Tag Archives: Al Stewart

Album: Cockney Rebel – The Psychomodo

Produced by Alan Parsons – of Project fame – and with orchestral arrangements by Andrew Powell – later producer for the likes of Kate Bush, Al Stewart and The Hollies – “The Psychomodo” was Cockney Rebel’s (as they say in America) sophomore album. (“Sophomore album” representing a phrase I have always hated)

Although it never threatened the USA charts it rode the wave of Harley’s hit single “Mr Soft” all the way to #8 on the UK album charts

Sweet Dreams” kick starts the album in a jaunty – but angry – manner, Harley immediately going for music journalists’ collective jugular with the caustic
Pop paper people printing Rebel Insane
They in my head and digging into my brain
“,
a verbal smack-down for the many who had dismissed his talents following the release of the debut album

This then morphs into the title track, “The Psychomodo“, another angry tirade where Harley seems very disconsolate indeed..
“I been losing my head
I been losing my way
Been losing my brain cells
At a million a day
I’m so disillusioned
I’m on Suicide Street”

Mr.Soft” was the massive hit single, a fairground ride rebuilt as a pop song. It includes the engaging couplet
Mr Soft, put your feet upon the water
and play jesus for the day

and a little nod to David Bowie with the telling
Spot the starman, rough and tumble
which some have suggested is Harley comparing his ‘critical lot’ with that of the Thin White Duke. I tend to look on it a little more objectively, thinking that Harley is merely accepting the bad that comes with the good of fame.

36 years after its release “Singular Band” still sounds – to me anyway – the big hit that was never released as a single. From beginning to end it oozes radio-friendly Top 20 fayre. Quirky & different, driven by snare drums, a finger-plucked violin and Harley’s voice I reckon it would have taken the charts apart back in 1974. It has the perfect dead-stop ending for DJ’s too!

The lyrics to “Ritz” – which closes down Side 1 – are as convoluted (and now, sadly dated) as they come. If I have a complaint about this cut – immense sonically – it’s basically that Harley tried just too damned hard on the lyrical content, sadly coming across as a Dylan-Lite.

That said it contains one of my favourite pair of rhyming lines of all time…
Couch my disease in chintz-covered kisses
Glazed calico cloth, my costume this is

… both utterly beautiful and cheesy in the same breath

Side 2 of “The Psychomodo” feels like a different beast to me. I’ve always felt these 4 cuts were a little concept project all by themselves

Cavaliers” feels like a lengthy outtake from Harley’s debut album, Steve once again using the lyrics as another musical element. He adds brass instruments and a harmonica almost as a ‘test’ of the listener… ‘do they work?”… for me, no sorry they don’t

Despite finding it sonically average, it contains some of his most captivating lyrics…
Long-tailed coat, a silly joke; they drink
like men then see them choke on coca-cola
Morgue-like lips and waitress tips and you
Shuffle around on your Sabrina hips

If I was disappointed in “Cavaliers” (for me always the weakest song on the album) then the last three cuts more than make up for it, representing Steve Harley at his very best.

Bed in the Corner” is another carnival ride, an oblique (vanquished) love song that highlights Harley habit of using the violin as a lead instrument and then lushing everything up under an orchestral arrangement.

It morphs seamlessly into “Sling It!” a song where Harley seems to accept his own ‘anger’ and starts to laugh about it warning that we should all
Be careful, this is only a game
just prior to the song breaking down into a fragmented wall of noise

Tumbling Down” is album’s tour de force and a cut which provided the  fitting finale for every single 70’s Cockney Rebel gig I ever went to. Harley is still sounding off and being bitter about his detractors…
Gee, but it’s hard when one lowers one’s guard to the vultures
Me, I regard it a tortuous hardship that smoulders
like a peppermint eaten away
will I fight, will I swagger or sway?
Hee, hee, M’Lady, she cries like a baby to scold us
see her tumbling down, tumbling down

but by the end he seems to accept his lot, blaming it on the media interest in music in general, berating the press for undermining it value.

It’s all summed up in the one-line refrain
Oh dear, look what they’ve done to the blues, blues, blues
a simple (but telling) lyric I sung so hard and so loud at CR concerts that I regularly came away with a sore throat

Looks like it was still a crowd-pleaser in 1984?…

“The Psychomodo” is another of the mere handful of albums I know inside out, back to front and about as intimately as is decently possible. In itself it briefly taught me to learn a little more about the writers and musicians I knew influenced Harley’s songs (Baudelaire, Dylan, Rousseau, Dylan Thomas), some of which has stayed with me all my life. 

It also inspired me (like many ‘tortured’ teenagers of my ilk) to start *gasp* writing my own dodgy poetry. Yes its an ugly thought. Yes, I still have some of it. No, I probably won’t inflict it on you. I may comment on it, but I’m unlikely to share it. Some things are best left unpublished, if you get my drift?

In pure commercial terms “The Psychomodo” was very much the career-maker for Steve Harley. He did have one more ‘perfect moment’ to come however, and it features as a cut on my next Cockney Rebel album review… for “Best Years of our Lives”.

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March 16th 1975

“Rebel – Winter Gdns B.Mouth – INCREDIBLE (met them etc)”

So, my second Cockney Rebel gig … but my first experience of rubbing shoulders with the stars!

Winter Gardens in its heyday… and as it fell into disrepair

The Bournemouth Winter Gardens always felt like a strange music venue to me. It was built in 1937 as an indoor bowling-green. Then, after WWII, Bournemouth Council converted it into a Concert Hall and improved the landscaping around it.

It was blessed with perfect acoustics – rare for old converted theatres – but the seating layout never really felt suited to anything approximating a ‘rock concert’ to me.

It started suffering from a lack of use in the early 90’s, the cost of renovation outweighing the possible income. In 1999, the Council invited development proposals from the private sector for the entire site but only where those proposals retained the Winter Gardens. Sadly, no application was successful, and in 2007 the complex was demolished in preparation for a new mixed use development.

This gig was – I’m pretty certain – my first at the Winter Gardens and I went to it with my friends Niles, Sarah and someone else whose name I can’t recall. (Alex?). We all caught the train down, hoping to then catch the last train back after the show.

Yep, that never happened.

This was the all-new incarnation of Cockney Rebel – now billed as Steve Harley AND Cockney Rebel – drummer Stuart Elliott the only surviving member from the 1974 shows. Elliot later recorded with Al Stewart on his breakthrough “Year of the Cat” album and has since played with the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.

Harley’s new laid back bassist, George Ford, was the brother of Emile Ford, both of them founder members of the Joe Meek-produced Checkmates, who nabbed 1959’s Christmas Number 1 spot with the doo-wop classic “Why Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes at Me For?” (Damn, I’ve just discovered that he died in March 2007. RIP George)

Keyboard player Duncan Mackay came to Cockney Rebel via a spell as a member of both Sergio Mendes ‘ brazilian rhythms band and – even more unlikely – Jon Hiseman’s blues/jazz combo Colosseum II. Before joining Harley he had already released one solo album and was preparing a second. (Life after Cockney Rebel included playing on Kate Bush’s first three albums, several Alan Parsons Project…. erm, projects, as well as becoming a member of pop group 10cc)

Guitarist Jim Cregan’s pedigree included playing on Julie Driscoll ‘s debut album and being a member of both Family (of whom I have waxed lyrically before) and Roger Chapman’s post-Family band, Streetwalkers. He was married to songstress Linda Lewis, who enjoyed a Top 20 hit single in 1973 with “Rock-a-Doodle-Doo” and would go on to enjoy further hits. Cregan’s rightful place in the musical firmament was somewhat assured in 1975 when he joined Rod Stewart’s band, eventually becoming his music director and (with Rod) co-writing worldwide smashes such as “Forever Young“, “Passion” and “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)“. He has since won Grammys and plaudits galore.

Tonight in 1975 the band evidently gelled to such a degree that one (OK, very biased) 17-year-old reviewed the concert as INCREDIBLE

They were good though, very good. I can still remember elements of this evening. Their renditions of both “Best Years of our Lives” and “Sebastian” have remained with me all these years, the crowd singing and swaying along in unison.

The support act for the night were Sailor, who had enjoyed a minor hit single the year previous with “Traffic Jam” and who – maybe as a result of this support slot with Cockney Rebel? – would enjoy massive success at the end of 1975 (and into 1976) with a pair of very infectious Top 10 smashes, “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls“. Their sound was a peculiar hybrid of catchy lyrics backed by a weird glockenspiel/jingly-jangly acoustic guitar mix. To replicate their oft-complicated studio sound, group founder Georg Kajanus traveled with a piece of equipment he called “The Nickelodeon”; a huge keyboard contraption that had to be wheeled on and off stage by several roadies.

And, yes, since you’re not asking, the band DID dress up in sailor costumes. Despite that – no, not because of it – I enjoyed them a lot too and happily bought their singles when they were eventually released.

After a fun performance by Sailor and a stellar show by Cockney Rebel, the best part of the evening was still to come…

My friend Niles had a habit of wanting to meet all the bands and artists he went and saw. He would either loiter by the stage door before the shows, blag his way into the soundchecks or ‘stalk’ the band whenever they left the auditorium. Tonight was no exception – he was eager to meet Steve Harley & Co…. secretly I suppose I was too, although I wasn’t prepared for what we had to go through to do so.

By the time the four of us had got out of the Winter Gardens crowd, the band had already left, but Niles found out from a roadie where in Bournemouth they were staying for the night.

The Roundhouse Hotel was quite the trek from the seafront but we walked there nonetheless. Niles casually strolled into the hotel foyer, managed to stumble across Rebel’s tour manager and said we all wanted to meet the band and get their autographs. The tour manager told us we might have a ‘bit of a wait’ whilst they all cooled down following the show. Niles told him we didn’t mind waiting and that we would be outside near the hotel’s entrance.

So, we waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… and then Niles went back in to ‘jog memories’…

and we waited…

… and waited…

… and eventually the group came out (albeit piecemeal) most of them somewhat amazed that the four of us had hung around for so long.

We told them they’d done a great show – the usual overawed “blah blah blah” – and got their autographs, each on a page of a notebook Niles always (naturally) carried with him for such eventualities. Harley himself was a little standoffish (as I have stated before, he did have the reputation of being a bit of a twat), but the other guys in the band – especially George Ford – were lovely to us, asking where we’d come from and what other bands we liked. (I believe I said Be-Bop Deluxe?)

That set of autographs remain one of the few things I have kept in good condition. In fact, I framed it along with a bunch of other 70’s/80’s/90’s ‘music memorabilia’ (concert flyers, ticket stubs, etc) a few years back…

Here it is, safely under glass…


That’s Harley’s moniker top right (“forever….”), Duncan MacKay’s top left, George Ford’s below with Jim Cregan to the right of that. Towards the bottom is Stuart Elliot’s theatrical scrawl. There are two other autographs on the page that I couldn’t remember or make out…. well at least until I found the tour programme from the show.*

Squeezed in below Ford’s and next to Stuart’s scribble is the autograph of Lindsay Elliot, Stuart’s brother, who played percussion on the tour. At the bottom right of the sheet, obscured by the camera flash reflecting off the glass (sorry about that readers) is “Snowy“. This was from Snowy White, a guest guitarist, whose later career would encapsulate being a full-time member of both Thin Lizzy and Roger Waters’ band.

After the band went back into the hotel, a certain realisation set in. That realisation was that – given the fact it was now way past 1 a.m. in the morning – we had most certainly missed the last train home to Southampton.

As was often the case in those days, a (doubtless worried) parent was called with the unfortunate news that a) we were stuck without a way of getting back, and b) he would have to come and collect us. I think on this occasion it was Niles’ dad who drew the short straw, forced to get dressed, drive to Bournemouth, find us, and then transport each of us to our respective homes.

It was a great night though, a great gig and my first meeting with anyone ‘famous’. Over the course of my career in the industry I would meet many, many musicians, producers and record label bosses and was able to cast aside any ‘starstruck’ emotions. But this night in 1975 I was most certainly in awe of meeting a few of my ‘heroes’, cementing my love for the music of Cockney Rebel.

*Yes, I kept it… guess what the EFA70sTRO posts will padded out with the next few days?…

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January 6th 1975

“Went Southampton. Went to Francis Records. GOT A NEW JOB!”

First, a little back history about the city of Southampton. Musically it has (somewhat sadly) proved to be something of a cultural wasteland. In 1975 the biggest musician to have emerged from within its boundaries was…. erm… Benny Hill. And that’s ‘musician’ in the broadest possible sense, and only on the basis of his 1971 number one single “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)

(As if to emphasise the point, since 1975 the only notable names Southampton can add to its musical roster are Coldplay’s drummer Will Champion and R&B singer Craig David)

So it’s perhaps no wonder that given this relative (at least to other provincial cities of its size) dearth of inbuilt creativity it was never very well blessed with record stores.

In 1975 the city boasted just three independent shops;  Henry’s Records, Who Dat & Francis Records. There was also one chain store in the shape of HMV, plus a handful of department stores – like Edwin Jones, Owen Owens, Boots and Woolworths – all of which had areas dedicated to records, tapes, accessories and sheet music.

Henrys Records was – without question – THE big player in town. It’s reputation was second to none, and in 1975 it had already been a city institution for almost two decades. Henry Sansom, the son of a Welsh miner opened the store for less than £500 in 1956. It was located in the St Mary’s district of the city, an area which was ethnically diverse but which suffered from nearby problems such as prostitution and street crime.

In the early 70’s Sansom’s preference for opera and classical music was supplemented by the addition of John Clare to his staff. John was a die-hard ‘music man’ with an apparent encyclopaedic knowledge about pop music, and these attributes took the store to new heights. I think it’s fair to say Clare was – and remains – a legend in any Southampton record collector’s memory, certainly mine. (Both he and Henry himself stayed behind the counter until 1988 when, sadly, the shop finally gave up the ghost)

Perhaps peculiarly – given its reputation – I never actually purchased a lot of records from Henry’s. To be frank, the store – and the area it was located – always intimidated me a bit. Somewhat perversely I probably bought more LPs and singles there after I’d started working in the music business than I did before, mainly because once my ‘habit’ was on a roll they were able to get imports (Jamaican reggae mainly) I was unable to source even at my own places of employment!

Who Dat was the newest indie in town. I believe it opened in the early seventies. It traded above (as I remember) a trendy clothes store in Above Bar, almost opposite Southampton’s Watts Park. It was, for want of a better phrase, a ‘hippy shop’, hanging on to post-Woodstock, post-Vietnam ideals.

Alongside its record and tape offerings, it also sold stuff like beads, badges, silk scarves, perfumes and incense sticks, as well as magazines from the UK’s ‘underground press’ – such as The International Times, Ink and Gandalph’s Garden. I think  Who Dat was the first place I ever saw bootleg records. I never bought any of them – mainly because the majority were live recordings (and, as regular EFA70sTRO will know, I have never been a fan of live albums) – but a proportion of my record purchases were made at Who Dat. Unless I am very much mistaken it was the store where I bought that ‘erotic’ Saturnalia picture disc album back in March 1973? It was certainly their kind of thing.

Which brings us neatly to Francis Records, my new employer in 1975 and my start in what was to become a lengthy career in the music industry.

I’ll be honest and say that back then I was initially unaware of Francis Records as any kind of a ‘record buying destination’. It was tucked away in Southampton’s Pound Tree Road (6a to be precise), off the main drag and not immediately identifiable from the street as a record shop.

My awareness of it stemmed from the fact that a college chum, Niles, got a part-time job there in November 1974. Needless to say I and many other friends then started popping in there to see him, browse the racks and make a few purchases. It was something of a ‘peculiar’ record shop… but more on that a little later.

Around Christmas time, Niles told me that the owner was looking for another Saturday person and suggested I should apply for the job. Which I did. Niles had also told another college friend, Derek, about the job and he applied too. Derek and I both had interviews on the same day.

In what transpired as a cruel twist, the owner offered both me AND Derek a job – which we both snapped up – before firing Niles! I’m not sure she realised we all knew one another or not, but it certainly created a certain level of awkwardness when we all convened at Barton Peveril the next day.

Francis Records started business in 1965 and was well-placed to take full advantage of the ‘Beatles era’ with everything else that came with it. It was a joint venture between a Mr & Mrs Francis and their middle-aged son, John. Mr Francis (Sr) died (I believe) sometime in the late 60’s. I should point out that Mrs Francis – who interviewed me for the job, and who ran the ‘pop’ side of the business, was well over 60 years old, maybe over 70? – so her enterprise was something she started quite late in her life!

The store itself was crammed in between a Ladbrokes bookmakers and (I think it was) a tiny ‘greasy joe’ cafe and was often hidden from the other side of the street by the sheer numbers of municipal buses stopping outside on the their way to various suburbs of the city. As I said, it did NOT look like a record store at all. A narrow shopfront revealed one small window and a glazed front door which, when you opened it led to two more doors – one to head upstairs and one which took you off to the left.

John Francis, the son, ran the classical department downstairs. Yes, the least fashionable music was in the prime location. I will probably talk about John in a later post because he showed great trust in me as 1975 panned out.

The design of poster racks – with those big flappy ‘pages’ really hasn’t changed much in 35 years!

The pop department was up the narrow stairs where you had to cross a small hallway before you discovered the racks, staff and counter. The walls were a long-unpainted shade of cream, dotted with a handful of promotional posters. There was one long-abandoned listening booth (all the rage in the 60’s) surrounded by wooden handbuilt racks containing record sleeves – just the sleeves – lined up in various categories and (if memory serves me correctly) one or two poster racks whose ‘pages’ dominated the sunlight that streamed in through the vintage sash windows.

In those days many record shops – uncertain how to safely stock and sell (the newer-fangled) cassettes – stored them in flapping ‘page’ racks, each page featuring maybe a couple of dozen tapes and locked up to prevent any theft. I always remember that most cassettes bought from such a system back then almost always featured heavy scratch marks top & bottom, back & front where the framework had rubbed against it.

The counter took up the entirety of one of the longer walls and offered quite an inviting space to loiter and talk to the staff (one of which I was about to become!). The actual stock itself was stored in cardboard (what were known as ) “masterbags” in square wooden racks/cubicles behind the staff area whilst there was a set of smaller racks that housed extra cassettes and accessories.

Mrs Francis had her own office at the interior end of the counter, fully glazed so she could always be sure to see what was going on in the whole store. This was where she did all the company paperwork or where John would occasionally come upstairs and go into to smoke a cigarette. (No risk of lawsuits from ‘second-hand smoking’ back in 1975)

I know I’ll talk more about Francis Records in future posts. It’s difficult to describe just HOW excited I was by this opportunity back in 1975. What I think I can say is that I suddenly felt like the proverbial ‘kid in the candy store’.

There are NO online references to “Francis Records” anywhere (at least before this one), nor do I have – or does there seems to exist – any photos of it either. But thanks to Google’s streetview I can show you what the property looks like now. Yes, ugly as sin. Looking completely different, that “First” shop – hidden behind what seems to be a hideous onstreet public toilet? – was the premises for Francis Records

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