You might think this is blindingly obvious, but one of the enduring and rewarding aspects of being involved in the music industry in any capacity is that you never lose your membership of the human race. What I’m trying to allude to is that it is one of the rare walks of life in which you’re going to spend plenty of time pinching yourself that you’re actually being paid to ‘do this thing’ because – like everyone else – you have types of music and particular artistes that ‘float your boat’ ahead of others. In short, you never lose sight of the fact that you’re a fan.
It doesn’t work with every profession or vocation, or indeed most of them. About forty years ago at a dinner party a friend of mine once asked a British politician of note, who was also an accomplished artist, whether he had ever considered pursuing art as a career because he was certainly talented enough. I don’t recall the exact words the politician used in his reply, but the gist was “Good God, no. I love painting but it’s just a hobby – it takes me away from the stress and complications of my day job. However, I’m convinced that if I every began doing it for a living I’d lose the joy of it.”
I cannot help but admit that my core musical tastes are steeped in the music of the Sixties and Seventies – and indeed the music and influences that inspired the young artistes that broke through during that period. You might say – because it would be true – that “’Twas ever thus”. Being devoid of musical talent myself and cocooned in a safe white Anglo-Saxon middle class family, I signalled my teen rebellious years by switching from the fluff produced by The Batchelors, Herman’s Hermits, Sandie Shaw and Cliff Richard to the louder, raunchier fare of bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks, The Who and The Animals – and thence to the earthy offerings of those fronting the 1960s British Blues Boom (e.g. Chicken Shack, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and eventually Cream).
By that time the eclectic mix of influences that fuelled rock music had melded into place – American country music, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, skiffle, the elements of jazz that brought Chris Barber and ‘trad jazz’ to the fore, but above all rock & roll itself – and a new direction was born.
I cannot deny it, when I went back to those who exerted biggest influences upon my heroes I was often disappointed. Country music seemed twee and quaint, all cowboy hats, tassled jackets and skirts (on the women at least). Black country blues and early Chicago (electrified) blues music seemed ‘thin’ and weedy compared to the heavy thumping versions of it produced by the British Blues Boomers – albeit that, almost certainly, this was due more to the primitive nature of recording studios in the 1930s and 1940s than anything else.
Which brings me back to the news that hit the media this week that two projects being made for the BBC involving Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards will soon be upon us.
Firstly, as part of the BBC’s My Generation season to be aired on BBC2, movie director Julien Temple (who was instrumental in securing the Sex Pistol’s place in musical history) has made a 60-minute film called The Origin Of The Species in which he takes Keith back to the early Sixties and the suburban musical roots of his formative years.
Secondly, in September, BBC Four will be devoting two night of programming to Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend, for which Keith has picked a mixture of documentaries, films and recordings of live performances.
See here for more – BBC KEITH RICHARDS PROGRAMMING
Keith is one of those strange, almost mythical, figures in rock music that would have had to been invented even if he had never existed. By now he has transcended from outlaw villain musician, through a ‘Cripes! Is he still alive?’ stage, to his current status as cuddly national treasure/icon. He’s been around for so long, and in such a state, that he’s now above all filters of taste and decency – people can (and do) invent outrageous fictional stories about him that only add to his reputation, even though most of us are aware they’re made up.
These days he doesn’t even have to try too hard – he can just turn up, light a cigarette, chortle a sentence or two in his throaty, smoke-edged ‘seventy, going on one hundred and twenty’ voice and onlookers are transfixed.
Which is a pity because he still has plenty of interest to say when he can be bothered. Life, his 2010 ghosted autobiography, was a fascinating potpourri of life as he has lived it and varied memories and insights great and small – one of the best books on rock music I’ve ever read.
For a typical example of Keith being lionised as the original iconic rock and roll rebel, here’s a snatch from a stand-up routine by the late, also great – ROBIN WILLIAMS