Sunday, January 1, 2017

John Peel Signs Off in Peru - Thousands Lament the Death of a DJ

John Peel Record collection
Image by Jake - Thanks to flickr

John Peel was, without doubt, one of Britain's most loved broadcasters at the time of his death.
John was working in, of all places, Peru when he had a heart attack in the historic Inca city of Cuzco.

The date was the 25th of October 2004.

So what was it about John that made his death such a historically sad event? - you don't have to look far for the answer to that. His path to what we would now call "celebrity" status was fairly typical at the time - although I'm pretty sure that John would never have regarded himself as a celebrity as such.

John Peel was a famous and very talented man who helped hundreds of artists and bands to find acceptance and, yes, fame, as he carved out an enviable career - first with so-called "pirate" radio and later with the BBC.

What made John different is that he was willing to push the boundaries and give a "leg up" to bands that would otherwise simply fallen by the wayside. He is famous for many things but one of them is the fact that he played both sides of Mike Oldfield's debut album, the ground-breaking "Tubular Bells" in full, on his BBC radio show.

Mike Oldfield himself acknowledges that this exposure played a major part in making the album the multi-million seller that it became. By a process of extrapolation you could therefore put forward an argument that John Peel gave a head start to Richard Branson and the Virgin empire - Richard himself acknowledges that Tubular Bells was the catalyst that helped launch Virgin Records into the big time.

John Peel was the man that brought us bands we would never otherwise have heard. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, for example, owe their UK popularity, limited as it was, to John Peel being the only UK DJ, as far as I know, who ever played tracks from their albums on the BBC - most notably "Troutmast Replica" which was always going to be a hard sell in 1960's Britain.

I always believed in what John was doing - providing a platform for upcoming artists to perform to a large audience. He made music from all types of artist accessible to all. I'm sure he had his favourites and that occasionally there were artists on his playlist that he might not have liked that much but that never seemed to affect his even-handedness. If you had talent and were passionate about what you did, he would give you a chance. That's why I, and thousands of others, loved him.

So it came as a very pleasant surprise when, during a visit to a friend in Suffolk, she suggested that we visit the The John Peel Centre for Creative Arts, which is located in the Suffolk town of Stowmarket, close to where John and his family lived.

Much more than just a dusty old memorial, this vibrant centre still does a large part of the work that John did when he was alive - it provides a platform for "lesser known" artists to perform and gain that vital experience of playing live in front of a real audience.

It was around midday in the middle of the week when we turned up and, although the place was technically closed we were invited in by one of the volunteers that runs the place and given the tour, made welcome and invited to look around and stay as long as we wanted.

Upstairs there is a bar with a full size photograph of Johns legendary record collection forming the front of the bar. It looked so realistic that I actually tried to look at one of the album sleeves by pulling it from the "rack". Of course, I couldn't - it was just an image.

Apparently the actual collection is still located at John's former home, still in the process of being cataloged. As the collection is reputed to consist of more than 26,000 albums, that could take some time.

All in all I just wanted to say that my visit to the centre somehow rekindled my enthusiasm for what john did and achieved. The music business has changed so much that it would be difficult to replicate what John did all those years ago. The exposure given to an artist i still important but it has as much to do with their "presence" on social media and music websites as it does on the action of DJ's.

John was a true man of the people and a man of his time and it is in that way that I shall remember him.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cincinnati Concert Tragedy For The Who - December 3rd 1979

It is not widely known but, in some respects, rock concerts used to be very dangerous places to be. Since the 1970s there are over 130 incidents of fans being killed, usually accidentally, at such events. In many cases these deaths could be attributed to failings of the management to control the crowd adequately.

On the 3rd of December 1979, one of the worst such tragedies took place. The event was a concert by British supergroup, The Who and the venue was the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum, since renamed as the Firstar Center, in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. The event was a sell out and was at the peak of the band's popularity. The size of the crowd has been estimated at around 18,000.

As is often the case, fans were admitted to the venue early and began to make their way to the front in order to get the best view possible. The seating arrangements were, in fact, a combination of standing and unreserved seats so it really was "first come first served". When this is the case many fans arrive at venues hours before the start so as to get a good seat or standing position.

The deaths and numerous serious injuries occurred as a massive crowd tried to get through what was an inadequate number of doors. Those who were caught up in a surge of fans trying to gain entrance were crushed and, sadly, eleven of them did not survive. It is believed that the surge was caused when the band did a late sound check. Hearing this, the fans waiting outside mistakenly thought that the concert had begun and started to move forward so as not to miss the performance.

As a result of this, the Cincinnati authorities banned the practice of "festival" seating, i.e. unreserved seating, for many years after the tragedy.

Safety standards at indoor concerts have improved considerably over the years following this tragedy but one only has to look at other tragedies such as the Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster which took place on 15th  April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, This event, however, was a football match and not a music concert. 96 fans were crushed to death and over 700 others were injured making it the UK's worst stadium disaster.

The Who performed that night, unaware of the tragedy until after their set had finished.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spider Not Guilty Of Slayer Guitarist Jeff Hanneman's Death

The guitarist Jeff Hanneman was a founder member of thrash metal band Slayer. He formed the band in 1981 with fellow guitarist Kerry King.  Regarded as being one of the leading acts in the Thrash genre which came to the fore in the 1980's and continues to be popular today, Slayer often courted controversy with the choice of subject matter for their lyrics.

Despite all of that, Slayer were hugely successful both live and on record. Estimates vary as to their album sales but it is fairly certain that a figure somewhere in the region of 30 million worldwide would not be far from the mark.

Jeff Hanneman was undoubtedly a pivotal member of the band and contributed to their musical output both musically and lyrically. He was an accomplished guitarist and was capable of delivering the high speed technically polished picking that was essential to the fast-paced material produced by the band and others in the genre.

In 2011 Jeff was reported to have contracted the flesh-eating disease "necrotizing fasciitis" as a result of a spider bite. It was said that this incident took place in 2010 whilst he was in a friends hot tub. Following this, Jeff was forced to take time away from touring whilst the condition was being treated. He underwent a series of operations to remove dead tissue from his arm and was in a medically-induced coma for a few days.

There followed a period of convalescence during which the seriousness of the disease became more apparent with reports that Jeff almost had to learn to walk again.

When his death was first announced in early May 2013 it was widely reported that he had died as a result of the spider bite induced necrotizing fasciitis but this later proved not to be the case. The coroner's report into Jeff's death confirmed that it was in fact alcohol-related cirrhosis, (liver failure) that was the actual cause of death.

It appears that Jeff, along with his friends, family and bandmates had been largely unaware of this condition or at least of the advanced stage it was in.

Jeffrey John Hanneman, born January 31st 1964, died on May 2, 2013 aged 49, in his native California.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston's Brad Delp's Death By Barbecue 2007 Aged 55

Brad Delp was a founder member of the hugely successful American band Boston who released their eponymous first album, "Boston," in 1976.
Even people who have never heard that album, and I guess there will be a few of those despite the fact that over 19 million copies of it were sold, will probably have heard the song that made Boston a household name not just in the USA but all over the world, "More Than A Feeling".
Along with his bandmates, multi-instrumentalist, engineer and producer Tom Scholz who founded the band, guitarist Barry Goudreau and the band's original drummer Jim Masdea, Brad recorded several songs that were initially rejected by the record companies to which they were submitted.
Eventually a deal was struck with Epic Records and Masdeau left, apparently at the insistence of Epic, to be replaced by Sib Hashian.
With the lineup now stabilised, at least for a while, the band finished work on what became the fastest selling debut album in USA history, "Boston", which finally hit the shelves in August 1976. Three further platinum, (1 million plus sales) albums followed, the first being "Don't Look Back" in 1978 and then after a long gap, "Third Stage" in 1986. Their fans had to wait another 8 years before "Walk On" which came out in 1994 and also, albeit only just, turned platinum.
Brad Delp's characteristic vocal style and wide vocal range complemented Tom Scholz's instrumental and writing styles perfectly and the results were, by any standard, truly impressive. The band continued to enjoy critical and commercial success for many years although not quite at the heady levels that they experienced with their phenomenal debut work. A version of Boston, with Tom Scholz now the only original member,  persists to this day and is still touring.
Brad had signalled his desire to do other things during the gestation period for "Walk On and had indicated to Tom in 1990 that he might not be fully available anymore. He did contribute to "Walk On" however, (in fact he co-wrote that particular song after which the album was named) but was eventually replaced as vocalist by Fran Cosmo.
Since then, Brad did in fact work with Scholtz on a number of occasions and toured with Boston several times.
He also had a number of different project on the go including RTZ with Barry Goudreau and Beatlejuice, a tribute to the Beatles who Brad had always cited as one of his most significant influences.
On March 9th 2007 Brad Delp was found dead on the floor of his bathroom at his home in New Hampshire.  He had died as a result of Carbon monoxide poisoning which had been caused by fumes from two lit barbecues that had been placed in the room and after which the room had been sealed to prevent the fumes from escaping.
Brad had left four suicide notes privately addressed to family members and had pinned a further note to his shirt for public consumption. The note read simply "Mr. Brad Delp. "J'ai une ame solitaire". I am a lonely soul."
You will find it extremely difficult to find anyone who spoke ill of Brad Delp. He was widely described as a nice thoughtful and generous person. The true reason for his suicide has never been established or, if it has, it has never been made public. It seems that he didn't want those details to become public knowledge and we have to respect that and the wishes of his family and close friends.
He has left us a great deal of significance to remember him by, I never knew him personally of course but, like the millions of other Boston fans all over the world, my enduring memory of him will be those wonderful songs on which he performed and sang. The world would have been less wonderful without Boston and without Brad, Boston would never have been the same.

Bradley Edward Delp was born on June 12, 1951 and died on March 9, 2007.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Too Good For The Pistols - Guitarist Steve New Dies 2010 Aged 50.

Musical prowess was not a criteria for membership of the Sex Pistols. That's not a criticism of that band, in particular, but was actually, at least in part, the very essence of what Punk was about.
In the early to mid 70's when Punk began to emerge there was no shortage of musically adept, virtuoso performers around to satisfy what had until then been an insatiable public appetite for music that was becoming more complex, more sophisticated and, perhaps, a little tired.
During that time I was managing a venue where rock music was the order of the day but where I began to notice more and more of the bands we promoted were leaning towards what later became known as Punk.
We even had a future diary date for the Sex Pistols and a promoter was keen for them to do a gig in Sheffield, where I was based at the time, but, as the Pistol's reputation grew the local licensing authority became less eager to grant the necessary licenses and the concert was removed from the calendar.
Which brings me to Steve New and why I consider him to be a "RockBottom."
First of all, anyone who dies of cancer at the relatively early age of 50 could be considered to be, at the very least, unlucky. As I have written in my articles time and time again, cancer is completely indiscriminate as to how and when it wreaks its havoc. In Steve's case it did so towards the end of what proved to be a short but very eventful life.
The mantle of being too good for the Sex Pistols is deserved only on the grounds that, in 1975, (some accounts put it in 1976), Steve auditioned for the role of guitarist in the Pistols but was turned down because his style of playing was too technical, too accomplished and would not sit easily with the raw unpolished material that they went on to produce in, thankfully, relatively small quantities.
Other accounts cite the length of Steve's hair as being the barrier to entry as he wore it long and was therefore, in terms of his appearance and his musical ability, more akin to the more established musical stereotypes that still dominated the music scene at that time. There were few, if any, examples of short spiky hair amongst the likes of Pink Floyd, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and the plethora of other Progressive Rock bands of the day.
Whatever the truth of the matter, his time with the band was short and lasted only a few weeks.
Whatever the pro's and con's of that may be, Steve certainly missed out on the undoubted celebrity and financial rewards that normally followed when a band becomes as big as the Pistols.
Their fame was short lived but there were few people in the UK who had not at least heard of them - albeit usually for the wrong reasons. Their only studio album, "Never Mind The Bollocks" made the top spot in the UK album charts and went Platinum, (over one million copies sold) and this, along with their other antics, made certain of their place in music and social history.
Steve New went on to perform in other bands, including a spell with Iggy Pop, however his most notable project was The Rich Kids which was formed by Steve and another ex-Pistols bandmate  bassist Glen Matlock, and which also included vocalist and guitarist Midge Ure for a short period before he went on to play with thin Lizzy, The Skids and ultimately found fame in Ultravox.
The Rich Kids were short lived but attracted a lot of attention during that time - and for the right reasons too. Their only album, "Ghosts of Princes In Towers," was produced by the celebrated ex-Spider From Mars, Mick Ronson and made number 24 in the UK album charts. Steve also had a short spell with Public Image Ltd - John Lydon's post Sex Pistols project with virgin records.
Throughout his career and for a large part of his life, Steve was a transvestite and had described that aspect of his character as a "secret life" and something which he had been ashamed of. Nonetheless, during the latter part of his life, (I could not find a definitive date or time), he came out and changed his performing name to Stella Nova.
Despite having survived the rigours of a musicians lifestyle, including periods of addiction to Heroin, Steve finally succumbed to cancer and died in 2010 at the age of 50.
His final project, Beastellabeast, which he formed with Beatrice Brown, was still running at the time of his death and had seen the release of three albums.

Stephen Charles New, AKA Stella Nova, was born in London in 1960 and died there at the age of 50 on 24th May 2010.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cartoon Capers - A Bad Move For The Move

The move were a highly successful band formed in the 1960's by singer/songwriter and guitarist Roy Wood, drummer Bev Bevan, singer Carl Wayne, guitarist Trevor Burton and bassist Chris Kefford.

Guitarist and songwriter Jeff Lyne joined in 1969 and it was he, along with Roy Wood, who engineered the band's transition into the Electric Light Orchestra in the early 1970's.

The band released a number of singles that entered the charts in the UK starting with "Night Of Fear" in 1966 followed closely by "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" in April 1967. These reached number 2 and 5 in the UK charts respectively.

After  "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" came the song which is the main focus of this article. Entitled "Flowers In The Rain" it was written by Roy Wood and made number 2 in the UK charts. This song has the distinction of being the first chart single to be played on the BBC's newly launched radio station, Radio 1, on 30th September 1967.

At this time, the band were being managed by Tony Secunda, who also managed the Moody Blues. Secunda had devised a promotional campaign to drive sales of the single and as part of that campaign he had commissioned a satirical cartoon depicting the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, having an affair with his political secretary Marcia Williams.

The cartoon was published as a postcard and prompted Wilson to file for libel in the court - a case which he subsequently won.

As a result of the court case, all royalties from the song were donated to a charity nominated by Harold Wilson. When Wilson died in 1995 Roy Wood had hoped that the royalties would revert back to him but this was not the case - the ruling continued in perpetuity.

Most copies of the card were destroyed but a few remain. The image depicted is of one such survivor which was sold at auction in 2004 for £66.

After this debacle, the band sacked Secunda as their manager and were taken under the wing of Don Arden,  who had also managed the Small Faces and subsequently went on to manage Black Sabbath.

More chart success followed for the Move, including a number 1 in the UK charts with "Blackberry Way." in   1969 and "Brontosaurus" in 1970, both written by Roy Wood.

Another Wood song, "Fire Brigade" had charted at number 3 in the UK charts in February 1968.

Subsequent releases did not fare so well however and one, "When alice Comes Back To The Farm", released soon after Brontosaurus, failed to chart. Things looked up briefly in 1972 with "California Man", (number 7 in the UK charts), but by this time the group's transition into the Electric Light Orchestra was underway and the Move faded away.

There was a resurrection of sorts in 2000 when Bev Bevan organised a revival but this did not carry the support of Wood. The band, now known as 'The Move featuring Trevor Burton and Bev Bevan, continue to perform.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ex-King Crimson Drummer Ian Wallace Dies Of Esophageal Cancer In 2007

To describe Ian Wallace as an "ex-King Crimson" drummer is to vastly understate the scope of his very varied career although it is that role for which he is, arguably, best remembered.
Early in his career he played with Viv Stanshall's Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and also with a pre-Yes Jon Anderson.

Ian played on two of Crimson's albums, "Islands" in 1971 and the live album "earthbound" in 1972.
He also played with many other bands and artists and is one of only a few drummers who could list Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills & Nash, Eric Clapton, The Travelling Wilburys and Roy Orbison on his CV, along with many others.

So why then, is such an in-demand and talented percussionist to be regarded as a RockBottom?

The reason, of course, is Ian's untimely death from esophageal cancer at what is now regarded as the early age of only 60. From its initial diagnosis in August 2006 to his death in February 2007, six very brief months, Ian suffered from this terrible disease but devoted a lot of his time to encouraging other sufferers to fight the condition.

Ian's wife,  Marjorie, is an active member of the American Cancer Society and the Ian Wallace website still carries her heart-breaking diary that she made during the last days of his life.

If all of that serves as a reminder to us all as to just how indiscriminate Cancer can be, and how quickly it wreaks its havoc, then that is to be encouraged and I urge you to take a look at the official Ian Wallace site where you can see the diary for yourself.

Ian Russell Wallace was born in Bury, Lancs on 29th September 1946 and died in Los Angeles on the 22nd February 2007.