Sunday, 30 August 2015

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Well everybody knows down Ladbroke Grove
You have to leap across the Street
You can lose your life under a taxi cab
You gotta have eyes in your feet … *

Take me back.

Those-days Leo Sayer was a screw of contradictions more muddled than his hair. Now gentle, now raucous, sometimes scrabbling, brawling fierce. Small and slight out of character but a giant on stage, backing down from no one behind a mic. His face was a door, wide-open, welcoming all-comers. He could blister with a gaze, torch with a smile, even bruise with the kind of words that once made me blush. Had he been a bar, he would have been our kind of place.

Then he'd open his mouth and sing.

Chrysalis Records was where I came in. Early Eighties. Leo was still signed to the label responsible for all his huge Seventies hits – 'The Show Must Go On', 'One Man Band', 'Long Tall Glasses', 'Moonlighting', 'You Make Me Feel Like Dancing', 'When I Need You' (the exquisite Albert Hammond/Carole Bayer Sager composition, number one in UK and USA in 1977), 'How Much Love', 'I Can't Stop Loving You'. He covered Bobby Vee's 'More Than I Can Say', Buddy Holly's 'Raining In My Heart', and three Fab songs in 1976 – 'Let It Be', 'I Am the Walrus' and 'The Long and Winding Road', for the Beatles concept movie 'All This and World War II'. He made the Top Twenty again in 1983 with 'Orchard Road', music by Alan Tarney, lyrics by Leo, a plaintive plea at the beginning of the end of a marriage. We went to the San Remo music festival in 1990. If there was a smile on his face, it was only there trying to fool the public.

He'd come the art student/hotel porter/busker route. David Courtney found him, and they co-wrote Roger Daltrey's first solo hit 'Giving it All Away'. (Daltrey also recorded 'I'm a One-Man Band', a year before Leo). They teamed with former heart throb Adam Faith, and he did all the deals. Giving it all away was about the size of it. Only when Leo came to divorce first wife Jan in 1985 did it become apparent that Faith, ironically known as a money man and even the author of a financial column in one of the nationals, had mismanaged Leo's business affairs and investments. Leo sued him. They settled out of court for not very much. He was then forced to sue Chrysalis, too, to win back his publishing. In 1996 he was back in court yet again, up against his new management for screwing up his pension fund. Unable to afford to go the distance, Leo was forced to walk away and begin again. Fortune fetched him the irresistible Ronnie Johnson, once Van Morrison's guitarist. They mounted a band and toured relentlessly until Leo was back in the black. The sheer exuberance of the 1999 album 'Live in London' is testament to the tidal wave of energy that carried them over the tough.

Every trial and tribulation leaves its tidemark. Leo was tired, and in need of new air. He found it ten thousand miles away, withdrawing to Sydney in 2005 with second partner Dona. He became an Australian citizen four years later.

In 2006 he scored his second UK number one, with the remixed 'Thunder In My Heart', making his first UK Top ten appearance for about a quarter of a century.

He used to say that he wanted to be as big as Dylan or Elvis. He came alive in the US, where they really got him, I mean really, for a while. It was American artists who excited him, who he tried to emulate. Not only the Elvises, but the Ray Charleses, the Chuck Berrys. A class act, see. He loved Shoreham, near Brighton, where he was born, and he could have eaten London, his adopted home. It took a while to shrug off the American dream. He did it by playing the Las Vegas Hilton, Lake Tahoe, Reno, Atlantic City and every major US city in between, and got it out of his system in the end.

He's sixty seven now. Which makes me feel old, and yet not, because what goes around, and because he's still in there and out here, the plucky clown, the relentless mischief-maker, the old Stratford Place rebel-rouser, and then he opens his mouth and sings …

The latest album, 'Restless Years', is the album he had to earn, the one he had to work up to. Slow down, singer-songwriters. It takes fifty years to get this good. Five decades, awfully big adventures, a lot of getting knocked down and getting back up. This is Leo at his finest, splashing emotion about and belting it, the truth about people, the planet, this wreck we've made of the environment and our relationships, and don't even go there about love. It's not preachy, he just says it. Sings it. Almost too painful to listen to, some of it. Careful lyrics, tight writing, spirit-crammed and spilling soul. These tracks I love: 'How Did We Get So Old', for it's tongue-in cheek; 'Millennium Weekend', a celebration of London; 'Revolution of the Heart'; 'One Green World', loaded with shivery, Floyd-y guitar – 'A people divided is a paradise lost'; 'The River' – full-voiced Leo, exquisitely bluesy and cool. 'Mister In Between' is masterful, with meltingly delicate trumpet. Not a euphemism. The title track, 'Restless Years', not only for the line 'Hold on when your dreams are faded', because yes, he knows about my life, and he knows about yours.

Sometimes he sounds like a child. At others like a hundred year-old down-and-out with nothing left to give, but still with the glint in his eye and hope in his heart and the gurgle curdling in his throat, to remind us, always something.

Talent, luck, schmuck. He had it all, but Leo Sayer was never a major star. He really should have been.
*

'Restless Years' was released this weekend in the UK, on Leo's own label Silverbird Records.
His 25-date UK tour begins in Birmingham on September 9th, takes him around England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales – and over the wet to the Isle of Wight – and finishes in Warrington on October 11th.
His band are :
Ronnie Johnson – guitars
Elliot Henshaw – drums
Rob Taggart – keys
Dave Troke – bass


*'I'm a One-Man Band', 1974, © David Courtney & Leo Sayer




Saturday, 29 August 2015

IN LOVING MEMORY OF THE ULTIMATE WAILER

When Winston McIntosh was fifteen years old, his auntie died and he had to move to Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, lugging his life in his hands. It was a challenging move in every way. Winston became a lost boy, with all the promise of a no-hoper. But then came music.

He happened one day upon a man by the wayside who was playing a song on his guitar, a song that Winston found intoxicating. He sat, and he listened, and he watched for most of the day, focusing intently on every flick of the guy's fingers as he strummed those awesome notes. Eventually, he plucked up enough courage to ask the guy if he could have a go on his guitar, and he played that song right back to him, note-perfect. When the man asked Winston who on earth had taught him to play so beautifully, the boy replied, 'you did.'

As Peter Tosh, he was the proudest member of Bob Marley's Wailers. He eschewed the parasitical business of music, forged a boldly organic solo career, and won a Grammy for 'Best Reggae Performance' in 1987, for 'No Nuclear War'. It was his last-ever record. On 11th September 1987, a gang broke into his home in Jamaica, and murdered him.

Remembering Peter Tosh and his sublime musicianship, which will live forever, this Notting Hill Carnival weekend.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

BAROQUE & ROLL WITH KEYBOARD WIZARD WAKEMAN


Rick Wakeman, Grumpy Old Rockstar, songwriter, broadcaster and author famous for keyboard wizardry and uniquely eccentric showmanship - think capes - is confirmed today as guest speaker at the 2015 Tom Olsen Lecture at the 'journalists' church', Fleet Street, London on 5th October 2015.

The prestigious lecture has taken place annually in the autumn at Sir Christopher Wren's finest by a range of distinguished guests since its inception in 1991. Lord Rees-Mogg, Sir Oliver Popplewell, Sir David Attenborough, Miss Jane Asher, the Rt. Hon. Ann Widdecombe, the Hon. George Osborne, Nigel Farage MEP and many others have all contributed to this sell-out event on the St. Bride's calendar.

'We are thrilled to welcome Rick Wakeman to speak this year about music, the music industry, technology and its consequences,' commented James Irving, Head of Operations at St. Bride's.
'His passion and dedication to music across all genres over his fifty-year career at the top is known throughout the world. It is an honour to welcome such an important musician to the ranks of our illustrious Olsen lecture speaker list.'

The son of a professional pianist, Rick attended the Royal College of Music during the late 1960s, working as a session musician to pay the rent. When demand for his keyboard skills exceeded his inclination to continue studying, he left the RCM for the record industry and contributed to hits by a host of stars, including T. Rex, Elton John, David Bowie, Black Sabbath and Cat Stevens.
Invited to join the Strawbs in 1970, he was poached by Yes soon afterwards, with whom he achieved star status. His classical technique and flamboyant style proved the salvation of the band's at times tumescent style, as evident on their albums 'Fragile' (1971), 'Close to the Edge' (1972), 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' (1973), 'Going for the One' (1977) and 'Tormato' (1978). Following the success of his solo album 'Six Wives of Henry VIII', he quit the band in 1974 to pursue a solo career. His follow-up, 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth', proved a gigantic global success, as did its live stage spectacular. Galvanised by the triumph, Rick went one better with 'The Myths and Legends of King Arthur' and staged the live show on ice, complete with a forty five-piece orchestra and forty eight-piece choir. He regrouped with Yes in 1976 and clocked up three further years with them, during which he faced multiple personal problems that took their toll on his health and wealth.

After successfully scoring the movies 'Liztzomania' and 'White Rock', he tackled the soundtrack for horror flick 'The Burning', eclipsing that with music for World Cup film 'G'Olé' in 1983. Wakeman's next visionary work was '1984', which re-established his star status. In 1988 he co-formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, which returned him to Yes three further times. He has released more than 100 solo albums across most musical genres, which have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

A popular television presenter and personality, he has published, so far, an autobiography and two memoirs. He is a Master Freemason, and King Rat of the showbusiness charity the Grand Order of Water Rats. Married four times, he is the father of six children.


Tom Olsen had a long career in journalism both in London and the provinces. He worked as reporter, leader-writer, editor and author. He shared a great love of writing with his nom de plume John Morrell. He also loved wine, and spent the last fifteen years of his life as the wine correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.

Tom loved the journalists' church. When he died in 1987, a trust bearing his name was founded, to further the work of St. Bride's and to perpetuate his memory. An annual lecture for those in the law, journalism and in the immediate Fleet Street community was founded. At the time, St Bride’s was strongly supporting the campaign for the release of John McCarthy and the other hostages. Indeed, the church has in various ways given its support to organizations like PEN and encouraged the media to use its powers with honesty, courage and respect. It therefore seemed fitting that the lectures' general theme should be freedom, both spiritual and physical, and the responsibilities that go with it.

Over the years, lawyers, writers, politicians and others have given the address. Speakers ranging from David Attenborough to PD James, Peter Hitchens, The Archbishop of Canterbury and John Simpson have entertained and enthralled audiences drawn from Fleet Street, the City and beyond. In 2005, Andrew Marr delivered the lecture “Hacks and Politicians: are they destined to sink together?” to a packed house of journalists, political writers and intrigued members of the public.

Although the links between St Bride’s and the press are still strong, Fleet Street has seen the arrival of many other professions in recent years. A particular objective of the trust, embodied in its deed, is to promote the work and activities of St Bride’s amongst these newcomers. In the light of the strong musical tradition at St Bride’s, the trustees felt that there was a need to provide the means whereby individuals could come together and play music.

Tickets for the lecture may be obtained via the St. Bride's website – www.st.brides.com/

For further information, please contact Gloria Lizcano, Publicity & Events Manager
St. Bride's Church, Fleet St, London EC4Y 8AU

020 7427 0133

Monday, 17 August 2015

ALL THAT JAZZ ... RIP, MR MUSIC MAN

You name them, he managed them. Wham!, Lisa Stansfield, D:Ream, his third wife Yazz, Scissor Sisters, La Roux, Klaxon, Snow Patrol, Soul II Soul and the rest.
He knew about music, and he knew about the business of music.
'If you're a manager and you haven't had a hit, you're a nobody,' he said.
'If you're a manager and your bands are starting to have hits, you're a genius. If you're a manager and you come through a second time with more hits, you're a crook. It's the way it works.'
Jazz Summers knew, and repeated often, that the record industry is all about chemistry. He had it with Simon Napier-Bell, his insatiable co-manager of Wham! George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley had it - regardless of the rumours, and of which of them contributed what. But, Jazz was the first to admit, it is also about timing; about knowing when to threaten and cajole or keep silent, when to walk away, when to sign on the line, when to lock people out and to let them in; and above all, he admitted candidly, it was about knowing when and how to tell lies ... 'but knowing how to tell them with a point.' At least he was honest about it.
He was fond of saying that the people who run the music business know nothing about music. He wished he'd had a quid for the number of times he was told that 'Careless Whisper' was all wrong for radio; that the Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony' (for which Mick and Keith earned all the money, look it up) didn't have a chorus, so it couldn't be a hit. He got it wrong so many times that people wondered how he kept getting up for more.
'It doesn't matter how many times you go down,' he explained, 'it's the getting up that counts. How did I keep going through all the failure? I believed. I believed. These days, when the sorrows get me, I don't drown them in drink the way I once did. I meditate instead. I think about nature. I breathe. I stay in the moment. There are no accidents in life. If George Michael hadn't sacked me, I would never have gone on to do all the things that I have done. Every ending is a beginning. Every mean goodbye a sweet and hopeful hello.'
His favourite book, other than his own autobiography, 'Big Life' (Quartet Books) was Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now'. Its Buddhism-meets-Christianity-meets-New-Age-Zen bent spoke loudly to him. Towards the end of his life - he was 71 when he died this weekend - he had mastered the art of letting the past and the future take care of themselves. He warned that none of us has control over our life, and that the more we think we do, the more we don't.
Jazz's big subject was love. It took him four wives to get it right. Dianna was his reward. He lived for his daughters, Katie, Rio and Georgia. He was so fierce at times, he could make a grown man cry, but his heart was known to melt at the mention of love. He knew about that stuff.
'Can you picture a future without them?' he'd say.
'Does every moment of the rest of your life as you imagine it - even though it may never exist - feature that person by your side? Can you imagine growing old without them? Do you value their opinions as much or even more than your own? Do they make you want to be a better person? If not, don't settle. Wait. We all need to be cared for. We all need someone to come home to, someone we can be ourselves with, with whom we can be who we truly are. Most people never find that significant other.They compromise, because time is running out and they think they 'ought' to. If only all these 'most people' knew, that all you have to do is wait.'
For Jazz, the waiting is over. Lung cancer took two years to take him. But not really. Every ending being a beginning. Every goodbye a hello.


Sunday, 9 August 2015

QUEEN THE FINAL WAS A KIND OF MAGIC

Queen. The Final. Knebworth Park, 9th August 1986. I blinked. 
'A Kind of Magic', Queen's fourteenth album and the 'Highlander' soundtrack, was released at the end of May 1986 to mark the start of their European tour. As expected, it soared to Number One. At dawn on Wednesday 4th June, thirteen gigantic trucks of equipment rumbled out of London to begin an odyssey across eleven countries. Queen performed twenty six concerts for a million fans in twenty cities, including Stockholm, Paris, Munich, Barcelona and Budapest. Each city was chosen for personal reasons by the band. 
On 9th August, they performed an open-air gig to more than 120,000 fans in the grounds of Knebworth Park, Stevenage. The stately home gave Queen the biggest-ever UK audience of their career. We celebrated into the night. The only person missing from the festivities was Freddie. He retreated discreetly at the end of the show, arm in arm with his boyfriend Jim Hutton and his PA, Peter Freestone. He had always hated record company dos. He had never liked hanging around making small talk with label employees. No offence.
In the helicopter conveying him back to Battersea heliport that night, Freddie was informed of the fatal stabbing of a fan during the show. The crowd had proved impossible for paramedics to penetrate. Freddie was beside himself. He was still subdued the next morning, as friends began arriving at his home, Garden Lodge, for Sunday lunch. There was terrific coverage about the concert in all the papers, sure, which did cheer him up a bit. But that fan's death preoccupied him for the rest of his life. No one knew it at the time, and there were other, unbearable reasons. But Freddie would never again perform live with Queen.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART: RIP CILLA BLACK

She strongly denied that she was ever the hat-check girl at Liverpool's sweaty little dungeon otherwise known as the Cavern Club. George Martin, no less, has always agreed with her. Whether she was or whether she wasn't, she was in the right place at the right time. Brian Epstein introduced her to the producer, and left him with the problem of what to do with, as George described it, 'her thin, rock-and-roll screecher of a voice, with its piercing nasal sound.' Finding songs for her, he feared, was going to be a tall order.

Yet find them they did. The Beatles' 'Love of the Loved', which flopped. Burt Bacharach's and Hal David's 'Anyone Who Had a Heart', which scored her a bull's eye and infuriated Dionne Warwick, whose version fell short. 'You're My World', originally recorded in Italian by Umberto Bindi, clinched it. 'Alfie', another Bacharach/David gem, was the icing. Cilla has been a star ever since.

She's gone now. I hadn't seen her since the Nordoff Robbins Silver Clef lunch in London in 2010, at which she presented an award. We invited her to join the Vintage TV crew as regular star presenter. She was keen. Her manager son Robert wasn't (he knew more than we did: for now, we won't go there.) In keeping with the 'vintage' theme, we talked a little about old age, then, and she admitted that she was finding personal deterioration the biggest challenge of her life - more of a struggle, even, than overcoming the unimaginable grief that consumed her following the death of her beloved husband Bobby in 1999. She didn't want to live to a ripe old age and suffer a monstrously painful death like her mother, she said. She'd always thought that 75 was a 'respectable age to go.'

You fell three years short, dear Cilla. So keep singing, yeah? Knowing we loved you so.