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Cockney Rebel

One of the huge drawbacks of EFA70sTRO 1974’s diary being ‘light’ on entries – particularly in the latter half of that year – is that we’ve missed out on several of my musical discoveries during that time.

I therefore feel it necessary to offer an ‘aside’ post about Cockney Rebel, one of the very few acts in my lifetime with whom I have shared a relationship bordering on ‘fandom’.

There have been many other acts I have abjectly raved about over the years – Bill Nelson, Captain Beefheart, Bowie, Ian Dury, ELP and more – but only a tiny handful where I have been drawn in a little bit further. Prince is one such act, Eno is another. But if I LOVED an act as an impressionable teenager it would have been Cockney Rebel. Or more correctly, Steve Harley.. because when all’s said and done he really was Cockney Rebel.

My first exposure to Cockney Rebel was back in February 1974 when I saw them on BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test“. I think they performed the track “Hideaway“? If memory serves me correctly, Harley sported heavily applied dark eyeshadow, slightly rouged cheeks and an ugly velvet suit. (VERY glam in other words!) Then, in May 1974,  their hit single “Judy Teen” was all over the radio. The band appeared many times on Top of the Pops and I always found Harley to be something of of engaging character.

I bought “Judy Teen” and the accompanying album, “The Psychomodo”. Not longer afterwards I tracked down the band’s 1973 debut album, “The Human Menagerie” (which – over the years – has proved itself to be my out-and-out fave) as well as shelling out for the band’s next hit single”Mr Soft” (a marvellous carnival piece of earworm-worthy pop fluffiness) and the follow-up flop, “Big Big Deal” (So much of a flop it was actually withdrawn from sale after just a few weeks!)

(It would feel criminal if I didn’t do EFA70sTRO reviews of the bands first two albums… so expect them soon!)

 The weekly music press I was reading back then seemed to have a love/hate relationship with Harley, his own journalistic background evidently giving him a keen eye for what would represent a good ‘quote’. The statements he made seemed to purposefully wind people up, and whilst the press seemed to find favour with his music they treated him personally with a certain disdain. I can’t explain why, but this dichotomy appealed to me somehow, so I then wanted to find out more about the band.

Steve Harley started life as Steven Nice, born in Deptford, London in 1951. He attended Hatcham’s College in the 1960’s, lucky to be attending an establishment where music was a speciality. He started writing songs and began performing them as a busker on the London Underground, often accompanied by his friend, violinist John Crocker.

He got the aforementioned job as a music journalist, simultaneously forming a touring band with Crocker (now known as “Jean-Paul Crocker”), drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys (who would later be one of the victims of the Lockerbie Air Disaster) and keyboard player Milton Reame-James. Harley named the band Cockney Rebel, doubtless a cheeky nod to his own disruptive nature. They played just FIVE gigs before they were spotted by EMI Records and signed to a multi-album deal.

They toured on the back of “Human Menagerie” and (even after 35 years) I remain disappointed that I never caught them at Southampton University in early 1974 whilst Harley was just starting his career. (If that OGWT performance had been a month or two earlier I think I would definitely have trekked to the gig)

My 1974 diary didn’t mention it – hell, it didn’t mention much at all – but I seem to remember Cockney Rebel played either the University or Southampton’s Top Rank later on in the year too. Maybe I have that wrong? I can’t find reference to it anywhere online, so there’s every possibility I am just imagining it.

At the end of 1974 Harley broke up the original band, egotistically renamed it “Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel” and started recording a new album with, again, Alan Parsons (of Pink Floyd, Beatles and…erm… Alan Parsons Project fame) on production duties. This album – and one of its cuts in particular – would prove to both make and break Harley’s career. EFA70sTRO will be covering it at a later date.

My utter fandom for Steve Harley has not remained in place into my middle-aged life. I still adore all those early albums but it turns out his ego eventually got the better of him and his output started to drift downhill fast thereafter.

However, the phrase “Cockney Rebel” stuck with me and has become something of a personal legacy. After moving to the USA in the late 90’s I joined an online message board affiliated with a radio station my wife worked for. I was invited to chose a user name and “Cockney Rebel” popped into my head. From then until now I am known by many people more as “Cockney Rebel” or “CR” than I am my real name!

1975 and beyond will doubtless refer to Steve Harley and/or Cockney Rebel many times. I can only apologise in advance.

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November 20th 1973

“Borrowed Live Man. Man on Old Grey Stoker’s Vest – smart!”

“Live Man” must refer to the “Live at Padget Rooms, Penarth” album, a three track concert recording which, in retrospect, has been described by some as the sound of Man at their musical peak.

Not by me though. The album never stuck with me over the years, mainly because the entire second side – an extensive jazz-rock 20+ minute jam called “H.Samuel” – never sat that comfortably with me. It seemed just too…. well, random and unstructured.

If I’d listened to the album again 6 or 7 years later it may have made more sense as I suspect “the drugs would have worked”, if you get my drift? But to this chemically-bereft teenager it sounded a bit of a bloomin’ mess.

It’s a shame I never bought the album rather than just tape it. Not only was it was budget-priced but it was issued in a very strictly limited edition of just 8000 copies. An eBay success story could well have been in my future?!

I have threatened to write at some length about The Old Grey Whistle Test (for that is what I mean when I say Old Grey Stoker’s Vest) before without having actually done so. Perhaps now is the time?!…

OGWT was perhaps THE most influential music TV show of the seventies in Britain. It was certainly the only ‘serious’ music show to feature acts from outside the mainstream or Top 30 chart arenas.

I would lose count trying to list the bands or artists I initially encountered on OGWT, but a few who did and who subsequently became lifetime favourites include Be Bop Deluxe, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Tom Waits, Little Feat and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. (All links to their early OGWT performances)

As the commentary on Volume 1 of the OGWT DVD series confirms, the shows early performances were filmed in what was, essentially, a corridor at the BBC TV Centre. The space measured just 30 x 20 feet, there was rarely an audience (other than the crew), and everything was usually filmed by union cameramen with no experience of musical acts. The combination of all these things usually resulted in under-rehearsed and quite raw performances, most of which have become classic TV ephemera in their own right. (See above)

In addition to live (a few mimed) performances, the presenters would also hold small uninhibited interviews with a few acts, as well as playing album tracks with an accompanying ‘weird/trippy’ cartoon video.

OGWT’s most celebrated and legendary presenter was the laid back Bob Harris whose broadcasting style is to speak extremely lightly, resulting in many viewers having to turn up their TV’s volume whenever he was on. He was eventually monikered “Whispering Bob” and was often parodied and impersonated in many comedy skits.

Here he is interviewing (a strangely reserved) Keith Moon about The Who’s drummer’s (thankfully, only) solo album “Two Sides of the Moon”.

Recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, Bob (under the auspices of his own “Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company”) remains heavily involved in the music business and still produces and presents one-off specials for BBC Radio including the recent “Maple Leaf Revolution” (about Canadian music) and “The Sandy Denny Story

Bob (quietly) presented OGWT from 1972 until 1978, which pretty much represent my seminal years in music, so I owe him – and the programme – a lot for what came later in my life. Thank you Bob!

The show’s theme tune was a harmonica-driven track called “Stone Fox Chase” by Nashville band Area Code 615 whose only other claim to fame is that several members backed up Bob Dylan on his albums “Blonde on Blonde” and “Nashville Skyline”.

If you’re wondering about the show’s name, it’s weird that the derivation has little to do with the music played by Bob & Co. It’s a vintage ‘Tin Pan Alley‘ phrase from the 40’s. When a label got its first pressing of a record they would play it to the building’s elderly doormen (who were known as “greys”). If the doormen could subsequently whistle the tune after just one listen, the song was said to have passed…yep, you’ve guessed it… “the old grey whistle test”

I doubt this evening’s Man performance had much to whistle along with?!

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January 23rd 1973

“Bort MOVING WAVES – FOCUS – ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT” / “Got opticians appointment” / “Today is the 1st (day) Anniversary of finding my history book”

Why did I write that stupid line about my history book? (Monty Python had WAY too much influence on my teenage brain I reckon!)

I suspect making an appointment with an optician scared me. (It always has). I wonder if this might have been the fateful “contact lens” appointment? (More on that later. If I can bear to write it)

As for “Moving Waves”, my brief review in 1973 may have been somewhat biased? After all my anticipation of finally buying this album had been building for almost a month or more. I suppose that, unlike in later life, I couldn’t afford to have “buyers remorse” about the music I bought. Heavens forbid that a 15-year-old boy should ever make a mistake?!!

If you wake up one morning fancying some shrill yodelling underpinned by mellotrons, flute music, classically-tainted piano and what can only be described as “heavy metal” guitar, then I really can’t recommend “Moving Waves” enough to you!

This album was originally released in 1970 with a totally different cover – and entitled “Focus II” – in Holland, the band’s home country.

Following the astonishing “hit single” success of the quirky single “Hocus Pocus“, the album was repackaged and reissued all over the world.

The album did amazing business in England following an appearance by the band on TV show “Old Grey Whistle Test“. (Something I have spoken of before) It also reached #8 on the USA Billboard album chart.

Side 1 kicks off with the single, then mellows right out on “Le Clochard” a somewhat haunting instrumental highlighting guitarist Jan Akkerman’s more laid back style.

Track 3, “Janis“, was also released as a single (an unsuccessful release in it’s own right… not surprising considering it is perhaps the weakest cut on the album).

Tracks 4 and 5 (“Moving Waves” and “Focus II” respectively) are often considered ‘classic’ Focus compositions, combining Thijs Van Leer’s weird imagery and piano chords over Akkerman’s jazz-influenced guitar work.

The whole of Side 2 is a 23 minute “concept” track (I often wonder if there’s any album in the early 70’s that didn’t include some kind of tripped-out ‘concept’ piece?). “Eruption” is an ambitious suite split into 5 segments which the band pull off with professional aplomb. It’s a captivating musical journey of stunning guitar licks, hammond organ and drum solos, all infused with excitement and melody.

Here’s a 10-minute sample of “Eruption” courtesy of You Tube… you will notice that Thijs Van Leer has forgotten to put his shirt on…

“Moving Waves”, along with “Focus III“, are without doubt my favourite Focus albums. Other Focus albums like “At the Rainbow“, “Hamburger Concerto“, as well as their debut, “In & Out of Focus“, failed to fire my imagination anywhere near as much.

And the least said about 1975’s terrible – and APPALLINGLY-titled – “Mother Focus“, the better. At least IMHO.

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December 12th 1972 (II)

“Watched Focus on Old Grey Whistle Test”

Here’s one for trivia fans…..

Focus appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test (a TV show which I shall doubtless write a LOT more about at a later date) this evening, doing a wild reckless version of “Hocus Pocus

The performance was so engaging and the public response so positive that Focus’ record label, Polydor, had to devote its entire UK vinyl pressing plant to the band’s album “Moving Waves” for the NEXT TEN DAYS… just to keep up with demand.

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An Aside (V) – Telly in 1972

“Three Channels and Nothing On”

Unlike today, when my wife and I have 200+ channels to choose from and almost unlimited programming possibilities (thanks to the advent of TiVo), in 1972 I had 3 channels to pick my viewing from; BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.

We had just ONE television in the house. A small black & white set, my parents did not ‘convert’ to colour (together with it’s necessary, but far more expensive, TV license) until I gifted them a Sony brand 26″ for Christmas in 1976 or 1977. (I had promised myself that as soon as I started earning any decent money, I was going to buy them this ‘luxury’)

Maybe unlike other children of my age at that time, I have to be honest and say that my Mum & Dad did allow me to watch many of my favourite programmes. Actually, between us we shared quite a few faves, although in the case of The Benny Hill Show I am sure my Mum was watching a different element of the show than me or my Dad were!

I can’t ever remember getting stroppy with them because they didn’t let me watch a particular favourite, although I am convinced it must have happened a few times when programming clashes occurred.

It is weird to think that we had to watch everything “live” without any opportunity to record/timeshift/replay/rewind a show. If you missed a scene by visiting the loo, you missed it. If a joke wasn’t heard, you missed it. That sudden plot twist? Missed it.

Also, unlike today, there were no ‘instant repeats’ either! If you missed a show because you were out or busy doing something else, you never had the chance to “catch it again” later in the week. Indeed, repeats of anything were quite rare, the whole clichéd “here’s another opportunity to see” not yet in the TV lexicon.

So, what did I watch in 1972?
(By the way, be warned, this is the first in an irregular series of lengthy observational asides about life in the 70’s).

Here’s a merest selection…..

Are You Being Served?
OK, I admit it. I know I watched this awful show in 1972 and I know I laughed. Hey, I was 14 years old, Pauline Fowler looked like hot stuff and jokes about “pussies” had me giggling like a very giggly thing.

I was ‘gayly’ naive regarding the awfully homophobic jokes about Mr Humphries’ overt sexuality, but not so stupid so as to believe Captain Peacock would secretly teach me everything I needed to know for my later career in retail.

Even then the show was a little cringeworthy, so years later surely you could never admit to watching this comedic tosh? … oh, unless you are an American.

Since living in the mid-west I have seriously lost count of the number of people we’ve met who – once discovering I am British – have asked me if I have seen – or like – “that English TV show Are you being Served?“, adding “we simply luuuuurve it” and “it is sooooooo funny“. Yes, 36 looooooooooong years after first being broadcast in the UK, PBS in the USA continues to schedule regular reruns of the show (along with similarly anachronistic “Keeping Up Appearances” and, more recently, “Last of the Summer Wine“)

I am convinced therefore that many Americans believe “Are You Being Served” represents some kind of embodiment of British society. Nothing can be scarier. When someone asks me “are you free on Saturday night?”, I always wonder what response they expect!

Clangers
1972 sadly saw the demise of this classic kids TV show.

What can be more engaging for children than a bunch of hand-knitted puppet aliens who spoke only in penny-whistle noises and breathy whoops? 

Were they supposed to be anteaters? Pigs? Whichever, they subsisted on green soup brought to the surface of their bizarre planet from underground wells by the inimitable aluminium-clad soup dragon.
(No, Mr American spell checker, aluminium IS spelled that way, OK?! There IS an extra “i” in there…. look, we gave you the bloody langauge, please try not to ruin it)

Contrary to what I said earlier, I think The Clangers was often repeated, episodes shown weekly at tea-time on Sunday evenings just before the “god slot” (all things church and other prayer-based nonsense). Despite my ‘rebellious youth’, I watched The Clangers on a semi-regular basis, and it may have scarred me for life…

If you have 9½ spare minutes in your life, please try and enjoy the following brief spectacle…

… and I watched it (then) withOUT drugs!

A year or so ago, hit by a wave of ludicrous (mid-life crisis) nostalgia, I purchased a DVD collection of Clangers episodes. I watched two of them before giving up, deeming them “childish and stupid”. I subsequently gifting the set on to a friend in England who continues to indulge in ‘otherworldy’ substances. I’m sure – in fact I KNOW – he got more of a kick out of seeing the show again than I did?!

Show such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Goodies and Top of the Pops were die-hard staples of my weekly viewing and I suspect I will continue to comment on them in regular Efa70’sTRO diary postings, as well as the ‘educational’ (for me) show The Old Grey Whistle Test. So, what else was there?……..

We had American ‘imports’ – easily as much a part of UK TV programming back in the 70’s as it is now. The ones I can remember getting hooked on include:-

Columbo – One-eyed man in shabby old flasher mac catches the killer
• Mission Impossible – They always solved the mission, so why wasn’t the show called Mission Entirely Possible?
• Hawaii Five-O – Fact. Back then I told myself that I would NEVER visit Hawaii as I was convinced there was always too much crime there. (The theme tune to Hawaii Five-O remains one of THE best ever American TV openers!)
• Land of the Giants– One of my favourites without a shadow of a doubt. I can remember being as amazed by the sets the producers built for the actors to work in as I was the story lines.
• Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – This series about a futuristic nuclear submarine which trawled the seas of the world solving the mysteries of nature (like land of the Giants, an Irwin Allen production) felt quite believable to me back then. However technology & discoveries in the past 3 decades have subsequently rendered the show carbon-dated as ‘silly’

Most of these USA shows were broadcast on Sunday afternoons, which must have been one of my weekly rituals before going out to those TIB’s classes or… whatever else it was I did on Sunday evenings that I can’t remember.

Shows that wanted to be American, but weren’t, and which I also enjoyed were The Saint and The Avengers, both of which I will still watch and get a kick out of.

There’s some wonderfully old-fashioned ideals floating around in The Saint, Roger Moore’s Simon Templar character being permanently macho around women and feeling he has to protect them all the time whilst he solves the latest crime caper.

The Avengers, by total contrast, was supportive of the female role with all the women co-stars (Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson or the delectable Diana Rigg) being as – if not moreso – action-packed and formidable than Patrick Macnee’s John Steed character. I never realised it back then, but The Avengers was (and, watching repeats, still is) a very dark & often bizarre show. Some of the plots feel so blatantly surreal that I sometimes wonder what audience the producers were aiming for.

The show is often described at “kitsch”, but I never really see that. It’s very groovy and very 60’s/70’s for sure, but the scripts often appear fresher than any of the nonsense that calls itself ‘sci-fi crime’  these days. If that makes me sound like an old fuddy-duddy that might be because I am?!

Colditz debuted in 1972. Cleverly cashing in on the continuing popularity of the 1963 “bank holiday” classic movie “The Great Escape“, this series took the premise of POW’s (prisoners of war) one step further.

Why not give all the prisoners completely rounded characters and lock them in a supposedly impregnable German castle from which there is also, apparently, no means of escape? Then make the series more about a battle of the minds between the captors and the captives, than mere tunnel building. It was, therefore, a kind of World War II version of The Prisoner.

I was pretty hooked on this series as a teenager. My folks were too, making it something none of us missed. The series ran for just two series and for two years apparently, but it feels like we watched it much longer than that? (Maybe there was just no escape from it? *heh*)

Another show – a soap opera – which debuted in 1972 was Emmerdale Farm. A TV rip-off of the BBC Radio’s The Archers, a long-running radio saga about ‘everyday country folk’, Emmerdale Farm continues to, …erm, entertain 36 years later.

Now called simply Emmerdale, and broadcast five evenings a week (instead of a couple of lunchtimes as in 1972), my father still watches it.

OK, by way of sad disclosure, I’ll admit I still watch it too, but only – I hasten to add – whenever I go and stay with him in the UK or, as recently, he flies across and stays with us. (I think he was secretly impressed he could still catch up on his little guilty pleasure thanks to me finding daily downloads)

As a 70’s teenager you had a definite choice to make. You were either a Blue Peter fan OR a Magpie fan. There’s was no mixing and matching. Blue Peter was the BBC’s long-running (STILL running now) magazine-format TV show for ‘young people’. It went out twice a week and featured all kinds of things including activities, crafts, cookery, toys & charity events. It is one of the Beeb’s most iconic TV shows, with early presenters such as Peter Purves, John Noakes and Valerie Singleton (the trifecta of PERFECT hosts) 100% assured of their place in TV history.

Personally, I always found Blue Peter to be a little po-faced and ‘immature’, those gifts made out of toilet paper rolls and washing-up bottles somewhat twee and entirely unnecessary. So I gravitated towards Magpie, ITV’s far superior imitation. 

With an easier-going attitude to stuff, Magpie just seemed a much trendier, cooler show. The sets were all sci-fi like, the presenters (including Tony Bastable, Mick Robertson, the weirdly attractive Susan Stranks, and the – to me, back then – stunning Jenny Hanley) generally seemed more laid back  and the subjects discussed more relevant to a hormonal teenager.

I’ll own up to writing in to the show from time to time, just so that they would send me one of the badges they gave away. Each badge was based on a line from their singalong theme tune (sung by later musical faves of mine, the Spencer Davis Group). I still have the badges somewhere amongst the pile of junk I brought across the ocean with me. If I can find them, I will scan and share them with all my readers.

Another geeky favourite was Mastermind, a weekly quiz-show presented by ice-cool Magnus Magnusson. In this, 4 contestants would slug it out as to which was the brainiest by first taking questions on their specialist subject and then answering a bunch of general knowledge questions. All whilst sat in a comfy leather chair and under the spotlight in a dark-foreboding studio. I’m sure that I probably answered no more than one question every 4 or 5 episodes of this, but it made me feel clever watching it.

Magnus used to have a catchphrase which seems apt to use here….

I’ve started so I’ll finish

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