This book gives a great insight into the glory days of music journalism: i.e., when it was an actual paying job reporting on an actual record industry. Allan Jones joined Melody Maker as a junior reporter in 1974. His ultra-confident application signed off with the lines: “Melody Maker needs a bullet up the arse. I’m the gun, pull the trigger.” Modest? No! But that is as it should be. Why hide your light under a bushel?
Allan went on to work at Melody Maker from 1974 to 1997, when he launched music and film magazine Uncut, which he edited from then until 2014. For Uncut he wrote an excellent column called “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before,” based on his 70s and 80s experiences as an interviewer. And such interviews! We will never see their like again!
Jones managed to provoke the wrath of arch-whinger Roger Waters, and that would be reason enough to buy this book. Also, when at Melody Maker he ignored the publisher’s instruction to put Kajagoogoo on the cover in favour of The Smiths. Time had proved him right, and anyway, Kajagoogoo were shite even by the low standards of their time.
Stories included here feature The Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, The Clash, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Pearl Jam, The Smiths, R.E.M, and more. We will never see such decadent days again. Popular music today is mind-blowingly bland, lowest common-denominator crap made with no love, passion or artistry. Videos are carbon copies of what has gone before as is the music. In fact it isn’t music; it’s manipulation, a way of making money. ‘Stars’ today care more about endorsements and fame than they do about artl in fact, it is doubtful they even know what art is. Beyonce is not Nina Simone, Justin Bieber is not Bob Dylan. It’s all over bar the shouting… but this book is a splendid example of what we are now missing.
One of the reasons Jones’s interviews are so good is that there seems to have been no publicists present to control their clients. For instance, at a 1977 interview with Bryan Ferry, he asks Ferry some hard questions about being a tyrant. Ferry vehemently denies this, but then goes on to say that he doesn’t need Roxy Music. In the same book, Andy McKay comments on Bryan Ferry: ‘Look for the nearest mirror, he’ll be in front of it.’ In the real world people are rarely in control. They often don’t like the people they deal with. They’re irrational. Their moods go up and down. And this is reflected in this astonishingly honest book.
One rather amazing interview is with Phil Lynott’s mum, Phyllis! Here in Ireland she is something of a celebrity, a very nice lady who keeps the flame of Phil and Thin Lizzy alive. Allan writes that “Phyllis ran a hotel called The Clifton Grange Hotel, which was known throughout Manchester’s clubland as The Showbiz.” Reading this interview it’s easy to see where Philo, God rest his soul, got his love of performing.
Can you imagine in this day-and-age a magazine editor green-lighting an interview with, say, Lars Ulrich’s dad? I imagine the conversation would go thusly:
WRITER: HEY, I HAVE A GRAND IDEA! WHAT IF WE INTERVIEW LARS ULRICH’S DAD? HE’LL HAVE LOADS OF GREAT STORIES AND INSIGHTS INTO LARS!
EDITOR/PUBLISHER: NO WAY, WE COVER THE BANDS THAT PLACE ADVERTS WITH US. ADVERTISERS CALL THE SHOTS. NO LOVELY ADVERTS IN THIS WE’RE HERE TO MAKE MONEY NOT LITERATURE… DO YOU THINK WE COULD INTERVIEW JUSTIN BIEBER’S GRAN INSTEAD? OR HIS CAT… THE READERS LOVE CATS… ADVERTISERS LOVE CATS!
Anyway, the interview with Phil’s mum is great, but as I say… it would never happen now.
There are two interviews with Van Morrison in this book. On both occasions Van lives up to his reputation and is mind-bogglingly rude. My advice with Van is always thus: listen to his music by all means, he’s a great talent, but never ever read an interview with him because you’ll find it hard to listen to him afterwards.
There is a truly great interview with Patti Smith, a great artist. There are great pieces on Alex Harvey and Mick Ronson, but one of the joys of this book is coming across artists I have never heard of before – it’s an education that way.
Another highlight of this book for me is a 1975 interview with Hawkwind founder Dave Brock. Hawkwind are a special band. Without Hawkwind there would be no Motorhead and the face of the music we love would be very different. Hawkwind were also a great influence on the likes of Monster Magnet and Neurosis. (If I had to recommend only one Hawkwind album it would be ‘Warrior on the Edge of Time’, and the three-disc Steven Wilson version on Atomhenge is the one to get.) Jones writes of Brock that “Dave for his part looks like he couldn’t remember his own name if you held a blow torch to his trousers.” The two get suitably refreshed and the rest of the interview is like some far-out psychedelic trip, which is as it should be when it comes to Hawkwind.
Jones also interviewed Lemmy while he was still a member of Hawkwind. Now Lemmy always gave great interviews but in this case he was interviewed by a writer with a novelist’s skill for describing a surreal situation. He describes the interview with the much-missed Lemmy thusly: ‘He turns up at an office in the Harrow Road, a mess of warts, whiskers and loudly creaking leather. He’s wearing a WW2 German helmet that’s sprayed silver, which he promptly turns upside down on the table between us. Inside the helmet there’s a bag full of amphetamine sulphate, which certainly catches my attention. He then produces a knife, and plunges it into the toot. With an astonishingly steady hand for someone who looks like he hasn’t slept since before the earth cooled, he lifts the knife blade towards me, a miniature Matterhorn of sulphate at its end.’
There’s an amazing tale from the speeding Lemmy, which I will quote at length, because it’s awesome (and very Hawkwind, maaan!):
‘Now that I’m listening to what he’s telling me, he appears to be talking about the lethal possibilities of sound, the destructive potential of noise, its capacity for subjugation, the brainwashing of entire populations by sinister sonic manipulation.’
‘”Sound,” he’s saying, “if used at the proper frequency, can render all your people – turn them, like, into zombies. Living dead. With no will of their own. You’ll get, if you’re a conquering power and you attack with sound, all the cheap slave labour you need. You could conquer a whole country, bring the population to heel, take over everything. And,” he says with a flourish, “there’d be no cities to rebuild. Because there’d be no need to drop bombs or blow everything up. You just start to deafen everybody and they all go a bit fucking ga-ga, and you’re in. Probably take about ten minutes, if that… Keep it to yourself, but the government’s already been looking at this. They’ve got hundreds, literally hundreds of speakers all over Neasden.”’
Then they go for a so-called ‘quick one’, that isn’t really that quick… they get home the following month! Imagine getting paid to go on the piss with Lemmy!!!
Tony Iommi had issued threats of physical violence against the author, due to Jones’s amusing write-up of his first encounter with him. It’s a very different world to the one we live in today. Our author finds himself meeting Black Sabbath on their 10th anniversary tour. He describes the scene thusly: ‘Ozzy Osbourne, meanwhile, is also close by and having difficulty opening a bottle of brandy. I offer to help him out, give the top a bit of twist and hand it back to him for what turns out to be a hefty swig, followed by a very wet belch. It’s like taking a thorn out of a lion’s paw. We’re friends for life now.’
His encounter with Iommi, however, does not go well. Iommi remembers the aforementioned offending article and strikes the author a savage blow, splitting his lip. He would have done worse had a roadie not prevented him. A different world to today. If that happened now, there would be a huge lawsuits.
Four years later, our author interviews Ozzy in Texas. Again this is not remotely like a 21st century metal magazine hagiography, and all the better for it. Ozzy remembers Allan getting ‘whacked’ by Iommi, saying, “what Tony did to you, that was really offside. You was just a scrap of a thing. Really skinny little punk in a leather jacket and chains as I recall. He was a monster, Iommi… Fists for fucking brains.’
This was the infamous tour where Ozzy simulated hanging a dwarf every night (curiously, Black Sabbath would also take a dwarf out on the road the following year on their ‘Born Again’ tour (classic and underrated album with Ian Gillan!). The dwarf would appear on one of their life-size Stonehenge stage props! (You couldn’t make this up). And even more significantly, the interview took place on the very day Ozzy urinated on the Alamo! Literally, with the author and photographer there.
Now, famously, a Ranger tells the arrested Ozzy, “Mister, when you piss on the Alamo, you piss on the State of Texas… I mean, would you piss all over Buckingham Palace?” Ozzy replies, “Actually, I did once!” On hearing the name of the arrested miscreant urinator, the Ranger asks, “you ain’t the guy that eats bats, are you?” Sharon Arden, as she then was, Ozzy’s manager, gets Ozzy out of jail. Allan describes her as ‘a shrill woman with a slightly demonic air, prone to hysterics and a lot of blunt language.’ He goes on to reveal that ‘she’s still swearing like a docker when she notices Sheehan (the photographer for the feature) and me and furiously berates us for leading Ozzy off the reservation when he was under strict instructions not to leave the hotel under any circumstance.’
Overall, one of the best books ever written about rock music. More please!
Published by Bloomsbury | www.bloomsbury.com