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