Macca’s banjo, Mellotron and a Monkee: the story of George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music | Music | The Guardian

Almost 50 years ago, the Beatle stepped aside from the planet’s biggest band to create the soundtrack to Joe Massot’s movie Wonderwall. With the help of India’s finest musicians, he invented the idea of the world music crossover

Source: Macca’s banjo, Mellotron and a Monkee: the story of George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music | Music | The Guardian

George Harrison with Ravi Shankar in 1967.

Let’s call it the Riddle of the Dark Horse: what do you get if you cross a Monkee, two Beatles, the man they called God, Paul McCartney’s banjo, India’s musical elite and a film about a mad professor spying on a Biba girl called Penny Lane?

The answer is Wonderwall Music. Released on 1 November 1968, three weeks before the White Album, George Harrison’s heartfelt, happily eccentric film soundtrack was the first solo record by a Beatle, the first album on the Apple label and a world music crossover before such a notion even existed. That it later lent its name to a Britpop anthem is easily the least interesting thing about it.

Newly rereleased in a boxset of Harrison’s solo work, Wonderwall Music encompasses tambura drones, Vedic chants, skiffle, ragtime, clip-clopping country, wah-wah squalls, woozy Mellotron, experimental sonic collage and, on Ski-ing, 100 seconds of Eric Clapton at his most raggedly explosive. The sound of Harrison’s musical curiosity taking flight, it is also an implicit expression of his disaffection within the Beatles, perhaps even an intimation of the beginning of the end.

After the Beatles ceased touring in August 1966, Harrison spent six weeks in India with Ravi Shankar, an immersion that led to a chain reaction of musical and spiritual epiphanies. On his return, his contribution to Sgt Pepper was the quietly assertive Within You Without You; much of the album left him cold. He was scarcely more enthusiastic about Magical Mystery Tour. While McCartney worked on the title track in the studio, Harrison produced coloured crayons from his painted sheepskin jacket and started drawing pictures. “My problem, basically, was that I was in another world,” he later said. “I didn’t really belong; I was just an appendage.”

Little wonder he jumped at an invitation, from American director Joe Massot, to compose music for Wonderwall, a film starring Jane Birkin as the objectified model who sends her oddball neighbour, Mr Collins (Jack MacGowran), into a voyeuristic frenzy. With its pop-art palette, psychedelic sex scenes, dingy domesticity and an uncredited Anita Pallenberg, Wonderwall is a curious period piece, less Blow-Up than Come Down. “It’s aged badly,” Birkin says. “I wasn’t very interesting! I was disappointed, but there are rather wonderful decors. And George was lovely.”

Massot, who died in 2002, sought original instrumental music for the film’s many dialogue-free scenes, and promised Harrison a free hand. “George took advantage of this by including a lot of Indian music in his score,” says John Barham, who worked on the project as arranger, player and a kind of conceptual interlocutor. Having studied at the feet – literally – of Shankar, Harrison’s understanding of Indian music had deepened beyond the naive sitar burr heard three years previously on the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood. He viewed Wonderwall Music as “partly an excuse for a musical anthology to help spread the word”, he said. “I used all these instruments that weren’t as familiar to western people as they are now, like shehnais, santoor, sarod, surbahars, tabla tarangs.”

Heavily spiced with Indian flavours it may be, but the album is a beguiling mixture of competing passions. Visiting Twickenham film studios, Harrison “spotted” each scene, marking where the music would be inserted, then working up basic themes at his home in Esher in Surrey. Initial recordings were made at Abbey Road on 22 and 23 November 1967, with harmonica maestro Tommy Reilly, session mainstay Jim Sullivan, and the Remo Four, a Liverpool quartet from Brian Epstein’s Nems stable. The Beatles’ manager had been dead only three months; Harrison may have felt the need to maintain a connection.

George Harrison in Los Angeles in 1967

“We recorded backing tracks to accompany certain points in the film,” says Remo Four drummer Roy Dyke. “George had timed it all with a stopwatch: ‘We need one minute and 35 seconds with a country and western feel.’ Or, ‘We need a rock thing for exactly two minutes.’ Nothing was really written. We’d talk over ideas he wanted, play something, and he’d say, ‘That’s good, keep that. I like the piano there.’ It was very experimental. The idea was to set an atmosphere.”

Some of the results are lovely: the stately piano waltz of Red Lady Too; the richly cinematic Wonderwall to Be Here, on which Tony Ashton’s rippling piano melody is framed by Barham’s strings. The exotically funky On the Bed was inspired by a visit Harrison had made the previous year to BBC Television Centre, where Barham and Shankar were working on the music for Jonathan Miller’s production of Alice in Wonderland. “We were recording a scene where Ravi soloed and I played an accompanying Indian jhala [a rapid climactic flourish] texture on piano,” Barham says. “George was fascinated by the combination of sitar and piano. Back at Abbey Road, I played flugelhorn over George’s jhala. Later that day, Big Jim Sullivan, who was recording with Tom Jones, happened to drop in and played bass on the same track. It was a free atmosphere on those sessions. They were very creative and enjoyable.”

Wonderwall’s most experimental five minutes are Dream Scene, a sonically disorientating pick-and-mix of ambient backwards guitar, swooning Bollywood love calls, wailing flutes, treated electronics, disjointed harmonicas, atonal pianos, air-raid sirens, the chimes of a grandfather clock, nightmarish sampled voices and church bells. Harrison later dismissed it as “horrible stuff”, but it is not entirely fanciful to view Dream Scene as an enabling step towards the Beatles’ Revolution 9, the avant-garde sound collage pieced together by John Lennon six months later.


In December, a passing Monkee was press-ganged into service. “I’d met George when he was visiting Cass Elliot in Los Angeles, and I was dating Cass’s sister, Leah,” Peter Tork says. “Later, the Monkees met the Beatles in England, and he invited me to his house. He played the sitar and said: ‘I’m working on a soundtrack album, I’d love to have you play a little banjo.’” Tork had travelled without his instrument, so Harrison borrowed McCartney’s five-string banjo for the session – “which Paul couldn’t play – at least conventionally, because the folk five-string banjo can’t be restrung in reverse order for left-handers, it must be custom made. I played for 45 minutes, George said, ‘Thanks very much,’ and we went our separate ways.”

Tork’s breezy contribution didn’t make the record, but it can be heard 15 minutes into the film, after Collins is chided by his mother for spying through the wall. “And I did not get paid,” he laughs. “George said: ‘We’ll figure that out later.’ He knew that the honour itself was payment enough!” This regally offhand attitude to accreditation was not untypical, and became an issue on Harrison’s next solo record, Electronic Sound, when he used, without permission, improvised recordings made on the Moog by Bernie Krause. Much rancour ensued.

There were other superstar cameos. Ringo Starr – old faithful – adds his unmistakable swing to the groovy-bluesy Party Seacombe, while Clapton’s monster riff ensures that Ski-ing fairly steams along. Ski-ing was later borrowed by Kula Shakar for their song Gokula, earning Harrison a co-writing credit.

Although he had used members of the Asian Music Circle in London, Harrison wanted to draw directly from the tap-root of Indian music. In early January 1968, he spent a week recording at the EMI/HMV studio in Mumbai, assisted by Shambhu Das on sitar, Aashish Khan on sarod, and many more local musicians. A two-track stereo machine was transported from Kolkata. By now, the original $600 budget for the project had risen to $15,000, the cost covered by Harrison.

As well as laying down the bulk of Wonderwall’s eclectic Indian pieces, during these sessions Harrison recorded several ragas, one of which became The Inner Light. Following a vocal overdub, recorded later at Abbey Road, it became the B-side to Lady Madonna in March, by which time the Beatles were camped out in north India, studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For perhaps the first and only time, Harrison’s personal passions were driving the narrative of the band.

Wonderwall Music was released before the film – which premiered at Cannes before quickly vanishing into near obscurity – on 1 November 1968. Harrison’s participation was neither widely anticipated (“I didn’t even know until afterwards,” Birkin says) nor particularly celebrated. Although the record has always had its admirers, Harrison’s post-Beatles triple set, All Things Must Pass, released in 1970, is widely regarded as his first “proper” solo record, not least because of its colossal commercial and cultural impact.

Wonderwall Music, conversely, didn’t chart in the UK. Its significance lies elsewhere, in its affirmation of Harrison’s blossoming individuality, its determination to shine a tender light on an unheralded musical culture, and as a warning flare in the Beatles’ long race to extinction. The film it serves may have become a dated curio, but its soundtrack still carries an intoxicating whiff of not just one, but many futures.

George Harrison: The Vinyl Collection is out now on Universal.

Poster for my lecture at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution 12th July

John Lennon’s Records and Compact Discs with Andy Warhol Art

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john Lennon’s 1986 album “Menlove Ave” is probably the best known of his recordings that use Andy Warhol’s art. But there are some others and one, in particular, that has not previously been recognized.

John and Yoko Lennon and Andy Warhol were friends. I’m sure they basked in each others’ glory. Andy Warhol took Polaroid photos of John and two of these were recently auctioned at Christies (https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/pop-culture/john-lennon-97/3106/).

Andy Warhol's Polaroid pictures of John Lennon. Circa 1969. Andy Warhol’s Polaroid pictures of John Lennon. Circa 1969.

The photo on the left bears a striking resemblance to the cover photo on Lennon’s album “Imagine”, released on 5th September, 1971. Only the position of the cloud is different.

John Lennon's "Imagine" LP cover. John Lennon’s “Imagine” LP cover.

There may be an explanation for this, however. Photographer Iain Macmillan was a good friend of the Lennons. He had been introduced to John by Yoko at her 1966 exhibition at the Indica Gallery in London, where she…

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‘Bob Dylan was 10 feet away from me’: Isle of Wight festival, 1969

“Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage.”

Penny Warder

Bob Dylan concert
Penny Warder, front right, waits for Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight festival, 31 August 1969. Photograph: Medina Publishing

The organisers of the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, brothers Ronnie and Ray Foulk, had managed to pull off the amazing coup of getting Bob Dylan to headline. Woodstock, which had taken place two weeks earlier on his doorstep in upstate New York, had tried to persuade him but he’d turned them down. He’d been in semi-retirement for three years after a motorbike accident, and this was his comeback.

In this picture, we’re waiting in the VIP area just below the stage for him to come on; it took about two hours because there were some problems with microphones. The chap sitting next to me is Vernon Warder, my boyfriend of the time. He had long holidays from art college and was working at the festival, doing artwork for the signs on the front of the stage, and helping with security and management. As a result, he had a VIP pass and, being his partner, I got one, too. Otherwise it was £2 for a ticket.

I was aware that Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage. It never happened. I was a huge Beatles fan, but had not seen them live; I kept turning round to look at them. We were about three rows from the front and could smell the hash that someone was smoking behind us.

When Dylan finally came on, he was barely 10 feet away from me. It was so exciting. He played for only an hour, for which he got some stick in the press, but it was incredibly exhilarating. He did two encores.

After he finished, I went back to my parents’ house on the island, where I grew up. Even though I had been away at college for two years, there was no way they would allow me to stay out all night. I remember it was a real struggle trying to find a lift, because we didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford taxis.

Throughout the festival, I went back and forth between the VIP arena and backstage. I once bumped into Lennon and remember thinking, “Oh, he’s not very tall, is he?” I remember being really excited about going into a portable toilet after Ono had been in there. I wasn’t even aware of the celebrities: Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor and Eric Clapton were all there. That’s how young and naive I was.

I first saw this photo last summer. Some friends of mine who live on the Isle of Wight went to the launch of Ray Foulk’s book, Stealing Dylan From Woodstock, his account of the festival. One of them texted me: “Were you sitting in front of the Beatles at the 1969 festival?” I said yes, and she wrote back: “Your photo’s in the book!”

This was my first festival. I went to the Isle of Wight the following year, when Jimi Hendrix played shortly before his death. I’ve been to others since, but nothing will match those two experiences.

Interview: Erica Buist (Guardian 5/8/16)

The Beatles Live at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, U.K. 1st December 1963

This is a re-post of Catherine Turnell’s blog about the Beatles in Leicester U.K. The original can be found here http://leicestershirelalala.com/the-beatles-at-de-montfort-hall-in-leicester/

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The Beatles played at De Montfort Hall three times. Sunday, March 31, 1963, December 1, 1963 and October 10, 1964.

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It was as if time at De Montfort Hall had gone into some kind of gloopy slow motion. From the back of the stage, John, Paul, George and Ringo confidently strode towards the crowd – and into a deafening wall of hysterical screaming.

It was Sunday, December 1, 1963, and Beatlemania had touched down in Leicester.

Popular music, here and the world over, was already in a state of shock.

For the 3,000 children, teenagers and adults who got tickets at 3/6d each, the concert had been feverishly anticipated for weeks.

In the village of Burbage, brothers Paul and Roy Wheatcroft had fed their Beatles hunger by poring over every scrap of inky newspaper they could find. On discovering the band were playing in Leicester, the 12 and 10 year old knew they had to be there.

Tickets were going on sale at the Rugby Road offices of Hinckley’s Mr Showbiz – Arthur Kimbrell – at 9am on a midweek morning. Mr Kimbrell, praise his name, was the concert’s promoter.

De Montfort Hall Concert promoter Arthur Kimbrell, (1961) gave thousands of people the best nights out of their lives. Mr Kinmbrell arranged appearances at De Montfort Hall by such stars as the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Engelbert Humperdinck

However, The Beatles had actually been to Leicester before, the March previous, but without fanfare.

“Roy and I went to bed early so we could be at the office – a mile’s walk away – before 2am. We arrived to find six people before us, but we were the youngest.

“At about 6am a policeman turned up to keep his eye on the growing crowd. He spoke to Mr Kimbrell and we were allowed into the inner sanctum an hour early to pick up our tickets.”

As it turned out, they managed to get prime seats on the front row and brought friend Nigel Dawson, 13, with them.

“The Fab Four,” remembers Paul, “had given an interview shortly before the performance saying that their favourite sweets were jelly babies. And so, during the journey to Leicester, my dad stopped his Ford Escort and my little brother bought a box.”

As it turns out later, they weren’t the only ones to stop off for the jellied sweets.

However, getting Beatles tickets in Leicester was a little more fraught.

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George Harrison fan Jennifer Fivaz (nee Woods) from Melton, was a schoolgirl living in West Knighton.

“The main thing I remember was queuing all night for the tickets. I must have been 16 and we must have been right at the beginning of the queue.

“We started queuing at 9pm and we were getting the tickets the following morning.

“I remember being wrapped in a sleeping bag. In the early hours there were a lot of people in front of us.

“Police were doing crowd control and they had Alsatian dogs, pushing us up against the wall and the dogs were snapping at our ankles. It was quite frightening.

“Of course,” she remembers, “the biggest and strongest pushed straight to the front.”

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On the night of the performance, the gloom had set in for WPc Frances Harris (nee Edginton) who was working at Charles Street police station.

She was vexed to discover she wasn’t going to keep an eye on The Beatles during her shift – three hundred officers had already been chosen for duty.

Back then, WPcs were allowed to go backstage at the hall and with that, the biggest band in Britain had been within tantalising grasp of the 20 year old fan.

Frances was given messages to take to CID men in the traffic office and stomped out into the police station’s cobbled yard, and into the traffic room.

On the return journey she half noticed a dark car in the quad, and marched back to the control room still fuming.

Sensing her displeasure, the traffic sergeant started asking her about The Beatles, and if she liked them.

Of course she did, was her response. Although she didn’t let slip that John Lennon was her favourite.

“He said ‘they are in our enclosure, in the quad’,” recalls Frances.

“They’d brought them in the side door and just left them in the car, to keep them safe from the fans. I didn’t even think to look in.

“He went on to say they looked as if they needed a good shave.”

Squashed in the van, the lads kept themselves to themselves and passed the time listening to a radio.

Sadly, the car had gone by the time the WPc had learned the truth. “I probably got nearer to them than anybody,” says Frances, who lives in Leicester’s Narborough Road South.

“I was so annoyed I didn’t even think. It was evening and it was dark in there. It taught me a lesson: You keep your eyes open.

“I don’t mind telling you, I hope they thought ‘that’s a good looking WPc’.”

The screams and heat inside De Montfort Hall were escalating as The Beatles, the biggest band in England, arrived ignominiously in the back of a Leicestershire Constabulary dog van.

All night, no-one had heard a note from support acts the Vernon Girls or Peter Jay and the Jay Walkers.

And then, the time had come.

The Beatles, entering from the back and middle of the stage, took up their positions. The crowd went wild.

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“It was absolute bedlam,” remembers Geoffrey Freeman, a semi-retired warehouseman from Evington. “When they came on stage you couldn’t hear a thing.

“It was fantastic. I could see the stage and I could see John and Paul and George. There was a post, and so I couldn’t see Ringo or his drum kit.

“I think there was just one song they played I could actually hear. I think it was Please Please Me and most of the time all I could see was people jumping up and down in front of me.

“I’d always been a Beatles fan, right from the start,” says Geoffrey, who was 19. “I’d picked up on it early.

“I’ve been to various other concerts since and I’ve never seen an atmosphere like that ever.”

It wasn’t long before the heat and hysteria took its toll. Within minutes, girl after girl started fainting, and the police, along with St John Ambulance, had a fight on their hands.

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Janice Benfield (nee Barnwell), was 18, and working at Frears and Black bakery, where Abbey Park’s B&Q is today. She went with three other girls from work.

It was steaming inside De Montfort and very, very loud, she recalls.

“Some girl who fainted was passed over our heads, nearly knocking our hair off!” she says. “It was very, very noisy and very hot. God was it hot.

“Girls were crying ‘Oh John! Oh Paul!’

“Oh God,” she sniggers, “I was one of them girls. I loved John. I loved him. I had my eyes on him all night. I couldn’t hear the music; they only had to move and the screams went up. It didn’t spoil the show, though. They only had to open their mouths and the girls would go bonkers.

“It was a brilliant night, I’ve never forgotten what it was like.

“The Beatles was my first big gig and it really opened my eyes.”

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Eric Bridding, a pensioner from Lincolnshire, was six rows from the front and “never heard a sound all night”. “But,” he says, “I did see their mouths move. Mind you, I was old even then,” he laughs.

Fourteen year old Jo Harrison (nee Meadows) spent most of the evening stood on a chair in Row Y, seat 39.

The mum of two from Oadby was with friend Sheila Angrave and the pair were schoolgirls at Oadby’s Beauchamp College.

“It was quite scary, just the sheer hysteria. You were there and everyone around you was screaming. I wasn’t very big and I’m not very tall now.

“We stood on chairs rather than sit down. I remember the screaming starting fairly early. Although, when they came on stage, it went so loud that it went into a hiss.

“This is really embarrassing,” says Jo with a dry chuckle, “there was a Beatles song Til There Was You and it had one line about ‘sweet fragrant meadows’. When they played it my friend looked at me and said “he said your name”. I was a Meadows then and I knew it was coming.”

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Jo, a retired children’s speech therapist, still has the gold brochure from the gig and priceless memories.

“You couldn’t believe you were seeing them, it was just amazing to see them. At the time I just adored Paul McCartney.”

Of course, the room wasn’t just full of hysterical screaming fans. It was also full of hysterical screaming fans with bags of Jelly Babies. The Beatles had told a radio presenter they were the band’s favourite confectionery.

Teenagers Carole Digby and cousin Sandra Boyer were among the numbers at De Montfort.

“We’d heard that Paul McCartney liked Jelly Babies, so we went to Woolworths and bought a 1lb bag,” says Carole, a teaching assistant at English Martyrs.

“The security guards had threatened to throw people out if any more were thrown on stage, but we carried on.

“My cousin’s father worked at De Montfort Hall and he got me all their photographs and autographs. I wish I still had them now.”

It was raining Jelly Babies a few seats forward on the front row, remembers Paul Wheatcroft.

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“Within minutes of The Beatles being on stage, one or two people started to throw the occasional jelly baby but soon it was a barrage. My brother opened his box and threw one or two and a policeman in front of the stage pointed at him and shook his head. So my brother had to continue throwing cautiously.

“It was during a duet with Paul and John singing into the same microphone when my brother launched a jelly baby which sailed through the air and hit John Lennon squarely on the neck. The pair burst out laughing and stopped playing for a short time. To this day, that’s my brother’s claim to fame.”

Forklift truck driver Nigel Dawson was sat next to Paul and his brother Roy.

For all three, The Beatles were the first band they ever saw live.

“Yes, I suppose it is quite something,” says Nigel, from Burbage. “That’s not bad, is it?”

“I remember at the end of the concert there was a chap who jumped over from the right hand side of the balcony. He lowered himself down so far and jumped the final distance onto the stage, walked over to them and they all walked off together to the right. I wonder who he was?”

Teresa Ashton (nee Richardson) was 14 and living on Eyres Monsell estate with her family. She was a fan of blond boy wonder Adam Faith at the time and The Beatles meant nothing to her.

ENTERTAINMENT.The Beatles at De Montfort Hall, December 1, 1963PICTURE WILL JOHNSTON

If it wasn’t for her good friend Ann Lawrence’s convincing entreaties, she would never have gone.

But, lucky for her, she did: “It was the most wonderful experience ever,” she says, reminiscing from her home in Barrow on Soar. “It was very noisy and happy; I made several new friends that night. I particularly remember coming out with a sore throat with all the screaming and shouting.

“I also got into a lot of trouble when I got home late.

“From that concert, several of us off the estate never missed a pop concert there again,” she says, happily, “and I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since.”

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(Written by Catherine Turnell. A similar version to this story was first published in the Leicestershire Chronicle. Images copyright the Leicester Mercury)

My Favourite Albums of All Time Part One

This is a tricky one. I’ve never been that impressed with ‘best of’ lists but I found myself sitting in a hotel room listening to music on my phone and I began thinking about what my favourite (and most influential) albums of all-time were. I say influential because as many of you know I am a musician and song-writer who has followed in the footsteps of many greats. It’s a hard choice but here’s my favourite 20. I’ve limited myself to two albums by the same artist or else they would probably be all by Bob Dylan ! I also realise, having completed the list, that, with the exception of the first 5, the rest are in no particular order. I’m also aware that there are countless others that could, and probably should, be included. Okay, it’s a stupid idea but here it is!

1. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan.

Highway+61+Revisited+Bob+Dylan++Highway+61+Revisite

Okay, what can I say about this album apart from the fact that it is probably the most inspired piece of work I have EVER heard (notice the Dylanesque emphasis) and I’m not just talking about music! I have read reports about the session and all participants agree that something very special happened here. It contains, in my opinion, the greatest rock song of all time “Like a Rolling Stone” but this is not really the essence of the album. It stands apart and, indeed, was produced by a different person from the rest of the record. The remainder contains Dylan at his most aggressive and elusive best. The most interesting song, again in my opinion, is Desolation Row, a surreal trawl through 20th Century culture and ideas. “Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, while calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers”. This isn’t just poetry and music it is an assault on the senses and intellect! “The Agents” and “The Superhuman Crew” check to see that no one is escaping to Desolation Row. The famous voice that people either love or hate is at it’s expressive best. Like many albums on my list this one is unique. There was nothing like it before and there’s been nothing like it since. Even the titles of the songs were a new departure with weird names like “Queen Jane Approximately”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” that seemed to have nothing to do with the lyrics of the songs but probably did have. Pop music had found Symbolist poetry and the kids loved it!! (Well, this one did). It stands alone and sounds forever modern and archaic at the same time. Dylan himself has said that he had no idea how he wrote the songs and wouldn’t be able to do them now. The musicianship is impeccable especially the electric guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield and the acoustic lead of Charlie McCoy imported especially from Nashville for just one track!

2. The Songs of Leonard Cohen220px-SongsOfLeonardCohen

If Bob Dylan in the mid sixties was on an amphetamine fueled creative voyage into oblivion Leonard Cohen was on a quietly mannered journey back from it. This album emerged in 1968 and gradually became a bedsit legend as many sad young men and women took the songs to heart. Okay, it has been called music to slit your wrists to and Cohen’s voice has probably been even less complimented than Dylan’s but to those in the know this is an album of beautifully crafted songs whose underlying message is surprisingly optimistic completely unlike the eternal whinging of say Morrissey and the Smiths who actually DID create music to slit your wrists to. Cohen’s songs deal with ideas that had seldom been dealt with by popular music before. Despair, spirituality, sexual love and he wrote like a real poet which of course is what he was. He was also a well known novelist before he became a singer and a songwriter. A very different pedigree to most of the pop singers and rock and rollers at the time. He was a remarkable performer though and managed to follow Jimi Hendrix at 4 in the morning at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and still get a standing ovation. Producer Bob Johnson was so impressed with him that he gave up producing and joined his band as a keyboardist. This was his first album and contains classics like “Suzanne” and “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”. My favourite is “The Stranger Song” that manages to evoke feelings of loss, alienation and redemption. ” And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind you find he did not leave you very much not even laughter. Like any dealer he was watching for the card that is so high and wild he’ll never need to deal another.He was just some Joseph looking for a manger”. It also has his trade mark guitar ripple which is quite difficult to do. The perfect song for existentialists.

3. The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Warhol Banana cover is more well known but this was the original cover in the UK.
The Warhol Banana cover is more well known but this was the original cover in the UK. The record label is wrong. It should be black.

If Leonard Cohen was the poet laureate of despair and alienation the Velvet Underground were like a sound track to the heroin drenched ravings of William Burroughs in “The Naked Lunch”. Here we have tracks like “Heroin”, “The Black Angel’s Death Song” and “Waiting for the Man” complete with drones and excruciating feed back. This is like the antithesis of pop music, both disturbed and deranged. Not surprisingly it was neither played on the radio nor bought in any quantity by the general public at the time. It has since of course been cited as one of the greatest records of all time and was a massive influence on punk rock. Famously produced by Andy Warhol (or should that be non-produced as he knew nothing about music or record production!) it also contained some sweet ballads dealing with wholesome events like “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “Femme Fatale” and “Venus in Furs” that reference both mental insecurity and sado-masochistic sex. Not your typical pop song.! This is a truly adorable record that managed to both scare and make me smile. Lou Reed thinks that if it had NOT been produced by Warhol it might have sold a lot more as he was so universally detested at the time (Warhol that is. Lou Reed has only become detested more recently!) and his name on the record put people off. On the other hand it would never have been released as it is without his influence. Some PROPER record producer would have cleaned it up and totally ruined it.

4. Strange Days by The Doorsfreecovers.net

You may wonder why this record by the Doors is so high up the chart and not their dazzling first LP. Well, the answer is simple. Apart from a couple of singles like “Light My Fire” I missed the first one and went straight into “Strange Days” which I think is absolutely brilliant. The sound of the Doors is wonderful and the quality of Jim Morrison’s voice is just perfect. He described it as “sick crooning” as he had based it on the sound of Frank Sinatra. Mind you, he doesn’t sound much like Frank when he bellows out “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection!!” He was a great lyricist who raided the poems of William Blake and created something new. The final song “When the Music’s Over” is monumental and gives the impression of spontaneity and improvisation. Morrison introduced performance poetry to pop music and created the way for great artists like Patti Smith. I just love the line “Before I sink into the big sleep, I want to hear the scream of the butterfly”. It has been said by some critics that this album is not as good as the first and they used up all their best songs on that one. I disagree, I think this is just as good and,in my mind, perhaps even better. Mind you, I also love “Waiting for the Sun” and even the song “Hello, I Love You” which attracted some derision at the time because it was seen as cynically commercial (and plagiarised The Kinks)! I guess the Doors can do no wrong for me!

5. Revolver by The Beatles220px-Revolver

In a similar way that I missed the first Doors album I also missed “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles. If I hadn’t have done it would probably have been my favourite Beatles record. As it is, I didn’t listen to it in it’s entirety until years later! However, “Revolver” still stands up as the most ambitious Beatles record until that date. “Sgt. Pepper” is probably more ambitious but it is not as interesting, in my opinion, with the exception perhaps of “Day in the Life”. “Revolver” totally knocked my socks off. From the opening count-in of “Taxman” to the wailing drones of “Tomorrow Never Knows” I was captivated. This was music I had never heard before and I loved it! It also had the first real use of Indian music. Sure, George had used the sitar on “Rubber Soul” but here we have a full Indian ensemble including tabla with George crooning mystically over the top of it. Totally brilliant!! There is also the first use of experimentation with the recording of reverse guitar tracks and tape loops. The Beatles are growing up and trying new things! This record probably has the Beatles playing together at their best. George’s lead guitar playing has improved and changed considerably. Ringo’s drumming has never been better. John and Paul’s voices are perfectly matched. It is interesting that in the same year that they gave up playing live they produced their tightest recordings ever. Songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said, She Said” are miniature gems of great writing and playing. Oh, and the sleeve’s pretty cool as well!

Trip to Liverpool

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Well, I spent Wednesday to Friday last week in Liverpool staying with my old school friend Nev, and what a fascinating place it is. Apart from visiting the International Slavery Museum for a short time several years back it is the first time I’ve been in the city. I don’t know why really. What with the Beatles and the sea and the docks and the culture I should have been there lots of times, but I haven’t. Time to make up for it now!

First impressions were good. Nev picked me up from the station and took me back to his house where I settled in pretty quickly. We then went to the Casbah Coffee Club which according to Trip Adviser is the number one attraction in Liverpool. This may come as a surprise to many Liverpudlians who have never heard of it!

Casbah Coffee Club
Casbah Coffee Club

It was not that easy to find and it looked like it was closed but we finally managed to attract someone’s attention! Roag Best, the brother of Pete who was the original drummer of the Beatles, gave us a highly entertaining tour of the club which closed in 1962 but is remarkably well-preserved. It is where the Beatles first played and many of the paintings and decorations were done by them. A truly remarkable place.

An early picture of the Beatles at the Casbah Club. Not enough room to swing a cat!
An early picture of the Beatles at the Casbah Club. Not enough room to swing a cat!
As the Beatles got more popular a bigger stage was built with security rails!
As the Beatles got more popular a bigger stage was built with security rails!
Ceiling decorated by John Lennon. Fake Egyptian style!
Ceiling decorated by John Lennon. Fake Egyptian style!

It is amazing the amount of interest the Beatles attract worldwide. They truly were a phenomenon and fifty years later they are even more popular than they were then! It’s almost unbelievable.

Anyway, I bought a tee-shirt from the Casbah and went back to Nev’s where Francine cooked a fantastic pasta dish. Mmm, delicious. The rhubarb crumble was also pretty fantastic! Here’s a picture of the table with fruit.

Table with fruit. Very colourful!
Table with fruit. Very colourful!

That night we all went out to discover the live music scene. First stop was the open mic at Bier bar. It was busy with a mainly young crowd. Nice atmosphere and I did three songs early on that went down pretty well AND I got a free beer. Jolly good!

View out the window of Bier bar.
View out the window of Bier bar.

We then went to another bar Osqa’s Arena Bar where the Everyman Folk Club meets. This is a club that has been running for years with a mainly older crowd. The music and singing were really good and I did two songs there. Very enjoyable.

Next day we went to town on the bus and had a look round town and saw an interesting exhibition of Beatles photographs (you can’t get away from them!) and had a fantastic trip on the Mersey ferry. There are some amazing views of Liverpool from the ferry reminiscent in some ways of the New York skyline.

Liverpool from the ferry
Liverpool from the ferry
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A bit like New York from the Hudson!

That night I hit town on my own and went first to the open mic at the Lomax. I walked past Mathew Street on the way and had a look outside the Cavern but I didn’t go in. Seemed a bit commercial and by now I was suffering from Beatles overkill! The Lomax is a live music club that reminds me of the Shed in Leicester. The open mic was in a basement with live groups upstairs. There weren’t many in but I had a good time and got a free drink. The life of a star!! I then crossed town and went to Pogue Mahone. This was pretty good until it got invaded by a student pub crawl. Ended up doing loads of Irish singalongs which was fun but not what I was really looking for!

Pogue Mahone pub.
Pogue Mahone pub.
Pogue Mahone open mic
Pogue Mahone open mic

Next day I booked a guided tour with Eric Lynch of the Liverpool Slavery Trail. This was both fascinating and disturbing. He made it quite clear about the importance of the slave trade to Liverpool and how many of the landmarks referred to it. Slavery is a very emotive subject. It’s hard to be objective about something that is so abhorrent and inhumane. Eric Lynch often used the phrase “arrogance of power” in his talk. I know what he means but what came to mind with me was the phrase “banality of evil”.The merchants who were involved in the slave trade just saw things on a business level. All they were bothered about was making a profit. They approached slavery in a similar way to the Nazis exterminating Jews; in an efficient and business- like way. This is what is so terrifying about it!  It was a very good tour that I would recommend.

African children holding bags of gold representing the wealth of Africa on a bank building!
African children holding bags of gold representing the wealth of Africa on a bank building!
Streets named after slave traders
Streets named after slave traders. There are many more than this including the famous Bold Street!
Monument at the Exchange showing French prisoners of war. They built Albert Docks.
Monument at the Exchange showing French prisoners of war. They built Albert Docks one of the main slaving ports. An inscription on it says “England expects that every man will do his duty” a quote from Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.