My old school pal, Paul Flatt, has undertaken the gargantuan task of writing a blog post every day through 2018, and a great job he is making of it. Granted, I may be biased, as his musings cover a life which overlapped with mine for several years when we were both students at the hell-hole known as Gunnersbury Grammar School for Boys in West London. But Paul writes well and ranges over topics as diverse as rock music, politics, rubbish removal (or non-removal) in Northampton, rugby, home renovations, television and radio and family life. His excellent blog can be found here.
In yesterday’s (7th September) post, Paul recounted getting his hands on an import version of Led Zeppelin 1. This would have been, I think, 1969, when he was 16 and I was 15 (I was the youngest in our year). I can also remember laying my hands on it, some months later than Paul did – the album was released in the USA before the UK. I too remember thrilling to the way Jimmy Page’s guitar soared between one stereo speaker and the other. (As an aside, it was my brother’s stereo system, which my mother bought “on the H.P.” from Simm’s Electrical in Sudbury Hill, and I can remember the repo men knocking on the door to take it away when she couldn’t keep up the payments).
And to attest to the timelessness of the music (to me at least), I have it in the CD player in my car. It was one of the few CDs which I left in the car before I went to Vietnam last year, so I was clearly listening to it last year as well.
Led Zeppelin II was an album I liked as well, but then, as often happens with me, I started to lose interest when the band became “big”. I always tended to prefer, for some reason, niche bands or bands that were made up of eccentrics or had a guitarist kicked out of another band that went on to become huge without him.
Which reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago:
The Bands You’ve Never Heard of
I always loved the bands that never quite made it,
that had a critically acclaimed first album
which they couldn’t follow up,
released a single which briefly
reached twenty-nine in the top thirty,
had an incredible multi-instrumentalist
who could play two saxophones at the same time
and was revered as a god in Nigeria,
that were nothing without the drop dead lead guitarist
who dropped dead too young to join the twenty-seven club,
that were formed by a bloke
who left a super group just before it became super
and now lives in a council house in the English Midlands
a few miles from the sprawling Gothic estates of his erstwhile band members,
that made an ill-advised appearance on Top of the Pops
stoned out of their minds miming
in front of the gob-smacked bubblegummers,
released L.P.s. with multi-coloured swirls on the vinyl,
causing a ripple of excitement at the time
and now eagerly sought by collectors of oddities,
had intriguing names taken from a Kipling poem, or a classic film
or an obscure 18th century inventor of agricultural implements,
produced albums with two stupendous tracks,
the rest filled with white boy versions of Elmore James standards,
that were talented jazz musicians trying their luck
at being a rock band before realising it needed a different key;
that you can find in grainy recordings on YouTube
with a hundred and twenty views and two ‘likes’, one of which is mine;
that wrote a great song which most people think
was written by the well-known band who took it to number one in the charts,
that referenced snatches of Bach or Coltrane
in the middle of 30 minute organ solos,
devised a killer riff that was stolen
and used in someone else’s million seller,
toured the States as support acts for Led Zep or Purple,
third on the bill, live at the Fillmore,
paid a pittance to open the show
and would have had the crowd screaming “more, more, more”
but the crowd was still queuing to get in,
that were just as good as the great bands
but not as good-looking.
You’ve got no idea who I’m talking about, have you?
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018