Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Time for my yearly rant about rock/pop music and the state of national radio, kids.
So a normal working week for me again. A lot of writing, a fair amount of research, some reading, some playing music and some drinking. I turn the radio on to R3. R3 can be great in the morning but not if it's difficult orchestral stuff blaring away, so over to Radio 4 to find more garbage about the economy and flu. So straight over Radio 2 where the DJ who's depping for another DJ says: " ...and now a band that must be the second best band in the world, after the Beatles." He then puts on the Eagles' New Kid In Town. I mean, for f***'s (please insert password) sake! And on comes this country-mexicali piece of pop mush, which used to make me run over to the radio to turn it off even thirty years ago.
What's wrong with the Eagles, then? Well, they can all play perfectly, their vocals are seamless, their songs are well-crafted, they seem like nice guys...And I feel like I'm going to die of boredom as soon as I get within earshot of them. So it is subjective, you see. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so in a spare moment today I trawled YouTube to see what it was that makes me so allergic to them. Two vids later, I'm paralysed with boredom and have to wake myself up by finding a 1977 vid of ACDC doing "Problem Child" with Bon Scott on vocals. I can recommend this to anyone who feels as jaded with the rock medium as I sometimes do.
Meanwhile, the radio, when it's not guffing out all the 70s stuff which they played while busy ignoring punk rock, is now churning out Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keene, loads of bands doing their best to sound like them...or James Blunt and loads of people who are trying to sound like him etc etc etc and indeed blah-de-blah.And the music industry wonders why it's losing money!
I have always thought that pop music should be done quickly, cheaply and imperfectly. Ideally a benevolent government would be one who took all the musicians' expensive gear away, and gave everyone a Watkins Rapier, a Burns bass, a Broadway drumkit and a Bontempi organ instead. Then all the bands should be given 4 weeks in an 8 track studio to come up with two albums and six singles. There should be a stipulation that at least a quarter of the songs should be fast cheerful and summery. And if they couldn't do it, they shouldn't have the job.I mean bloody hell, there's got to be something better than this, hasn't there? Never mind flu outbreaks, we've got to do something about this stuff on the radio. It's killing the human spirit.
Dame school slate.
Complacent Eagles fans, yesterday.
This was my article from The East Anglian a couple of weeks ago. Great film by the way and sod the critics.
The Boat That Kept on Rocking
There's an old Jewish showbiz saying: “Yesterday, everyone wants to know about.” The huge interest in Richard Curtis's latest film, The Boat That Rocked – the story of a 1960s pirate radio ship – would seem to confirm this. Essex has its fair share of connections with the early days of pirate radio and there's been a corresponding flurry of recent stories about it. A few readers of cherishable age may remember driving out to Frinton on starry summer nights to flash their headlights at the Caroline ship and have their requests played by the young Johnny Walker. After the boat ran aground at Frinton in early 1966, this paper took pictures of a shocked, baby-faced DJ Tony Blackburn, drinking tea after being winched to safety by the coastguard.
For pop radio then, these were bright shiny days with something exciting always just around the corner. But then in August of 1967 , wielding a newly-drafted Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, Harold Wilson's government stopped it The move was redolent of a fusty old council warden closing down a teen dance. At the very peak of the '60s pop explosion, the pirate stations and their magical jangle had been silenced. Millions of disappointed listeners, long-deserted from Auntie Beeb's stodgy old Light Programme were now thrown a sop. It came in the form of BBC Radio 1. The new station though, was never going to be ideal. Because it was the sound of Auntie clucking: “Now look here children, if you're very very good, I'll let you listen to your nasty pop music – but only when I say so.”
At first, “Onederful” Radio 1, which had re-employed so many former pirates, wasn't too bad. Within a few years though, it had become a Smashey&Nicey-land, controlled by patronising gentleman farmers and blathering be-denimed idiots, playing mainstream pop on rotation. During daytime at least, we the listeners were now getting only what the industry wanted us to hear.
Until, that is, the early 1970s, when Radio Caroline re-launched itself from a ship called the Mi Amigo, anchored in the North Sea, 17 miles off Frinton. During the day it was Radio Mi Amigo broadcasting in Dutch and playing rather odd Euro-pop. At night it became Radio Caroline, broadcasting in English and airing many then-unplayed tracks that have since become rock classics. As one of a group of young kitchen porters working in a Colchester Bistro, I used to listen to Mi-Amigo / Caroline often. “Why are you listening to a Dutch station?” a bemused restaurant owner shouted at us over the racket. “Because Radio 1 is **** (please insert password).” we chorused charmingly back.
Elsewhere, at this time, a young fan called Tony Street – now a BBC radio producer living locally – got in contact with Radio Caroline and found himself invited aboard the ship to help collate their record collection. In that long blazing summer of 1976, the wide-eyed 17 year-old, found himself on board the Mi Amigo, sorting records, making tea and helping to maintain the equipment. He also developed a teenage crush on Samantha Dubois, a pretty Dutch DJ, herself then only just promoted from her earlier position as ship's cook. By the time he returned to shore in early autumn of that year, Tony was a veteran of sorts. “I came home with £175 and 15 albums.” he recalls, misty-eyed. The Mi Amigo got its ship's supplies illegally from Holland and its tenuous revenue from advertising. When advertising was in short supply they ran dummy ads.
Radio Caroline also promoted a concept called Loving Awareness. Ronan O'Rahilly, the station's eccentric Irish owner thought that our tumultuous world needed more of it. He even employed a rock band to make an album promoting his “L.A.” ideal. The story gets stranger. O'Rahilly originally wanted to call his band The Beatles but found, predictably, that there were legal hurdles involved. The alternatively-christened Loving Awareness Band and their new album then received constant airplay on Radio Caroline. The band's blend of rock-funk was not even remotely Beatles-like – although it actually wasn't bad.
All through the 1970s, with the other pirates long-closed down, the Mi Amigo boat alone, kept on rocking. And my pop-hungry fellow kitchen porters and I kept on listening – usually singing rudely along in English to the Dutch adverts. Young Tony Street, returned to the Mi Amigo as a radio engineer and crew member. He also eventually travelled to Holland, in company with Samantha Dubois, the object of his earlier infatuation. When it was all over, Tony, joined the BBC, who made an honest producer of him. There's a feeling though, talking to him now, that a part of him never really left the Mi Amigo, which sank in 1980.
Of Tony's fellow pirates, Mike Hagler, Caroline's popular American DJ went on to join the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. Samantha Dubois, sadly, died in 1992. The mysterious and charismatic Ronan O'Rahilly, Caroline's founder, now almost 70, is still around. Though, he was always hard to get hold of, said Tony: “Towards the end, I'd have to ring a clothes shop somewhere in Chelsea and ask for 'Bobby Kennedy'.” he laughs. And the Loving Awareness Band? In 1977, its members John, Mick, Charlie and Norman hooked up with a little bloke from Essex called Ian Dury and became the nucleus of a band called The Blockheads. They did pretty well, as it happens.
Newell lookalike Bill Nighy (right) And
Rhys Ifans (left)
So on Good Thursday, I nipped out on the byke to B&Q for a bit of black floorpaint for my kitchen floorboards and on Good Friday I set to the serious business, with no visitors around the place, of painting the stairs and floors. I had two visitors. One was Mitch, leader of Wivenhoe's most loveably ramshackle rockband, Scarpenter's News. Their bassist had quit and with an Easter Sunday gig looming at the Rose and Crown, could I help?
This town has a very good little rock music community. I managed to borrow an amp of Tai Chi Dave from Hurricane and Mitch borrowed a solid electric bass from Fiona of Hobo Chang. On Good Saturday, Mitch ( people sometimes think we're brothers, or mistake us for each other, so we look about right in a band together) came round to see what numbers we might manage with less than 24 hours to go. We settled on Nutbush City Limits, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Waiting For The Man and Sunshine of Your Love. It wasn't looking good, but in timeless style, I started learning them and getting to know the borrowed bass.
Late on Good Saturday afternoon, while we were fiddling with the borrowed equipment, the phone rang. It was Annie, duty reporter at the East Anglian. "Have you seen today's Times?" she asked. I said that no I hadn't. She said that there was a big article by Germaine Greer about the upcoming Poet Laureate's job. Prof. Greer had come up the rather radical suggestion that the whole post needed revising, that all the various counties of Britain should have their own laureate and that "Essex should give Martin Newell the bays." The reported asked me what I thought of this. I was rather stunned and blurted out that I was enormously touched and that I'd probably take it if offered but that I was never going to wear a bow-tie or sit down to dinner with a bunch of stuffed shirts. Oh, and I didn't want to have to write any poems about the Queen." Thank you." she said and rang off, leaving me and Mitch to work on the bass sound..
Good Sunday concerned itself mainly with me trying to memorise my own songs for my solo set and then all the bass parts for Scarpenter's News. We set up at about 7.30 and there were a number of solo performances, most notably from Tim Whitnell, who, though he had tonsilitis played about as well as ever I've seen him, with one or two guitar instrumental tricks, that I've just never witnessed before...not on an acoustic guitar anyway. Against all the odds, Scarpenters News went on at about half-nine and rocked the joint. Yeah, it was shambolic. And yeah, their bandannaed bass-player here missed a couple of cues. But it felt really good and I think the punters really enjoyed it. In American parlance, we rocked. We got out while we were winning and eased the night down with a couple more solo sets. It being the landlady's birthday, there was a bit of an old fashioned lock-in for close family and musicians and I finally crawled home at about 2.00 and into bed by about 3.00.
Good Monday and my throat is shot to pieces, I've got bass-player's shoulder, and both my hands ache but apart from a bit of tiredness, I think I've got away with it. So I go out to buy the papers and there on the front cover of the East Anglian, is a little mugshot of me and Newell For Essex Poet Laureate (p9) On page 9 there's two big pics. One of me and one of Prof Germaine Greer. And there, verbatim, are my quotes: "no bow-ties, stuffed shirts etc etc sod the Queen bla blah, bloody academics blah blah." Well, there goes my bleedin' knighthood, then. "Don't bother arising, Sir Nartin Mule." That's Mr Twat to you, Your Royal Harness.
I don't really feel like painting today.
Newell preparing for Essex Poet