Another month, another chapter. This heralds the recording and release of the eponymous Concord album, the cover being recreated for our 40th anniversary gig.
There is also the wonderful tale of the group’s (it was 1970 – they were a group) appearance at Scotland’s first festival in Inverness. Note the price of 25/-, that’s £1.25 in today’s money.
Let The Sun Shine In
The first clue that anything was amiss came when John Read asked us to do yet another set of demos, as so far he hadn’t heard a standout single. Now over the years I’d studied enough hit singles to know that they usually involve a great producer working with a gifted artist in a high end multi track facility and given that we were using two old tape decks in a basic demo studio with cheap outboard equipment, maybe it wasn’t so surprising that he hadn’t heard his standout single. Granted, you also need a great song, but as the ones I’d given them obviously didn’t fall into this category, I came up with four formulaic ditties, on the basis that one of them would surely fulfil all their commercial desires. This would turn out to be my second big mistake, for all four of these dogs would eventually finish up on the album!
Although there was still no sign of the CBS distribution deal, it had been decided that we would make the album at Regent Sound in Denmark Street. The Rolling Stones had cut their first LP there, but recording formats had come a long way since then and though sixteen track recorders would soon be the norm, Regent was still using a one inch four track machine. But hey, that was the kind of detail better left to the producer, though here we were in for yet another shock, for Mr Berry now decided to give this job to John Read, who as far as I could tell had never so much as produced a demo. That said, John then informed us that they had hired a Musical Director, who would pick the best session men, write all the scores and supervise the recording. Fair do’s, as they say, but the fact that this chap later asked for his name to be left off the sleeve credits should tell you that all did not go well with the process. Let me tell you what happened, starting with a quick technicality.
Back in the early 60’s, before the Internet was even a gleam in Mr Berners Lee’s eyes, bands bought sheet music to check out the chords for the latest hits, though when it came to The Beatles, it didn’t help much because of the odd keys they chose to play in. Back then we thought they were trying to make it hard for us musical apprentices, but later I discovered that the puzzling keys had a much simpler explanation, for like many bands, they just tuned their instruments down a semitone, making it easier for George to bend notes. Now on guitar, keys are a bit like cars. Some are sleek and fast, while others are plodding and pedestrian, which is why Lennon chose to set ‘Please Please Me’ in E, the Ferrari of blues keys. But, when the guy who wrote the sheet music played along with the disc on piano, naturally he heard them playing a semitone down, in E flat, so that’s what he wrote, oblivious to the fact that on guitar, this key is the musical equivalent of a mid-Seventies Trabant.
As it happened, we also detuned a semitone, though in our case it was to make John’s Japanese twelve string a bit more playable. In fact, we had a joke about it being an instrument of torture. If you were bad, you had to listen to it; if you were really bad, you had to play it! Anyway, on the first day of recording, it transpired that the MD had done what the Beatles guy did and pitched my songs a semitone down in some godawful Trabant keys. The simplest remedy would have been for the guitarist and bassist to detune a semitone, just like the Fabs, but incredibly, the bass player refused as it might harm the neck of his bass. At this point, that wasn’t the only neck in danger of being harmed, for now the MD would have to rewrite all the parts with the studio clock already ticking. So not the best of starts.
I should have mentioned that I was the only one of the trio playing on the backing sessions, though there was nothing unusual about this. John Phillips was the sole instrumental Papa and if you look at the history of the Byrds, you’ll find that Roger McGuinn was the only member of the band who played on ‘Tambourine Man’, though in his case that was crucial, for it was his jangly twelve string Rickenbacker that gave the band their signature sound. My playing had nothing so distinctive going for it, but having written the songs, I knew the right feel, so having me play was only sensible. But though the sessions went well after that first hiccup, the backing tracks didn’t come out the way I’d heard them in my head, mainly because the MD was on piano and gradually his parts began to overwhelm the songs, swamping whatever identity they might have had.
Of course, all of this stemmed from Roy Berry’s decision not to bring in a producer, for making an album with an MD in charge was a bit like trying to shoot a movie using the cameraman as director. Both are vital, but one is into the look of the shot rather than the performance, and in a soundscape sense, that translated into style over substance. But in the end, I only had myself to blame, for I had opted for Berry and all the shit now raining down on us flowed from that one decision. That said, my overweening writing ego wouldn’t let me admit that I was out of my depth trying to compose an album’s worth of material first time out. No matter where you look in the pantheon of rock, you’ll find that most artists have started with covers on their debut, or collaborating with a songwriting partner. I was doing neither, though looking back to the Feldmans meeting when the guy played us the Richie Havens track, maybe I should have told him that we did a killer version of ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.’ After all, as Dylan’s UK publishers, it would have made sense.
But this is all seen in the headlights of hindsight, with the clarity that bestows. Fact is, I was bedevilled by a belief in my own genius, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. Sure, I could rustle up four formulaic songs at will, but that was simply a matter of facility. Their artistic value was nil so all they demonstrated was a total lack of the kind of critical self-judgement that is a crucial part of the creative process. The real question was, why had I felt compelled to write them? Was it a desire to please, or to curry favour with my new masters? Either way, what might well have been a decent first outing under Dave Cousins’ guidance became a mishmash of unfulfilled promise and contrived crap, barely reflecting the fact that we were a gifted vocal outfit with more than a sprinkling of harmonic originality.
The overdubs went reasonably well, with guitarist Alan Parker using an electric sitar and the flautist, Harold Mcnair, adding some really nice parts, including the figure on what would perversely become our single, ‘Another Night in This Old City’. I say perversely, as it wasn’t one of the four formulaic dogs, and also, I was singing lead. This last departure may have been because the woodenness I’d detected in John’s vocals on the first demos was now even more pronounced. Strangely, this hadn’t been the case on the Dave Cousins session, and it was only later that I realised that John was stiffening up in the studio, something that a couple of beers might have solved, and the kind of thing a good producer would have sussed right away. Under pressure, a certain amount of nervousness is natural, but the producer’s job is to create an atmosphere where the artist feels relaxed and gives of his best, as I was to find two years down the road when I started working with a true pro.
The overdubs proved to be the MD’s last contribution to the album as his agent had told him he was being used as an unpaid producer by Campbell Connelly, which was almost, but not quite true. But with John Read producing nothing but hot air, I was left to do the final mixes myself. Strangely, I don’t remember much about recording the vocals, but sitting alone in the upstairs mixing suite above Denmark Street is indelibly stamped on my memory. Obviously, it was now my turn to feel fear, but one thing about a four-track system was that in effect you were only dealing with four blocks of sound, with the backtracks on two, overdubs on the third and vocals on the last. The engineer took me through the workings of the desk and showed me how to add reverb etcetera, then left me to my own devices. As to how I got on, I’ll leave you to decide, if after all I’ve described, you still feel like shelling out £100 on something that has become a real rarity. For which happy ending I’m eternally grateful.
Between finishing the album and it being released, the Sixties came to an end, or to be more correct, they morphed seamlessly into their near doppelganger, the early Seventies. Those of us lucky enough to have lived through that swinging decade don’t always find it easy to describe what it was actually like, so when asked, I usually say that January 1960 didn’t look a lot like December ’69, for a decade that started in black and white ended in a rush of psychedelic technicolour, and just as a mighty river starts as a tiny trickle in a cleft in a mountain, it seemed to gather speed, medicinally as well as metaphorically, so that the force of its own momentum carried it on into the first few years of the Seventies, like the mighty Ganges meeting some gigantic hippy spring tide.
Of course, nowhere was this huge paradigm shift captured as succinctly as in the way Rock Music changed. Thus, the Beatles morphed from four smart be-suited fringelings in ’62, to the cool ethereal beings who stepped out onto the roof of their Apple headquarters in ‘69 to play a few last songs to the passing clouds and some hip hangers on. And, from the windows of their Magical Mystery Tour bus, a handful of images sum up this accelerating process, like the ocean of faces in a Woodstock field, the stem of a flower seemingly growing from a gun barrel, and plastered on hoardings and empty shop windows, that iconic portrait of Hendrix, light streaming from the Afro hair like those filaments of magnetic energy that spurt from the surface of the sun… solar flares as psychic dust.
One way or another, you would imagine that what came after this was always going to be a let-down, but not a bit of it, for as I’ve intimated, the Seventies started as the Sixties had ended, and just kept getting better. Sitting in the wee small hours of Hogmanay 1969/70 in our flat in Pollokshields, I put an entry in my diary:
“And so the decade ended, with its head between its knees…”
This makes me sound like some trainee social historian, but the reason I was keeping a diary was because Pauline was expecting again. The baby was due in early February; only she got her dates wrong. Our second son, Aaron, arrived a month late on March 10th, at which point, the diary ends. Just as well, for most of the later entries are variations on ‘Not Yet..’ but as anyone who has waited an extra month for a supposedly imminent birth will tell you, Einstein was right about relativity, because believe me, those four weeks felt longer to live through than the whole of the Sixties combined.
There is one other entry of interest, because near the end of Pauline’s pregnancy, she got high blood pressure and was ordered to bed. The household duties now fell on me, and getting up one morning to make breakfast, an indescribably sharp pain went shooting through my foot. It transpired that I had stood on a sewing needle, which had broken in two, leaving an inch of metal in my big toe, but with no sign of a puncture mark. Even now as I write this, forty odd years later, I shudder at the thought, but somehow I made it to the local hospital, where they x rayed my foot and having confirmed the worst, asked me to come back in four days time to have it removed. I did my best to appear calm, though in truth I was now close to going berserk with pain and anxiety. Why four days, I asked. Because I would need a general anaesthetic and surgery, the doctor explained. I protested that I couldn’t possibly live with the pain for four days, at which he left and came back half an hour later to say that they could do it tomorrow, but it would have to be an all-woman surgical team!
Not being a rabid sexist, I told him I had absolutely no problem with this and in fact, given the circumstances, I would gladly agree to have the penetrated toe dissected by a team of chimpanzees if it would stop the excruciating pain. He got the message and after one of the longest nights of my life, I delivered myself willingly into the hands of the all-woman team, who soon discovered in the operating theatre that the inch of needle had actually moved in the thirty hours since it had so unexpectedly entered my body, and indeed might well have passed into my blood stream and slowly headed for my heart if I’d insisted on being treated by representatives of my own gender. Leaving aside the moral of this tale, which is that expertise is sexless, it just shows the chauvinistic attitudes then prevalent within a profession that is usually regarded as one of the more enlightened.
During the later stages of Pauline’s pregnancy, John and I had continued to do gigs as a duo, but when the album finally came out, she began to accompany us occasionally when Aaron was fast asleep for the night. The news of her confinement had not initially gone down well with Messrs Berry & Read, though later they were happy to have an excuse for what was to become a dismal failure. With no promotion from Concord, most of the few hundred sales that the album achieved probably came from our live gigs, though considering the quality of the product, that may have been the best possible outcome. One of the fans who bought one was a young man who worked at a gig called the Duck Bay Marina, where we performed standing on a platform above the gantry of the bar. Chester Studzinski was a real music fan, a guy who’d seen the Beatles on multiple occasions, though he admitted to never having heard them, such was the level of screaming. Later in life, he and I would set up a little record label and co-write a couple of musicals, but don’t let me get too far ahead of myself.
In July, we headed back to London, where it soon became obvious that nothing was being done to promote the single, the album, or the band. But when I confronted John Read with this and asked why we had no London gigs, he sniffed and said:
‘That’s not our job. Find yourself a manager!’
‘And how am I supposed to do that?’
‘Use the White Book.’
He threw down what turned out to be a trade directory of everyone in the Music Business and with a contemptuous smile, pointed to the phone. This was not the kind of challenge I could walk away from and two hours of cold calling finally got me a result when a man called Chris Peers listened politely to my pitch and invited us to his home in West Kensington. After a drive through thick mid-day traffic, he agreed to let us set up our PA in a large well-appointed room with open French windows and as he lounged lazily on the couch, we did what the cast in Hollywood musicals did and put on a show for him right there. He seemed impressed, both by the colourful harmonies and the spirit of enterprise we had displayed and told us straight off that he was interested in taking us on. It seemed that he and his partner John Michelle were already managing a fashionable duo called Medicine Head, who were certainly getting more publicity than us, so they obviously had clout.
There was only one fly in the jar of unction, for when he examined our album sleeve, he quickly established that it had been released by a Tin Pan Alley publishing company playing at being a record label. He shook his head as he read the list of credits.
‘How the hell did you get involved with this lot?’ he asked.
I extemporised a little by way of explanation and he seemed satisfied that we were still a good proposition. Then over a glass of white wine, he gave us a quick resumee of his career, telling us how he had formed Island Records with Chris Blackwell, but had fallen out with his illustrious partner when he refused to sign Peter Sarstedt to the label. Peers then quit to become Sarstedt’s manager, putting his protégé up in his basement while he secured a record deal for him, but though his new star did have one big hit, he was not remotely in the same bracket as another of Chris’ earlier discoveries.
The way he told it, Chris was marooned in Birmingham overnight, chaperoning the pubescent Ska singer Millie, who had just appeared on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’, doing her big hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’. After the show, with Millie safely tucked up in bed, Chris headed out for the evening and walking past the door of a city club, heard a voice that stopped him in his tracks. He enquired who was playing, to be told by the doorman it was a local band called The Spencer Davis Group. Downstairs, he found the voice belonged to the fifteen-year old guitarist, Stevie Winwood. Back in London he reported his find to Blackwell, and on this occasion, there was no dissent about signing the act. All of which is fine, only as I found out years later, it was the other Chris who did the discovering, not Peers, which should give you a clue about how our relationship subsequently went.
Back in Glasgow, I got a phone call to say that he and John Michelle had agreed to take us on. The first thing they’d need would be publicity shots with their management logo so that they could set about getting us gigs. Oh, and by the way, what sort of budget would Concord be putting up for the promo campaign? I gave an inward groan and furnished him with John Read’s phone number. There followed a trickle of letters about who should pay for what, but in the meantime, to give Chris his due, he did start to get results, in the form of a live session on a Radio One show hosted by an ex Pirate Radio DJ called Tony Brandon. This went out in the afternoon from the Beeb’s Lower Regent Street studios and after the session, we went for a coffee, where I witnessed a little vignette that inspired a song which was to prove crucial in our later career. It told of two strangers coming to the aid of young lad in drag who had seemingly just been beaten up. Borrowing the title from the main thoroughfare, I decided to call it ‘Regent Street Incident.’
Chris Peers’ next gig turned out to be even better, for it was a slot on Scotland’s first ever Rock Festival, alongside Taste, Atomic Rooster, If and Savoy Brown. The event was held in a shinty field [don’t ask], in Inverness in mid-July, but this being Scotland, by the time we got up on stage, the rain was coming down steadily on the multitude and the vibe, as they say, was not promising. Given that we were an acoustic three piece and Atomic Rooster had just finished thrilling the crowd with their decibel driven act, all the components were here for a real debacle, but much to my surprise, when he arrived at the mic’, John raised his arms to the sky and told the assembled thousands that if they would care to join us in a rendition of ‘Let The Sun Shine In’, the clouds would immediately part, and that fabled ball of fire, ninety odd million miles away, would suddenly burst through and bathe both us and them in light and warmth! Leaving aside the tiny detail that this song was not in our repertoire, the thought that immediately sprang to mind was that this was a slightly foolish, if not downright lunatic claim to be making. As if things weren’t bad enough!
But even as my shoulders sagged in despair, John was launching into the number, and indeed, the drenched crowd were actually responding, singing along in unison, clapping their hands, waving their beercans and whisky bottles in the air, getting into the masochistic spirit of the mad occasion, and lo, a tiny patch of blue began to appear way out to the West, and seeing it, the crowd suddenly increased tenfold in volume, and within a matter of two verses and three choruses, all of us were being bathed as promised in said light and warmth, and John was standing in his own special spotlight, acknowledging the rapturous applause of his public, receiving his due reward, as well as a good few swigs of whisky from a bottle handed up to the stage by a grateful punter. Ah happy days!
Whether this Miracle of Inverness, as it became known, had some strange knock on effect, for some reason we ended up the next week on the cover of the NME in a montage of recent festivals… the Kinks were in Poland, Free were somewhere in the States, and we were in sunny Inverness. Truth be told, Chris Peers must have had influence in the right places, though strangely, I seem to remember being unimpressed. Now if it had been the front page of Melody Maker, that would have been different! But what did impress me on the day was meeting a very young, very fresh-faced Rory Gallagher, who was topping the bill with Taste. Pauline will talk to anyone, so she went right up to him in the under-stage area and told him how much we’d enjoyed his recent performance on Colour Me Pop. [This was the forerunner of the Whistle Test when BBC programme titling was still the remit of middle aged Public School Boys]. Rory was a lovely guy, seemingly shy, and very unassuming; but later as we stood by the side of the stage and watched him plug his battered Strat into his old AC30, well it was a case of Doctor Jekyll suddenly transforming into Mr Hyde. Boy, could that boy play! There’s a lovely story about Jimi Hendrix being asked what it felt like to be the best guitarist in the world. Supposedly he smiled and said: ‘Ask Rory Gallagher.’
As you’ve probably guessed, Chris Peers never got a sniff of a budget from Concord. Roy Berry had obviously realised that starting a label was one thing, but getting behind the artists you’ve signed demands energy and commitment, both of which were in short supply in Tin Pan Alley, accustomed as it was to having the gravy train roll through Denmark Street. Understandably, Peers soon threw in the towel, for with no record company backing, he was toiling in the dead horse department. But one thing I’d learned from the whole debacle was that if we wanted to have any real musical identity, henceforth we’d have to do the playing in the studio ourselves, so in that context, we decided it was time to go electric.