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MUSIC BOOKS FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS STOCKING ? - REVIEWS BY PAUL, MARY, MIKE & JEREMY

The Strange Case of Dr Terry and Mr Chimes - Terry Chimes
Last Shop Standing – Graham Jones
Jim Morrison: The Lords. The New Creatures – Jerry Hopkins
George Harrison : Behind The Locked Door -  Graeme Thomson
Access All Areas - Teddie Dahlin
RUSH - The illustrated history - Martin Popoff
A Passion Play ‘The Story Of Ian Anderson And Jethro Tull’ - Brian Rabey
Look Wot I Dun ‘My life in Slade’ - Lise Lyng Falkenberg + Don Powell
Strange requests and comic tales from record shops - Graham Jones
Without frontiers - The life and music of Peter Gabriel - Daryl Easlea
A Sense of Wonder - Van Morrison's Ireland - David Burke
The UFO Story: High Stakes & Dangerous Men  - Neil Daniels 

These past few months have witnessed a mass outbreak of voracious reading by the Mudkiss team, and as usual all different music genres are represented here. I think the book of the month award definitely goes out to the former clash sticksman Terry Chimes, it took him eight years to pen his autobiography and according to Paul Hastings it is certainly worth getting your mitts on.

The Strange Case of Dr Terry and Mr Chimes - Terry Chimes

Terry chimes will be known to most people as the original drummer in The Clash. This book is Terry's life story, but for those who are looking for a warts and all story you may be disappointed. Instead, you get a book which is split into three separate parts and details all of Terry's life and experiences. The book, not surprisingly, begins with Terry's childhood experiences which provide a great insight into how the events of his youth influenced his character. It is quite clear from this section that his experiences as a child had a great influence both on how he survived the rock 'n' roll years and went on to forge a new, totally different, separate career. The first thing which is very evident is Terry's respect for his parents and the vital lessons they taught him about life. The book is littered with interesting and funny anecdotes, including the story about how Terry first realised he had an interest in medicine and a caring nature. Terry recalls how he once found a dead frog and, realising it was cold, placed it in the oven to try and bring it back to life!! Thankfully, you learn later in the book that Terry's desire to help and use his medical skills become a lot more spiritual and sophisticated.

For many of the readers, the primary reason for buying this book will be to gain some insight into Terry's life in The Clash. The one thing which is obvious throughout the book, however, is that his musical journey actually saw him come into contact with far many more musical legends. At one of his first auditions, he was part of a band which included the legendary Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik), Brian James (The Damned) and Mick Jones who would eventually join Terry in The Clash. As another example, Terry's first gig was actually supporting the legendary Sex Pistols. As already stated, this is not a kiss and tell type book and anyone looking for dirt on The Clash or any other of the rock stars, will be disappointed. One of the biggest surprises, is to learn that Terry left The Clash purely because he wasn't enjoying it. There does not appear to have been a big fall out but instead there was just a sense that things were not working out in a way that Terry had hoped they would. He talks about his leaving the band and indeed his return at a later date, with great dignity and no sense of bitterness or regret.

Many readers will be amazed to learn and discover how many other famous bands and artists that Terry has worked with. Once he left The Clash, he went on to perform with the legendary Johnny Thunders before then being offered a place in The Pretenders, before he then moved on to Generation X. This part of his life, however, was not all rock 'n' roll and even having played in these fantastic bands there is still a spell when he signed on for an employment agency and ended up as a van driver.

During the course of the book there are many tragic stories about the characters that Terry met who, unfortunately, died far too early or suffered from serious alcohol or drug problems. Many of these are famous characters such as the renowned junkie Johnny Thunders. One of the most tragic stories, however, is about the little-known guitarist Rene Berg. For a short period he was the guitarist in another great band called Hanoi Rocks. Terry tells a quite heartbreaking story about how René Berg was one of those artists who was always on the verge of having success, but sadly it always eluded him. Rene eventually committed suicide and Terry tragically describes how he feels this was the result of a broken heart from not consummating his love affair with rock 'n' roll. Whilst the book may see Terry encounter many tragic characters, it is important to realise that there are also many tales of the incredible life he lead playing drums for some of the most famous bands in the world, including Black Sabbath.

One thing which is quite clear from this book is that there is far more to Terry Chimes than purely being the ex-drummer of The Clash. Having decided not to continue his music career, he then went on to fulfil his love of medicine. One thing that becomes quite clear, is that he has a genuine love and passion both for medicine and the more spiritual side of life. He seems to take a genuine delight in helping people and generally comes across as a really nice chap. It will come as a surprise to many readers to find out that he actually became a chiropractor and ended up having a number of successful surgeries. In fact, in many ways, this book could be seen as a continuation of Terry's desire to help people. At various times, it comes across as being like a self-help book with its inclusion of medical and positive thinking tips. Importantly, it never delivers this in a "preachy" manner, but instead, it comes across as someone who has experienced life and is keen to deliver some messages to the reader. To some, the fact that the book includes as much detail on his medical career as his time as a musician may come as a bit of a disappointment. To Terry's credit, however, what it does do is demonstrate that he is a well rounded and very spiritual man.

There are many biographies out there about The Clash, often with the focus on the most well-known characters and, in particular, Joe Strummer. This, however, is the first time an actual member the band is given details on his own experiences. In some ways, this book is perhaps too brief and is really just an overview of what has clearly been a fascinating life. For any fan of the Clash, I'm sure they will see this book as only touching the tip of the iceberg. It certainly would have been nice to have heard more stories which could have fleshed out the characters that Terry encounters and provided a more in-depth understanding that a normal fan would never be aware of. Despite this, the book remains a fascinating read and provides a great insight into the punk music scene. The other important point about this book is that it is a timely reminder that musicians too often get caught up in the music world without any consideration about what they will ever do next. This is clearly not the case for Terry, who has enjoyed a varied life which has opened up many different opportunities to him. However, those of us who are fans of the music that he's been involved in, will surely be pleased to know that the book ends with commentary on his recent decision to join a new band called The Crunch. It is good to see that his love of music and performing continues to thrive.

Last Shop Standing Graham Jones (Omnibus Books) 

Presumably, given you are reading Mudkiss, you are also a music fan. If so, the next thing you should be doing is going out and buying ‘Last Shop Standing’. The book itself is basically about the demise of the record shop. Those of a certain age will have many memories of spending hours in record shops, either looking for an album by your favourite band or hoping to make an exciting new discovery. It is fair to say, that the quality of those establishments and indeed their staff varied somewhat and this is also reflected in this book. For those of a younger age, and of the download/MP3 generation, this will be like a history book which will allow you to vicariously enjoy the memories of Graham Jones.

It is hard to believe that there was a time when nearly every town high street had at least one local independent record shop, which would constantly be the David fighting against the Goliath of the likes of Our Price, Virgin and HMV. The recent almost failure of HMV itself is a great example of the  turmoil the music industry has gone through. The fact that HMV's near demise led to an outcry of sympathy and the suggestion it was a victim of supermarket's buying power really shows how difficult a market it is. This is perfectly demonstrated in the opening of this book, which has a huge list of the stores that have actually closed since Graham Jones even started to write the book.

Importantly, Graham Jones' book is certainly not a dull recount of failing businesses. Instead, it provides a fascinating insight in to the world of both the music business and record shops. This includes, ironically, his beginnings as a humble HMV employee himself. Away from the glamour of the business, you also get a feel for the work of the reps that used to work for the labels and the hard work of trying to flog records from a van to the record shop owners. There are also some great anecdotes about 'dodgy' reps, shop owners ripping people off and blatant manipulation of sales by the shops and labels to secure chart success and freebies. A large proportion of the book is spent detailing his 2008 journey around the country revisiting the fifty best record shop. It is a journey which is again absolutely full of stories, tales and anecdotes about the shops and their owners. The diversity of characters involved is quite amazing and it is a great mix of sad, happy, sometimes tragic, but more often than not very funny stories.

There is also the added bonus that every now and then you will see reference to a famous band or singer. This includes an in store appearances which bear a striking similarity to Spinal Tap's and even one occasion when the author served Elvis Costello but, rather than recognising him as one of the countries great singer song writers, instead thought he was someone he had played football against the previous week!

Without ever being overtly criticising or bitter, the author also gives some great insight in to how the labels and the music industry as a whole, has actually caused most of it's own problems. Many of the decisions made were clearly very short sighted and, whilst no doubt making quick profits, has led to the overall demand of the industry. By example, it is highlighted how labels now provide radio stations with releases months ahead of the actual date of release. This may sound like a great idea of getting the music out to the listener early and building up interest. The reality, however, is that as people can't purchase the song when they hear it then either a) they will illegally download it or b) by the time it's released they are either so bored or familiar with the song they no longer want to buy it. I am sure that one of the simple pleasure that many people will get from the book is reading about the shops they have or, hopefully, still do visit. If that is the case, you will be delighted to hear a bit about that shop and the characters who run it. Indeed, if you are one of the more 'colourful' characters who visit the shop you may well even be in it.

It is no surprise that one of the questions that is considered when looking at the shops is whether they will be one of the "Last shops standing". It is encouraging to know that not only are many still battling against the odds to provide a unique service to their customers, there are still signs that the local store can continue to thrive. In more recent times, factors like the launch of record shop day and rejuvenated sales of actual vinyl LPs mean that more and more of these stores continue to trade. This allows them to  serve the  important purpose of often being more than a shop but a home for kindred spirits. One of the things which is certain, is that once you have read this fantastic book you will hopefully think twice about making that instant internet purchase and consider seeking out your own independent shop. By doing this you will be able to have your own memories to join those that are enthusiastically and passionately detailed in this great book.

Jim Morrison: The Lords. The New Creatures Jim Morrison + Jerry Hopkins (Omnibus Books) 

This is a new edition of Jim Morrison's two published editions of poetry, The Lords and The New Creature. As a true icon, as well as the leader of one of the classic bands of the sixties, any release in relation to Jim Morrison is always going to be well received by his fans. This publication is certainly a worthy addition to the post-humous material that has been released since his tragic death.

The book can certainly not be criticised for the quality of the publication. It has a foreword which is provided by Jerry Hopkins. He is the author of the definitive Morrison biography "No One Here Gets Out Alive". His contribution is an immediate stamp of quality. The foreword itself does not disappoint and it is a really good brief introduction to Morrison and will certainly wet any newcomers appetite to discover the full biography. The whole presentation of the book is brilliant and in particular the photography which is included. There are some really fantastic shots within the book which really show Morrison at his iconic best. They show the development of his image from the youthful, Dionysian, rock star through to the bearded elder of the tribe look. Presumably, a deliberate decision has been made not to include any pictures of The Doors to emphasise the distinction between the poetry and the music.

In terms of the actual poetry itself, this has always been subject to some debate both during the time of it's original release and ever since. Morrison himself was always keen to highlight his preference for words and poetry rather than being considered just a rock star. The poems included within this book show a breadth of skill with words which perfectly demonstrate his unique and chaotic personality. At it's best, there are poems full of dark and intriguing imagery, which often have a disturbing undertone. Many of the themes are similar to those in The Doors lyrics, such as death, love, reptiles, alchemy etc. It is probably fair to say, however, that others are perhaps too abstract and random to be appreciated by many.

Poetry is always going to be dividing and in many ways it should challenge the understanding and the emotions of the reader. In all honesty, it could certainly be argued that the best of Morrison's poetry, despite his own protestations, is really contained within the wonderful music of The Doors. The brilliance of all the band members meant that Morrison's words found their perfect accompaniment. Overall, however, this book represents a must buy for any fan of The Doors and in particular Jim Morrison. The poetry provides a great insight in to the mind of someone who had a unique view on life and art. This publication appears to have been very carefully considered as it represents a great overall package, with the insightful words and beautiful photographs producing a wonderful book.

Reviews above by Paul Hastings

George Harrison : Behind The Locked Door -  Graeme Thomson (Omnibus Press)

I’ve just crawled out the other side of this book and can’t get George’s songs out of my head! That alone tells me this biography has much merit. We are led through the many twists in the tale of the youngest Beatle as though walking, not exactly in his shoes, but along the same corridors, seeing the same mirrors and mountains. Many times during the reading of this book, I felt compelled to put his music on and hear the man himself. His music is so warm, so intimate and both simple and complex in the same breath and all the dilemmas and demons involved in making it are carefully explored in this wonderfully detailed biography.

 Most of us have at least a basic idea about the life and times of the Beatles (the irony being that the life and times of the Beatles span far longer than the time the Beatles were actually together as a band) because in the words of Ringo Starr, quoted in this very book “It’s great at the beginning. Things are bigger, things come to you faster. All that is great. Then, you really want that to end. But it never ends. That’s the deal.” From reading Thomson’s book it feels as though the act of being a Beatle grated on his soul a little more than the others. Though all four naturally yearned for a more normal life at times, for George this seemed more acute and restrictive. Though he was grateful for some of the perks that came with being a Beatle, even very early on he had a tendency to hide from the commotion of being famous.  Thomson writes about him coming home to his parent’s house in Liverpool when things were beginning to take off and crawling around on his hands and knees to avoid being seen through the windows.  This kind of craziness never really left his life and perhaps it was part of the impulse that drove him towards eastern mysticism. Throughout the pages of this life story it becomes apparent that the journey within, for Harrison, was more important than the journey in what most would call the “real” world. I think it’s crucial that that his spirituality is highlighted in the book because it informs so much of what he does (and doesn’t do).  The author does manage to get this across and shows the dawn of that spiritual journey when Harrison met and befriended Ravi Shankar in 1966. The door that Shankar opened in George’s life is the door alluded to in the title of this book I expect. Once it was open, it could never be fully closed, though it would swing open wider or just stay ajar at different points along the road.

Thomson’s book delves into each era of Harrison’s life in bright colour, including an enlightening portrait of his childhood and schooldays.  Liverpool, Hamburg and the whole wide world open up as the band grow bigger by the minute and the enormity of their unique position is captured stunningly in these pages. The inner dynamics of the band are explored and from all accounts it appears that Harrison was at least mildly belittled and held back by Lennon and McCartney who both called the shots in different ways. Though there was clearly genuine affection amongst them all it seems fair to say Harrison’s confidence may have been crushed a little by his cockier band-mates. Having said this, Thomson also points out that Harrison was no pushover and could be outspoken and direct when he felt moved to make a point. The fact that he was a few years younger than the others ensured he would always be poked fun at to some degree. Personally I’d forgotten he was only 26 during the final days of the Beatles and it does hit home how much he carried on his young shoulders up to and beyond that point.

What I like about this book is the lack of sycophancy. As the author generally takes a neutral stance on things he manages to write about Harrison’s foibles as well as his positive qualities without sounding either negative or fawning.  The Concert for Bangladesh is rightfully depicted as Harrison’s crowning moment “Rock Music’s first en masse act of philanthropy was the symbolic pinnacle of George Harrison’s career – solo or otherwise”. Although I haven’t read a great deal about the Beatles or Harrison I feel confident that even a die-hard fan will find new revelations in this book. It’s a remarkable read, not just for insight into Harrison, but as a cultural chronicle of the second half of the twentieth century, the legacy of which is still very much alive and influential.

Access All Areas - Teddie Dahlin (New Haven Publishing)

I've just finished journeying through Access All Areas, a brand new novel by Teddie Dahlin that that would sit as comfortably in the music section of a bookshop as the crime fiction area. I'm not sure I've ever read anything quite like it and that's refreshing in itself. It's bursting with a lively set of authentic characters, many larger than life, eccentric and colourful -   but as this book is set against the backdrop of the music industry spanning several decades this is definitely the way it should be! Ms Dahlin has a talent for painting very real characters and highly evocative scenes. It's obvious she knows the business well and though at times the plot takes some crazy twists and turns, it's all completely plausible in the world of show-business and the insanity that goes with it.

I must say that half way through the book I went to bed one night and lay there trying to figure out where the story was going to go, who done it and why. I pondered several   possibilities but I couldn't work it out and was intrigued right up to the final pages where many mysterious pieces fell neatly and shockingly into place. 

Not only is this book a fast-moving thriller of sorts it also has an underlying theme involving overcoming prejudice - not judging books by their covers. I like the way Dahlin has threaded this observational element through the tale, along with various emotional/romantic undercurrents making this so much more than just a murder investigation. Speaking of not judging books by their covers, this publication does have a stunning cover of a guitarist tuning up and displaying his AAA wrist band taken by Mudkiss's very own Melanie Smith.

If you want to read something gripping, humorous and hugely entertaining as well as topical and relevant in today's music business Access All Area's is just the ticket.

Reviews above by Mary O’Meara

RUSH - The illustrated history - Martin Popoff (Omnibus Press)

Not for the first time, Martin Popoff  - ‘The world’s most famous heavy metal journalist’ – has turned his attention to Rush. Having contributed to the Rush bio film ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ and written 2004’s career overview cum analysis cum biography ‘Contents Under Pressure’ , he’s found it’s time to scratch the Rush itch again. While  Jon Collins has written the more in depth biography in 2005’s ‘Chemistry’ which alongside ‘Contents…’ paid tribute to the band as they hit their 30th anniversary, Rush have continued from strength to strength, being acknowledged as what verges on being elder statesmen of rock, producing music as strong as 2012’s ‘Clockwork Angels’  even at this stage of their career. What Popoff has done with the new collection is to gather together what amounts to a  virtual and chronological Rush museum which encompasses not only well written biographical details, but also album resumes and the bit which will appeal to fans in particular, a collection of photos and memorabilia which amounts to some serious nostalgic eye candy. The album retrospectives which are scattered through the book are overwhelmingly positive from Jeffrey Morgan’s analysis of the debut album ‘Rush’ as being “virtually perfect from start to finish” to Popoff’s own chance to wax lyrical on three albums:  “two that matter – ‘Counterparts’ and ‘Clockwork Angels’, and one that doesn’t (‘Presto’ – ouch)”

However, as in the words of the title,  ‘history’ is the operative  word – with the arrival of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart for their second album the band began to grow both musically and lyrically and their development over almost 40 years is charted both in the album retrospectives and in the biographical thread. It’s also very much an exercise in fashion history – whoever thought Rush would be held  up as style  icons, but it’s fascinating to follow the designs from the early days of alarmingly coloured platform shoes in the mid seventies which possibly got even more challenging with the kimonos  and the double necks on stage and then into  the eighties and nineties with the appropriately coiffured hairdos of the time , white socks and slipons, oversized suit jackets with ‘Dallas’ style shoulder pads and baggy trousers. Nowadays, it’s a case of smart casual street style but always in keeping with the times. Similarly, the text makes reference to the distinct ‘periods’ of Rush’s career; 1977’s ‘A Farewell To Kings” described as “the beginning of the rest of Rush’s career” when amidst the onset of punk, they combined the ever popular prog genre with the sleeping giant of metal to become what is called  “An exotic cousin from far off that was welcome into both solitudes.”

Amongst the photographs, Fin Costello’s collection of images from the early days up to 1980’s of onstage, backstage and promotional poses  define that period really well.  Incidentally, it’s his front endpaper photograph edited (reversed and with all the Rush references blanked out) used as the inside sleeve. O photo on the gatefold for Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock And Roll’ album from 1978. From tha latter days, the popularity and photogenic nature of the live Rush experience has resulted in a plethora of quality images to break up the text with the result that there’s  no shortage of new and different images.

The icing on the cake however, is the visual element. Beyond the typical photographs comes an abundance of tour shirts (backs and fronts naturally), tickets stubs, badges and patches, passes, posters and press clippings. Nothing is omitted and there’s also the opportunity to monitor the progress of the assortment of Rush logos. Although the iconic ‘2112 starman’ design tends to be the one which is seen as the classic Rush logo, it’s interesting to follow how the Rush logo and typeface changes with each album so here’s no singular trademark Rush logo – everyone must have their favourite, but amongst the book titles which have appeared to celebrate Rush and indeed any other visual histories knocking about, this is the one which will take some beating.

A Passion Play ‘The Story Of Ian Anderson And Jethro Tull’ - Brian Rabey (Soundcheck Books)

For a band with a history as long as that of Jethro Tull and with their output particularly from their mid 70’s ‘progressive’ phase being ranked up with the finest of that period, there has been very little published in terms of biography and critical analysis of them as a band and of their ‘leader’, guiding light and all round interesting character who some still see as the eponymous ‘Jethro Tull’ - Ian Anderson.

1998’s ‘Minstrels In The Gallery’, the work of David Rees, longtime fan and Editor of the ‘A New Day’ Tull fanzine since 1985 (having published over a hundred issues and still going strong) was the first approved attempt to do so. A jolly decent bio it was too, one even for even repeated reading and featuring some of the trademark humour inherent in Tull and their followers along with approval and  acceptance by Ian Anderson resulting in the marvellous quote from his foreword: “when they think we’re shite they tell us we’re shite – in the nicest possible way.” It’s a testament to the status and longevity of ‘A New Day’ (and Tull) that they also put out the first of two volumes of interviews (publication of the second being imminent) gathered during their time of running the fanzine and including virtually every musician who has been associated with Tull. As such, Rabey’s effort has quite a lot to live up to although given his background in  music journalism, or as he prefers to see himself – “a seasoned writer” – and the opportunities to interview several musicians who have been part of the Tull legacy, he has the raw materials to update the story so expectations were high.

The opening is very promising and enlightening, comprising an interesting collection of stories about the formation of the band from individuals linked to Jethro Tull at that time and the Blackpool scene – John Evans and  Jeffrey Hammond contribute massive amounts of information about not only events leading up to the eventual formation of Jethro Tull, but also give a flavour of the music scene and a sociological perspective of the period. In addition, the diaries of bass player  Glenn Cornick are invaluable in authenticating dates and events as well as for their sheer volume of information.

Following a most promising and in depth opening, the story then reverts to quite basic chapters  which make up the book,  based around the recorded albums without too much elaboration on the recordings, the personnel changes, the tours and live events or really without the interview material being woven into the narrative. Much of the story comes through simple reporting of quotes from various members or basic factual information about the albums. For example the chapter which covers the seminal ‘Aqualung’ album takes up five pages, of which the bulk is extended quotes from Anderson and Martin Barre, plus an explanation of the 5.1 sound arrangement used for the 40th anniversary version of the album. ‘Aqualung’ fares pretty well though in comparison with some of the later material. There is scant coverage of the classic 1976/1977 period when Tull were very high profile with the  ‘Songs From The Wood’, ‘Heavy Horses’ and the live ‘Bursting Out’ albums  and the satellite concert link showing Tull at Madison Square Gardens being broadcast all over the world. Surely deserving of more than the five pages which encompass  1977 to 1980. However, if this were to be scant coverage, how to describe  the analysis of 1991’s ‘Catfish Rising’ which earns nothing more than a track listing and five lines of comment is beyond me.

As the biography becomes formulaic and relies on great chunks of uninterrupted quotations, it’s hard to find any satisfaction from such lightweight coverage and almost lazy writing. Writing the story of Jethro Tull is a stamina sappig marathon rather than a short sprint and it may appear that the in depth analysis of the early years have sapped the energy to the extent that the main goal is simply to get to the end. It just feels a bit frustrating that the surface is only being slightly scratched as  well as starting to become niggled by some concerns about accuracy of information – the  ‘Warchild’  album “gave them a number one single” – not quite sure what it was; it’s not mentioned and no evidence is available to help out with this one. With Tull’s studio recorded output ending with 1999’s ‘dot.com’ album and there presence thereafter being mainly as a live act, means that the well runs a little dry and even the more recent Anderson (and Barre) outings presenting their versions of Tull music are skimmed.

The second part of the book is merely a collection of Ian Anderson musings fitted into various themes. Nothing much more than a series of  great chunks of Anderson quotes, presumably gathered in interviews – no details are given as to any sources, simply prefaced with short narratives to introduce them with a suitable chapter heading. Rabey’s effort ultimately has some merits but seems disappointingly thrown together with some concerns over editing to make the chronology and facts seem a little more cohesive and less fragmented. For anyone seeking the story of Jethro Tull, there are better.

Look Wot I Dun ‘My life in Slade’ - Lise Lyng Falkenberg + Don Powell (Omnibus Press)

There must be a few of us out there who were indebted to bands like Slade. Without them and the likes of T Rex, The Sweet plus, despite his shameful expose, Gary Glitter, our Thursday nights watching Top Of The pops would never have been the same. There must be many who will owe a debt to Slade for their formative years in becoming dedicated and lifelong music fans, and after Noddy Holder’s autiobiography breaking the ice a few years back, the quiet one, drummer Don Powell has got around to telling his story. Not just any story of the rise of a legendary pop act but also his own personal story which is one not without an element of tragedy just as the band were at the height of their success.

As is often the case with these sort of biographies, the most interest comes in learning about the early days and the formation of the band. It follows Don from joining The Vendors and onto the N’Betweens as part of the foursome  who were to become Ambrose Slade at the suggestion of new manager Chas Chandler – always one to spot a marketing opportunity, hence the notorious ‘skinhead’ period which certainly grabbed the attention….and eventually Slade. From an ordinary working class background with the usual upbringing to find the release in the excitement of the exploding music scene of the early sixties, it’s a story of how the tried and trusted combination of hard work and luck brought the rewards.

There are the usual stories of tours in vans and the hardships and how friendships were formed and cemented and throughout the book there’s an overwhelming camaraderie between Don, Dave, Nod and Jim which has lasted the test of time. Even today as Slade tour with Don and Dave Hill as its core members the lack of animosity and respect for each other is quite refreshing. What also comes across is the esteem in which the band were held, and how much they were admired and valued as friends by their peers. The likes of fellow local lads from the Black Country, Robert Plant and John Bonham and Black Sabbath were all on friendly terms, knowing each other from their days when being in a formative band in the Midlands (and indeed anywhere) was a struggle. Status Quo, The Sweet, Kiss, Queen, Marc Bolan…….other big name artists who all speak highly of Don and his mates and for whom there was a mutual admiration and respect.

There are some priceless hilarious tales such as the Bahamas residency when the high living caught up with the band in the shape of a $35,000 expenses bill (which for the late sixties was quite some tab) enforcing a prolonged stay on the island to clear the debt before the opportunity arose for a moonlight flit. There’s the tale of legendary manager Chas Chandler desperately trying to get the band to trash a hotel with the specific aim to get the band thrown out and create some publicity which fails miserably “It didn’t come natural as it wasn’t in our hearts” says Don, Slade finally being escorted out discreetly through the kitchens – very rock and roll.

Despite several attempts, Slade never managed to make it big in America, even though they were supported by some big names at the insistence of Chandler on their first headline tours – Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder  and the Eagles (just imagining their 2014 tour and the ticket prices) all played support to Slade. Even on the back of the wave of Quiet Riot’s version of ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ it was a market which remained untapped. At home it was a different matter, with Slade playing to 18,000 at Earls Court a couple of years before Led Zeppelin, yet it was only days after that career highlight that things went wrong for Don with the car crash, the effects of which were to play a dominant part on the rest of Don’s life. It’s difficult to think back to the time and appreciate or even imagine how he coped with the debilitating amnesia while working with a band as popular as Slade at their peak.

The chapter entitled ‘The Lean Years’ starts off the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows; trying to compete with current musical trends and the onset of his own drinking is played against a sudden and triumphant return to the stage at the 1980 Reading Festival, followed by Noddy’s decision to quit touring and Don’s financial woes. The ongoing turbulence was eventually calmed by the stability of a personal relationship which brings the story right up to date.  However, just as fascinating is the story which Don tells of the latter days of the band; “whatever happened to Slade?” was the slogan painted under a bridge, and to anyone asking the same question, ‘My Life In Slade’ brings the full perspective. With the help of his famous diaries which he kept since the accident and which contain literally  ‘everything’,  his co-writer Lise  Falkenberg has helped Don to put together  a detailed and thoughtful story which doesn’t attempt to glamourize or sensationalise – a true reflection of the man. As he says in his foreword, “My aim was only to dish the dirt on myself!” and as such it’s Don’s sensitivity and empathy with his fellow musicians which comes across strongly.

Strange requests and comic tales from record shops - Graham Jones (Omnibus Press)

‘Last Shop Standing’ – Graham Jones’ most entertaining read about his travels around the nations independent records shops and published back in 2009 (subsequently made into the film of the same name featuring  no lesser names than Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and Richard Hawley), was a surprise hit of the past couple of years. Coinciding quite neatly with the increased interest in music on vinyl and the experience of actually going into a shop to search for and buy music, it’s slight retro-ness produced a warm glow amongst those of us old enough to have experienced the days of two, three or even four record shops in our local city centres and the thrill of flicking through racks of 12” album sleeves.

While independent record shops still are very much a labour of love and continue to plough a lone furrow against the competitive world of online trading, they still provide that warmth and feelgood factor of taking part in the ritual of browsing and partaking in retail transaction, rather than the easier and cheaper options which are available from the comfort of our own homes. Graham’s latest tome does pretty much what it says on the tin and gathers together a collection of those priceless anecdotes which he’s taken the time to amass and recollect from his own and others journeys into record retailing. Having been at a personal appearance by Graham to view the film and listen to him talk through some of his tales  in Beatnik Records in Altrincham back in the early Summer, it’s satisfying  to be able to pick through the full collection which appears with original illustrations by Kipper Williams.

The collection is organised into chapters which place the stories into categories:  shops of today, shops of the past, classical shops, tales from reps and a catch all collection from music related folk, and contained within are there are some absolute corkers and classics. From misheard band names and song titles to the plain bizarre, all bases are covered.  Even the first page of misplaced album titles (Have you got ‘Never Mind The Sex Bollocks’) still tickles me now. And the Sex Pistols raise another titter when a customer makes a request for their new single ‘Fruity Bacon’ (work it out).

Although the tales are gathered from all sorts of shop owners, locations, from big chains to small outlets and record company reps, it’s the customers who are the real stars with their comments – some of which you couldn’t make up; the one customer who was delighted to find that long lost record for which he’d spent an age searching before declaring “I’ll leave it for now” – many will recognise the thrill of the chase. There are some crossovers with ‘Last Shop Standing’; I did recognise a couple of stories gathered from those travels, yet the most interesting pick may be the more detailed account from former rep Del Querns (known as ‘Dodgy Del’) whose record hyping antics, which was more than the common practice of reps at one time (almost expected in fact),  and his exposure along with the chart hyping attempts or record company reps by the infamous Roger Cook in his TV show  ‘The Cook Report’, being placed alongside exposes on paedophiles and arms dealers and even earning an extended two part programmes. Seeing the funny side, apart from the act involved being the daughter of Tory MP Edwina Currie, was the failure to make any chart impact beyond a week at number 86!

All told, a great little read and perfect for dipping into and reminding ourselves that enjoying  music is fun.

Without frontiers - The life and music of Peter Gabriel - Daryl Easlea (Omnibus Press)

It was 1988 when the first serious  attempt at chronicling the life and work of Peter Gabriel appeared with Spencer Bright’s  ‘Authorised Biography’ – a great effort, quite candidly revealing aspects of Gabriel’s personal life which were both enlightening and revealing. It was a work which noted rock journalist Chris Welch built upon in his intriguingly and carefully worded work entitled ‘Secret Life of Peter Gabriel’ ten years later and of course, the pioneering work of photo journalist Armando Gallo whose fascination with Genesis from their early days led to the first serious book on Genesis and his subsequent photobook which chronicled the beginning of Gabriel’s solo career. 

Former Deputy Editor of Record Collector, Daryl Easlea has brought the story of the Gabriel phenomenon right up to date. Split into three sections which roughly represent the Genesis years, the early solo period and the ‘big time’ days of commercial and international acclaim both musically and beyond, the first part of the Gabriel story is basically that of Genesis.  Enhanced by several valuable insights, in particular from school friend and band member cum roadie, Richard Macphail,  it does chart a well trodden path and draws to attention  Gabriel’s developing stage persona, methodical approach to music making (often to the frustration of Banks in particular who preferred to work at a faster pace)  and sensible approach to gaining some momentum for the band. What is apparent form the very start is the huge  part played by long-time friend and musical partner Tony Banks. From their early days at Charterhouse, battling over who would play the piano much to Banks’  irritation (which continued into Genesis, Banks seeing it very much as ‘his’ domain) up until  the comments in the afterword about his relationship with Tony Banks. It’s what Richard Macphail calls “the grit in the oyster” when speaking of Genesis as they were in 1970/1971

Those who believe the relationship with Banks was a major factor, amongst others, as to why Gabriel eventually quit Genesis; there was clear irritation (“pissed off” is the actual term from Banks) that Gabriel was becoming the star of Genesis  and perceived as the main writer, but when their stage presence revolved mainly around his ever increasing antics and ideas while they literally sat and played the soundtrack, it can’t have been surprising. His parting shot with Genesis was his way ahead of its time multimedia stage show which was ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ – showing him to be an artist who even in the early seventies, was always ahead of the game.

As a fledgling solo artist taking inspiration from sources as disparate as punk, new wave  and Springsteen, Easlea digs into how Gabriel explored and developed all sorts of options with musicians and sounds to the extent he was dropped by US label after he presented his third album in what Ahmet Ertegun called “a terrible mistake”.  It was also the start of a path which led to  Gabriel’s contribution to various humanitarian projects from Amnesty International to his work resulting in  the 2006 Man Of Peace award as well as his ever growing statesman like status which has grown alongside his musical ambitions, which have continued to plough an innovative  furrow in both recorded and live performance.

There are the occasional inaccuracies or slips which may cause minor irritation to the readers who know more about Gabriel than he man himself, yet there are some revealing nuggets buried in the tome (long time keyboardist, Larry Fast revealing how he watched a VHS of the ‘Six Of The Best’ show at Gabriel’s home giving hope to all those who have sought this holy grail of collectibles). Interestingly, amongst the impressive list of interviewees whose contributions add to the story, apart from Gabriel himself, Phil Collin’s name is the most notably absent, although the insights of Macphail and Anthony Phillips are particularly insightful. The figure of Tony Banks still looms large and his comment:  “We were best men at each other’s weddings and best friends and worst enemies at the same time”, followed by Easlea’s observation that “if he can deal with that old fashioned playground relationship, he can deal with anyone ,” which shows the extent to which Mr Banks has shaped the ability of his friend to become what he has. However, perhaps the most telling few words come from  the author  in the afterword: “He has an idea and he makes it happen.”  Although at times it may be a rather long and protracted journey, it sums up Peter Gabriel to a tee and this evaluation  of the life and times of the universally admired man himself is an enjoyable and worthy addition to the Gabriel archive.

The UFO Story - ‘High Stakes & Dangerous Men’ - Neil Daniels (Soundcheck books)

Back in the hard rock glory days of the seventies, not many bands shone as brightly as UFO. Their brand of keyboard tinged hard rock went on to be a major influence on many that followed and still, over forty years since their inception, they are plying their trade. Those forty plus years have been chronicled by rock and metal writer Neil Daniels, who has compiled the story from an array of research and interviews (although sadly none are acknowledged with main characters Phil Mogg, Pete Way, Michael Schenker, Paul Raymond, Paul Chapman and Andy Parker) which are meticulously chronicled. The narrative moves along at a brisk pace; by the middle of the first chapter, the first album has been recorded, we’re into the second album, concluding the early space rock verging on psychedelic period and the arrival of Michael Schenker to propel the band into overdrive.

Schenker’s highly idiosyncratic influence on UFO not only resulted in some of the classic songs of the period emerging on equally classic albums, but also began to highlight the similarly eccentric character which Schenker proved to be.  A non English speaker when he joined the band, his writing and playing skills more than compensated initially, although as a loner both in terms of writing and socially, he found it increasingly difficult to interact to the extent that his brief tenure was eventually overshadowed by his ongoing erratic behaviours and eccentricities in his own solo career and return to UFO at a later point. Replaced temporarily by Paul Chapman, there’s the interesting titbit that Eddie Van Halen considered auditioning but didn’t make the journey as he felt he wouldn’t get the job! It’s an indication and indeed a compliment to how highly regarded UFO really were at the time and there are references  throughout to  Steve Harris, Metallica, and Mike Macready of Pearl Jam are a pick of some of the names for whom UFO were a major influence.

What Daniels does particularly well is to chart the UFO story clearly over the past twenty years when there was a staggering amount of to-ing and fro-ing , almost a revolving doors policy to band members, with returns and exits for both Schenker and the legendary Pete Way alongside returning original drummer Andy Parker and the ever so loyal Paul Raymond and Neil Carter, all the while the ‘difficult’ vocalist Phil Mogg being the core around which the various incarnations were based. Throughout though, he documents the albums and the live performances and it’s fascinating to read of the mainly positive critiques he’s gathered regarding the on-going recordings. If there ever was an answer to the age old question “Whatever happened to ….UFO?”, this is the place to catch up on the latter days of their forty year history. For a band who never really got the credit or the success they deserved it would be fair to say that they weren’t really in the business for that. 

As a British rock institution they came up with some classic hard rock songs and at the time of writing in 2013 seem to have come full circle with their acclaimed ‘Seven Deadly’ album and a more settled line up.  ‘High Stakes & Dangerous Men’ is a no frills account of a no frills rock band and a tribute to them in that they have  managed to sustain some longevity as a band of the people. Reviews above by Mike Ainscoe

A Sense of Wonder - Van Morrison's Ireland - David Burke (Jawbone)

Indulge me. Many have Van Morrison stories. These are mine.

Many years ago Swansea hosted the UK City of Literature. One of the highlights was supposed to be Van being interviewed by a famous Northern Irish journalist of the bellicose bard's long acquaintance. At this point I had been listening to and obsessing on certain of Van's albums for years; notably, "No Guru, No Method, No Teacher", the album that introduced me to his incredible music and which has subsequently become my firm favourite album of all time. Anyway, the moment came and the modestly portly Van seated himself in a comfy armchair opposite his doomed foil. The "interview" began, except that Van hardly answered the questions asked of him. The interviewer, at first bemused and then uncomfortable, battled on. Van wouldn't give an inch, mumbled monosyllables his only rejoinders. The interview, tanking badly, was soon truncated and the great man went off, to reappear shortly thereafter with a cut-down combo to play a set of astounding beauty. Given the usual corny "His music speaks for him" crap accorded such artists, this was still an intriguing turnaround. In minutes from moody bastard to beautiful visionary...you had to ask which Van is, um, Van?

I saw Van two more times, both intermittently transcendent. And neither quite explaining my central encounter with the Man, which I have been saving. Before the Swansea thing, when I was still living in London, I had a meeting in Notting Hill Gate with my then agent. Beforehand my friend Chris and I - fatefully the very friend whose serial playing of "No Guru" had hooked me on the guy in the first place -  were nursing coffees in the famous, old Notting Hill Gate Cafe, situated near many tourist posts and, crucially to this anecdote, around the corner from (if still it is?) Van's Holland Park mansion.

Okay, so we are sitting there chatting and Chris says, Don't turn around! Of course I turn around and there, up the aisle apiece, in a crappy donkey jacket and work boots consuming a big, greasy breakfast, is Van Morrison, sandy hair dishevelled and with the demeanour of a hungover labourer. My double take double took and, against my Chris' warnings, I resolved to greet the Man. Steeling myself, filled with fan-fuelled enthusiasm, I trod the aisle to his side and to his bowed head gave thanks for his music. A pause. Van's head moved almost imperceptibly. And then he said, in that beloved Belfast brogue, "I'm eatin' my breakfast..."

Strung out between with a sense of warped wonder, I ambled back to my seat to regroup. I rallied and, once again against the chastening observation of my friend, set forth to face Himself. I was then again at the side of the Man, the same "Man" who has given me some of the most incredible music of my wretched life. I changed tack and this time made some well-meant remarks to this fellow mysticism slut about Krishnamurti. His head moved. His fork stilled. A pause. With redoubled emphasis, "I'm eatin' my breakfast..." Lesson? Never come between a Van and his breakfast.

And this all brings us to a fine new book about Van and the land of his birth and inspiration, backbone and lightning rod of much of his music: Northern Ireland. In which David Burke manages to avoid the dreaded Pseud's Corner approach to a musician as inscrutable as he is inspired by showing the subject so much love - and enough genuine insight - to make some passages sing almost as well as their subject. There is no analysis paralysis, thank God, but a lot of intriguing detail, numerous literary allusions and references (but not conceits), and a relaxed style that keeps the book away from the academic end of the style scale. For example, his take on my beloved "No Guru" is excellent, laying it a little more bare without undermining its mystery. Van Morrison is an artist you imbibe as much as listen to and Burke is wise to shy away from intrusive attempts to expose anything; he lets you know more without feeling less. If you love Van Morrison, his music and endearing - though some think self-indicting - mystic aspects, and can stand some minor travelogue, then this is a book for you. Best read while listening to Van, naturally. And, conceivably, eating breakfast. Review by Jeremy Gluck

A huge thanks to Omnibus press/Jawbone and Soundcheck books