One doesn’t want to talk about afflictions all the time but when you think of The Small Faces’ Lazy Sunday and the line “How’s old Bert’s lumbago? He mustn’t grumble”, you realise that in youth, pain is generally self-inflicted or an accident and not nature telling you that from a certain point to your death you are going to be like an old car, oil leaks, rust, scratches, rip in the seat, glove box latch broken and eventually the head gasket goes and that’s it. Still, it’s your car and it has character, much more than one of those new-fangled computerised, clinical, shiny robots. The reliability and convenience is enticing but an old man in a sports car is never pretty, better a Rover 90 or a Morris Traveller. Worst of all you can’t have the best of both worlds, it’s either/or and perhaps having affection for something that breaks often is better than having no feelings for something that doesn’t.
Where’s this leading, you wonder? Well, today I got up before the studio to go and swim and half an hour before I left I had my optic nerve vision thing happen which leads to that dull headache and puts a damper on the day. Plans out of the window, I was so very close to cancelling everything but I put the lights out and waited in silence. I had to leave at least 20 minutes before the swim booking and that’s what I did. I didn’t feel too bad so I stood up and marched up to the leisure centre and tried to ride the wave. I was feeling ok, hit the water, and did the mile, I was working on the theory that blood flow, water (drunk and immersed in) might help rather than a stuffy room sitting still and waiting. I went to pasty land, greengrocer land and then the studio where I set my guitars up. Dare came in and we started work. Around then I felt average and so we decided that we would do little things and share the workload – a small amount of guitars for me, Olivia violins, Dare keys and I would watch the Liverpool/Leeds game and take it easy when it was Dare and Olivia’s turn to play. Next studio day we would get our teeth into the last song that needs me to be in tip-top condition with acoustics and electrics, leads and rhythms with fully functioning brainpower. Liverpool won 4-3 – great game.
On the way up to the leisure centre, there was a big van parked outside the parcel pick up office. There were huge letters on the front above the windscreen and on the back doors that said: ‘BRAINS, 24 HOURS’ and then something about servicing on the side. I thought to myself what a great idea, being able to call up a company 24 hours a day that services, readjusts, restarts and fixes your brain. It was then that I realised that it actually said DRAINS 24 HOURS. (I hope they were a better service than the 24-hour plumber.) But as the body fails often the brain doesn’t and if it does deteriorate like the body, well you’re screwed. If it stays alert there are many positives that endure till the very end, your knowledge, your wisdom and your experience. But there may also be stubbornness and the impossibility of changing your ways because you’ve been told something your whole life and your brain won’t let it go. But it’s you who decides what to believe and what’s right and wrong based on rational thought and observation, not everything passed on is worthy. Your limbs are failing, your insides are failing, your muscles are aching, your bones are creaking, but it’s what you let your brain get away with that’s the most important of all. Youth grows old and is replaced by age but wisdom carries on and allows measured and thoughtful reactions, plus the ability to listen never grows old. I fear that people don’t stop and contemplate what they are saying and doing, they just say it and do it, one must think before one expresses a fear unfounded, an opinion learned, a knowledge that is unchecked. Awareness is the greatest gift, an old wise brain that continues to learn with a fit and healthy body, add lots of books, records and guitars and rational people around you, add love and empathy – sign me up.
Nicklas from Anekdoten was talking to me tonight about the great sound that some records have with the mellotrons and the guitars (the general sound) and the way things were recorded so I started by looking for Monster by Steppenwolf but I couldn’t find it in my collection. I’ve only ever sold my records once, that was when I lived in a bedsit in Manchester (I was about 20) and was about to leave with my friend Lesley for Perpignan in France to do the grape picking (now there’s a story that I might tell one day). I had that record then and 43 years later in my mind I still have it. I listened to it on Spotify instead but need to find it again.
Music today was actually all the other records Nicklas mentioned that I do have: Steppenwolf – 7 (1970), The Moody Blues – Seventh Sojourn (1972), Fantasy – Paint A Picture (1973), and Family – Family Entertainment (1969), all chosen for their sound. Monster was Steppenwolf’s fourth album and the first not to have any Top Ten hits but the album still made it to No. 17 and two singles made the Top 40. Lots of political songs, lots of Vietnam awareness and that sound of then. It’s like the forgotten art of illuminated texts.
Steppenwolf are most famous for Born To Be Wild and the line “Heavy Metal Thunder”. Most people think they were American but they were, in fact, Canadian, originally called The Sparrows. They moved to California in the sixties and that’s where it all took off and why they weren’t drafted. But in actual fact they weren’t even Canadian, they were essentially German.
Lead singer John Kay’s real name was Joachim Fritz Krauledat. His family fled the Russian advance from East Prussia to East Germany and eventually found themselves in Hanover before emigrating to Canada. That’s where The Sparrows formed with Nick St. Nicholas or his real name Klaus Karl Kassbaum. When they changed their name to Steppenwolf, Kassbaum had decided to play with another band but he was back in the fold in 1969 for their third album At Your Birthday Party and Monster the same year. Guitarist Michael Monarch, drummer Jerry Edmonton and keyboardist Goldy McJohn with original bass player Rushton Moreve were the core band that had the well-known hits, Born To Be Wild, The Pusher and Magic Carpet Ride. Rock Me was on At Your Birthday Party. (Moreve died from injuries sustained in a car accident aged 32.) On Steppenwolf 7, Monarch was replaced by Larry Byrom and Nick St. Nicholas by George Biondo. Last but not least it was Jerry Edmonton’s brother and ex Sparrow Dennis, aka Mars Bonfire that wrote the world-famous song, Born To Be Wild.
Fantasy’s Paint A Picture is an obscure Progressive Rock album that was really good but nobody noticed. At times I hear Bowie although all members were credited as vocalists, I think it’s Paul Lawrence who is the lead singer and plays 12 string. David Read plays bass, David Metcalfe on keyboards, Peter James on lead guitar and John Webster on drums. It’s moody, it’s melodic and although you’ll never find an original pressing under £1000 you have to have it and you can buy a reissue vinyl copy or a CD for a very reasonable price on Amazon. There’s a CD of their second unreleased album Beyond The Beyond that I just ordered. It doesn’t seem to be on Spotify but you can hear it below if you’d like to investigate before you commit.
The Moody Blues released Seventh Sojourn in 1972 and although I love all of their early seventies and late sixties albums, this one has a special place in my heart because it’s the first one I knew well enough to almost sing along with (I know lots of the words on various songs). Only I’m Just A Singer In A R’n’R Band I can live without. All the other tracks are beautiful. If you don’t like this you don’t like rabbits and who doesn’t like rabbits. It’s so lush with Mike Pinder’s Mellotrons and Chamberlins and Justin Hayward’s great guitar lines. John Lodge sings Isn’t Life Strange and Ray Thomas contributes For My Lady, Graeme Edge plays drums. Beautiful melodic songs and heartfelt meaningful lyrics, look out rabbits, you have competition in succumbing to an irresistible spell.
Family released Family Entertainment in 1969 and like all these sixties and seventies Family albums, if you don’t have them in your collection it’s like having a classic car museum with no Aston Martin. Original, innovative, moody, aggressive, melodic, angular and with Roger Chapman’s ridiculous voice you can’t have lived on the planet Earth without experiencing it although on this album Jim King sings a lot of the lead vocals too. The original band was Charlie Whitney on guitars, Jim King on sax, vocals, and harmonica (real name Alec Woodburn), Rob Townsend on drums, Ric Grech on bass, vocals, and violin with Roger Chapman on vocals. King and Grech had gone by the third album, A Song For Me (1970), replaced by John Weider on bass and violin and Poli Palmer on piano, vibes, and flute. John Wetton joined on bass for the 5th album, Fearless (1971), and the sixth album, Bandstand (1972), that had their biggest hit, Burlesque. I bought the single when it came out (I still have it) and the love affair has continued. Their first album, Music In A Doll’s House (1968), allegedly beat John Lennon to the same idea for a title (The White Album?).