This is the first half of the preface to my rock memoir. This has proved to be one of my best selling books.
Jack White launched into the searing riff that was the intro to ‘Death Letter Blues’. It shot me straight back to 1968 and the thrill of seeing and hearing Son House. Son’s national steel guitar was more ragged than Jack White’s crystal clear electric chords, and nowhere near as loud, but the chords rang true and the energy and passion were exactly the same.
Meg pounded the drums and the crowd surged forward.
It was Bridlington Spa in 2004. White Stripes were the hottest thing on the planet. The place was packed and the atmosphere electric. I was right near the front – the only place to be at any gig – the place where the intensity was magnified.
It was a huge crowd and they were crazy tonight. I could see the young kids piling into the mosh-pit and shoving – excited groups of kids deliberately surging like riot cops in a wedge driving into the crowd and sending them reeling so that they tumbled and spilled. For the first time I started getting concerned. The tightly packed kids in the mosh-pit were roaring and bouncing up and down and kept being propelled first one way and then another as the forces echoed and magnified through the mass of people. At the front the crush was intense and everyone was careering about madly. My feet were off the ground as we were sent hurtling around. I had visions of someone getting crushed, visions of someone falling and getting trampled. Worst of all – it could be me!
For the first time in forty odd years of gigs I bailed out. I ruefully headed for the balcony and a clear view of the performance. I didn’t want a clear view I wanted to be in the thick of the action. It got me wondering – was I getting to old for this lark? My old man had only been a couple of years older than me when he’d died. Perhaps Rock Music was for the young and I should be at home listening to opera or Brahms with an occasional dash of Wagner to add the spice. I had become an old git. Then I thought – FUCK IT!!! Jack White was fucking good! Fuck Brahms – This was Rock ‘n’ Roll. You’re never too old to Rock! And Rock was far from dead!
The search goes on!!
We haven’t got a clue what we’re looking for but we sure as hell know when we’ve found it.
Rock music has not been the backdrop to my entire adult life; it’s been much more than that. It has permeated my life, informed it and directed its course.
From when I was a small boy I found myself enthralled. I was grabbed by that excitement. I wanted more. I was hunting for the best Rock jag in the world! – The hit that would send the heart into thunder and melt the mind into ecstasy.
I was hunting for Beefheart, Harper, House, Zimmerman and Guthrie plus a host of others even though I hadn’t heard of them yet.
I found them and I’m still discovering them. I’m sixty four and looking for more!
Forget your faith, hope and charity – give me Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll and the greatest of these is Rock ‘n’ Roll!
I was a kid in the Thames Delta, with pet crow called Joey, 2000 pet mice (unnamed), a couple of snakes, a mammoth tusk, a track bike with a fixed wheel, a friend called Mutt who liked blowing up things, a friend called Billy who kept a big flask of pee in the hopes of making ammonia, and a lot of scabs on my knees.
My search for the heart of Rock began in 1959 and I had no idea what I was looking for when I started on this quest. Indeed I did not know I had embarked on a search for anything. I was just excited by a new world that opened up to me; the world of Rock Music. My friend Clive Hansell also had no idea what he was initiating when he introduced me to the sounds he was listening to. Clive was a few years older than me. He liked girls and he liked Popular Music. Yet he seemed to have limited tastes. I can only ever remembering him playing me music by two artists – namely Adam Faith and Buddy Holly. In some ways it was a motley introduction to the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
I was ten years old which would have made Clive about twelve or thirteen, I suppose he could even have been fourteen. That is quite a lot of years at that age. We used to got off to his bedroom, sit on the bed and he’d play me the singles – 45s – on his Dansette player. He’d stack four or five singles on the deck push the lever up to play and we’d lean forward and watch intently. The turntable would start rotating; the mechanism clunked as the arm raised, there were clicks and clunks as the arm drew back and the first single dropped, then the arm would come across and descend on to the outer rim of the disc. The speaker would hiss and crackle and then the music kicked in. We watched the process intently every time as if it depended on our full attention.
The Adam Faith singles were on Parlaphone and were red with silver writing. The Buddy Holly was on Coral with a black label and silver writing. We reverentially watched the discs spinning and listened with great concentration to every aspect of the songs. It was a start.
Yet Rock ‘n’ Roll was by no means the only quest I’d started on. I was an early developer. I’d hit puberty at ten and can imagine myself as the scruffy little, dirty-faced kid who climbed trees, waded through ditches, got covered in frogspawn and lichen and was suddenly sprouting pubic hair – very confusing.
Life was going to change for me. I was in a transition phase.
My friend Jeff has a photo of me from this age that seems to sum it up very nicely. I was briefly in the cubs before they chucked me out for being too unruly (they – ‘they’ being the establishment – also chucked me out of the scouts and army cadets!). I went to cubs with my mate Jeff. Jeff lived at the end of the road and I used to go and call for him. It was only about 400yds away. I set off in plenty of time, did my thing on the way and arrived at Jeff’s house. His mum obviously did a double take and went for the camera.
Oblivious to any underlying motive on Jeff mum’s part I innocently posed with Jeff. The resultant picture, which shows the two of us proudly standing to attention doing the two fingered cub salute (very appropriate I always think), showed Jeff immaculate with creases in his shorts, flashes showing on his long socks, cap, woggle and scarf all perfectly aligned, and me not quite so sartorially presented. To start with I am utterly begrimed with green lichen, having shinned up a number of trees; one sock is around my ankle and the other half way down my calf; my scarf and cap askew, and my jumper and shorts a crinkled, crumpled mess. It looked like a set-up but was probably par for the course.
Looking back I can see why Clive liked Buddy and Adam. Buddy Holly was a genius. In his short career of just three years he wrote tens of classics of Rock music with hardly a dud among them. He was highly prolific, innovative and talented. I think of him as the Jimi Hendrix of his day. He was far ahead of Elvis. His mind outstripped all the others. I think Buddy’s death, along with Jimi’s, John Lennon’s and Jim Morrison’s, was the greatest tragedy. Out of all the early Rockers he was the one with the musical ear, the melody and adaptability to have really progressed when the music scene opened up in the 1960s. The other Rockers all got caught in their own 1950s style or went Poppy. I would have loved to have seen Buddy interacting with the Beatles. My – what we missed out on!
In many ways Adam Faith was Britain’s answer to Buddy. The arrangements of the songs were cheesy covers of Buddy and Adam did his best Buddy warble. Britain hadn’t quite got it right with Rock music, the production and direction from management (Larry Parnes the old-fashioned British Impresario has a lot to answer for as he guided his Rockers into a more ballad driven, family safe, Pop sound that he figured would make him more money) was all a bit twee. Even so, back then, Adam Faith sounded good to me. In Britain in the 1950s we were starved of good Rock ‘n’ Roll. The good old Auntie Beeb, with its plumy DJs did its best to protect us from the dreadful degenerate racket created by the American Rockers.