Friday, 17 July 2015

PINK FLOYD WERE HERE

A whistle-stop talk at my alma mater yesterday unlocked a few memories. Ain't it funny, the tricks that time plays.The University of Westminster on Upper Regent Street, a bottle of vodka's throw from BBC Broadcasting House, has been called a few things in its time. It was the Regent Street Polytechnic when Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason studied there from '62 to '66, and where they conceived Pink Floyd. 
I didn't even know that when I was a student there myself, years later, when a little gang of us (Derek from Ashby, Sandy Evans, where are you boys now?) would sit around at night wearing out our vinyl copies of 'Wish You Were Here' and 'The Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Meddle'. What sticks? 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', their tragic tribute to band member Syd Barratt, the most beautiful, the inspirational, the one who didn't make it, whose mental collapse saw him wither from the group when they needed him most. 'Meddle's' curious 'ear-under-water' cover, I couldn't work it out for ages, and 'Echoes' denoting their musical shift from psychadelic to progressive, and 'A Pillow of Winds' my favourite-ever track title.
So the evidence is there now, for all to see. A plaque on the wall, as opposed to another brick in it.
Nick Mason barely remembers those days, he says. For the creator, so much with which to experiment, through which to grow, to drift away from, to deny. For the mere observer, the listener, the peripheral memories are more precious. I don't let mine go. I stockpile the thens and the nows, the milestones, the peculiarities, the twists and turns of the doomed evolution.Then, sitting scribbling my notes in dusty lectures in the very building where an everlasting rock legend was conceived. Now, seeing those same guys around at this event or that, as if that were normal. Then, in my navy school uniform, taking the 227 from Bromley Market Square to Beckenham and trudging up Southend Road in a sweat, off to doorstep (yet again) David and Angie Bowie for autographs, setting the template for what I would grow up to do for money. In a blink, there I was kipping at his house on Mustique. All strange, and yet not. And yet.

Where did it go? Where are we now?

Monday, 13 July 2015

IT WAS THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY ...LIVE AID 1985

'By making this concert, we are doing something positive to make people look, listen, and hopefully donate. When people are starving, it should be looked upon as one united problem. Sometimes I do feel helpless. This is one of those times I can do my bit.'
Freddie Mercury
'It was the perfect stage for Freddie Mercury: the whole world.'
Bob Geldof

There was a time when politicians made great orators. The art has dwindled dramatically in this century. Rock and roll, of all unlikely disciplines, is one of the few remaining professions in which an individual or group can hold an audience in the palm of their hand, controlling a throng of thousands with their voice. Film actors can't do it. Television stars don't even get close. Perhaps it makes the rock superstar the last great compelling figure of our times.

This occurred to me as I stood in the curtained wings at Wembley Stadium on Live Aid day, 13th July 1985, with Who bassist John Entwistle and his girlfriend Max, having travelled to Wembley with them from their London home, Roehampton, in their specially-sprayed Harrods-Green Rolls Royce estate (if you can imagine such a vehicle; I was in the boot with Fits Perfectly, their gigantic Irish wolfhound, of which drummer Kenny Jones was sore afraid). We watched Freddie perform in sweltering heat for close to 80,000 people, and for a television audience of … oh, who knows. A lot of figures have been bandied about in the ensuing years, but probably 400 million or so in around 50 countries via satellite. Harvey Goldsmith and Bob Geldof had sat in the office with a map of the world and a pair of old wooden calipers, measuring out on the map precisely when the lone satellite would be over which countries, working out a schedule for the live global show and when to bring each national broadcaster in.

With nonchalance, wit, cheek and sex, Freddie Mercury gave it the works that day. We all looked on, open-mouthed. Perhaps he knew, when he spoke out there, that we couldn't hear a syllable of what he was saying. He couldn't have cared. He must have known it was his raw power which held us, so potent you imagined you could smell it.

Backstage, the most legendary names in rock all stopped what they were doing to watch their rival stealing the show before their very eyes. Freddie knew exactly what he was doing. Few remember who went on before Queen, nor who came on afterwards. What DO we remember? The sound going down on the Who, and on Paul McCartney; Bono losing the plot; Simon le Bon singing the bum note of all time; Bowie's powder-blue suit; Phil Collins schlepping it on the Concorde to Philadelphia, so many wishing he hadn't bothered, not least Led Zeppelin; and that Freddie Mercury was the greatest performer on the day. Perhaps the greatest performer of all time. For 18 minutes there, he ruled the world. In some ways, he still does.