I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been able to summon up the creative energy to write a new blog in a couple of weeks (of course you have too, and that’s why I’ve been inundated with emails and tweets demanding some fresh words of wisdom – not). Well, I think I’ve finally found the reason for my malaise: I am, to a greater or lesser extent, affected emotionally by what I’m reading at the time (a bit like an actor being so immersed in a character he’s playing that his moods begin to be affected by the role) and the two books that combined to put me into an almost catatonic state were Swann’s Way, which I recorded about three weeks ago, and A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett, which I was deep into all last week.
Swann’s Way begins Proust’s journey ‘In Search of Lost Time’: Every sense is heightened as they all contribute to triggering memories of the past, and there is much wallowing in nostalgia. Now, I am very prone to be sent off into memories of my past – reading 20 hours of Proust simply sharpened that ability.
Cue Syd, and my own experiences growing up in the late sixties and early seventies. I knew it might be a book I had a connection with even before I started, and by half way through the author’s introduction I was finding myself becoming emotional (in a not particularly emotional passage). The sense of loss I felt in the story of Syd Barrett was palpable. If you know nothing about him, let me tell you he co-founded Pink Floyd in the mid sixties and just as they were becoming famous in ’67/68 he had some form of psychological breakdown. He was ‘edged’ out of the Floyd (one day they just didn’t pick him up for a gig) and after two solo albums and an aborted attempt at a third in ’74 he probably never picked up a guitar again. Many people who knew him commented on the difference between the old Syd (pre-breakdown) and the later Syd; they appeared to be two very different people. After years of obscurity living as normal, and anonymous, a life as possible (not very – unthinking ‘fans’ of his early work never stopped bothering him in some way or other) he died in 2006.
After completing Syd’s story I just had to go back and listen to all the recordings I had of early Pink Floyd, I listened to Syd’s solo stuff and I watched a lot of what was available on You Tube. Suddenly I was reliving my own introduction to the raw rock of the late 60’s /early 70’s…
The first concert I ever attended was on 19th February 1969 and it cost five shillings (at the time about 60 cents) – here’s the program cover on the left (part of my mammoth collection of Rock Concert programs).
On the right is a picture I took of my early favorite guitarist Paul Kossoff of Free (yet another victim of the times; he died in 1976 after falling victim to drug abuse, though he tried to clean up he died of drug related heart problems on a flight from LA to NY). Free, you’ll note from the program cover, was first on the bill at my first gig.
Two weeks later my second live concert was… Pink Floyd!
I was thirteen at the time and I tried to go and see as many live concerts as I could. By the time I finished Grammar School (1974) I could beat most fellow students with the list of live acts I had seen. Perhaps the most memorable was Led Zeppelin on 20th December 1972 (see the pic on the right): After the concert was over and the house lights went up Robert Plant came out in response to the continuing cheers and demands of the audience members who had resolutely refused to leave. We had stayed clustered around the stage and he emerged from the wings and joined us in singing Christmas songs – without a microphone.
I mustn’t forget to mention ‘Rock at the Oval – 1971’, which took place a year to the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix (which was forty years ago this past weekend – another reason for my malaise… FORTY years? I can’t be that old… where did my life go…etc, etc.). Top of the bill – The Who (Pete Townsed smashed his guitar and Keith Moon walked through his drum kit – quote from Roger Daltrey “As you see, we can’t do an encore”). Also: Rod Stewart and the Faces, America, Mott the Hoople, The Greaseband and Quintessence, among others – what a day! I went to a couple of the Crystal Palace Bowl concerts too and saw the likes of Elton John, Yes and Lindisfarne (one of my favourite bands of the time).
I chose my university partly based on the fact that The Who had a live album out called ‘Live at Leeds’ recorded in the refectory at Leeds University. I wasn’t disappointed – I probably saw a great live band almost every weekend in my first year at Leeds. After a year off I went back to Leeds at the end of 1976, but by then punk was gaining a hold and it was impossible to relax and enjoy the music sedately – it was all about getting up and jumping and pushing and… well, that’s when I first realized I was an old fogey at heart.
Jump forward a few years to 1985 and I remember seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time at Wembley Stadium, and being so impressed I went back the next day and bought a ticket off a tout (first and only time) and saw him again. Saw Floyd again in 1988 (I’d seen them do The Wall at Earls Court in 1980 and 81). Saw Genesis whenever I could (I’d seen them first when I was still in grammar school) and by now you’ll realize I really wasn’t a punk of any kind, I really enjoy good stadium rock (though I saw The Jam twice and survived!).
So, live rock makes up a large part of the landscape of my life – I could write for hours about my experiences at rock concerts, but we’ll save that for another time! Since my sons have been old enough I have taken great pleasure in dragging them around to all the best concerts I could find (in my judgment, of course). We saw the Genesis reunion gig in 2007 and I took my eldest (for his 14th birthday) to see the 35th anniversary tour of Yes and because I had met Rick Wakeman at the BBC he gave me backstage passes and my son met him, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Alan White.
But my favorite moment with my sons has to be getting tickets for The Rolling Stones, and when the moving stage came to within 20 feet of us my youngest son stood on a chair and put his arms round my neck (he was quite small then). With my eldest the other side of me and with Mick, Keith, et al just a few feet away I was the happiest dad in the world.
I’m taking the family to see Roger Waters perform The Wall in a couple of months – which kind of brings us round in full circle.
By the way, all the photos I took myself (the sliver of a pic at the top is of Zeppelin in ’72)!
Thankfully the ‘malaise’ has passed and I think I’ve found my mojo again – but I’m going to have to watch it when I do any more of those rock biographies. I’m getting too old for them….
PS If you’re interested I have narrated Eric Clapton’s autobiography and a biography of Led Zeppelin. Click on the pictures below to take you to the Audible.com download page: