Monday, 18 June 2018

GOD BLESS THE CHILD THAT'S GOT HIS OWN: HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, JULIE FELIX



People often ask me why I spend so much time 'hanging around with old rockers.' Well. It's in the eye of the beholder, right? Youthful beauty, zipless sex, plastic surgery and fake news have their place in a heartless world. True friendship, love and loyalty can sometimes seem pointless in our shakily selfish age. But I have always found those qualities in abundance in the music industry.
Last night's gig at the Charing Cross Theatre being a case in point. We were there to celebrate folk legend Julie Felix's eightieth birthday. Yes, eighty. The die-hard troubadour was marching for peace, equality and women's rights before most of us were born. She was hosting her own acclaimed, star-studded shows on BBC television while many of us were still in nappies. She hung with George Harrison; told Macca that 'Strawberry Fields' was 'ok, I s'pose' when he played her the first acetate; lent a young Canadian poet her father's Mexican guitar on the Greek island of Hydra so that he could write the songs that would turn him into Leonard Cohen; became the female Bob Dylan and recorded many of his songs - a whole album's worth, at one point. And she invested in her friends, with the love and loyalty that would glue them together for a lifetime, forming bonds that would never be torn.
They were there in force last night, lending their talent and exuberance to an occasion that will long dwell in the memory. Madeline Bell, seventy-five on acid, she of Blue Mink fame, who sang the BVs on the Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. Her take on Billie Holiday's 'God Bless the Child That's Got His Own' shook the venue harder than the tube trains rumbling through Embankment station, and the tribute she sang with Julie to their lamented buddy Dusty Springfield, featuring Carole King's 'Goin' Back', was breathtaking. John Paul Jones, seventy-two, legendary bassist, mandolin and keyboard star with Led Zeppelin, accompanied Julie on her own songs unrehearsed, in his usual smiley and unassuming way. And John Cameron, who once worked with Cilla, Donovan and Hot Chocolate, who rearranged Led Zep's 'Whole Lotta Love' as the theme tune for 'Top of the Pops', who was musical director of Julie's many TV series, scored movies the likes of 'A Touch of Class' with Glenda Jackson, and arranged/conducted the Boubil/Schonberg concept album that became 'Les Miserables', winning him countless awards, is seventy-four ... Bass player Charley Foskett and an array of saucer-eyed backing singers seemed mere newborns.
But the oldies are spring chickens in the scheme. It is their secret. So feel young, reading this. Do as these guys did, and are still doing, even at an age when they don't need the money and no longer have anything to prove. Take charge of your one precious life. Don't wish for it, work for it. Hang with real people, honest people, and hang on, for all time, to the best. They don't grow on trees. They will all too soon be gone, though 'never gone from spirit', as Julie urges us to believe. Remembering her words makes me wish, so wish, for one last laugh, one more crack at the mischief, with 'the Unforgottens': Jim Diamond, Roger Scott, David Bowie, Rob Lee, Nick Gordon, Freddie Mercury and Nick Fitzherbert.
Happy birthday, Miss Tambourine Man. Forever Young. See you at your Ninetieth. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND : ART GARFUNKEL, ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 31.05.18




Meandering through the all-too-familiar songbook, the voice is fractured, frail and wanting. He talks more than he sings, that old Artie arrogance rearing as he reads out self-penned poems from random sheets, the verses lauding the great blessed life he leads. 'Scarborough Fair', he imparts, is a song he always thought of as 'lovely wallpaper', only realising lately that it is a lament 'about loss. Because we've all lost HER. We all know what that kind of loss is about.' 'Kathy's Song' is pre-ambled with tangled musings. 'The Sound of Silence', Paul Simon's 1964 reckoning about the assassination of JFK, is a wisp of its once magical self. 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' is so epic in all our hearts and minds that I wish he hadn't crossed it by himself. Then '99 Miles to LA', via which he at last rises to the occasion, and echoes the greatness of yore in this great hall.
We didn't get 'Mrs Robinson', 'Song for the Asking', 'The 59th Street Bridge Song', 'The Boxer', or 'The Only Living Boy in New York'. I guess too much epic past is too much for a worn-out heart.
Why do this, then? Seventy-six is seventy-six. Touring and live performing are the most challenging aspects of being a musician. Why not stay home with Kathryn, the beautiful wife he calls 'Kim', and with Beau Daniel, the second son born to them via a surrogate mother, a brother for James, the little apple of their eyes, the everything to live for?
I'm not saying that this was not worth seeing, not worth hearing. Because we rock up for these gigs and what we experience, deep in our souls, is what we want to remember. We are not hearing Arthur (as he refers to himself often, in the third person) as he sounds now, but as he sounded then. We are right there, at the immense reunion concert in Central Park in 1981.
There are times when we shouldn't go back. But how do we know, unless we do so, unless we lend a willing ear? I am always moved by live music, but felt curiously unmoved by this legend whose unique, haunting, blood-stopping voice I have long loved. And then, the moment. A preamble about creatures, and about singing to cows. And without introduction, the ghostly opening bars of one of the most perfect songs of all time: 'Bright Eyes'.
He dedicates it, thankfully, to its creator: our dear Mike Batt. He wonders aloud to his adoring audience whether Mike is in the house. Art should have known whether or not he was. He should have invited him. He should have brought Mike up on stage and thanked him personally for the greatest gift of his career. It is the single song that will carry Art Garfunkel forward into the centuries to come. Thank God Mike wrote it. Thank God Art sang it. Enough.