By Dave Thompson
Crazy Kids: Life After Jook
(Steve Wright Books)
If you’ve already read Steve Wright’s last two books, detailing the stories of Radio Stars and Jook, then Crazy Kids is essential reading — and, if you haven’t, you should. The family tree that spirals out of the worlds of John’s Children, Jet, Jook and Radio Stars — and takes in Sparks, the Dickies, Milk’n’Cookies and more -is one of the most fascinating in all of seventies rock history, and Wright is the genealogist who brings it to life.
This volume ostensibly picks up where the last, detailing Jook’s short, savage story, ended off. But it is so much more than that, as it seizes the careers of the four band members (plus manager John Hewlett), and traces through the often incestuous twists and turns that came after.
Lavishly illustrated with color throughout, the book opens with Ian Kimmet’s work for Bearsville Studios, co-producing the likes of Pam Windo, Randy Vanwarmer, Elizabeth Barraclough and more. From there, we dive headlong into Hewlett’s discovery of the Dickies (and more); and guitarist Trevor White and bassist Ian Hampton’s two album stint with Sparks, at the peak of their European success.
Meanwhile, Hampton’s predecessor in that band, Martin Gordon, is launching Jet with Jook drummer Chris Townson and his old John’s Children cohort Andy Ellison, which brings their next band, Radio Stars, back into focus… and after that it just goes mad, as John’s Children, Jet and Radio Stars all reform around more or less the same cast of characters (Morrissey sideman Boz Boorer among them); Gordon rockets off on a stellar solo career; the vaults open wide to unleash a slew of ancient mysteries….
The amount of information in this book is staggering, the number of records you’ll suddenly find yourself needing is phenomenal. Wright’s writing is engaging throughout, and his personal photos of the various band members are an absolute delight. And the story isn’t over. Wright is still to turn a similarly all-illuminating spotlight on John’s Children and the A-jaes, the bands that started all this in the first place. We’re waiting!
…Fairport Convention by Kevan Furbank
…Hawkwind by Duncan Harris
…Toto by Jacob Holm-Lupo
… the Solo Beatles (1969-1980) by Andrew Wild
… Steely Dan by Jez Rowden
...Monty Python by Steve Pilkington
Now this is an interesting idea. Pick a band, any band. Gather together the discography, play the lot and review every song. And keep the opinions and writing fresh enough that the later records receive as much attention as the early ones, and don’t fall into the time-honored trap of “they lost it after the seventh album.”
Hawkwind, Fairport Convention, the solo Beatles (okay that one knows the trap is waiting, so it sensibly stops in 1980), Steely Dan and the dog from The Wizard of Oz are gathered in this particular batch of publications, alongside an “on screen” study of Monty Python, and the format remains the same throughout: scooping up all the principle studio and live albums by the act under the microscope, a running commentary on the unfolding history, and then a track by track breakdown of every song.
It’s not a perfect format… bonus tracks on subsequent reissues occasionally sneak in without any explanation (the Hawkwind book is especially guilty of this), leaving owners of the original vinyl staring bemusedly into space. Hawkwind author Harris also has a somewhat individual understanding of what that band’s core catalog actually is, adding one solo album by sometime frontman Robert Calvert, while ignoring the pseudonymous Psycheedelic Warlords’ White Zone. His reasoning, his introduction claims, “will become clear later,” but it’s still jarring… a little like focussing on Paul McCartney and ignoring the Fireman, but including Holly Days.
Which brings us to the Beatles book, which is probably the best of the batch… key singles are thrown in where necessary, and hits collections, too.
Fans of Ringo’s early albums will chafe at the lack of actual critical commentary on the individual songs… yes, we know “Love Don’t Last Long” is “a slow country weepie with wailing harmonica.” But is it any good? And who is this Howard who wrote it? Reviews should not be encyclopedia entries.
But overall, song receive the coverage and commentary they deserve, and it’s great to see somebody finally give kudos to McCartney’s “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People” (even if author Wild does miss the conceptual point of adding the Crossroads theme as a coda).
Of the other books in the series, the Steely Dan seems complete and is certainly very enthusiastic… the words “bland soulless muzak” do not seem to appear once, anywhere in the text; and as for the one about the dog, well what can you say? Woof woof.
The Python title is a lot of fun, though, with most every episode, movie, record and oddment given a straightforward synopsis. It’s not 100% all-encompassing - solo performances throughout the Python lifetime are absent, which means there’s no room for John Cleese’s To Norway - Home of Giants, a thirty minute Norwegian travel documentary that was sent out in support of Life of Brian. Which itself amuses because the main feature was actually banned in Norway, at least for a while.
But we do get a full listing of all the albums included in Monty Python’s Complete Record Collection, just in case your own copy isn’t handy; and while it can be argued that there is something painfully redundant about reading straightforward written descriptions of something you can as easily watch on screen (it’s not as funny, for a start), there’s something comforting about it as well.
So that’s the latest additions to the already sizeable On Track series,. Generally enjoyable, well designed, color photography, and they do look great all lined up together. There will, hopefully, be many more in the series; indeed, the Beatles book even calls out for prospective authors to get in touch. Get scribbling!
Jon Anderson & the Warriors - the Road to Yes
In a way, it’s a shame that the Y word needs to be included in the title. In a truly just world, the name of the Warriors would be up there with whichever sixties icon you care to mention… not for their recorded legacy, not for their subsequent activities, and not even because the town of Accrington deserves to be known for something more than its soccer team.
No, the Warriors matter for the same reason that every other so-called footnote in British Beat Boom history matters, because they were out there “doing it” during one of the most overall creative eras rock has (or will) ever seen, and in so doing, they made it possible for subsequent generations to “do it” as well.
Written with the full co-operation of a slew of former members, with the apparent approval of Anderson too, fabulously illustrated and painstakingly detailed, the story told in The Road to Yes is effectively a microcosm of mid-sixties Britrock… greasy cafes, bumpy roads, unreliable transport, club owners who yearn for their own good old days… Anderson himself recalls, “On a good day, I can remember lots of crazy things that happened. The Warriors were a very silly, funny, crazy, 1960s band, an adventure into lots of amazing things,” and those things leap out of every page. Loudly.