Monthly Archives: February 2017

The prospect of having an artefact around the house that’s worth a

The prospect of having an artefact around the house that’s worth a mint is a tantalising thought. And if you’re sure you don’t have a painting by a great master or half a dozen Fabergé eggs, perhaps you ought to have a rifle through your collection of pop culture memorabilia. These eight people did, and when they brought their findings to Antiques Roadshow, they delighted the show’s experts…

1. Stowe School’s Beatles collection

This is quite a story – in 1963, a pupil at Stowe invited The Beatles to play at the boarding school, and they agreed. The entire paper trail of booking the band has been preserved, as the current headmaster explains to Paul Atterbury. The heads of the groups were made by sculptor David Wynne, a former pupil. And the value of the entire lot? Wow.

2. Vintage Clash t-shirts

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily think that band t-shirts bought at a gig more than 30 years ago would be worth much today, but if that band is The Clash and you’re a Glaswegian fan who’s kept a pair in great condition, you might be in for a surprise. Expert Hilary Kay says they’re made of “rubbish fabric”, but they’re collectable…

3. An antique Slingerland guitar

What a beauty – an American Slingerland Nighthhawk guitar made in the 1930s, bought in Wales and played, slide-style, by the father of its current owner. Marc Allum, a guitarist himself, is impressed by its quality, and gives it a four-figure valuation.

4. A letter from George Harrison

“Dear Sandra, thanks for your letter,” George Harrison’s reply begins. Sandra fell in love with George after seeing The Beatles in Llandudno in 1963, so she wrote to him and received a fascinating response that was read out at her school assembly. Sandra also received the group’s signatures with the letter, but are they genuine?
5. Status Quo tapestry

In this extraordinary clip, a mother tells the story of her son Colin, who was “Status Quo mad”. At 18, he was paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident and made this incredible tapesty by using his teeth to push the needles through the fabric. Tragically, he didn’t get the chance to finish it before he died, aged 39.

6. Rolling Stones photographs and autographs

How far would you go to meet your favourite band? This Rolling Stones fan scored her haul of photographs and autographs by going AWOL with a friend on a school trip to Paris in 1965. They were 14 and busted their way into the group’s hotel by saying they were press!

7. Maria Callas memorabilia

Perhaps no diva has inspired more devotion than the Greek-American soprano Maria Callas, a post-World War II global superstar of opera. But this collector, Robert Sutherland, is more than just a fan – he’s a pianist who toured with Callas as her accompanist for a year and a half. Robert tells Clive Farahar of his very personal memorabilia, including annotated sheet music. Not surprisingly, his lot is worth a pretty penny, and this is just a fragment of his collection.

One record label arguably shaped and reflected British life more

In the 70s and 80s, one record label arguably shaped and reflected British life more than any other – BBC Records & Tapes. It was the type of label that released an album of sound effects called Death & Horror (sample tracks: Neck Twisted and Broken; Red Hot Poker Into Eye) as well as keep-fit music for new mothers, like Diana Moran’s Get Fit with the Green Goddess (sample tracks: Boobs, Chest and Underarms – I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Back and Legs – Who Pays the Ferryman?). It scored big with Top 10 singles (including Nick Berry’s No.1, Every Loser Wins in 1986), but also had a thing for puppet ducks (Orville and Edd the Duck both released songs on the label). And it was equally praised and moaned about in the national press.

Then, sometime in 1991, it suddenly closed up shop, pulled down its shutters and disappeared from history. Some of its releases have become cult classics, most have been lost to time, as has its story. Until now.

Bizarrely diverse

“It put out the most bizarrely diverse set of records I’ve ever seen,” says Tim Worthington, author of Top of the Box, a complete guide to its almost 300 singles. “Nothing that comes out has any correlation to what came before or after it, and sometimes you just think, ‘Who on earth thought anyone was going to buy that?’

“But it gives you this amazing insight into life back then. I always think you can tell more culturally about a time from the mundane things than the landmark things. Like, you can tell more about the 60s from listening to Rod Stewart than The Beatles because he jumped on every trend going. It’s the same with BBC Records. Its releases tell you what was actually popular; what people were thinking about; what they were hoping for. It’s absolutely fascinating.”

The label, founded in 1967, was initially called BBC Radio Enterprises before changing name to BBC Records in 1970, then BBC Records & Tapes two years later. It was amateurish – charmingly – from the start, releasing albums of Chinese classical music and a lecture by astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell. “It’s just some bloke talking about how big the universe is,” says Worthington, “but it has the most amazing cover.”
Another early favourite of Worthington’s is The Seasons, a “fascinatingly terrifying” album of “scary electronics with equally scary poems read over the top” (it was recently reissued by cult label Trunk Records). One track, October, features lyrics comparing autumn leaves to “severed hands… that lie flat on the deserted avenue” – quite something for an album that was part of a series aimed at school teachers looking for music to accompany dance lessons. The poems were by Ronald Duncan, the music composed by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, creators of the Doctor Who theme and whose own first, legendary compilation album came out on BBC Radio Enterprises in 1968.

The label soon decided to move into singles, too. A normal record label would have probably released a pop song for its first 7″; the BBC instead put out seven pieces by David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London from the soundtrack to 1970 hit drama called The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Clearly a success, they quickly released a follow-up of Munrow’s music from the 1971 series Elizabeth R starring Glenda Jackson.

The Tempest cometh

In 1973, Billboard reported that the BBC had decided to “move aggressively into the record business in an attempt to offset some of its annual losses”. In doing so, they searched outside the corporation for a music industry insider to run the label and hired Roy Tempest, who came to BBC Records from Philips.

Confusingly, there was another man of the same name causing ripples in the music business at the same time. “There were two Roy Tempests,” says Mark Rye, who worked for BBC Records for a year in the 1970s as a plugger (he would try to get DJs to play the label’s records – a job that you can imagine was tough at times). The first was a legendary – but controversial – impresario, who was once sued by Motown records for holding concerts by people pretending to be their stars. He had to declare bankruptcy soon after the court case.

The other Roy Tempest had been Philips’ pop product manager (among other jobs), and also had something of a reputation. “I only met him once, but he was a maverick,” says Humphrey Walwyn, who ran BBC Records & Tapes from 1984 to 1988.

“Roy was one of the nicest people we had,” adds Alan Bilyard, who was in charge of the business affairs and finance of the label at the time. “You see, in the early days we were stuck with really off-the-wall sort of music, and it needed jazzing up, so the BBC decided to go outside to find someone. He really turned it around.”

Unfortunately, the BBC couldn’t keep even this Tempest in line. As Billboard reported, he started working as a songwriter on the side and in 1976, after just three years, was forced to leave.

The Bilyard years

Tempest’s replacement was Bilyard, who seems slightly surprised to have got the job. “It was quite a move from a fairly lowly role sitting behind a desk, adding up figures and writing contracts,” he says. “To be quite honest, I didn’t know a lot about the ordinary music industry. I was just a punter like anybody else. I used to go to Boots and Woolworths to buy my records. But I thought there were lots of opportunities that I could bring to the table, like releasing more theme music, or music from kids’ programmes. Mums would watch those, find out there was a record available and, ‘Wham!’ that was it [it’d be a hit].”

Bilyard’s first week as head of the label was something of a shock. He was booked onto HMS Ark Royal – a Royal Navy aircraft carrier on its final voyage – and, with producer Mike Harding, had to record the ship’s company singing a cover version of Rod Stewart’s Sailing. Bilyard had little experience of naval life, let alone producing a record, and one night had to borrow a suit from the ship’s meteorological officer just so he could have dinner with the captain. On the final day, near Gibraltar, they cleared the ship’s hull of fighter jets and turned it into a theatre, getting the ship’s choir to stand on the platform that normally takes aircraft up to the deck. They then tried to record them singing to the surprisingly funky sound of the ship’s band, but quickly got “into a muddle” due to the rest of the crew apparently being determined to join in.

“There were all these beer cans – tinnies, they called them – fizzing everywhere, and they were getting merrier and merrier,” Bilyard, now 77, says. “And I was trying to get them to behave so the record didn’t sound like a brawl. How we managed it, I don’t know, but it turned out to be a fantastic record. It sold in its thousands.”

The B-side featured covers of The Wombling Song and Remember You’re a Womble.

Bilyard says there was little logic to what records they decided to release. Sometimes a TV or radio producer would ask them to release the theme music from their show. Other times members of the public would phone up and beg them to. In the worst cases, “meddling people” high up in the organisation would get in touch and tell them to release something (that explains some of the bagpipe records, Bilyard says).

Often, ideas would just come to Bilyard’s team. “There was a woman called Eileen Fowler who used to do keep fit exercises on Woman’s Hour, the radio programme,” he says. “And one day one of our producers said, ‘Let’s do an Eileen Fowler record.’ Generally, things like that were greeted with a big yawn, but we did, and, because we had the publicity from the programme – 300,000 people being told there was a record out, or even three million people being told there was a record out – it sold.

“We didn’t rule out anything, and I was never surprised when our records sold unexpectedly, even quirky things like birdsong. We issued probably 10 bird records: back garden birds, woodland birds, sea island birds…”

Bilyard’s biggest hits were down to such savvy. He had a No.1 with a recording of Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 that was rushed to shops within 24 hours (“an amazing achievement for the time,” he says). They scored another No.1 with an album of music from the TV series Fame. It stayed there for 12 weeks and Bilyard’s team released four follow-ups, showing the label’s tendency to milk any success for all it was worth.

The most satisfying successes were accidents, says Mehmet Arman, the label’s business manager at this time, now the owner of one of Turkey’s biggest record labels. In 1981, for instance, BBC Wales asked them to release Chi Mai, a piece of syrupy classical music by film composer Ennio Morricone. It was soundtracking a TV series based on the life of politician Lloyd George.

“In the office we didn’t think much about it at the time,” Arman says. “It was BBC Wales’s wish to put it out, so we did. Then suddenly it was the best day ever.”

It sold over 500,000 copies; Arman still has the gold record on his wall.

Another such success was choirboy Aled Jones’s first records. “I met his father and offered him a small advance, about £2,500 or something,” Arman says, “then the record started breaking out and all the newspapers said we’d cheated him.”

Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”

Asking a band why they gave themselves the name they have has to be the single most obvious question in pop. Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”, and certainly no one has managed to reach the gold standard set by The Beatles, whose common response was something along the lines of: “I had a vision when I was 12. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are The Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.”

The fact that it’s just a pun on both Buddy Holly’s Crickets and beat music was felt to be too obvious to comment upon. So, to save at least 10 bands and further interview awkwardness (and unnecessary storytelling), here are the less vivid, and more humdrum accounts of how they got their names.

1. The Jam

Popular culture has found a few uses for the word ‘jam’ that could have been invoked in the naming of Paul Weller’s first band. It’s a term for improvising music, it denotes things which are stuck or crushed together, there’s a thrillingly urban traffic connotation that echoes The Clash naming themselves after a newspaper headline about conflict… It could all be so, so punk rock.

However, the true origin came from the breakfast table. Young Paul was wondering what name to choose when his sister Nicky piped up “We’ve had Bread and Marmalade, why not The Jam?” And lo, their legend was preserved forever more.

2. Nickelback

Outside of North America, Nickelback may be among the most commonly misspelled names in rock – NickEL, not NickLE – possibly because it’s too similar to the name of a fish (stickleback) and nickel isn’t a commonly used word. But the humdrum reality of the name is that it came from bass player Mike Kroeger’s day job serving coffee. As each drink routinely cost an amount of dollars and 95 cents, he’d spend his time giving customers five cents (or a nickel) in change, and saying, “Here’s your nickel back.”

Fun fact: Nickelback were originally called Village Idiots.

3. Sleater-Kinney

DIY music scenes like to take ordinary things and give them mythical status by taking them away from their original context. So, when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein formed a band in Lacey, Washington, and started rehearsing in a room near Sleater-Kinney Road, it seemed natural to make use of these two angular and opaque words for their new musical project.

As a band name, Sleater-Kinney is so opaque it could refer to anything from a supergroup to a lawsuit, and they will already have known what it would look like to see their name in lights, as at appears on the road signs for exit 108 on Interstate 5.

4. Tangerine Dream

With a name like that, you’d think Edgar Froese had either literally woken up in a citrus trance and feverishly scribbled the words in his dream journal, or that he was being deliberately colourful, to try and approximate a psychedelic reverie. However, the slightly more boring truth is that he misunderstood the lyrics to the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (which is, to be fair, exactly that kind of trippy vision).

As English is not his first language, he thought John Lennon’s “tangerine trees” was “tangerine dream”, and named his band in homage. Mind you, he wasn’t the first to make such a lyrical mistake. The Mystery Trend took their name from the “Mystery Tramp” in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, and The Lightning Seeds got their name from Prince’s Raspberry Beret: “The thunder drowns out what the lightning sees.”

5. Young Fathers

Young Fathers’ collective name is not, as you may wonder, a reference to escalating teenage pregnancy in urban areas, or the reaction of any young man on discovering that he’s about to become a babydaddy. It is far closer to home than that. The name comes from the fact that all three members of the group – Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole – were named after their fathers. They are, in nomenclature at least, the younger versions of their own dads.

And before you ask, yes, the name Junior was already taken.

6. Commodores

Many bands turn to the dictionary to find inspiration when looking for a name. Evanescence looked under E, wanting something a bit wafty, and they found it. The Association found their name while looking up ‘aristocrats’, which had been suggested instead, and Ash worked their way through the As until they found a word they all liked.

But the ultimate moment of musical random lexicography came from Lionel Richie’s band Commodores, who tossed a dictionary into the air to open it, and then pointed randomly at the page. That they are not now called Commodes instead is simply a matter of blind luck.

The stories behind Jazz Funk Greats

Album titles are often a signpost offering directions to the music within. Sometimes they suggest what the songs sound like, sometimes they’re a statement of a theme; a clue as to why the album was written. But sometimes albums are given titles that appear to be deliberately trying to mess with people’s expectations.

This can be for mischievous reasons – such as Paul McCartney’s 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom – or an attempt to remain coy and open to misinterpretation by listeners (especially in the field of live recordings). And some, as in our first example below, are just plain shifty.

With the driest of wits, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle titled their third album 20 Jazz Funk Greats partly out of scorn for people who might like an album with that title, and partly because their music had started to incorporate elements that could loosely be termed either jazz or funk. Even the cover was deliberately misleading, as Cosey Fanni Tutti explained to Music Academy: “It was a pastiche of something you would find in a Woolworth’s bargain bin. We took the photograph at the most famous suicide spot in England, called Beachy Head. So, the picture is not what it seems, it is not so nicey-nicey at all, and neither is the music once you take it home and buy it.

“We had this idea in mind that someone quite innocently would come along to a record store and see [the record] and think they would be getting 20 really good jazz/funk greats, and then they would put it on at home and they would just get decimated.”

When KISS were thinking about making their first live album in 1975, they realised that to get a good recording they were going to have to make some substantial compromises to their natural performance. As Gene Simmons told VH1: “In those days, I’d be taken over – I’d be possessed, and I’d make tonnes of mistakes on my bass. I remember talking backstage with the guys, and everybody agreed that we would jump around less – that we would try to hit the notes more.”

But even being less frantic on stage didn’t prevent the band from having to take their live tapes into the studio to fix missed notes, out-of-tune harmonies, and, well, sometimes everything but the drums. So, the name Alive! is an artful sidestep of the fact that it’s not entirely a live album in the accepted sense, despite looking (and trying to sound) like one. Not that Paul Stanley minds. In his autobiography, he embraced the improvements to the tapes, saying: “Who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?”