Rock n’ roll is a very loosely used term; but ‘real’ rock n roll, especially by the original purveyors, is melting away. All the sweet green icing, flowing down. The guys who were there in the fifties and are still capable of banging it out in such a way that you’d pay best part of thirty quid a ticket with a smile on your face are but few and far between now. And so it was, perhaps, no great surprise when rockabilly legend Ray Campi, now aged about 80, missed the gig due to flu. Rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie–woogie flu, perhaps. You would have thought at that age he’d be on the ‘at risk’ register somewhere and would have had a wee jab. Apparently not. Which is a shame – a slap bass player with some fine tracks to his name and in my opinion one of the greatest rockabilly sides of all time in “Teenage Boogie” – and who was famously signed to Radar Records at the time when they had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe under contract – so no mug, then – as no doubt he would have been well worth seeing upfront of show closers, Crazy Cavan and The Rhythm Rockers.
However, every cloud has a silver bit, some say, and in this instance and at very short notice Matchbox stepped into the breach.
Which some at this event – the umpteenth Rockers Reunion, between two and three thousand folks in a very big and utterly soulless leisure centre on the outskirts of Reading with trade stands galore, a bar which could only just cope but damn fine acoustics and a very nice stage – seemed to feel was a bit of a mixed blessing. ‘Proper’ rock n roll, a bit like Northern Soul, Ska, Heavy Metal, pick your poison, has one curse you would not wish uttered in your direction – ‘too commercial’. Matchbox, you see, had the temerity once upon an early eighties time to have a string of hit singles and albums for the screamingly ‘poppy’ Magnet Records, along with the likes of Bad Manners, Darts, Guys and Dolls and in the first instance, the recently departed Alvin Stardust. They were Top of The Pops regulars, trotting out to cheery welcomes from the likes of Jimmy Saville onto the nation’s telly of a Thursday night, a welcome, some would argue, diversification on the Great British Singles Chart. And because of that, some, rather unkindly in my view, see them as a sort of poor man’s Showaddywaddy.
And this sort of thing isn’t necessarily held in particularly high regard by the folks who are seriously into whatever they’re into. Me? I say well done lads; taking a series of rock n roll songs and classics and sort of giving them a sort of ‘popabilly’ respray, and having a chart run which many out and out pop acts would and should envy.
And out they came, right on time and with pretty much the original culprits including diminutive lead singer Graham Fenton (It really did cry out for ‘And The Fentones’, didn’t it?), a man with more than a bit of the Gene Vincents about him, guitar hero Steve Bloomfield, bass man Fred Poke and on guitar two, Gordon Scott and drummer Jimmy Redhead.
The reception was polite and a bit reserved to start with but as they worked through juke – box hits like “Buzz Buzz A Diddle It”, dedicated to original artist Freddie Cannon (‘triple heart bypass but he’ll be back soon, folks’) “When You Ask About Love” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” the largely good-natured crowd started to warm to them. And that Mr Fenton is quite a showman, working the room with good humour and infectious enthusiasm – and very cleverly introducing some of the more mawkish hits – and yes, I would include “Rainbow” in that – by dedicating it to his mum and telling a tale of Sweet Gene himself or variations on that theme. And you can’t throw things at a guy who just said that, can you, really?
Also, you could see with his frequent references to working with Gene Vincent’s band, The Blue Caps, and meeting members of Buddy Holly’s entourage when they crossed the pond by invitation to a major celebration of the great man’s work – you could sense that what he was succeeding in doing was reminding the audience of his band’s credibility amongst people at the heart of rock n’ roll’s heritage and legend, which was seriously underlined when they performed a very tidy version of Ray Campi’s “Rockin’ At The Ritz”, duly dedicated to the absent Man Himself. Either that or the overrated savoury cracker biscuit. One or the other.
And by playing more of the good stuff extremely well. Off went Graham Fenton to find his gloves to do his Gene Vincent set and this gave top rockabilly picker Steve Bloomfield the chance to showcase a stonking version of what I believe to be one of the five most genuine-sounding rock n roll tunes recorded by a Brit; his turbocharged rockabilly dance anthem “Hurricane” is held in massive regard and rightly so on the strength of this clicketty-clacking echofest which just reeks of the fifties, US style, in Midwest small towns. Which ain’t bad to say it was recorded for Charly records, owned at the time, I believe, by a Dutchman and released in the UK about a quarter of a century later. Return of The Man Who Went To Get His Gloves and we are treated to an excellent “Be Bop A Lula” amongst others. This guy does sound spookily like Gene Vincent and the crowd, who loved “Hurricane”, are certainly getting into it now. Showcase Gordon Scott, who treats us to a blistering “Marie Marie” which blasts along propelled by the most solid of rock solid rhythm sections. By now we’ve got folks dancing on stage, a very happy looking audience and a pleased / relieved looking Matchbox who overrun their timeslot by about half an hour – and why do that if you aren’t having a Good Time – finishing with a flourish on a big hit, the anthemic “Rockabilly Rebel”, before a very well deserved encore of a medley which either very naughtily or with the foreknowledge of the headliners included a smidgeon of “Old Black Joe”, traditionally encore fodder for Crazy Cavan and Co., and another juke-box classic of the time, “Midnight Dynamos”. All boxes ticked at that; prejudices conquered, great musicianship and showmanship, great reaction from the crowd, intelligently paced set with lots of high points; all in all, very entertaining stuff. Strike one to the Matchbox.
Which of course didn’t exactly make life easy for the main event, Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. A band with a string of hit records to their name have just gone on, played a bit of a tour de force, ‘borrowed’ one of ‘your’ songs, and overrun by half an hour.
One of the reasons CC&TRR are so engaging is you’re never quite sure which of the Crazy Cavans will turn up. The band members are not averse to an occasional pre-entertainment refreshment and on occasion some have commented that this is noticeable. On occasion they are riotously ramshackle and are a party on legs. They seem to mix and match the repertoire almost on a whim and sometimes, Cavan will chatter amiably with the audience about the songs or whatever takes his fancy at the time. Other times, flick-knife delivery – as sharp as. I’ve seen them a few times now and whereas I’m in no doubt these lads know how to party they are also 100% committed to doing what they do as well as anybody on the planet and on a good day maybe even better. And of course the fact that for a band with a total age of about 6000 years, they look in great nick –and you can’t do that if you don’t look after yourself a bit and work very hard indeed, at providing what the punter is paying for.
Audience can get as wasted as they like. That’s different.
However. Not sure if it was the realisation the lads who had just come off – and only just come off given the overrun – had put a shift in, or if best part of 3,000 people in a biggish venue on a Saturday night focuses the mind marvellously, or if the recent series of dates in Las Vegas, where these lads are feted as the absolute Real Deal by anybody who is anybody in American rock n’ roll, but these lads were not messing about. This audience was Having It.
Cavan Grogan is a large, rangy and somehow menacing presence on stage. Manic axe man Lyndon Needs is a sort of scrawny, angular ball of energy, if you can have an angular ball, and if you do seek medical advice, and tonight the rest of the Rhythm rockers are original bass player Graham Price, original drummer Mike Coffey, and rhythm guitar Terry Whalley.
These lads are straight out of hardlife Wales. They fought, kicked, scratched and bit their way to being the kings of “Teddy Boy, Flick Knife, Rock n’ Roll” by recording some albums at home, signing ill-advised deals to certain record companies who, some say, did them No Favours and working, working, working. Playing better, writing songs and touring. Always touring. In Europe and particularly Scandinavia, they were hailed as the best; it is great to see that even the Americans have had a ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’ moment and they’re getting increasing recognition across the pond.
And all this without a single, conventional hit record. Like The Clash, you could never quite have seen them on Top Of the Pops; they look like they’d have eaten some of the keen teens dancing disinterestedly in their designer knitwear.
Bursting onto the scene in 1975 with an album called “Crazy Rhythm” after five years of hard slog – which spawned show-stoppers like the rubbery, greasy “She’s The One To Blame”, the band went for an unusual opener in “Both Wheels Left the Ground”, a wild, wind-in-your-hair blast of a song all about caning your moped something silly. Not unlike Graham Fenton, Cavan had decided, it seemed, to remind all and sundry of his band’s credentials by starting with a biker anthem. Absolutely no need for all that ‘here’s one for all you rockers out there’ nonsense and consequently there was none.
With very little by way of inter-song chit-chat, a very focussed and forceful-sounding Cavan growled and roared his way through a whole slew of ‘ones that got away’ like “Hard Rock Café” and “My Little Sister’s Got A Motorbike” along with more recent toons like “Groovy at the Movie”. And all the time Lyndon Needs screaming and yelping through the set and playing up a veritable storm. You’ll believe a bloke was born welded to a battered Telecaster. He is probably the finest living rock n roll guitarist in the world. And all this during a series of good-natured but undoubtedly distracting stage invasions.
And they just didn’t let up. They have some more gentle, ambling rockabilly in their repertoire, but they had clearly made the decision – these people are rockers. Let ‘em have it.
It was more than a bit like standing outside in a storm-force gale, or standing at the top of a helter-skelter and just giving yourself up to it. Amongst a welter of others they blasted through “Rockabilly Rules OK” and “Boppin and Shakin” and by way of encore we did indeed get a reprise of “Old Black Joe” along with “Teddy Boy Flick-Knife Rock n Roll”.
Despite the main men being sixty-odd now, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers, as a live band, are absolutely on fire at the moment, experienced and capable enough to play to suit the crowd in front of them whilst promising guaranteed delivery on the realest of real rock n roll. If ever you feel like you’re starting to drift a bit loose of the spirit, style and intent which is at the heart of great rock n roll, the queue starts behind me.
But do it soon. Before someone leaves the cake out in the rain.
Steve wanted to give Matchbox four stars and Crazy Cavan five, but our technology can’t quite cope with that so five stars it is.
Half Man Half Biscuit appeared before a rammed Manchester Ritz on Friday and played a set which underlined their status as national treasures and probably, according to Andy Kershaw, the greatest English Folk band since The Clash. It is difficult to not like a band who have never had a top 40 hit single, cancel gigs if Nigel Blackwell can’t get home afterwards so tour t shirts are covered with ‘cancelled’ banners and, in some cases, ‘Sold Out and Cancelled’ (which is an unusual business strategy); who once turned down a potential ‘breakthrough’ performance opportunity on The Tube because Tranmere were playing; release albums with titles like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Road”; have plugged away and produced over a dozen albums over the last thirty or so years filled with songs of humour, satire and not inconsiderable affection largely on the subjects of crap telly, unrequited love and small towns few people who don’t live in them know much about; and yet can still fill a very nice venue of this size without the full music biz machinery behind them making life easier but probably emptier.
The band appear to be split between members who look like detainees in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and prison guards from a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Pretty it ain’t. They launch into instant never–a–chance–of–serious–airplay* classics* like “National Shite Day” which compares extremes of human suffering to encountering Primark FM and bemoans the fate of Stringy Bob, a medley of their greatest non-hits, “Joy Division Oven Gloves”, that ode to our obsession with out–of–context celebrity, “Fuckin ‘ell it’s Fred Titmus” and the totally surreal “Stuck Up A Hornbeam” which has wise advice for those contemplating DIY or going to Crewe, for whom Black Friday will, indeed, surely end in tears.
Guffaw-out-loud though the lyrics are, they don’t mess about musically. They really are tight and well–rehearsed; drum and bass are, and have to be, extremely flexible and fluent and the guitars are buzz–saw sharp. They pace their set well with an effective mix of older crowd–pleasers and tracks from the latest album “Urge For Offal” building up to a crescendo of “Westward Ho! – Massive Letdown” and coming back on for seconds with a really unusual and extremely striking version of Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” and “The Unfortunate Gwatkin” – once again from the latest album – which poses serious questions about why the once–popular soft drink, Cresta, was so frothy, man. And in many respects there’s your clue. A whole chunk of Nigel Blackwell seems stuck in 1974 and more than a little loath to leave it. Anyone for Trumpton?
Difficult to find much to carp about here. The venue is lovely, incidentally, as well, a very simple but truly great place to see a live band – big enough for atmosphere, small enough to see what’s going on without the need for big tellys. Only problem for me was on occasion the mix was a bit too muddy to catch all the lyrics which really, when you get down to it, are really what these songs are all about.
It is fair to say you are unlikely to see these lads on Top of the Pops, especially if Tranmere are playing. But if you’ve managed to avoid them so far, go see. Go hear.
(*Unless, for you, Radio 6 constitutes ‘serious airplay’)
Ok, I admit it, we’re a bit late out of the blocks with this one and the reason we’re finally reviewing “Sexploitation” is that Anna-Christina from Lilygun pointed me in the direction of Star Scream; good spot A-C, as ever. Songwriter Adam Lightspeed fronts the band mixing guitar and keyboards with lead vocals and the trio is completed by Natalie Cherry (bass and backing vocals) and Sky London (drums and percussion). With that particular line-up, you probably won’t be too surprised if I tell you that Muse is acknowledged as a major influence. The album is dotted with references to a wide variety of styles and eras, stitched together with such skill, style and unpredictability that the end result is a unique collage.
The album opens with the camp theatricality of “Roseblood (Weeping Willow)”, a seedy, sordid tale of exploitation in the skin trade and an arrangement which echoes the Sensational Alex Harvey Band from the early 70s. “Die on the Floor” is another reference to the 70s, fusing a Marc Bolan vocal style with a Sweet stomp and maybe even a bit of early Giorgio Moroder to set the scene for the rest of the album.
When the playing and the dynamics are this good, it’s easy to focus on the music at the expense of the lyrics; if you do, you’re only getting half the picture. Adam is obviously a writer who likes a bit of wordplay and it comes through in some of the titles: the riff-monster “Harlot’s Web”, “Frightmare” and the stomper, “Kill me Kate”. And it doesn’t stop at that; there are some clever turns of phrase in the lyrics as well; how about ‘knight in shining Armani’ from “Frightmare”, and my favourite portmanteau word for the week ‘conspiranoia’, from the hard-riffing glam satire of the current music scene, “Death Shower Scene”. I suspect they ordered in extra kitchen sinks for that one.
Towards the end of the album there are three songs linked by the theme of transgressive or dysfunctional relationships. The trio starts with “Kill me Kate”, progresses through “As the Earth Dies Screaming” with its very effective use of loud-soft dynamics to “Heart of Ice (Falling Out of Love)” which builds by adding instrumental layers for each verse. For once Adam’s voice isn’t on the ragged edge throughout and in the opening verses there’s a hint of Stephen Duffy’s voice (remember him?).
The album’s third and fourth songs also share a theme both poking fun at the faces, the alpha males and females at the forefront of any scene. “Break the Night” is probably the album’s most heavily Muse–influenced song, particularly the vocals and the guitar solo, while “Scenester” pulls influences from everywhere. The song opens like the Clash version of “Brand New Cadillac”, has a breakdown with manic left to right percussion panning, a second breakdown for live audience participation and a guitar solo which would fit perfectly on a Joe Meek record and a crash ending. What more could you want?
The more reflective moments are all towards the end of the album, starting with “When Crimson Lips Spell Murder” which makes good use of dynamics before ending with a delicate string quartet coda. The final big production number, “Obsession”, is built around a sequenced synth riff which loops almost throughout the song, while a piano hook on top adds to the over-the-top Muse feel of the song. The album closes with the stripped-back “The Girl Who Was Death” (just acoustic guitar, strings and some lovely harmonies) and a lead vocal which sounds a lot like Greg Dulli.
“Sexploitation” is an album that grips you because you just don’t know what’s coming next; imagine throwing a lit match into a box of fireworks and you’re about halfway there. The influences are all very transparent but they’re woven so subtly into the rich and contrasting fabric of the songs that they seem to belong there. But it isn’t just about big guitars and thunderous drums; the band use dynamics really effectively and the lyrics are actually worth listening to. In a world of manufactured pop pap and over-hyped ‘next big thing’ acts (did someone mention Royal Blood) this album is a reminder that the real talent is still out there.
It’s been a busy year for Stone Foundation. The album “To Find the Spirit”, released independently in March 2014, made a significant impact on the indie charts as the band’s live following increased with their own gigs in Europe and Japan and support slots with The Selecter and The Blow Monkeys. With radio support from Craig Charles on 6 Music and endorsement from the Modfather himself, things have been looking pretty good for the band this year. So, how do you keep that momentum going? Well, a few gigs with soul legend and SF collaborator, Nolan Porter, and a DVD as a more permanent memento, would probably do nicely. The gigs have come and gone and the DVD, “Finding the Spirit”, was released on 21 July.
So let’s just rewind a little bit here; Stone Foundation is a bunch of guys from the West Midlands (an area more renowned for heavy metal, to be honest) which formed around the nucleus of Neil Jones (guitar and vocals) and Neil Sheasby (bass and backing vocals) around ten years ago and developed into a classic soul/r’n’b lineup (and by r’n’b I mean Stax and Atlantic, not Jay-Z and Beyonce) with the addition of drums (Philip K Ford), Hammond organ (Ian Arnold), sax (Gary Rollins), trombone (Spencer Hague) and trumpet and latest recruits trumpet (Gareth John) and congas/percussion (Rob Newton). Stone Foundation operates completely outside what’s left of the mainstream music business. On the band’s website, the imagery of the biography is equal parts gang/team and an almost religious evangelism; if you’re thinking early Dexys and The Clash here, then you’re pretty much on the money. Personally, I’m more drawn to the idea of a collective than a gang; the band’s a very tight unit, but they find like-minded contributors outside the unit willing to help promote the manifesto, including writer Paolo Hewitt, Specials’ bass player Horace Panter (who contributed the artwork for “To Find the Spirit”), and videographer Lee Cogswell.
Lee has put together “Finding the Spirit” (described as “a collection of films”) which pulls together various strands of the band’s work over the last few years, combining music videos, a documentary of the 2012 collaboration with Nolan Porter (“Keep On Keepin’ On”), a track-by-track exploration of “To Find the Spirit” with Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, and a record of Stone Foundation’s 2014 Japanese tour (“Tokyo 2014”).
“Keep On Keepin’ On” mixes interviews with the two Neils and Nolan Porter with live footage from The Musician in Leicester and London’s 100 Club and some lovely studio footage of the recording of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” featuring Nolan’s lead vocal; it’s a familiar (but still welcome) story of an artist whose career has been resurrected by the UK Northern Soul scene, but this time with some help from contemporary musicians. The film captures the relationship between Nolan, the band, and their collective audience perfectly, particularly in the footage from The 100 Club.
The track-by-track breakdown of “To Find the Spirit” is enlightening and informative; the interviews with Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby give a genuine insight into the way the album came together while emphasising the part played by fate or the collective spirit. The cameos played by Carleen Anderson and Andy Fairweather-Low were arranged through friends of friends, “Don’t Let the Rain” started with a bass riff and a string sound from Ian Arnold’s new keyboard, and the original inspiration for the album and the song “Child of Wonder” came from a prose piece by Paolo Hewitt. It’s surprising to hear that there were question marks over whether “Crazy Love” had a place on the album; thankfully, common sense prevailed there.
“Tokyo 2014” is a collage of impressions from the brief Stone Foundation Japanese tour earlier this year superimposing quick clips of the band meeting their fans over a live soundtrack which includes a particularly raw version of the Booker T and the MGs classic “Time is Tight” by a Japanese band called The Tramp. The technique of using quick cuts between short video clips conveys the feel of continuous motion while the entire piece emphasises the devotion of the band’s Japanese fans.
The final section of the DVD is a compilation of Lee Cogswell’s videos for the songs “To Find the Spirit”, “Bring Back the Happiness”, “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” and “Hold On”. “To Find the Spirit” opens with a quick reference to the Dexys debut album, “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels” as the lead character tunes across the static of a radio dial before leading into an aspirational story which is shot through with visual and audio Stone Foundation references. “Bring Back the Happiness” plays under a father/son reconciliation story featuring Andy Nyman (who featured in the hilarious Channel Four show “Campus” and “Peaky Blinders”) and newcomer Ben Finlay, who was spotted dancing at a Stone Foundation gig. “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” is a very clean black and white (and silhouette) video of the individual band members featuring multi-screen effects, and “Hold On” is a fairly straightforward studio piece featuring Andy Fairweather-Low guesting on backing vocals. You can have a look at the videos here.
By any standards, this is a very high quality piece of work; if you take into account the fact that this venture has no music business backing, then it’s absolutely exceptional. Lee Cogswell has worked across a variety of styles, including documentary, interviews, live footage, reportage and music video to produce a cohesive piece of work which enhances his own reputation while documenting the rise of a band with an absolute commitment to fulfilling its own agenda. It’s more than a just a souvenir, it’s a lovingly-crafted insight into the workings of a group of people who are making music for all the right reasons. The band is also appearing in a special session recorded for the Craig Charles funk and soul show on BBC 6 Music this Saturday (August 9).
This DVD is worth buying for its musical and visual quality, but also because the people responsible for the creative input actually see some financial reward for their efforts.
Out now. Available from Lee Cogswell.
So it’s time to move on to the second half of the seventies and the early eighties and we start off with the P-word.
AM – How did you react when punk came along then?
PB – Loved it; I actually loved it and weirdly I wanted it to do what it wanted to do because up to that point my heroes were not punk at all and the very antithesis of punk. I wanted it, because I would have been about seventeen then, leaving school, and just starting to think about playing music in pubs and got a band together; well, actually, I got a duet together with Martin Gore (yes, that Martin Gore) and we were trying to write songs. He liked, I don’t know who he liked, I think it was Simon and Garfunkel at the time and he did like Sparks and David Bowie. I liked David Bowie but I wasn’t sure, I didn’t trust him which now, I think, was probably wrong, but I didn’t get the idea that superficial and chameleon-like was his theme. At the time I thought ‘I don’t believe he really means this’ and at that time it had to mean it and that meant a lot to me and I was probably wrong and Gore was probably way ahead of me on that. So we wrote songs which I tried to make melodic and soulful and he wanted to make strange and weird. I taught him how to play guitar and he was a better guitar player than he is, well, what he’s ended up as. We were writing some interesting songs at the time and we went out as this strange band and the punk happened, halfway through this band.
I had hair like Marc Bolan at the time and he had a bubble-cut but we found ourselves on these punk bills. I’d started writing a few songs as well, so I found myself as a solo person on these punk bills for no reason whatsoever because I had nothing to do with punk musically but I liked the fact you could play somewhere and there was energy there and I started listening to other people who were playing and I thought I’ll have a listen to this, so I went along to see some bands. I saw The Buzzcocks, The Ramones and The Talking Heads when they first came over, I saw The Clash once and there was a big fight so I didn’t hear much of The Clash, but that wasn’t the point in a way. I tended to like a what went on afterwards in the post-punk era; I got really well into that because there seemed to be room for bands like Television and The Fall with some of their lyrics which, at that point, were suddenly taking over for me and I went from trying to write songs like James Taylor with three words in them to two chords and “War and Peace” over the top of them; “Ulysses” or something like that, but then there were bands that that was feeding into at the time like The Fall. I certainly got heavily into The Fall and the more experimental bands but I would still listen to “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu and then go home and listen to “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” by James Taylor because I think that’s what it’s about; they’re not dissimilar in the sense that the person who’s responsible for the music does what he wants it to do. There’s too many categories, in a way.
AM – I know Television, “Marquee Moon”, everybody claims now that it’s always been their favourite album and at the time…
PB – They’re fucking lying; I tried to get everyone into that and a couple of people got it, but for once the rabid NME press was right about this.
AM – For me it’s still one that I’m happy to get the vinyl copy out and stick it on the turntable.
PB – It is actually an album I can listen to at any time and that’s a rare thing. Sometimes, even your favourite albums you think ‘I’m not in the mood for that’, but I can be depressed, I can be happy, I can be whatever, but when Television comes on, that’s it.
AM – So, that was punk, what about what came after that.
PB – Punk was exciting and I was involved in the energy of it; everywhere you went there were gigs. I sounded like Leonard Cohen at that time but anything went and that was the beauty of it. I wore flares and had long hair at the punk gigs I did and it was, sort of, ok. You’d get comments, but that was sort of the point; wait until Dexys Midnight Runners sing about ‘you’re so anti-fashion, wear flares”. You could do anything you liked, it was sort of Dadaist spirit. It was very early on when the fashion thing kicked in, the Kings Road punks, and it was weird because I felt like I’d transcended that because I hadn’t changed. I didn’t even cut my hair so I was like David Crosby amongst the punks.
AM – So presumably when the synthesisers kicked in that wouldn’t really have been your thing.
PB – When the post-punk thing happened, I used to like some of the bands that became known as Krautrock, Can, Neu and the newer ones as well, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Einsturzende Neubauten who were pure noise and distortion and the English versions of that like Cabaret Voltaire; I loved all of that. I thought there’s a synth thing going on and Martin got into it, so he buggered off and did Depeche Mode. Suddenly it turned into this really twee pop with no substance. I don’t hate pop music but I thought, with everything he knew, and the stuff he liked, I thought he would have gone towards Throbbing Gristle rather than this thing that happened, which seemed like it was going to be over in five minutes. For all I know he’s now a multi-millionaire and I’m sitting in a pub in Leigh.
AM – It’s a general thing that innovations like that come along, people make really good music and then somebody grabs bits of it for the mainstream and just dilutes it.
PB – That’s always happened. Bob Dylan wouldn’t have been anywhere if it wasn’t for The Byrds; fabulous as that was, I’d rather hear Dylan. I’m probably alone in the world in preferring “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan to the Hendrix version, even though I like Jimi Hendrix. I’m alone, even Bob Dylan said it’s a better version.
AM – Dylan’s songs have been interpreted by a lot of people; are they better versions or are they different versions?
PB – They’re different versions. Sometimes you can say they’re better versions but the thing I always try to get away from is ‘Dylan’s a fabulous songwriter and an icon of the twentieth century but he can’t sing’. So that means that if Judy Collins or some such does a version of “Idiot Wind”, it will be better, de facto, because she can sing. I could not disagree with anything, outside of UKIP, more vehemently than that. Bob Dylan and Sinatra are probably the best vocal stylists of this millennium. The reason I say that is because you try to play a Bob Dylan song and sing it and not sing a bit like Bob Dylan, not phrase it like him. The same with Sinatra, once you’ve heard “You Make me Feel So Young”, you try and sing that differently. Put your own slant on that; you can’t.
AM – I play and sing badly but I try Dylan songs like “I Shall be Released” and it’s always going to sound like Dylan.
PB – The Band did that; they’ve got some great singers in that band, and it sounded like Dylan; they couldn’t change the phrasing at all. You can sing it in a bland way or you can over-sing it; my worst nightmare is that I’ll wake up and “Positively Fourth Street” is covered by Mariah Carey. She would do it and you can guarantee you would have a queue of people saying ‘Oh, at last this song has been realised by a true singer’, but I would hunt her down and you’d see me on the Six O’Clock News if that happened.