I wish I could give an exact date for this one, but I can’t and, as you’ll see, things got bit vague towards the end of the evening. I’m going for late ’78 (autumn term at Uni). It was probably November because it was bloody cold – who am I kidding it was cold virtually all the time I was in Dundee. I was at home in Mansfield between mid-June and October; whatever sun there was I missed it. Anyway, I arrived back in early October to be greeted by Steve Jenner, the very same Steve J that reviews live music (remember that) for Music Riot to this day. After the customary pub lunch of beer and a Scottish mutton pie (lukewarm on the outside, volcanic on the inside), Steve invited me to grab a handful of the summer promos that I had missed out on. One of them was the Chris Rea debut, “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini”, which I took a bit of a shine to, particularly the title song.

It got better; Magnet Records was putting a lot of oomph behind Chris Rea. They’d snagged a support slot on a tour by the newly-reformed and resurgent Lindisfarne, capitalising on their Top Ten single “Run for Home” and they were playing the Caird Hall on a Saturday night. Did I fancy being on the guest list? I did, but there was a little bit of a problem; Frankie Miller was playing at the Students’ Union that night and I didn’t want to miss that. I was sure I could work something out.

I got into the Caird Hall, did the guest list thing and took my seat in the balcony. Just after Chris Rea started his set, someone took he seat next to me and introduced himself as Chris Rea’s personal manager. No false modesty here, but it was obviously a slow night if a students’ union DJ was top of the VIP list. I wasn’t complaining.

We watched Chris Rea’s set, chatting between songs (as I vainly tried to grab a halfway decent photo) and at the end of the set, I was invited backstage to meet Chris, who was still wearing the Scotland football top that he’d worn on stage – that was a smart move, appealing to patriotism in Dundee. He was a good guy and gave me another copy of the album, this time with an autograph. I still have that album. That was followed by a quick visit to say hello to Lindisfarne before their set. After a very quick knock on the door, we walked into a frantic attempt to hide the jazz fags before the band realised it wasn’t a bust. Introductions done (nice guys again), we ventured back to the balcony.

A couple of songs into Lindisfarne’s set I had an idea. Why didn’t we both take the ten-minute walk up the road to see Frankie Miller? There wasn’t even any hesitation; let’s do it. After being entertained by Chris Rea’s team for a while, it was my turn for the hospitality now. Frankie Miller at that time was hot; his albums were good, but the live experience was something else. The band (which included Paul Carrack) was on fire and Frankie had just scored his biggest hit with “Darlin’”, which pointed in a new direction that the live set hadn’t yet taken; it was still rock and soul in equal measures and I’ll take that any day of the week.

So now it was my turn to use my DJ and entertainments crew influence. The gig was sold out (full house, if you like) and I really didn’t fancy drinking warm Tennent’s from the can bar. I grabbed a key for the unused fifth floor balcony, which had three massive advantages over the Union’s main hall. The view of the stage was perfect, the sound was pretty good (for a big box of a room with a high ceiling) and, most importantly, it was a few metres from the fifth floor bar and a good selection of beers served in proper glasses at the right temperature. It wasn’t the Royal Box, but it felt like it that night; sensational band at the top of their game and a steady supply of bevvies. I even managed to sneak away (after making sure that the beer supplies were adequate for my ten minute absence) to grab a few shots of Frankie from the wings before settling down to enjoy the gig and the beers.

You’ve probably guessed that it got a bit messy after that; a students’ union bar is a really good way to stretch out the per diems, and we worked really hard to get through that day’s allowance, wearing a path through the floor tiles to the bar. Great gig, great company and a thumping hangover the following day; does that sound familiar to anyone? It’s over forty years ago and about 500 miles away but hearing Frankie’s acoustic anthem “Drunken Nights in the City” takes me back there every time.

And the signed copy of “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini” and all of the Frankie Miller vinyl albums have survived eleven house moves.

Danni Nicholls

This time it’s the turn of  Graham Jackson to tell us about the gig of his life. Graham’s one of those people with a huge amount of experience of the music business and artist management, but he also has something that’s much more important; he’s one of the good guys. He’s one of the people that you always want to bump into at a gig because he’s a  great person to have a beer with and catch up on what’s going on. Like all of the contributors to this piece he’s passionate and knowledgeable about music and able to articulate this passion and knowledge  with the written and spoken word. He takes a pretty good photo as well; the title shot here is one of his. Let’s hear about Graham’s memorable gig:

Saturday 26th August 2017, ‘The Women’s Circle’ gig at Tønder Festival in Denmark – a moment that has stuck in my mind since, a moment even now on reflection gets my heartbeat racing. I was there as Tour Manager for the wonderful UK singer/songwriter Danni Nicholls.

Tønder is a beautiful town in the Region of Southern Denmark with a population of around just 7,500 situated on the southern border with Germany – to get to the festival, the transfer is actually quicker from Hamburg in Germany than from Copenhagen in Denmark, still a good few hours but a chance to see the countries.

Tønder Festival is an incredibly friendly annual festival held on the edge of and around the town of Tønder, the music based on Folk, Roots, Traditional and Americana genres. Smaller stages offer intimate gigs in places like the Old Mill and the Pump House, along with artists such as Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Sturgill Simpson, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Runrig, Mary Black and The Mavericks, to name a few, featured at some point in history on the main stages in Tent 1 and Tent 2.

So the scene was set for The Women’s Circle that was to be staged in Tent 2, always a popular feature with wonderful female singer/songwriters in the round. But this year, there was a real buzz about the gig that was to happen, so much so that a last minute decision was made to remove the seating to increase the capacity. Nearly an hour before it was to go live, Tent 2 was heaving with some 2,500 people crammed inside, ten rows deep outside as more tried to get in. The air was high with expectancy, this transmitting itself back stage.

The five female artists invited to perform were Dorthe Gelach (Denmark), Laura Mo (Denmark), Kaia Kater (Canada), Tami Neilson (New Zealand) and Danni Nicholls (UK) – none had met each other before but I could feel a bonding happening between them. Though the tension was building, a relaxed vibe was going on, helped by the Festival organisers arranging a birthday cake for Danni!

I took my place in the photographer’s pit, sitting next to me was Maria Theessink, the Artistic Director for the Festival.

Not knowing what each was going to sing and play, the artists listened to each other, taking it in turn as their selection of songs complemented and flowed together, drawing the audience in – incredible that so many people can listen intently and respectfully to the stories being told and to the music, clapping in time at the right time (the unique ‘Danish Clap’?), then bursting into applause and cheers that could be heard across the town. Each of the ‘Women’ was creating a stunning show, seemingly effortlessly and so natural, an absolute credit to themselves and their art, a total joy for the audience.

Then the ultimate moment came for me, Danni singing ‘Ancient Embers’, a favourite song of mine from her latest album ‘The Melted Morning’. She did not disappoint. Introducing the song about ‘self-love’ that she said she “wrote for myself”, the humour and sentiment producing a huge cheer and applause from the attentive audience. Then the performance, goodness, the whole place was electrified, I have never known a feeling like it – goose bumps, the spine tingling …it was  incredible. At the end, the noise of appreciation was stunning, it brought tears to my eyes. I turned to Maria, she was the same, we just smiled and nodded to each other as if to say, “yep, that was a moment”.

I have been to special shows such as Pink Floyd at Earls Court, totally magical for the music, the lighting and the atmosphere, I never thought anything would surpass that, but there in Tent 2 at  the wonderful Tønder Festival, something special happened, a ‘never again moment’.

It is so difficult to put in words, I guess you just know it and feel it when it happens, it is personal, I am sure each of us has had such a moment.

Graham Jackson – GJ Artist Services (www.gjartistservices.co.uk)

I’ve been to many great shows, but my first proper concert is still one of the best. 

I was at college in Cardiff when this amazing singer/songwriter emerged out of the airwaves with a sound so different to anything I’d heard before. Her lyrics, poetic verse and the whole sound just blew me away. So when I saw in the NME that she was touring her second album and was playing in the city, I couldn’t wait to get tickets – something I’d never done before. 

The concert was in April, just before the end of my time in Cardiff, so the timing could not have been more perfect. I had been to St David’s Hall earlier in the year for a lecture, so I already knew what an awesome space it was, but was completely unaware of how incredible the concert was going to be. 

So, the evening of my first proper concert came around, I was buzzing. To see an international musician play her music live was just so exciting. I found my seat and waited for the lights to go down. 

To sit in a space with 2,000 people and experience a unique live performance was a spine-tingling event. The sound was perfect and to feel the music as well as be enveloped by it was something I fell in love with.

I couldn’t tell you how long the concert was, as it was just an incredible journey with such a soulful human being. 

Three songs that stood out for me and gave me goosebumps were: ‘Luka’, a powerful song/poem about child abuse, ‘The Queen and the Soldier’ about vulnerability and ‘Tom’s Diner’. The latter was just such a special moment, in front of two thousand people, Susanne Vega stood there all alone and sang this amazing song about her observations of life in a New York coffee shop – the accompanying hush that descended upon the auditorium and this lone voice filling the air was electrifying. 

An interesting fact about Tom’s Dinner. When the MP3 algorithms were being developed, they thought they had nailed it, until they tried to reproduce Tom’s Dinner, apparently the results were horrendous and they had to go back to the drawing board. Here is a link to an article about MP3’s and the sound engineers test piece that broke it.

Ward Richmond’s a great example of the way the music sector (it’s difficult to call it a business or an industry) works these days. After touring in various bands with varying degrees of success between 1998 and 2006, he left live music behind in favour of a more traditional career path. In times past, that would have meant goodbye to music, with its cycle of album releases and tours, but times have changed. It’s more difficult to make a decent living from music now, but it’s much easier to release an album when you have it ready to go. That’s the route Ward Richmond’s gone down; he released “The Warden” in 2016 and four years later he’s releasing “Highly Meditated”.

The album’s a fascinating mix of humour, nostalgia, anxieties and gradual renunciation of vices (all the usual ones) and introduction of virtues (meditation and yoga). It’s a midlife album, but it’s far from a crisis; Ward is weighing up the pros and cons of the old and the new existence through the lens of parenthood. However happy the memories of the past are, it’s a country we no longer live in, and that’s message of “Highly Meditated”.

The musical stylings are mainly country-inflected but with a few notable exceptions, such as the final song “These Days” which opens with a drum pattern that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Adam and the Ants single in the eighties before morphing into a rockabilly workout punctuated by a spoken middle eight about the virtues of hot yoga. “I Need A Water Fountain” references another facet of the eighties (and late seventies), FM radio drivetime with maybe a hint of Journey in there, whereas “Hey Levi” looks back a decade further to the sound of The Band at their peak.

Ward Richmond looks forward and backward with a wry sense of humour that’s obvious in the lyrics and sometimes in the musical stylings as well. There’s plenty of self-deprecation in the backward and forward views that, along with humour, somehow underlines the seriousness of the overall message; at some point, most of us actually grow up.

“Highly Meditated” is out now as a download.

It’s fair to say that this is at the poppier end of the music we feature on musicriot.co.uk, but we always like to keep an open mind. Astraea has one of those voices that sounds like you’ve heard it before, and you probably have. She’s done loads of stuff across various platforms and her voice also has hints of Kate Bush (with steroid production) and maybe Ellie Goulding as well. Not only that, she writes, performs and produces and does her own distribution as well. In a musical world that’s so male-dominated, that has to be a good thing. And it’s obviously working, because her high-profile collaborations include Jack Savoretti, Ward Thomas, Nina Nesbitt and Lewis Capaldi.

So that’s Astraea, what about the song? It’s a love song and it opens quietly with a gentle vocal, subtle bass, and piano arpeggios, then builds and keeps on building, each chorus getting bigger and louder providing more and more support for the breathy, ethereal voice. There’s also a niggling familiarity about the pre-chorus; it has a melody that’s similar to the pre-chorus in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and leads perfectly into the chorus in exactly the same way. Like a good story, “Nobody Loves Me Like You” has a start, a middle and an ending, all in the right order; it’s uplifting and you’ll feel better for hearing it.

“Nobody Loves Me Like You” is out now. Have a listen here:

 

 

When we’re inviting people to contribute to our occasional features, there are two questions we ask. Do they have experience of the subject? Can they write about it in an interesting way? Ray Jones, CEO of Talentbanq , formerly Business Development Director at Time Out qualifies on both counts. He is passionate about live music and he knows how to write. It’s also fair to say that he’s seen a few gigs as well. So here’s what he came up with when we asked him to write about a memorable gig (and we certainly will be inviting him back):

 

“The Windshield Wipers Slapping Time” – it was pouring as we waited in line to board the ferry to the Isle of Wight. 

“I’ll take the 4×4” said my mate Bilko – and thank God he did. We were about to experience mud that made Glastonbury look a picnic. Fortunately we were also about to experience one of the best festival lineups of all times. The American Trilogy with nightly headliners – Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and The Boss.

With the ferry queue moving slowly – my 16 year old son CJ – heading for his first festival with dad, jumped out of the car with Bilko to get hot coffees.  “Forward” shouted the guy from P&O so I jumped into the front and drove onto the ferry – and sailed away – without them.

The first of many memories from that wonderfully soggy weekend. Cars were being towed INTO Car Parks – tents were afloat on a sea of mud and wellies were getting stuck in the quagmire. And yet in amongst the mud, the blood and the beer were the smiles of people soaking up GREAT music.  

Tom Petty on Friday night was a masterclass. The discomfort of rainwater trickling down our backs ignored as we took in the genius on stage.

I can’t remember when we saw Black Stone Cherry but they ripped it up, while the steamy wood-chip floor of The Big Top marquee seemed to be fermenting.

We met up with more friends. I have known Damian since we walked to primary school together. He and his wife were in one of those pre-sited Yurts. That’s the equivalent of The Ritz at IOW – and we did not let them forget it.

We partied quite hard to Madness on Saturday and Noel Gallagher was a fine warm-up on Sunday for what happened next – and that’s really what I had to share.

I’ve seen The Boss at Wembley, Hyde Park, The Olympic Park, Paris on the 4th of July and most memorably in his home state of New Jersey, but when he and the East Street Band walked out on stage at IOW2012 something magic happened.

The next three hours are a blur of singing, hugging, drinking, dancing and total admiration for a man and his band that delivered way beyond 100%.

We were exhausted when Mr Springsteen announced with a broad smile “We have a fucking boat to catch”

I have no idea if he made it because he broke into a massive, firework-festooned finale of “Twist and Shout” that had about 100,000 people partying in a way I had not seen at a festival before.

As we walked back to our tent my son said “Hey dad, this weekend has been the best thing I’ve ever done”

You can’t buy memories in Harrods! But you can make them at great festivals.

Thanks to wonderful people like John Giddings at Solo and Sarah Handy at Hard Rock I have many more memories of good times spent on the Isle of Wight, but those stories will have to wait. Maybe Music Riot will invite me back. 

And here’s a little bonus from The Boss:

 

 

It’s looking like this feature might have legs. After a moving contribution from Danny Schmidt, Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation was next to send a contribution over in our direction with his usual incredibly quick turnaround. We were expecting something special here, because Neil has seen a lot of gigs (and also played a lot), so this was always going to be something a bit special, and it also has the best closing line ever. So let’s hear about Prince’s “Lovesexy” tour at Wembley Arena.

 

Tuesday 26th July 1988, Wembley Arena – 

I still find it hard to comprehend that Prince is referred to in the past tense, another true original innovator lost. It’s like a curtain closing forever, a nail through the pulse of musical history. Prince & Bowie both passed in the space of only a few months…the likes of which we will never witness again, their gift was unique & unrepeatable. Thankfully it unfolded in our lifetime. Our very own Mozarts I suppose. 

I get asked a lot about the best gig I’ve ever seen, a common topic amongst the social narrative especially after a few looseners in the pub. Now, I’ve been to my fair share, seen most of the bands & artists that I’ve wanted to, some on several occasions. I’ve been very lucky in that respect, I’ve had countless “right place/right time” moments. Probably never more so than watching Prince turn the cavernous Wembley Arena into what felt like an intimate dancehall on his “Lovesexy” tour of 1988. 

I was fortunate enough to see Prince tons of times, he was never anything less than mesmerising (ok, “Batman” tour was a bit shit but still there were THOSE moments). His arrival back in the UK in ‘88 was eagerly anticipated as he’d cancelled the previous year’s dates for the “Sign O’ the Times” tour. I was so disappointed I didn’t even muster up the momentum to return my ticket for a refund. I decided to keep it as a souvenir of a non-event and make do with watching the film of the gig a hundred times over (“please wear something Peach or Black” was the instruction on the stub) 

I managed to blag freebies for the Wembley gig via my record shop connections and myself & Hammy found ourselves nestled next to Pop royalty for the night – well, Bananarama sat behind us, the singer from The Adventures to the left and directly to my right hand side Lloyd Cole was seated, studious in spectacles, scribbling notes into an A5 writing pad all evening (I did enquire at one point if we should expect Commotions dance routines on his next tour but he just grunted and ploughed his head back into his jotter) 

Even Prince’s presentation and re-arrangement of the building was unique for the time, I think he was the first artist I saw set up in the centre of the venue and perform on a 360 degree circular stage, both Stevie Wonder & Anita Baker gigs followed suit very soon after, it made for the perfect spectacle. The “Lovesexy” tour not only featured the irrepressible Cat (remember her?), the stage in the round also came complete with a Ford Thunderbird automobile, multi-level trellis staging, a fountain and a basketball court!

Despite selling out every night it’s reported that the huge production costs resulted in the tour making zero profit…did he care? 

It was pop/funk/rock genius all rolled up into one of the most explosive performances I’ve ever watched. Master showmanship channelling prime time James Brown, Little Richard, George Clinton…musicianship that would leave most others standing (he’s easily the best guitarist I’ve ever heard) and of course…those songs. Let’s not overlook that marvellous run of recorded output and that of course is only what we have heard, thousands of recordings from that period remain in the vaults, unreleased. No one could keep up with him. The 80’s were defined by his soundtrack as a backdrop.

Find me a more complete piece of work than the sprawling epic that was “Sign O’ the Times”? Virtually faultless. “Parade”, “Around the world in a Day”, “Lovesexy”… just ridiculously amazing records. I used to study those albums, I think I played Prince at some point each & every day for at least 5 years. I carried a cassette of “Sign O’ the Times” album in my pocket everywhere I went for almost a year. “Purple Rain” was probably a red herring, he had so much more…could turn his funk & flavour in any direction and make it seem effortless and after a global success he wasn’t afraid to do a musical U-turn and take risks.

Ever the entertainer, he still didn’t play or pander to the gallery. He made his own rules, determined not to be typecast.

That night in July 1988 he was unstoppable, in his absolute prime. The show was relentless, it reached unthinkable, extravagant heights, unachievable by any else’s standards. I vividly recall one moment clear as crystal……..

Prince was off on a guitar workout, in itself a bona fide shock of electricity; he could play, really play…in an instant his solo peaks to dizzying heights, he throws the guitar around his back, struts off in 5″ high heels down a stage ramp somehow managing to drop to the floor doing the splits in full flow whilst still hurtling towards his microphone, he arrives at the edge of stage, spins round in a pirouette, boots his mic stand away from him, drops for one more session of the splits then leaps back up to catch his microphone in perfect time to start singing the next verse…all of the time the guitar stays intact…it was undoubtedly the coolest 60 seconds of my gig-going experiences; even Lloyd Cole put his pen down.

Just like you, The Riot Squad is going crazy at the lack of live music at the moment. We published a piece by Allan in February (just over three weeks before lockdown) celebrating the anniversary of his first gig in 1974. It was really popular and it was followed by a piece celebrating Steve Jenner’s first gig. After three months of musical famine we thought it would be good to ask some of our contributors and some of the artists we’ve reviewed in the past to write about a memorable gig that they saw or played. First out of the blocks was Danny Schmidt. We’re huge admirers of Danny’s work; he’s a gifted, erudite and passionate singer/songwriter (check out the review of his recent brace of singles “A Prayer for the Sane” and “2020 Vision”) and we’re delighted that he’s agreed to share this memory with us:

 

Danny Schmidt by Theo Looijmans

One of the most memorable live shows of my life was the night I saw Eric Johnson at Steamboat in Austin, TX on August 28th, 1990.  I remember the date distinctly because it was the day after Stevie Ray Vaughan died.  Having grown up in Austin, I was a massive fan of both Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  They were two of my biggest guitar heroes, and I saw them live every chance I got from the time I was old enough to attend live shows.  And while their styles were vastly different, they were two branches descended off the same Jimi Hendrix-influenced tree.  And as I understood it, they were each huge admirers of the other’s work, if not close personal friends.

In 1990, Eric Johnson’s star was really ascending quickly, and he played two sold out nights, back-to-back at Steamboat, and I had tickets to both nights.  The first night was striking because Eric’s management team had upped the production value (and theatrics) of his live shows by having him enter the stage to a huge laser and smoke show, for several minutes, while he improvised riffs with his signature guitar tone, hidden from our view within the visual spectacle.  And the guitar built the crowd into a frenzy before the smoke cleared, leaving Eric in a literal star of lasers and a single blinding spotlight from behind, full-on Guitar God, shredding the room from his monolithic place at the center of the stage.  It worked my teenage self into an ecstatic state of guitar delirium.  That was how the first night of the two-show stand began.

Late that night after we’d all gone home and gone to sleep, in another part of the country, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s helicopter crashed, ending his life tragically, at the age of 35 years old.  We all learned of the news first thing the next morning.

The city of Austin was crushed, devastated.  The town was silent and shocked.  I felt hollow all day, in disbelief.  That night, I had to drag myself to Eric’s show, night #2 at Steamboat.

Instead of smoke and lasers and high drama, Eric took the stage silently, no lights, no effects, no roaring feedback guitar, no PA announcer welcoming him to the stage.  No one really knew the show was even starting.  Instead, he just shuffled to the mic, more of a fragile slumped human being than a guitar god.  And instead of shrieks of guitar, he gave a quiet, humble, candid, unrehearsed, vulnerable, heartfelt tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.  He just told the crowd how much Stevie had meant to him, and how much his work had meant to him.  The speech ended when he didn’t have anything else to say.  He just stood in silence for an extra few awkward seconds, and then turned and picked up his guitar.

He then proceeded to draw fire from the strings, and fill the room with a whirlwind of sadness, madness, grief, angst, fury, exhaustion, all of it.  He brought Stevie Ray’s Texas flood to life inside the walls of Steamboat. 

Eric is truly a virtuoso.  His technical skills are legendary, and even the hyperbolic statements about what his fingers are capable of doing on the strings are understatements.  Some have questioned his musicality and the emotional connection to his songs, or the inaccessibility of his music sometimes.  But on that particular night, we all bore witness to what’s possible when a bon afide virtuoso is channelling a well of emotion from the depth of his broken heart to the tips of his mythical fingers. 

It was an experience that literally left us all speechless.  As much as I remember Eric’s actual playing that night, I remember the faces of my two best friends who were with me at the show even clearer.  Between every song we would look at each other and try and utter some sort of statement expressing how amazing it was what we had just witnessed.  And instead, we could only stammer nonsensical sounds at each other, unable to form actual thoughts and words.  And instead we would just hug or high-five.  And then Eric would fire up the next song.

To this day, I can’t properly articulate the power and energy which swirled around the room that night, emanating from the stage, from Eric’s guitar, from Eric himself, with no theatrics . . . just a true master and a room full of open ears meeting together to share a night of grief and celebration.  For me, that night set the bar for what’s emotionally possible throughs the kinetic power of music.

 

Was this crowd hard?  They would have crucified Barabbas as well, but that’s Dundee for you.

 Once again, I blame Steve Jenner for this one. He couldn’t be satisfied with making us perform behind the decks with a semblance of professionalism on our own territory.  No, he had to go out and get us gigs in Beanoland as well; which is why I found myself doing a gig at the Royal Centre Hotel on a Tuesday night in January.  Now, if that’s not a sought-after gig, I don’t know what is.  A gig to die for, and I nearly did.

Despite my reservations (and they were many and varied), I allowed Steve to persuade me that this would be good for my personal development as a DJ, would help to improve relations between town and gown and more importantly would generate extra beer tokens.  The gig was going pretty well.  OK, none of the local virgins were importuning me to indulge in post-performance amorous antics but, equally importantly, nobody had threatened to panel my coupon for me.  Not a bad compromise.

This wasn’t a dancing gig.  The idea was to get the crowd in the mood to visit the hotel’s nightclub, Teazers, when the bar closed.  I was doing pretty well, perhaps too well because they weren’t starting to drift through to the club yet and closing time was approaching.  I tried to get in as many requests as I could and I thought I was worth a 2-0 lead with 5 minutes to go.  So the last record’s crucial; I need to give them something to remember me by and I succeeded only too well.

I’d already called last orders at the bar and I cued up something that I was positive they wouldn’t have heard a DJ play there before; once again my reasoning was perfect.  As I wished everyone good night and hoped that they would pay a visit to Dundee’s premier nitespot, Teazers, I hit the play button on the final track of the Queen album “A Night at the Opera” which was Brian May’s multi-layered guitar instrumental version of “God Save the Queen”.  Very ironic, I thought; a reference to the end of a night at the pictures.  The irony works on so many different levels.

I think I single-handedly set back town and gown relations by 20 years that night.  I was in the saloon and the bad guy, probably Jack Palance had just kicked open the doors.  Within 2 seconds all conversation stopped and every pair of eyes in the place was on me, pouring out a hatred that went all the way back to 1314 (and I don’t mean quarter past one).  I got a few boos and whistles but, thankfully, no physical violence was visited on my frail and puny body.  I heard a few remarks like “student poof” and “English wanker” (now that’s ironic on more than one count because I strongly resent being labelled English).

Fortunately I escaped with my life on this occasion for 2 reasons; the lure of the dancefloor and the fact that the only place to top up the alcohol level was the nightclub.  I learned 2 valuable lessons that night: don’t play any version of “God Save the Queen” (unless it’s by the Sex Pistols) in Scotland; and, never underestimate the ability of a crowd to turn from happy punters to a brooding, malevolent mob with murderous intent at the drop of a stylus.  The manager wasn’t very happy.  Mind you I wouldn’t be a ray of sunshine if I’d had to contend with 40 years of being called Willie Rasch (his real name, seriously) and that was the end of my brief but tempestuous career as a student ambassador to the good people of Dundee.

I still think Jenner should have known better than to think we could do these gigs and escape with our lives.  I say this because of something that happened on our second full day in Dundee.  We decided to sample some of Dundee’s finest hostelries in search of some foaming Scottish ales for some lunchtime refreshment and visited one of the pubs down by the docks; “The Gauger”, I think.  Steve made his way to the bar, which was pretty quiet, and spent about 5 minutes trying to order beer in his best East Midlands accent.  The penny finally dropped.  I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to sit down.  Assuming the broadest Fife accent I could muster after 8 years away, I said those words which would be repeated many times over the next 3 years: “A pint of 80/- and a pint of Tennent’s please.”  Within 30 seconds, 2 foaming pints appeared in front of me and were dispatched in short order before moving on to somewhere a little more welcoming and tolerant. I wish I’d tried to pay with an English fiver.   I’m as guilty as the next person of refusing to let history go (unless the next person’s a member of Settler Watch) but I wouldn’t let it get in the way of making a living.

Even the best of us get it wrong sometimes (or make slight misjudgements). Mr Jenner himself nearly provoked a riot in the Tav Bar by playing a stirring Hughie Green version of “Land of Hope and Glory” to bring the evening to a very hostile close.  And there’s no way of denying that one because it was immortalised on a TDK cassette and is now available on shiny digitally remastered CD. I like to listen to it now and again because it makes me feel a little bit better about my own brush with the baying nationalist mob in the Royal Centre.

Some albums in your collection, however important they are musically, take on an importance in your life that goes way beyond some sounds coming out of boxes in the corner. Sometimes an album worms its way through your defences to connect up with all sorts of other parts of life and, before you know it, the songs have become inextricably entangled with memories of friends, family and lovers; and there’s no way of untying those knots. “Aja” is one of those albums for me; it has mellow memories of my student years, memories of friends met along the way and tragic memories of one of those friends taken when she had everything before her.

“Aja” was released in October 1977 and the timing was perfect for me. It was the start of my second year at Uni and I’d escaped from halls into a flat where I shared a room with a mate from my first year. We were both musicheads, both played guitar after a fashion and I had a reasonably good stereo. It’s fair to say there was music playing from the moment one of us woke up until the last head (usually mine) hit the pillow. I had a well-paid summer job (which I could tell you a few stories about), so I hit Dundee every October with plenty of readies to support the local record shops.

I was already a bit of a Steely Dan fan, so “Aja” was a no-brainer for me. As I listened to it end-to-end for the first time, I read the lyrics, the list of musicians involved on each track (which I now realise was a guide to the best session guys in the world at that time) and the sleeve notes written by Michael Phalen after spending some fraught and unprofitable time with Becker and Fagen trying to extract some sensible contributions. Typical of their contributions was the description of “Peg” as a ‘pantonal thirteen blues with chorus’; luckily Michael wasn’t a guy to bear a grudge.

It was a strange time for a band like Steely Dan; they were the antithesis of the punk philosophy. I loved the energy of punk/new wave/power pop but I wasn’t willing to take the slash and burn attitude to older music (it cost me a fortune to buy this stuff, no bloody way was I just ditching it). The album took an age to make, the playing was exquisite and there were only seven tracks, none of them less than four minutes long. Just compare that to a Ramones album with fourteen songs, none much more than two minutes long (and I loved The Ramones as well), but “Aja” was about pure musical class, cryptic and coded lyrics with a seedy undertone and some outrageously good solo playing. I didn’t realise at the time that I’d bought a jazz album.

And talking of jazz, that was exactly the kind of cigarettes that accompanied listening to “Aja” for my university years; it was the perfect match, mostly laid-back arrangements, lots of space and perfect to chill out to. It was one of half a dozen albums that always found their way to the deck over the next three years, however many new albums I bought. I wasn’t even choosy about picking favourites; there are seven tracks, “Black Cow”, “Aja”, “Deacon Blues”, “Peg”, “Home at Last”, “I Got the News” and “Josie” and they’re all stunningly good. I would happily listen to any of those songs at any time. But the university idyll couldn’t last forever and I settled back in with my family for a while after graduation. It was the beginning of the Thatcher era and I was living in Mansfield; it was obviously going to be grim, or so I thought.

I settled into a temporary job and listened to a lot of depressing post-punk until something very strange happened. On the regular Friday night out, a mate suggested a visit to The Red Lion, a fun pub (think sleazy, cheesy and very camp) that had just taken off. I was hooked, and after the second visit I landed a weekend bar job there. If the memoirs ever come together, there’s a chapter there that might need very careful legal scrutiny. And that’s where I met Gill (beautiful with a razor-sharp wit) and her friend Denise, both nurses doing part-time bar work. Within a few weeks, we’d all decided to share a house together on Woodhouse Road with another friend, Andy, and I was living a student life again.

I brought one important thing to the party; my record collection. Within a few days, Gill had discovered “Aja” and I realised I would never really own the album again. As much as I loved you Gill, I have to say you absolutely trashed that album; fingerprints all over the first track on each side, and the album never, ever went back in its sleeve. Did it matter? No it didn’t, because she loved the album with such a passion I couldn’t get angry about it. It wasn’t unusual to walk in and find Gill in her underwear ironing that night’s outfit while listening to “Aja” (we always popped a head round the living room door before inviting guests in). We were great mates anyway, but this album was something that created an everlasting bond. While we shared that house, we both formed the relationships that defined our lives (and a few that didn’t); and “Aja” was always there in the background.

Life moved on, the way it does in your early twenties when you think you’ll live forever, and we all left the house to move in with our various partners but kept in touch, directly or on the grapevine as we moved in our chosen directions. Gill started a successful business, fell in love with a nice guy and they had three beautiful daughters. I drifted through nightclub and pub management, the dole queue and self-employment and finally, in 1992, landed a job in entertainments for the armed forces. It was great news and I was all ready to make a new start on a residential training course. Everything was good; and then the doorbell rang.

Denise was on the doorstep, in tears. Gill wasn’t with us any more; she’d had a massive brain haemorrhage a few days before while out shopping and her life support had just been switched off. It wasn’t the first time I’d had to deal with a sudden death (from the other side of the doorstep), but this was someone I’d lived with, and loved, and I thought would always be a part of my life. She had a loving husband and three daughters under five and she had gone, forever. Because of the new job two hundred miles away, I couldn’t get to the funeral (an older me would say ‘Fuck the new job’), so I had to be represented. I still miss Gill to this day; she was the kind of person that took up a huge space in your life and there was a huge hole when she left.

And what was left? Well, I still love “Aja”, and every time I listen to the album, particularly the vinyl version that still has all of the marks and noises left by Gill, I remember that beautiful person ironing in her bra and knickers and singing along to “Peg” at the top of her voice.

And there’s a postscript to this story. On October 30th 2017, I finally got to see Steely Dan live on a double bill with The Doobie Brothers at the 02. The band, as you would expect, was absolutely superb, but the atmosphere was slightly muted because of the death, less than two months before, of Walter Becker. A few gallons of silent tears were shed that night, but mine didn’t really have anything to do with mourning Walter Becker.