Saturday, 12 December 2015

Prison Night (Channel 4)

This evening (Saturday 7th November 2015) saw the broadcast of Channel 4‘s list programme, Prison Night, with a countdown of ten prison films, as voted for by convicts who are currently serving at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Former British convicts and others involved in the prison service, discuss the authenticity of big-screen depictions of life behind bars. They describe how realistically they believe the film versions of events compare to their own experiences.
The following are the results of Channel 4 asking British prisoners to choose their favourite prison films. The list begins at number ten, with number one being the most popular:

10. Midnight Express (US 1978) tells the story of Billy Hayes, aged 23, who was arrested at a Turkish airport on 7th October 1970, whilst on his fourth drug run with 2 kilograms of marijuana. Hayes was sentenced to four years in prison, but with 54 days remaining his sentence was extended to life, so he had to consider escape. The film premiered at Cannes in 1978, with Brad Davis in the lead role. Hayes tells how Midnight Express was released to critical acclaim, except in Turkey where it damaged the tourism industry (due to Oliver Stone‘s scripted speech, not the one Hayes actually gave).

09. Stir Crazy (US 1980), with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, lampoons the ‘get tough’ attitude necessary in order to survive American prisons. Shaun Attwood from Widnes, Cheshire, was given a potential 200 year sentence, later reduced to nine years, in Florence, Arizona, after dealing in ecstasy. He was released after six years and says he agrees with the presentation of American prisons in the film.

08. Scum (GB 1979). 21-year-old Ray Winston is young criminal Carlin, sentenced to Borstal. In order to survive, Carlin needs to learn to give as good as he gets. It is similar to Noel Smith’s experience of a 3-year detention at Rochester, and he therefore agrees with the beatings and bullying from officers. Gerry Henry, a former prison governor, says officers expected total control over prisoners. Scum shocked the public in revealing what went on behind the Borstal walls. Smith agrees with the portrayal of extreme violence, such as prisoners making a cosh from snooker balls. Borstals were abolished two years after the film was released, in 1982.

Prison Night has a side feature on Porridge, a comedy series of the 1970s, which became a hit by tapping into the dark humour of prison life. Former prisoner, Dean Stalham, a serial fraudster, agreed that Porridge gave a true insight into a prison like Pentonville. Fletch, played by Ronnie Barker, demonstrates that you cannot beat the system, but it is possible to push it as far as possible to retain your humanity.

07. The Great Escape (US 1963) is loosely based on the story of Stalag Luft III, a supposedly escape-proof prison for allied POWS during World War II. Prisoners dug three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry, and stole 1,500 tin cans and 4,000 bed boards in order to shift 200 tonnes of soil, undetected. They made candles from the fat in soup and sewed costumes using uniforms. According to 98-year-old Jack Lyon, the last surviving prisoner, the major error in the film is that not one American took part in the escape. Tunnel Harry took a year to build, from the centre of the camp to the periphery, but came up short. 76 prisoners got out before the tunnel was discovered. Another error in the film is that the escape took place in sub-zero temperatures, with one foot of snow. Steve McQueen‘s motorcycle chase, including a 60ft jump over barbed wire by a stuntman, did not happen. Jack was caught in the escape hut and sentenced to 28 days solitary confinement, which he did not serve because the waiting list was too long. 73 prisoners were recaptured and 50 shot on Hitler’s orders.

06. Escape from Alcatraz (US 1979) tells the true story of prisoner Frank Morris, played by Clint Eastwood. The threatening atmosphere of the prison, situated on a rocky outcrop in California, is created in the early stages of the film. Danger Man star Patrick McGoohan also gives a sinister performance as the warden. In 1962, Morris spent months chipping away, with a spoon, at the plaster around the grill in his cell. He made a papier-mâché ‘head’, with hair from the barber’s, and put the dummy head on his pillow to fool the guards. Morris, along with the Anglin brothers, climbed from their grills to the roof and physically escaped, but no-one knows what happened to them. The US authorities claimed they drowned, but Michael Dyke, the Deputy U.S. Marshal, conceded the escapees may have survived. Morris’s Family said he reached California, and a relative of the Anglins believes they escaped to Brazil.

In a second side feature, women prisoners are a minority, but there have been three major series based on their experiences: Prisoner: Cell Block H, an Aussie soap which ran for 700 episodes; Orange is the New Black, a comedy drama rich in stereotypes; and British prison drama, Bad Girls. MoD strategist Bettina Jordan-Barber leaked security secrets to the Sun newspaper and was sentenced to time at Holloway Women’s Prison. She says there were relationships between warders and inmates, and inmates go ‘gay for the stay’. When those inmates, having relationships with warders, were spirited away, it was known as a ‘ghost-out’.

05. Cool Hand Luke (US 1967) is about a 1940s Florida regime intent on brutalising the inmates of a prison, with Paul Newman starring as Luke. Joseph Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, brought back chain gangs, after they were abolished, and justifies the system as one of Channel 4’s talking heads. 150 inmates have died in his prisons. They are fed slops, wear pink underwear and sleep in cold tents. Luke escapes to be recaptured, but retains his humanity. Dean Stalham says Britain is about prisoning the mind, but the US imprison the body.

04. In Bronson (GB 2008), Tom Hardy portrays the prisoner intent on gaining celebrity status by battering the authorities at Belmarsh. Bronson was sentenced to seven years for armed robbery, but his attacks on officers led to many more years of solitary confinement. He was kept in the Hannibal Cage at Wakefield Prison, which strengthened his determination to fight the system. Bronson had 12 men assigned to control him, when they opened the prison door, and they often failed. In 1978, Bronson was sent to Broadmoor. 6 years later, he was certified insane, but returned to general prison. In 1993, he took a hostage and demanded an inflatable doll and a helicopter. He serves as an example of how the system can make prisoners worse.

In The Italian Job (GB 1969), Noel Coward plays Mr Bridger, a Mafia boss who remained in power behind bars (the third side feature). Similarly, in Porridge (1974-1977), Peter Vaughan appears as Harry Grout, who ran an empire from his prison cell without repercussions. Dean Stalham confirms the authenticity of these people. But, whereas Martin Scorsese‘s gangster film Goodfellas (US 1990), showed the fine dining in US prisons, in the UK, this was restricted to tinned tuna.

03. Dead Man Walking (US 1995) stars Sean Penn as death row prisoner, Matthew Poncelet, with Susan Sarandon as his spiritual advisor. She won an Oscar for the role of real life character, Sister Helen Prejean, who campaigned against the death sentence in the US. In the film, Prejean succeeds in getting Penn’s character to confess his guilt. The real Helen Prejean is interviewed and Professor David Dow, a lawyer, describes witnessing the death sentence being carried out. Texas executes the largest number of prisoners in the United States.

02. The Green Mile (US 1999) is a fantasy drama set in the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, in which Tom Hanks plays a prison guard who ensures an inmate is executed with dignity. America is the only country in the world to use the electric chair for executing prisoners. Since 1890, 4,000 people have been executed. Fred Leuchter improved the design of electric chairs, in order to execute people more efficiently, but they can go badly wrong. The film accurately portrays the horrifying execution of Jesse Tafero, wrongly found guilty of murdering police officers in 1976. After the execution, Walter Rhodes confessed to the murders. Tafero’s partner, Sunny Jacobs, who speaks to the programme makers, was also sentenced to death in the electric chair for a crime she did not commit. She spent five years on death row, before the sentence was commuted. Thirteen people have been found to be innocent, after they were executed.

01. The Shawshank Redemption (US 1994). A tale of triumph over adversity, which received raving reviews from Channel 4’s voting prisoners. The film focuses on the relationship between two lifers: Andy, played by Tim Robbins and Red, played by Morgan Freeman. It cleverly tells the tale of Andy, through the eyes of Red. Andy is a fighter who treats his fellow inmates to opera and, during a mealtime, he beckons his friends to keep faith in the future. The twist is that Andy inexplicably vanishes from the prison. Prison Night draws parallels with the case of Ashanti Witherspoon, interviewed for the programme, who was sentenced to 75 years in prison at 25-years-old. On 17th January 1972, he was involved in an armed robbery shootout, in which two police officers were shot. Witherspoon was also shot in the head, resulting in the roof of his mouth now being covered with a plastic plate. After twenty years, the parole board denied him release, as two policemen were shot. Three further requests were turned down over the next few years. In this respect, there was a similarity between Red in Shawshank and Witherspoon. In 1999, Witherspoon faced the parole board again; his daughter had only known him as a prisoner. He was paroled and later said his life is proof that rehabilitation does work, but the problems are not over. The Hollywood ending of The Shawshank Redemption puts an emphasis on maintaining hope.

Prison Night is narrated by Julian Barratt and was written and directed by Rob Davis


Available in All colours by One Minute Silence (1998)

One Minute Silence – Available in All Colours (Art courtesy of Alterportal)

REMAIN CALM A few days ago, I bought a signed copy of Available in All Colours, the first album by One Minute Silence in a charity shop. Initially, I hesitated because I am not into rap-rock, but I did like their second LP, Buy Now… Saved Later from 2000, which was more of a rock album. This one tends more towards rap and Rage against the Machine, than the heavy rock of Workhorse Movement.

Opening track, New Dogs New Tricks, has a simple riff that any of the rap rock bands could have played, with rap vocals. The swearing is irritating. There are good percussive lines though. More frantic drumming is heard on South Central, a fast track which breaks for the unaccompanied vocal refrain of, ‘I don’t want to die, never want to die’. It also includes a strange line in, ‘It’s a long, long way to Tipperary – South Central.’ But, this is an Irish band. South Central could have been catchy, but the swearing comes across as, ‘I’m hard me, I swear a lot.’

Stuck Between a Rock snd a White Face begins with distorted bass, a bit like Faith No More. But, unlike FNM, it is a messy track with different rap sections and a ‘sung’ chorus, ‘Stay down, get back.’ There is a guitar solo and some repeated whining guitar, which is annoying. On A More Violent Approach we have the whole gamut of simple repeated riff, distorted guitar lines, fast rap phrases, nihilistic lyrics, swearing and frantic drumming. There is the much repeated line of, ‘Where there’s life there’s dope,’ which sounds like a bluesy sample, but may just be the band.

By Norfuckinmality I feel I have heard the entire One Minute Silence canon. It begins with the words ‘Good Christian’, which are followed by, ‘Don’t You Just Love it,’ in an Irish accent. Then we get shouts of what barely constitute a lyric, mixed with a heavy rhythm section. For Want of a Better World is more of the same, with some interesting instrumental passages wasted. It is only halfway through the album, but track 7, I Think Therefore I’m Damned, should be the last. It is quite heavy, but goes nowhere.

There are more shades of FNM’s Billy Gould-style bass on Remain Calm and the title track. The latter also including a role call of the characters listed on the (quite effective) album cover in test tubes(1), but the lyrics make no sense. Brainspiller seems to be an Americanised tale of a serial killer captured on national TV. A Waste of Things to Come and And Some Ya Lose are monotonous, while album closer Pig Until Proven Cop has at least the funny pig noises to rescue it from the same fate – it becomes very intense towards the end.

Overall, Available in All Colours is disappointing and lacks the concise hard rock approach of the following album. Guitarist Chris Ignatiou shares Tom Morello‘s annoyingly pointless habit of trying to make his guitar sound like a turntable. Vocalist Brian ‘Yap’ Barry, subjects us to too much rap and the lyrics are over-simplistic and contradictory. Gibraltarian Glen Diani on bass guitar and Englishman Eddie Stratton on drums, make a good fist of their parts, but they are wasted. Available in All Colours may suit Rage Against the Machine fans, but is not for me. It will probably find itself back on the charity shop shelf.

(1) The album cover is by English fantasy artist Anne Stokes, whose work is often quite beautiful:


Celebrities who have promoted animal rights

Brian May and Friend (Photo courtesy of Brian May Holding Animals)

Updating the ‘Celebrities who have donated blood or supported blood donation’ post, prompted me to construct a similar list of celebrities who have promoted animal rights. As with the Alan Freeman playlists, this was something I wanted to create and expand on the forums, but which did not grow as hoped. Instead, my existing knowledge, Wikipedia and the blogs(1) have formed the bulk of the list – with brief comments. My hope is that I can add comments to more of the celebrities in time, but maintaining the flow of posts remains my priority. Some celebrities attract publicity for the wrong reasons, but many use their income and media attention to support a worthy cause or social issue. Examples can be seen in my previous ‘blood donation’ post and below are those who care about animal welfare:

Ed Asner (b.1929), star of Lou Grant, Rich Man, Poor Man and Up, as well as former president of the Screen Actors Guild, is a board member for the wildlife conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife.

▩  Dan Ackroyd, Casey Affleck, Pamela Anderson, Christina Applegate, Ron Artest, the late Bea Arthur, Ed Asner, Teri Austin

Bob Barker (b.1923), presenter of the American version of The Price is Right for 35 years, closed each show urging viewers to spay and neuter their pets.
Kristen Bell (b.1980), American actress, has been a vegetarian since she was 11 years-old and fostered animals from Michigan Humane Society. She now supports the San Diego-based Helen Woodward Animal Center.
Sophia Bush (b.1982), American actress who starred in One Tree Hill and Partners, is an advocate for pet adoption in the US, as well as supporting PETA(2) and other charities.

▩  Alec Baldwin, Brigitte Bardot, Kim Basinger, Victoria Beckham, Ed Begley Jr, Shari Belafonte, Traci Bingham, Linda Blair, Elayne Boosler, Lamon Brewster, Pierce Brosnan
▩  The late Dixie Carter, Julie Christie, Simon Cowell, James Cromwell, David Crosby, David Cross, the late Robert Culp

Ellen DeGeneres (b.1958), an American comedian, television host, actress, writer, and producer who starred in the popular sitcom Ellen, makes pet care and animal rights issues a regular element of her syndicated TV talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

▩  Doris Day, Laura Dern, Kara DioGuardi, David Duchovny
▩  Edie Falco, Mike Farrell, Sadie Frost

Ryan Gosling (b.1980), Canadian actor, is a supporter of PETA who wrote a newspaper article taking a stand against the horrifying conditions in which commercial animals are kept before they meet the unfortunate fate of becoming our food.

▩  Jennie Garth, Sara Gilbert, Steve-O (Glover), Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Gonzalez, Cathy Guisewite, Tim Gunn

Emmylou Harris (b.1947), country singer, has her own shelter for rescuing dogs from euthanasia.

▩  Daryl Hannah, Woody Harrelson, Anne Heche, Tippi Hedren, Katherine Heigl, Hulk Hogan, Earl Holliman, Linda Hunt, Anjelica Huston, Chrissie Hynde
▩  Kevin James, Angelina Jolie, Shirley Jones

Ke$ha (Sebert)(b.1987), American singer, has spoken out against cruelty to wild animals, as well as supporting cruelty-free cosmetics.

▩  Khloe Kardashian, Casey Kasem, Diane Keaton, Alicia Keys, Joanna Krupa
▩  Cloris Leachman, Sheryl Lee

Ice-T (b.1958, Tracy Marrow), American rapper and actor, and his wife Coco, have helped raise money for animal shelters.
Dr Brian May CBE (b.1947), Queen guitarist, has campaigned against the Conservative government’s policies on fox hunting and badger culling. He converted his estate into a sanctuary for hedgehogs and other wildlife, and also has an excellent ‘soapbox’ on his official website(3).
Sarah McLachlan (b.1968), Canadian singer-songwriter and supporter of the ASPCA.

▩  Ali MacGraw, Holly Madison, Bill Maher, Dave Matthews, Paul McCartney, the late Linda McCartney, Stella McCartney, Rue McClanahan RIP, Eva Mendes, Cesar Millan, Heather Mills, Moby, Sophie Monk, Pink (Alecia Moore), Mary Tyler Moore, ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosely, Olivia Munn

Willie Nelson (b.1933), Country singer-songwriter, is a dog lover who lends his name to the Best Friends Animal Society.

▩  Kathy Najimy, Dave Navarro, Kevin Nealon, Bebe Neuwirth
▩  Tito Ortiz, Carre Otis
▩  Hayden Panettiere, Alexandra Paul, Bernadette Peters, Wolfgang Petersen, Brad Pitt, Victoria Principal
▩  Maggie Q (Quigley)

Rachael Ray (b.1968), American celebrity chef, who was concerned by the number of pets that end up in shelters because irresponsible owners abandon them. To help create awareness, she started her own line of fund raising pet food.
Russell Simmons (b.1957), co-founder, with Rick Rubin, of the hip-hop music label Def Jam. He has been vegan since 1999 and advocates ahimsa and veganism, citing animal rights along with the environmental and health benefits. Simmons is a supporter of Farm Sanctuary, an organization working to end cruelty to farm animals.

▩  Dennis Rodman, Charlotte Ross, Isabella Rossellini, Mickey Rourke, Rene Russo

Ian Somerhalder (b.1978), star of The Vampire Diaries, promotes pet adoption and supports no-kill animal shelters.
Howard Stern (b.1954), shock jock, and his wife Beth, have helped raise money for animal rescue and adoption.

▩  Roselyn Sanchez, Boston guitarist Tom Scholz, Ally Sheedy, Martin Sheen, Alicia Silverstone, Karina Smirnoff, Martha Stewart, Jerry Stiller, Hilary Swank, Loretta Swit
▩  Jason Taylor, Charlize Theron, Maura Tierney, Christy Turlington

Betty White (1922), star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls, has worked with various animal organisations, including more than forty years with the Morris Animal Foundation.

▩  Persia White, Kate Winslet, Montel Williams, Robin Williams, JoAnne Worley, Noah Wylie

(1) Thanks to:
(2) PETA is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an American animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, led by Ingrid Newkirk
(3) Brian May’s Soapbox, a part of his official website:


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Celebrities Who Have Donated Blood or Supported Blood Donation

From the Archives
Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die (1973) (Courtesy:

This list was originally compiled for my old blog on 6th December 2011(1). It was updated today 12th October 2015. The first list consisted of people who had given blood and may continue to donate. When rewriting the list I found it difficult to differentiate between those who donate and those who support blood donation, to the extent I almost deleted the draft. After all, what would be the point of a list of people who support blood donation? Then, I decided it was better to post on blood donation, with a few names to draw in readers, than not to do so at all. Some names on my 20ll blog post, like Jayne Torvill and Gary Lineker, are still on the website, so they seem like genuine donors. For new 2015 additions, there is an asterisk* nest to their name; the remiander date back to 2011. It will be interesting to compare this post in another four years time, which will be 2019.

•  Sarah Beeny* (b.1972) is an English property developer and television presenter, best known for presenting the Channel 4 property shows Property Ladder, Property Snakes and Ladders, Streets Ahead, Britain’s Best Homes, Help! My House is Falling Down, Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare, Double Your House for Half the Money and Sarah Beeny’s Selling Houses. Sarah said she did not require a transfusion during childbirth, which inspired her to donate for those who do need the procedure.

•  Graham Bell* (b.1966) is a former professional skier who achieved a silver medal at the World Junior Ski Championships in 1984 and represented Great Britain at five Winter Olympics in: Sarajevo 1984, Calgary 1988, Albertville 1992, Lillehammer 1994 and Nagano 1998. He now works as a TV presenter for Ski Sunday and journalist.

•  Gordon Bennett (1955-2014), Australian artist, sadly passed away in 2014, but deserves to remain on the list as a donor.
•  Chris Bisson (b.1975), a British actor best known for playing Vikram Desai in Coronation Street and Jai Sharma in Emmerdale.
•  Jude Bolton (b.1980), former Australian rules footballer who represented the Sydney Swans.
•  Pat Boone (b.1934), American singer and actor.
•  Richard Branson (b.1950), British businessman and founder of the Virgin Group.
•  Kristin Cavallari (b.1987), American actress who is a star of The Hills TV series.
•  Jackie Chan MBE (b.1954), martial arts actor from Hong Kong.
•  Sara Cox (b.1974), British DJ who made her name presenting The Radio 1 Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 1 between 2000 and 2003, but now hosts Sounds of the 80s on BBC Radio 2 on Saturday nights at 10pm.
•  Miley Cyrus (b.1992), an American actress and singer, who is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and starred in children’s television series Hannah Montana in 2006.
•  Alesha Dixon (b.1978), British singer and judge on Strictly Come Dancing, who found fame with girl-group Mis-Teeq.
•  Josh Duhamel (b.1972), American TV actor and star of the Transformers films.
•  Sophie Ellis-Bextor (b.1979), British singer and Janet Ellis’s daughter. She gave blood for the first time during National Blood Week of summer 2011 and said she planned on becoming a regular donor.
•  Jenny Frost (b.1978), British TV presenter and singer with Atomic Kitten.

•  Wayne Hemingway* MBE (b.1961), an English fashion designer and co-founder of Red or Dead.

•  Greg James* (b.1985) is a British radio DJ and TV presenter, most famous for hosting the drivetime show on Monday to Friday, at 16:00-19:00, on BBC Radio 1. When he was born he was very ill and had three full blood transfusions,

•  Saira Khan* (b.1970) was the runner-up on the first UK series of reality television show The Apprentice in 2005. Since then she has co-presented The Martin Lewis Money Show, from 2012, and presented a new ITV daytime show called Guess This House (2015). Saira’s blood group is A-, one of the rarer blood types, with just 7% of people having this group.

•  Penn Jillette (b.1955), the talking half of the magic duo Penn & Teller.
•  Chris Judd (b.1983), a former Australian rules footballer and captain of both the Carlton Football Club and the West Coast Eagles in the Australian Football League (AFL).
•  Gary Lineker OBE, an English former international footballer and current sports broadcaster. He holds England’s record for the number of goals scored in FIFA World Cup finals, which is 10. In the early 1990s, his eldest son George survived, as a baby, a rare form of leukaemia. As a result, Lineker now supports children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent and has since appeared in advertisements encouraging people to give blood.

•  Sophia Loren* (b.1934) was famously mobbed by a large crowd at the Piazza Del Popolo in Rome, in 1962, while escorted by film director Vittorio De Sica. She signed autographs then sat inside a Red Cross van with a doctor and had her blood pressure taken before giving blood(2).

•  Kym Marsh (b.1976), achieved fame as a singer after winning Popstars with the band Hear’Say in 2000. She left the group two years later for a solo career, but is now best known for playing Michelle Connor in Coronation Street.
•  Dr. Phillip McGraw (b.1950), American TV personality

•  Penny Smith* (b.1958), newsreader and TV presenter-turned-author, said she has been a regular blood donor since she was 18.

•  Sun Park (b.1981), Australian actress, singer and presenter.
•  Rascal Flatts, American country band formed in 1999 and active to date.

•  Jorgie Porter* (b.1987), star of the Channel 4 TV drama Hollyoaks, as Theresa McQueen.
•  Rachel Riley* (b.1986) is an English television presenter best known for being a co-presenter, with Nick Hewer, on Countdown on Channel 4. She replaced Carol Vorderman as the co-host in presenting the letters and numbers selection and mathematics solutions. Rachel achieved an upper second-class honours degree in mathematics at Oriel College, Oxford.

•  Jane Seymour OBE (b.1951), British actress who played Solitaire in the James Bond film, Live and Let Die (1973).
•  Mark Smith (b.1969), a body builder who played ‘Rhino’ in the Gladiators TV series. He donates bone marrow.
•  Curtis Stone (b.1975), Australian chef, TV presenter and author.
•  Niki Taylor (b.1975), American supermodel.
•  Jayne Torvill OBE (b.1957), British Olympic gold medallist ice dancer and star of the Dancing On Ice TV series, which ran from 2006 to 2014.

•  Twin B*, real name Alec Boateng, is the host of a breakfast show on BBC Radio 1Xtra.

•  The cast of The Vampire Diaries (2009 to date) and Twilight , American TV series. Rachelle 
 Lefevre*, who plays the vampire Victoria in the Twilight (2008) series has been photographed giving blood.

I would urge healthy readers to consider blood donation as it takes only a little of your time, but can transform and even save lives. Blood cannot be given more frequently than 16 weeks, which is only three times a year. To find out more, the UK link is:

Originally posted on Tuesday 6th December 2011

(1) Famous Blood Donors from December 2011:
(2) Footage of Sophia Loren becoming a blood donor on British Pathe:
(3) The 2015 campaign:


Tales From the Tour Bus: Rock 'n' Roll on the Road (BBC4 Fri 9th October 2015 Rpt)

On Friday evening I watched a repeat of a documentary called Tales From the Tour Bus: Rock ‘n’ Roll on the Road, presented by Rick Wakeman. He introduces the programme with, ‘Welcome to the golden age of British touring, when rock and pop bands roamed the land in a world before mobile phones, guide books and even motorways, a world that never seemed ready for them. From the fifties to the eighties, these musical pirates could be glimpsed travelling the length and breadth of the country changing the musical landscape as they went. Playing wherever they could get a gig. Risking everything for us. This is the story of their journey.’

The keyboardist looked odd in his grey suit, white shoes and no tie, but was as funny as always. Tales From the Tour Bus was narrated chronologically starting with the earliest tours of the UK which were by American musicians. In 1957, the first was Bill Haley who toured the country by British Rail. He was followed by Buddy Holly in 1958 and Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran in 1960. Joining the latter duo were Marty Wilde and the Wildcats with drummer Brian Bennett, who in an interview describes how he carried his own kit because there were no road managers. They travelled third class on British Rail, while Vincent & Cochran enjoyed first class. Marty Wilde remembered how Americans did not swear much, although the British swore all the time. In the early days of touring, rock ‘n’ roll was ‘shoehorned’ into traditional variety shows with novelty acts. Gary Brooker, of The Paramounts and Procol Harum, felt insulted that they were asked to back Mrs Mills, and he expressed his disgust. She later came to him and apologised, so he felt guilty.

Early in the programme, Rick Wakeman introduced his 1984 Dodge Ram van, bought for the Yes Union Tour in 1990, because it was less hastle than waiting at airports. He put forward the view that if you had a van and were not a musician, you would probably be invited to join a band. According to Ali McKenzie of The Birds, the van was your home, where you ate sandwiches prepared by your mum. The Birds had a ‘piss hole’ in the bottom of the van, as there was no time to stop. Simon Nicol, of Fairport Convention, also claimed bands tried to co-ordinate their bladders, in order to save valuable time. A particularly funny section is where Rick Wakeman walks around his van, as if he has just had a wee, and shakes his leg. Bob Hope would have been proud.

Brooker recalled the variety of venues, saying that the Pontypridd Nylon Spinners Club was one of the best nights they ever had, while Whitehaven, near a nuclear power station, was grim. The Whitehaven girls liked them, the boyfriends did not. Phil May of the Pretty Things described how their roadie defended them from angry boyfriends, with a shotgun which he kept in the back of the van. Girls carried scissors for cutting lengths of hair and pieces of clothes for souvenirs, while boyfriends wanted to beat them up. In 1961, The Beatles‘ roadie, Neil Aspinall, bought a van for £80 and charged them five bob (5s or 25p) for every journey.

Rick Wakeman tells us quite abruptly that, ‘Some of the working men’s clubs were shit holes and that was upgrading them.’

By 1967, with imported American hippydom, everything had changed. A full-scale rock tour was organised featuring The Nice, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Move and Pink Floyd. It was supposed to be a two-and-a-half hour show, but the club would switch off the power supply half way through Jimi Hendrix’s set. There were no women on the tour of 67, although Sandy Shaw was backed by the Paramounts and travelled in the van with the band. In 1968, Sandy Denny was travelling in the Fairport van, which was no problem, but pubs would not serve her because of their ‘men only bars’. Sonja Kristina of Curved Air, shown in both seventies footage and a recent interview, said everyone slept together in the back of the tour coach. It was like a relationship without sex. Road accidents, involving touring bands, did not make the press until 1969, when Fairport Convention crashed and drummer Martin Lamble was killed.

Motorways opened in 1959, with the M1, and the Blue Boar Service Station at Watford Gap was unveiled on the same day. Carl Palmer, then with Chris Farlowe, remembered how groups would meet at the Blue Boar and he saw the Tremeloes and the Searchers. Prior to this he recalled truck stops with 10 beds in a room and unwashed sheets. Brian James, who came later in the seventies with The Damned, said the B&B landladies took pity on him and wanted to feed him.

Kim McAuliff of late-seventies all-girl band, Girlschool(1), remembered getting changed for gigs, in toilets with wee on the floor. She said they formed a girl band because men did not want women on the tour bus. Girlschool, like other groups, slept on top of the gear in the back of the van. Drummer Denise Dufore had pent up energy and they had to stop to let her run around, although she could sleep upright with a cloth over her head like a budgie. Denise also had smelly socks and shoes, so they were periodically thrown out of the van window. Motorhead invited them on one of their tours, whereas many bands would charge the support act to join them.

More equipment in the seventies meant a road crew. Peter Hook of Joy Division and Blue Mondays followed Queen in recording an album in Wales and retold a funny story from the engineers about Mercury and co. Apparently, Queen’s roadies had turned up with sports cars and girls, so the engineers asked if they were the band. They said they were the road crew, but had their own crew to set up the equipment and added, ‘But, don’t tell the band.’ Another of Hook’s stories involved a roadie being sent for a supply of beer, opening the bus door and finding they were already heading down the motorway at 70mph!

Peter Dougal Butler, assistant to Keith Moon, recalled how the drummer attempted to phone hotel room services for a sandwich in the middle of the night, but they did not answer. He threw a TV out of widow. The hotel phoned him and asked if he had just thrown a TV out of the window. He said, ‘Yes,’ and next time would they answer the phone.

Rat Scabies, also of The Damned, said tour maps looked like pentagrams. Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel added that they could play Portsmouth, Glasgow and possibly Southampton on three consecutive nights. Another of Scabies’ observations was that bands had a two-year career on average, roadies got forty years. Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt-Roy‘s experiences did not have a road crew; they had a lock-up, would drive the van, picked each other up in the van, set up the equipment, played and then did everything in reverse night after night. Wilko said, ‘I think I slept twice in the seventies!’

Rick Wakeman provided an anecdote on how newly established rock venues were created in the seventies for bands, like Wilko’s Dr Feelgood, who were too big for pubs, but not big enough for stadiums, ‘There were a few great venues which you aspired to play in when you were in a band in the early seventies. One was Friars in Aylesbury, the other was Boston Gliderdrome. The Gliderdome was absolutely fantastic, they oould squeeze 1200 people in there. You felt you had made it when you played clubs like Boston Gliderdrome.’

Tours came full circle in 1978 when Dave Robinson took his bands on the Stiff Tour, on a British Rail train. They hired the train with Pulman carriages and put a stiff banner on the side.

On closing, Brian James and Rat Scabies told of how a tour starts out as band versus the world and ends with niggles being magnified out of proportion. Although The Damned toured with Marc Bolan and T.Rex and found him keen to keep fit, ‘Running around the services in his little green tracksuit,’ and open to the extent he would discuss anything. Suzi Quatro lamented that touring was a lonely existence. Paul Humphreys of OMD even picked up the phone in his own house to call room service, then realised it was his house and not a hotel. Steve Harley said, ‘You have to do it, there is no other way.’ Marty Wilde also said candidly, ‘You have got to be loved by everyone if you can.’ The film ended with a little comedy sketch featuring Rick shut out of the Gliderdrome and unable to find his van.

Tales From the Tour Bus: Rock ‘n’ Roll on the Road is an excellent documentary and quite funny too. I have seen it three times and recommend it wholeheartedly to all rock fans. BBC4 usually show good quality music documentaries on Friday nights and they are well worth keeping an eye on the TV listings.

(1) RIP Girlschool lead guitarist and singer Kelly Johnson, who died of cancer in 2007.


Top of the Pops, Thursday 9th October 1980

Top of the Pops this evening was a repeated episode from 9th October 1980(1), introduced by Peter Powell by then with short barnet, stripey top and red cardigan placed strategically over his shoulders so the cuffs could tuck into his waistband. This was the era of . . . smart casual. The first group to mime in the studio are Status Quo with What You’re Proposing (No.27). A few whisps of dry ice billow across the studio and a couple of kids start pogoing, as if on cue from the director. Despite the presence of John Coghlan and Alan Lancaster, the group were in decline and the pair look embarrassed at playing such dross. Quo are only one of two rock bands on the show.

Powell unexpectedly advertises red Top of the Pops T-shirts, which will be available in two weeks time, before a video of Diana Ross with the Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards produced My Old Piano (No.5), in which she writhes around a piano in a palm-strewn room with classical pillars. Thanks to the Chic team it was her best record, in my opinion. Afterwards Powell interviews Dennis Waterman on the subject of his national ‘rock n roll’ tour and new single release, Good For You. Waterman hands Powell a copy from under his jacket in hilarious mock-Minder style. Powell was affable, but always embarrassing and it is a squirm fest.

Second in the studio are synthpop group, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, performing Enola Gay (No.35) with a severely jerky lead singer in waistcoat, formal shirt and tie. The drummer has a v-neck jumper tucked into his trousers. Unintentionally funny is when the director cuts to a camera close-up, during a solo, on the wrong keyboard. In a ‘news flash’, Powell announces Queen are No 1 in the US album and singles chart. A singles chart rundown from no. 30, reveals that Paranoid by Black Sabbath, Trouble by Gillan and Thin Lizzy‘s Killer on the Loose are listed but we hear nothing from them.

Legs and Co dance to Casanova by Coffee (No.19), a disco song with a George Benson-like guitar solo. Befitting the subject, the dancers wear 18th century outfits with tutus in place of conventional dresses. There are lots of yelps from somebody. None of it is sexy. Next in the studio is laid back reggae group Black Slate performing Amigo. The lead singer is dressed as a Mexican and delivers lines like, ‘Amigo-migo-migo-migo-ooh’, ‘Shoop-shoop-wah-ooh-ah’, and, ‘Jah lover, ooh’. In another hysterical interlude Powell asks Waterman what The Nolans conjure up in his mind. He replies with a Benny Hill-style, ‘Oooh!’ The girls appear in a video singing and dancing to Gotta Pull Myself Together (No.25) while wearing yellow sleeveless tops and trousers. Cut to a couple wandering about the river side, resplendent in satin bomber jacket and jumpsuit.

Paul Jones is interviewed to promote the Find Yourself Another Fool single, performed by The Blues Band and written by Tom McGuinness. Jones introduces British smooth soul-funk group Linx and You’re Lying (No.23). Their greatest hit, Intuition, was three or four months away. Lead singer David Grant wears a black dinner jacket with the sleeves pulled up. In the third week at number one in this week’s chart is The Police and Don’t Stand so Close to Me, shown in a video. Understandable to young male teachers, it is hard to imagine the video being made today. The band are sensibly dressed in academic gowns, with Sting also clad in a ‘The Beat‘ vest and inexplicably wielding a carpet beater, Stewart Copeland is smoking and throwing a paper ball at Sting, while Andy Summers is his usual long suffering self. Don’t Stand so Close to Me is a great record, making having to suffer everything else just about worthwhile.

D.I.S.C.O. by French band Ottawan plays over shots of the audience in smart casual, of course, and the closing credits. Paul Jones is happy to dance, while Dennis Waterman is not, and one person is still determined to pogo. The producer was Stanley Appel and the executive producer, Michael Hurll.



Boston by Boston (1976)

Boston - More Than a Feeling single sleeve (1976) (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

When I was about seventeen, I worked with someone who had a contact in the local CBS factory and, for a price, they got me a cassette of Boston‘s first album when it was released. To fit the tracks equally on the two sides of the tape, the track listing is different to that of the vinyl, so it became what I was used to hearing. Later, when I obtained the CD, I had to resequence the playing order for comfort. The cassette order is what I have used for reviewing the album in this blog entry. The quality of the recording was and remains high, with Tom Scholtz‘s sharp production and the Dolby noise reduction on the tape. Nearly forty years later and the cassette still sounds good!

Boston’s greatest hit, More Than a Feeling, fades in with a gentle jangling guitar and Brad Delp‘s voice on the first verse, but soon steps up after the singer announces,’I closed my eyes and I slipped away.’ After which, Tom Scholtz plays a solo, the pace increases and the hand claps drive the song towards the first chorus. The pattern is repeated similarly for the second verse/chorus until Scholtz plays his solo proper. With the third verse and chorus, the track fades out. It seems a predictable pattern, but Scholtz’s crystal clear production and pure sounding guitar are superb, while Delp’s glorious voice is the revelation here. The song is about hearing a song and getting more than a feeling, such as the distinct memory of, ‘I see my Mary Ann walk away.’ One could say the same of this track and album; while it creates an agreeable feeling when listening, afterwards there remains an indelible impression of the whole collection.

Acoustic guitar, with a rock ‘n’ roll feel, opens Peace of Mind, becomes an electric guitar line and is followed by harmony guitars. Again Delp lifts the following verse/choruses above the ordinary with his fantastic phrasing, but Sholtz’s guitar parts and instrumental passages constantly change throughout the song. There are hard rock riffs a-plenty, with piercing notes cutting across them. Peace of Mind was the third single from Boston (the second being Foreplay/ Long Time) and was less successful than its predecessors, probably because it was heavier.

Smokin‘ is a straight rock ‘n’ roll track with some funky keyboards and tells of the band being lively and exciting, or it may be about listening to music while smoking marijuana. Something that Boston are very good at is incorporating biographical elements into their songs. At about halfway, Smokin‘ develops a strident keyboards/ guitar passage before the vocals return and it ends. Scholtz demonstrates his skill at using seemingly simple dynamics with complex playing. Let me Take You Home Tonight is the first slow-ish track and is about taking a girl home and hoping to show her a bit of ‘sweet delight’. What could be a bit crass, actually turns out to be beautiful with Delp’s yearning voice and Barry Goodreau‘s inventive lead guitar. His solo has some Allman Brothers‘ sounding guitar, plus a host of others.

Side two of the cassette begins with Rock and Roll Band, representing more of the autobiographical material, along the lines of, ‘Well, we were just another band out of Boston/ On the road to try to make ends meet.’ It is one of the best songs of its type and gives the impression that this is a real band that worked their way around the clubs, while perfecting their playing technique. Rock and Roll Band goes on to give an account of their signing by the men in suits, but avoids the particular details of the contract.

On Hitch a Ride, Brad Delp follows the guitar with his voice to give a background of the city, before the pace increases and he declares, ‘Gonna hitch a ride/ Head for the other side/ Leave it all behind.’ His chilly phrasing and the harmonies paint an effective picture of having to leave the cold of New York in the winter. Scholtz introduces another organ solo, before launching into harmony guitar solos. An impression is given of more than one guitarist playing across each other, but it is unlikely to be the case – it is all Scholtz. The handclaps also make a return.

Something About You has a number of lead and harmony vocal parts, all by Delp. Like Scholtz, he is able to appear as lead performer and a number of backing musicians. Foreplay is a lengthy instrumental passage of guitars and keyboards. Fran Sheehan plays bass and stands out, as does Sib Hashian‘s drumming. After a quiet keyboard passage at around two-and-a-half minutes, a sustained guitar note ushers in all the usual elements, Brad Delp’s delivery, multi-part harmonies, yelps, keys, and eventually plenty of soloing from Goudreau. In 1976, Long Time made a good closing song with Delp telling us, ‘Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just a movin’ along/ You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone.’ However, following his tragic death in 2007, he could not have been more wrong. The greatest American hard rock singer was gone forever.

Another irony is that Boston were not the established band they appeared in their ‘personal narrative’ lyrics and polished instrumentation. Scholtz and Delp signed a deal with Epic around the time their band split, so they quickly recruited Barry Goudreau on guitar, bassist Fran Sheehan and drummer Sib Hashian to create a group which could play the songs for a record company audition to finalise the contract. The label wanted Scholz to rerecord his demo tapes in a professional studio, but he reworked them in his own basement studio. Original drummer Jim Masdea played drums on the track Rock and Roll Band. Later, Delp added vocals and the album was mixed by John Boylan. It was only at this stage that the latter and engineer Warren Dewey suggested the name Boston. According to the Remaster 2005 notes, Sib Hashian played drums, Fran Sheehan played bass guitar on Foreplay and Let Me Take You Home Tonight, while Barry Goudreau added lead guitars to the same tracks and played rhythm guitar.

As with BOC’s Tattoo Vampire from Agents of Fortune, Boston’s Foreplay/ Long Time was to be reviewed as part of my ‘From the Alan Freeman Playlist’ series, but isolating one track from an album again seemed inappropriate. So, the whole album was swiftly reviewed in the available time over two days. I feel in my haste, I have done a disservice to Brad Delp, whom I consider to be the best American hard rock singer of all time. My intention is to later write an addendum to the blog entries up to that, as yet, uncertain date.