JOHN THE REVELATOR John Lydon interview with Andrew Graham-Dixon on BBC4

I don’t read or watch TV interviews with performers normally. They need to burnish their public persona and that gets in the way of anything interesting. Not so with this John Lydon interview. Perhaps its the advancing years or the vapidity of the current music scene but he seemed determined to share his sense of what has shaped his whole artistic career, rather like some of Bob Dylan’s recent interviews, and probably for the same reasons. Lydon took us from his childhood roots, and explained how a period of his early years in the Norfolk countryside had given him an accent that enabled his reading of Shakespeare’s verse, and showed us a clip Laurence Olivier in Richard III (which sent me straight to video rental) by way of explanation. He extolled the beauty of Mozart particularly his Requiem,and talked about his feelings around his mother’s and father’s deaths and his subsequent PIL recording of Death Disco.

I tried a couple of times to sign the Sex Pistols to Chrysalis. The first time came after I saw an early gig at the 100 Club which had been a revelation. It wasn’t easy to get everyone on board, particularly after we were locked out of a gig at the Screen on the Green in Islington, but we persevered and ended up competing with EMI for them. Chris Wright didn’t entirely believe Malcolm McLaren’s claim to be in serious discussions with EMI, so one of our team, Phil Cokell, was sent round the back of our Oxford St office to Manchester Sq where EMI were based to check on whether Malcom was actually going there and how long he was in there. You know what happened. We tried again to sign them after A&M but they ended up on Virgin. McLaren was determined that they wouldn’t sign to Chrysalis. I like to think that it was because he recognised we were more interested in the band than his pr ideas. It didn’t help when they went into record with our friend Chris Thomas as the producer, in our Wessex studio and with our studio manager the great Bill Price engineering. That was pretty much the end of my involvement apart from a brief appearance in ‘The Great Rock n Roll Swindle’ later recycled in ‘The Filth and the Fury’.We signed Generation X and moved on. Many years later Midge Ure put Kent Zimmerman, one of the Zimmerman brothers who were working with John Lydon on the writing of his autobiography, in touch with me and we relived the whole period.
The Sex Pistols rhythm section was extraordinary,and that is always a prerequisite of the great bands. Its not a surprise that the departure of the original bass player spelt the end of it. Lydon talks about that in the interview. The atmosphere and personality of The Specials struck me as being in a bit of a parallel universe with The SexPistols, and I think one of the reasons The Specials 2009 reunion was so successful was the fact that the rhythm section,led byBrad, Horace and Roddy was as good as ever.
Watching the interview I was conscious again of John Lydon as a revelation, and by the
passion, honesty and the commitment to expression that I’d encountered at the 100 Club.Its on BBC i-player!

Chrysalis 40 Years

I was working at the Ellis-Wright Agency when it expanded and changed its name to Chrysalis sometime in the late summer or autumn of 1968. Jethro Tull’s first album ‘This Was’ was released in November that year, but you could argue that Chrysalis really emerged when records started appearing on it’s own label in late 1969.

Either way it’s been a forty-year story, of an extraordinary, at times almost surreal, range of music. Just on Chrysalis Records it not only includes Jethro, T.Y.A. and Procol, Blondie and Billy Idol,Benatar and Huey Lewis and the News, Spandau Ballet and Ultravox but also in a random and incomplete list… Astor Piazzola, Richard and Linda Thompson, Monie Love, Milli Vanilli, Robin Trower, Rupert Everett, Frankie Miller, Lynx, Stockhausen, The Babys, Paul Hardcastle, Lonnie Donnegan, Nick Gilder, Steeleye Span, Rory Gallagher, Leo Sayer and a variety of labels, 2-Tone with the Specials and the Selector, Go Discs with Billy Bragg and the Housemartins, Blue Guitars with the Mighty Lemon Drops and Shop Assistants, Cooltempo with Adeva and Kid ‘N’ Play, Ensign with the Waterboys,World Party and Sinead o’Connor,China Records with Labi Siffre and the Art of Noise. There is an equally long and varied list in Chrysalis Music, one that is still being extended today.

Inextricably wrapped up in this story are the people who worked there creating wherever or whenever a unique atmosphere and doing some amazing things. I know they are all rightly proud of their various achievements and contributions. We were supported by a fabulous and bizarre cast of managers, promoters, and agents, sleeve designers photographers, drug dealers, video makers, PR’s, promo people and a high-voltage concept generator.

We’re making some efforts to work out how all this forty year story can be commemorated but in the meantime you can keep in touch through a Chrysalis Records Facebook site and a Chrysalis-reunion website

Led Zeppelin Reunion

Peter Grant told me to book some warm-up college gigs for The New Yardbirds, which I did. I assume Richard Cowley and Kenny Bell booked the club dates. Peter subsequently appeared in our office to approve the bookings and tell me that the band now had a proper name, Led Zeppelin.

I protested a bit, the New Yardbirds would be a recognizable draw, but Peter leaned over my desk and looked at me…so Led Zeppelin it was. He was a charming, entertaining man who I’d first met when he was working for Don Arden, but I was always very respectful around him, and learned quite a bit. I don’t remember going to any of the gigs, which seems strange now of course.

I didn’t see them until they went on a subsequent tour of town halls in the UK, which the newly formed Chrysalis Promotions had organized. I remember going to, probably, the first show on the tour which may have been Birmingham or Sheffield. I was nervous frankly. My first concert tour had been with The Family, and I’d fucked up badly, amongst other mistakes, I had booked the Mecca or Locarno in Bristol because the Colston Hall wasn’t available, but didn’t realize that whilst the Colston Hall supplied local advertising the ballrooms didn’t, resulting in an unusually poor attendance for a Family show that night. I traveled to the Zeppelin on the train, I couldn’t drive in those days, worrying all the way that I might have made a mistake. I was more worried about looking stupid to the band than Peter’s anger actually. In the end I survived, albeit with some piss-taking on the subject of my Alvin Lee tapestry trousers with the furnishing fringes on the bottom, and Zeppelin were astonishing.

For a few years there had been a lot of blues rock bands around playing the obligatory ‘Dust My Broom’ and lots of great guitarists, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Alvin Lee, Jeff Beck and of course Jimmy Page. Then Jimi Hendrix arrived. Once here Jimi, and the psychedelic wave, transformed the level of artistic ambition in playing, performance and sonic conception and forced everyone to respond. Led Zeppelin was part of that response, transforming blues rock into something else.

I saw them quite a few times after that in the first part of 1969, and by June of that year I was working for the newly-formed Chrysalis Management. Terry Ellis had sent me, still without a driving licence, to America to tour manage Jethro Tull, who were supporting Led Zeppelin, on their third US tour. At that time a regular series of six to eight even twelve weeks tours of America was the norm. We all missed the Woodstock Festival that summer. Ten Years After were there of course but our US representative Dee Anthony was with them. Chris Wright was getting married in London and Terry Ellis was his best man. Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull played an outdoor show on a racetrack in (I think) Laurel, Maryland around that time. I watched the first part of their show from the side of the stage, but Tull had to leave, so we watched the second half driving on a beautiful summer night, around the track to get back to the main road. We watched the last number from the far side of the racecourse, and Zeppelin seemed able to fill whatever distance we made. I remember thinking that night who can ever do this better? I hope they have a great reunion show.

Audu Maikori wins IYMEY award

Audu Maikori, CEO of Chocolate City, is the winner of the British Council’s International Young Music Entrepreneur (IYMEY) of the Year award 2007.

Audu, 32, is a law graduate from the University of Jos and his company, Chocolate City is an entertainment company that administers a record label, artist management, entertainment facility management, recording studio, events management and promotion as well as general consultancy work for clients. The company has won considerable success in the past two years with artists Jeremiah Gyang and Djinee (who won best artist at the Nigerian Music Awards in 2006).

Now in its second year, the British Council’s International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2007 (IYMEY) aims to turn the spotlight on the brightest and best young creative entrepreneurs (between 25 – 35 years-old) from the music industry in emerging economies. The ten finalists who were selected represent the best of what Egypt, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland and Tanzania have to offer. Over the course of a packed two-week programme, they toured the UK, forging networks with industry leaders and discovering more about the dynamics of the British music industry through visits to London, Manchester and Glastonbury festival.

Gerry Dammers at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Thankfully musicians continue to refuse, like horses led to the fence. Refuse to appear and disappear based on an idea of what they do, or shouldn’t do, required by a view of music, which has a limited sense of the possible.

Gerry Dammers appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Hall like a magic genie…leading his Spatial A K A Orchestra into the hall and on to an incredibly designed stage, which immediately created an atmosphere in which anything could happen. Great musicians and singers, costumed and masked, performed arrangements of mainly Sun Ra material.

We in the audience were encouraged to gargle away, creating a vocal background for the intro to ‘Ghost Town aka Ghost Planet’, which became ‘Nuclear War’ featuring Anthony Joseph on vocals. Francine Luce provided astonishing vocals for ‘I Wait for You’.

To play music of this complexity in such a beautiful and urgent way is unusual, but Gerry Dammers can do this and engage us in a mix of ideas and emotions of such intensity that anything seems possible.


(All tunes selected and arranged by Jerry Dammers)

Springtime Again (Sun Ra)
Incidente in Fabrica (Enzo Scoppa)
Mayan Temple (Sun Ra)
Egypt Strut (Salab Rageb)/Ancient Ethiopia (Sun Ra)
Theme from the Excorcist (Mike Oldfield arr. Dizzie Reece)
Ringo Rock(Trad Japanese arr.Coxsone Dodd)/Love on a Far Planet (Sun Ra after John Coltrane)
Journey in Satchandanda (Alice Coltrane)
Om Nama Sivay/Battle at Armageddon (Alice Coltrane)
I’ll Wait for You (Sun Ra) vocals Francine Luce
Where Pathways Meet (Sun Ra)
Ghost Planet (Jerry Dammers)/Nuclear War (Sun Ra) vocals Anthony Joseph
Soul Vibrations of Man (Sun Ra)
Space is the Place (Sun Ra) vocals Francine Luce

International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year

The British Council held a competition for ‘International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year’ featuring aspiring music people from ten different countries, Argentina, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Poland and Venzuela, who having competed successfully in their own country came to the UK last summer for the final.There they had the opportunity to meet a cross-section of the UK music industry,hear some music,but most importantly compete for the prize. The winner had to ” be someone who will be able to develop a mutually beneficial culture of both personal and professional engagement, collaboration, and partnership with the UK, and more broadly put the wider international dialogue of IYMEY to work.” The joint runners-up were Jesse Singh from India and Yoris Sebastian from Indonesia and the winner was Mohamed ‘Momo’ Merhari from Morocco the co-founder of “Boulevard des Jeunes Musiciens’ the largest contemporary music festival in North Africa.

The range of music, aspiration and commitment that all the candidates brought to the UK was exceptional.The communication and support for each other that they developed during their trip to the UK was a joy to see.Their attitude would have been impressive in any context,but given the challenging economic and social circumstances that they experience in building their music careers you can’t help feeling that perhaps the best training we could offer young music entrepreneurs in the UK might be an exchange visit with their international counterparts, where they can share that experience, and test their own resourcefulness and passion against that background.

A Long Way Home. Frankie Miller

‘Long Way Home’ is Frankie Miller’s first new album for twenty years. I’ve been listening to it and reflecting on his life whilst I recover from a back injury suffered when a wave rolled over me in India. I’ve known Frankie since he was in ‘The Stoics’ a Glasgow band that moved to London around 1970,changed their name, played the Isle of Wight festival and split up quite soon afterwards. The Stoic philosophers who expressed the idea of enduring suffering without complaint may not have had in mind the dangers of getting up to sing in a Glasgow pub but there at least they were in the right area. In fact Frankie ended up singing in a London pub in Kentish Town called the Tally-Ho where a lively mix of Scottish roadies and Irish builders had chosen to congregate and drink. They were part of an old story. When Scottish and Irish immigrants had traveled first to England, and later America they brought with them their songs and melodies, and when they met the music of early Afro-American blues it created a mix, which is the basis of pretty much everything we think of as popular music today.

A typical example was ‘The Unfortunate Rake’ a funeral song that first appears in Cork in the 1790’s, first written in the ‘Irish Musical Repository’ of 1808. It reappears in England in the mid-19th century as ‘The Buck’s Elegy’ or ‘The Unfortunate Lad’ a cautionary story about the lethal dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, and the same song later appears in many different variations, ‘a Trooper cut down in his Prime’ or ‘a Sailor cut down in his Prime’ or even ‘a Young Girl cut down in her Prime’. They share the common theme of young people deprived early in life by such dangers as drink, gambling or simply ill health, and what goes with those risks and losses. The song becomes in America both a cowboy classic titled ‘The Streets of Laredo’ and the jazz classic ‘St James Infirmary’.

Nick Tosches has followed many of these connections in his book ‘Country’ if you want to know more. As he tells the story, words and melodies flip flop backwards and forwards between country and blues. This history shaped every part of the music, indeed one of Frankie Miller’s greatest influences Ray Charles had himself yodeled in a hillbilly band the’ Florida Playboys’, long before his greatest r’n’b innovations and success, and long long before he recorded one of Frankie’s most enigmatic songs “I Can’t Change It”.

In the 1970’s I saw Scottish soul meeting the deep south yet again when Frankie joined Allen Toussaint to complete the writing of his ‘Highlife’ album in New Orleans, later to be recorded in Atlanta. Frankie’s passionate and whole-hearted singing inspired that unfailingly courteous and charming southern gentleman who had spent his life steeped in the rhythm and blues of New Orleans. Communication and mutual respect were instant, and whilst Frankie sweated away day after day in an unaccustomed heat and humidity, with the ever-cool Toussaint, they added yet more to the thread of that dna which links our music consciousness to those early pioneers. ‘Shoorah Shoorah’ which wasn’t a hit for Frankie, was for Betty Wright, which in the mid-80’s Pauline Black of ska band ‘the Selecter’ covered, and indulged me by allowing me to direct the promo in a garage in south London which passed, at least that day, for the French Quarter. The migration has been constant Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and the Average White Band all made that same journey, sharing musicians and friendship and a common purpose with each other.

Frankie wrote and recorded many songs and albums over the following years and toured a good deal before being stricken by a brain haemorrhage in New York in 1994.It was a terrible tumble. Our paths had crossed throughout a lot of this and there is plenty to say, never mind all the stories I could tell, but also a great many musicians have come forward with their own testimony. What are we to make of his story? Well the music is all there to be listened to. I think of what Van Morrison called ‘the secret heart of music’ (or was it ‘the sacred heart of music’?) that place where the long threads of the genetic code of notes and words forms itself into the body of our music. It’s a place where most music traditions at their core find some common ground if they are performed with proper reverence and belief. Its within that place that musicians, in my experience, really feel the need to connect, to participate, to belong, and its to that body of music they must add in order to feel they have really and truly testified. Listening to the title song ‘It’s A Long Way Home’ reminds me more forcefully than ever that whatever else has happened Frankie Miller has done that.

Listen to ‘It’s A Long Way Home’