, we recruited drummer Paul Lynagh, then of local band signed to Fontana, the Shy Reptiles. Paul was no longer with them. He was thrown out of the band for having the sense to put his share of the record company deal into a house. The rest of the band didn’t find that very rock n roll, and sacked him.

I moved over to bass and vocals, and Kit of course, on guitar. We decided to stay as a trio – something new for us.

It was good because it forced us to strip back the music and use space and tempo as a virtue.

Our set mostly comprised of songs that the Flaming Mussolinis would have done for a third album, had we done one: ‘Ghost Train’, ‘Blank cheque Radio’, ‘Ninety Nine Per cent’, ‘Sweet Deceiver’ ‘Blue Horizon’ and a cheeky little song called ‘Kill the star!’.

We were back to being a local band, trying to service debts from our record deal, usually failing to meet them. A big ‘ulp’ was getting a tax bill for twenty four thousand pounds. I had to go to an interview with a tax inspector and an accountant and try to persuade them we didn’t owe it, having made an appeal against it. After a few nail-biting months, it was decided that, yes, we did not owe it.

In the meantime, I was selling some of my equipment just to get by

Zoom were a good band – not original, but we had a good sense of rock classicism and went down really well everywhere we played. We once did a gig in London and a band turned up with their own supporters. It turned out to be the Stone Roses, soon to explode onto the scene in about six months from then.

I later saw them play at Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt in 1989. It was obvious something big was happening around them. I liked them, even though I was a little resistant at first, and soon almost every band in the land had a guitarist with a wah wah pedal and a singer who flopped around, his fringe in his eyes, pretending to be on drugs.

Meanwhile, Zoom – as we were now- got a new manager and a publishing deal too, which allowed us to wage ourselves for about a year, while we chased another deal. Our manager was a laid back kind of guy called Jeff Gilbert. He had once worked at Arista and had ‘discovered’ Lisa Stansfield who had that hit: ‘All around the world’. He liked us and thought he could get us a record deal, although I do recall his annoyingly uninspiring catch phrase was ‘in the music business there is no such thing as a guarantee’.

Still, it was great to have someone with faith in us.

This was the problem for us: always chasing a record deal. We should have just thought ‘sod record companies’ and gone totally independent. But we had tasted the sweet apple of being so close to the big time and we wanted to get back to it, I think is the honest answer to that.

We did see sense the following year when we released our own 12 inch single:  ‘Ghost Train’ backed with ‘Blank cheque Radio’. We gamely called our record label Tank Top Records.

We were now rehearsing a lot in friend Graham Robinson’s studio in Darlington and we recorded a lot of good songs there, mostly live.

We looked different now too. I had long hair, purple dyed jeans and baseball boots. It was, I suppose, an oblique nod to the American alternative scene, soon to explode in the form of grunge and Nirvana.

Zoom of course, were not a pre-grunge band, but we had more extreme elements in our music for sure. We were now rocking out and not caring what people thought. It seemed timely and real.

Speaking of grunge, I remember the first time I heard ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. It was in Darlington, late summer, 1991. We were packing away after a gig and the DJ put it on. It made me stop in my tracks and listen. It was kind of heavy metal, but somehow punk too. It had an incredible intensity about it. I know it is now one of those ‘oh no, not that again’ records but at the time it was a revelation. I also immediately recognised that it was a bit of a Pixies rip off. Kurt Cobain later admitted that the ‘quiet-loud’ dynamic of a lot of Nirvana’s music was taken from the Pixies.

Zoom did not last very long.

We expanded the line up in early 1990, recruited ex-Jank Mamba guitarist Martyn Alderdice on bass, me moving back over to guitar.

We opted for another name change and became Disraeli Gears. No, we weren’t a Cream tribute band, we just liked the sound of it. I always call us ‘The Gears’ as I got to feel a bit cringed out about the ‘Disraeli’ bit. I should have listened to friend and DJ Alan Rhodes who said ‘that’s a daft name…like calling yourself ‘Sgt Pepper’!’ When I asked him for a suggestion the best he could come up with was ‘Anal Spasm’. Thanks, but I don’t think we’ll go with that!

Alan Rhodes proved to be good connection to new and interesting music. He was always pushing stuff my way: Sebadoh, Pavement, Fugazi and Adrian Sherwood Sound System. I didn’t like listening to these bands though because they reminded me of how musically conservative Zoom was compared to them – but I was not about to pretend to be a 22 year slacker in a noise band from Seattle.

Disraeli Gears again, always went down really well with audiences.

In this band, I wrote what I consider to be one of my best songs: ‘Nothing’s going to get me down’. By now, I was really retro in my listening habits: Dylan, mainly ‘Blonde on Blonde’, Beach Boys: ‘Pet Sounds’ and the Small Faces and the Kinks. I was reaching to the past to try and find fresh inspiration. I didn’t realise at the time that what I was doing was ‘Brit Pop’ before it came about with Blur and Oasis, a couple of years later.

We released a 12 inch EP, this time on our own label Ram Raid Records, which we stole the ‘Rolls Royce’ logo for. But it all felt too little, too late and we just got stuck playing the same old places to the same old faces.  We had played a showcase gig in London for some record labels but they passed on us. This was really the final downturn in our fortunes and despondency started to come into the band.

Disraeli Gears came to an end in 1992 because of me.

I was now feeling like I was banging my head on a wall permanently, I was broke and feeling like crap as my life was just one long struggle and waiting for a change.

We played a gig at the Sun Inn, Stockton, and I remember feeling that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Is this what almost fifteen years in music led to? The back room of a local pub?

I announced I was leaving the band that summer and prepared to go back to University to try and sort my life out. I just gave up on the hope of ever making a living out of music. The wolf had been knocking at my door for a long time and now I was hearing it loud and clear.

I effectively tried to turn my back on music forever. But it took some time before I was totally ready to quit.

I still wrote songs from time to time; it was a compulsive habit that was hard to break. Songwriting comes as natural as breathing to me. I always have songs coming into my head – they just won’t leave me alone!

In fact, in 1994 I wrote a batch of songs that seemed to have a continuity to them and I recorded them, mostly at a studio in Hartlepool over only two days.

 They became a solo album: ‘Songs from the wilderness’, released through Northern Sky, a label set up by old friends Ian Luck and David Thomas. It was a very low budget recording and really, they were demos, but I just could not afford to pay for studio time to make a production of them. It was a mostly acoustic based album, pretty folksy and countryish in parts, and one of the songs ‘The not so great escape’ was very personal for me:  it was me realising I had come to the end of the road with my dreams in music. The album, although patchy, has some good songs on it I feel – one of them, ‘Northern Rain’ was written pretty much on the spot while I was trying to work out a melody for it, recording it around Marty’s flat on his 8 track. It was mostly recorded very quickly and I wanted it to be pretty basic and unfussy. I also recorded a lesser known Kinks song in this session: ‘Big black smoke’ which was one of their b-sides. I cheekily wrote an extra verse for it and seeking permission, Ray Davies would not allow it, so it was kept off the album. I did get him to autograph an old Kinks single though.

The album title said it all: that was where I was: the wilderness.  I felt cast adrift now, my band days getting further behind me.

Still, I wrote a lot of songs in this period, up to thirty I would say, most of which never saw the light of day.

I continued to play solo with my  acoustic guitar for about a year, playing some interesting dates with folk legend Bert Jansch (who was a miserable anti-social git by the way) an also, Roy Harper’s very talented son Nick Harper. But I wasn’t a folkie and I missed playing in a band.

As a way to satisfy my urge for a band, I recorded some rock based tracks as The Reformers: ‘Hey! Jack Nicholson’, ‘I Wanna Sellout’ and ‘Pretty Poison’. The Reformers were a ‘pick up’ band but I could not keep a stable line up. We played only two gigs – one in Darlington, and one at the concert for our good friend and musical journeyman, Dave Johns, then soon to be lost to cancer. The concert was filmed and we played a version of the Byrds ‘So you wanna be a rock n roll star’ at that gig, as well as ‘Success’ – an old Basczax song of mine.

But the Reformers fizzled out. I had a set full of songs for the band too.

By 1996, there were plans for a second solo album, but it came to nothing when Northern Sky ran out of money. Once again, songs I had written just ended up on cassettes on my shelf at home. That old banging my head on the wall feeling was coming back to me.

In 1997, I quit music for good.

Through most of the next decade, I did nothing musically. By 2002, I was a Secondary English teacher and needed to keep my life together. My musical life now started to feel like something I had dreamt.

In 2007 I started to write songs again. I actually wrote a musical play based on the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson called ‘Surfs Up’.  I also wrote a batch of songs for a kind of folk-rock project called The Satanic Mills. It was the result of discovering Fairport Convention, a band I had previously over-looked. I heard ‘Liege and Leif’ for the first time in that year and loved it. I also started to listen to songwriters that I had heard, but not really stuck with: John Martyn was one, and I returned to listening to quality songwriters like Joni Mitchell, who I had not listened to since the 70s when I had her ‘Hissing of the Summer lawns’ and ‘Hejira’ albums.  I was astonished at how the quality of her music stood up after so long. I kind of re-discovered her in a big way. I also started to get back into contemporary music like LCD Soundsystem, whose album ‘Sound of Silver’ I thought was great. The past was there, with all its richness and great music, but I started to realise that there was still a lot of great music around in the here and now.

I was starting to feel reconciled with my past, realising that it had all been a great, unique experience.

I could now listen to some of my old music with a sense of objective distance.

In 2008/9, I started to think about songs I had written for old bands like Basczax but never completed, or left them unheard. I drew up a list from memory and was amazed at how many I had half-written or just left un-aired.

This all led up to an online reunion with old Basczax members online, in 2010. We recorded some old songs I had meant for Basczax:  ‘Sexy Robot’ and ‘Velvet and she’ being two of them. We ended up making a full album and it felt great to be back making music. I had got my mojo back and started to write songs prolifically. In the first six months of that year, I must have written something like forty songs easily – some in a state of progress, but a lot of them ready to roll.

Later in 2010, I did something completely different: an over the net collaboration with old friend and ex-Drop member Richard Sanderson. There was no real agenda: Richard created mash up loops from samples and I wrote words and sang over them, in a kind of persona. A lot of the songs were about life in Teesside, in a very humourous way: we called the ‘band’ FootPump. We recorded a whole album over about four-six weeks and put it up as a freebie.

In early 2011 (up to now), I wrote songs that harked back loosely to the post punk era. I put them out as a series of free EPS on Soundcloud. I called my ‘band’ Dada Guitars.  I had no idea what the music was going to sound like until I almost spontaneously wrote a song called ‘Juvenilia’. It was the most extreme and uncompromising music I had made for a long time. I followed on from there and got back to my long forgotten experimental glam/new wave pop rock muse, last heard in Basczax way back in 1979.

I have finally reconciled myself with the fact that music is a huge part of who I am, and whether it is an audience of three or three million, it is nice to be appreciated and it is mostly a labour of love on my behalf to make music.

So here I am: back to my 19 year old self in spirit, making music for the right reason: because I love it.

It is mostly a blur now of course, but there are plenty of flashes in my mind of those Friday nights back in ’79-’80 when Basczax played a residency at the Teessider pub.
50p on the door I recall, as we were trying to save money for a PA. Did we get one? I cannot remember.
The Teessider itself was just over the bridge under which the Tees flowed, on the Stockton side of the Thornaby/Stockton border. Thornaby was named after an old Viking settlement and Vikings still lived there except they had lost their horned helmets, shaved off their hair and called themselves skinheads. They would lurk in the darkness after the gigs, making punks lives difficult and making the journey to the train station a scary thing for most. One night, I went to the station with Robbo (Dave Robinson – where the hell are you now?) We were trailed by skinheads out for some bovver. I had my tuxedo and eye liner on. They started to call me predictable things that I need not repeat: you can guess. Robbo, never the most diplomatic person when drunk, faced them off straight away: ‘Oww! What’s your fucking problem then? What-is-your-problem?’ the last line delivered in (drunk) Dalek diction. Me: ‘Oh shut up Robbo, let’s just ignore them’…No chance of that. We ended up running up the railway track in the dark to escape our hunters. I remember trying to climb over a fence and my hands stung: I had grabbed a bunch of overgrown nettles in the scramble to get over it.
Life as a late teenager was scary. Actually I was 19 nearly 20 at the time, but not yet far enough away from that horrible adolescent world that could often turn violent. We got away, and we somehow managed to get back to get the train too. However, the journey back was nervy too, as drunken men peered at us through pissed rat eyes, sneering and saying things like ‘are you punks then?’
Still, not even scary nights like this, or skins outside the pub waiting to cause trouble, stopped punks and post-punkers, bohemians and long mac(kers) denim boys and posers, and curiosity seekers, flocking to the Teessider on a Friday night.
It had been John Hodgson’s initiation I seem to remember. We talked about a regular gig and how it would be a good thing to have a place where other local bands could play together. The Teessider was not really purpose built for a band to play. There was a pillar positioned centre left of the ‘stage area’ – well, ok, floor area and it blocked your view if you were in the wrong vantage point. The floor space was just about enough to set up drums – pushed right to the back, and a mic stand centred, with guitars – lead and bass – on either side. Keyboard player John had to fit in there somehow: it was not spacious is what I am trying to say. To get to the toilets, people had to walk directly in front of the band. It was a squash, but the atmosphere made it feel like somewhere bigger. It was always packed. It started off with maybe twenty to thirty people, most of them in local bands, and their friends/girlfriends but it rapidly grew to a chock full house. I think one night we did a door count of over a hundred people – heaven knows, they were all squashed up at the bar as well as peering above tables (this was a pub remember, tables and chairs not removed)
We brought in good trade for the landlord, so he and his wife were pleased.
The jukebox played punk favourites: ‘Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais’ was one that was always on, ‘Angel Eyes’ by Roxy Music, ‘Are Friends Electric’ by Tubeway Army. These records were suggested, I think, to the landlord, whose musical taste stopped at Elvis Presley.
I distinctly remember setting up equipment to Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. Hearing that Blondie track today, takes me right back there. I really liked Blondie’s singles: how could you not?
We had rehearsal space upstairs too. We recorded the songs in our set up there, engineered by drummer Alan Cornforth. It wasn’t overdub recording, just capturing the songs in their live form. The recordings were released as a cassette album called ‘Terminal Madness’. We sold quite a lot of copies I seem to recall.
We worked out a song called ‘Metal Culture’ up there and played it on the same night. We were never short of ideas, at one point I was writing an average of two new songs a week, either on my own or with Jeff. We were just all flying in the moment.
The landlord and his family lived just across the landing. They had an Alsatian dog that one day, when I had left my guitar case open, shat in it. The landlord’s children were cheeky little urchins and it was revealed one day that their secret name for me – obviously they had seen me in my glam-punk eyeliner – was, ‘the man from fairyland’
Teessider nights were exciting and had a buzz about them. I remember one of the Billingham crew who used to come and see us tell me that it was the highlight of her life coming to the Teessider. I remember well the feeling of impatience as I took the bus there every Friday. If somebody had suggested setting up a band tent outside to live there, I would have given it serious consideration.
The local music scene had exploded after punk filtered through to the provinces, just like any other large town and city outside London. And Teesside had some really good and varied bands at that time.
Apart from the local heroes No Way and The Barbarians (please see other blog on ‘Kirlian’ for more on these bands) there was the dada art punk of Shoot the lights out. There was the tuneful and upbeat new wave of Deja Vu, the fractured minimalist scratchy punk of Bombay Drug Squad, the very interesting and unique Drop, led by Richard Sanderson, whose willowy, fragile stage presence was compelling to watch.

Another really good band from that time was The Sines. Frontman Doug Palfreeman showed up solo one night at the Teessider and asked if he could play some songs. He did. And he nearly shredded my guitar strings too as he gave an explosive Pete Townshend style performance, borrowing my Kay Strat. He turned up again with a full band – well, a trio. They played some blistering Who-like songs and never failed to impress with their high energy performances.
There were other bands, very much outside of the Teessider crowd, but still doing their bit for the advancement of local culture: Carl Green and the Scene and Dimmer’s power pop outfit The Commercial Acrobats being only two of them.
Monitor, Jeff’s band before Basczax, developed into a really good band, with a female singer and good guitarist I had worked with before called Alan Hunter. They didn’t last long though – pity, as I remember them as a band with potential.
Then there was the anarcho-smut punk of The Amazing Space Frogs, a band that I occasionally played bass and guitar for. Frontman Bugsy was like something out of a punk Carry on film – gloriously inane and puerile.
Bands, bands….there seemed to be new ones forming on a weekly basis.
The biggest pity, was that the scene went largely unreported outside the area. Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield had their own scenes going on, reported in the weekly music papers like Sounds and N.M.E, but nobody came to Teesside.
John Hodgson, I remember, was always trying to find an in-road to attracting press to Teesside. He actually achieved a pretty good scoop once: a two page spread in the then new Smash Hits magazine, which highlighted the local music scene. We all waited for the press to arrive. They never came.
Larry Ottaway formed Pipeline Records, on which we released ‘Madison Fallout’/Auto Mekanik Destruktor’ in December 1979. There was a lot of talk of him being the area’s Tony Wilson at the time, somebody to get the music scene noticed, but it came to nothing when he disappeared to Hong Kong. He had to go there for work reasons and that was the end of Pipeline, who were going to release something by Drop too. This was the whole reason the area was invisible: there was no sussed entrepreneur to cause some ripples outside the area. The fight was always the same: against apathy and lack of exposure.
Basczax were causing our own ripples though. We toured with early Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, a tour that came about through Rough Trade putting us forward for the support. Our single sold well and went into its second pressing; Rough Trade was interested in us. So were Dindisc, the Virgin subsidiary label. We had no manager though and were probably very naive when it came to following such interest through. I have no idea what happened to those A@R people or why it all just fizzled out.
Never mind. We had our own thing going on anyway at the Teessider.
One hot summer night in June, Fast Records’ The Flowers came down from Edinburgh to play with us. They arrived for the gig pretty frazzled from the journey. I remember talking to the guitarist Simon who told me that Joy Division’s just then released album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ was incredible and that I had to hear it. He was right: hearing that album was a kind of epiphany moment, as it was for so many people of that time and generation. It is hard to describe the impact that record had. It was not punk but was obviously music that was from the spirit of Punk. It had a wiry and sparse sound to it, like dub in parts. Need I say the obvious? It was massively influential.
The Flowers were a pretty quirky lot and they performed a great set. I can remember Richard Sanderson dancing in front of them quite vividly. I think we raised the entrance price that night as they needed expenses. They stayed in the glamourous location of Redcar at Basczax bassist Mick Todd’s house. I remember singer Hilary asking us if there was a fish and chip shop nearby as she hadn’t eaten since breakfast time. There wasn’t. I think they dropped off somewhere to get some though.
One night, a band played who made me feel we had serious competition.
They were called Savage Passion (Ian Ingram told me the ‘savage’ was after me – but he was a smooth talking gypo and probably lying!)
The band had a very charismatic front man in Ian. I remember some girls next to me nearly passing out when he took his shirt off to stand at the mic in an Iggy pose. One of them laughed, looked at me and said ‘cor…he’s gorgeous!’ I remember replying: ‘why are you telling me?!’…
I am sure Ian took full advantage of his female admirers. But he took too many drugs, lost his focus and ruined himself. Savage Passion fell apart because of Ian’s antics. Maybe he really did think he was Iggy Pop. Pity.
Like any halcyon time, you think it is all going to last forever, but of course it didn’t and couldn’t.
The scene changed drastically I recall with the arrival of ska and then, of all things, a Mod revival. Skinheads suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Most of them of course were all right, but there was always that nasty edge when they were around.
The Teessider landlords suddenly put a stop to the Friday night slot. They were starting to get arsey with us for some reason, I think the landlord’s wife was sick of it all and it was a long Friday night, with a lot of people lingering and staying too late.
There was the sense of the end of an era when it all stopped. In fact, somebody actually said that to me at the time.

To all those who came to the Teessider: cheers and I hope life and sister fate have treated you all well.

Now, where is that copy of  ‘Unknown Pleasures’…and  Gang of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’ EP?

So the jetpack future, with flying cars and moving pavements to save you walking had not arrived. 1980 sounded so futuristic when I was asked at school, as a 12 year old, to write a story on how the world might be in that then so far ahead date.
We got in 1980, of all things, a Mod revival. This was largely a result of the film ‘Quadrophenia’. Seeing some punks ditch their combats for parkas was a weird thing to see, but some did.
The Specials, Madness and that entire ilk were big in that year. Chrissie Hynde cooed her way to number one on The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket’. Guitars not yet eradicated, the electronic wave had not yet quite achieved youth cult domination. Synthesisers were used on new wave pop records such as The Cars ‘Just What I Needed’ as a kind of alternative to guitar solos.
The Human League was yet to have a big hit.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, up to then, had had a big alternative hit with ‘Electricity’ in the previous year and were continuing their purist Kraftwerk influenced electro pop manifesto. They also had their debut album out, with a sleeve designed by Peter Saville – very 1980, with no band name, hollowed out grids with a lurid orange inner sleeve. It was actually an album that had been poorly produced and the band did not like most of it, wanting to re-record a lot of it. Re-record some of it they did, when a trickle of singles were released from the album throughout that year. Their single for this tour was ‘Red frame, white light’ – a love song to a telephone box. This was 1980 folks, and pop had taken on some strange Philip K. Dick and J.G.Ballard twists: two authors that I too, read, that year. Basczax even had a song about inanimate objects such as furniture and ironing boards turning nasty on suburbia. It was called ‘Metal Culture’, another Ballardian dystopia pop song. What was on my fevered mind in those times? Sci fi sex, definitely. I just couldn’t meet any compatible robots though.
Basczax then, were to tour with OMD, as support in February and early March of that year, pop AD 1980.
We got the tour through Fast Records Bob Last who had a connection to Rough Trade. We had sold our first run of independent single release ‘Madison Fallout’ and we also featured on the Fast Records’ ‘Earcom 2’ 12 inch.
Teesside had been great to us – it was our home turf stomping ground where we had built a pretty impressive following – enough to fill two coach loads of fans that travelled with us when we played the London Nashville rooms in July 1979.
We were ready for the next step up and were thrilled to get the tour.
Off in a rented van, leaving the industrial skyline of Teesside behind, was an exhilarating feeling: we were a proper on the road band at last. Munching on Mars bars and crisps (probably) we set off on that rock n roll horizon to who knows where and what? What was on the band playlist then? Bowie, Joy Division, Banshees, Magazine, some Jam, Blondie, Undertones. Roxy Music of course too.
I was wearing my tuxedo and jeans, with trainers. My stage attire for the whole tour was my skinny silver grey glam rock trousers, my checked ‘ska’ pants, assorted shirts and a flowing red fake silk scarf just to camp things up. Eye liner pencil liberated from those nasty capitalists at Boots, I was ready to take the stage. But I needed some sunglasses. At a service station, I found a suitable pair with a glam butterfly engraved on them.
A road diet is seldom a good one. A hasty sandwich, too much snacky junk food, too many fizzy drinks. Until you start to run out of money and then you maybe miss a few meals and eat later. Maybe chips and gravy. Must have money for booze and fags of course.
I was pretty good anyway at only eating when absolutely necessary in those days, hence my skinny Bowie aladdin sane physique.
We met OMD on our arrival to the first show in wherever it was – Leeds? Sheffield? Liverpool? They were setting up their equipment and we introduced ourselves. The first person I recall we spoke to was drummer Malcolm. He was nice and easy to talk to. The others were friendly too, but seemed preoccupied with the matters of lights and equipment and setting up monitors etc. Touring is a lot a waiting around for things to happen. We went elsewhere, seeking out something to kill the time.
We found it: Space Invaders game machines. Let’s waste what little money we had then…
During the ‘blip’ and ‘bloop’ of invaders being shot to pieces, one of OMD arrived. It was keyboard player Paul Humphreys. We smiled, trying to stay cool but more likely wanting to jump all over him and lick him like over excited puppies.
He spoke: ‘You’re Basczax then?’
He knew us. Wow!
‘Yeah’.
He had heard the Earcom tracks and liked them.
‘Should be interesting to see you play’ or some such attempt at further breaking the ice.
Singer Andy McCluskey arrived, watching Jeff zap those nasty invaders. They chatted about I don’t know what. McCluskey had a drink in his hand – a plastic beaker with tea, I think.
They were nice blokes as it turned out but they had that ‘we are the headliners’ body space aura about them. Still, they were nice enough and certainly not people with an attitude.
The first night of our gigs with them was, I think, at Retford Porterhouse. We went down well, if the audience were a little cool towards us. We probably came across as being a bit tense, as this was a new experience for us. I remember coming off stage and talking to some young lad about Bill Nelson, who said my guitar playing reminded him of. I took it as a supreme compliment as I indeed did like Bill Nelson, having been a sometime fan of Bebop Deluxe, a fag end of glam prog-pop outfit. Bill was now solo and making some interesting electronic influenced music.
On the tour, we got a little silly of course.
We had a system, invented by John Hodgson, of scoring ‘rock n roll points’. You got a point for getting stoned (unlikely, none of us went near dope in those days, a bit of speed maybe) you got a point for wrecking your hotel room (how you wreck the back of a van I do not know, as this was our ‘hotel room’ most nights) and so on. Going with a groupie of course was a top scorer. This rock n roll points scoring – it kept us amused anyway.
We didn’t have much money between us. Mick Todd became Mr.Handouts as I seem to recall he handled a kitty of money and gave us some ‘pocket money’ from time to time. He reminded us all of a football manager in his thick over coat: he was organised and took it all suitably seriously.
Sleeping in the back of the van at first feels like fun but soon starts to become a feeling of dread when the time comes to sleep. After three days, we were all absolutely knackered and the van smelt like the inside of a monkey cage. You feel your humanity slipping away from you, your sense of dignity being stripped away. It becomes not funny anymore.
We managed some nights to sleep on people’s floors. A welcome luxury from the harsh in the van environment. But sleeping on a floor means you constantly wake and have to turn over as your side aches like hell from the hard surface. In such moments, we would often amuse each other before going to sleep. One night, when about three people were asleep, Mick and I made a tape of people snoring with running commentary. We called it ‘Snoring Olympics’ – a Pythonesque mock sport report.
The sleep deprivation became too much.
One night, at a gig, at I think, Leeds F club, I actually leaned back on my amp and closed my eyes. I fell asleep for about half a minute, stumbled up to the mic stand and got to my vocal line right on cue. Somebody down the front noticed this Keith Richards moment and laughed, applauding. I think I got three rock n roll points for that.
On the tour, at Doncaster I think, we met a character that we christened Bik-Bok. His real name was Russell and he lived in Huddersfield.  He was a strange young man, a fan of OMD and also…the Nolan Sisters. Playing along with his prattish taste, I asked him who his favourite one was:
‘Oh, Bernie…she can really sing’…
Sure, Bik Bok. She might be my favourite too.
Bik Bok became something of a band mascot. He let us sleep at his parents’ house one night, for which we were grateful. At that time, the Yorkshire ripper was still at large and the paranoia in Yorkshire was almost something you could touch in the air. We spooked ourselves in case Bik Bik or his Dad was the Yorkshire ripper. I personally didn’t sleep much that night. Silly, but it preyed on my exhausted and now manic mind.
The Yorkshire ripper made us some breakfast and suddenly didn’t seem like a mass murderer at all. He even made my eggs perfectly cooked but still runny, as I like them to this day, folks.
It was the best breakfast I had ever had: I was half starved.
The tour grinded on but we manfully soldiered through the trenches of rock n roll, now seasoned journey men on the root to becoming famous. Well, getting to number 20 in the charts would have suited us fine.
Liverpool University was a memorable gig for me. The audience went mad for us, I camped it up and twirled my scarf, imagining I was Bryan Ferry’s more camp younger brother. After the gig, one of the audience slightly deflated me by saying although he thought I was a good singer, I would get better with age when my voice deepened more, like Iggy Pop’s. Er…cheers, I might have said.
We gained a lot of fan support on that tour: Mick Todd got a steady flow of fan letters for quite a while after. For some now obscure and forgotten reason, we called our fans ‘zoo boys and girls’. Yes, I know – daft isn’t it? But we had our own clandestine band way of inventing things and alternative realities.
OMD at that time had not had their first proper hit. They had a song in their set that was so obviously boppy and catchy as hell: Enola Gay, the electro pop elegy to the plane that nuked Hiroshima. How new wave is that?
Incredibly, they did not really want to release it as a single. I remember McCluskey saying ‘nah, it’s too obvious’. They were seeking the most obscure path to success, trying to keep with the Joy Division vibe of not being visible. They were all huge fans of Joy Division by the way.
Maybe they did listen to us, because they did release it later in the year – a re-recorded version that gave them a big top five hit.
What a funny lot they were, I remember thinking. They had commercial songs but seemed to prefer the more ‘difficult’ aspects of their music. Their manager was not happy I recall when they chose to perform a quirky instrumental for their Old Grey Whistle Test appearance. I think they were torn between pop star dreams and alternative credibility back then. They obviously got over it!
One weird thing I remember is when we played Middlesbrough Rock Garden with them. Or did we play that gig? I can’t remember. Was it someone else like Nash the Slash?
They were all very excited about Middlesbrough being an industrial town and they wanted to see ICI by night. I think Mick Todd took them to sit on Eston Hills and watch the glow of the flare stacks light up the sky. Watch it they did, and the experience seemed close to religious awe for them.
We said our goodbyes to OMD and just after the tour, they had a hit with ‘Messages’. I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops and feeling proud for them. I do admit to a little feeling of envy too: how amazing it would have been to be on that edition with them, with maybe ‘Hollywood Strut’, a song that people kept telling me should be a single, including the drummer from OMD.
We never got to make that single.
The OMD tour had, however, been a great time for us and there was a sense of local pride when we returned to the familiar green, green grass of home.
No, the Tom Jones song was not in my head at the time.
I remember thinking ‘what next?’…
The adventure still had a way to go.