Friday, 8 December 2017

FIRING UP THE QUATRO ...



I interviewed Suzi Quatro at the Gibson Guitars studio in the West End last night, as part of Found in Music's 'In Conversation With' series for SAGA. The event, exclusive to members, with tickets won by ballot, drew fans from as far as Birmingham and as wide as Portsmouth. One couple told me they were so keen to attend, they'd actually set off from the south coast the day before. It only dawned on them when they'd driven as far as Guildford that they were twenty-four hours too early, and had to go back home ...
People make fun of me all the time for 'hanging out with ageing rock stars'. 'Why do you bother with all these old dinosaurs?', my hip-and-happenin' friends say. The answer is simple: they are more interesting. They've had breathtakingly creative, globe-trotting lives that armchair-theatre-goers can only dream of. They've been everywhere. Met everyone. Seen everything. They've jammed with their own idols. They remain idols themselves to millions who have followed them since they emerged. They have the greatest war stories, the most stamina, the kindest hearts, and they are rocking 'til they drop. Isn't that how we all want to be?
Detroit-born Suzi Quatro was a female pioneer during an age of male rock'n'roll rebellion. Micky Most brought her to London in 1971, not to be 'the new Janis Joplin' (Pearl having died the year before, and every music mogul and record producer was seeking a replacement), but to be 'the first Suzi Quatro'. She wrote with Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, and was massive throughout Europe and Australasia. But she could never really give it away back home until she was offered the role of Leather Tuscadero alongside the Fonz and Ritchie Cunningham in 'Happy Days'. The part was made for her, and she for it. She became a huge star in America and around the world. They offered her Leather's own spin-off series. She declined, not wishing to be typecast. The biggest mistake of her life,' crowed the naysayers. 'What has she ever done since?'
She has sold fifty-five million records. She has written and published three books - her latest an anthology of poetry entitled 'Through My Eyes'. She has starred in a West End musical, 'Annie Get Your Gun' (in 1986, when I first interviewed her). She's acted in 'Minder', 'Dempsey & Makepeace', 'Ab Fab', 'The Midsomer Murders'. She has two new albums: 'Legend', a compilation of twenty tracks, and 'Quatro, Scott & Powell', with Sweet's Andy Scott and Slade's Don Powell, out on Warner's. She's just headlined an arena tour with Hot Chocolate, David Essex and the Osmonds. She still lives in the moated Essex manor house where she raised her two children and now cares for her cherished grandchild. She has twice the energy of a woman half her age. She is sixty-seven, and shouts it. She made it all possible for the female rockers who came after her - Tina Weymouth, The Runaways and Joan Jett, Girlschool, the GoGos, even the Spice Girls - which is perhaps her greatest legacy. She inspired both women and men. She inspired me: I had her poster on my bedroom wall.

How does she do it? 'By being myself,' she says. 'I have never tried to be anyone else. I've always known where to draw the line.' A line that reminds me of cowboy Curly's advice to Billy Crystal's character in 'City Slickers', when he tells him that the secret of life is 'just one thing.' Yeah?' says Billy, eagerly, 'so what is the one thing?' Curly curls a crusty lip, and smiles: 'That's what YOU'VE gotta figure out ...'

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

WALKING IN THE AIR



'There was music in our house, and my mother played the piano,' said the composer of the greatest secular Christmas song of all time.
'We lived in this flat, and I had this tiny room, and there was an asbestos wall, and the piano was the other side of the wall, right up against my ear. I was six. And my mother would play the piano after I'd gone to bed, and it was deafening. And I just used to listen. And she played an A minor waltz of Chopin, and I thought, I've got to play that ... I learned to play by ear and read music all in one go. It never seemed difficult. It seemed the obvious thing to do.'
Howard Blake's disarmingly modest explanation of how he came to be a musician nutshells the words of so many artists I have interviewed down the years. Their charm lies in the fact that they kind of don't get it. The truly organic creative rarely perceives anything special in his or her talent. It just was. Is. It is 'obvious'.
How ironic that this mind-blowingly prolific creator of hundreds of ballets, concertos and film scores - including an orchestral score with Queen, for 'Flash Gordon' - is revered the world over for a children's song. But not just any old children's song. We're talking 'Walking in the Air', the nucleus of 1982's 'The Snowman', which generations have grown up on and which resonates to this day. My own three children are adults now, but we still bunch around the telly together every year to revisit it. Because the animation is without dialogue, it is the music that speaks, taking a little boy on a journey which has become every child's dream: for a snowman he has made in his back garden to come to life, and fly him to Lapland to meet Father Christmas. The relatively recent addition of the snow dog has taken the story up a notch. The themes are poignant and tragic. They thrum with heartache. They seize control of our emotions. They speak silently of the gradual, inexorable loss of innocence, and of the beckoning grave.

There are priceless moments to make the journey worthwhile. Such as last night's: Howard Blake on the Sir Peter Blake 'Sgt. Pepper' piano at the Groucho Club, without warning - playing 'Walking in the Air'. I'm still pinching. Howard, in his eightieth year, retains the wide-eyed innocence of the little child in his story. I was thrilled to meet him.