Today marks the 56th birthday of Nicholas Headon, known as “Topper” because of his apparent resemblance to Mickey the Monkey whose face graced the front page of the Topper comic for many years. Headon is best known as the drummer with legendary punk band The Clash and he was a pivotal part of the group’s success in the late 1970s and the early part of the following decade.
However, his addiction to heroin caused increasing tension within the band, culminating in Headon’s departure in May 1982... although the party line was that the split was due to “exhaustion”.
In 1979, The Clash released one of the finest records of the generation with their double album London Calling. There was an tremendous amount of variety amongst the nineteen tracks, but my favourites include The Card Cheat (a song which the band never played live), Strummer’s semi-autobiographical Lost in the Supermarket and the magnificent Guns of Brixton; Paul Simonon’s first recorded attempt at singing his own composition remains as dark and menacing now as it was over thirty years ago. There is also an up-tempo cover of The Rulers’ 1967 ska classic Wrong ‘Em Boyo which doesn’t quite work for me, but it is just another example of the range of influences and culture that The Clash incorporated into their work.
Any possibility of the original line-up of The Clash reforming disappeared with the untimely passing of Joe Strummer (real name John Mellor) in December 2002, but on 9th May 1985, I was privileged (and more than a little surprised) to see Strummer and Simonon performing an impromptu acoustic set in York’s King’s Square. The picture above was taken that very afternoon, but when I arrived, I was greeted by a big crowd and I Fought the Law played by three acoustic guitarists and a drummer (using a wooden bench); it was a surreal, but amazing moment.
Some may disagree, but I believe that Messrs Fox, Jennings and Ruffy of The Ruts were marginally better musicians, but as songwriters, Strummer and Jones had their combined fingers on the political pulse of a nation. They were true masters of their craft and at least I can tell my grandchildren I saw The Clash play “live”...sort of!!
To a recent list that includes The Alarm, Killing for Company and The Karma Heart, I can now add Take That as a band I’ve seen perform live.
Something like 55,000 people were crammed into the Stadium of Light to see the opening night of the band’s Progress tour and the much heralded return of Robbie whatshisname...
As someone used to visiting football and rugby league grounds with just a few hundred other people for company, a crowd that size is very hard
to comprehend... until you try and bloody move anywhere. In fairness, we were expecting the worst after the “Park and Walk” turned out to be “Park and Stitch”as it took forty-five minutes to get from the “park” bit to the Stadium itself where we were greeted by so many people; I thought we’d arrived at Primark on sale day.
We’d built up quite a hunger after our ramble... which disappeared almost instantly when we saw the price list. A hot dog and a pint of lager... go on have a guess...
£8!! Eight bloody quid!!
We settled on a £2.50 sausage roll (each... we live the life) after shelling out £20 on the official programme. Saw us coming... I’ll never ignore a Big Issue seller again...
Anyway, we had good seats, but it was bitterly cold as the wind whistled through the stand. I can only assume others had sampled the sausage rolls as well. The Pet Shop Boys were on at half seven; they were crap and the only times the crowd cheered was when Neil Tennant shouted the word “Sunderland” – and when they’d finished!
And so to the main event. The band started as a foursome (and very good they sounded too) before Mr Williams appeared to a reception the like
of which I’ve never heard before. He launched into Let Me Entertain You and as “a neutral” I’d have to say his solo set was brilliant and the way he handled the crowd... masterful. A showman of the very highest quality.
The “original”line up of Take That was then reunited on stage for the first time in fifteen years, giving the crowd another chance to go berserk. Some of the newer songs didn’t really work for me, but the oldies were almost hysterically received and the sight of tens of thousands of swaying arms (to Never Forget) was something I’ll never... er... forget...
The performance, the dancers, the props, the show... all wonderful - the centrepiece was a giant (60’) man, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise (he stands up!!!).
After two and a half hours, during which we had been royally entertained (but frozen to the bone), we headed back to the car. Take That will never be my favourite band, but I can appreciate brilliance when I see it and these guys were brilliant. Really glad I went and even happier that Elaine clapped, cheered and sang through the whole thing – for me it made the seized-up back and hips totally worthwhile!
Last week saw the passing of a 1960’s pop icon with whom I shared a surname, but sadly not any musical ability.
Kathy Kirby was actually born Kathleen O’Rourke (so strictly speaking we didn’t even share a surname... remind me why I’m writing this blog..?!) on 20th October 1938. Her “big break” came at the age of sixteen when she cheekily asked bandleader Bert Ambrose if she could sing with his band. Her two impromptu songs earned a rapturous ovation from the audience and within weeks she was touring with Ambrose who became her manager, close friend and (despite an age gap of over forty years) lover.
He guided her to worldwide fame during the early/mid 60s, a time she was dubbed “The Golden Girl of Pop”. Her biggest hit was Secret Love, which reached no.4 in the British Charts in 1963; she represented the United Kingdom (and finished second with I Belong) in the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 as well as recording the theme turn for Adam Adamant Lives!.
Ambrose died in 1971 and Kathy’s life – and career – spiralled downhill. Her later years were spent almost reclusively in London, but her death at the age of 72 prompted some lovely tributes from some of those who had known her...
Kathy Kirby 1938-2011
And finally... Kathy’s looks were apparently compared to Marilyn Monroe – can’t see it myself – but do you know the identity of the stunning young woman at the foot of the page?
Well you can award yourself unlimited points if you recognised France Gall (born Isabelle Gall in 1947), who represented Luxembourg in the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest; her rendition of Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son (“Wax Doll, Sawdust Doll”) earned 32 points, six more than Kathy’s United Kingdom runner-up...
Seriously..? You knew who it was..?
Stuart Cable would have been 41 today...
I never knew Stuart... didn’t even meet him, but his death on 7th June last year still came as a real shock.
Just a few weeks earlier, Elaine and I had been to see The Alarm in concert at Newcastle’s O2 Academy. Their original line up had been (and will always be) my favourite band but I really wanted to take Elaine to see the current version “in action”. When I first saw The Alarm back in 1983, the headline acts were Stiff Little Fingers and U2 – the support band last April was Killing for Company and I have to say I was really impressed.
It wasn’t until a few days later when I searched for more info on the band and their music that I learned that the drummer was Stuart Cable... that’s right, the bloke from The Stereophonics. I ordered their debut CD The Lost Art of Deception and received a copy signed by all five members of the band...
And just days later, I heard the news of Stuart’s passing...
Forty... it’s no age at all.
Such a shame... such a waste.
I’m sure Stuart “lived the life” as they say, but I’ve not heard a single bad word said about the man. A partner, father, son, friend, band mate and proud Welshman... Stuart was all these things and it doesn’t take much imagination to realise how devastating the tragically early loss of a loved one must be...
Whatever the future holds for the members of Killing for Company (whom I proud to have met and got to know), the name of Stuart Cable... “The Duke” will live on – the band and their fans will make sure of that. Happy birthday Stuart...
Penblwydd Hapus... gorwedd mewn hedd...
I didn't sleep particularly well last night... I woke up at something past two in the morning after a dream, parts of which have been recurrent for most of my adult life...
Unusually, I actually lived at the school that I attended between the ages of 8 and 18; it's not a typical upbringing and may explain why the majority of my dreams (even now) still take place in or near my old school. However, one of the recurring themes is visiting my preparatory school, which lies in the shadow of York Minster. At the time (in the late 1960s), it was the junior school of York College for Girls and the fact that I was one of only five boys in the school didn't make me any more attractive to the young girls even though, in theory, I was spoilt for choice.
I stupidly believed that not getting caught in a game of "kiss catch" was a smart thing to do... if I had my time again, I'd simply stand still, close my eyes and shout "take me"...
Anyway, these dreams involve me returning to the school many years later in the hope that I’ll be allowed to have a look round, but as much as I want to subconsciously recall the layout of the classrooms and memories of “how it used to be”, everything is different... Perhaps I want the nostalgic feeling of a time when I had no responsibilities and a future filled with hope and optimism... sadly a “feeling” is all it ever can be...
The other recurring dreams are concerned with being back at school, in my last year, with final exams looming. I'm worried because I haven't been to enough lessons or done any revision; I'm almost guaranteed not to pass and then what's going to happen to me?
Seemingly, dreams about being back at school are relatively common amongst people from almost every age group. Apparently, they can highlight childhood insecurities or the fear of an uncertain future... certainly I would acknowledge that I have a strong fear of failure. Sleep can allow you return to a time before your life path was decided... even if the road is pre-determined - I do believe in fate... but is that simply an easy option? Believing your life is mapped out is fine, but it does offer an excuse for every mistake or wrong choice.
I did reasonably well at school, 13 ‘O’ levels and 4 ‘A’ levels, but then took a really bad option for my further education. Do my dreams indicate that I subconsciously regret that choice and would my life have been different if I’d got better grades and picked another course at another university? The answer to the latter is “yes” and dramatically so, but would I want to have a life that didn’t have Elaine in it? Absolutely not and the same goes for my children so for me, the end justifies the means (even though the “journey” has been difficult...).
Curiously... bizarrely even, Elaine and I were born just three weeks and fifty miles apart, but it took over forty years for our paths to cross. Yet when I looked through her photo albums, there she was, aged about seven, pictured in York with my prep school in the background.
At that very moment, I might well have been evading kisses in the playground, but why the hell wasn’t I inside, looking out of a window desperately trying to attract the attention of my future wife..?
That would be fate, Kirbs...
Although we had to miss out on Killing for Company's gig last Friday (a mere 600 mile round trip... they're good, but...), Elaine and I still managed a bit of giggage with a trip to the Three Tuns in Gateshead to see The Karma Heart, who had played with the Welsh rockers on the Newcastle leg of the Die So Fluid tour in February.
Complete with Killing for Company t-shirt and hoody (or is it hoodie..? No matter...), we left our Middlesbrough home and headed up the A19, stopping off at the iconic Angel of the North for what I can only describe as a top quality photo shoot (see below)...
The route through Low Fell and Gateshead took us near to where I used to live and also within slogging distance of Eastwood Gardens, home of Gateshead Fell Cricket Club where I spent many a pleasurable summer afternoon getting... well... slogged.
Curiously, the free gig cost £2 a head, which basically meant having to share a bag of crisps rather than having one each. However, as the packet in question was two weeks out of date, perhaps the entry fee was a blessing!
We said a quick hello to TKH's singer Jen before watching Saints of Arcadia do their thing. We were standing slightly out of view of the stage and we could only see one of the guitarists and the lead singer. Don't get me wrong, they put on a really good show, but it was a little hard to concentrate on the music when the two visible blokes looked like Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand. Well worth a listen though...
And then came The Karma Heart. Elaine and I stood near the front, next to the speaker, in order to get some pictures and video one of the songs. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but our ears were buzzing like mad after a quarter of an hour. We scuttled to the back of the room to compare deafness... pretty pointless when neither of us could hear, but thankfully, normal aural service was resumed by the following morning.
Anyway... The Karma Heart; excellent band, great set (especially There's Not a Star in the Sky and Desire) and to cap off a top night, we even made it home in time for a cup of tea, a hot cross bun and Match of the Day.
Rock 'n' roll!!!
Until this year, the last time I'd bought a t-shirt of one of my favourite bands was as far back as 1983... one from U2's War tour and the other sporting a photo of The Alarm. Both were size "medium"... that shows you how long ago it was!
Around that time, I also had a York City replica football shirt. It was my pride and joy and I would wear it on my regular trips to Bootham Crescent as City marched relentlessly on to the 4th Division Championship. The shirt was sponsored by Hansa (as in "You have ze thirst, ve have ze... etc etc) but what I remember most was the fact that the garment was actually fleece lined. You could just feel the quality... none of your flimsy overpriced rubbish that you get these days...
None of which has any relevance to the matter in hand, but it was a pleasant digression nonetheless... Anyway, in 2011, I acquired a Killing for Company t-shirt, which I wore to the band's gig in Newcastle back in February. And yesterday, I ordered a similar piece of apparel from north east-based rockers The Karma Heart.
Their t-shirt was described as "distressed"... believe me it can't be as bloody distressed as I was when I saw the price...
Strictly speaking that's not true; it was just thrown in for comic effect...
... didn't really work, did it..?
Whereas the Killing for Company merchandise went up to a manly XL and even a portly XXL, The Karma Heart version is only S, M, or L. Now I think we've established that M is a size of the past, but I was far from convinced that L would be big enough. The band's singer Jen, who has had the dubious pleasure of meeting me, was confident the large would be a perfect fit... but she would say that...
My perception (well it is when I take out my contact lenses) is that I am deceptively broad and muscular... my body is a temple and all that. Of course the reality may be slightly different...
But could these two new t-shirts represent a mid-life crisis? Well the answer is a very confident "no", based on the fact that I had my mid-life crisis several years ago. In actual fact, my love of music - especially live music - has never really gone away; the difference is I'm no longer bothered about being the oldest bloke in the audience (although I do get concerned that my hips hurt if I stand in the same position for too long...). In fact, many of the bands from my youth are still performing and some of those guys are positively geriatric in comparison to yours truly!
So I am going to carry on wearing my Killing for Company t-shirt with pride and likewise The Karma Heart... but only if my breathing is not overly restricted by the missing X on the label...
Here endeth the blog...
On a footballing weekend dominated by Manchester United’s defeat of Chelsea which pretty much wrapped up the Premiership and with the saga of Queens Park Rangers “will they won’t they” promotion to the top flight seemingly over (for the time being at least...), the debut goal of Middlesbrough’s Adam Reach went largely unheralded.
However, I found the news of particular interest because Adam is the son of Paul Reach, with and against whom I played a lot of cricket during the 1990s. When I joined Paul at Chester le Street in 1997, I think he was a little disappointed... don’t get me wrong, we got on well, but he used to smash me all round the park and by moving clubs, I was essentially denying him two guaranteed half centuries a season!
“Rico” was apparently a useful footballer in his day, although I never saw him play. Back in ’97, we were involved in a cricket cup tie at Bishop Auckland, whose Kingsway ground hosted both cricket and football and as we were lapping round the boundary, Paul was very keen to reminisce about his moment of FA Cup glory...
Some years earlier, he’d scored twice for Chester le Street against a higher-ranked Bishop Auckland side and he remembered celebrating one of the goals (a “bullet” header I think he said...) in front of the away supporters gathered on the open terracing next to the main stand. Paul told the tale well; it was gripping stuff... “So who did you get in the next round..?”
Rico’s face dropped... “No one... we lost 3-2...”
Back on the cricket field, last week was memorable for Jonathan Bairstow, son of the former Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper David. Jonny recorded his maiden first-class century in the County Championship match against Nottinghamshire; not only that, he went on to make 205, sharing in a Yorkshire record 9th wicket stand of 151 with Ryan Sidebottom, another player whose father had also represented the county.
Young Bairstow is a former pupil of my old school, St Peter’s in York; the last St Peter’s cricketer to make it into the county ranks was Steve Coverdale, a wicketkeeper batsman with Yorkshire and Northamptonshire during the 1970s and1980s. Steve never managed a first class century, but he does hold an unusual claim to fame... In his 46 first class matches, he bowled just one over – and it was a wicket maiden. So he has a career bowling average of 0.00 which is mighty impressive (and very close to my club batting average...).
The last time an ex-St Peter’s pupil registered a County Championship century was almost fifty years ago... The game was Leicestershire against Somerset at Yeovil on 28th May 1962 and the man in question was my father David. I’m extremely grateful that he passed on a lifelong love of cricket to his only son, but why didn’t I get some of his bloody ability as well..?
On this day seventy-four years ago, the age of the rigid airship came very abruptly to an end with what is commonly known as the Hindenburg Disaster. Throughout the preceding three decades, German commercial zeppelins (named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered this type of craft) had flown over a million miles on more than two thousand flights without a single injury, but all that was to change in Lakehurst, New Jersey on 6th May 1937.
The ill-fated final flight of the Hindenburg began on 3rd May when the ship left Frankfurt before flying across the English Channel and heading out over the Atlantic. The arrival in Lakehurst, scheduled for 6am on 6th May was delayed by twelve hours owing to strong headwinds, but the photograph at the top of the page (which was taken at 3pm) shows the Hindenburg flying over New York. Just over an hour later, the ship reached Lakehurst, but both the Hindenburg’s commander, Captain Max Pruss and Captain Charles Rosendahl from Lakehurst deemed the poor weather conditions unsuitable for landing.
Pruss steered the ship along the New Jersey coast until, at 6:22pm, he was advised by Rosendahl that it was now safe to land. Three quarters of an hour later, that advice had become a “strong recommendation” and Pruss directed the Hindenburg to the landing site. First Officer Albert Sammt oversaw the valving of hydrogen to reduce the ship’s buoyancy in preparation for landing, but further gas was released from the tail section in an attempt to level the ship. This maneouvre didn’t have the desired effect and more hydrogen was released, as was over 1,000kg of water ballast and eventually, six crewmen were ordered to add their weight to the bow in an effort to balance the vessel.
Whilst this was happening, the wind direction changed and Pruss ordered a sharp left turn to line up the ship with the mooring mast. Soon after, one of the landing party noticed a “fluttering” of the airship’s outer cover and at 7:25pm, flames became visible at the top of the hull and near the rear port engine. Within seconds, a section of the craft collapsed and streaks of flame were followed by a muffled explosion The fire soon engulfed the tail end of the Hindenburg, but the ship remained level for a few more seconds before the tail end dropped and flames erupted from the bow, where the men who had been send to balance the vessel were still situated.
The ship was consumed in less than a minute and survival chances basically depended on where the passengers or crew happened to be when the fire broke out. Some jumped – and survived – but amongst the passengers who perished was Emma Pannes, who had gone to fetch her coat; her husband John went to find her and also died in the inferno.
The Hindenburg settled on the ground, less than a minute after bursting into flame; those who had jumped from the ship scrambled desperately for safety, but video footage shows that naval officers led by Chief Petty Officer Frederick “Bull” Tobin rushed back to the burning ship to rescue survivors.
35 of the 97 people on board the Hindenburg lost their life... 13 passengers and 22 crew; one member of the civilian landing party (Allen Hagaman) was also killed.
The definitive cause of the disaster has never been determined; there have been theories aplenty, including a static spark, engine failure and lightning as well as sabotage (the cause favoured by both Pruss and Rosendahl). Whatever the reason, that was the end of the rigid airship... the German ships may have had a good safety record, but the history of the vessel had been littered with accidents (including the British R-101 on which 48 people died and the USS Akron, where 73 lost their lives), but maybe the determining factor was that this tragedy was captured on film and the events were seen by millions of people right around the world. I’ve watched the footage; I have no idea how anyone, let alone 62 of those on board survived, but if there’d been a queue for another flight, trust me I would have been right at the back…
The Alarm are about to embark on their 30th anniversary tour... for some, the name may be vaguely familiar (Sixty Eight Guns?... oh yes, them...), but for others (me included) the music of Mike Peters, Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist guided me through my late teens, into adulthood and through the highs and lows (and there were plenty of the latter) that followed. I've seen both incarnations of the band many times and every night was special, but I particularly remember going to watch the reformed band perform in 2001... ten years since the original line-up had gone their separate ways.
Songs that I'd not heard live for so long suddenly took me back to various points in my life; my mind was being bombarded by memories as the speakers pounded, so much so that during Unsafe Building, I became aware that I was standing, eyes closed, with tears rolling down my cheeks. The emotion of the moment is so hard to put into words, but it was a feeling I will never forget and I have a debt of gratitude to those four gentlemen that I know I can never repay.
Music continues to play a massive part in my life (even though I now have only one fully functioning ear... it's the left one if you're interested, so if I make sure you're sitting to my right, chances are I didn't want to talk to you in the first place!); I'm going to add a page with links to a few of the current bands that I listen to... old, but still trendy methinks!
But this short blog (a blogette maybe..?) ends, as it began, with The Alarm and a few lines from "Only the Thunder"...
All I want is someone to believe in
But who to believe is hard to define
When some say the future is unwritten
Some say the simple things in life are the best
When all is dark and dusty down the tracks
And all paths from exile have roadblocks on all points
Saying: "No, no way out of here, go back from where you came"
And some say when you're down you fight the hardest
Some tighten the belt while others let go
Someone once said, if you don't ask you don't receive
Someone showed me that written down in the back of a book
And as I reach out and see my life unfold
I tell you this because I truly believe in it
Ask and you'll receive my friend
Seek and you shall find
Happy 30th anniversary!
All my own work... almost.