Monthly Archives: June 2009

August 11th 1973

“Work + afterwards went with mum to fair. spent a lot”

Joe Stevens’ traveling funfair came to town once a year, always to tie in with the Eastleigh carnival. I have spoken about it before.

For me, what was interesting about this diary entry is my comment that I went with my Mum. As awful as it may sound I can’t really remember going anywhere with her by herself, mainly because I can’t imagine her confidence ever being strong enough to do so. I guess its because Dad & I spent so much of her later years always having to support her mentally and physically in whatever she did that one tends to forget the earlier – happier – times?

It never fails to make me feel very sad.

I do wonder what things we did together at the fair. I’ll wager – quite an apt thing to do under the circumstances – that Mum & I spent a lot in the sections of the fairs involved in one-armed bandits (British vernacular for slot machines) hoping for a row of triple cherries to roll round.


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August 10th 1973

“Went up Dicks, back into E.Leigh & got hair done. Sent off radio quiz. After work went got Nigs h.phones for him”

I was thinking about headphones the other day.

Whilst I now spend a proportion of each day (at the gym) wearing the earbuds from my iPod, back in the early seventies I only rarely wore headphones.

About the only time I wore them was if I traveled in the car with my Mum & Dad – plugged into my little cassette recorder (and then not always, as I often preferred just sticking one ear over the speaker!) – or those rare occasions where I didn’t want to annoy them by playing ELP in my bedroom.

To be fair it was quite a rare occurence for me to play my music too loud – even if I I can remember my Mum complaining a few times – but if I did, it tended to be when my folks were out for the night visiting friends.

Later in the 70’s I wore headphones more regularly – for instance, when I DJ’d a show on Southampton University’s Radio Glen – but they have never sat entirely comfortable on me. They always felt too claustrophobic and made my ears sweat like a fountain… never pleasant.

I can’t be sure what I mean when I say went and got Nig’s h-phones for him, but if I had to guess it would be that I tripped to Comet or Currys – or somewhere – to either pick up a pair he’d ordered, or had maybe put in for repair. He listened to music on headphones a LOT more than me as I can remember his parents always had to go up to his bedroom to tell him I was on the phone wanting to talk to him.

Mine just shouted up the stairs when roles were reversed.

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August 9th 1973

“Trev came up, played with Organ. Then went into E-leigh and bort t-shirt”

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August 7th 1973

“Work all day – Nig got his stereo outfit”

I always seemed to have been beaten to the punch in the friendly battle of “getting new stuff”. I remember at the time we were both hankering for new stereo equipment on which to play our growing collection of music.

Nig just always appeared to get there quicker. Either he saved quicker than me or his folks helped him out.

Whatever, I am sure we both benefitted eventually, each getting something we could impress the other with.

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August 6th 1973 (Pt III)

“Rained all day – went up Trev’s, borrowed… Tubular… “


Many people state that “this album” or “that album” changed their lives.

I can categorically state that Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” changed mine. In a roundabout way it MADE mine.

First released in May 1973 it carries the catalogue number V2001.

It was the first ever release on the then (very much) fledgling Virgin Records label, dreamt up by (then: dodgy entrepreneur, now: much-admired knight of the British realm) Richard Branson.

Sir Richard Branson and "friend". I think he's the one without the red boots?

The dyslexic privileged son of a barrister, Branson started selling cut price records from the boot of his car to music outlets across London in 1970. Then he progressed to selling them via mail order directly to the public, taking out huge ads in the pages of the major music papers like Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Sounds.

His actions in selling records at a discount – something that was, astonishingly, previously untested in Britain – began to undermine the legalities of  “retail price maintenance”, a government mechanism designed to protect UK manufacturers and distributors. Thanks to Branson most of its restrictions ended up being removed – although books remained on the statute until the 90’s…and always had to be sold at the price stated on the cover!

This mild flaunting of the law would be something that Branson would repeat from time to time in his career. Indeed in 1971 he was arrested and charged with selling records on which he had paid no import tax  – the result of a moderately successful scam in which he drove records out of the country (claiming back sales tax on the basis they were being exported) and then simply turning round on the other side of the English Channel and bringing them back into Britain without declaring them. Eventually caught, he ended up settling out-of-court with the Revenue, agreeing to pay back the taxes and a small fine.

With the success of the mail order company assured, Branson not only opened a little record shop on London’s Oxford Street (above a shoe store), but went into business with fellow entrepreneur Nik Powell (later to become a big name film producer) to start a record label, Virgin Records… so named because both were “virgins to business”.

Branson had already purchased a ‘country mansion’ in Oxfordshire, turning part of it into a luxurious recording studio – The Manor – which he leased out to bands and record labels.

Oldfield - he and Branson often used to compare beards

Mike Oldfield – one time folk singer and backing musician for (ex-Soft Machine member) Kevin Ayers – had been touting around a concept piece known as “Tubular Bells” for for some time. Every record label turned down the notion, deeming it to be something that “wouldn’t sell”.

By chance, Oldfield played extracts from the piece to a couple of the studio engineers at The Manor, who then informed Richard Branson about what they’d heard. Branson and Powell jumped at the chance to release Oldfield’s composition as the first record on their new label.

Not long after its release – following a bunch of, let’s say – ‘middling’ reviews in the music press – Radio 1’s influential DJ John Peel played the album in its entirety one night. And again a few night later. Sales started to occur.

However, despite those early seeds, I think it’s fair to say that had one of the themes from Tubular Bells not been used – to extraordinary dramatic effect – in director William Friedkin’s late-1973 horrorfest movie “The Exorcist“, Richard Branson’s career (and mine!) could have turned out a little differently.

As it happened, Tubular Bells went onto be a huge seller, eventually reaching number 1 in the UK album chart in October 1974… but only, trivia fans may care to note, after his follow-up album “Hergest Ridge” had sold enough to reach the summit first!

It stayed in the UK chart for the next five years, peaked at Number 3 in the US Billboard chart and has sold an estimated 17 million copies worldwide since its release.

The album was recorded on a 16-track tape recorder – in a little over two weeks – at The Manor. Side One was recorded the week before anarchic musical comedy troupe The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band were scheduled to be there, putting together their own new album for UA Records. This turned out to be somewhat fortuitous.

Vivian Stanshall: dysfunctional genius

One of the better remembered pieces from Tubular Bells is the introduction of the various instruments …
grand piano…
reed & pipe organ…
bass guitar,
double speed guitar,
two slightly distorted guitars,
spanish guitar..
and introducing acoustic guitar…
tubular bells

The Bonzo’s late – and ever so mightily GREAT – Vivian Stanshall was the master of ceremonies for this segment, and it was his contribution that  gave the project its eventual name. The way Stanshall intoned “plus… tubular bells” inspired Oldfield so much that he discarded his original title; “Opus 1” (and, more luckily, Branson’s even lamer idea of “Breakfast in Bed“)

Most people incorrectly say that Oldfield recorded the entire album himself, playing all the instruments then overdubbing the results. This is actually untrue. Not only was his sister Sally in the studio with him, there was a percussionist, as well as other musicians on the string basses and flutes. However, let’s just say that Oldfield and (producer) Tom Newman’s overdubbing and mixing of all the elements is most definitely a major part of this complex and intricate composition.

I liked/still like most of it. Even the bits that sound like bagpipes.

With this caveat… “The Sailors Hornpipe” that ended Side 2 is a traditional hornpipe melody first heard in the late 18th century. No, I’ve never known why he used it either, despite its distinctiveness. I invariably lifted the needle from the LP long before this segment reached my ears and I still hit ‘stop’ at the appropriate moment whenever the album turns up on my iPod.

Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” ended up to be a turning point for me… even if I had NO idea at the time.

The album ended up initially funding the Virgin Records empire, including Branson’s growth of his retail chain in the mid-70’s. If there had been no retail chain I would never have got that Saturday job at the Southampton store. Meaning I would not have become a full-time assistant, or an assistant manager, or a manager, or a megastore manager, or an area manager for the chain before 1980 rolled around. Meaning my career grounding would not have been in the music retail business, meaning I would not have opened my own CD store, meaning I would not have met my wife, nor have been able to eventually sell the business for a sum of money I now continue to live off.

In fact, if it wasn’t for “Tubular Bells” my entire life would have been completely different. If I ever meet Mike Oldfield (unlikely… I don’t move in ‘those’ circles anymore) I think I might just have to kiss him. On the lips. With tongue.

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August 6th 1973 (Pt II)

“Rained all day – went up Trev’s, borrowed … In Rock….”


Deep Purple’s “In Rock” album, was notable at the time because it was the first album they released where every track was written by members of the band. Gone then are the cheesy Neil Diamond covers, replaced by ‘proper’ tunes.


Sure, Ian Gillan still screams for all his worth, Blackmore’s guitar screeches accordingly and Jon Lord’s keyboard work nicely fills all the ‘speaker centre’ gaps, but, to me, this has always felt like an uneven collection of songs.

I’ll be honest and say I have rarely made it through the whole of side 2, even though “Flight of the Rat” (mini drum solo from Ian Paice), “Into the Fire” (lovely fuzzy Hammond), “Living Wreck” (nice riff, always seemed to have one note missing to me) and “Hard Lovin’ Man” are OK songs. Sadly, none of them gripped me (or anyone else?) as much as the cuts on Side 1.

Speed King” is nothing short of an iconic Deep Purple song. It’s one of the few cuts that feels (to me, anyway) to encapsulate the band properly, each instrument – including Gillan’s (oft-out-of-tune) vocals –  alternately vying for your attention. The energy is almost relentless from start to finish. Check out the full version if you get a chance, but meanwhile here’s a You Tube video of the band performing it – somewhat cheesily – in a Granada TV studio in 1970. Not a patch on the studio version, but it still shows that vibrancy and completeness the band could possess from time to time.

Loon Pants

Bloodsucker” is Ian Gillan’s moment in the spotlight. He evidently went into the studio that morning wearing the tightest loon pants he could find in his wardrobe. No one screams falsetto like Gillan when he’s got those pants one!

Then, to close down Side 1, there is the live favourite “Child in Time“, a personal little guilty pleasure from that day to this, the perfect symmetry between the band member’s playing still managing to occasionally send the odd shiver up this elderly spine of mine. There is that weird break at about the 3:30 mark – which almost threatens to undermine the song – but they pick it up perfectly thereafter, the rhythm and pace (paice?) increasing nicely to the finale.

I need to say (repeat? – have I said this before?) that I never saw Deep Purple play live in concert. However, unlike not seeing the Moon-era Who for instance, I have no musical regrets in this regard. They’ve never appealed to me as a live act. For all my protestations that suggest the contrary, Ian Gillan’s vocals – especially that screaming he did – never sat entirely comfortably with me. They were just “one of the bands” who were “everywhere” at the time, and I suppose any teenager worth his salt felt somewhat obliged to listen to and appreciate their work somehow. Indeed, as these diaries have progressed I have found it MOST peculiar – and somewhat disconcerting – to discover Deep Purple’s name mentioned again and again. (Needless to say it has greatly amused a few of the friends I grew up with)

Tomorrow… Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells… serendipity ensues….

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August 6th 1973 (Pt I)

“Rained all day – went up Trev’s, borrowed Tubular, In Rock, Birds of fire + Tonto’s”

I have written about Tonto’s Expanding Headband’s “Zero Time”  before.

Two out of the other three albums I borrowed on this day in 1973 require talking about at some length. So much so in fact that I plan to make this diary entry a “three parter”, doubtless a debatable practise for some readers… to whom I ap0logise in advance.

The one that – at least in my humble opinion – needs, by far, the smallest amount of time devoted to it is the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire”

Don’t get me wrong, I admire John McLaughlin and everything – especially the time he spent with the MIGHTY Miles Davis – and I admit he is an accomplished virtuoso guitarist. However, the material he did under the “Mahavishnu Orchestra” moniker was – for the best part – dull pretentious dreary rubbish. The pedigree is massive – fellow jazz greats Bily Cobham and Jan (“Miami Vice”) Hammer amongst the other band members – but the end result is 40 minutes of turgid nonsense.

I verified this a few weeks ago by pure coincidence. I discovered that – maybe for all the wrong reasons – I had a copy of the “Birds of Fire” CD loitering amongst my collection. I drove to the gym and back a few times listening to it in the car. It may be the reason I couldn’t WAIT to get to the gym?!

Tomorrow… find out everything you didn’t want to know about Deep Purple’s “In Rock”…

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August 5th 1973

“Touched up painting. Nig came up in afternoon. Sold toy cars to Carol”

Like a lot of other British kids, I grew up collecting Corgi or Dinky toy cars.

All these years later, there’s really only two of them I can really remember owning.

The first was the ubiquitous Aston Martin DB5 – from the Bond films – something I have waxed lyrically about before.

The other was Corgi’s magnificent representation of a late 60’s Lincoln Continental Limousine…

… like many other toy cars it had opening doors, boots/bonnets (trunks/hoods for my American followers) and terrific detailing.

It’s real coup de grâce though was the rear seating area, which featured a tiny TV screen for the imaginary passengers. You could push a button and light it up, and it might just be my imagination at play here but was it also possible to change the images on the screens somehow? (I think it was)

I know this seems lame in today’s ‘electronic generation’, but to a kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s this was nothing short of ‘amazing’ and ‘impressive’

I loved that car. Same as I loved the DB5. However, as this teenager approached his 16th birthday, his tastes and interests – like all teenagers – were changing. Seems as though my loss was Carol’s son’s gain. Aaaaaargh!

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