Sunday, 21 October 2012

Greg Lake: playing Madison Square Garden, touring the UK and being a Lucky Man

This November sees one of the most iconic voices of the 70's prog rock scene tour the UK for the first time in many years.

Greg Lake, the voice and bass player of prog super groups, Emerson Lake and Palmer and King Crimson, will be touring the UK with his 'Songs of a Lifetime' tour- an acoustic show that sees the veteran rocker showcase some of his most iconic hits from both groups, as well as covering some of his biggest influences. 

Lake, 64, completed the American leg of the tour recently to rave reviews. Speaking to him over the phone last week, he was cheerful and eager to tread the boards in his native country once again.

This year should also see the release of Greg's autobiography. What prompted him to write it now?

"I never had any great ambition to write an  autobiography. Every time I was at a dinner table, inevitably, like all musicians, you start to tell stories. One day my manager said that I really ought to write this stuff down because if you don't then it will be gone forever."

"Now I'm coming towards the end of my career I look at the journey that I've shared together with the audience. I think it was in the writing of the autobiography that these songs started popping up, and I realised that that was what they represented- this journey we had shared together; that's what prompted 'Songs of a Lifetime.'"

The tour will be a theatre show, and promises to be a very intimate show with fans sharing stories just as much as Lake himself.

"I've chosen to play smaller places because that's the nature of the show- really intimate. We play through these songs, and exchange memories and the audience talk a lot. It's rather like being in the middle of a huge family room. It's something that I wasn't really ready for, but once I started getting into it I realised the beauty of it is that when I write a song it belongs to me, but the moment you record it and put it out there it starts to become the possession of the people who interpret it in their own way. All of us have shared these songs together and everyone's got their own interpretation of it and everyone has something attached to them."

"This show is like a tapestry and I think the audience get a lot of pleasure from hearing other people's visions on that tapestry. At the end of the night everyone has somehow bonded by this shared experience. What was great about that early era of rock and roll, from 1950-1970-something, that it was a shared experience. After that music became a very solitary experience- listening to your walk-man on headphones, whereas before that you used to sit around with your friends and share a record together. I love the music and the whole vibe of the 'shared era'."

Agreeing with this view, I had to ask whether Lake believed he was fortunate being able to have success in the days of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and  other rock super groups, when music was very much a shared experience. 

"The title of my autobiography is Lucky Man, rather unsurprisingly, because I do feel blessed to have been born when I was; to have had the privilege of being born on that tidal wave. I was destined to tarmac the streets really, and  had it not been for music I'm sure that's probably what would have happened, not that there's anything wrong with that. But I do feel grateful to have been able to live the life I have."

"When it comes down to it you realise, it's not the money, it's not the fame, it's this beautiful thing of being able to share between one soul and another this music. That's an amazingly gratifying thing, to know that you've touched somebody in that way."

Lake would cite that as being the highlight of his career.

"In a strange way, Songs of a Lifetime is a big thing in my career because it confirms the depth of that communication and emotion that's generated. In some cases it's been a crutch for people, in others it's been a celebration. I've had people tell me stories of people dying to my music. People cry at the show, it's like a roller-coaster... five minutes later they'll all be laughing. It's a roller-coaster of emotion in a lot of ways. That's what music does, it elevates things... it enhances things. It brings sadness to the surface, it brings joy to the surface, and I think that's one of the great things that music does."

With such variation from night to night, it's not surprising that Songs of a Lifetime is not your usual, going through the motions type of tour. 

"Musically it tends to be the same every night. I do vary it because sometimes the way the questions and discussions go I end up playing different songs. I've got it worked out. One thing I didn't want this show to become was one of those storyteller, legend in his own lunchtime, sitting on a stool, strumming guitar things. I wanted it to be entertaining. I wanted it to be dynamic and active, and that's what it is. In a way it's a bit of a shocking show. It certainly won't be one of those reflective, reliving my past things."

"At the end of the day, my big ambition was to have people walk out of a one man show that I did and say 'Hi, that was incredible... we've relived our lives'. And that is in fact what happens. At the end of the night half the audience don't go home; they stay there and I spend half the night talking to them all. A lot of people of course are a bit shy, they won't stand up and say what they've got to say but they still want to say it. So it is really like a very family-orientated thing. I've put a lot into it. It took me over a year to prepare."

Having played on so many different albums, does one stand out in particular? 

"I don't think of it like that really. I think some are more important than others. The early ELP albums: Trilogy, Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery and the first, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were important records to me. In the Court of King Crimson, of course; the original King Crimson with schizoid man and the screaming face and all that. These were really iconic albums and they are important to me from that point of view."

"I'm just about to release this live album, Songs of a Lifetime, and I love the record. I'm really proud of it. Sometimes it's not about the scale of how popular it was but how much you like it."

"I very much enjoy working with other people. Some years back I did a tour with Ringo Starr. I've recorded with The Who. I was on their last single. It does tend to reconfirm the fact that music is very circumstantial  When you play with these different people you realise that they're not very much different to you. The game is the same."

Does the urge to 'plug in' and do an electric show ever occur?

"I love playing in a band. I grew up playing in a band. I will probably, sooner or later, get back and do that. I think to be perfectly honest I want to bring out some new music, it's been too long since I had some new music out. I just haven't been inspired to be honest. But since doing the Songs of a Lifetime tour I've lit up a bit. So I think I might get back to writing more material and putting out a new album just for that reason, I feel more inspired."

"You look at all these artists around the time ELP was out, they've really gone quiet creatively. That was an incredibly inspiring era. People were very creatively inspired and prolific. And you go through that in your life, times when you're prolific and times you're less so. I'm not one of those people who's got to put out an album just because I think if I don't someone will say 'Oh look, what's wrong with him'? I don't like doing that because that way you end up with shit albums. I think you've got to wait for genuine, honest inspiration when you feel in your gut you're ready to do something. It may or may not be successful but it's worth it."

"One of my late managers used to say to me 'Greg, when you're hot you're hot, and when you're not you're not!" Artists just can't accept the fact that sometimes they would  be better just to shut the fuck up than keep churning out stuff."

It is over 40 years since Emerson, Lake and Palmer released their eponymous album, labelled one of the most important albums of the 1970's. Does he still get the same buzz from playing live?

"You can't lose it really. It's captivating, the moment you begin you're no longer yourself. You find abilities you thought you'd lost. You do become a sort of transformed being when you're performing. I think anybody who does anything in the public eye; when you speak in public or something like that you have to transport yourself to a different place. If you didn't the nerves would kill you. Also, it requires a certain state of mind where you've got an infinite resources to draw upon because sometimes you need them."

"If somebody's bought your record you owe them a live performance. I think the whole idea is to perform that music with as much quality and dedication and sincerity as you possibly can. My main object when I play is to try and make it as good as the record."

Was he worried about the audiences' reaction to the idea of playing acoustic?

"Just before I left to go to America I did sit on my sofa in my living room and go 'Oh, God what have I done?' If it doesn't work... but as soon as I did it was wonderful. It was a wonderful night the first night because it was immediately clear to me how well it worked and how the audience participate in the show."

"There is a level of nervousness that is constantly there, but as Paul McCartney once said, people don't pay to see nervous. I've learned over the years just to put it to one side. You have to, otherwise it just becomes a nuisance. When you relax and you just get on with it nothing goes wrong."

"Somebody said to be before the tour in the US started, 'what are you going to do if someone asks a really nasty question?' do you know what, nobody did. The audience are living it through you. They feel it through you."

"In the early days of ELP we were playing at Madison Square Garden in New York, the first time I'd ever played MSG and I went out from backstage to have a look at the audience just so that it wouldn't shock me too much, and I peeked up at the curtain and looked up at 22,000 people in a very small space so they lined the walls. It's an awesome spectacle. Dee Anthony, my manager, was up there with me and I said 'That's a frightening sight'. He said 'don't forget, that's only one person out there. To each person sitting there, they are just themselves looking up at you and really you are only performing to one person.' That's in my mind how I think of it. Once you adopt that one person state of mind a lot of the nervousness goes away."

"Monty Python said it: always look on the bright side of life. Most people sit there and worry. It probably isn't going to happen. Something good's probably going to happen. At least the odds are probably 50/50, why dwell on the negative? There's no point living that negativity in advance!"

Having picked up on the phrase 'end of my career' at the start of the interview, I had to end with asking whether he saw himself doing this when he's 70.

"If I can I will be. I don't want to retire, I enjoy what I'm doing. I'd love to be doing it, but only if I'm able to do it well and people get pleasure from it. I don't want to be one of those people that goes past their sell-by date. Right now I'm sure that people are enjoying what I'm doing. They're getting a lot of pleasure from it and so am I. As long as it's like that, all is well."

By James Nuttall 

Greg Lake will performing UK dates starting on 12 November. 
Dates can be found at:
Latest ELP news can be found at:

Many thanks to Greg and Billy for setting up the interview. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Patti Has the Power, By James Nuttall

Patti Smith, 2012
I have talked to a lot of very interesting people at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, and seen some fantastic shows there.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of re-interviewing one of the most interesting and influential people on the planet- Patti Smith.

Patti was scheduled to play the Trades that night. She was back in the UK to tour with her band to promote her latest album, Banga.

The date in Hebden Bridge would be an acoustic show, with just her and bass player, Tony Shanahan, on piano and guitar duties. Patti would be donating her £3,000 fee to the town's flood appeal; a campaign close to her heart. As she explained that evening during the show, her own house flooded in the 1980's, so she could relate to the town's troubles. "I saw all the sand bags and I just thought 'ugh, my life in the 80's".' In the end, you just pick up and start again."

Patti arrived at the venue around 5pm. Taking time out to recover from car sickness, she signed autographs for fans, and even complimented a passing child's bike! 

Once again, I found myself walking into another venue with the Godmother of Punk for an interview on another sunny afternoon. Taking me into the soundcheck in the 190 capacity venue, I was greeted with a bottle of water and the opening bars of Smith's top 5 UK hit, Because the Night, playing in the background as the duo prepared for soundcheck.

Soundcheck over, Patti went for a stroll around the town to search for a book store where, she hoped to purchase a poetry book for the evening, intending to read a Sylvia Plath poem. Plath is buried in Heptonstall, near Hebden Bridge.

Returning empty handed, I offered to go home and print off the poem from the internet in return for a slot on the guest list for the evening's show, which had sold-out within minutes. Patti was happy to oblige, but first things first, we launched into the pre-arranged interview...

This date was scheduled as a day off between dates at Manchester and Leeds Academy's. With such a tight schedule, Patti still managed to fit in some sightseeing.

"We were in Haworth and we visited the Bronte parish and the museum, and that was really wonderful because I share, with my sister, a deep love of the Bronte's. They had a very old second-hand copy of my favourite Charlotte Bronte book, Villette. That was quite moving."

"I didn't do extensive sightseeing because I'm saving it for a trip my sister and I are taking in the spring. But the most moving thing, actually, was to go to St Thomas' church yard and visit the grave of the great Sylvia Plath. I've well loved her since I was a teenager. It was very moving to visit her modest little grave, and I had to take a couple of very beautiful shots that I'm very proud of."

"Then we've been about this town, which is beautiful. It's so beautiful here that everything is sightseeing... looking out the window... looking at rolling hills, dotted with sheep is especially wonderful because I have a great affection for sheep. And the biggest cows I've ever seen! I'm from South Jersey, where there's a lot of white Jersey cows, but your cows are much bigger than our cows!"

Patti Smith plays an acoustic show at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, 7th September 2012
In November, Patti will be back in America, touring with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They will be playing the biggest arenas in the country, taking in the likes of Madison Square Garden. However, she says that size is not important to her.

 "Our essential duty is to prepare the stage for Neil, which I'm really happy to do because I greatly admire him. Neil and I are of the same generation, about the same age, so it's really great to be able to work with him. As a performer the difference between one room or the other is technology, often. I don't feel anymore affection for a small room than a big room. My job is to communicate whether it's 20,000 or 20 people. I'm the same person, I just will adjust."

Smith is now 65 years old. The Godmother of Punk, she has been on the road for nearly 40 years... does she still enjoy it as much now as she did then?

"Yes, or I wouldn't tour. I don't do what I don't enjoy unless it's something that has to be done... some kind of responsibility. If a cat throws up on my books I'll have to clean it up. I love touring because that's a way to communicate with a lot of people, to meet people out on the streets, to talk to people, to consider what's going on in our world and share ideas. And it's fun."

This was the first time Patti ever visited Hebden Bridge. A town famous for it's unusual shops, beautiful walks and views- it is no surprise she plans to come back.

"I'm definitely bringing my sister back in the spring. I want my sister to see the town, it's beautiful. And I want to see how the people are recovering from the flood, and visit Sylvia [Plath] again with my sister... it's beautiful around here. I hope to play here again too... I'm sure that I will."

Smith has released 11 studio albums. The first, Horses in 1975, features in pretty much any 'Greatest Albums of All Time' lists worth reading. Radio Ethiopia followed a year, under the name 'The Patti Smith Group' and her two most commercially successful albums, Easter was released in 1978 and Wave a year later.

However, there would be a nine year wait before Patti was ready to make another album, Dream of Life, in 1988. Smith states that she does not have a favourite album from the early days. "It's like asking which child you like the best. They all have qualities that I like. The first four are a long, long time ago, and they reflect when I was just beginning. I was just learning the technology of doing a record. Really, they're very fledgling. I'm proud of how the band has evolved, and how I've evolved as a songwriter and a singer. I like all the records, somewhat. They're not perfect, but there's something on all of them that I like."

Reflecting back on something Patti told me in Wolverhampton, that an album is supposed to take you on a trip, I was keen to ask whether sequencing is an important part of the trip. "Sequencing is very important. That's probably the thing that sometimes one spends the most time dealing with."

1997's Peace and Noise 
"In these times it's sort of painful because you go through so much to sequence an album, and people just buy one song and then shuffle them on an iPod. So sequencing where it might be important to an artist might be unimportant to the listener, so you have to bow to the listeners desires and needs. I still think it's important. Each song should stand on it's own, but I like the idea that you're building... it's like in a concert. Sometimes a certain song in itself is not important, but it will help to build the night."

The same goes, Patti says, for the album covers... famous for her simple yet powerful shots, Patti often takes the photographs for the CD booklets herself. 

KT Tunstall famously wrote her hit Suddenly I See about the shot of Smith on the cover of Horses. Easter famously shows smith revealing the hair under her arm- a revolutionary shot for the times.

"Album art was very, very important to my generation. We sometimes fretted as much about the album art as the album. It was always exciting, also, when I was younger 'what's gonna be on the cover of Blond On Blond, or  what's gonna be the new Stones album, what's it gonna look like? The new Led Zeppelin album... Jimi Hendrix... Miles Davis.'"

"Covers were really part of the message, or part of the aesthetic experience of buying a record. So for me it's still important. I spend a lot of time on the packaging. I have worked on the packaging of all our albums, with the design, the font, the liner notes, to make sure it's a full aesthetic experience."

"Horses... it was Robert [Mapplethorpe] who chose that cover. He shot like 12 pictures and he chose the cover. Robert knew when he shot it that that was the cover."

Famous for her raunchy, hot and energetic gigs, Smith's acoustic shows can be few and far between. However, she does enjoy both electric and acoustic performances.

My signed Easter vinyl
"The only advantage of acoustic is often I can hear myself better. So as a singer, acoustic might be a little more pleasurable, but for excitement, it's great to have a full band. I love plugging in my electric guitar at the end of the night. It's more anarchistic maybe with a full band, but, you'd be surprised what you can get out of an acoustic guitar if you have the will."

So finally, my most-asked question: does she see herself doing this in 10 years?

"I have no idea. I truthfully did not see myself doing this 20 years ago. 20 years ago I was married, I had children. It never occurred to me that I'd be back on the stage playing electric guitar."

"I actually see myself living in a little house by the sea and writing. Doing probably more acoustic things, going from town to town like we're doing now.I could see myself spending just a few weeks in the UK, going from town to town doing poetry readings or small concerts."

"I'd still like to do another record or two, but what I want to do more than anything is write. I began as a write, I'll probably end as a writer, so that will probably be the full circle of my life."

Dashing home to print out a Sylvia Plath poem for Patti to begin the night with, appropriately entitled Sheep In Fog, I returned to find the club filling with eager fans, all keen to get the best view in the house.

Once the opening act, Karima Francis, completed her 20 minute set, the room was on it's feet.

Patti took the stage a little before 9pm, and was greeted with wild applause.

Beginning with saying how happy she was to be there, Patti read out the poem, much to the crowd's love, before hitting the wrong chord going into the first song... Attempting to salvage the somber atmosphere, she tried to repeat the final line of the poem. However, she was unsuccessful, bursting into a fit of laughter before she could get the line out. "That was pathetic. It was such a wonderful setup and I hit the wrong chord!"

Smith delighred the audience with a selection of songs from her new album, Banga. Some of the songs performed at The Trades had never been performed acoustic before. A song from Banga, April Fool, was one such song.

The room was in hysterics as Patti walked up to, and then retreated from the microphone, explaining "This is where the guitar solo normally is!" As Tony repeated the bridge of the song, on piano, Smith turned to him and asked "How much longer does this thing last?"

A particular highlight was the song Ghost Dance from 1978. The audience cheered with empathy at the line "We shall live again... we shall live". Tony Shanahan playing the song on just an acoustic guitar made it even more poignant.

Patti once again said how great it was to be in Hebden Bridge. "I'm sorry you had to have a flood for me to come!"

Another highlight was a passage from Smith's 2010 award-winning memoir, Just Kids, which tells the story of Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe's years as struggling artists in New York. She even told the crowd her recipe for lettuce soup.

Pissing In A River, the signature song from her 1976 album, Radio Ethiopia, sent the audience wild  from the opening piano sequence, as did Because the Night.

My Blakean Year saw the audience clap the bass line for Patti to stay in time- a duty they were pleased to take on.

The final song was the anthem Patti co-wrote with her late husband, Fred 'Sonic' Smith. People Have the Power had the whole room swaying, repeating the refrain over and over again.

My signed copy of the Banga CD
Making my way down the staircase after the show, I heard a woman declare: "Do you know what? She's right!"

Patti's dressing room for the evening was a dressing room inside the Little Theater Company, which is next door to The Trades. 
There was a 40-strong crowd surrounding the theater, hoping to get albums and books signed,  or just to shake her hand.

Patti emerged at 10:20pm, carrying a bouquet of flowers. The audience burst into a spontaneous round of applause as she made her way to the waiting van.

Before she left, she called "Who's going to see Sylvia tomorrow?" When a hand was raised, they were instructed to leave the bouquet of flowers on the grave.

Patti Smith and her band was booked to play Leeds O2 Academy the following day, and she was already behind time. The autograph hunters were left disappointed as she was ushered into the car. However, she did stop to shake my hand and thank me for sourcing the poem for her. Reaching into her pocket and handing me some plectrums, she said "Keep in touch... email me or something, won't you?" Giving her my assurance I would email the finished piece to her, and also stay in touch, we shook hands one last time before Patti thanked the crowd again, and both she and Tony disappeared behind the black tinted windows. 

The duo were driven off in a black luxury Mercedes van. Several fans chased after it to catch a last glimpse of their idol before the van turned around the corner onto the main road. Most were content to applaud them as they drove off into the night, with calls of "come back soon" lingering in the evening's atmosphere.

By James Nuttall

All photographs copyright James Nuttall 2012 ©

Many thanks to Patti Smith for her time and assistance.

Thanks also to the Hebden Bridge Trades Club.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The triumphant return of Suzi Q... By James Nuttall

Suzi Quatro live at the Havering Show, Essex, 27th August 2012
The August Bank Holiday included countless festivals all over the country; some in castles, some in fields and some in downright odd places chosen as the venue. 

One of the less publicized weekend festivals saw the first ever female rock musician return to form after a five month recuperation.

Suzi Quatro has sold over 50 million albums worldwide. She has inspired the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Oasis, The White Stripes, Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge. She is also an actress and radio and television personality.  Last year she was inducted into the Detroit Music Hall of Fame, both as a solo artist, and as a member of her original girl bands, The Pleasure Seekers and Cradle.

She closed the Havering Show in her home county of Essex on Monday 27th August. It was her first gig since the end of March after falling from the top of a steel staircase while boarding an airplane the day after a show in Kiev. The resulting injuries included a broken left arm, right leg and a black and blue chin, which she landed on.

A misdiagnosis resulted in Quatro needing her leg to be re-broken and screws put in. 

Staying in touch with her fans via Facebook and Youtube, Suzi tracked her recovery commenting that the physiotherapy was 'S**t... absolute s**t... It's better to have a baby!"

Shows all over the world had to be rescheduled, and some were cancelled altogether.

However, Quatro, ever the professional, chose the free festival in Hornchurch as the place for her comeback gig. The Mersybeats and The Searchers had headlined the festival the day before, each day having a strict 6 pm curfew.

Suzi arrived a little after two o'clock on the day of her performance, and marched straight into her dressing room tent. Fans had come from all over the world to welcome her back to the stage, but much to everyone's shock and concern, four members of the St John's Ambulance team rushed into Quatro's tent shortly after her arrival.

Inside the dressing room I found myself watching the 62 year old rocker having her right wrist cleaned and bandaged up. "Can you believe this?", she asked, trying not to laugh "All for a coffee burn!... Tony [her driver] poured me a cup of coffee, and well... yeah!" 

When I asked if it would affect her performance that evening, Suzi quipped "No... no big deal. After what I've been through... you gotta be kidding me!" Pointing to her lower wrist, she told the medic "Just try to stay away from there, I'll need to be able to play."

After being bandaged up and doing meet and greets with some fans, we sat down in the dressing room to discuss her projects- past and present, her favourite albums, and how it feels to reclaim her position as the reigning Queen of Rock and Roll. 

Suzi's performance was running late, as the whole show was behind time. However, it still had to be finished by 6pm as the festival was in a public place. "We have to stick to the time, unfortunately. I hate it when that happens, but that's how it goes. They're having problems with sound too, but I'm just so ready... I shall be high-kicking with the best of 'em!"

Since her second operation, Quatro has had to have screws in her leg to aid the healing process. She has already said they have caused her much discomfort from day one, commenting "worst screw I ever had!". As a result, she had plans to have one of them made into a necklace; something she is still yet to do. "I'm still deciding if I want to take the other one out yet or not."

(Pointing to her shin) "That one's still there, that had to be there. So if I never take it out then I'll frame the one, or both if it does come out." 

Watching her update videos on youtube, Quatro was clearly unhappy and frustrated that she would have to take so much time out from gigging- the longest time since she was pregnant. 

However, speaking to her on the day of the gig, she looked healthy, happy and very strong. She clearly managed to stay in shape while injured. "Well I was immobile. [I stayed in shape] by not being lazy. I was on that walker going everywhere. I was emptying the trash, I was putting the dishes out of the dishwasher, I was cooking, I was going from one end of the house to the other. That in itself was exhausting, dragging the cast around. So I didn't sit around, basically."

Although the accident stopped her touring, it did not halt Suzi's thirst for work. While recovering she penned her one woman show, Unzipped, named after her 2007 autobiography. It will be performed from Monday 29th October to Saturday 3rd November at the London Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square. 

"It's me telling the story of my life. Basically, how I became Suzi Quatro from the very beginning, the early days up to the modern day." There is music in there, but it's not going to be a concert. There will be a couple of hits in there, but you're going to get talking, you'll get bits of music that were important in the beginning. There'll also be video clips from the very beginning [of my career], too. I think people are going to enjoy it."

This will not be the first time Quatro has been on stage for more than rock and roll. In 1986 she played the lead roll in Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun

She also wrote her own musical with Shirlie Roden, Tallulah Who?, about the life of actress Tallulah Bankhead; a project she has in the past said she would like to bring back. "I would love to bring that back, I'm still hoping we will. In fact, it was performed in Hornchurch, which is right here. If there's a time for it we will; somebody will approach me."

Last year Suzi was quoted in a national newspaper saying that she would like to also do a musical about her own life, commenting at the time she would like KT Tunstall to play her. Would she still like to do that? "Yeah, but let's see how [Unzipped] goes." 

And is KT still her first choice? "No. Not now. Whenever it happens is when I decide who I want to play it, but she's good, I like her." 

Since Unzipped was published to good reviews in 2007, Quatro has expressed her ongoing love affair with writing, although she has not released another book, but she will... "I'd like to. I've given stuff to publishers to see. I have a fiction which I started quite a while ago, which I haven't gone back to for a while called The Hurricane. That's really good so far. I will go back and finish it. I could write another autobiography after all this... maybe it should be called Re-zipped, haha!"

At the moment, the next Suzi Quatro release is set to be a limited edition release of her 2011 album, In the Spotlight, which will contain a bonus CD entitled In the Dark. "I've received the album cover already, but I'm yet to see the finished piece. It's got demos, unreleased stuff that nobody's heard yet, postcards and also the unseen video of Strict Machine."

In the Spotlight was released by Cherry Red, who have also remastered and re-released seven of Quatro's albums, starting in 2008 with Main Attraction, originally released in 1982 on Polydor. Some of these albums are on CD in their own right with the original art work for the first time.

Several albums, such as If You Knew Suzi and Oh Suzi Q are still to be released, however. "It seems to be that little by little all the things are getting redone, so I should think they probably will too given chance. Nothing is cement right now."

Has she given thought to her next studio album? "No, but I've already started to write."

On the subject of albums, Quatro has often spoken of her fondness for her first album, 1973's Suzi Quatro, along with 1979's Suzi... And Other Four Letter Words, and 2006's Back to the Drive. So which of her albums would be her least favourite? "Probably Aggro-Phobia." This was the only album Mickie Most, who discovered Suzi in Detroit in 1970, brought her to England and signed her to his label, RAK, ever produced.

The other albums were all produced by Mike Chapman, who composed most of Quatro's hit singles, along with writing songs for Tina Turner, The Sweet and Mud. He would go on to produce Blondie's most successful albums. He also spearheaded In the Spotlight and executive produced Back to the Drive for Suzi.

"I never thought Mickie was my producer. I love him to death, but I never thought he knew how to bring out the best in me. The only way I can say it is I don't like the way Mickie produces me. I think Mike Champan brings out the excitement in me, and Mickie was always lost in the studio with me. He got me where I wanted to go, but not production-wise. But he was smart enough to know that Mike got me."

Moving onto other people's albums, Suzi has always expressed her love for Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Eagles... Her favourite albums by them are as follows:

Tom Petty: "Definitely, without a doubt, the first one. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I bought about five albums all at once, and that's one that I wore out."

The Eagles: "I don't know, I like their Greatest Hits because it's just a group of most of their best songs."

Jackson Browne: "Running on Empty. That's another album I wore out... fantastic."

Suzi is an accomplished musician. In her autobiography she offers Gene Simmons from KISS some redeemable bass lessons. In 1975 she was named the third-best bassist in the world after Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney. She also reads and writes drums and piano. 

Staying in contact with the outside world by Facebook and Twitter, Quatro commented that her bass playing is the best it's ever been. 

"It's much better now than it used to be because I relearned how to play. So it's excellent, I'm playing really well. It's just readdressing technique, things that you would maybe cheat on because you find this position's easier. Everybody has little cheats. When I relearned how to play once the cast was off I couldn't do any cheats, I had to start from scratch."

Suzi Q was set to go onstage at 4:45pm. She was finally announced about 10 minutes late, and the 2000-strong crowd went wild with excitement as she took the stage in her iconic leather jumpsuit, with a red Ed Hardy tattooed sleeve t-shirt underneath, and launched into a cover of Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free World, then straight into her 1979 single I've Never Been In Love

Fifteen songs were packed into a one hour show. Can the Can, Devil Gate Drive, The Wild One, Tear Me Apart, and other hits each went down a storm. The loudest reaction was Suzi's trademark bass solo, which sent the crowd wild with excitement.

The single from In the Spotlight, a cover of Goldfrapp's Strict Machine, was supposed to end the show, but time delays lead to it being cut from the encore, making A Girl Like Me the only song to represent the album at the gig. One encore of the top 5 UK hit If You Can't Give Me Love, and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Rock and Roller closed the festival. 

After the show, we escorted Suzi to the merchandise stand, still in her stage clothes, where she signed autographs for eager fans- all desperate to get albums, programmes and photographs signed. 

Her high heeled boot had caused her to hurt her ankle after the show, so taking my arm as we walked back to her dressing room she said "That was incredible."

So finally, does she see herself doing this when she's 72? "Yeah. I do!" 

By James Nuttall

Many thanks to Suzi for her time; thanks also to Lynn and Skip for helping to arrange the interview. 

All photographs © James Nuttall 2012

Monday, 13 August 2012

A New Bend in the Road... the return of Jeremy Spencer by James Nuttall

Today, when most people hear the name Fleetwood Mac they automatically think 'Rumours'... the tenth biggest selling album of all time. An album that painted a musical picture of the personal traumas of the 1977 line up of the west-coast soft-rock phenomenon as they dealt with interpersonal break ups, the pressure of super stardom and drug addiction. They picture seventies siren Stevie Nicks twirling around in her chiffon skirts and Lindsey Buckingham's unique style of playing guitar.

This is the Fleetwood Mac you will be watching on Behind the Music. However, the big Mac had already been around since 1967 as one of the most successful blues bands on the British music scene, and already featured 10 members by the time Buckingham Nicks joined the group in 1975.

This Fleetwood Mac might get ten minutes devoted to them in a 60 minute documentary before the current line up's story takes over. However, the earlier line ups had just as much drama as any incarnation of the band.

Jeremy Spencer was, until 1971, was in the middle of this drama. As a founding member of the band, he played slide guitar on some of the early hits, such as 'Black Magic Woman' (later to be made a smash hit in America by Carlos Santana), 'Albatross' and 'Oh Well'. All three Fleetwood Mac albums to feature Spencer reached the top 10 in Britain. 

Things started to fall apart for the super group in 1970, when the bands' front man and lead guitarist, Peter Green, voted the third-greatest guitarist in the world by Mojo magazine, left the band after an ill-fated LSD trip in Munich. 10 days before a US tour, bass player John McVie's wife, Christine McVie, who used to front the blues band Chicken Shack joined the band on keyboards. She would go onto write some of the Mac's biggest hits for the next 20 years such as 'Don't Stop', 'Little Lies', 'Everywhere' and 'You Make Loving Fun'.
'Bend in the Road'  by Jeremy Spencer CD cover

Fleetwood Mac has used nine different guitar players since its formation, and each left at some stage. Jeremy was to be the second guitarist to leave. In 1971 he disappeared in Los Angeles outside a book store and was later found by the band's manager with a religious group, The Children of God. Spencer is still a member of this group today, although they are now named 'The Family International.' Mick Fleetwood recalled "It was like Scott of the Antarctic."

Band members often recalled Spencer reading a bible he had sewn into his coat, and that he was often much quieter than his charismatic and loud on-stage persona.

Jeremy had already released a solo album while he was in Fleetwood Mac, the 1970 LP 'Jeremy Spencer'. Another album was to follow in 1972 after he left the band, and then another in 1979. However, it would not be until 2006 that the world heard Spencer's fourth solo album, 'Precious Little'

Now in 2012 he has recorded a new album, 'Bend in the Road'. Sticking to his blues roots, Spencer covers an Elmore James track and gives us 14 blues tracks in total. A limited edition double album vinyl edition was released to coincide with Record Store Day, and the CD edition is due for release on 28 August.

I spoke to Jeremy via email to talk about his projects, old and new... 

Hi Jeremy, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
You are welcome James. I like to do email interviews – at least I don’t get misquoted!

You were influenced by the blues musician Elmore James, and you cover 'The Sun Is Shining' on the new album. Can you remember where you first heard him, and have you a particular favourite song by him?
I came to hear Elmore James after a friend and fellow student named ‘Acker’ rescued me from a cruel prank at Stafford Art College one evening in 1964. He invited me for dinner and put on a blues album while we ate. It was a British Pye records compilation from Chess called The Blues Vol 3. It had Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Witherspoon etc; good stuff, but it wasn’t grabbing my ear while we chatted, as I was preoccupied and down about the incident earlier.

Suddenly ‘The Sun is Shining’ by Elmore came on. I jumped up and stood mesmerised at the record player. I had never heard of him before and I couldn’t believe my ears. I think what grabbed me was Elmore’s singing and the answering of his guitar like one voice. It sounded so anguished and powerful.

From that point on, I was determined to play and if possible sing like that. Problem was, that was the only available song of his in England at the time until Sue records issued an album called ‘The Best of Elmore James’ which I obtained at the time of my fractured leg accident about nine months later.

Was it James that first attracted you to the slide guitar?

Which of the Fleetwood Mac albums do you consider to be the best?
To be honest, for enjoyable, detached listening, I liked the first two albums they put out in the 70’s with Buckingham and Nicks the best - Fleetwood Mac’ and ‘Rumours’.

Do you consider 'Bend in the Road' your best solo work to date?
It’s difficult for me to decide between this one and my previous release in 2006: ‘Precious Little’. I consider them both my best by far.

Do you ever manage to come and play over in Europe anymore?
Actually, I do live in Europe. My wife is German, and we have been living in Germany. I have performed occasionally here in Europe over the last ten years, as well as in America.

You've written the majority of the songs on Bend in the Road; you also wrote  much of Fleetwood Mac's material when you were in the band. However, some of the songs on this new album were written in the 70's and 80's. How often do you find yourself writing songs?
I am always getting ideas, and I have a huge unfinished and unused backlog of 40 years on my computer and in my noddle! I just have to knuckle down and finish them. Opportunities like recording ‘Precious Little’ and ‘Bend in the Road’ force me to do so.

Do you tend to start with lyrics or melody when you write a song?
I usually start with a melody and maybe a lyric line or a title. Again, I usually have to push, or get pushed to finish the song! That’s where the hard work comes in. They say that inspiration is ninety percent perspiration!
Alternate cover for the vinyl edition of 'Bend in the Road'

You've used a lot of different guitars over the years, do you like to use any particular one to record with?
For recording, I like to use a 2008 limited edition PRS with three P90 pickups and a five-way switch. It gives a broad ‘palette’ and covers all the bases. I usually like to stick with only one or two electric guitars for a session, and just one for a gig.

Are you still in contact with the members of Fleetwood Mac?
I have regular contact (usually by phone) with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

Fleetwood Mac are planning a tour next year, do you think you will go and see them?
If they are around, and it’s a convenient trip, I’d like to.

What does your current touring band consist of?
I seldom tour, but when I do the occasional venue, I usually have a second guitarist, bassist, drummer and sometimes a keyboard player. I am concluding that I can do with either another guitarist or a keyboardist to share the solo spots; it’s unnecessary to have both. It must be something about the ‘less is more’ principle, where the individual instruments have more air and space.

I have also been encouraged with a recent experience playing as a duo with Papa George. We both played resonator guitars; it clicked amazingly and we could have played for hours!

Who do you enjoy listening to when you're at home?
I have a playlist of favourites from the 50’s and each decade until now, to which I occasionally listen. I like to listen to Mark Knopfler, Dido, Enya and Albert King to name a few, but as I said in answer to an earlier question, I have so many ideas in my head, that when I want to listen to music, I make it!

You've been a professional musician since the '60's, is there a particular highlight of your career, such as a stand-out show or album?
Norway with a team of Norwegian blues musicians, and collaborating with guitarist Brett Lucas in Detroit on ‘Bend in the Road’. A recent highlight has been briefly working with a young French guitarist, Mick Ravassat, with whom I hope to do more.

Finally, a must-ask question, do you think there is any chance of the original blues line up of The Mac getting back together, even for a one-off gig?
Maybe I should ‘quote’ Mark Knopfler’s response to a similar must-ask question in an interview -- with an ‘audible sigh’!

Bottom line, James, even if Peter and Danny were able to participate, which is unlikely, I would decline, despite the hypothetical cries of ‘do it for your fans.’

On that note, I would like to leave you with this quote from Steve Jobs, taken from his recent biography written by Walter Isaacson:‘If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.

‘The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.’

Even though I remain true to my blues ‘roots’, I enjoy and need to keep moving forward musically, and I hope and believe, by the grace of God, that I have re-emerged a lot differently!

By James Nuttall © 2012

Once again, my thanks to Jeremy for his time and detailed answers.

Jeremy Spencer's new album, 'Bend in the Road' can be purchased at:

News can be found at:

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Patti Smith: "We're All Marginalized" by James Nuttall ©

The cliche 'needs no introduction' seems void in this instance, since my latest interviewee has certainly earned the right to one.

Her 1975 debut album, Horses, was named number one in NME's '20 Near-As-Damn-Perfect Initial Efforts'. The prototype for punk as we know it, it was also named as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone and Time magazine. The album was a breakthrough, and it set the tone for her music for the next 37 years... always political, never conventional. 

Patti Smith has been one of the most influential artists in rock music history. Voted the 47th greatest artist of all time in Rolling Stone magazine, she has influenced musicians like Madonna, Shirley Manson, The Smiths, Bono, KT Tunstall and Blondie. A seven-time-nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was finally inducted in 2007. Smith has written many poetry books, and also published her memoir, Just Kids, in 2010, which won the National Best Book Award. Last year she received the Polar Music Prize. This year sees the released of her eleventh studio album, Banga. Released to rave reviews, she is currently on tour promoting it. 

With such accolades under her belt, imagine my surprise when I saw her casually strolling down a Wolverhampton high-street with guitar god, Lenny Kaye, on her way back from praying at the local St Peters church. Swamped by autograph hounds she was clad in exactly the same clothes she would be wearing for the evening's show: plain black jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans with peace signs drawn on in biro. The only difference were the silver boots that were replaced by black ones for the concert. Imagine my shock when, after she's signed my albums, I find her writing her email address on the back of my ticket to arrange an interview for the next leg of her UK tour. Imagine my light-headedness when, five minutes later, she walks over and utters those three magical words: "come with us."

Strolling past the stunned onlooking sycophants and autograph dealers, I suddenly find myself being escorted into the backstage area of the Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, and placed in a dressing room with the pioneering Godmother of Punk, who later said she didn't do interviews before shows, so the honors kept on coming. Turning to her road manager, she said "I'm giving him 15 minutes, so just come and get me." 

Thinking I'd better treat this interview as though it were my last 15 minutes on Earth, we dived straight into talking about religion. Smith has used religious imagery and philosophy frequently in her work.The reissue versions of her albums all contain biblical quotes and phrases, handwritten by Smith and printed onto the CD's and liner notes. 

"My mother gave me the concept of God when I was very little" Patti says. "She taught me how to pray, and basically her teaching was that we weren't alone here; that there was something higher to aspire to. I was very happy to see that there was another level that maybe was a bit freer." 

And that was worked into the music? 
Patti Smith: Godmother of Punk Rock

"It works into the music in different ways. Some of it isn't spiritual, like, for instance, the first lines of Gloria ("Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine") are not really about spirituality, that is more about a reaction to the rules and regulations of the church, where a lot of obstacles are placed between us and the freedom of conceiving God the way we want. It was also a deceleration of existence and responsibility. I wanted the freedom to make mistakes and to explore and I would take responsibility for them."

"I find the concept of Christ in the purist form comforting and inspiring, but I'm interested in all faiths, it doesn't matter to me. I pray in all kinds of churches, synagogues (and) mosques. Today I went to St Peters here and lit candles for my children, my late husband, my band and the people. I would describe my spiritualism as partially humanistic and partially a private, limitless communication with our creator as I can see them."

So did she think that she would change the world of music to the extent she did?

(Laughing) "No, I didn't think my music would change the world. I didn't plan to ever do an album, but when I got a contract and was asked to do a record, my motivation for doing Horses was to create a bridge between everything I had learned and come up with and that was now gone because of the death of so many great people. Also a bridge between the pioneers of our cultural voice and the new guard. I was very worried about the changes. We had the Nixon Administration in America, we had a lot of assassinations. All the hopes that we had in the sixties and all the work we were doing, and all the evolution of our voice through people like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane... the evolution of rock and roll, and I was concerned that it would become a commodity, and I was just trying to make a statement and inspire new people to have a loftier approach to rock and roll."

"Also to communicate to people I perceived to  be marginalized in that period: anti-war people, homosexuals, young artists and poets, because they were my people as I conceived. I believe that in our world now 90 per cent of the people are marginalized, our governments and corporations are so powerful and so huge that we're all marginalized. There's a democracy of the arts now and you don't feel one strong, concentrated voice, its spread out globally through technology because more and more people are creating. Our culture is different and we have a much more materialistic culture than we did in the sixties. In order to be plugged into the 21st century people immediately have to be more materialistic. But since the eighties when I got married, had children and wrote People Have the Power with my husband (the late Fred 'Sonic' Smith) I feel that the potential is there to speak to all people globally."
Smith live at the Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, 25th June 2012. The opening night for the 'Banga' Tour.

Does that mean the music industry is also marginalized nowadays?

"We just live in a different culture, some of it is good and some of it isn't. Some of it I think is unhealthy, some of it I think is confining. What some people feel is democracy is confining to others. I was talking to Neil Young a week or two ago and we were both talking about how in the past, the stage was your laboratory. You could go and do concerts but have a certain amount of time where you were working out new things... you didn't have lyrics or anything set, but you wanted to work out a song between you and the people, and it was really between you and the people. But now with technology, people post everything you do, they've already made a judgement on it before you can finish it and they make a judgement on you for not being together, for seeming like you can't remember your own lyrics when really you're just writing them with the people. Also you're subject to so much media. You go onstage and instead of feeling a oneness with the people you have to negotiate people filming you, taking photographs of you, recording you, looking at what they're recording, texting. I'm not speaking in judgement about it, but my concept of performance is connection and keeping our channels open, so one has to figure out how to negotiate the 21st century."

And how do you negotiate the 21st century?

"As a performer I could see the new people and what was coming. It's what an artist does, it's like when Walt Whitman said 'I am with you, young poet 300 years from now.' My concept was a little edgier perhaps, but it's the same idea. Art and self expression is infinite and after an artist dies his work fluctuates. It's like a bloodline." 

Is that part of the reason why the deluxe edition of Banga is also a book? 

"We put out a limited amount. I like the special edition because I like a book, the CD is relatively modern but it gives you the permanence of a book. I worked very hard on it. I think of all our records as sort of an oral book or an abstract movie. When you put records together it's like a soundtrack for a life, and I always put records together for people to listen to from beginning to end at least a few times. Each one of my records has the listener in mind to go through various things in listening: a certain amount of lightheartedness or joy, sorrow, fear or hope... there's a lot of things encoded in the record. It's a very sixties concept... it's meant to take you somewhere. Hopefully if you do a good job an album is like a drug, it takes you on a little trip." 

How did you feel being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

"I was nominated seven times before I actually made it, so it's not like it was a big surprise, either they were going to fuck with me for the rest of my life or not. I didn't even want us to have a R&R Hall of Fame, when I was younger I lobbied against it. I thought rock and roll didn't need a hall of fame, we have our gods, but still we choose them. But they did make a hall of fame, they invited me in and I accepted. No matter what one thinks of these things, there's always a small amount of pride attached. In the whole arena of rock and roll to be chosen, whether one is cynical or not, for someone like me, it was obvious that someone like Elvis Presley would be there, I'm not an obvious choice.

 It's gratifying enough to know that what we did seems important to people. I always dreamed I'd write books, so it's very gratifying to know that it endured like a good book, and I'm proud of that."  
The Patti Smith Group as it is today. Left to right:Tom Verlaine, Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daughtery, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye.

But your lyrics could read like a great poetry book... 

"Well I began as a writer, I'm not a musician. I write little melodies, I write a few songs by myself. I wrote Banga, but I don't think like a musician I think with language. Usually Tony, our bass player, or Lenny arranges them. If I write a song I do the whole thing because I can hear it from beginning to end. But often we will write a song on guitar riffs and arrange them together as a band."  

Wolverhampton was the first night of Patti's tour, which will go throughout the summer, and winter months. During the course of the interview ghostly sounds could be heard from the auditorium, alas, this was a technical glitch in the PA system. Not a good start to her tour. How does she cope with these things?

"These things happen, believe me. Soemtimes It's more harrowing than other times. I thought that I didn't get nervous but I've been realising that I have to take a piss a lot, and I find that that translates into nervousness. I have a really great band, we have great camaraderie. Sometimes I'll feel a little nervous when we're going into a place we've never been and I think "will anybody come"... then I go out and there's thousands of people. But that's my only worry, I still worry people won't come, but they do... oh, they do."  

By James Nuttall © 2012

Tour dates and news can be found at:

Many thanks to Patti Smith for her time and music...  

My signed copy of Horses- the first ever punk album, and the prototype for many to follow.