Gathering No Moss…In Auckland

Saw the Stones in Auckland last night. My first time, and possibly my last chance. It was the last night of the 2014 tour to mark the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Here are my top 10 moments:

1. The triumvirate of Honky Tonk Women, Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar. Boom. Good night!

2. After Start Me Up, the band did seem to go into a six-song lull (excluding  Tumbling Dice which, like anything off Exile On Main St., is fantastic; and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll is really only a load of waffle built around a catchy chorus). They then came back with Honky Tonk Women. Then, after that song ended, the guy behind shouted ‘Play something we know!’. After Honky Tonk Women! What a buffoon!

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3. Over the whole tour, you got a chance to vote online for the audience choice. Instead of the untouchable Street Fighting Man, which I voted for (many, many times), the stupid idiots – like the Honky Tonk Women heckler – chose Like A Rolling Stone. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song – when Dylan does it – but the Stones’ version is so dull. Why oh why couldn’t they have chosen Street Fighting Man???

4. The moment Keith first spoke to the crowd. “Hello Auckland…they nearly buried me here…” (Richards had to have emergency brain surgery in Auckland after falling out of a coconut tree in 2006).


5. You know you’re at a Stones gig when the old guy in front of you crouches down, takes off his leg, gives his knee a bit of a rub, and clamps his leg back on.

6. The moment ex-guitarist (and the Stones guitarist) Mick Taylor came on mid set, for a long rambling version of Midnight Rambler. I lean over to Willow and shout “Whoo hoo! It’s Mick Taylor!” Willow looks confused: “Who? The fat guy? Wasn’t he there before?”

7. Charlie Watts’ mis-start to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Don’t worry Charlie, you’ve only been playing the song for 49 years. You’ll get the hang of it one day.

8. Mick Taylor’s pointless second appearance of the night on Satisfaction - the last song of the encore – on an acoustic guitar. If there’s one song in the world that does not need an acoustic guitar part, it’s Satisfaction (although admittedly there is one – barely audible – on the original recording).  What a wasted opportunity. Give the guy a Les Paul!

9. The well appreciated fact that I could move around at will – especially during the big late ‘60s singles – as the show didn’t sell out. Really? Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift can sell out 3 or 4 nights in a row, but we can’t fill a stadium with Stones fans? Tut tut Auckland. ‘New’ doesn’t always mean ‘good’, you know.

10. Sympathy For The Devil and Gimme Shelter. No comment required.

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Rocks In The Attic #353: Suzanne Vega – ‘Suzanne Vega’ (1985)

RITA#353Suzanne Vega has to be one of my favourite memories from my first Glastonbury in 1999, probably one of my favourite memories from all of my trips to the festival.

On the Friday night, our circle of friends had finally all found each other – this was just before mobile phones became ubiquitous, so we had spent all the time on the site up to that point simply looking out for each other. We finally all met up near the Other Stage just after the Super Furry Animals’ set. From that point we at least knew where each other was camping, so we had a vague idea of where we might find each other.

Late in the afternoon on the Sunday, slightly fatigued by watching too many bands I walked over to find Paul and Kaj’s tent over in the field overlooking the Pyramid Stage. I actually walked past Lenny Kravitz playing the Pyramid Stage – something I really regret, as I’m probably never going to get chance to see him play again.

I finally found their tent – they were inside playing Top Trumps. Without any firm plans of my own, I agreed to get some food with Paul and finish the festival off by seeing Suzanne Vega headline the Acoustic Tent.

I didn’t really know anything by Vega at this point – other than the radio-friendly singles like Luca and Marlene On The Wall – so I was effectively a blank slate. She walked on stage to a huge cheer, and played the whole set on an acoustic guitar, flanked only by a lone bassist. She didn’t wear a bullet-proof vest this time though – 10 years earlier, she became the first female headliner of the festival, dressed in a bullet-proof vest as she (and her bass player) had received death threats.

To say that the audience was appreciative that night is an understatement. I’m sure the choice of artist helped, but the mood in the tent was just really chilled out, and it was a great way to wind down the festival. In all my repeat visits to the festival, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a Sunday night headliner as much.

Some years I missed the headliners altogether, and just went back to my tent to sleep. That’s another source of regret, when I missed Muse’s Sunday night headlining slot in 2004. When the rest of my friends returned to out campsite – friends who weren’t Muse fans, like I was – and told me how good it was, I couldn’t stop kicking myself. The show was so good – apparently – that even the drummer’s father had a heart attack!

Hit: Marlene On The Wall

Hidden Gem: Cracking

Rocks In The Attic #352: Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)

RITA#352I was driving around once, looked in my rear view mirror and saw Van Morrison sat on my back seat. I then remembered that mirrors reverse everything, and it was just a Morrisons Van following me.

I’m starting to appreciate this album as I get older. It’s the same with things like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – when you listen to albums like these as a young man, they don’t resonate as much. Maybe you just have to listen to a certain quantity of music – maybe a certain quantity of inferior or mediocre music – for your brain to reach a valid comparison.

One of my heroes is the late comedian Bill Hicks, and I read once that Astral Weeks was the album he would listen to, over and over again, in the final stages of his battle against pancreatic cancer. It’s an album that’s designed to be played repeatedly – a cycle of songs that makes more and more sense together the more you listen to it.

Aside from his tenure in Them (and their superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go – with a little help from Jimmy Page), this is my favourite era of Van Morrison. I’m not really a fan of the forced jazz of Moondance, and I think I might tear my own eyeballs out if I ever hear Brown Eyed Girl one more time. Most importantly though, I’m not a fan of what Van Morrison has become.

Whenever I see him these days, such as in the Red, White & Blues episode of Martin Scorsese: The Blues, he’s almost unrecognisable. He’s a big bear of a man, usually dressed in clothes that wouldn’t go amiss on a 1970s black pimp called Big Daddy, with a face so bloated that you can’t actually make out any of his features anymore. He looks like somebody’s driver.

Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart should form a vocal supergroup called ‘WTF Happened?’

But which musicians should join them?

Hit: The Way Young Lovers Do

Hidden Gem: Beside You

Rocks In The Attic #351: Jack Nitzsche – ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#351Just after my first child, Olivia, was born, I remember being sat in the maternity centre one quiet morning. It wasn’t visitors’ hours yet, so the place was pretty quiet – just sore mothers shuffling around gingerly, with a few nurses dotted around. I was sat with my wife, and our new arrival, in my wife’s room – and all of a sudden I heard the strains of a familiar song playing in the corridor outside.

I recognised it immediately – Charmaine – the easy listening classic forever associated with mental institutions (and retirement homes), not least because of its inclusion on this soundtrack. I jumped out of my chair with a smile on my face. I opened the door slowly to follow the source of the music.

I stepped out into the corridor, expecting to see Martini, Harding and Cheswick sat at a table, playing cards for cigarettes. Maybe Chief Bromden would be mopping the floor, shuffling past Frederickson and Sefelt, whispering to each other in the corner.

I looked for a nurse, thinking I would see nurse Pilbow. It was still early, so perhaps nurse Ratched wouldn’t be there yet. Perhaps Mr. Washington would be unlocking the nurse’s station, ready for medication time.

I couldn’t find anybody – perhaps they were all outside, in the exercise yard, or in the school-bus, en route to an impromptu fishing trip?

My copy of this record has a big red sticker exclaiming ‘WINNER! 5 Academy Awards’. That’s very important – five academy awards, and the five most important ones too. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and one of the screenwriting awards, in this case, Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s one of only three films to achieve this – It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) being the other two.

It’s a perennial favourite in our house. A film that never gets old, never loses its relevance, never feels dated. It’s my favourite Jack Nicholson performance and a film where everything, absolutely everything is just perfect.

Ah, juicy fruit.

Hit: Charmaine

Hidden Gem: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Opening Theme)

Rocks In The Attic #350: Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ (1980)

RITA#350I love this album. No matter how ridiculous the band got with their gypsy look on Too Rye-Ay two years later (still a fantastic single in Come On Eileen, although seriously overplayed at every wedding reception since), this album is untouchable. I know bands need to evolve over time – well, some do and some don’t seem to bother – but if I could give any band a pill to stop them evolving and turning into something different, it would be this version of Kevin Rowland’s band, circa 1980.

I’ve always liked the sound of brass – it might be the proximity of Lancashire, my birthplace, to Yorkshire, the home of brass band music; it might be John Barry’s brass-heavy scores for the Connery Bond films; or it might just be that when you play brass over rock n’ roll – The Who’s 5:15, , Aerosmith’s Chiquita, The Beatles’ Savoy Truffle or Got To Get You Into My Life – it sounds absolutely awesome.

King of awesome is Geno. What a tune! I love the way it initially sounds like a boxing workout, with a speedy opening tempo, before slowing down into something else completely – a hybrid of soul, reggae, rock n’ roll, and Rowland’s intelligible crooning jazz vocal. What the f**k is he talking about? A sweaty club? The Rocksteady Rub? What the hell? In fact, if you look the lyrics up online, and remove the word ‘Geno’, you’d have a hard time convincing yourself you’d ever heard the song before.

In fact, if I could give the band a pill to stop them evolving, I’d give it to them just as they recorded Geno. We might lose Come On Eileen, but maybe they’d still write that song, just with horns instead of fiddles, and dockworkers uniforms instead of gypsy dungarees.

Hit: Geno

Hidden Gem: Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply

Rocks In The Attic #349 Bob Dylan – ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964)

RITA#349I like this stage of Dylan’s back catalogue: completely solo, pre-electric, and just before his fame got in the way. But Another Side is probably my least favourite of his first four albums. To me, it’s his Beatles For Sale – he sounds stuck in a rut with nothing particularly innovative on offer. A change of direction is on the horizon, but not just yet. Well, at least he didn’t resort to rewriting children’s nursery rhymes like Lennon and McCartney did in their desperation to get an album together in time for Christmas 1964.

I’ve just watched the latest Coen brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis – about a struggling folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s. As well as a perfect of the time novelty song – Please Mr. Kennedy – which I laughed at more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, I really enjoyed the ending of the film where (SPOILER ALERT!) Dylan is glanced at, just as the film’s titular protagonist is about to give it all up and missing out while folk explodes into mainstream America.

There’s an element of openness to the ending that I liked. You don’t get to fully find out whether Davis calls it a day. In the final scene, he gets a beating for heckling a performer the night before, and that might be enough for some people to think twice about their options. But Davis’ character was loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Dylan’s, who did go on to have a career in the folk boom of the mid- to late-‘60s, although nowhere nearly as successful.

I like to think that Davis didn’t quit – but maybe that’s the muso optimist in me. In the past I’ve had to quit a few things as a guitarist – some bands, some partnerships. Sometimes you just have to. The regretful thing is that I feel by moving to New Zealand, I’ve quit being a musician completely. I looked into joining / starting a band when I first moved here, but I could never find any other like-minded people. Everybody just wanted to play New Zealand music. Musicians here are blinded by a parochial mindset that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

There is good Kiwi music out there, but it’s few and far between. That’s why nobody outside of New Zealand has ever heard of Dave Dobbyn or Anika Moa. Even Shihad are at best a whisper of a memory in the minds of overseas rock fans. World famous in New Zealand is just that – it’s mean to be an amusing way of embracing the country’s size and limitations, but it ends up being Kiwi music’s epitaph. And why would that ever change? The most successful musical export of this country was Crowded House – a band so to blame for putting New Zealand into the artistic middle-of-the-road, that it’s not surprising that foreign drivers have so much difficulty remembering to drive on the left when they get here. Even tall poppies like Lorde are derided by Kiwi music critics, because her music is so typically un-Kiwi, and how dare she achieve worldwide fame without playing barbeque reggae or singing about Dominion Road.

Still…Slice Of Heaven, what a tune!

Hit: It Ain’t Me Babe

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

Rocks In The Attic #348: Aerosmith – ‘Gems’ (1988)

RITA#348If any album reminds me of delivering newspapers on cold, foggy Sunday mornings, it’s this one. I know it’s clichéd to think of your formative years fondly (nostalgia ain’t what it used to be), but I really do look back on those times with a smile on my face.

I used to look forward to Sunday mornings – yes it was hard work, and the back-breaking weight of Sunday newspapers has left an indelible mark on me, in the form of my bad posture – but it gave me the opportunity to listen to Aerosmith on my walkman for a good four or five hours.

This album soundtracked a lot of moments – like the time I walked back past a house I had just delivered to, only to see the lady of the house – a hot blonde in her late 20s / early 30s – open the front door in her birthday suit to collect the newspaper off the floor of the porch.

Or the times when I’d be walking along Alpine Drive, immersed in my headphones only to be bearhugged by a massive Old English Sheepdog that lived on that street. If ever a dog looked like a medium-sized man wearing a fancy dress costume, it was that one. It made it all the more ominous that you couldn’t see his eyes because of his big, floppy fringe. After the shock of my heart stopping, it was nice to see his big, dopey smile and hug him back.

One time I delivered to a house on Holme Crescent – a cul de sac on a newer housing estate. I drove my bike up the garden path and pulled up, side-on to the front door. Still sat on my bike, I forced their immense Sunday newspaper – probably one of the broadsheets, with about three dozen sections and magazines – into their tiny letter-box. I struggled with the first couple of sections, and heard a ringing noise, far off in distance. I tried again, breaking the newspaper further and further down until it felt like I was posting a page at a time. Again, I could hear ringing and it seemed to coincide with each time I pushed something through the letter-box. Just as I neared the end of my ordeal, I realised where the ringing was coming from – the side-end of my bike’s handlebars was pressing against the doorbell of the house I was delivering to. I took off quickly, looking back to see somebody peer angrily under the net curtains of their bedroom window.

Gems is a great Aerosmith record. It might be a compilation, but it’s probably their best one – and there’s been many. It was the second compilation to be released, after 1980’s woeful Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits – and clearly released by their former label CBS to cash-in on their late-‘80s resurgence on Geffen after 1987’s Permanent Vacation.  The album title – and cover – also seems to borrow more than a little inspiration from 1976’s Rocks – but hey, who cares? Whatever sells records, right?

It might be missing their big three singles: Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion and Dream On – all of which feature strongly on Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, but their absence is turned to the album’s advantage. Rather than focusing on the band’s biggest singles, like most compilations would do, Gems collects together twelve album tracks – deep cuts from the heavier end of their back-catalogue.

Each of the band’s Columbia studio albums are represented, with Get Your Wings (2 tracks), Toys In The Attic (2) and Rocks (3) all featuring more than one song. The real gem on the album though, and the reason the album is an essential addition to the band’s canon, is the studio version of Chip Away The Stone – the b-side to their 1978 cover of the Beatles’ Come Together.

Hit: Train Kept A-Rollin’

Hidden Gem: Chip Away The Stone