Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stones’

Reckless - HyndeCan’t say I understand the rationale of that photo on the dust jacket.  Would certainly be a reckless posture for me to try and then get out undamaged, or at least without pain.  Still, as Sheriff Bo Diddley used to say, You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover. Chrissie Hynde has one of the most distinctive voices in rock music.  I was going to say ‘female voices’, but no, it stands unqualified.  Tough without straining the larynx, and yet tender, spare yet tuneful and full of nuance even in recitative.  She’s written some great songs, too.

In the Prologue to Reckless: my life (Ebury Press, 2015), which takes us from childhood through to the making and release of the Pretenders‘ second album, by which time half the band who made the first remarkable album were dead, she simply states, “I regret half of this story and the other half is the sound you heard“.  This is a stark morality tale, economically yet colourfully related, with none of the poor-poor-pitiful-me about it.  There is humility, for sure, but the woman who wrote Brass in pocket is still abundantly in evidence in the writing, for which we must be grateful.

She certainly gives good zeitgeist, which is just as well because there are plenty of scenes to take in the spirit of.  But there is no grand retreat into sociologese or nostalgia; what we get are sights and sounds.  From an idyllic childhood in the leafy suburbs of Akron, Ohio, via counter-culture America and the killing ground of Kent State University, to heady days at the centre of the punk cyclone in London, with side sojourns in Mexico and Paris, it’s an engrossing story.

Akron may have been the ‘Rubber Capital of the World’, but “for all I knew every town had red brick roads and every fourth house was painted blue …” .  It was changing, though, with the coming of the all-conquering motor car and the six lane highway; no more wandering down the shops.  “When I started to realize that the days of walking were numbered, I subconsciously began to plan my getaway.”  She reads Kerouac at an impressionable age – surely the best time to read him – and wants to be a hobo.  As mammon loomed ever larger: “I was alarmed by the trend, but more alarmed by the fact that no one else seemed bothered“.

Naturally, music is of major importance to her and her mates’ lives, and they are not messing around.  She sees the Stones at age 14, there are trips to see and meet the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a tale about being the only white girls at a Jackie Wilson show.  She puts in a word for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels to not be forgotten.

Not everyone needed to see the Rolling Stones in the mid sixties, but you could spot those who did a mile off in their modified clothes and carefully studied haircuts. For us elitists it was a chance to catch a rare glimpse of the few who shared our passion …

Reckless‘s back cover boasts this great portrait of the artist as a teenager, caught with guitar and albums in hand: that’s the Rolling Stones’ Out of our heads, and Dylan’s Bringing it all back home precariously balanced there.

CH back coverThe full text the rubric is taken from is a veritable time machine:

We were looking for adventure. We lingered long on Love Street. We had too much to dream last night. We wanted the world and we wanted it now. We were born to be wild. We were stone free. We were stoned. We didn’t think of ourselves as ‘innocent’.

We were taking up philosophies from what we could interpret of the musings of 23-year old guitar players …” she says, (though the Bhagavad Gita has stayed with her).  Then there was the question of her virginity, exquisitely put: It had to be dealt with sooner or later.  And it was getting later.”  Thankfully she doesn’t rub our noses in it, with that or the many subsequent encounters.  (The media storm about rape arose more out of interviews promoting the book, rather than the book itself).

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that I was now 21 and the drugs had worked their magic on me. I was well and truly fucked up most of the time …”  Recognising her situation – “the unwilling tenant in a badly enacted Howard the Duck rip-off: ‘Trapped in a world he never made.’ […] It was all going in the wrong direction … ” – without having any significant contacts there, she escapes to the musical Mecca of London.  

Players No6Where she quickly adapts in matters of language and manners, discovers miniature cigarettes – hey! Player’s No.6! I used to smoke them – and (jumping ahead a bit) suffers acute “cultural humiliation” when asked by Brian Eno to make a pot of tea.  Fuelled with a big Iggy Pop obsession –  there is a lovely Iggy Pop story much later on in the book – she meets the similarly obsessed (and about to be homeless) NME rock writer Nick Kent, who moves himself piecemeal into her flat.  This is not entirely bad, since through the association she gets a gig writing for NME, though ultimately, to his displeasure, she dumps him: “Well perhaps he shouldn’t have presented me with first scabies, then a virulent strain of something even worse, which had landed me in Hammersmith hospital for three days.”  Later, she sells T-shirts made with Judy Nylon, one-offs, using Magic Marker: “One design I was particularly fond of featured a portrait of Nick Kent on the front and a recipe card for how to cook a turkey on the back.”  Ouch.  Revenge for what he wrote in his memoir of the time, one suspects.

It’s this affair that occasions an interesting bit of philosophising that pretty much sums up the story arc of the book:

That’s how we can be sure we’re not animals, this refusal to abide by what we know is good for us. If an animal’s instinct tells him to avoid something he has no trouble keeping a wide berth. We, on the other hand, run in the direction of danger if it offers a thrill or satisfies a curiosity.

Much has been written about the Golden Age of the New Musical Express, and Reckless offers an entertaining and more nuanced view than most, I would venture, of “the most intelligently observed and humorous of the music papers” as she justly describes it.  “These English weren’t the same as the wasters I’d been used to. They used words like ‘quintessential’ and the occasional phrase in French. […] It hadn’t taken me long to sniff out British versions of artistic types, the con artists I gravitated towards …”  In the pub with the NME crowd, she goes off on one, and the late lamented Ian MacDonald, to whom she pays proper tribute as a ‘true visionary’, invites her to write for them: “My only qualification, had I required one, was that I was as frustrated as the rest of them – a frustrated musician (the cliché of music journalism), opinionated, hungover, illegal in the workplace, devoid of ambition …”   It didn’t take too long for her presence to be felt:

Little teenagers in the sticks like Julie Burchill lapped up my half-baked philosophical drivel and prepared their own versions of nonsensical tirades for the day when they too could make a ‘career’ out of it. I even sold the darling little Julie my typewriter …

She gets offered a job as a shop assistant by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, whose creativity impressed her, but that falls through and she’s off to Paris, making music, being in a band, hanging with cabaret artistes: “I loved it when life opens its arms like that and says, ‘Yes’.”  But then back to the States and more bad times though, again, more experience of being in a band.

London saves her.  Malcolm asks her back as Punk is springing into life.  She tries writing with Mick Jones – “It was a joy to … walk over the bridge carrying my guitar knowing I was doing it, really doing it” – and visits regularly the 11th floor Westway flat where he lives with his gran, who, “would make us beans on toast while we put our song ideas together […] I really looked forward to it, especially the beans on toast part, my favourite English dish.”  She spends time with a shy, funny, yet troubled Johnny Rotten, “wrestling with his impending fame“.  Over the next few months she has a room in Don Letts’ house; Joe Strummer takes it over when she leaves.  She spends time in Croydon with the proto-Damned, might have joined the Slits.  Things go sour, blames Johnny Thunders: “The moment smack arrived it took approximately three weeks for the whole scene to stall and grind to a halt.”  She’s mates with soul brother Lemmy in Ladbroke Grove, a cultural mix she loves.

I, meanwhile, continued to peer out from under bus shelters in the rain, guitar by my side, looking for a band like a hunter having his prey chased away by animal rights saboteurs. […] … everybody was at it. (p209/10)

(Which reminds me: if you were thinking of reading Reckless but put off by the prospect of a few animal liberation diatribes – you have nothing to fear; PETA is not even mentioned).

Everyone I’d ever met in my whole life was now in a band. I now had absolutely no hope that it would happen for me but I was so used to failure that, like a cart horse en route to the glue factory, I just kept going. (p214)

But every band needs songs to play and a shitty original is still better than a good cover – and I had some shitty originals. (p213)

 And lo, The Pretenders came into being.  Three young men from Hereford – musicians, not punks, not all recruited at once – give shape to the Hynde songs.  She pays special tribute to the guitarist, the late James Honeyman-Scott, “the reason you’re even reading this because without him I’m sure I would have made only the smallest splash with my talents – probably nothing very memorable“.

Pretenders 1st albumLooking for a producer they send a demo to Nick Lowe, who says, “I definitely want to get in on this Sandie Shaw song“.  Which is … their cover of The Kinks’ Stop your sobbing.  (Thanks Nick, that one has stuck – sound like her, indeed it does).  It’s a hit single but Chris Thomas completes the album.  It so happens this was a quid charity shop vinyl purchase of mine a while back that I never got round to playing.  I just had to de-fluff the needle twice in the playing, but, reminded, am impressed by its realative sophistication and classic aplomb; everyone knows Brass in pocket but I’d forgotten what a sinuous epic Private lives is.

It’s a big success, and that’s when the real trouble starts:

All the things we saw happening to other bands were now happening to us. It took us by surprise. The ‘overnight’ success; having to explain ourselves to the press where we were open to be judged, even laughed at – same as we’d so often laughed at others. And the in-band resentments: only a few months in and we were already living the clichés of the trade. (p260)

The temptation for a Dylan quote overpowers me: “She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all“:

As far as rock bands went, it was all textbook stuff. But the fact that everybody in every band in history had gone through the same things didn’t make it any easier to assimilate the horror show of drug addiction. Alcohol was always in the mix too, the lethal ingredient to the dark side, ever lurking. The only reason we were still standing was that we had youth on our side. But as always, time was running out.

By the time the narrative ends her one time lover and original bassist, fired because of out of control heroin usage, and guitarist James are both dead.  Over 30 years ago, that was.  She still works with original drummer, Martin Chambers.  One of the better rock memoirs, I’d say.  Distinctive, even.

A short postscript in the matter of Ray Davies

Given in the interest of Lillabullero in Raymond Douglas Davies evidenced elsewhere on this site, I’ll parlay a few words about their troubled relationship – “Ours was a battle of wills – as recounted in Reckless.  “We’d always laugh after the facts about the absurdity of our fights, but there was nothing funny about them. […] I kept going back into the ring, so to speak. After all, he was handsome, funny as hell, smart and interesting – he was Ray Davies!”  There’s a nice story about her throwing some new shirts she’d just bought him out of the window of their New York residence in a rage, only for them to be picked up by an old tramp, who secreted them under his mac, stepping lightly away;  Ray, of course, had cast himself as a tramp in his 3-album and stage show Preservation saga.  We also get her version of the Guildford Registry Office ceremony failure, they travelling down on the train: “I was wearing a white silk suit I’d had made in Bangkok, with a skirt (so, as you see, I really was serious).”  They got separate trains back.

Closer to home

Living Archive BandAortas last Oct Sunday 2015Vaultage 29 Oct 15The Living Archive Milton Keynes‘s one-off fund-raiser at York House provided an absorbing, entertaining and, at times, very moving evening.  A multi-media presentation, with the actual recordings of those who had been interviewed – with the old North Bucks accent much in evidence – about their youth and working lives, backed up by archive photographs setting the context before the accomplished Living Archive Band performed some fine songs, many sounding as if straight out of the folk tradition, directly inspired by those reminiscences.

The programme was themed, taking in, for the first half, The impact of the railway (including Cotton and fluff, about the women in the sewing rooms at Wolverton Works), and The impact of war (including the unforgettable voice of Hawtin Munday as per the poster).  The second half looked at Local communities during the last 100 years, finishing with The night the Stones rolled into town – one of those legendary gigs, the Rolling Stones at Wilton Hall in Bletchley, 1964 – a lilting refrain about the future being here then, a poignancy enhanced by there being no attempt at employing any Stones licks.  The Living Archive is a very good thing.  Here’s a web link: http://www.livingarchive.org.uk/

Highlight of the second Aortas open mic of October at the Old George was some great fiddle from Nuala Friedman, first accompanying Naomi Rose, whose granddad’s violin it was, on songs that were new to her – such musicianship! – and then having something of a session with Dan Plews.  Earlier Ralph Coates had managed the fine rhyming of “She’s a walking disaster / but I love her pasta“.

There must have been something in the air for Halloween week’s Vaultage, even though Pat was the only one with warpaint, because it was packed for featured sets from quality local stalwarts Mark Owen and Mitchell Taylor, and we got a Dave Cattermole bonus at the end.  Oh, and Ralph Coates played standing up for the very first time and it did indeed make a difference.



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A casual vacancyJust because I’m being short and sweet about J.K.Rowling‘s The casual vacancy doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by it or didn’t enjoy it a lot.  She’s not one of the great prose stylists and plot liberties of a factual kind are taken but I ceased to care too much about the clunkiness of the former or the strict accuracy of the latter as this tale of small town social life, politics and hypocrisy in Middle England increasingly got its hold on me.

The casual vacancy starts off like Middlemarch (without the intellectual pursuits but with teenagers), morphs into Dickens on his best moral high hobby-horse and finishes with a proud egalitarian flourish beyond the realms of either.  The action revolves about the gap left in the community by the death of one Barry Fairbrother, prole made good who’s not about to forsake or sacrifice the chances of those left behind on the wrong side of the metaphorical tracks (I presume they lost the railway line in the Beeching era).  There is a rich and varied cast of characters all with their own frustrations, while there’s a clever plot driver in a series of postings from ‘The ghost of Barry Fairweather’ to the parish council website and the repercussions they cause.  It all works up to a very nicely paced climax of a birthday party at which much drink is taken; its aftermath and the related series of events that follow with devastating consequences make for a highly satisfying and bracing novel with more than just a big heart.  She’s a fine storyteller who doesn’t sit on the fence and it’s good to know the book is selling so well.  (I’ve not mentioned Harry Potter because – no excuses – those are children’s books.)

And so to the other stuff:

Stony High Street morris 2012

The massed ranks of morris men and women and steppers as Old Mother Redcap prepare to take to the street outside the church.

It’s that time of the year again.  Morris sides in the High Street, the lantern parade, the fairground organ, the bumper cars, the raffle tickets and the turning on of the Stony Christmas lights.  To which this year must be added the library open on a Saturday afternoon for Santa and the Bard’s hosting of a poetry event with readings from a lot of the usual suspects and more.  I’d not seen former bard of Northampton Donna Scott give her entertaining exploration of the whys, wherefores and consequences of her given name before but was glad to do so now; and let us not forget The Antipoet again struggling with the concept of family friendly material.  In its 50th year, the actual switching on of the lights fell to a well chuffed Danni Antagonist, the current Bard of Stony Stratford now nearing the end of her reign, whose celebratory ode is a good example of the way she has played it, placing trigger local events in a broader frame.  Here’s the final verse:

So here’s to the illuminators
Who bring the vital spark,
Stay strong against the nay-sayers,
And fight back against the dark.

Live at the Checkerboard LoungeAnd so from Stony to the Stones, on a completely different tack.  Watching Muddy Waters & the Rolling Stones Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981 had me feeling queasy and unclean.  Some fine blues from Muddy Waters & his band until the Stones entourage turns up.  And yes, I know, Muddy invited them up on stage and seems to be enjoying himself, and I’m fully cognisant of the part the Stones played in boosting his reputation and earnings in his homeland, but really – the sight of the prancing, gurning v-necked pink tracksuited Mick Jagger had me embarrassed, not knowing where to put myself … me and my generation.  I’m still shuddering at the thought.  Remember that caption in the NME about Freddie Mercury – one of that paper’s many finest moments: Is this man a prat?  Yes, but never mind that.  Regardless of the Stones’ undeniable heritage (by 1981, new output waning anyway), how did Jagger get away with it so long?  Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, by the way – back at the Checkerboard – in the brief space given them, are magnificent.

MM tw3And I’m still reeling, having moved from the thought that she looks familiar to the dawning then sudden realisation that … the woman paying Daphne’s awful mother in the still infinitely watchable Frasier is none other than my very first pin-up: Millicent Martin.  Well, well.

Bill MaherFinally, nothing personal, but the news of the pregnant Kate & Wills has me shouting at the television.  The prospect of 6 more months and years beyond of this drivel hijacking valuable news time coverage of events that might actually matter is daunting.  Does Nicholas Witchell ever wake up and remember the time when he used to be a proper journalist?  I keep asking rhetorically to the tv screen, “How old are you?” at the loosely ringletted and simpering ‘royal expert’ Kate Williams, when she’s a respected academic and author D.Phil, MA and a lot of other things too, so shouldn’t have to.  You know, the one who looks like she wants to be painted by the Pre-Raphaelites.  Isn’t it time this country grew up and ditched the whole notion of hereditary monarchy?  Aren’t you embarrassed?  Isn’t their suddenly becoming the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge just absurd?  Did anyone ask Cambridge?  As ever, American comedian Bill Maher hits the nail on the head in this quote from the New Rules section of his US tv show, broadcast at the time of their wedding:

Now that the royal wedding is finally over, the next person who uses the word fairy tale must be led into the woods by a dwarf, turned into a faun and be eaten by a witch …  Now, Kate and Wills seem like nice kids but I hope at some point they say, “We just feel creepy about other human beings calling us Your Highness.”

Wouldn’t it be nice, but as Harry Hill might say, What are the chances of that?  Meanwhile there’s http://www.republic.org.uk/ for some sanity and lots of intellectual ammunition.

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I was born in a crossfire …  No, hang on, excuse me.  Proof if nothing else, I guess, of the effectiveness of that Rolling Stones tv ad it’s hard to escape from at the moment.  And what have they chosen to call this latest money grabbing compilation?  Grrr!  No, that’s what they’ve called it.  Very grown-up.  When what we could really do with are re-issues of the original albums released by Decca in the UK up to and including Aftermath, compiled as per the Kinks Pye reissues with – in addition to the album tracks – all the singles, b-sides and EP tracks from the same period.  (Not forgetting that Rice Crispies TV ad).

I was born in the Nelson Hospital, Merton and lived easy walking distance from Plough Lane just round the corner from South Wimbledon tube station on the Northern Line for the first 6 years of my life, after which we moved to Sutton.  And though we lived pretty much mid-way between Sutton United’s and Carshalton Athletic’s grounds there, it was back to Plough Lane that my father took me for my first football match, to see Wimbledon, the team he had followed since his youth, playing in the Isthmian League.  That’s his badge in the picture.  Though he didn’t go much any more, he followed their progress up the leagues with satisfaction.  It was a good story.

My later (wholly non-attending) allegiance was aroused by their unfashionable status in what was still then the First Division of the Football League.  Champion the underdog!  I even bought a lapel badge at some stage – in Milton Keynes shopping centre, as it happens, after we’d moved there in the ’80s with a family of my own.  Not sure whether the purchase was before or after the Cup Final of 1988, when Liverpool got theirs; probably after.  In the family archive I have manager Bobby Gould’s reply to my father’s letter of congratulation after the team’s semi-final victory wishing the club good luck for the Final.  It’s like – no, it is – something from another age.

Shame it transpires that the famous Wembley win and much of their success was the equivalent of playground bullies kicking the shit out of the school swots, though it’s still good to think of Liverpool’s sense of entitlement being rattled.  You have to also say that it’s refreshing in another way to think that Vincent Jones and chums in the Crazy Gang – some footballing heritage there, eh? – would never have got away with a quarter of what they dished out most weeks with today’s tightening up of the rules and refereeing standards; not that their disciplinary record was exactly exemplary by contemporary standards even then.  How fitting that Vinny Jones went on to play for Leeds United (of whom more later).

Wimbledon continued to be of interest to me, not least when managed near the end of their time in the top echelons of English football, by Egil Olsen.  Olsen had been a success when in charge of the Norwegian national team – and rather uniquely among British football managers was a member of the Norwegian Workers Communist Party – but by then the financial writing was well and truly on the wall.  They’d been playing to sparse crowds at Crystal Palace’s ground for nearly a decade and you had to fear for the worst when that last season at the top pretty much started with that famous David Beckham lob over the keeper from the half-way line.  Incredibly they’d been talking about moving the club to Dublin, never mind Milton Keynes.

But let’s backtrack a bit and consider the state of association football in the new city of Milton Keynes.  Or even earlier, to Wolverton, where what is believed to be the first covered football stand in the world was opened in 1899 for men in flat caps watching the railway works team who became Wolverton Town.  No, non-league football did not thrive in MK.  Back in the ’80s music entrepreneur Pete Winkelman decided he wanted to bring professional football to his adopted city and chose the same route as that by which the city had itself been populated – he would try to move a team in.  (I say ‘new city’ – that’s never been official, but then, if that’s dependent on the Queen’s say, well stuff it).  I was active in the Labour Party (well, I went to a few meetings, pushed a few leaflets through letter boxes) the first time there was a very real prospect of Luton Town – then more successful than they are now – moving to the city, and for what it’s worth, the General Committee passed a motion that we were agin’ it, half from football hooligan paranoia (that was then), half from the idealistic wish for something more organic to emerge.  Well it didn’t.  The sugar daddy route might have worked – it has elsewhere – but that’s almost as artificial as what has happened.  Indeed, the charismatic Winkelman has more than once said he regrets the way it was done.  This interview, from the Yeovil Town programme in 2009 (he’s third feature quite a way down the page) gives a good picture of where he’s coming from.

By the millennium Wimbledon’s owners were in dire straits financially.  Sam Hammam, the owner who’d made the club what they was, had basically sold them a pup; he later made a mess of Cardiff too.  Since 1991 they’d been using Crystal Palace’s scruffy ground for home fixtures; often the visiting team’s supporters outnumbered their own.  The club would have gone into administration whether it had moved to MK or no.  Did the local politicians of the London Borough of Merton help them at any time with their ground and other dilemmas?  No.  So tell me about football clubs and the local community.  Should the Football Association have allowed the club to move 56 miles north?  Of course not.  It happened, though.  And Milton Keynes Council were dead keen, saw it as a big part of the economic regeneration of Bletchley.  (What I hadn’t realised, until fact checking all this, is that the first time it was mooted is as far as 1979 and was initiated by Wimbledon.  This Wikipedia article gives some fascinating background detail to the whole saga).

How did I, Wimbledon born, see this development?  I thought it was great – the chance to see some decent football locally.  I joked about the club following me.  Have I been to see Milton Keynes Dons much?  No, not really.  No matter.  Do I feel a pariah?  Not really – I refer you back to the London Borough of Merton.  Am I sick of self-styled ‘real football fans’ still bleating on about Franchise FC?  Yup, because i). look up franchise in the dictionary, and ii). half the time it’s the same tired old jokes about Milton Keynes.  There’s plenty to complain about (where is there not?) but a lot of people like living in MK and can become very defensive depending on who they’re talking to.

Is the club an asset to the city?  You bet.  It’s embedded.  Anecdotally, match day is a big deal for the children and grandchildren of friends;  hell, some of those friends, who hadn’t been to a game for decades if at all, are keen regular supporters themselves now.  MK Dons wins awards for its work in the community.  The academy has brought through local lads like Sam Baldock – I know one of his school teachers (he got brilliant A levels); he went to West Ham for a million, where he was popular with the fans but not as much with manager Sam.  The academy developed the prolific Daniel Powell, who I’d first watched with the Academy side on the training pitches down by the River Ouzel and thought was useless, wondered why he was on the pitch – so what do I know?  And it’s even got an official poet in residence – step forward Mark Niel (even if it would appear he’s been too busy to update his website to that effect; it’s still worth a look).

Is the club an asset to football?   I think so.  It’s got a tremendous modern stadium but it can’t be a big spender, depending for its playing staff on the academy, free transfers and loan signings.  Winkelman gave Roberto di Matteo his first big break in management.   Karl Robinson is the youngest football league manager; his name already regularly appears whenever vacancies come up elsewhere.  Under his guidance MK Dons are known as a footballing side, playing to feet, though, truth be told, from what I’ve seen, their control of a game can be a bit boring.  Even with Ian Wright now part of the training set up.

Is it time for AFC Wimbledon and the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the ‘People’s Game’ to get over it?  I would say so.  It’s inspirational what AFC Wimbledon have done, building from scratch.  Respect.  But MK Dons is now an authentic football club in its own right.  And without it, AFCers, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity for your own big (immensely satisfying to all) adventure.  It shouldn’t have happened but it did, and it strikes me it’s now a win-win situation as far as the two clubs are concerned.  The very notion of AFCers boycotting their own team’s appearance next weekend in the FA Cup second round tie at stadiummk (I know, I know) out of feelings of outrage, pride or spite – whatever – after all these years is a nonsense.  Accentuate the positive.

The trappings of the Wimbledon FC history – FA Cup replica and all – went back to (here’s irony) the ever-helpful-to-the-cause London Borough of Merton in 2007.  Which was good enough for the Football Supporters Federation, if not for that worthy magazine When Saturday Comes, whose yearly survey of the prospects for the new season continues to recognise only the MK Dons’ titular existence while giving a platform for (still) vituperative and dismissive comments from other teams’ correspondents; I gave them a chance but they refused to de-Stalinise – I cancelled my subscription in 2010 (but then I’d always wanted to cancel a subscription to something in any sort of dudgeon).  Apparently keeping ‘Dons’ in the name is a sticking point for some AFCers.  I’d say it’s too late to stop now.  Why don’t we just reinterpret it, give the nod to the Open University – MK’s second biggest employer?  The AFC Wimbledon ground, The Cherry Red Records Stadium – in Kingston, lest we forget – is sponsored by the record company that puts out the Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and boasts a roster running from A Flock of Seagulls (or Aardvark, depending on which filing rules are applied) to Zoot Money.  And they’ve got Brian Lane in New Tricks.  So we can be sure of the winners – and I say this without a hint of irony – as far as romance goes.

Whoever wins at the weekend I really don’t mind either way (so, some might say, I’m not a real football supporter).  For me it will be the manner and grace of losing that is far more important; it’s in the aftermath we might get to see where real class lies. Here’s a recent picture of one of the very wet fences I shall be sitting on:

I hate the tribalism of football, the ugliness and stupidity it can engender, the endless bearing of grudges.  When I lived in North London I supported Arsenal in one of their leanest times, and theirs is always the first result I’ll look for.  Do I hate Spurs?  Why should I?  They’ve a proud and worthy footballing tradition.  Of course it’s always especially pleasurable to beat them, but that’s as far as it goes.  Does that mean I’m not a ‘proper’ supporter, not a ‘real’ fan?   Next, as it happens, I’ll look for Crewe Alexandra – the result of sharing an office for ten years with Sally Ann.  Then MK Dons.  I think it’s childish, too, to boo opposition players who once represented your team (unless it’s Ashley Cole).  I find it hard to hate, though I can sure resent among many others, not least Chelski.  But no, on the whole, it’s not healthy, not something I like to do (unless it’s Leeds United in the Don Revie era).

Thank you for reaching the end.  Please be gentle.  Or at least polite.

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Derren Brown is an annoying bastard.  Many will be hard pressed to get past the verbal diarrhea of the opening chapter of his sort-of autobiography, Confessions of a conjuror (Transworld, 2010).  The book is one huge shaggy dog story, structured around one single performance of a card trick at one table of three guests in a restaurant that has hired him at the start of his career.  He explores what exactly is going on in his mind and in that of the subjects of the trick, which trigger him to go off at tangents and the tangents have tangents and they have lengthy footnotes spanning the bottom of up to four pages.  You see what I mean about annoying?  In the opening he goes into excruciating detail of his preparation, his nervous state , his observations of the guests and how he goes about choosing who to approach.  But it is, of course, precisely this attention to minute detail that is crucial to his craft.  Which, if you’ve ever seen one of his performances, is formidable.  And full of charm.  Sometimes smug charm, but charm nevertheless.

In the end we have been charmed too by the book, and have somehow learnt an awful lot – almost in passing – about the man, his childhood, his development, his career, his atheist beliefs and his craft.  And even about ourselves, given that the way people behave is crucial to that craft.  His discussion of his mission and moral stance – the debunking and yet maintaining of ‘magical’ illusion, even in the recreation of spiritualistic events, making people think they have experienced something special – is nicely done.  There is class too, in his discussion of the popular press, where he scorns the Sun for claiming a ‘coming out’ exclusive for a story that had appeared elsewhere weeks before, but saluting the headline – ‘Mindbender’ – that they used.  Overall it is, like his act, a motor-mouth performance with the occasional self-deflating (for him – embarrassing for me) descent into schoolboy humour and purility.

There are audiobook versions read by the man himself which might be easier to absorb, but if you go for that you are robbing yourself of what is a rather lovely physical object, the book featuring, as it does, laminated boards and a design using a playing card and variety bill poster lettering.

Click to enlarge

No disputing the charm and wit that oozed out of Keith Richards in the hour-long tv interview he did to promote his autobiography (written with James Fox) which is simply titled ‘Life‘ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010).  But the book is written in Keef-esque vernacular, which might have worked in a novel but this isn’t a novel, so that charm rather palls over 500 plus pages of, basically, unnecessary (as the parents used to say) “language”.  Now I’m all for the judicious placing of an expletive, but when it comes down to, for example – in a recipe for bangers and mash – the sausages are called “the fuckers”, the repetition becomes a little tedious, no matter how affectionate.  Tedious too the bravado of him going on about carrying knives and guns, never mind the tedium of junkiedom, which, to his credit, he does nothing to hide or glamorize – to quote, the “mundane fucking junkie shit”.  But you still can’t deny, for all the casual flaunting of wealth, a certain magnificence, integrity and generosity of spirit grounded in a rebel love for the music.  And for all the issues around parenting a social worker might flag, the kids do seem to have turned out all right.

Indeed, the book could stand as a useful text for a course in moral philosophy.  “My life is full of broken halos,” the man says.  But also: “When you talk of a folk hero they’ve written the script for you and you better fulfil it.” (p365)

I only picked it up to see if he had anything to say anything about the Kinks – it was seeing the Stones at Eel Pie Island that changed Ray Davies’s musical direction – but he has very little to say about his beat group contemporaries at all.  He gives Kinks’ Mick Avory a namecheck as the drummer at one of the Stones’ first gigs but has no more to say on that account.  Like Ray he has an art school babe in his past (“an outstanding beauty who wore a long black sweater, black stockings and heavy eyeliner a la Juliette Greco“) and attests to the impact of ‘Jazz on a summer’s day‘, the film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival; it was a revelation for Keith to discover Chuck Berry was black – me too, as it happens, one of those moments.

He is most lyrical in describing the origins of the Rolling Stones and the blues scene they emerged from, the Stones soon being regarded as tainted with the spirit of rock’n’roll:

Blues aficionados in the ’60s were a sight to behold. They met in little gatherings like early Christians, but in the front rooms in south-east London … playing the new Slim Harpo and that was enough to bond you all together. (p81)

He stresses the importance, never acknowledged in the early days, of the slightly older pianist, Ian Stewart, to the band (despite being a purist to the end, refusing to play minor chords: “fucking Chinese music”) and describes the early days living in squalor as a mission:

It was a mania.  Benedictines had nothing on us. … Mick, Brian and myself. It was incessant study. (p110)

I could go on, but I think you get the gist.  Lots of interesting stuff about guitar playing and songwriting.  Some great anecdotage, from his childhood on, some nice asides. A taste:  “The best rhythm guitar playing I ever heard was from Don Everly. Nobody ever thinks about that … “(p133); “Allen Ginsberg was staying at Mick’s place in London once, and I spent an evening listening to the old gasbag pontificating on everything” (p200); on  John Lennon, “I liked John a lot. He was a silly sod in many ways.” (p207); and “Gram Parsons: “He could make bitches cry” – by which he means his music  (p249).  (Which reminds me: bitches, chicks, poofs, poofters – repetitive period detail palls after a while;  no thanks.)  He calls Sir Mick a brother these days, by which he means sibling stuff, says he misses his old friend; diagnoses LVS (“lead vocalist syndrome“).  I like his pride in his claim, “I have never put the make on a girl in my life. I just don’t know how to do it.” And that, “Sometimes a kiss is burned into you far more than whatever comes later.” (p69). (If, indeed, it ever happens, I would add.)

It’s not a bad bit of book design either.  The illustration I’ve used is a small part of the handsome end papers – a nostalgia feast of KR’s timeless vinyl LP collection (including the first LP I ever bought) – while the jacket photos tell the tale of what’s inside.  On the back, in a neat handwriting, full of character, we are told:

This is the life. Believe it or not. I haven’t forgotten any of it. Thanks and praises.

This I cannot resist:

  • P322: I don’t remember it but …
  • p417: I can’t even remember much of it
  • p429 Stash has the story on this. He remembers it better because I was already pissed out of my brain …
  • p434 After that I don’t really remember much …

Nor does he mention the Live Aid debacle with Dylan.  Oh yes,  I can do churlish.  But I never meant to read the book through to the end and I did and it’s got me listening to the early and middle Stones again and they were amazing.

Final word: “But then there’s that word “retiring”. I can’t retire until I croak,” he says, 67 years old later this month, and good for him.  Apropos of life and life only, earlier this week, watching William Boyd‘s deeply tedious tv adaptation of  his own novel ‘Any human heart‘ I am suddenly made aware that I’m older now than Ernest Hemingway was when he died, aged 61.  A slightly bemused shaking of the head seemed in order.

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