Books for the Music People
Christmas may have come and gone but there is still time to buy presents for your nearest and dearest and those you know slightly in the queue for cat food at Lidl. There can be no greater gift to bestow than a good book, even if it’s only a re-print of the 1939 A-Z map of London, available at all good garden centres.
The pleasure of reading came to me at a young age. That’s when I found a wonderfully weird collection of books hidden in the dark recesses of an old sideboard in our family’s Stratford flat. And so I discovered Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and Enid Blyton’s The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage equally gripping tales for an eight year old.
My parents took me to join West Ham library, a temple of literature with a circular polished wooden seat in front of the shelves which I thought was reserved only for those with a coveted ticket. Reading became not an obsession, just the most normal thing to do in a world without TV or mobile phones.
There was however the BBC Home Service and the weekly book reviews on Children’s Hour during which a group of boys and girls would chorus in polite tones: ‘May we recommend…’
The phrase has long stuck in my memory. So when confronted by the mass of review copies of books published during the last few years, may I take this opportunity to draw your attention to some of the best music themed titles?
Watch out for Marquee – The Story of the World’s Greatest Music Venue (Paradise Road). Written by Robert Sellers together with Nick Pendleton it eagerly captures the excitement, allure and pleasures of the London club where so many of us spent our youth discovering an amazing array of bands, groups and musicians not to mention mega stars of the future.
That’s where I saw The Yardbirds in 1964 with Eric Clapton and later Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. It’s also where I encountered The Who, David Bowie and Cream. Not to mention Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, the Nice and Ten Years After. Oh and Led Zeppelin playing to a few hundred people.
The policy of presenting upcoming bands at the 90 Wardour Street, Soho venue continued into the 1980s with the arrival of The Police and Guns N’Roses who made their UK debut there on 19 June 1987.
Nick Pendleton’s father Harold launched the original jazz club in Oxford Street with help from his wife Barbara in 1958. Among the star attractions were the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, Dudley Moore and American guests like Dexter Gordon. As a 17 year old descending into the basement with its stage, mirrors and artistic decor, it seemed like an up market West End night club.
Nick:”When my parents sold the Marquee 30 years later it was a venue for R&B, psychedelia, rock, pub rock, prog rock, heavy metal, punk, new wave, Indie, Goth and many more. Unlike the Cavern, the Marquee was never associated with any one band or a single musical genre. No other club was ever home to so many tribes”.
The Marquee was a Mecca for musicians seeking gig opportunities along with songwriters, agents,managers and talent spotters. It was also a regular haunt for music press journalists checking out the latest bands, like my MM colleague Nick Jones in 1965 who discovered The Who playing a residency that was soon packed out every week.
Nick Pendleton emphasises the Marquee, with a management team that included John C. Gee and Jack Barrie, was always run professionally. His father was a trained chartered accountant as well as a jazz fan. He created: ‘a successful long lasting multi strand enterprise that never felt corporate.’ The club and its associated festivals were always among the safest venues for fans. Which is way I’d take issue with Lemmy’s quoted remark: ‘The reason I liked the Marquee was because it was scruffy and a hellhole, and your feet stuck to the floor.’
I thought it was friendly, welcoming and aggro free.No idea who chewed all that gum that ended up on the floor. I only ever delved into bags of crisps. But I have to agree, the tiny back stage dressing room with its graffiti on the wall was a bit, shall we say recherché.
Other great rock related tomes read with pleasure during 2022 included Wild Thing: Life of Jimi Hendrix by Philip Norman, who also wrote 2018’s Slow Hand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
One of the most gripping autobiographies however, remains One Train Later (Piatkus) by Andy Summers rated by Mojo as their Book Of The Year. Andy tells his story from the days with Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band to fame and success with The Police with an honesty and literary skill, most musician authors would find hard to beat. With the exception we should say of Barbara Thompson MBE whose Journey To A Destination Unknown (Jazz In Britain) published in 2020 remains an inspiring account for all young musicians.
Among American ‘must read’ biogs check out A Platinum Producer’s Life In Music by Ted Templeman the Grammy Award winning music executive. Ted, who recorded and encouraged The Doobie Brother and Van Halen, lays bare the emotions and conflicts behind the scenes of the booming U.S. record industry. One hundred million album sales anybody?
I’d also recommend Nobody Told Me! the 2018 biography from Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty with a charming foreword by his old pal Jimmy Page who says: ‘I am pleased that you have written your book Jim, a testament of the musical path to your spiritual journey.’ It’s full of revelations about the struggles and successes of one of the U.K. most innovative and successful groups.
The delightful Bob Kerr’s sCrap Book (OneSee) published in 2022 tells how the feisty trumpeter player survived the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and New Vaudeville Band to become leader of the much loved Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band. There is humour and emotion especially when relating the more moving moments of his hectic life. A terrific read it has an eye-catching cover designed by Prof Percival and an introduction by a former MM writer and fan. Me!
If you think this is getting all too much to absorb, wait until you read It’s All Too Much (This Day In Music) by David Stark. An entertaining memoir by a music biz veteran famed as a record promoter and drummer, David is also well known for his work with Songlink. First published in 2020 his fully illustrated book concentrates on experiences as a dedicated Beatles fan lucky enough to meet his heroes on many memorable occasions.
They include gate crashing the Yellow Submarine movie premiere in 1968 aged 15. In the words of the song, he was ‘Here There And Everywhere.’
Another entertaining collection of musician’s memories is From Headstock To Woodstock (Grafika) 2019) by Ten Years After drummer Ric Lee. He takes us on the road to the ultimate rock gig. Now we know just what happened behind the scenes at that most ghastly of rock festivals! Even more fun is Nefarious: A Life In Music PR (2020) by Glen Colson. Described by Elvis Costello as a ‘Little Trouble Maker’ Glen was never afraid to air his real feelings about many of his clients while working for Tony Stratton-Smith’s Charisma Records, whose roster of bands included the Bonzo Dogs, Lindisfarne and Genesis. Complete with Foreword by former MM News Editor Chris Charlesworth, it’s a cracker.
Glen’s book makes a cheeky companion to the massive Strat! (Wymer), an academic, but highly readable study of the extraordinary life of his boss, Tony Stratton-Smith. Chris Groom charts ‘Strat’s career from 1950s newspaper sports correspondent to 1970s rock group manager and being ‘the boss’ at his creation Charisma Records. Amidst a plethora of fascinating anecdotes Groom reveals the background to Strat’s death from pancreatic cancer aged 53 in 1987. With a foreword by Peter Gabriel it is a timely tribute to one of British best loved music biz characters.
All Or Nothing (Omnibus Press) 2021 the Authorised Story of Steve Marriott by Simon Spence is another important, gripping and well researched biography that leaves no stone unturned. The publishers admit it is: ‘An honest, often brutal telling of the performer’s frenzied life and the toll it took’. Older readers may prefer to remember the funny, talented guy they knew in the Small Faces when ‘Lazy Sunday’ ruled the pop charts.
If you can’t resist true life revelations from behind the scenes, then order a copy of 2018’s Tales Of A Rock Star’s Daughter (Wymer). Author Nettie Baker reveals what life was really like growing up as a member of Cream drummer Ginger Baker’s family, with dark humour. Nettie is an impressive writer and co-authored her dad’s autobiography Hellraiser (John Blake) back in 2009. She chronicles a life that went from poverty to riches and back again with an engaging style. You’ll be hooked on the party atmosphere that prevailed during her most life changing moments.
There is a follow up More Tales Of A Rock Star’s Daughter (Wymer) that deals with the punk years,but I haven’t read it…yet. Nor have I read the promising life story of Wishbone Ash and Police manager Miles A. Copeland 111’s Two Steps Forward – One Step Back (Jawbone Press) 2021. It remains one of my incomplete journeys to a destination unknown.
GENIUS – READ ALL ABART IT!
If I feel guilty about these omissions, there are mitigating circumstances. I have been absorbed in writing my own book Keith Emerson (Rocket 88) published on my 81st birthday last November, 2022. It’s full of interviews with Keith’s family members, fellow musicians, including Lee Jackson, Rick Wakeman, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Alan White, Steve Howe, Darius Brubeck and close friends, notably ELP fan and comedian Jim Davidson. Check out the latest reviews and Podcasts on Facebook and in Mojo magazine. The book comes in two formats, the Classic and the Signature Edition. (For more details go to rocket88books.com)
Meanwhile I was simultaneously editing Phil Seamen ‘Percussion Genius, Legendary Rebel and Born Raver’ by Peter Dawn (Brown Dog) with a foreword by the late Charlie Watts. Who was Phil? ‘Britain’s Greatest Jazz Drummer’ to quote Ronnie Scott. A limited edition glossy hardback running to over 500 pages and fully illustrated, it detail’s Phil’s extraordinary life in painstaking detail, while telling the story of post-war Britain’s jazz and popular music history.
Mark Griffith, the editor of America’s prestigious Modern Drummer magazine, devotes a three page feature about Phil including an interview with Peter in their next January 2023 issue. Says Mark: “It is one of the best biographies about a musician that I have ever read.” Jon Newey, Editor in Chief of the U.K’s JazzWise magazine also heaps praise on the book in their latest issue. (For more information go to philseamen.com)