A Personal reflection on the 40th Anniversary of Elvis leaving us:

 

When I’d roadied with Bill Haley and The Comets for six weeks around the UK in the Spring of ’74 they were supported on a few dates by a band from Huddersfield called ‘Remember This’. They were a heap of fun and we became friends. They were led by a singer called Chrissie and the band consisted in the main of her 4 brothers and a sax player who was unrelated.

One day I gave them a cassette of a song that I’d written with my mate Dick and to my amazement they started to perform it in their set.

At the end of the tour I came back to my flat in Trafalgar Road in Moseley and they went back to driving around the country in their beaten up transit van from one show to another staying in dodgy b&b’s if they were lucky.

It was a few months before I heard from them again but what a call! They phoned from Copenhagen to say that I had to join them there now. They wouldn’t tell me why but insisted that I just had to.
A return to Copenhagen then was a few hundred pounds but I scrabbled it together and flew the next day.

On arrival I made my way to a rundown hotel where they were sleeping six to a room but nothing prepared me for the news they shared. In brief they had a week long residency at The Hard Rock Cafe in Copenhagen and on their first night they were staggered when Alice Cooper came into their dressing room after their show. He was performing with KISS in an arena in town and had come after his show and just happened to catch theirs. He’s asked them if they had a manager – no, a record deal – no. He said he’d loved their show and would help if he could.

They were blown away by his visit but thought they’d never hear anything from it and went back to their cold, damp hotel room for six.

The next night a chap came to the dressing room after the show and introduced himself as an exec from Carlin Music’s London office. He explained that Colonel Tom Parker had called him and told him to check out this band immediately and that if they were as good as Alice Cooper said they were then to offer them a management contract…..with The Colonel himself. The man from Carlin right there and then presents them with a 4 page management contract between them and The Colonel.

The night I arrived the story was front page news in the Danish press and they were due to take a call from The Colonel in their hotel room. Seven of us sit amongst a mess of sheets and clothes in this tiny room, the phone rings, Chrissie picks it up and it’s The Colonel who gets straight to the point and tells Chrissie that the first thing he’s going to do is put them on tour in the USA supporting Elvis. Chrissie puts the phone down and we all go crazy.

They insist that I’m going to America with them and I’m not arguing. Here’s a band performing one of my songs, signed to Colonel Tom Parker and we’re all going to America to support Elvis on tour. I left Copenhagen in a daze back to a few hungry days in Moseley until my next job came in.

As the weeks went by Chrissie had calls from various people at Carlin London but then out of the blue she had a telex from The Colonel saying that the guys in Carlin London weren’t handling things the way he wanted and the deal was off. That was it. All over.

The last time I saw Chrissie many years later she was performing a solo skiffle set in bars around Blackpool, dam fine it was too but of course none of her audience knew that her story was nearly so different. She told me she still had the contract from The Colonel in a draw in her bedroom.

And me? I learned that in the business of popular music you believe it when it’s happened.

Farewell Dear Saxa

IMG_5108A wonderful send off for Saxa on Wednesday with many old friends seen and stories shared. I have many Saxa stories but this is one of my personal favourites:
Shortly after The Beat who I managed had their first hit with ‘Tears of a Clown’ in ’79, Saxa who’d been in my life for a few months then says “Johnny, you me go have a drink tonight, I’m taking you out”.
So we go to his local The Compton in Handsworth and I think for the first and last time ever Saxa brought me a drink. We leaned on the bar chatting about this and that hardly paying any attention to the talent competition going on in the other bar.
After half an hour or so I hear a shout from the other bar “Where’s John Mostyn?” Saxa is grinning at me and without mentioning it he’d put me down to sing. Always one to seize the moment I get up on stage with the pianist and drummer and quickly think of a couple of Elvis songs to sing. This went down so well that I won and the gentleman running it presented me with a crate of lager and a teddy bear and announced that I was “Through to the final next month”. “There’ll be a £50 first prize and an agent up from London and everything, this could be your big break” he says to me, reasonably not knowing that I was managing a top ten band at the time.
Unable to resist I go back the following month with Saxa and when called deliver 3 of my best cover songs. Go down a storm and come off feeling rather confident. Other acts follow and I know I’m still winning when a gentleman in his forties is introduced to the stage. He’s wearing dark glasses and has a friend lead him on to the stage having left his white stick at the side.
He goes into a version of ‘Bright Eyes’ and tears the place up, in a way that you haven’t seen unless you’ve seen a blind guy singing ‘Bright Eyes’. Rapturous applause and I knew I’d lost it. Sure enough he won.
I came second and won a bottle of sherry so that was ok. I was in the gents alone after the event when said gentleman comes and stands at the urinal next to me quite unaided. “Sorry about that Our Kid” he says. Looking at his wry smile “You bugger” I say ‘You can see as well as me” “Aye” he says you gotta make a living how you can haven’t you Kid?” “Do you do this a lot?” I ask him, “Two or three times a week around Brum” he says, “Keeps heart and soul together”
Saxa got me into all sorts of trouble as the next few years went by but I’ll alway remember the night he took me out for a drink.

All Change!

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Well a few months of not knowing quite what was happening hence no posts on here but now, having left Highbury Studio it’s on to pastures new. Pastures not quite being correct as it’s full steam ahead on a project that uses every bit of new technology going to create something of a world first. More to follow on that when appropriate but in the meantime a step back in time to last month and my second professional DJ gig ever when invited to play at the birthday of a Prefab. Readers overseas can find out about those here.

This prefab like many was 70 years old so wasn’t hard to figure that most people living in them would be hearing mainly news on radio about latest rationing and such. For music they’d still be using the wind up gramophone. A much underrated bit of kit as when you play early rock and roll on 78’s with a new needle for every play you get exactly the sound that those early pioneer producers made their records for and it kicks!

Was a great afternoon at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings  and a chance to reflect on the national commitment to looking after everyone in post war Britain with 100,000’s of houses built in a few short years and despite the economic mess the country was in the founding of our still wonderful NHS. A little more of that spirit wouldn’t go amiss today eh?

My life in music (so far, with bits missing.)

Some fine Birmingham folk have worked dam hard to do something they believe in, for not a cent. Brumradio is on the verge of launching and if the test transmissions are anything to go by it’s going to be a belter. I can see it firmly amongst a radio diet of R4 and R6  for me next year, with the occasional R3 and Adrian Goldberg.

It’s pure coincidence that my old comrade in musical arms Robin Valk is one of the founders and interviewed me for one of his own shows. There’s some massive omissions from me but it was a spontaneous response to Robin’s request to do the show and if you do or don’t know me but would like some musical company and a tale or two then it’s here.

“Tape Rolling”

What do Neo Soul, Psychedelic Folk, Dubstep, Blues, Jazz, Psychedelic Rock and Reggae have in common? Not much but we have recorded all that and more at Highbury Studio in January. Goodness knows what February has in store. If you know singers or musicians around the West Midlands who might appreciate our warm analogue sound please do everyone a favour and just send them a link to us: http://highburystudio.com

We’ve just bought 4 new rolls of 1 inch tape from Germany and we’re ready to roll.DSC_0009-2

Farewell Tommy Ramone

I have two main memories of The Ramones. One was seeing them perform at Barbarellas club in Birmingham which was inspirational. The other was later when I was in ‘the music biz’ and having dinner in London with Ken Kushnick of Sire Records. It was the days of the first mobiles the size of bricks. Ken’s phone goes, “Ok” says Kenny “just back away and walk quietly out of the studio saying nothing”. The call is not much longer. “Who was that?” Says I, “Joey Ramone” says Kenny. “They’re in the studio in NY with Phil Spector and he’s just pulled a gun on them”. “Oh!” says I.

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/jul/12/ramones-tommy-ramone-dead-sound-in-my-head

“You can move to a nuisance”

“You can move to a nuisance”

Those words chilled me at the time I heard them in 2009 as they were from a senior officer in BCC’s Environmental Health Department. They were used by one of the panel members representing Environmental Health, Licensing, and Planning Departments at an informal discussion at the Town Hall, kindly hosted by them, to share views and questions between the departments and landlords, venue managers and other interested parties re recent issues around live music venues and complaints from new residents to the area around those already existing venues.

The same gentlemen referred to the “Human right to a good night’s sleep” I’ve not checked but I was convinced that he was convinced that this was in the European statute of human rights.

So his and the department’s position, revealed clearly that evening is that if a complaining resident’s sleep was disturbed after 11pm even if they knew it would be when they moved to the property then “Environmental health officers who are qualified and trained to assess whether a noise is likely to be a statutory nuisance would be legally obliged to take legal action to stop the statutory nuisance”.

This meeting was held following the closure of the wonderful Fiddle and Bone, the threat to The Nightingale, the restrictions placed on The Spotted Dog and major difficulties for The Rainbow amongst others. During the meeting I concluded that the only way to preserve important music venues was to try to ensure that there was no inappropriate building of new residences near to them and that this had to be done at the planning stage.

Oddly I’d watched fascinated as the planning department refused permission for a new apartment build in Digbeth in 2008 on fears that “Residents would find the noise of gunfire and explosions from the neighbouring Gun Barrel Proofing House unbearable”. I knew that area well and had never heard a dicky bird from the Gun Barrel Proofing House myself but this showed the planning department had grasped the concept of not allowing development near to an important resource where new residents complaints might threaten the resource.

When a planning application was recently submitted for a new apartment build immediately adjacent to the cultural treasure that is The Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath I was concerned but it seemed such a ridiculous proposition that I didn’t over worry. A 3,000 signature petition delivered to the planning department, 100’s of comments directly to the planning department and the objection of current residents of the area to the proposal further assured me that the application would be rejected and rightly on Dec 20th it was, by the democratically elected councillors who are members of the planning committee.

Then at the next meeting of the planning committee on January 24th according to the Birmingham Mail The council’s chief planning officer, Richard Goulborn, told the committee: “We do not believe that approval of this apartment will jeopardise the operation of the Hare and Hounds.” as he overthrew the elected and representative councillor’s views.

I have spent this weekend angry, as have many others in Kings Heath, Moseley and across the City. Older ones amongst us have seen the cynicism of the developers who led to the demise of the Fiddle and Bone, they even hired the venue to show off their new apartments from across the canal to potential purchasers who then, when in residence complained and had the venue shut down.
Younger ones amongst us find yet another reason to be cynical of local government and it’s processes.

I’m angry that the planning department once again are showing no sign at all of recognising the importance of culture in the lives of our citizens and I’ve been devastated that despite this Council’s, I’m sure heartfelt commitment to transparency, accountability and increased local decision making we can end up with local wishes utterly ignored, over one apartment! Worth maybe £25k’s profit to the developer! We are putting one of the city’s cultural jewels at risk for that!

Remember the spokesman from Environmental Health’s comment Mr Goulborn? “You can move to a nuisance” “Our officers would be legally obliged…” That’s the threat from this approval to the Hare and Hounds.

I’ve lived through times in the 70’s and 80’s when this city’s informal music culture was strangled by a licensing committee that was as bent as a nine bob note. They were unique in the country, it took an act of parliament to disband the self generating, mainly slime balls, helped by a chairman of said committee going to jail for fraud.
I really did not think that by 2013 the biggest threat, other than the economy to the City’s music infrastructure was going to come from our very own planning department who seem to see the gun trade deserving one set of rules and live music another.

I know the application is for one apartment, it might be rented or purchased by some lovely, fluffy party animal who loves being there or it might be someone like my neighbours who have to get up for work at 4am in the morning and then we could be in trouble and that’s the unnecessary risk that I am so opposed to.

Councillor Martin Straker Welds, one or the planning committee members replied diligently this morning to my mail to him over the weekend pointing out that there were no legal grounds on which to turn down the application, he offered however to “ask the planning officers to keep a careful watch to ensure that the new construction is enabled to coexist in close proximity with live entertainment”. The problem there is that if a complaint is subsequently made by a new resident it’s not down to planning it’s over to Environmental Health whose officers are empowered……

So what now? There is no appeal, which in itself is one of the most cack-handed bits of legislation that I’ve ever come across, well maybe there is, perhaps an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the same court that rules that someone has a human right to a good night’s sleep. I suspect that somewhere deep in the small print there might be a clause relating to the Human Right of a community to practice and enjoy it’s culture. I’m off for a read.

handh

Song Book Comes Alive

“All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” is a song I first loved in 1974, when it reached No. 2 in the UK charts and No.6 in the USA.

Dodgy miming by The Hollies here: –

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Then in 2008 I had one of those rare moments where all was well in my little bit of the world with my pal on a Portugese cliff top with swallow tailed butterflies, blue sea, blue sky, spring breezes and my pal sings “Peace came upon me” a line from the same song.

Fast-forward to February 2012 where I’m asked if I’d like to tour manage Albert Hammond’s first tour for 30 years! He wrote “All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe”

“Yep. Of course, I’d love to” I said.

Here’s Albert:

In April this year Micky Greeney and team are filming a video at Highbury Studio.

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I tell Micky that I’m working with Albert Hammond. “He wrote ‘All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” says Micky “I was here at the studio with Bob when Allen Clarke who sang it with the Hollies came by.

May 5th 2012 and Albert and Daniel Serrano Gimenez and Carlos Solano Sevilla, two very handy sidemen from Madrid, well Daniel is from Madrid but Carlos is a Rock lifting Basque who has stopped more ladies in their tracks then anyone I’ve worked with for a while, pop into Highbury Studio for dinner at the start of the tour.

May 10th and I’m in Kendal at the fine Brewery Arts Centre. At the end of the 2 hour show, Albert is so moved by the crowd chorus that he asks them to sing “All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” again and then leaves the stage with the audience singing his song. He has to leave through the audience so I quickly borrow a phone with a torch from someone and point it to show Albert the way, but as we get to the rear exit from the hall with the audience still singing he turns to wave goodbye and I hold the torch above him lighting him for the audience.

Suddenly, Manchester, Portugal, Madrid, Gibraltar, Birmingham, Los Angeles and Kendal all come together for me in a glorious celebration of the power of a great popular song and I’m so loving holding that torch. This was my Pop Music Olympics. Better than any of the mimed ‘tosh’ you are going to see on your screens this summer.

Albert, who also wrote for Johnny Cash, Jefferson Starship, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Julio Iglesias, The Carpenters and many more is at The Glee Club, Birmingham on Wednesday 16th May. I’ll be running around with a torch and a big smile.

There’s a chance that you need to be over 40 years old to get this, but if you are a budding pop songwriter try not to miss one of the masters.


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Wakeup Call From Australia

Had an early morning surprise call from Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on Tuesday this week.
Would I go live via phone on their drive time show in an hour to talk about Life In The European Theatre?
Woke up and agreed to do it on my way to Pilates.
We touch on their ‘drive time vinyl compilation album of the week ‘Life in the European Theatre’, Anti Nuclear Campaign, EP Thompson The Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and Inner City.

Not often that I’m heard to speak in the morning so here it is!

Moseley Memories

Met writer Nick Toczek yesterday at the funeral of an old friend. More on the life of Chris Edwards when we remember him musically in a couple of months time but thought a few old Moseley types might enjoy Nick’s recollections of upstairs at The Fighting Cocks in the early 70’s…

Hi John,

great to meet you again – albeit in such very sad circumstances – found your site and been reading about you…  my part in the history of the upstairs room in Ivor’s Fighting Cocks is that – before he had a proper stage built – I made the temporary one from bricks and planks stolen from a building site plus dozens  of beer crates ‘donated’ by Davenports Brewery (slogan: beer at home) after giving a fiver to the night watchman in exchange for a van-load of crates. That was for the first Moseley Festival back in 1973, which I jointly founded with Tom Sorohan and John Dalton.

Reciprocally, in running Big Ears, you gave a regular early platform for dozens of performers…. among them not just the utterly brilliant John Dowie whom you mention, but also  – if memory serves me right – Victoria Wood, Kay Russell (who had a big chart hit with The Susan Fassbender Band – ‘Twilight Café’ –  which she wrote and played/sung on), Jim Cleary (who should’ve been bigger than anyone out of Brum),me (check out my incomplete wikipedia site), God knows how many musicians – including Ruby Turner (managed by Gather Owen) all of Robert Plant’s post-Zep Honeydrippers – plus ex-Move luminaries, some ace folkies, etc,… not forgetting others like the now-legendary cartoonist, then scriptwriter, Hunt Emerson, plus the playwright (but since established as a major children’s poet) Gareth Owen, plus John Row (of Stereo Graffiti) who’s now a leading player on the storytelling circuit…. and many more if I stopped to think about it.

What I’m saying is that your blurb about Big Ears is too modest… by far. It was an astonishing phenomenon.

Nick Toczek