Friday, 17 July 2015


A whistle-stop talk at my alma mater yesterday unlocked some memories. Funny, the tricks time plays.The University of Westminster on Upper Regent Street, a spit 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 1962 to '66, and where they conceived Pink Floyd. 
I didn't know that when I was a student there myself, years later. When a gang of us (Derek from Ashby, Sandy Evans, where are you now?) would sit around wearing out our vinyl copies of 'Wish You Were Here', 'The Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Meddle'. What sticks? 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', their tragic tribute to Syd Barratt, the beautiful and inspirational band member who didn't make it, whose mental collapse caused him to wither 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.
The evidence is there now, for all to see. A plaque on the wall. 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, from which to drift away. To deny. For the mere observer, the listener, the peripheral memories are more precious. I stockpile mine, the milestones, the peculiarities, the twists and turns of the doomed. Back then, I sat scribbling notes in dusty lectures in the very building where a rock legend was conceived. Today, I see those guys around at this event or that, and have to think of that as normal. Back 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 David and Angie, setting the template for what I would grow up to do for money. All strange, yet not. And yet.

Monday, 13 July 2015


'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.