So Long And Thanks For All The Riffs

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Rick Parfitt 1948- 2016

I’ve tried several times over the last few weeks to write a tribute piece to Rick Parfitt since his death on December 24th.   Given the significant influence he had on my younger years I didn’t want his passing to go by without comment but I found it very hard to write something that gets across exactly what you want to say without sounding cliched and straying into banal platitudes. Hopefully this does the great man justice.

One of the greatest pleasures in my life was the moment at the start of a Quo show when the intro music, known as ‘The Drone’, started the band walked on stage and Rick Parfitt strapped on his white telecaster, took up his position usually just in front of the amps, legs apart and there was just a split second before he started to thrash out the opening chords to Caroline.  That moment never failed to get the hairs on my arms standing to attention and was the prelude to me strapping on my air guitar and into full on head banging mode.  Ask anyone who has been with me to a Quo show.  You didn’t really want to stand beside me when a Quo classic was on as I entered my own little world, lost in the power of the music.

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I learned of Parfitt’s death as I was coming out of the cinema on Xmas Eve, I checked my phone and saw the news headline ‘Rick Parfitt, Quo guitarist, dead at 68’.  My heart sank and I just stopped in my tracks not quite believing what I was reading.  Luckily my wife and son had gone to the bathroom and didn’t see that I had become quite emotional and I had some time to try and compose myself.  It’s kind of weird that the death of someone you never met can have such an effect on you but Rick Parfitt was quite simply my first rock star hero and has been for nearly 40 years.  Of all the icons who died in 2016 this was the one I felt the most.

Parfitt’s hero status was gained or rather confirmed back in May 1979 when as a young naïve 14-year-old I rolled up to the Glasgow Apollo to see the mighty Quo for my first ever gig.  All thanks to the son of one of my mum’s friends who had procured a pair of freebie tickets because he worked at the hotel Quo were staying in.  How he persuaded my parents to let me go I’ll never know but eternal gratitude.  The Apollo itself smelt terrible, its décor was horrific, the bouncers were big and scary and the stage was 15ft high.  I totally fell in love.

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Quo were phenomenal and simply blew me away.  It was the classic Frantic Four line up and it was rock music at its rawest and I came out of the show desperate for more Quo, live music and was the reason that over 37 years later I’ve been to nearly 800 live gigs including nearly 60 Quo shows.

That night it was also the 30th birthday of Francis Rossi and if memory serves Parfitt was wearing a white Bauer t-shirt with blue stars on it (This may have been a later tour).  With his long blonde hair, he looked every inch the rock god and I just loved the way he played guitar with such a ferocity and intensity.  I never ever lost that awe of seeing Parfitt play and where possible I always tried to make sure I was at his side of the stage at any Quo show.

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The odd thing is since the 80s I’ve always had this strange love/hate relationship with Quo.  I absolutely love the music they produced during the 70s and up to around 82/83 but when the Frantic Four line up gradually split up leaving Rossi and Parfitt to play under the Quo banner the recorded output thereafter left a lot to be desired as their music became, to me, a watered down version of what made them great.  Despite that I still went to see them live to hear the classics and watch Parfitt play guitar.

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When the Frantic Four line up got back together in 2013 to do a short run of dates I was in absolute dreamland and did 5 nights in a week, 2 in Glasgow and 3 in London.  I never thought I’d get to see that line up play again and it was the icing on the cake that they decided to do it again a year later in 2014.  Although this time after a back op I was restricted to 2 Glasgow shows and even then medical advice thought it maybe wasn’t the best idea but nothing was going to stop me and I even managed to get out my seat for a few songs.  It’s quite difficult headbanging sitting down.  I had planned on doing another 4 shows or more until the surgery intervened.  Seeing the four together again after so many years was enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.  Parfitt himself seemed to particularly enjoy these shows as this was the music Quo were meant to play.  He was always a rocker at heart and these shows seemed to re-vitalise him as Quo dusted off some classics not heard for many a year.

All in all it is probably remarkable that Parfitt kept playing live for so long after quadruple by-pass surgery in 1997, a throat cancer scare in 2005 and 3 heart attacks over the years which would probably have seen most people retire and take it easy. On reflection the fact that he was still able to get up on stage and perform the way he did was quite a feat.  He put everything into a show and is up there beside Malcolm Young as one of the greatest ever rhythm rock guitarists.  I’d say he was the best but then I might be slightly biased.

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When I heard he’d had his 3rd heart attack in June last year I just knew then that I had seen my last Quo show with Parfitt and at that point I just hoped he’d recover enough to live a long and happy life.  Optimistically I wished he’d maybe recover enough to do the shows in December so we could say our farewells but it wasn’t to be.  I did go and see Quo with stand in guitarist Ritchie Malone in July as I had already bought tickets but it wasn’t the same and with Rick not in his rightful place it was felt all kinds of wrong.  I left the venue thinking that I had seen Quo for the last time.  I even had a front row ticket for their December Glasgow show that I ended up getting a refund after it was confirmed Parfitt wasn’t going to play.  I did head down on the night to see if I could pick up a mega cheap ticket as I reckoned it was probably the best Quo tribute act going but it wasn’t to be and I’m glad as it was a few days later Rick left us and I would have felt in some daft way that I’d cheated on him.

In the end Rick’s love of the rock n roll lifestyle finally caught up with him but what a life he lived and the adage ‘It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years’ should probably be applied in his case.  He lived large parts of his life to excess and lived the rock n roll dream but like many others have found there is a price to be paid at the other end.

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With the news after his death that Parfitt had plans to write a book with a supporting Q&A tour to promote it and also record with former Quo colleagues Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan he clearly had a lot to look forward to but sadly none of these plans will now come to fruition.

Fortunately, I’ve still got the records to remember Rick by and they’ve been getting a fair old blasting in the last few weeks. Parfitt was responsible for some of my favourite ever songs such as Rain, 45 Hundred Times, Mystery Song, Big Fat Mama among many others, but nothing will replace the sight of Parfitt in full flight live on stage.  That simple pleasure now consigned to the memory banks, DVDs and you tube videos.

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Richard John Parfitt, you rocked my world and life will never be quite the same again.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

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That’s How You Exit Stage Left

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Augustines – St Lukes Oct 27th 2016

My first trip to one of Glasgow’s newer music venues and I have to say I like it.  It’s description  as the Oran Mor of the east is quite apt.  Hopefully a few more bands that I like will choose this setting for their gigs.

Sadly it was also to be the first and last time I will see Augustines.  They have decided to call it a day after three excellent albums citing financial reasons in the current music business climate.  It’s an absolute travesty after witnessing one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year.  How a band this good can’t make a living doing the thing they do best is quite disheartening.  I have to admit the band put on a show that took me completely by surprise.  I had no idea they were this brilliant in concert and left me kicking myself that I hadn’t been to see them before.  If I’d known it was going to be this good I’d have gone to the Liquid Rooms show in Edinburgh the night before as well.  If I win the lottery this weekend I’ll be at Liverpool.

I wasn’t aware of Augustines until Cruel City, from their self titled 2nd album, which was on a CD sampler that came with Classic Rock magazine.  It usually takes something special on these discs for me to notice and this song did just that so I checked out the album and although I liked it at the time I now absolutely love it must have played it 20 times this week alone).  I added them to the ‘bands to see live’ list and when I saw they were doing their final tour I had to see them.

I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as the lights went down you could sense the atmosphere change and the out pouring of affection and devotion as the band sauntered onto the stage was a real moment between the band and its fans. I almost felt as if I’d gatecrashed someone else’s party.  There was a feeling of celebration in the air and everyone was there to enjoy the band one final time.

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I remember one of the main things that struck me about the band when I first started listening to them was the singer’s voice.  A voice full of passion, depth and emotion that just reached inside you the way that only music can.  Live though his voice is just incredible, singer, guitarist and frontman Billy McCarthy stood at the front of the stage without a microphone and sang The Avenue without the aid of any amplification.  It was just breathtaking and hairs on the back of the neck stood to attention and not for the last time during the show.  I was just stunned, I wasn’t expecting this and at that moment I realised we were in for a special night.  They had set the bar pretty high after one song and it rarely dipped below that level over the next 2 hours.

The highlights were many.  The set comprised mainly of the first two albums with almost all the songs from both played.  The sound was excellent and the between song banter from McCarthy was entertaining.  He’s an engaging frontman and careered around the stage in between singing and must have lost a fair few lbs as the venue was sweltering.  The band seemed genuinely taken aback by the crowd reaction and were clearly feeling the emotions as they are now only a few dates away from it all coming to an end.

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If I had to pick out the moments it would be the beautiful Walkabout with the piano intro before the guitar and drums slowly come in and make it a completely different beast before it dissolves away to finish like it started with only the piano,  the emotion charged Now You Are Free, McCarthy coming out and doing Weary Eyes and Landmine solo at the start of the encores and the final song Cruel City which had a sea of hands raised as if in thanks at the chorus and if they didn’t already have me by then, which they did, I was a fully fledged Augustines fan after that.

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They are not a one man band either.  McCarthy may be the main focus but it’s tight trio and occasionally a four piece.  Drummer Rob Allan plays a perfect accompanying beat, Eric Sanderson switches between instruments and also got the crowd to do some communal meditative breathing exercise, it was that kind of night.  For the majority of the night they were also joined by a trumpet player whose name I didn’t catch.  Far from being a bit part player he seemed as much a part of the band as anyone.

I left the venue on a high of the post gig buzz but it was tinged with sadness and regret as well. Sadness that a band this good can’t make a living doing what they do best.  Regret that I never got a chance to enjoy this band live before.  But if you are going to give it up then you may as well go out in style and Augustines did this and then some.

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As I made my way home I joined a train full of Justin Bieber fans and it reminded me how fickle and unfair the music business is.  Before I get into a full music snob rant I accept there is a place for the manufactured pop rubbish like Bieber but in an ideal world there should be a place for Augustines as well.  There are enough crap bands we can do without losing the good ones.

Some videos from this tour below.

Week 20: Bruce Springsteen

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Born In The USA

It’s probably one of my more bizarre associations but Springsteen’s Born in the USA album always reminds me of our first family VHS video recorder.  It wasn’t our first video recorder though.  People remember the video format battle being between VHS and Betamax but there was a third format that if it had been a little or probably a lot more reliable could have been a contender.  This was back in the day where most people rented their TVs and video recorders from the likes of Radio Rentals.  TVs weren’t that reliable so it paid to just rent and call out an engineer when it stopped working which in my memory it did on a regular basis.  It also allowed you to keep up with the changing technology like getting a remote control.

For some reason Radio Rentals were pushing a different video format backed by Phillips and Grundig called the V2000.  The big advantage this format had over its rivals was the ability to record on both sides of the tape like a standard music cassette which doubled the capacity and allowed a recording time of 6 or 8 hours depending on the size of the tape.  At that point VHS could only do 3.   This was before VHS brought out machines which could do something called long play which meant you could get 6 hours on a 3 hour tape which they did by slowing down the recording speed.  They also eventually brought out 4 hour tapes that could record 8 hours using long play.

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So the big selling point for the V2000, pictured above, was the increased capacity available which was all well and good but the machines were completely unreliable and I think over the time we had them it was away getting fixed more than it worked which was a shame as the quality of picture was far superior to VHS.  My dad is a big film buff so he saw the advantage of all that increased capacity but eventually he gave in and got the much more reliable VHS which by this time had the option of long play and that finally sold it so my dad and it was cheerio to the V2000.

And the whole point of that story is this conversion to VHS coincided with the release of the Born In The USA album and Springsteen getting plenty of TV time including one particular programme, an Old Grey Whistle Test Special about the album which included some live footage and that, my friends, became the very first thing I recorded on the our new VHS video machine.  I think I still have the tape somewhere.

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I have to admit I’m mainly a Springsteen tourist although a little bit more than just a greatest hits type of fan.  He is one of those artists you can throw yourself into but despite being a huge admirer of him I’ve never immersed myself fully in his music unlike some of my friends who know the rarest of tracks and can pinpoint how rare a live outing for any of his songs are.  I just don’t have the time and dedication for that kind of devotion given my other musical obsessions but I can’t  help but admire it.

Springsteen has an aura and authenticity that surrounds him that so many of the current music acts whose manufactured personas would crumble under any kind of detailed scrutiny,  would die for.  Springsteen like all the great singer/songwriters of our time can tell a story from the viewpoint of the protagonist and its this ability that has gained such a massive and dedicated fan base over the years. People understand and feel his lyrics on a day to day basis.  He understands the fight of the common man because he is one despite his undoubted riches and accompanying fame and fortune.  He has somehow managed to continue to understand the trials and tribulations and the hardship that people go through on a daily basis.

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Oddly, despite BITUSA being his most successful album it is probably the most divisive among the Springsteen community.  This was the album that propelled him from arenas to stadiums and I guess many Springsteen fans felt they had lost him to the masses at that point. Possibly a bit of a selfish stance to take but one I can sympathise with as many bands I’ve loved have been swallowed up by the success of reaching the arena or stadium circuit and have become shadows of the band I originally fell in love with.  To Springsteen’s credit he still has the ability to this day to release some very good albums although occasionally a bit of quality control wouldn’t go amiss, much like Neil Young.  Sometimes less is more.

BITUSA though is for me just a great album that was right place, right time. It was packed full of immediately accessible and memorable songs. Lyrics that meant something and told stories so many could relate to. It was a time when America was looking at itself in a different way. The Cold War with the USSR was coming to an end as glasnost and Gorbachev changed the Iron Curtain forever.  America was trying to come to terms with the fall out of the Vietnam war, Reagan politics was devastating small and large American towns as communities who were reliant on one large business to supply employment had to watch as these businesses closed down or moved away and left behind shattered towns some of which have never recovered.

Legendary rock star and icon Bruce Springsteen performs during his "Born in the U.S.A." tour in Philadelphia

Springsteen touched the zeitgeist perfectly on this album as a similar scenario was taking place in the UK as Thatcher’s all out attack on the unions and the working man in the UK was also taking place. Whole mining communities were left devastated along with steel workers, car builders and anyone else who had stood up to the destruction being wrought across the land as Thatcher pursued policies designed to break the spirit of the proud working man. Springsteen’s lyrics easily crossed continents and communities.

We had the title track that dealt with Vietnam and a damning commentary on those who were left to deal with the aftermath in a country that preferred to forget the war took place and the shameful way their veterans were treated.  Bizarrely many US politicians have used this song as some kind of patriotic rallying call and clearly have never read or understood the lyrics or are completely lacking in irony.

Familiar Springsteen subjects like road songs (Darlington County), nostalgia (My Hometown, Glory Days) and of course boy meets girl (Dancing in the Dark, Bobby Jean) litter an album that produced seven hit singles from the albums twelve tracks.

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The album also came out when MTV was making the music video the must have accompaniment for any single release.  This saw Dancing in the Dark doing the unthinkable and rivalling Born to Run as his most famous song. The video also famously had Friends star Courtney Cox in pre Friends days joining Springsteen on stage.  With so many singles released Springsteen was on regular rotation on the video channels and this all added to the subsequent rise in popularity and the inevitable stadium tours.

Despite this massive popularity though Springsteen has always come across as a very down to earth normal guy given his fame.  No doubt some of this is part of his PR persona but this is a difficult act to portray for any length of time.  He seems to me the kind of guy you would happily go for a pint with and just talk about normal every day things.

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His live shows are justifiably legendary clocking in at 3 hours plus and the energy and passion shown by Springsteen and his E Street band would shame bands half their age. It took me until Dublin in 2003 before I witnessed him live with another 4 shows since then including a memorable evening at Hyde Park in 2009 when my wife was around 6 months pregnant so going down the front wasn’t an option so we got ourselves a blanket and sat in front of one of the big screens and got a close up view of proceedings.  This is normally something I absolutely hate massive outdoor shows for but on this day it was just perfect.  A beautiful sunny evening, a great crowd, a few beers and Bruce providing the soundtrack. I’ll never forget the brilliant rendition of Racing in the Streets which silenced a massive Hyde Park crowd.  I also saw close up the love Springsteen had for the ‘Big Man’, Clarence Clemons who clearly wasn’t in the best of health.  Springsteen shows haven’t been quite the same since he left us.  It was just a great show by a great performer surrounded by a great band.

I have many pals and also my doctor who are massive Springsteen fans and who travel all over the place to see him. My doc goes to Australia, the US and mainland Europe to see his idol.  I usually forget why I’m there as we chat about music for most of the time.  My old friend Craig, who will get many mentions in these blogs as he was my main accomplice in discovering new music, his particular obsession was collecting Bruce bootlegs which at the last count numbered over 400 and I thought I was bad with over 200 Pearl Jam bootlegs.  Later in life I met one of a number of Paul Smiths I now know who is also a huge fan and I asked him to give me his view on the album that split a fan base.

Over to Paul.

I first heard Bruce Springsteen when I worked in Listen Records in Cambridge St, Glasgow. An American lad , who was backpacking round Europe, worked alongside me for a while, and played The Wild, The Innocent and The E St Shuffle one day, telling anyone who’d listen that this guy Bruce was “Awesome”, It didn’t really leave a mark on me at the time, as I was still hooked on the Bowie/Roxy thing. The next time I heard Bruce, Johnny Walker was playing the single Born to Run on Radio 1. He played it twice in a row. I was completely hooked. I bought the Born to Run album on release day, and have been a fanatic Bruce fan since.

Born in the USA was a game changer.

Bruce had returned from the highly successful 1981 River Tour of Europe with his eyes opened to the outsiders view of the USA, through the experiences of being in Europe and his own reading, which included The History of The United States of America.

He settled into his rented house in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey to write about his experiences and his feelings about his homeland. He also wanted to demo his new songs so that he could save studio time when the Band started to record. The sessions were extensive, and the untouched four track demos became the stark, genre defining Nebraska album. The songs recorded, but not used for Nebraska, included Born in the USA, which was the only new song that was improved when the band recorded it. Many of the E Streeters say it was their greatest moment in the studio, and the very first take would ultimately surface as the title track of Bruce’s next record.

Born in the USA was a huge rock record. It benefited massively from the rise of MTV and the recent invention of CD. The lead single , Dancing in the Dark, became an enormous radio/tv hit, with it’s cheesy video putting Bruce in the public eye like never before.

This didn’t sit all that well with the old , hardcore fans, and as the BITUSA album spawned 7 top 10 singles Stateside , and dance re-mixes by Arthur Baker of Cover Me and Dancing in the Dark compounded the feeling that Bruce had “sold out”.
The World tour which followed moved Bruce from Arenas to Stadiums overnight, with the attendant hangers-on, and the general consensus was that we had lost Bruce to the masses.

The songs on BITUSA told a different story though, and even President Reagan was able to mis-interpret the title songs savage attack on the post Vietnam USA , and used the somewhat jingoistic chorus as a rallying call to Republicans. Bruce, to his credit, didn’t miss, and onstage said ” I hear the President was listening to my records. I guess it wasn’t this one” before launching into Johnny 99 from Nebraska.

Born in the USA became an easy target for long term fans, as it elevated Bruce to worldwide superstardom, and seemingly stole the real Bruce in the process. Songs that were left off the finished record, including masterpieces like Murder Inc, Frankie and This Hard Land became undergound fan favourites, while the more obvious hit list of Dancing in the Dark, Cover Me, Bobby Jean, My Hometown and BITUSA itself became ubiquitous radio fodder.

In hindsight, and with over 30 years distance between , BITUSA was a defining record in Bruce’s canon. He shied away from the publicity in its wake, and became the writer/performer we have witnessed over the years that followed. Most fans learned to live with the impact, and would now acknowledge the BITUSA album as something of a classic.

Seems Paul and I have similar thoughts on the BITUSA period and how it affected Bruce and his fans. Many thanks to Paul for contributing his thoughts.

I doubt there are many who will read this who aren’t familiar with a lot of the songs from BITUSA but I’ve put in my top 5 below for your listening pleasure.

Cheesey video alert.

See you on week 21.

Loud, Very Very Loud

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Edinburgh Playhouse August 10th 2016

Yet another trip through to Edinburgh for a gig and also the first time since Neil Young 8 years ago I’ve been to the Playhouse.  It’s a shame it has become the venue for ‘shows’ rather than bands as it is real old school and retains a charm few venues have these days.  Tonight’s show was part of the Edinburgh Fringe programme and I’ll be returning to this venue in a few weeks to see Mogwai and hopefully my hearing will have returned.

Tonight though it was Godspeed You! Black Emperor who played their brand of post-rock, experimental rock, instrumental rock or whatever genre you want to place them in.  I’m a relatively recent convert to the GYBE camp.  They appeared on my radar not long after Mogwai but two bands who I wish had I had heard of a lot sooner.

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Having battled traffic to get through from Glasgow I was sure I would miss the beginning of the show but luck was with me as the gig started almost as soon as I sat down.  GYBE aren’t your normal band. On stage they consist of 3 guitarists, 2 bass players, 2 drummers and a violinist and they all amble onto the stage at various points of the first piece of music and create an almighty racket.  GYBE play loud, very loud.  They play in almost complete darkness, they have a screen behind showing films that don’t really show anything much, some footage of buildings, trains etc. they form a semi circle round the stage with no one in the middle and the guitarist in front of me was sitting down with his back to the audience, they don’t interact with the crowd apart from a half hearted farewell wave from a few members at the end as they troop off one by one, it’s odd but it works.

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It’s an aural assault on your senses, their music makes you anxious, uneasy, on edge, euphoric.  It’s a heady mix and you don’t get to relax at a GYBE show. The music builds and builds until at times you feel as if all 8 members are playing different tunes before it all comes back together creating a massive wall of sound before slowly dying away leaving you feeling slightly violated.  Unlike most bands I go and see I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the musicians on stage or indeed any of the pieces of music they played although I did recognise the music.  I think though that is part of the whole experience, at least for me.  I’m sure plenty of folk know the titles and who the band are though.  It’s fairly challenging music that over 1hr and 45 mins leaves you feeling quite drained.

I loved it.

It was probably the loudest gig I’ve been to this year at least it will be until Mogwai probably.

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Week 19: Steve Earle

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Guitar Town/Exit O

I can vividly recall the very first time I heard Steve Earle, although on first listen I thought it might be John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp.  I was in Lost Chord, a famous 2nd hand record shop in Glasgow’s West End, Park Road to be exact.  This was the proverbial oasis for a record buyer and many a gem I picked up there after hours of flicking through the albums.  When you came across something you really wanted your pulse quickened and you couldn’t wait to get home and and play it.

My friend Craig and I had a routine that involved visiting Listen/Joe Bloggs in Union St,  23rd Precinct in Bath St, underground to Kelvinbridge for Lost Chord then a walk over to Byres Road to visit Lost in Music in De Courcy’s Arcade and Echo in Byres Road itself.  We also occasionally included the Record Exchange that had a shop at the bottom of Oswald St and another in Shawlands but it was always a bit on the expensive side for our pockets.  Other record shops came and went and we included those while we also occasionally visited Futureshock a book store that specialised in fantasy and sci-fi books, comics etc.  I was an avid reader of the fantasy genre in those days but grew out of them as I got older.

Sadly I think only Lost Chord still exists now although it has passed through a few owners and last time I was in I only stayed a few mins.  I remember the original owner who I think was called Gordon, or at least the guy who owned it when we first went in,  had a son with cerebral palsy and he sold the shop and his house and was going to move to Budapest so he could take his son to the Peto Institute which at the time was leading the way in teaching children with this condition.  Never heard if he actually did go or not but he was a really nice guy and introduced me to a lot of new music.

The aforementioned record shops all contributed to both our growing record collections and in later years added to our cd collections.  In a world before the Internet trying to find that elusive or rare album took a bit of leg work and good old fashioned luck.  The record shops like HMV who only carried new stock didn’t cater for the back catalogues of lesser known artists so 2nd hand record shops could be potential gold mines and each visit would usually unearth a curio that would lead to tape decks being utilised unless we could find two copies. Whoever found the album had first dibs unless the made the school boy error of putting it back when undecided if they were buying it or not.

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I didn’t buy the Steve Earle album on first listen though but my interest was piqued and on a return a week later the same album was playing, which may have been a coincidence or a clever ploy by the owner, but this time, even though I still thought it was Mr Mellencamp, I purchased Guitar Town without hesitation.    A decision I’ve never ever regretted.  The added bonus as it turned out was that the album was a year old and his 2nd album, Exit-O was also out and it soon was also added to the collection. Two great albums discovered just by browsing in a record shop. Not the first or last time this happened it has to be said.

These two albums are country rock at its finest.  Country music in general isn’t a genre I listen to but Earle brought an anger and realism to the music that was missing in most of the mainstream country music that seemed to have the most contrived and almost laughable lyrics.  Earle was, as one of his song titles declared, An Angry Young Man.  He snarled and spat out his lyrics and his road songs told of the loneliness of being on the road and trying to make it while leaving his family behind.  He also does what all the great singer/songwriters do and tell a great story from someone else’s perspective.  Many of his songs are about the forgotten small town America where the industries and companies that provided employment for a whole town have long since departed or closed down and there was nothing to replace those lost jobs.  He can paint a vivid picture of a depressing and heartbreaking landscape of hopelessness of the America that has largely been forgotten about.

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To me these albums are companion albums that are the perfect starting point to explore Steve Earle further.  It’s hard to not listen to one album without putting on the other straight after.  Almost 30 years since first hearing Steve I’m still a huge fan and have seen him live over 20 times with both his band or solo acoustic.  Rarely has he failed to deliver a thought provoking show and is as angry today as he was all those years ago.

He’s a man who has lived a life and then some.  Married 7 times, including the same women twice, is currently separated from wife number 7, has 3 children, did some jail time and is a recovering heroin addict who quite frankly really should have been another rock n roll casualty but somehow he pulled himself back from the abyss and has now been on the straight and narrow for about 20 years.  I can highly recommend the book Hardcore Troubadour which tells the story of Steve’s highs and lows and is an excellent story of his life although it can be rather harrowing at times.

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He’s never scared to tackle political issues in his songs or even as an activist.  He has campaigned all his life for justice be it for farmers, death row in mates, he’s a vocal opponent of the death penalty.  He’s also made the odd TV appearance including a role in the Treme the story about New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the struggles that were taking place.  He also appeared in the Wire among other TV shows.

After these two albums Steve left his country roots behind and moved more into being a rock artist with albums The Hard Way and Copperhead Road with the latter’s title track bringing him his most successful moment.  Like all the great singer/songwriters though he can switch between electric and acoustic without pausing for breath.  The last couple of times I’ve seen him once was with a full band and before that he was on his own where he didn’t even have any road crew or personnel with him and all he carried was a mandolin and a guitar around with him from gig to gig.  He really is one of the last of a dying breed of true road artists.

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In my opinion Earle is up there with Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his generation.  He may not have had the success of those mentioned but his songs more than deserve to be acclaimed alongside those of his contemporaries.

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See you on week 20.

Status Quo – Ingliston 2016

Status Quo – Ingliston Showground, July 23rd 2016

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Sadly an era is coming to an end for me. The Quo are hanging up their electric guitars and are due to do their final dates as an electric band at the end of this year. I believe they have some ill thought out plan to continue touring as an acoustic act which would be such a sad way to go from a band that played such great hard rock boogie in the 70s. They were my first music love and will always have a special place in my heart.

This whole situation has now been complicated somewhat by guitarist Rick Parfitt suffering a 2nd (may even be a 3rd) heart attack in May which he is now recuperating from. In the short term the band have recruited the bass player Rhino Edwards son Freddie to take over guitar duties and on this date they had brought in Irishman Richie Malone, who I believe plays in a Quo tribute band, to do the honours.

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I was in two minds whether to go as Quo without Parfitt & Rossi is not Quo for me. The real Quo, imo, is the Frantic Four line up including Lancaster and Coghlan but I’ve made do with the Rossi/Parfitt line up for over 30 years and only go to hear the classic songs up to 1982. Anything after that, apart from one or two exceptions is a bit crap.

Anyway I decided seeing as I had a ticket anyway and I was a bit curious I’d go. This involved a mad dash up the road from Blackpool after an unplanned extra day on our holiday which involved a Pleasure Beach visit and then an even madder dash from home to Ingliston. I made it with 4 mins to spare.

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The familiar drone heralded the band arriving on stage and regular set opener Caroline pierced the air. All the chords sounded in the right place but it wasn’t right. Not seeing Parfitt standing legs apart, his arm a blur as he thrashed out the opening chords to Caroline was just wrong, wrong, wrong. If you closed your eyes it sounded ok but watching the stage you knew someone was missing. That said I tried to enjoy it for what it was, one step away from a tribute act. They did an excellent version of Paper Plane that saw my trusty air guitar get an airing. One other downside of Parfitt being absent is we don’t get my favourite Quo song Rain but Don’t Waste My Time does get a welcome return. The middle of the show is a struggle as it usually is as we are subjected to the ‘newer songs’ which do seem to be crowd pleasers but I really don’t like them and don’t come anywhere close to the classics. And we get a drum solo, its 2016 and people are still doing drum solos. Why?

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The closing run of Roll over Lay Down, Down Down, Whatever You Want and Rockin All Over the World was pretty decent before the band go off and come back and do Burning Bridges. A song that encapsulates everything that went wrong with Quo when the classic line up split. It was my cue to get a burger and head for the exit pausing just long enough to watch the band close out with Bye Bye Johnny and thinking, this might be it. The very last time I see Quo on stage 37 years after I first saw them live and my life changed forever.

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Overall, for what it was it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, the new boy did well under the circumstances. The show was kind of short though at just over 90 mins and I’d expect a bit longer for £45 although I got a ticket for £20 so can’t complain too much. I have a ticket for the Final Electrics tour in December but if Parfitt isn’t there then I don’t think I’ll go having now witnessed the Parfitless Quo. I hope he makes a full recovery and we can finish our live love affair with one final flourish and with Parfitt in his rightful place and me with my air guitar going for it one final time.

The Wimbledon Experience

Soaked and Sunburnt

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I have to admit straight up I’m not that much of a tennis fan.  Over the years I’ve watched the odd Wimbledon match but it’s been no more than a passing interest and has never been a sport that I’d normally make much of a special effort for.  Although back in the very distant past I do remember watching the likes of McEnroe, Connors, Nastase and Borg when tennis players had a personality but that seemed to be part of the school summer holiday ritual where you played tennis for a couple of weeks then golf for 4 days before you returned to your first love of football and clubs and rackets were placed at the back of the cupboard until the next year.

So I approached a trip to Wimbledon with an open mind but there was always a lingering doubt that this might be akin to watching paint dry or even worse, watching cricket.  The reason for the trip was a 40th birthday present to my wonderful wife who had always wanted to go to Wimbledon and as I got to stand on the hallowed turf of the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon for mine it was only right she got to go to Wimbledon for hers.

On the face of it this seemed quite a simple proposition until I started to investigate how you got tickets.  It turned out I’d already missed the December ballot.  Options for tickets were fairly limited once you dismissed the prices on the legalised touting sites.  A small number of tickets are put on sale 24 & 48 hrs before each day’s play but you’d have more chance of winning the lottery than getting a pair of those or the final option is you go and join the famous Wimbledon queue to get a ground pass.  There can’t be many major sporting events these days you can rock up on the day and get a ticket, all be it you have to put a bit of effort in.

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Fortunately I had factored in this option when booking a hotel.  The obvious trick is to get to the queue as early as possible that is if you’re not mad enough to camp out overnight.  So I chose Kingston Upon Thames as our base which was only 15 mins away by train and crucially,  the Kingston train gets into Wimbledon ahead of the first tube from London.  Although if you follow the same plan as we did get a taxi from the station as it’s a bit of a trek on foot.

the queue

After getting up at 5am, I’ll repeat that, 5am, in the morning we arrived at the queue around 6.30 and welcomed with the sight of 1,000s of people already there. The stewards issued us ticket numbers 5,024 and 5,025 which sounds quite high but was actually ok as there are approx 1500 tickets available across the three show courts and around 5,000 for the ground on sale each day so it was looking good for us getting in but we weren’t taking anything for granted at this early stage.  We got ourselves settled for the long wait in the queue just in time for the first downpour of the day.  Fortunately I had packed a couple of plastic ponchos courtesy of Magners from The Waterboys Kelvingrove gig a few years back and they turned out to be an inspired last minute packing item.  We would have been completely drenched and miserable otherwise.  Even with them and a ground sheet to sit on it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs as the downpours arrived at regular intervals but given it was the 100th anniversary of the Somme that morning our small gripes really were fairly insignificant.

The queue itself was brilliantly managed given the thousands of people already there and the thousands who arrived after us.  Also it might be the kind of people tennis attracts and the early hour but the arsehole count was thankfully almost non existent.  Apart from the people throwing umbrellas to each other to try and entertain themselves.  Although I’m not sure I was up to quaffing champagne at that time in the morning like some were.  So for about 3 hours or so it was enjoying the odd break in the rain showers, trying to stay as dry as possible and resisting the temptation to not constantly check the time.

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The queue did eventually start to move and although the gates to the ground open at 10.30 we didn’t get in until after 12.  I did enjoy the stewards stopping people who tried to queue jump and hold them back until their queue number came up.  As we got into Wimbledon proper we just headed for the nearest court which was 17 as play was due to begin and we’d decide where to go after that.  Our game was a men’s single match between Frenchman Lucas Pouille and American Donald Young and after a few mins they appeared on court but there were more dark clouds ominously heading our way and about 30 secs before the game was about to start play was suspended as the rain came down and on came the covers. This was to be the story of our day.  I think we must have chosen one of the wettest days Wimbledon has seen for a long time.  At this point we decided to invest in Wimbledon ponchos as we didn’t think ones emblazoned with Magners would be acceptable.  We did look like muppets but at least we were dry muppets. So for the next 3 hours we became experts in the cover system as we watched them coming off then going back on again about 5 times before finally, we saw some tennis.

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My early worries about being a bit bored were soon dispelled.  When you are up that close to the action you realise how fast these balls are travelling and although the players we were watching were not in the same league as Murray or Federer they were in the top 100 players in the world and no slouches.  The margins of error were so fine it was fascinating to watch.  Pouille was seeded 32 and even to my untrained eye he clearly had the edge when it came to the range of shots and accuracy.  Young was the bigger hitter but more erratic and was starting to lose the rag through the 2nd and 3rd sets.  He changed his racket 4 times, moaned about the bounce, moaned that this was the worst court at Wimbledon and added a few expletives under his breath.  He did rally slightly but class won through in the end and Pouille saw the game out and we had finally seen our first game of championship tennis.  It’s also became a apparent that it was a dangerous job being a ball boy/girl.  During the Pouille game one of the ball girls took a serve full in the face and had to retire hurt and in a later game one of the ball boys dislocated his finger.  Tough shift.

I also had my first taste of Pimms, well we were at Wimbledon, I’ve tasted worse although at £8 a cup I was going to drink it no matter how it tasted. I had expected prices to be extortionate but they were actually fairly reasonable overall and you are also allowed to take a small amount of alcohol in with you which we didn’t bother doing but regretted later.

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lucas 2After our first game we then had a stroll round the rest of the grounds and courts.  Wimbledon is a bit of mix and match when it comes to the layout of the courts.  There are three show courts comprising centre court and courts 1 and 2 which are ticket only courts. Court 3 is a mix of reserved and unreserved seating and all other courts are first come first served.  Although some of these have very little seating and you just watch from the walkway and you could watch several games at once depending on your position.  As we walked around watching a few games here and there the dreaded rain came on again and on went the covers.  We decided we’d head for court 12 to see men’s ninth seed Cilic’s game and sat there waiting on the rain to go off but the announcer said there would be no play for at least 40 mins so we went off to see Henman Hill/Murray Mound.  Which both of us originally thought was outside the grounds but is actually behind court 1.

henman hill

We sat and watched the Williams/McHale game taking place under the roof of centre court on the big screen before the weather cleared and the covers started to come back off.  We headed back to the Cilic’s game but stopped off at court 3 where British player Tara Moore was playing 12th seed Svetlana Kusnetsova.  We thought it would be all over fairly quickly and we would still get to see most of Cilic’s game afterwards.  Moore lost the first set 6-1 and looked to be well out of her depth but came out and took the 2nd set with some great tennis that had the Russian on the ropes.  There was plenty home support with folks irritatingly shouting out ‘come on Tara’ between every shot and a bit of terracing chant when swapping ends. It did seem to galvanise her but she just couldn’t quite sustain it and the Russian won through with the match winning point coming seconds before the rain came down again and play was suspended for the final time and tennis on Day 5 was over.

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So a mere 14 hours since we had started queuing our Wimbledon experience finished much as it began in a downpour.  Given the unpredictability of the weather we were probably lucky we saw two games to their conclusion and although it was a frustrating day weather wise it was still a great day out and one I’d highly recommend, especially if you are a big tennis fan.  The ground pass was £25 which gives you access to all the courts bar the show ones and there is a re sale ticket office where you can queue to get tickets for the show courts at a reduced price after 3pm.  If the weather had been kinder to us we could have seen 8 or 9 hours of tennis which would make the ticket great value for money.  We’re already talking about coming back next year and now we know how the land lies we’ll be much better prepared and hopefully get better queuing weather if we don’t get tickets any other way.  We did think about going back on the Saturday later on as they do a reduced ticket after 5pm but we saw on twitter people who had queued since 7 in the morning were only getting in about 5 and also the weather was still pretty changeable so we thought better of it.

So I may not be a tennis convert just yet but all in all for me it was a surprisingly good day out and one I’m more than happy to repeat and even better the other half really enjoyed it as well which was really the purpose of the whole trip.