Stuck away in my garage are piles of vinyl LPs, singles and cassette tapes. The evidence of a lifelong interest in pop music. Some interesting stuff survives: Telstar by the Tornados with more crackles on it than what was originally put there in the studio. Sgt Pepper, mono LP. Worth a few quid if it wasn’t for all those scratches on it. I’ve always loved pop music but it’s not just the music, it’s everything that goes with it. The characters, the history, the highs and the lows.
Every Christmas when I hear the opening bars of Fairytale of New York I can’t help but think of poor Kirsty MacColl, killed while swimming in Mexico, the perpetrator never brought to justice, shielded by the high and mighty. For all the stories of fame and fortune in the rock business I guess there are just as many tales of misfortune and bad luck. So here we go.
Every time I hear a talent show hopeful saying “I want it so much, I’ll work so hard etc”, I wonder if they have any idea what they are getting in to, for the history of rock is littered with artists who have been ripped of. It seems that even now nothing has changed and stories are starting to emerge about talent show bands and artists being made to work punishing schedules with little regard to their physical or mental wellbeing. As I write this Jesy Nelson has left Little Mix because of the pressures. I could list so many artists down the years who have suffered from bad managers. A prime example is Leonard Cohen who I had the pleasure of seeing at the SSE Arena a few years ago in what I would rate the finest concert I have ever been to. Cohen was forced back on the road in 2008 at the age of 74 as a result of his former manager clearing out his retirement fund to the tune of 5 million pounds.
No I’m not talking about Daniel O’Donnell (sorry fans) but rather those artists who flame never got a chance to burn or was snuffed out far too soon. Again there are so many. Judy Garland, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jimi. The list goes on and on. Here are two whose work I admire.
Younger brother of actress Gabrielle Drake. Nick was an intelligent and athletic young man who went to Cambridge in 1967. He dropped out to pursue a career in music. Practically unknown in the 70’s his music is more appreciated now than it was back then. Nick knew he was good but couldn’t understand why success eluded him. On medication for depression he died in 1974 from a suspected overdose of prescribed drugs. His family have always believed his death was accidental. A meagre three albums was his output but all three appear on Rolling Stones 500 greatest albums of all time and in 1998 his album Bryter Layter was placed number one in the Guardian’s Alternative Top 100 Albums Ever. Nick who?
Steve was the cheeky chappie lead singer of legendary 60’s band the Small Faces. By the end of the sixties Steve had tired of the pop niche that the Small Faces were stuck in. He toured for three years with Peter Frampton in Humble Pie before drink and drugs took their toll. Peter went on to record “Frampton Comes Alive”, one of the biggest selling live albums ever. In 1991 after flying home from America Steve went home to bed the worse for wear, had a fag in bed and fell asleep. His house burned down and he died in the fire. Who knows if Stevie could have scaled the heights again, but what a tragic end for a great 60’s icon.
The saddest story in rock
How many of you watched the final episode of Breaking Bad? Well that closing song was Baby Blue. And you know that great Nilsson song, Without You, also covered by Mariah Carey? Well both were written by a band from Swansea called Badfinger who had hit songs in the early seventies. Early in their career they were talked about as the next Beatles, so what happened? Well they were locked into a disastrous contract and subsequent legal wrangles meant that they received no money from their songs and were unable to issue any new recordings. Their main songwriter, Pete Ham, became depressed with this situation. It all got too much for him and he hung himself. His pregnant wife found his body and one month later their daughter was born. A few years later his co-songwriter Tom Evans also committed suicide. It was said he never really got over Ham’s death. Thankfully there is now a plaque in Swansea dedicated to these guys which ensures they will never be forgotten. A sad, sad story.
The Irish rock scene has had its own casualties.The two that come to mind are Phil Lynott and Rory Gallagher. Rory bowed out in his forties. Phil never reached 40. Those two demons, drink and drugs, had the final say here. But the path was paved for Bono and his mates to conquer the world. And that story is still running.
Time to put another dime in the jukebox. What have we got here?
“It was Christmas Eve babe
in the drunk tank,
an old man said to me,
won’t see another one ….”
Retired at last and living in Carrickfergus. Interests include sport, politics and popular culture.