Teenage Moonage or (How a song came to be written)

« I had a teenage dream, On moonage days,

I’d be a freak out far out, In a purple haze,

Cruising Electric Ladyland, I’d be silver surfin’

In a rock and roll band. »

« Teenage Moonage » by the Stone Purple Haze Band

So, you wanna be a singer in a rock and roll BAND?

First, find a band, or find a band that needs a singer or find a band that needs a singer and plays the kind of stuff that you want to sing. This narrows down the choice immensely, so first, just find a band, any band.

How do you find a band?

It started with an ad in the local paper

« Are you EXPERIENCED? » read the title at the top of the ad

Sounds like Hendrix cover band. Can I sing Hendrix? Do I want to sing Hendrix covers? I’ve got to start somewhere.

« Hi, I’m ringing about your ad ….

« Can you sing? » asks the laid-back, deeply soporiphic voice on the other end. A voice thick with phlegmy nonchalance nurtured on years of cigarettes and alcohol. The voice reels off a long list of Hendrix numbers to learn for the audition and once the « dictation » is over I hit the local record shop looking for a Hendrix « greatest hits » compilation.

Casting Off

So, you have got as far as the audition phase. This is the point where you physically meet your possible, future band mates, who are not yet mates and might never become your mates. Banding is not bonding. This is about music and not friendship. The band needs a singer and not a soul mate.

It hasn’t occurred to me, but I might actually need a mike and I haven’t got one. I ring the voice again.

« I’ve got a mike » it says flatly. « I’ll see you later »

Later is late. Nine o’clock on a Sunday night, when normal folks have long finished dinner and are settled down ready to snooze off in front of the TV.

The voice lives only a few streets away. I can walk. I get to the « house » and – I’m walking down a tree lined street of neat two up, two down houses all with well tended gardens, then at the end almost out on a limb, almost in another universe is this run down, shuttered up pile of bricks set in an overgrown patch of waste ground. Surely this can’t be the place. I knock on the front door and after an eternity there is the creaking and clanking as the metal shutters are pushed slowly open. A skeletal hand appears beckoning me to the window, a gaunt and ghostly face, framed by long lank strands greasy hair, emerges from the sombre depths. « Side door » rasps the voice

« Do you always rehearse this late? » I ask, entering through the kitchen and into the «rehearsal room ».

Electric Ladyland

The place is a mess. It’s a f***ing mess with a huge capital F. It’s a health hazard. Already from the outside, the house only looks fit for demolition, inside … the sink piled high with dishes, the walls thick with grease and yellow with nicotine, discarded empty dog food tins lie strewn across the floor, and stomach churning stench

The place stinks of wet dog, urine and shit – like proper shit, like faeces, like someone’s had diarreah, bowel cancer or lives on a heavy vegetarian diet and they’ve systematically crapped away their insides over days and never flushed the toilet.

Can I make it through this audition without catching something? Can I survive more than five minutes in this house without some kind of independent breathing apparatus?

So, I finally meet the voice who tells me his name is Patrick though people call him Jimmy and he bids me welcome to « Electric Ladyland » I want to laugh, but Patrick is so into Hendrix that he’s painted the name of Hendrix’s third and final studio album in big purple letters on his front door.

This is possibly the worst place that I have ever auditioned for a band, lord knows I’ve has some strange auditions. I once had to prove my vocal prowess over the phone, and another time I auditioned in a car, singing along to Highway to Hell, on a cassette player, the AC/DC classic doing it’s best to struggle out of the crappy car speakers.

Naked with strangers

Auditions are all the same. There you are in a room with four or five other guys you’ve never met before. You are finally all plugged in, miked up and ready to go, the drummer counts us in and you sing, but you’re not just singing, in a way you are baring your artistic soul. You are fragile, you are naked. You are stripping off in front of strangers. Try it some time, invite four of five complete strangers round to your house and stand naked in front of them. You don’t feel ridicule, you just feel vulnerable.

You sing or try to sing those three or four songs that the voice on the end of the phone has told you to « learn » and after twenty minutes … the verdict

Return to Electric Ladyland

There’s a limp, quivering, emaciated dog lying in a basket in the corner. There’s a fresh patch of (is that dog vomit?)

Patrick (AKA Jimmy) tells me that the dog is ill and for the moment he can’t afford to take him to the vet.

Patrick has red sunken eyes and a gaunt haggard face that has been ravaged by years of … Rock and Roll. (In comparison, Keith Richards is a picture of health.) He limps around the room, all quivering like his dog. He’s all lank greasy hair, torn jeans and a threadbare sweater held together more by the food stains down the front than any of the threads. He introduces me to three « clones » in similar degrees of frail decomposition. There’s Jean Paul the guitarist (AKA Mick) because he’s a Rolling Stones fan; Fabrice (AKA Chris) the drummer

« Chris? »

« Yeah he’s a big Magma fan » explains « Jimmy » so we call him Chris after the Magma drummer Christian Vander »

The last « clone » is Christophe, the keyboard player who logically should be AKA Chris but calls himself John, after his hero John Lord.

No need to ask the musical influences of this band of early fiftysomething, seventies survivors.

« What are you called? »

« Eh? » expressed by the three clones in collective grunt

« What’s the band name? »

A Band With No Name*

There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a band name, save that it should be, catchy, evocative, easy to remember easy to say and short enough to print on a T shirt. A band name doesn’t always need to reflect your musical style but it helps.

I am at present auditioning for a band with no name because at the moment there is no band.

« We’ve decided to get our old band back together » explains Mick.

Is this new old band or old band new?

I’ve got this bloody lyric’s been bouncing around in my head for days,

Hey man !

Gotta quit the band

Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan »

It’s thumping and pounding about like a great big rubber ball on speed. It’s giving me a headache. The whole band is giving me a headache. I’ve got to get out of this band (if it’s the last thing I ever do.)

This band, this bloody song, like I’m on the verge, I’m on the edge
Once there was that teenage dream of being in a band. We all wanted to be Ziggy Stardust

I had a teenage dream On moonage days

I’d be a freak out far out In a purple haze

Cruising electric Ladyland

I’d be silver surfin’ In a rock and roll band

 

Now, flogging an old dead horse

Cranking it up Wank some life out the corpse

Drive in out Saturdays Across the land

No one gives a fuck You’re just a rock and roll band

 

No one wanna know whose shirt you wear

No one concerned about the way you are

Don’t wanna live this dream ‘cos now it’s real

My teenage moonage got a nightmare feel

 

Hey man ! Gotta to quit the band,

Gotta quit this , Rock and roll suicide plan

Our moonage teenage, Just gone white noise trash

Gotta quit, I gotta save my ass.

 

Drive In Saturday

Another Saturday night, screaming down the rafters in some far flung middle of nowhere seedy shit hole. Up at the mike, screaming out my lungs to the point of breathless implosion. Screaming to the point of physical pain, where I feel I’ll haemorrage. Got to turn up the stage amps. Dirty looks and dirty words from the guitarist, as he roars full throttle into one of his set piece solos cutting me off mid-verse.

Another Saturday night, another bloody dead beat gig for the benefit of no one around. A few pissed punters propping up the bar as we murder yet more jurassic classics. No one really gives a shit what we play, tonight, they just want noise and noise is what we do best

« We’ve got two kilos up there tonight » enthuses Chris, our lead guitarist/manager/artisitic director and owner of all the gear sitting in the two vans that we need to get the gear to every gig. The 24 track mixing desk, the wall of amps, the miles and miles of cables …

« Two kilos isn’t that a bit much ? »

« We’re going to be bloody loud. » he beams, beaming an evil beam and rubbing his hands together in a conspiratorial clasp

This isn’t Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Garden, it’s only benefit gig in a local community centre. We don’t need a wall of sound and no matter how many watts or kilos we can muster, by the end of the first set, I can’t hear myself singing above the noise.

I’ve had bands where we had no gear, old gear, crap gear, but by some miracle I could always hear myself sing, now ironically, I’m in a band with so much gear that no one can hear anything at all, especially Chris who only wants to hear himself.

It’s a guitarist thing. Guitarists are what guitartists are

Time to leave, but how can I announce my imminent departure ?

*The band did eventually get a name after I left – The Stone Purple Haze Band

 

And here is the finished song

TEENAGE MOONAGE

I had a teenage dream on moonage days

I’d be a freak out, far out, in a purple haze

Cruising Electric Ladyland,

I’d be silver surfing in a rock ‘n’ roll band

 

Wanna a métal guru, I gotta be you

Diamond dog rebel in a Stardust hue

White light white heat, need a ballroom blitz,

The boys are back in town for a little fix

Chorus

I wanna a rock ‘n’ roll band

I wanna be that special man

I Wanna live, I don’t wanna die

Maybe I just wanna fly

 

Teenage middle age, flogging a dead horse

Crank it up, wank it up gig, out an old corpse

Drive in out Saturdays across the land,

Never mind the bollocks, you’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band

 

No one wanna know whose shirt you wear,

No one care about the way you are,

Don’t wanna live this dream ,now the nightmare’s real

Teenage moonage, cold turkey feel

 

I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll band

(Say) It’s nothing spécial man

No way to live, wanna let it die

Cracked actor babe, flown too high.

 

It’s been a long road on the road to nowhere,

(There’s) no life on Mars, I know – I’ve been there

Walking through my sunken dream,

Wake up, break up, gotta scream

 

Hey man gotta quit this band

Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan

My teenage moonage, white noise trash

Gotta quit , save my God-given ass

 

Rock ‘n’ roll, so over-rated

I just wanna be sedated

Now, I’m down with who I am

I came on too loaded man

 

 

Goodbye Chuck

A few thoughts on the passing of the great (now late) Chuck Berry. Is it too much to cal him the father of Rock and Roll?  I was listening back to some of his old hits on a deliciously crackly old vinyl record this afternoon – they all seemed so simple, stripped and basic compared to today’s many layered, complicated and over mixed songs. Just one man, a guitar and his talent and genius.

All that early rock and roll sounds so simple, but in music, simple is never simple. As any musician will tell you – it’s easy to churn out mediocre versions of complicated songs, but it’s real hard to do the simple stuff with the same rhythm and shine as the original – Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly – well-written, catchy, simple songs that are actually very difficult to play – and I mean play in the sense of giving them life and feeling.

Imagine Mr Berry’s life as a rock and roll road trip, his was the simple car – no modern gadgetry – just get in, crank her up and go – an old classic, a pleasure to drive because you had the real sensation and thrill of driving – and now a lot of music is like the modern, electric and soon-to-be, driverless car.

There are still legendary rock stars, but all that “rock and roll” thing is no longer an ethos, or an attitude, it has become a fashion statement, and in modern rock, I get the thinking that there is no rock and there are no legends – the world has become a succession of one hit wonders – if a band makes it to a third album, they attain legend status.

So, another living legend has now become the stuff of legend and  as for rock and roll legend itself, that is becoming a marketing strategy – creating heroes out of TV talent show winners. It’s like electric cars, electronic cigarettes, alcohol free beer and political correctness – there is nothing vaguely dangerous or edgy anymore in rock and roll.

RIP Mr Berry

 

Rock In Spring and Thoughts on Bands

A Sunday morning stroll down the supermarket. God might give us this day our daily bread, but he doesn’t guarantee home delivery  so I’ve got to pull on some clothing and head out – ah, my clothing, that crumpled beer and cigarette stinking ball cast into a far corner of the bedroom. What do you expect ?  I did a gig last night and came home in that state and at that time where the last thing you do is carfully fold your clothing. So, out on the bread run. There is that unmistakable tang of spring in the air, a zest of life on the breeze, sweet and envigorating, it hits your nostrils like lemon washing-up liquid. Blosom on the trees and the first real rays of sun, defrosting the heart and soul afte motnhs of gray chryogenic torpor. I feel happy, a good gig lastb night and (wow) freshly baked bread at the baker’s . It is almost warm enough for a BBQ, and in the supermarket they are queuing ten deep at the chckout, trolleys laden with steak, burgers, sausages and bottles of rosé wine. So it is spring, it is Sunady, the air thick with the smell of grilling meat and freshly-cut grass. In my town, Spring is marked by a strange ritual – the Printemps de Bourges – France’s longest-running and largest rock festival – the first festival of the never ending summer festival season – so, here is a post that tells it all – a homsepun blog release on the festival followed by a few thoughts on the subject of bands. This is a long mispelt missive, so good luck.

BOURGES WELCOMES THE WORLD

Looking for a spring break? Why not spend a few days in Bourges? This sedate, historic, provincial backwater, nestling at the heart of France has all the prerequisite charms for the perfect spring sojourn: a medieval town centre with half timbered houses, cobbled streets and a thirteenth century cathedral classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; chic boutiques, excellent hotels and Michelin starred restaurants, Bourges has it all, and, if you are in town from the 12th to 17th of April, you can also enjoy the delights of the spring music festival; Le Printemps de Bourges.

Now in its fortieth year, what started in the late seventies as a small, Franco-French affair, with the likes of Renaud and Higelin has now become a major international festival: Le Printeps de Bourges 2016 is six days of near, non-stop music, featuring 200 groups and artists playing in 80 concerts in venues as diverse as a circus big top, a renaissance palace (le Palais Jacques Cœur) and a medieval Church. This year, as every year, over 100,000 festival-goers are expected.

Unlike other major festivals, held on single site, outdoor locations, often far removed from civilisation, the Printemps de Bourges happens right in the historic heart of town with all concerts taking place in covered, heated and seated venues, so, no rolling around in a sea of mud, hundreds of metres from a stage, watching the concert on a video screen. For this festival, you can leave the wellies and binoculars at home.

Headlining this year’s festival is, Anglo-Lebanese popster, Mika, performing on Tuesday 12th April. Mika is familiar to millions as one of the judges on the French version of the TV talent show « The Voice»,

Other star attractions in town include the dubiously named pop duo, Lilly Wood and the Prick; electro folk rockers Louise Attaque; the enigmatic Emily Loizeau and the eccentric Dionysos. The festival closes on Sunday 17 April with a performance by French rap star, Maitre Gims. Festival organisers have also promised a 40th anniversary concert with a special guest appearance from Bernard Lavilliers. If all this is not quite your tasse de thé, Bourges is still worth a Printemps visit, if only for the unique festival atmosphere and the many free musical and cultural happenings around town

The Printemps de Bourges is France’s largest and longest-running rock festival. It kicks off the seemingly endless summer festival season. The groups and singers you see here will be performing across France throughout the summer, so, instead of rolling around in a muddy field, come and see them all first in the comfort of a covered venue in France’s historic heartland.

Festival info

Programme and ticket sales

http://www.printemps-bourges.com/

Accommodation (Office de Tourisme) from 4 star hotels to cosy chambres d’hôtes

http://www.bourges-tourisme.com

Getting here

By car – a two and a half hour motorway drive from Paris A10 to Orleans then A71 to Bourges. The A85 from Tours via Vierzon or the A20 from Toulouse via Chatearoux.

By train – direct daily services from Paris Austerlitz. 70€ return fare. Also direct rail links to Lyons, Tours and Toulouse.

THOUGHTS ON BANDS

So, it is that time of year, that my corner of small town France welcomes the world for six days of almost non-stop music. There will be plenty of bands in town, hence, I would like to take this opportunity to address the subject of BANDS.

The Essential element for a successful band

There are BANDS and there are “bands” and there those people who make music with their mates once a week in garages or cellars or any place with a reliable electricity supply, and space large enough to set up a drum kit and accessible to musicians lugging round large amps. I suppose whatever the band, longevity and success all depend on one simple and crucial factor – having somewhere half decent to rehearse on a regular basis.

No matter what your band, at some point you all have to get together and knock out a few songs – a band ain’t a band if it ain’t got songs.

Banding and Bonding

Real BANDS, rehearse all the time. “Bands” try and rehearse as much as possible, as for friends making music, well that is what they do. A few hours here and there, idly jamming away with no particular purpose, other than being together, having a chat, sharing a few beers and “bonding” because “banding” is a form of “bonding.” Tell the wife that you’re off down the local bar for a few beers with your mates and she’ll raise her eyebrows and stare at you long and hard with that piercing, “Don’t come home drunk” look. However if you tell your nearest and dearest that it is “band night” – she knows full well that you are going to have a few beers, but you won’t be getting totally off your face because in-between beers, you are actually trying to make music.

I’ve been singing in various bands for the last twenty five years. I’ve sung in real BANDS, small “bands” and I’ve done the banding/bonding thing

No Beer!!!!!

 In my neck of the woods; real BANDS are those groups made up of professional musicians, (mostly local music teachers) and motivated amateurs. Real BANDS have somewhere decent to rehearse and everyone turns up to reahearsal on time, and in rehearsal, rehearse is all you do – there is no beer, no chat, just music, and it can get very technical. (Ouch). Real BANDS don’t do banding/bonding, they just play because playing is all they do and those pros who play in the band will also be playing with at least three or four other bands. They will remain “loyal” as long as there is work. Real BANDS are not out to get famous, they work – Clubs, Dance halls, discos, private parties – you don’t get many of these bands in pubs because pubs don’t pay enough. For amateurs (such as myself) playing in a real BAND is technically speaking, good experience, but the motivated amateur (if invited to do so) should never join such an outfit on the strength that he is going to make new friends. These guys aren’t your friends, they are musicians rehearsing for the next gig. Gigs are work, gigs are money, playing a gig is simply going to work. Rehearsals though are not paid, so it’s in and out and don’t hang about.

Saturday Night Rockers

“Bands” are those groups of motivated amateurs (would-be rock stars) who want to achieve something. From the first day they ever took up music as kids (or fully grown adults in some cases), the dream has always been to play in a band (providing of course as a band you can find somewhere to play). Rather than use the term “bands” I prefer “Saturday night rockers” – the teachers, plumbers, policemen, insurance clerks, truck drivers, dentists, social workers … who will never give up the day job and will never give up the dream.

I’ve always looked on the Saturday Night Rockers as the Poor Bloody Infantry – go anywhere and play at any price all in the name of rock and roll, that vague but federating causewe all serve. Of course we also go anywhere at any price because it is a gig, a chance to play and a chance to play at being a Rock and Roll star. We all dream of being a héro, weilding a guitar, weilding a gun – rocker stars or war héros. I think the next passage sums it up

The P.B.I (Expressed in a UK English venacular)

“The poor bloody infantry, that’s us . The heavy- smoking, hard-drinking, under-paid, under-rated and over- abused Saturday night rockers and rollers . Lugging our gear from pub to club through the wind and rain, freezing our bollocks off, up the street and down again .

Go anywhere, play anything . All those Saturday nights when you could be home all curled up round your missus and a warm beer in front of the telly and instead, your out gigging. Sliding around in beer and broken glass on the grey linoleum floor of some draughty pub that feels like it’s a million miles from home . There you are, sandwiched in-between the fruit machine and the gents, the stink of persperation, piss, fag smoke and the sickening smell of those dodgey lavender blocks they throw into the bottom of the bogs ‘cos some stupid cunt couldn’t hold his beer.

There you are, the all-singing, all-dancing, musical side show, used by the landlord, abused by the punters, playing all night for a pittance to a bar full of wall-to-wall drunks, and loud-mouthed know-it-alls who wouldn’t know what a guitar was even if you hit them across the face with one, and believe me, you could often quite happily bludgeon someone with your Fender, and feel really good about it .

We’re just the poor bloody infantry . We’re not superstars, and never will be . We’re the guys in the corner you never listen to . The name on the posters that you’ve never heard of . We’re the ones you tell to “fuck off” when the music gets too loud, too fast, too slow, too much . We’re the ones who you want to play when the music stops, and to stop as soon as we start playing . We’re the guys that all the punters refer to in sneering tones as “the band” , as if they were talking about the scum of the earth . I’m the shit on your shoe, or your bad day at work, or the bloke who cut you up at the lights , but I’m not going to go away, ‘cos this is my pleasure, my fifteen minutes of fame . This is what I do to stop myself going crazy . You might annoy me, but I get twice as much pleasure knowing that I’m annoying you .

Hate us you might . But, I get the sneaking suspicion that all those of you out there, who spend the night propping up the bar and slagging us off . . . I get the feeling that you’d like to be up here where I am . In the spotlight, behind the micropohne, showing off to your mates . I think that deep down, you respect us, but you’ll never admit it, so your respect turns to jealousy and your jealousy to hostility and then, just like the big tough man that you’d like to be, you go outside and piss on our cars, or puncture our tyres or pour your beer on our amps, and that makes you “big” with your mates, it makes your girlfriend laugh, it means you might get a bit when she dishes out the rations after closing time, but will you still be able to get it up ?

Amateurs we may be, plying our tired tunes around every bar in town . Churning out mediocre cover versions of Sixties and Seventies “classics”, but, every so often, you get one of those gigs that makes all the hassle worth it . The gig where you don’t get slagged off, where the landlord slips you a bit extra for a job well done . The gig where you’ve given your all and you still want to give more, the gig where you’ve played guitar like tugging at someone’s heart strings and managed to make even the hardest bastard cry into his beer . The gig where you’ve had the punters up, flailing around like double jointed drunken dervishes .

Don’t ask too much of us though, you might be disappointed . Just ask us to do the impossible, because we’re the poor bloody infantry . Over-worked, under-paid and always under-rated . Humping our gear around in all weathers . We’ll go anywhere and do anything at any price . The foot soldiers of the music business . Tommy Atkins did it for King and Country , We’re doing it for kicks .

 

 

 

Memories Of A Rock and Roll Journalist

Or

« I’m only here for the free drinks »

For the purpose of what follows know that

Amongst my other activites I write articles for a monthly English language newspaper – mostly stuff about “how nice it is to live in France” – I do this partly for pleasure but mostly for the money.

My large small town of 70,000 souls in the heart of France plays host every year to an international rock festival – The Printemps de Bourges. When the festival had money, we got international stars in town – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, U2, The Ramones etc etc. The one day the festival went bankrupt so we get less stars but we still have a week long music festival which has currently had its 39th outing.

Local stringer for a paper that no one has ever heard of living in a town with its own rock festival – For one week every year, I get to be a “Rock journalist.

John King

Chapter One

Rock journalism, or at least my, small contribution to the genre. Over the ten years or so that I have been covering my local music festival I would say that the life of the rock and roll journalist can be summed up in the immortal words of Mr Jagger himself

« You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just find, you get what you need. »

Were I working for Rolling Stone magazine, I’d have people to set up my interviews. No long hours on the phone talking to the army of press and PR people that surround stars, a small regiment of interns would have already done that for me. I’d just have to pull on a sharp suit, stride my way into the bar of some five star hotel and interview Paul or Mick or Elton over a glass of champagne.

If only

I work at the raw end of rock journalism – part of the poor bloody infantry, the grunts on the ground – slogging my way round festivals trying to find the right person who will get me to the right person who will … I am part of the rank and file of « would be » rock and roll journalists who have managed to find some paper, magazine, or website who:

1)  Are credible enough to write for – meaning that the site or publication    actually has some readership and as such, the festival organisers are willing to give their journalists an accreditation.

2)  Will guarantee to use what you have written and will hopefully pay for it.

Were I to continue with the military metaphor, a lot of us journalists are mercenaries – not quite the Dogs of War – but we don’t serve any particular cause or master. We like to call ourselves freelancers, though we are often nothing more than stringers or would-be hacks.

So, here is the truth on rock and roll journalism. There are those instantly accredited journalists from the national and international media who jet into a town they have never heard of to do a few interviews and then, there are the rest of us – about 99% who haul bag and baggage round the festival trying to get an interview or doing those interviews that the festival organisers have seen fit to give us – and here we come back to Mick Jagger’s first line – « You can’t always get what you want. »

John King_2

As a stringer or a hack you want to interview the major stars, BUT those numerous PR people who surround the major stars look very carefully at those journalists and publications that are asking for interviews. Too small, too obscure, too specialised and you can say goodbye to your interview. If you ain’t from the national media, you’ve had it …

So, you get interviews with shitty bands, the festival small fry. Bands playing 45 minute « showcase » gigs in small venues. The bubbling-under bands who have been stewing away for years and who will disappear as soon as someone turns the heat off. You know the bands – those young hopefuls who sign for the three records deal on the strength of a good demo and some half decent live performances. They come up with the goods on the first CD and then – they fade away slow in musical pain on their following records.

I remember a couple of years ago, interviewing a UK band called the Noisettes. They were hotter than ladies’ silk underwear that you have left under the iron, whilst you go to answer the phone. They were hotter than a good curry after a night in the pub and … Well I never managed to get to them because they were protected by an army of « Hangers-on ». Then, they just seemed to disappear – at least they fell off the edge of my map. Oh, I would have sold my grandmother for an interview and then …

So, bubbling under bands. Well, what might be famous elsewhere might not yet have made it where you live. Quite a lot of the gigs at my local festival are of the « showcase » variety. Famous bands testing French waters.

John King_2_2

I get this call from the lady at the festival who organises interviews with the national and international press. « Hi this is …. We need a translator. Could you nip over to the press centre and translate for the Revelsons ? »

Ok, being about the only English journalist working on my local festival, I regularly get called up for interpreting duties.

« The Revelsons … ???? Never heard of them. Yeah, I’ll do the translating, «  and off I go to the press centre to track down where the interview is going to take place.

Interview room 7 – inside a diverse and disparate looking bunch of arty broadcasting types. Conducting the interview, a rather creased and crinkled blonde journalist with a voice like a sixty a day nicotine habit – rough.

« I’m here for the Revelsons. »

« Ok » croaks the phlegmy blonde.

And a few minutes later in pops a bowler -hatted chap, clutching a bottle of beer and wearing a slightly drunken grin. Turns out he is the drummer of a group called « The Rival Sons », and he is not drunk, he is just intensely laid back, but then he comes from California as do the rest of the Rival Sons. He is pleasant and gives articulate and erudite answers to the thought-provoking questions.

« What are your influences? » (Excuse me, but the answer too that is in the group’s press release. Why ask the question?)

« Do you like France? » (Well, he’s not going to say he hates the place.)

« Will you be playing songs from your new album in your show tonight? » (Of course he bloody will.)

The drummer talks about previous gigs on this « world tour ». The night before in Lyons they have played to a capacity crowd of … 350 people and « last week » says the drummer, « we were playing to an audience of 35,000 people in Brazil.

TILT – These guys are famous !!!! Back home, I trawl through YouTube – scores of videos, including performances on the BBC. They’re famous. But I didn’t know that before, and at the end of the interview, instead of trying to get my own interview, I’m talking with the drummer about his favourite French beers.

Take it in journalist terms. I write stuff that I can sell. My client is a national monthly English language newspaper where the readership has an average age of fifty. My paper’s main selling point is « how nice it is to live in France » – the paper is based in Monaco. My readers ain’t going to want to read about a shit hot Californian rock band.

I know what you are thinking. « Interview the band anyway and sell the interview to another magazine. »

So, the world’s shortest telephone conversations. I am ringing the editors of Mojo and the NME (this was some years back) – an exclusive interview with Placebo at my local festival. The editor at Mojo has a short ponderous and pensive snort. « Not interested mate. Why should I take an interview from a bloke I’ve never heard of on a festival I’ve never heard of with a band who I can interview in London next week? »

He had a point.

And a few words on drummers (and other musicians)

Well, the singer is the band front man. The writer of lyrics, the group’s in-house philosopher whose job is to make some sense however senseless, with unseeming words that don’t always rhyme and don’t always fit to the music. Of course never get a singer to write the tune – all your going to get is a two-chord melody that sounds like every other song ever written.

Improbable lyrics that actually fit the tune but shouldn’t – my favourite is from Toto and that FM AOR Classic « Africa »

The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless longing for some solitary company

I know that I must do what’s right

Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.*

Back at the musicians

The guitarist – this is the guy who always turns up the volume on his stage amp because he can’t hear himself play. By the end of the concert no one else in the band can hear what they are playing because the guitar is too loud. In the rock interview, the guitarist is always the one more bothered about his hair than the interview.

The bassist – « where’s the free beer? » Unless of course he is one of these funky bassists who just stares at you, his Raybans perched firmly on the end of his nose.

The drummer – from my meagre band experience, the drummer is always a bit of an enigma. Good drummers are hard to come by. First off, who actually wants to play drums (or bass for that matter) kids want to be singers and guitarists not drummers. A drum kit is a cumbersome piece of gear to shift around and it doesn’t have a lot of sex appeal, and besides, you never see the drummer on stage.

In the various groups I’ve been in I’ve gone through about six drummers – two were totally normal. My first drummer wasn’t very good and he used to come to rehearsals with his poodle. He left the group and started his own pizza business. Our second drummer ran the local record store and he eventually left town and left the band to become a hairdresser. The came a couple of normal drummers and then we finished off with a left-handed drummer who was also a manic-depressive.

In publicity and PR terms – well if a group are hungry for publicity, they will all turn up for any interview. If there are problems at the sound check, the band will send the singer and PR person. If the band couldn’t give a « paradiddle » about their PR, they either just don’t turn up, or they send the drummer.

I’m not down on drummers. I think that they are just a very misunderstood species. They are essential to the group but – well like when the Good Lord created our magnificent world, why the hell did He include the panda or the two-toed sloth?

Back to our philosophical friend – Mr Jagger. The rock and roll journalist can’t always gets what he wants, but some times – you get what you need – a good interview or a photo. It’s all a case of being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.

Back n the mid noughties, on my rock festival, about to enter that place where ladies cannot go and who should I see coming out the toilets but – major French rock star « Higelin ». We have a quick chat, which makes up the core of my interview and what is more he poses for an exclusive photo holding a copy of my paper. I got a front page on that one.

Never mind the Buzzcocks – you should. Mid to late seventies UK punk band were playing at our festival. They got shoved out to the furthest stages and the interviews with local press or trainee journalists – well, I’m in a room with three trainee journalists who have never heard of the Buzzcocks. I’m the only one who knows them, and my interview turns into an hour-long chat that also makes for some good anecdotal copy. The most pleasant interview that I have ever done.

And then there was Ben Harper – a whole day translating for him because the usual interpreter hasn’t made it down from Paris.

There are of course those « unofficial » interviews you are lucky to get but never manage to sell – I prefer to call them friendly chats. My best was with the John Butler Trio. They had lost their PR lady. They were just sitting round in an interview room waiting for the journalist who was just late enough for me to grab ten minutes of « chat » – which in interview terms gives you roughly enough materiel to write a book. Well, I never managed to sell that one.

And of course the best interviews you never did. We are back in 2013. I have forsaken my rock festival this year and decided to head back to the UK for a week. One morning before breakfast, the phone rings. My local rock festival. « Erm could you spend the day with Patti Smith, she needs an interpreter for her interviews? »

AAAAAAAAAAAAGH !!!!!

Journalists are not unlike fishermen full of stories about « the one that got away. »

John King_2_3

*Toto have never been my favourite band. In France they were huge with hits like « Hold the Line » and « Rosana » – for some strange reason though, the only Toto song that gets any airplay these days is « Africa » – perhaps the worst song they ever made.

Goodbye My Old Friend

« Goodbye my old friend, » I whispered, gently patting him on the shoulder and then stroking his sleeve. I could almost feel tears coming on. There was a brief moment of hesitation. « What if … » But I knew there was no going back. All the times I had saved him before, but this time even I had to admit that he was just too old, too grotty, he had to go and so I unceremoniously hurled him into the dumpster and walked off without looking back. We had been together 32 years, far longer than many married couples. We had done everything and been everywhere together, but there comes a time when it is time.

« Did you do it? »Asks the wife expectantly when I get home. « You haven’t kept or hidden it have you? »

« No, he’s gone. »

My wife heaved a sigh of relief. « At last. »

Grotty Leather Biker's Jacket

Yes, this was the week that I finally threw out my leather biker’s jacket. Admittedly I hadn’t worn it for ages and for the last two years it had been sitting, festering away in a far flung corner of the attic where I had flung it in a fit of rage after my wife had tried to secretly get rid of it.

« You can’t wear that, » she snapped one day, removing the offending article from the wardrobe. It was one of those « clearing out » days the sort of days that women love. Remorselessly going through cupboards with cold and scientific feminine, precision, throwing away that which was once loved and is no longer.

« I can wear it when I sing with the band, » I protested, snatching away the offending and offensive article.

You can see that I was very attached to my old leather biker’s, despite the ripped lining, the holes in the elbows and the traces of mould on the sleeves, not to mention its smell – a fully matured, thirty two year sweat and nicotine stink. It was though an essential part of my life.

It all started when I was sixteen. A young heavy metal fan – Rainbow, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Black Sabbath … I wanted a « leather » – all my other Metal Mates had one, stinky, worn-out leathers, bought from second hand shops and then « decorated » with patches, studs and various band logos. I had to have a « leather. »

« I saw some lovely new leather jackets in C&A » chirped mum one day approaching my birthday – and we went into Bromley to look at leather jackets. They were awful. They weren’t even leather but some ersatz shiny plastic substitute. « They’re nice. You’ll look good in one of those; you could even wear it to school. »

I studied the jackets closely. They certainly weren’t rock and roll. I wanted to look like a Ramone and not a recently retired bank clerk.

They’re awful mum. I want a biker’s jacket. There’s a great one down at the charity shop. I could see my mum physically recoiling at the idea of her carefully brought-up son wearing a grotty second hand leather jacket.

« Charity shop !!!! » (More recoiling. If mum recoiled anymore she’d be out the shop.)

I couldn’t quite understand her reaction. Was it the idea of the leather jacket, the charity shop or just the whole second hand thing?

« Well, you got my school blazer from a charity shop » I reminded her.

« Yes, but that was your blazer. »

And then I worked it out. Second hand wasn’t the problem. As a kid a substantial part of my wardrobe had been « pre-worn » – school blazers, track suits, even a pair of pyjamas that mum got at a jumble sale. NO, it wasn’t the fact that the leather jacket had enjoyed a previous existence. It was because I would look « so common. »

This was the same argument they my mum employed against buying jeans. Every other kid I knew wore jeans after school and on the weekend. I wore a tracksuit. Jeans were worn by « labourers. » They were the clothes of the working class and as such offended my mum’s middle class sensibilities, so I was condemned to a life in « leisure wear » – hard-wearing polyester tracksuits that I lived in from late childhood right through to my mid teens. Then on my fifteenth birthday a miracle occurred – a pair of jeans – sensible and reasonably priced jeans from Marks and Spencer’s, but jeans no less. LIBERATION. And then at Christmas came a Marks and Spencer’s denim jacket. I could go to gigs denim clad, but no way was I allowed to festoon my recently acquired « working class » clothing in patches

The leather jacket came as a subversive « fait accompli » in the midst of my sixteenth year. My fellow Metal Mate Graham C (universally known to everyone as Graz ») – who offered to « procure » me a leather jacket if I slipped him ten pounds – a lot of money back then- roughly the price of 12 packets of cigarettes – (these were the days when you could get a pack of twenty coffin nails for 75p.) Getting the money wasn’t much of a problem – I asked mum for ten pounds to buy a couple of LPs – Yeah, this is the paradox. Apart from my dubious leisure wear, I had been serious rock fan since the age of 14 – ever since the day that my mate Jason took me under hi swing and introduced me to Led Zeppelin. Like all kids of my age I had been getting into music, mostly chart stuff. My first musical acquisitions were a Lene Lovich album and a Specials album. My friend Jason though, appalled by my musical tastes, invited me round to his house one Saturday afternoon to hear some « real » music. Whilst his mum made us a cup of tea, he slapped Led Zep 2 in the turntable – I’ll always remember the first time I heard the opening chords of Whole Lotta Love. I was hooked. After Led Zep, I discovered Black Sabbath, then AC/DC and … I had the records, now I wanted the gear.

Mum slipped me a tenner. I slipped the tenner to Graz, and a week later, as we stood smoking one break time behind the cricket pavilion at school, Graz officially presented me a partly scuffed, well-worn and reasonably scruffy leather jacket.

« It’s a bit big » I said, the jacket absolutely engulfing me. Graz informed that the previous owner had been a rather large chap., and just as well, because his corpulence had prevented him from catching up with Graz as he made off with the jacket.

« You nicked it! »

« Call it a long-term loan » said Graz adding that I should never wear if I went drinking at a certain pub in downtown Croydon.

How to get the jacket home? Well, that was easy. I kept it in my school locker for a few days, and then one day when I knew mum would be finishing late because of a staff meeting at her school, I shoved the jacket in my school bag, brought it home and then hung it at the back of my wardrobe. When the time was right, I wore the jacket in front of mum, saying that Graz had « given it to me because he doesn’t want it anymore. » (Erm not very credible.) That was how the jacket entered my life and from that day, I pretty much wore it for the rest of my life like a second skin. Winter, summer, rain or shine from my later school years, right through university, the jacket was never off my back until I reached my early 30’s, when, much to my chagrin, my wife announced that I was just a little too old to be dressing like a juvenile delinquent.

And back to the present. I have shed my old second skin. It now lies at the bottom of a dumpster. So grotty had it become that I doubt, that even the scavengers that hang around the local dump and comb through the dumpsters around closing time would want it.

Me and my jacket – 32 years of communal life. 5 girlfriends, countless gigs (including the Ramones), pubs, demonstrations, from Berlin to Barcelona, I’ve lived in this jacket, I’ve slept in it numerous times on all those long bus and train journeys across Europe and I suppose in my 49th year it really is time to move on, besides, I bought another biker’s jacket a couple of years ago.

So, my old friend, I’m gonna miss you. Here’s hoping that you have gone to leather heaven where beer flows in rivers and the angels play screaming heavy metal guitar solos on celestial Gibsons and God looks like Joey Ramone.

P1030193

The moral of this story? I don’t know whether it is better to remain a perpetual teenager or just accept your age at any age and wear age appropriate clothing, which at my age means heading back to the likes of C&A and preparing for the great Beige binge.

A tale of two gigs.

Of course you’ve heard of the Rolling Stones, but what about RTT?  A rock cover of 6 middle aged, amateur Saturday night rockers from Bourges in the centre of France.

29th June 2013 – The Rolling Stones played in front of over 100,000 people at the Glastonbury festival. RTT played a downtown bar to a capacity crowd of 100 people.

The Stones played for a couple of hours. RTT played three hours. The Stones were probably paid an enormous fee for their show. RTT got 40 Euros each, a plate of steak and chips and all the beer they could drink – which is pretty good going in these hard times on the local Saturday night bar circuit.

The Stones played their own stuff. RTT played a lot of Stones stuff.

The Stones have an army of roadies, sound engineers, security staff and such like. They don’t have to set up their own gear and they arrive at their gigs in limousines or helicopters. RTT have no roadies. They arrive at their gigs in a beat up transit van and have to set up all their own gear. RTT do have their own sound engineer (who also doubles as road manager and impresario.)

If you saw the Stones at Glastonbury it would have set you back a couple of hundred pounds for the festival ticket.  Tickets for the up and coming Stones gigs in Hyde Park are selling for up to £330.  Had you seen RTT last night, it would have cost you nothing more than the price of a few beers (and you would have heard quite a few Stones covers).

In the fifty years that they have been around, the Stones have done several world tours. We haven’t done a world tour yet; you might say that every gig is just another gig on our long-term world tour, though of course we haven’t been as far as the Stones. There is one distinct advantage to « touring » at a local level – you don’t have to stay in dodgy hotels and at the end of every gig, you always end up in your own bed.

Like the Stones we have our groupies and fans. Our wives turn up to most gigs and sometimes the kids come too. Like the Stones, I guess we are one big family. RTT have one distinct advantage over the Stones – after the gig the fans can have a few beers with the musicians and even get our autographs if they so desire

In the past, the Stones have taken quite a few drugs. In RTT we take nothing stronger than a few soluble aspirin, the morning after a hard gig.

I wouldn’t mind headlining at a major rock festival, but for the moment I’m quite happy as a singer in a cover band on the local pub circuit. I don’t have the pressures that fame brings, though; I am world famous down my street.

It took over 40 years for the Stones to finally accept an invitation to play at Glastonbury. I just wonder if Mick, Keith and the lads wouldn’t accept an invite to play in the bar at the end of my street?

Rolling Stones or RTT, it’s all rock and roll.