Remember that I’m not saying that making music is easy, far from it – making music is very difficult – I know that there are tens of thousands of very talented musicians in the UK and at least thousands in Wales – and I know a few of them so I know how hard they work to make those sounds.
But I am saying that making music is a cop-out – compared to writing it’s a doddle. I mean once you’ve learned an instrument and the tunes to a bunch of songs all you have to do is play and sing. Unless you’re a composer of course, but even then it’s still easier than writing. It’s still following a bunch of rules and usually that means repetitions of things like beats and lyrics.
I know a point of view like this might upset a lot of people, especially those who have spent decades learning their craft and those who profess their love for certain musical artists or genres, but it doesn’t matter, because my opinion of music doesn’t matter. I’m just an ordinary bloke, that’s all – one ordinary bloke out of tens of millions of blokes in the UK alone.
Besides, I’ve got no influence, no respect, no kudos, so just chill the fuck out – I’m only writing about how I feel – and even then I’ll probably change my mind next week or have an epiphany or something. Yeah, so just chill the fuck out. And there’s no reason or need to dislike me either, just for my opinion. I am not disrespecting you, in fact, I admire you a lot, it’s just that I don’t think music is such a big deal.
Recently I told someone whose life is music that I regarded music as just like the wind – it’s just there that’s all. They and others they spoke to in the music business were horrified. I’m a little puzzled by that reaction to be honest because I think it’s a complimentary thing to say – I mean, the wind is one of the most amazing, wonderful, varied, profound, powerful and beautiful things there is. It is an actual force of nature.
Writing on the other hand is like taking the whole of history, the whole of human evolution and experience, the whole of the universe even, in your brain all at once and issuing words that encapsulate the magic and the majesty in a conscious way. It’s not like just standing on a beach and feeling the wind in your face and the sea air in your lungs, it is the very act of creation itself. Writing is divine in the true sense, not in the namby-pamby repetitive sense.
But yes I still admire and envy you – I wish I could sing and play an instrument like a guitar or a key board.
Maybe I’ll try to learn. Is it too late for me to do this at 67 years old do you think?
This is an extract from Beats, the second novel in the Bums, Beats, and Bones trilogy. Bums has already been published. Beats will follow in 2018.
But it’s not really about the music is it?” Old Steve knew he was pushing his luck but he’d had decades of Billy’s bullshit and now and again he challenged him just for the hell of it.
“Don’t be bloody daft, it’s all about the music – the music is all there is,” Billy huffed.
Old Steve shook his head. “Nah mate! Believe me, you may think that – but all those punters out there – they don’t – not really, not if you dig a bit. Not if you get inside their skulls.”
Billy sighed. “You know what Steve – we’ve known each other since we were kids, a long time – what is it now? Fifty years near enough, but you ain’t got a fucking clue.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know; it would be impossible for you to admit to something contrary to what your whole life is based on. It would turn your brain into mush if you did that – not that your brain isn’t already mush – you lost that in the seventies.”
“Shut the fuck up. You’re doing my head in.”
“That’ll be the drugs too.”
“Who the fuck do you think you are? Without the music you wouldn’t have fuck all. Without The Redcurrents you’d be driving a bus. The music has given you, us, a good life.”
“You could say that about Val Doonican.” Old Steve chuckled at his own joke, it didn’t take much to wind Billy up, he was so insecure, but he’d better not start with all that crap about ‘electrifying’ the seventies with their radical socialist songs – that was pure luck, and Tommy’s lyrics of course.
“Please, I’m not in the mood,” Billy pleaded.
“OK, all right, I’ll shut up. Now, do you want another pint?”
“Ah, go on then, I’ll get them.”
Billy got up, went to the bar and waited for Andy to realise he was there and get off his fat arse to attend to him – he couldn’t be bothered to call out. He stared into nowhere, his mind meandering back through the decades. Of course, Steve was right – the actual music was just the wrapping – like the coloured cellophane around a cube of fancy chocolate. He knew as much as anyone that talented musicians were as common as yellow daffodils in March and good music was as ubiquitous as white seagulls on the inhabited coastline. It was pure luck, with a good dollop of ruthlessness that made a successful career. He knew because he’d been there, done that – got his fucking face on the T-Shirt. But you had to keep up the act – the moment you let it slip, it would be over, you might as well put a gun to your head.
NOTE: This blog post is meant primarily as a personal record of something I did and the context in which I did it. It’s no more than that.
In the late sixties, when I was a teenager I used to sit in cafés and watch people. I don’t mean in a creepy way, I was just a casual observer. At seventeen I spent some time based in Paddington and worked as a Lugger – a Roadie’s assistant, carrying speakers and amps in through the back entrances,up the steep stairs, and along the narrow passages of nightclubs all over the UK. I grafted for several bands including Jon Hiseman’s Coliseum and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. I shared a flat with other roadies who between them worked for some of the biggest names of that period.
(Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee precise historical accuracy – all these memories may be mixed up and reconstituted in a skewed way, probably due to the bin-bag full of potent Mexican grass we consumed during the period – it was the sixties after all!)
In 1969 when I was seventeen I went to London with my friend Dave. He picked me up in a transit van from where I lived with my parents and my siblings in the small council house on the outskirts of Llanelli. Dave was a roadie; well actually Dave was a brilliant guitarist but worked as a roadie in London at the time. He was a couple or more years older than me and he died in his twenties but that’s another story. Dave was one of my two best friends – the other one was Stu, who was younger than me and who also died in his twenties – that’s another story too of course. Continue reading “I may have written about this before but it will have been with different words”
I did think it would be good to listen to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water from 1972 while writing this, and I am listening to it, but to be honest it seems dated and restrained. Yes there’s some nice little riffs in the mix and it does build nicely but I wouldn’t put it up there on the top tunes shelf with Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love from 1969 for example.
Hang on . . .
Now I’m listening to Whole Lotta Love and it smacks Smoke on the Water’s arse with a rather large paddle. Maybe it’s because when the album Led Zeppelin II, where the tune comes from, was released, I was living in a flat in Paddington with a bunch of roadies (one of them went on to become Led Zeppelin’s roadie as it happens) and we’d just scored some very tasty Mexican Grass, so I spent many happy hours, lying back, stoned to buggery, eyes closed, headphones snug, drifting into the void on Led Zep’s shimmering discs of sound that seared deep into my primal core – orgasmic.
Anyway, back to what sparked off this post.
I went to buy some soya milk and then popped into the Post Office to send a pair of too big Vegetarian Shoes back. When I came out it was drizzling with rain – a fine spray, quite pleasant in a way – a soft cool shower on a muggy day. When I got home I noticed a strong smell of burning aromatic wood permeating the house. Damn, I’d left the bathroom window open and some nitwit had lit a fire in their garden which was being dribbled on by said soft shower; consequently it was billowing smoke like a hippie from the aforementioned sixties.
So. after I pointedly slammed the bathroom window shut, I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be a larf to write something about that and make up an attention-catching headline’, so seeing as it was about smoke and rain (i.e. water) then the tune Smoke on the Water came to mind. I couldn’t even remember the song, but the title is well and truly embedded into the fabric of my brain, and I suspect into millions of other brains around the world and particularly into the brains of people of a certain demographic.
How much other crap is crammed into that endless space in our heads, and is that all we are? Are we just a mashup of memories and memes, blended with a trove of trivia, Is that what makes a person? If I had your memories would I think like you? Would I behave like you? I mean what if I was the person I am now, whatever that is, but remembered only your life? What if you were still you but could only access my past? Would I become you and you become me? If so then we wouldn’t notice – perhaps that goes on all the time.
If you ever make sense of that paragraph above and believe it to be true then it means we are just our memories. The things we think we believe in, the stuff that makes us the sort of people we are, all that, it’s just decoration, window-dressing at best. But that’s not all we are is it? God, we are so complicated, so complex at every level of our existence that it’s just not possible to ever get to know ourselves let alone each other.
But, there is mitigation; if I was a religious person I might call it faith, but to me it’s simply the feeling of being alive, of being capable of experiencing the physical word and able to contemplate what it all means.
Yes, just 60p to attend a gig by Slade but you’ll have to travel four decades back in time first.
I came across this poster advertising a gig by Slade at the Glen in Llanelli in 1970/71.
I was taking pictures for a new website for the No Strings Rock Bistro in Llanelli. The bistro has just been opened by Tony Rees, originally from Cardiff, who himself, played at the Glen in 1968.
Thing is, it was me who organised that gig. I was vice-president of the students’ union at the local college at the time and I remember going backstage to pay Slade, I think it was about £200 in cash. I remember we made money on the night so seeing as it was only 60p to get in, we must have had a good few hundred punters in.