Friday, 6 November 2015

Classic Rock Magazine: Brave New World

Classic Rock Magazine October 2015 (Courtesy: Ebay)

In celebration of Iron Maiden‘s Brave New World album, the front cover design of October’s issue of Classic Rock magazine is No.13 of 17 ‘collectable’ covers, each representing a different album by the band. My image in blue of a futuristic London landscape is from the new album. I am no Iron Maiden fan, ever since seeing a poster of them outside The Marquee Club in Wardour Street, in the late seventies, clad in what even then was a cliched uniform of leather jackets and studded wrist bands. The Iron Maiden: Flight 666 documentary, from a few years ago, presented them as still predictable in the noughties. But, it is a sad fact of publishing that commercial hard rock bands sell more magazines than the Budgies and Nektars of this world, especially when they have released a new album. In defence of the group, Janick Gers was lead guitarist with the outstanding live NWOBHM outfit, White Spirit, and drummer Nicko McBrain was a member of the terrific Pat Travers Band when they were at their best.

The Iron Maiden article itself is interesting, not least because journalist Paul Elliott discusses the effects of Bruce Dickinson’s recent illness with the lead singer himself and the other members of the band. At the end of last year, Dickinson discovered a lump on his neck which was diagnosed by his doctor as a cancerous tumour on his tongue, with another in his lymph node. Weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and milkshakes followed. He is quite witty as, after diagnosis, he says he thought, ‘Stop it. Start noticing women’s legs and pubs again. Get back to normality.’ His stoicism is further demonstrated by the comment, ‘This wasn’t the universe having its revenge on me. It’s just random shit.’

One of the opening stories in the magazine, in a regular section called The Dirt (dishing?), is titled, ‘Will the Future of Rock Look Like This?‘ To the side is a large photograph of a Japanese all girl band called Babymetal, posed in front of open coffins. It is cliched in a currently fashionable mock-gothic style. Dragonforce’s Herman Li is quoted as saying, ‘The critics have forgotten that metal has evolved. Bands don’t sound like Led Zeppelin and Sabbath now.’ He is wrong because it is difficult not to hear both of those bands in so many groups, whether they be 70s contemporaries or modern. My guess is that we won’t see much of Babymetal again, in the same way that Dragonforce were quickly forgotten.

A slender column labelled RIP Thank You and Good Night has all too brief obituaries of the influential producer, Bob Johnston, and the well-connected Liverpool chanteuse, Cilla Black. Hopefully, the team at CR will see fit to expand on these in future articles. We are told in News that Bruce Dickinson is selling private jets at Harrods, presumably as an investment, but it could be no less unpalatable. Axl and Slash: the Feud is Over appears to be good news for fans of the real G’n’R, but Slash’s memoirs indicate that Rose was more trouble than he is worth.

Another regular article The Stories Behind the Songs is about Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. Although it is a strong track, the fact that it is biographical and, bearing in mind how much of the Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac story we have heard over the years, makes this article superfluous. More interesting would be the story behind some of Peter Green’s influential songs or Christine Perfect’s underrated version of I’d Rather Go Blind. An account of the subsequent careers of those musicians, like Danny Kirwan, Bob Welch and Stretch, who kept the band going during difficult times but were discarded, would also make interesting reading.

I remember interviews with Cherie Currie and The Runaways, in Melody Maker or Sounds, during the mid-seventies, as being the sort of muddled nonsense one might expect from over-indulged teenage girls made rock stars. In the old colour photo on page 28, she appears enigmatic and, in the Q&A interview, talks of working in a homeware shop after the drugs and booze of The Runaways, her abduction and assault at the hands of a psychotic fan, and her relationship with Svengali Kim Fowley during his illness. Regarding Jackie Fox’s tales of assault, Currie’s verdict is that she was an attention seeker. It seems there is more to Cherie Currie than met the eyes forty years ago. The same cannot really be said for Johnny Rotten. Just before I come to the latter, I should point out that later in the magazine there is an article on one of the first all-female rock bands, Fanny.

Ian Fortnam’s sympathetic interview with Johnny Rotton, or John Lydon as he now prefers to be called, is interesting by way of a comparison, because those for the BBC in the seventies were terse and defensive. In the intervening period, the progressive and heavy rock baby was thrown out with the bathwater, while Lydon appeared on the Sex Pistols‘ filthy lucre tour, TV ads for butter and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Far from arbitrarily condemning hard rock bands, Lydon now ‘adores’ Led Zeppelin, which is only fair as Robert Plant described him as having ‘flare’. Talk of being thrilled by libraries is good to read at a time when Conservative government policy is to close them, but reading books does not seem very ‘punk’, and these anomalies set the tone for much of Ian Fortnam’s interview. Lydon turned down contributing vocals to The Professionals (a better band than its predecessor); he is a fan of Hawkwind and encountered a Paladin album, with Roger Dean artwork, in a record shop; he lives in LA to escape his past; he worked with Bill Laswell, Steve Vai and Ginger Baker because Elektra were on his case, and so it goes on. Reassuring to read is that Lydon and his wife Nora Forster are now bringing up the children of her daughter Ari Up, who
passed away in 2010.

An interview with distinctive vocalist Kelly Jones attempts to present Stereophonics as an authentic rock band, which is unlikely to succeed with him also appearing in Waitrose Weekend magazine. Something which struck a chord with me though, in the latter piece, was his answer to the question, ‘What is the kindest thing someone has done for you?’ He replied, ‘Probably my parents letting me go to art school with no real hope of a job while I worked out what I wanted to do with my band.’ Stereophonics are no strangers to tragedy, with drummer Stuart Cable dying from the effects of alcohol while out of the band.

Reviews have always been my favourite part of Classic Rock, but this month’s edition has little of interest apart from David Gilmour‘s Rattle That Lock and Graveyard‘s Innocence & Decadence, probably more due to the dearth of material being released through the summer than the fault of the magazine. Both reviews are favourable.

Elsewhere, there is a feature on Rush, which is always useful as they tend to remain an enigma. Alex Lifeson it appears is keen to quit the business, but Geddy Lee is not so enthusiastic. It is a dilemma as their popularity shows no sign of abating. Psychedelia is becoming trendy again, so CR, feeling some pressure to take note, include a history of the genre with The Electric Prunes and ?and the Mysterians. Darling of the forums and music press alike, Steven Wilson gets three columns in Live! in addition to his album review. Foreigner are the subjects of the much copied Buyer’s Guide, with 4 and Foreigner unsurprisingly classified as essential. ‘Prog mastermind’ Jesse Hughes bares his soul in the closing Heavy Load, but I am not aware of his work. We will see if the label is justified.

Although the bands featured in this month’s issue are not among my favourites, the articles are a compelling read from journalists who are understanding of their subjects. Further features and regulars, such those on Pentagram, King King, Metallica, reissues, live reviews and the cover disc can be found, as well as more on Fanny, Lydon and Rush than time and space allows here, by purchasing a copy. Prog magazine, with a cover feature on the late Chris Squire and an excellent article on ELP’s Manticore label, is also available.


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