Saturday, 29 November 2014


The claim is made in the new Universal Pictures documentary 'I am Ali', produced by Claire Lewins, which I saw last night. I've been thinking about this all day. Is he really? He's got to be a contender. Alongside whom? George Washington. Teddy Roosevelt. JFK. Marilyn Monroe. Humphrey Bogart. Frank Sinatra. James Dean. A lot of other folk, people I've never heard of, people they tell me are very famous, and 'they' should know. If I have to look them up, they're not quite there.
The acid test was once described as taking a stroll into an African kraal with a handful of pictures, to see which ones people could pick out. Her Majesty the Queen is usually chosen. The Beatles - or at least Macca and  John. Nelson Mandela. Elvis Presley. Madonna. Michael Jackson. Of those, five are British, one South African, three American. A 'fifty-fifty' three. No one of any age, creed or colour ever mistakes Ali.
It's a curious documentary in many ways. I am biased towards liking it, as it largely came about because of my father, former sportswriter Ken Jones. Dad's first contact with Ali was in 1972, '73 - long before journalists were considered important enough to be significant in the story. 'That's when I remember being no longer a face in the crowd, but part of it,' he says.

When he and his late close friend, Sports Illustrated journalist Pat Putnam, introduced Claire to Gene Kilroy, aka 'the Facilitator', that was it. Claire was made. Gene knows everyone. She had everything.
A million people could have done this story. It's out there.  Whatever your take on professional pugilism, and the mood is shifting, there is no denying the impact on the fight game of the man born Cassius Marcellus Clay. The film features much personal family video and a lot of audio recordings made by Ali of his children when they were small - all supplied by Ali's daughters Maryum and Hana, who were there last night for this screening, and who were delightful.
I was unsettled by the movie's timeline and shape. I would have edited it differently. Parts were jumpy, and lacked pattern. More could have been made of its contributors. I'd have woven them throughout the piece to illustrate key points, rather than feature them chronologically and then cut them off, before they'd hit their stride. Its salvation was the soundtrack: exquisitely chosen pieces, many of them rock and soul classics, which breathed fire into the visuals, and which resonate.
Two important aspects of Ali's life linger in my mind today. The first concerns him having refused the draft. Ali did not fight in Vietnam. For a fighter, he was probably the ultimate pacifist - although my father points out that he does not recall having met many violent prize fighters, with the exception, perhaps, of Mike Tyson: 'but he's a psychopath.' 

The other is the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', when Ali went to Zaire to fight George Foreman. It was akin to the Second Coming. He could have gone into Africa, said 'I don't like what's happening here, let's have a war', and there would have been one. Parts of the dark continent would have gone up in flames, because he said so. As well as being a cauldron of contradictions, he was that famous, that powerful. People came to him. He was the Pied Piper, he was the Messiah. Don't get on my case about this. I'm not John Lennon. The comparison doesn't add up, anyway. Jesus Christ preached on earth in ancient times. Muhammad Ali was a fighter in the television era. You know what I'm saying.
That night in Zaire, the great ogre Foreman was destroyed. He'd battered everyone who ever got in his way. That night he got battered. They talked, at the time, of Foreman's life turning into an eternal silent turmoil, while Ali would be forever famous.
It turns on a sixpence. George came out of it. He's lucid, he has a life. He's in this film. Looking back on it all, he didn't have many fights. Most of them were pushovers. He rarely got hit. He emerged with a clever brain intact.
Ali, so often smashed in the head: he can't even speak, now. He has Parkinson's. He probably won't live very long. The Greatest irony.
The point is made perfectly in the film. It made us weep.
When Ali started out, boxing was the fastest way for a black American to make it.
'I was not that bright nor quick in school,' he said. 'I couldn't be a football or basketball player because you have to go to college, pass examinations and get degrees. A boxer can just go to the gym, jump around, turn professional, win a fight, get a break, and he's in the money. If he's good enough, he makes more than ball players make all their lives.'
He paid the ultimate price. Those who were along with him for the ride tell his tale. They tell it wonderfully. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


It is always thought-provoking to spend time with Queen fans down at Garden Lodge, Logan Place in Kensington, on the anniversary of Freddie's death. We joined the throng at around 7.30pm last night, by which time the candlelit vigil, chanting and singing were in full swing. I was delighted to meet fans from Spain, Romania and Lithuania, as well as several from Poland.

There was a time when Mary Austin, the former girlfriend turned assistant and companion who lived in the house after Freddie's death, would emerge from the green wooden door in the brickwork to read a poem or a prayer, acknowledge Freddie's followers, and share precious moments. Last night, the house sat in darkness. Mary doesn't live there anymore. Those of his co-habiting friends still alive at the time of his death, including his PA, Peter Freestone - 'Phoebe' - were promised that Garden Lodge would always remain their home. Not long after Freddie died, Mary ejected them. 
It won't be hers forever, however. Her legal tenure is just fifty years, almost half of which is spent.

I've often thought she should have opened the house to the public as a museum and monument to her friend. 
A genuine rock shrine - Freddie's own home, the place he died in - to which his millions of fans around the world could make their pilgrimage, pay respects, and inhale his spirit - would be right. The place is stuffed with treasures and artworks from allover the world. At least, it was. Such things can be sold at major auction houses for serious prices. Maybe they have been. Collectively, they represent an earthly reminder of the cultured, artistic and unique individual who remains loved by so many. As single pieces, divided and traded, antiques, paintings and furniture are only 'stuff', deprived of the personality of the man who so lovingly chose, purchased and enjoyed them during his lifetime.

Yes, a museum would have been nice. Apart from a mere bronze statue overlooking Lac Leman in Montreux, there is nowhere else. The fans are too often derided and scorned for congregating in Logan Place at this time of year, leaving their flowers, cards, letters, tributes and candles. All they want to do is express gratitude for Freddie's life and grief over his death. To draw comfort from each other, strangers and friends. Living in the past? Not the faithful I see down there each year who hadn't even been born in 1991, the year Freddie died.

Much has been done, over the twenty three years since, to deter them from coming. Plastic shields were nailed in place to stop the writing on the wall. Plenty of fans have managed to wedge their tributes behind them anyway. Tough trellising was erected along the top of the walls, a barricade to prevent trespassers from intruding. But would allowing them inside once a year have been a bad thing? All they want to see is the cherry tree beneath which, they believe, Freddie's ashes are buried. In consolation, I can assure them, Freddie is not there.

Monday, 24 November 2014


Number One in sixty-one countries.


In the global battle against Ebola, Bob has done it again with Band Aid. His critics can say what they like, and do. Lily Allen and Adele are entitled to their opinion and their abstention, of course, and don't go on at me again. You are entitled to yours too. 

Some artists do these charity recordings and gigs to kick-start, boost or revive their careers, as Freddie Mercury and Queen were accused of doing at Wembley Stadium in 1985. As good as a live rock performance gets, it did give the band a new lease of life. 

'Queen were over,' said Paul Gambaccini. 'They'd had their day. Yet here they were, reinventing themselves and going again before our very eyes. It still takes my breath away when I think about it. Freddie Mercury delivered the greatest front-man performance anyone had ever seen.'

Uplifted by the Global Jukebox experience, Queen had soul-searching to do. Perhaps they had been bracing themselves for a natural conclusion to their mostly phenomenal career. They couldn't go on indefinitely, could they? Bands that do so run the risk of diminution. Legendary status is achieved by quitting ahead. Each member of Queen had sidetracked into solo projects, with mixed results, and only Freddie with a modicum of success. Now forced to accept that they were better off sticking together than stalking separate paths, particularly at their time of life, they resolved to defer oblivion and go again. Live Aid gifted them a second chance. No rock act worth its stash would pass that up.  Let's be honest about it.

It was, if only we'd known it at the time, a hollow victory for Queen. The irony of the title of their 'It's A Kind of Magic' tour the following year - their most ambitious ever - took a while to dawn. For Freddie, the writing was on the wall. Today, we pause to remember that he has been gone for twenty three years. His voice is louder than ever. 

I'm sure that most who took part in this year's Band Aid offering did so for altruistic reasons. Good for them. If it also helps their own careers a little, as it helped Queen's - hugely - is there harm in that? It is preferable to the bribery, corruption  and exploitation that dominates the music business today. 

Remember the Human League, who turned down Live Aid?

Thursday, 20 November 2014


I got a call from the Diary desk of a'Fleet Street rag, informing me that a well-known photo agency had sold them an image in which I feature. They identified a household name in the line-up, asked me for a left-to-right, requested dirt, scandal and filth on said celebrity, a priapic type, and offered a laughable fee for my contribution.
'You can't use that photo,' I said.
'Of course we can,' came the response, 'we've bloody well paid for it!'
'Well, un-pay for it,' I said. 'The photo is mine, it was taken at a private party, in someone's home, not at a public event. With my own camera. That makes it my copyright.' 

This wasn't the time to point out the 'grey area' in this particular scenario: as in, it may be argued that copyright of a photo technically resides with the individual who physically snapped it - i.e., not me, but the person to whom I'd handed the camera, so that I could be in the pic. Even though it was taken on my little Leica. But you get why I parked it.
'You're not hearing me,' barked the caller. 'An agency fetched us this photo. We have every right to publish it.'
'I say you don't.' I stood firm. Y
ou should have heard me. I explained that the only possible place that  photo could have come from - and therefore, had been stolen from - was my Facebook page.
'Well there you have it!' yelped Diary-Hack, triumphant. 'You post these pictures on Facebook, you've got to expect them to get lifted and sold. Everything that appears on Facebook belongs to Facebook.. and they are not going to take the time to argue the toss here. You can't even get through to them on the 'phone!'

I left the chap with a warning. Should he proceed to print, I would retaliate. It's no hollow threat, I've got plenty on these guys, but have chosen to behave. Until now.
A brief trawl through the pages of your friends, acquaintances, and those you're not sure about, and you'll find your own photos all over the place. We don't mind our pals having a share. It's one of the reasons we use Facebook. But when unscrupulous folk trade them on, for personal gain - I've even had some of my own photos offered back to me, with the expectation of payment - that's pushing it.

I rarely post photos of my three children, adorable though they are. I have often winced at the plethora of precious, juicy newborns who make their first public outings on Facebook; the chubby-pawed toddlers on swings, the grandmas and grandpas proudly promenading their beauties. It's melting stuff. But out there, beyond the apparently harmless realm of friends connecting, networking and celebrating life through simple pleasures, lies a seething underworld - of paedophiles, stealing and storing your images, for unholy and unthinkable practice and gain. Please, put your favourites into polished frames. Display them on a mantelpiece, a sideboard, a bedside table. Don't share them on Facebook, Instagram, or on other social media. They are yours, but they are anyone's for the taking. 

Monday, 17 November 2014


It matters not that Sir Bob went on the show that has slaughtered the music industry to promote it, looking as though he'd been dossing in a goat pen for a month. Nor that he badgered Adele by phone a hundred times, but she refused to pick up, and isn't on it. Nor that Chris Martin is. It's irrelevant, too, that 'it's that song, yet again, when will they learn to leave the bloody thing alone?' I said it myself, a week ago. I take it back.
Whatever we think of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', and despite the fact that it rarely snows in Africa anyway, not even the frozen-hearted can remain unmoved by the efforts of Bob, Midge, Bono, Sinead, Guy Garvey, Roger Taylor, the Bastille boys, Emelie Sandé, Olly Murs and One Direction. When Bono was asked, outside SARM Studios on Saturday lunchtime, 'Doesn't it feel unbelievable to be back here thirty years on, doing this all over again?' his retort was just right. What's unbelievable, he said, is that we have to be. If all those international politicians at all those G8 summits and the rest had kept their promises, there would be no need.
Was it appropriate to screen footage of the harrowing removal of a dead African extinguished by Ebola on The X-Factor last night ? It was. Bleary Geldof, no stranger to anguish and tragedy, never beats about the bush.  The disease can arrive here on a plane, any time. It can kill us in a heartbeat. It's not going to. We will do our bit. We will download or pre-order this single today. The CD is out on December 8th, three Mondays' time, but you can have it on iTunes immediately.
We may reflect on the updated lyrics. Compare the impassioned, older, wiser recording to the almost gleeful innocence, three versions ago, of the original. We will love, hate or be left indifferent by what is, after all 'only' a pop single - all the while knowing, in our bones, why it is more.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


So 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is voted The Nation's Favourite Queen Song in an ITV poll (Who do they ask? You? They never ask me!) and nobody is surprised.

What a song. Although it is engrained in the collective consciousness, every note, every nuance, to the point, perhaps, of having become a caricature of itself, it stands alone, outside time, beyond definition or categorisation, as the most enigmatic, rule-breaking and anti-rock rock song ever composed. 

Who wants to live forever? This song does. Therefore, Freddie does. And does. 


News reaches me of the death, aged ninety-one, of Charlie Watkins, an adorable and modest man. Charlie's contribution to the UK music industry was immense. In August 1967, he launched the first WEM P.A. system with hi-fi quality at the National Jazz, Pop, Ballads & Blues Festival at Royal Windsor racecourse. It had a basic starting power of 1,000 watts: 'unheard-of since Hitler's Nuremberg rallies,' Charlie said. That occasion marked a watershed for live music, from which Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, the Small Faces, the Move, Cream, Jeff Beck, Donovan and Denny Laine would benefit greatly on the day, and to which much is owed by live touring bands to this day.
Charlie's fascination with the guitar, its mechanics and its electronic reproduction paved the way to the first Watkins 'Westminster' guitar amps. In 1958, the 'Copicat' Echo and 'V'-fronted Dominator amps revolutionised music overnight. Charlie's amp is still regarded as an important element in Sounds of the Sixties chemistry - the other two being the Vox A.C. 30, and the Fender Strat. WEM P.A. made possible all those fabled early festivals, from the Isle of Wight to the Stones in the Park. Charlie is revered as 'the Father of the British P.A.'

'The curtain lifted on a new world of music,' he said to me, when I interviewed him for my book 'Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan': Charlie was a long-cherished friend of Marc and his wife June. 
'Multi-thousand audiences were now practical, possible, desirable and certainly available. And they could at last hear! Now, all these brilliant young musicians could emerge and do their thing. Backline gear could be mic'd up to help it all along. The singer could be heard for miles. The rest is their history.'

Charlie was enchanted by the coincidence that my beloved maternal grandfather was also called Charles Watkins. Both saw active naval service, playing the accordion throughout.

Remembering them with love on this Armistice Day.

Monday, 10 November 2014


Take me back, Billy Idol, to those Stratford Place days. To sensational times as told last night by the former Chrysalis Head of Press in the High Road House Chiswick, pre-Billy at the Hammersmith Apollo.
When Chrysalis agreed to continue backing post-Gen X Billy and brought him in from the States, they knew they couldn't put him up in a hotel. He was pre-programmed to trash places. Chrysalis had a flat down the road on Park Street, Mayfair, which had just been renovated, as they were planning to sell it. Berni Kilmartin stocked it to the hilt with Billy's favourite red wine and champagne, made her excuses and went home. 

Drop-out rocker-Billy didn't care for record company personnel. He didn't care for anything much. He just wanted to make punk rock that people could dance to. His songwriting collaboration with guitaristSteve Stevens, an apparently fright-wigged, bell-bottomed dude with a bit of Jeff Beck about him, endures to this day. It was through Steve that Billy met Bill Aucoin, manager of Kiss. It was Bill who masterminded Billy's metamorphosis from daft punk to mainstream rock star.

It might seem unimportant now, there being so few record companies left to tell such tales. But in those days it was vital for an artist to get the label behind them. Secretaries, receptionists, every last dogsbody. Dear Berni, who oversaw everything, sensed a tall order. The first warning came when she visited Billy at the flat, after his interview with Pet Shop Boy-to-be Neil Tennant of Smash Hits. Billy answered the door naked. Berni looked anywhere else. She didn't have to look far. The television had been toppled from the window into the street below, and red wine had been sprayed over the freshly-painted walls. The interview had not gone well. Billy had vented his anger on 'the suits' responsible for providing his accommodation.

Billy couldn't stand 'suits'. There were a few, though not many, at Chrysalis. Berni resolved to put things right by throwing her charge a 'meet-'n'-greet' at the company canteen, the Coconut Grove, up the office back stairs and out the fire exit, opposite the Lamb & Flag. To bridge the gap, she invited the lads from the post room - and instructed Alan, the Grove's manager, not to serve them Billy's vintage champagne, but to tank them on beer instead. Either he failed to hear the request, or he chose to ignore it. 

In the blue corner, a posse of pissed-up posties spoiling for a punch-up. With anyone. In the red corner, a gaggle of glamorous, gargling execs, primed to tame their Turn. The boy Billy, after arriving suitably chastened and gifting Berni a peace-offering of roses, had vanished. He was locked in the Ladies' with a pair of erupting cocktail waitresses, allegedly attempting a world record.

When the balloons were blown, the streamers streamed, when the party was over and all had vomited their last, the hostess was handed the bill. There was so much else going on that she barely glanced at the '£675-something' reckoning, thinking it not too bad, considering. Turned out she had overlooked the zero. The damage was over six grand. For a party which lasted only a couple of hours. 

And there he was, last night. For a man about to enter his sixtieth year, he was a vision. It doesn't take him long to get the skin out. The abs are as bars of carbolic soap, aligned in pairs under stretched chamois. The facial features might well be enhanced, but you'd have to stick your nose in to tell. The Look: leather, chains, sweat, backcombed barnet - has barely budged since the Eighties. It works. This is Panto Billy, a self-made caricature, longer incisors, larger than laughs, having us on that nothing has changed. Not that his audience minds. I swear they crammed double the usual number into the Apollo last night, and they were roaring their burgers up for him. All Billy had to do was curl a lip and insinuate a bad time, and they were in meltdown. What he didn't have to do was ponce about with instruments too grown-up for him, plucking the odd chord, making like the axeman he never was. It's fake, not to mention a waste of a pending sexagenarian's energy when you've got a crap-hot Anglo-Swedo-American line-up doing the necessary. Just sayin. What Billy told Neil Tennant years ago was that 'rock'n'roll is a type of music that goes beyond whether you can play a guitar or not.' So why pretend to?

But he redeemed himself musically, right? Well. The new material had the shakes. A couple of the good old numbers creaked. His vocals were flat, here and there, not that he noticed. He took longer to belch them than I would have liked, and there were fewer than I remembered. But I'm knocking on too.

Friday, 31 October 2014


Roger Scott was the D's Bs, the DJs' DJ. When I went to Capital Radio as an 'intern', post-Uni, he had already been at the station for ten years. To the millions of Londoners who grabbed a little piece of heaven from three til seven daily, who cruised with him on his Oldies show every Friday night, he was as good as it gets.

He took me under his wing. Nurturing my ambition to write rather than broadcast, he devised an unofficial role for me as an assistant on rock star interviews, in the days when record companies coughed generously for us to fly places. I'd transcribe the tapes for the Capital Radio archive, which I was later able to use to write newspaper and magazine profiles that would promote the station. Perfectly legit, as, thanks to him, I'd met them all. I know only now that I didn't appreciate the enormity of this favour. Nor did I understand the privilege that it conferred. Thanks to Roger, I met Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon for the first time, and David Bowie for the second, at Mountain Studios, Montreux, where they were working on 'Under Pressure'. We interviewed Bowie again at the Birmingham NEC, and also Lionel Richie. Kate Bush at home, Prince at the Roof Gardens, Spandau's Gary in a room above the Groucho, John Taylor of Duran, Mick Jagger. In Los Angeles, where Roger signed a coast-to-coast contract with Westwood One Radio to syndicate his all-American shows. We hung with his great hero Bruce Springsteen, and conducted the last-ever interview with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. Perhaps the most musical Boy of the lot, Dennis confessed that the love of his life was Christine McVie. He drowned at Marina del Rey shortly afterwards, in December 1983, out of his skull. His 1977 solo album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' was a Roger favourite. 

In Florida, we rendezvous'd with flat-capped, born-again Dion diMucci, the '50s/'60s teen idol who'd a capella'd on street corners in the Bronx. Roger idolised him. Dion & the Belmonts' first hit 'I Wonder Why' had made them rock&roll pioneers. Dion survived the 1959 tour that killed Richie Valens and Buddy Holly. He also survived heroin addiction, and opened up about both. His solo hits 'Runaround Sue' and 'The Wanderer' were Roger Scott classics. 

In New York, we ambled with Billy Joel over to 142 Mercer Street, SoHo, where they'd shot, on the front doorstep, the cover image for his rock heritage tribute album 'An Innocent Man'. In New Orleans, we immersed ourselves in the Neville Brothers. Keith Richards had introduced Roger to the group: he'd played on their 1987 album 'Uptown'. In 1989 they released 'Yellow Moon', which was perhaps the album, notably its tracks 'Healing Chant' and their cover of Bob Dylan's 'With God On Our Side', featuring brother Aaron's haunting vocal, that turned Roger inwards and most lifted his soul when the oesophageal cancer took hold. By this time he was at BBC Radio 1, prevailing in style over the Saturday afternoon and late-night Sunday shows. He had hung up his passport, quit the relentless globetrotting and was hoping against hope, taking half a day at a time, along with the painkillers.

He didn't take long to die, having tried everything not to. His final birthday party, at a Wembley Park restaurant for his forty-sixth, was always going ahead, with or without him. As it happened he was there, but only just.

He would have turned seventy one last Thursday. The only consolation in dying young is that it allows you to remain that age for eternity. He once told me that his whole life had been a 'con': he'd 'conned his way into the States as a 'Beatles expert' during the Sixties, talking himself onto the airwaves as a personal friend of the Fabs. Flaunting his British accent, his sardonic humour and his tongue-in-cheek, he got away with it. He'd 'conned' himself into the Montreal hotel bedroom where John and Yoko recorded 'Give Peace a Chance' in 1969. There is footage of him talking about that, on YouTube. He'd 'duped the lot of us,' he said. Yet Roger was anything but a con-artist. He was the most honest fan of music I've ever known.

Thursday, 30 October 2014


I done kicked a lotta butts, all them people who thought George was the baddest man in the world,” said Muhammad Ali after knocking out George Foreman to regain the Heavyweight Championship in Zaire at the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', forty years ago today.

My father Ken Jones was there, both ringside and in a strange bungalow with Ali afterwards, on the green expanse of the Zaire River. Here, from his book 'Boxing: The Champions' (Crowood), is what happened after the fight.
'Sport provides us with a convenient vehicle for exaggeration, success and failure, youth and ageing. When set against the ultimate verity, it is never thus.
'Even before the fighters reached their corners, I trembled with anticipation, objectivity set aside, the commitment to Ali absolute.'
After the fight, the rain.
'Rain that turned the highway into a torrent, hammering on the roof of the springless vehicle that carried us back to N'Sele, the water level rising steadily up over the wheels. Our driver wanted none of it, pleading that it was impossible to complete the journey. We urged him on with promises.
'Dawn and all was still, steam rising from the swollen river, giving ghostly form to clumps of foliage so that they passed by like floating carcasses. After a while, Hugh McIlvanney and I made our way towards Angelo Dundee's bungalow, and suddenly Ali was standing in front of us. We followed him into the villa.
'He lay back on a settee, legs stretched onto a low table.
“I kicked a lot of asses, not only George's,” he said contentedly. There was a slight redness in the corner of his right eye, and the suspicion of a small bruise beneath it, but apart from those minor blemishes he was unmarked.
“All those writers who said I was washed up, all those people who thought I had nothing left but my mouth, all them who were waiting for me to get the biggest beatin' of all times: they thought George could do it for them, but they know better now.”
'It became clear that Ali had long since sensed important deficiencies in Foreman, most notably that hurt would be a new experience for him. "Did you see how George turned his head?" cried Ali. "He's not used to being hit, and he needs room to hit you. I was nervous but not afraid because nothing new could happen to me. I had been knocked down, and I had got up. I had lost fights, and I had been stunned by big punches. George didn't know none of those things. I called him a sucker when he hit me good, and asked him if that was the best he had."
Forty years ago. People are still talking about it. Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn't. It matters to me because my father, my champion, was there, and he wrote about it. It strikes me now, in a way that didn't occur to me at the time because I was too young to understand, that The Rumble in the Jungle was, is, a metaphor for life. The loser is not necessarily the guy who gets knocked down. The winner, the champion, is the guy who gets up again.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Raf, Raphael, the saxophonist's saxophonist, died in Exeter at the weekend. He was only sixty years old. It makes you think. 
'Baker Street' was special. Gerry Rafferty's sublime song managed to turn a dull thoroughfare famous only for a fictitious character, Sherlock Holmes, into an avenue as glamorous and exotic-sounding as Sunset Boulevard or Broadway.
It was the song that made us fall in love with the saxophone. There are plenty of incredible sax solos - Andy Mackay's on Roxy Music's 'Virginia Plain'; Ronnie Ross's on Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side'; Dick Parny's perfect blues solo on Pink Floyd's 'Money', Bowie's on 'Soul Love' from 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust ..' and I want never to forget Steve Norman's on Spandau's 'True'. but 'Baker Street' has always seemed the definitive. Regardless of that fact that, by his own admission, Raph was a bit flat.
When 'Baker Street' hit, Gerry Rafferty was a has-been. Stealer's Wheel were stuck in the middle and on the way out, their moment past. How many thousands, millions of musicians have been there. They come and go, most of them hoping against hope for everlasting fame and fortune, for the legendary status that eludes all but the few. Still, they make music honestly. They leave a legacy, to those who remember, and who care. Raph did. He worked as a session musician for Daft Punk only recently. He also wrote and published the definitive work, 'The Complete Saxophone Player', in 1990. There'll be a rush on for that now.
The brilliance of a track like 'Baker Street' is its ability to transport us, in an instant, to the time when we first heard it. Who we were, who we hung with, what we fretted about, what we wore. It gifts us the ability to experience youth again.
Raph played with so many greats. His contribution to remarkable music by Marvin and Floyd and Bonnie et al is all but forgotten now. Gerry Rafferty's gone. Now Raph is too. 'Baker Street' will live forever.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


The first female photographer in sport held a long-overdue exhibition last night. I was honoured to speak at this event about the incredible woman who not only inspired my own career, but who has been both a loyal supporter and a lifelong friend.

I met Hy Money in West Wickham, Kent, more than forty years ago. She was, is, the mother of Lisa Smith, my classmate and best friend at Oak Lodge. Hy made an immediate impression on me because she was nothing like my own nor any of our friends' mothers. She is Indian, for a start. You didn't see many dark skins on suburban streets in those days. She was glamorous, exotic, and wore colourful clothes. Her front door was always open, and she welcomed her children's friends, while I was only allowed to have chums home for tea on my birthday. When we pitched up at Hy's, she'd pull out boxes of musical instruments and dressing-up clothes. We'd doll up, grab a tambourine or a drum, and parade around the streets like a band of Hare Krishna devotees. All very bohemian. Her neighbours thought she was mad.

We are fed so much pap nowadays about how 'liberating' the Sixties were for women in this country: equal opportunities, encouragement to work outside the home, fair wages, birth control, the lot. I sometimes wonder what they're on about. It was not my experience. My mother-of-four married at nineteen, had me at twenty, and was never again employed outside the home. Most of the mothers at our school gates were the same. Hy was different. Other women felt threatened by her, and poured scorn. Why on earth did she, also a mother of four,  want to go gadding about earning money when she had a husband to do that for her? It 'wasn't respectable.'

We went to Hy's house often, for folk soirées and parties. She drew and painted our portraits. When she began taking pictures for local rag the Beckenham Record, she came to our house to photograph my family. My father, sports writer Ken Jones, was off to cover the World Cup in Mexico, 1970. As England had triumphed at Wembley four years earlier, hopes were high and our Fleet Street journalist dad was newsworthy. It was the first time I saw my image and name on the front page of a newspaper.

Hy had her ear to the ground. She always knew what was going on locally. When David Bowie, then still a Jones, began hosting Arts Lab meetings in the back room at the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street, Hy took Lisa and me along one Sunday afternoon, where we met not only Bowie-to-be but Marc Bolan. Not that Hy was all that interested in rock stars. She'd heard that an internationally-acclaimed sitar player, Vytas Serelis, had been invited to give a workshop that afternoon, and she wanted us to see and hear the instrument played. 

Lisa and I progressed to different secondary schools. We all lost touch. I was delighted, a few years later, to learn that my father and Hy were now crossing paths regularly on the touchline at Crystal Palace and at other sporting events. She had reinvented herself as a sports photographer. Imagine the mothers' disgust.

She spent the first decade of her new profession fighting prejudice. Sport was still a male-dominated world. Female sports reporters and photographers were virtually unheard-of. Her glamour didn't help. Rival male snappers treated this 'bit of skirt' with disdain, brushing her aside with sarcastic comments. They'd stumble deliberately into her, saying 'sorry, Sir, I didn't see you standing there', and the pack would fall about laughing. How intimidating that must have been. It's against the law now.

The prejudice and abuse culminated in a petition, signed by many members of the Sports Photographers Association and presented to the National Union of Journalists, attempting to bar Hy from the union on the grounds that she was 'taking men's work away from them.' The Union secretary called her to say that it was the worst case of sex discrimination ever brought before them. He then awarded Hy her well-earned union card, letting slip that the SPA rep had left the meeting 'foaming at the mouth.'

Being such a good-natured and unassuming person, Hy never thought to claim credit for breaking down barriers and opening up the profession to the many women who came after her. With hindsight, she gets it. She told me that this exhibition was to be a 'trip down Memory Lane.' It's much more than that. It epitomises the maxims 'Don't let the bastards get you down', and 'Follow your dream.'

Hy followed hers. She has been a beloved fixture at Palace for decades. Her best-selling book 'Hy on Palace' is a unique observation of the life of a football club, in that it goes behind the scenes as well as into the stand and onto the pitch. It benefits from the woman's touch. Its wider achievement is that she has made footballers and their followers appear human.

I jest: I grew up in a footballing household. My father was still playing when I was born. My Uncle Cliff played for Spurs, my Great Uncle Bryn for Arsenal, and my Grandad, Emlyn, kicked for Everton. My father respected Hy as a hard-working lensman of football and other sports. She never demanded special treatment because she was a girl. She simply got on with it, oblivious of the effect she was having on men. There's the rub? When Des Lynam told her recently, 'How we used to fancy you in the Seventies', he perhaps spoke for all of them.


PROPOFOL, the drug Joan Rivers was on while her throat surgery was being performed, is used to induce or maintain anaesthesia during surgery. Rivers died, it has just been revealed, when she stopped receiving oxygen to the brain. 

It is the same drug that caused the death of Michael Jackson, when he overdosed on it in 2009.

It was also administered to my friend Rob Lee, during a 'routine hip replacement' earlier this year. 
A few weeks later, he too was dead. Rob, once part of the pop duo Levinsky Sinclair, who found fame on Ev's mad TV series 'The Kenny Everett Video Show', ran the Who's official website for Pete and Roger, and co-designed their recent sensational live shows. Rob couldn't stop talking about having had the drug that 'killed Michael Jackson', when I went round to have a go on his crutches at his sister's during his post-op recuperation. He boasted about how 'brilliant' it was to have been able to cope without the vomiting, fatigue, likely depression and all the usual fall-out of general anaesthesia, saying ' I was awake the whole time. I only had a 'local', and I bounced right back.'

Only weeks later, we were mourning his death, from a 'massive' heart attack. When will authorities here and in the USA consider banning this killer drug?

Monday, 13 October 2014


So my love affair is over,
it has sent me quite berdserk (sic).
You have this writer's sympathy
for all that long hard work.

'Tune In' is such an oeuvre,
it required you to be wise,
to take the big step backwards,
and to write it with your eyes.

Though 'they' told it all too often,
mixing fantasy with myth,
fudging facts too hard to soften,
'zaggerating, taking pith,

all that FAB-lore long was in there,
you were brave enough to look.
Mr Lewisohn, you've been there,
all the proof is in this book.

So I'm raising twat-'ats to ya,
thumbing tears out of my eyes,
wanna thank you for this treasure,
and forgive you for its size.

Now the doggerel's almost over,
you'll be enchanté to hear.
May the good times roll for you and yours,
until we meet for beer.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


It haunts me, Marti Pellow's mesmeric debut at Ronnie Scott's with Wet Wet Wet. I can remember standing next to Debbie Bennett. 1988. I remember, too, that year's Montreux Rockfest. Those Clydebank boys party, I should have known. While the other guys looked a bit also-ran, Marti killed. Everyone urged him to ditch the band and go for it solo. He never did. In the end, it was Tommy the drummer who quit, and that was that. Goodbye band, and thanks for giving 'Love is All Around' a go for 'Four Weddings', extending Reg Presley a  few cushioned years before he trogged off. Solo Marti fell off the side after that, and succumbed to the hard stuff. Got clean, made a comeback, and found his feet in musical theatre. Were I to write that as rock fiction, it would be junked as implausible. It's what happened.
So, Marti in EVITA as Che. Some insist 'Guevara', others point out that this character was a classic Tim Rice invention, the anonymous narrator, the Greek chorus, a device so effectively tested earlier in 'Joseph'. Anyway. I'd heard great things about his performance in last year's touring production, and was keen. But what happened? A vocal delay - mic-ing or transmission problems, maybe, or was it me? - proved distracting, of both my ability to focus on the lyrics, and of Marti's to sing them. He never really found his groove last night. This mildly 'behind', hiccuping delivery seemed a metaphor for the whole performance. The sinister rumbling, at three-minute intervals, of the trains beneath the the old theatre - something I'd never noticed during my many attendances at 'We Will Rock You' and 'Time' - heralded the Argentinian earthquake re-enacted in the piece, and evoked a sense of the past warning the present that it needs to get its act together. I have been known to overthink things.
Woe is me for having gorged on the original 'Evita'. For having fallen passionately in love with David Essex's Che, Joss Ackland's Peron, Elaine Paige's Eva. That production made 3,000 sumptuous performances over eight astonishing years. Patti Lupone originated the lead role on Broadway in 1979, but later declared that she hated it. More fool her. It was the first British creation to win the Best Musical Tony. Before all that, though, Rock Follies' heartbreaker Julie Covington made a worldwide hit of the signature song, and Barbara Dickson did commendably with the lament of Peron's mistress, 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall.' These songs loom large on the soundtrack of my youth. They don't write them like that anymore. Not even Rice and Lloyd-Webber do.
Overall? I'd have to say, a little dated. The pace is patchy, and at times too slow. The vital sense of the grandeur, and the historical importance of Eva Peron's life, seem lost. Perhaps musical theatre, having come so far since Evita first opened in 1978, is diluted, reduced, to a less tastebud-tingling sauce. Jukebox musicals rule, ok. Wider audiences are ok with it. They know all the words.
Still, we quirk and twitch and are aroused by the paso doble- and tango-imbued music. We inhale the magic, and try to be there, back in 1940s Argentina. She was a remarkable woman, Peron: an under-age gutter-scrubber who popped her cherry to an oily cabaret singer and cornered him into carting her off to Buenos Aires, where she did the MAW thing, as the girls say today - Model, Actress, Whatever. She got on the radio and made a name. Sleeping your way to the top is no new thing. She aimed high. She landed the guy who couldn't wait to be king, or, President. She then 'saw the error of her ways', owned up to erroneous ambitions of fortune and fame (she got them anyway), and reinvented herself as the charity queen and saviour of her people - sanctified, reborn, still dripping in diamonds. Cancer took hold as she was preparing for election herself, as vice-president. In true rockstar fashion, the best thing she could do for her image and profile was die. She did. Her embalmed body, destined for a grotesque monument, went missing for seventeen years. A musical in itself.
The lyrics will always be addictive. The score can be lumpy and self-interrupting at times, but rises in glory. What a partnership Rice and Lloyd-Webber were. The ultimate double helix, a twist of individual strands and strengths wrenched together in perfect harmony. If we could turn back time.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Have you read this novel? If you haven't, don't. DON'T. Race to the nearest picture house as if life depended on it, kicking pensioners out of the way if you must, before they come charging like a bull in a bowl shop, desperate to wreck the ending for you. 

It's not the ending you need to worry about. In predictable Hollywood fashion, the director David Fincher ('Panic Room', 'The Social Network') does that for you. The damage is limited, you can live with it.  It's every  creepy plot-twist and turn from beginning to the least obvious ending, ever, that you don't want to spoil by knowing what's coming. The movie is faithful enough to both theme and plot. Richard Hughes made me read it, about a year ago. I do as he says. 

Nothing scares me. This book did. I was too frightened to go down to the kitchen for more wine. Had to make do with just the two bottles. Imagine. Sat up all night, second-guessing, calculating, putting words into characters' mouths. I still got it wrong. I misread every principal, every motive, every outcome. Everything shocked me. Still does. What I wish, massively, is that I hadn't had the book before the film. 

So I'm not going to say too much about it. Ben Affleck as 'The Husband', Nick Dunne, is a bit chunky and surly for my taste. I had in mind someone leaner, less thuggish. Softer. 'The Wife', Amy Dunne, played by Bond beauty Rosamund Pike ('Die Another Day') is more convincing. At least they didn't give it to Keira Knightley. Handed the choice, I would have stood Reese Witherspoon in front of the lens instead of behind it - she co-directs - as it's the role that could have brought out her Meryl Streep. Where we are, we are. I'm still drooling over the lawyer (Go, Tanner!) and I still want to murder Amy's bloodsucking parents. Beyond that, I must say  that marital meltdown is a poisonous, festering bog. Gillian (hard 'G') Flynn, the author, cheerfully admits that she has zero experience of its hideousness, and yet she writes as a real-life survivor of relationship rot. This is vile imagination at its most dreadful. Can anyone ever know another truly? Even the one to whom we pledge our love and life? You don't want to know the answer to that. You know you do.

Flynn's earlier novels 'Sharp Objects' and 'Dark Places' are also movies coming soon. The former will star Cameron Diaz. Don't read those, either. Save them 'til last.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


The Ones Least Likely To. The Concerts We Thought We'd Never See. Fifteen years must have passed since I last interviewed this artist. She had a baby boy then. Bertie is sixteen now, and performing live with mamma. What struck me was, for all Kate's bonkersness and weird reclusiveness, how happy she seems.

She did not reach for Wuthering Heights. What did they expect? Fifty-six is fifty-six. Not even the blindly adoring fan could have hoped for a wailing waif in lycra and legwarmers, swirling dervishly. The elfin face has been filled by time. Face or figure, ladies. The locks are undoubtedly augmented. The simmering sex kitten has boiled over, into an earth mother. She stomps, barefoot, widening ample arms to a predominantly English audience (as she acknowledges), in this freshly-painted but ancient monument of a theatre where we lived when we were young  (I spent the night there, more than a few times), in which you know you're inhaling Debbie Harry's old eyelashes, Kid Creole's desiccated coconuts, the dried-sweat flakes of Asia's and Bad English's feet. I can't imagine she would have got away with this show anywhere else.
Kate fills her stage with a confident army of tight musicians, singers, dancers and actors, with props and projections and laughter. Lots. Black-clad and sailing about, a robust little boat dressed up as a ship, her  expressions, gestures and speech are those of a child. 
It's no Greatest Hits excursion. No Stevie Nicks-esque 'Look How Good I Used To Be (though I strain to hit the high notes now)'. 'Hounds of Love' and 'Running Up That Hill', 'King of the Mountain' and 'Top of the City' are banged out bravely. It gets folky and proggy, there are shades of Dublin diddly-diddly. Then 'The Ninth Wave', Kate life-jacketed and drowning, gulps of Golding's 'Pincher Martin' and refusing to be dead, swathes of fabric billowing out across the stage, seahorses and fish skeletons and the treacle of the deep. Kate is not rescued from the ice, and yet emerges, belting it out. Giant doors and birds, puppetry and mannequins. Bertie rigged out as a foul-mouthed Vincent van Gogh, brushing blue into a mushrooming sky. All torment, all food for thought, all magic. Kate's no nutter, she's an artist, daring herself, giving birth to herself, dredging her innards. Pushing her envelopes. It's not a rock concert. It's huge. I was submerged.

There was deliverance. I long to go back, but she wraps tonight. I probably don't have thirty five more years.

Friday, 5 September 2014


He would have been sixty-eight today. I can never imagine him as an old codger. He was in his fortieth year when Roger Tavener from the Express and I hung out with him for a night in the White Horse in Montreux. After years spent following Queen around the world, we got closer that night than we had ever done. It was Freddie's bar, his territory. He gave us a different guy that night, talking candidly about the price of fame.
'It's the thing that keeps me awake at night,' he admitted, cadging Marlboro Reds off Tavener.
'I've created a monster,' he went on. 'The monster is me. I can't blame anybody else, it's what I've always wanted. Success, fame, money, sex, drugs - whatever you want, I can have it. But now I'm beginning to see that as much as I created it, I want to escape from it. I can't control it as much as it controls me.'
He said much more.The pub closed. He asked us to wander down to the lake with him.
'Just throw my remains in there when I go,' he said. He repeated this at least twice.

Tavener and I had a world exclusive. We had proof, there were two of us. What did we do with it? We committed a sackable offence. We agreed, in what may well have turned out to be a case of double jeopardy, but didn't, to refrain from selling Freddie's confidence for a cheap page lead.

Freddie and his gang were great people. It had been a blast of a night. He'd opened up to two relative strangers, and had exposed his soul. He knew we were journalists, he must have assumed we'd stitch him up. Everyone did. Perhaps he even wanted us to, to prove a point: that reporters are invariably bad news.

Maybe we didn't get it at the time, but his behaviour that night later made sense. He must have known that he didn't have long left. He was living as if there were no tomorrow. He wasn't far wrong.

Down the path, away from the snowy mountains and into our hotel we fell. Neither of us spoke. Nothing left to say. Tavener smoked his last fag.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


The temptation to spill all that Robin Williams said to Express writer Roger Tavener and me one afternoon at the London Palladium during the Eighties, after rehearsals and ahead of that night's charity show, is huge. I'm not going to. I will remember with mirth the mischief we made, hiding in the downstairs Gents' until the venue had emptied, then squirrelling our way around the warren of dressing rooms until we found his. I'll cherish the expression on Robin's face when we told him what we'd got up to. How could he not grant us an interview after that? I'll recall his Lennon-inspired line during the performance that same evening: 'Madam, you can either wear that bracelet, or you can feed Nicaragua.' I will try, along with everyone, to accept.

The dysfunctional childhood that Robin Williams endured left a gaping void that he would spend his adulthood  attempting to fill. He needed adulation. His maniacal brand of humour was an expression, maybe even a quest for exorcism, of the demons who possessed and taunted him. I cannot think of a person more deeply human. He mattered because he touched base with us all. It was as if he knew all our terrifying secrets, and wasn't afraid of confronting and exploring them. Or possibly he was. He did so anyway. What amazes me, now that I think about it, is that he lived so long. All the while that he was able to make art out of anguish, he could maintain what passed for a normal life. When his art boiled down to money - not having enough of it to pay off past loves, nor to keep everyone in the style to which they'd become accustomed - he lost the will to live.
At least death was on his terms. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


By Andrew Sherlock, starring Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein and Will Finlason as 'This Boy'

How to process this moving and disturbing play, which was rave-received, deservedly so, on its First Night at the Leicester Square Theatre, Monday. It occurs to me what Brian saw in those legendary 'first three minutes' he gave John, Paul, George and Pete Best (pre-Ringo), beyond their talent, chemistry, magical hold over an audience, and their - as he described it - 'charm'. A would-be but didn't-quite-have-it actor, Epstein perceived, in an instant, a way to make himself cool. A way to become, not only socially acceptable, but one of the most desirable beings on earth. Those four unusual boys would be his passport to fame, fortune and reflected glory. His ticket to ride. The key to shaking off his tormented childhood, putting behind him the misery and angst he had grown up shackled by. Largely but not only thanks to having been born both Jewish and gay.

It is no accident that this play is set in 1967: the year that homosexuality was decriminalised. The piece hinges on the backward glance, through the eyes of a fan and would-be music writer, who wants to tell Eppy's story as it really happened and not as just another predictable rehash of the sanitised version in the rock manager's autobiography, 'A Cellarful of Noise'. Their encounter dredges the depths of Brian's true personality, taking him closer to the wall than he has dared to go in years. A day later, at only thirty-two, he is dead.

Pink Floyd's Nick Mason found it 'excruciating to watch,' he said. 'It's so true.' Frankie's Holly Johnson looked a bit gobsmacked. Gary Crowley On-Air said it was 'raw' and 'thrilling', with which I have to agree. The turn-out spoke for itself. Good to see David Wigg, Henrietta Knight, Kevin O'Sullivan, Mike McCartney, Philip Norman, Lloyd Beiny and his first wife Hazel, James WoodleyAnita Maguire. Heartfelt thanks, as always, to David Stark, the Everywhere Man, who makes it happen.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

INALA at the Barbican Theatre

INALA: five years in the making. It combines the isicathamiya harmonies,
mbube rhythmic vocals and jerky moves of the all-male South African a
cappella choir LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO with the Zulu-inspired ballet
of RAMBERT and ROYAL BALLET dancers in a presentation so beautiful
that I was in bits before the second act. The Sisters Grimm production, 

choreographed by Mark Baldwin, will receive
its official world premiere at this year's Edinburgh International
Festival, 10-12 August. But to see it in preview at point-blank range
in the womb-like Barbican Theatre was a dream that I feel challenged
to describe. 

Exhilarating,moving, humbling, dignified: this work lends
perspective into another dimension of dance that leaves us

speechless at what the human body can do. There is no storyline as
such. It is open to interpretation. For me, there was a sense of
steps being retraced into the dawn of time; of man's early, tentative
relationship with nature, his conquering and command of it, the
consequent harnessing and destruction of it, of the circle of life
full-turning and of nature regaining its strength.

What resonates is the traditional music of the Zulu people.
Most of us know the group founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 from
Paul Simon's 1986 album 'Gracelands'. They sang memorably on
'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' and 'You Can Call Me Al'. The
exposure led to an international career, four Grammys,
and a 1988 appearance in Michael Jackson's movie 'Moon Walker', in
which they performed their song 'The Moon Is Walking'. It also led to
Nelson Mandela lauding the group as 'South Africa's cultural
ambassadors'. They accompanied their future President to the
Nobel Peace prize ceremony in Norway in 1993, and sang at his
inauguration the following year. It further led to them recording Cat
Stevens's 'Peace Train' with Dolly Parton for her album 'Treasures',
and to what is, to date, a forty five-year career spreading a message
of harmony, peace and love. 

Their almost half-century has been oft-darkened by murder, illness and
other tragedy. The stories could curl dreads. Yet they have never lost
hope. Never stopped singing. There linger, in this unique, uplifting
and instantly recognisable sound, the echoes of the earliest choirs
formed in the Natal region during the 1920s, when young Zulu males
migrated there to find work in the factories and mines. Far from
home, lonely and afraid, they formed choirs to comfort and lull
teach other, to preserve a sense of community, and to stay close to
the cultures into which they had been born.

Mbube, incidentally, is Zulu for lion, which figures. The name Ladysmith Black Mambazo is
derived from three elements: Ladysmith, Kwazulu-Natal, the hometown
of founding father Shabalala's family; Black for the Ox, the
strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo, Zulu for Axe, which is
symbolic of this choir's magical ability to 'chop down' all

Inala is Zulu for 'an abundance of goodwill.' 
Ladysmith Black Mambazo keep the essence of South Africa alive.