Graham Music Blog

Welcome to my new blog, where I look into the world of arts and entertainment

Me, Jimmy Page & Coincidences

It’s amazing what coincidences this life of ours manages to conjure up for us, I think no matter how broad your musical taste is , we all have a band or solo artist we are most connected to. For me that band was Led Zeppelin, my brother took me to see them at Earls Court when I was just 15 and I saw them again a few years later at Knebworth. For me it was the vastness of everything they did as a band, epic songs, large stadium shows, 3 hour plus sets, exceptional musicians and of course great music, and out of the four it was Jimmy Page for me who stood out, for many years I had a large poster of him in my room sporting a twin neck guitar, embroided jacket and a Marlborough cigarette in his mouth. So it was a coincidence that for several years I lived and worked in the same town as he did, and I guess it was fate that I would get to meet him which I did several times and each occasion was bizarre and wonderful for several reasons.

I first got involved in Windsor Arts Centre as a volunteer helping out on their music events, I then got a job as Bar Manager at the venue and then became Music Programmer and eventually Venue Manager. When I started music programming at the venue  before the age of the internet we used to be sent flyers in the post from agents offering a selection of artists who were available on tour, one day one of these came in from a Folk Music agency who offered amongst their roster Roy Harper, I was already a fan of his but at the time he wasn’t doing very much so I was unsure if we would get an audience. That evening I went to my local pub by the River Thames with a friend, we sitting outside on a Summers evening when Jimmy Page walked in brought a drink and sat down on his own, it didn’t seem like anyone recognised him so after a while I picked up the courage to walk over to him and say I was a fan, the first and only time I had ever done anything like this. Whilst we were talking he mentioned that he had been in the studio recording an album with Roy Harper, which was the first of many coincidences. The next day I went into work still buzzing from meeting a hero and called the agency who represented Roy Harper, I quickly worked out that they had no idea he was making an album with Jimmy Page who had told me when the album was due for release, so I asked for a date a few weeks after it was due out and booked him in for a a very small fee. By the time the performance came around the album (Rizla) was number 6 in the charts, we had sold out 2 months prior to the event, the tour to promote the album included dates at Hammersmith Odeon (as it was called then) , Birmingham Odeon, Newcastle City Halls and Windsor Arts Centre. Of course most people knew Jimmy Page lived in Windsor and figured that he would be at the Windsor date, which he wasn’t, he was in Japan at the time, but we still had a further 200 people turn up on the night wanting to get in on the off chance he would show up. The Roy Harper show was amazing and went on for 3 hours and is still to this day one of my highlights.

Move forward a few years and our music programme at Windsor Arts Centre was pretty well established especially our acoustic guitar season and we had a good group of people who attended these events on a regular basis. One of these people was a lovely chap from Reading who was also a big Zeppelin fan, and one night he gave me a rare album as a gift, to say thank you I went through my old box of ticket stubs I had been to and found the Earls Court ticket from 1975 (admission fee was £1.50). Thinking I would take the ticket into work so I could get the customers address and put it in the post, the day I took the ticket in was a Saturday where we had a children’s show taking place, that day was Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, and who should attend with his children but Jimmy Page. Now I always had a golden rule when it came to celebrities attending the venue, at the end of the day he is a parent taking his kids out and as manager it was my job to make sure they had a pleasant time. So the rule was don’t say anything to them unless they speak to you first, as it turns out after the show Jimmy Page came up to me and said “ I know what I was going to ask you” and it was a about children’s dance classes, after a while he said “ I haven’t introduced myself, I am Jimmy Page “ internally I was shaking like a leaf and like an idiot I said “ I am Graham Steel” his reply was “ Yes I see you around Windsor all the time”, at which point I said “ I know this sounds ridiculous but I have a Led Zeppelin ticket in my bag which I am sending to a friend, could you sign it for him” he said “what shall I put” I said “I dunno” and he ended up putting “ To Steve... Rock on... Jimmy Page”. At this point I thought I am not going to post the ticket as I know Steve was a big fan and I wanted to see his face, so I hung on to it. A few days later Steve came in for an event, I gave him the signed ticket and his girlfriend said “Did you know it was Steve’s Birthday today” which of course I didn’t. So to recap I had this Led Zeppelin ticket in a box for thirty years the very day I take it out Jimmy Page comes in the building and the day I pass it over it is my friend’s birthday, life can be very odd and wonderful at times.

As I said at the start there were a number of subsequent meetings with this Rock legend as he would regularly come to the Arts Centre and all of them as strange as the other. On one occasion I had a meeting with a new volunteer who just moved to Windsor and as it turns out was wearing a Led Zeppelin tee shirt , we had a children’s show on at the time and she was telling me her impression of the UK before she moved here and that she imagined and as a Nation we all had tea with the Queen and hung out with Elton John, I said that no way was that the case, five minutes later the children’s show finished and Jimmy Page walked out with his kids and said “Hi Graham” I replied “Hi Jimmy”  the look on the volunteers face was priceless. Another time we had a children’s end of term show and Jimmy arrived early and helped me put out the chairs, which in its self was a strange experience. There was also a comedy night with Boothby Graffoe which featured Antonio Forcione on guitar which only had 10 people in the audience which consisted of Jimmy Page and 9 of his mates. We also hosted a Record Fair and there was a rumour going around at the time  that Van Morrison once sued a stall holder for selling demo’s of his, on this day Jimmy Page turned up and I was talking to him in the foyer before he went in and over his shoulder I could see stall holders frantically hiding albums under the counter, when he eventually came out of the Fair I asked him what it was like he said it was rubbish as no one had any Led Zeppelin albums!

So to conclude, some people say never meet your heroes as you will always be disappointed, on this occasion I don’t think that has been the case as it has been surreal and life enhancing, I am fully aware of his Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll lifestyle but from my experience Jimmy Page has always come across and being a very nice and friendly person who also happens to be the biggest Led Zeppelin fan you will ever meet. A few years after these stories he moved from Windsor and I now live in another part of Berkshire, so I don’t suppose our paths will cross again, but life is a funny thing so you never really know!

Genres in Music

An old friend of mine once said there are only two types of music , Good & Bad, but try and enter event details on the Skiddle Listings site and they will give you seventy genres to chose from, some I have never heard of and some just don’t make any sense. ‘Acoustic’ is listed as a genre but surely this just means performing with an acoustic instrument rather than a style of music, I have organised many ‘Acoustic’ events this year ranging from Classical Guitar Recitals to a Ukulele duo performing Heavy Metal numbers, so if the point of putting music in a Pigeon Hole is to entice potential listeners then this really doesn’t work.

I am a firm believer that music is a living breathing thing, it evolves and develops with each generation and that to me is what makes it exciting, if you ask most musicians who perform their own material to describe their music they will generally be loathed to do so, eventually stating they believe they are different to everything else that is out there, but when it comes to promoting relatively new acts then there is a need to categorise with the aim of getting an audience, so I can understand genres are necessary.  The problem is although music keeps evolving and blending many of the formats that promotes it stay the same, the internet is full of Rock, Folk, Jazz, Country  Radio Stations, Magazines and Blogs and they all have their own made up rules as to what defines their specific genre, but as music grows thanks to technology, the world also gets smaller. When World Music was first defined it was generally excepted that this meant all music outside of this country, but now there are World Music Festivals and Radio Stations across the globe many of which book and play music from the UK, so surely in this day and age World Music just means .... music?

One of the issues with genres is that everybody has their own idea as to what it is, many Folk Clubs and some Folk radio shows for example state that they only book or play Traditional Music but you could argue that as there are very few field recordings of those songs when they were written it is difficult to say what they are supposed to be like, in fact most people’s idea of Traditional Folk Music is what the Revivalists from the 1960’s thought Traditional music should sound like. One of the acts that I have the deep honour of working with are The Salts who as well as writing original songs perform Traditional Sea Shanties often in a Rocky energetic style, in some circles they are frowned at simply because they have a drum kit, which is definitely a no no in certain Folk Clubs at the same time there  are DJ’s and journalists stating that these songs would have been sung by Seafaring Testosterone filled Sailors who would have sung with the same energy and vigour as The Salts , proving that every individual have their own take on what a genre is.

It is not just individuals that decide what a specific genre is, there are also cultural differences in meaning, I recently had a long debate with an American artist over what constitutes Folk Music and she was shocked to hear that I didn’t think the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Neil Young would be described as Folk over here, but in the USA they are such a big part of their Folk heritage, eventually she said would Mumford & Sons be called a Folk act in the UK, after a long pause I had to say no although objectively listening to their first album you would have to say yes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe them as a Folk act and even the band themselves would rather associate themselves with the likes of Reading Rock Festival over some of the more established Folk Festivals.

I first got into working with bands as a roadie for Sledgehammer who were initially described as a Blues/ Rock band when they started  but they coincided with the arrival of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the UK and very quickly they evolved in being a Metal  band as it helped them get bookings which led onto to us supporting the likes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon, April Wine  etc although at their core they were still a Blues/ Rock band, but it is a good example of how aligning yourself with a genre can be helpful . But there are many examples where genres hold music back.

One act I worked with described their music as Country, Folk & Blues so I Googled Music websites and found one called Country, Folk, Blues, so I sent them a CD and few days later the person who ran the site contacted me saying they loved the album and couldn’t stop playing it, although he couldn’t review it on his site as we were Country, Folk & Blues and he was Country, Folk or Blues, I had to read his email several times and still couldn’t understand fully what he meant. The point is this was his rules and his guidelines which prevented him from reviewing music he liked.

Overall most people I come across are enthusiastic supporters of new music and encourage the development of genres and actively work to promote it but there are times when it can hold things back and times when the genre needs to evolve with the music.

Graham Steel

 

Festivals – what are they good for!

As I write this we are in the middle of Festival season throughout the UK and it seems that there are as many as ever before, although I am not sure that I know  what a Festival is, as they can range from 100,00 people at Hyde Park to witness Paul Simon’s last UK Tour, a month of events at different venues in a major city or an afternoon in a pub or friend’s garden, as long as you have Festival or ‘Fest’ in the title then it is ok, although anything that celebrates music, comedy or the arts in general and brings communities together in person should be welcomed and embraced  in my book.

Growing up in the South East of England my first Festival experience was Reading Rock Festival which is almost a rite of passage for teenagers in the area and this is still the case today. After that it was Glastonbury Free Festival long before it became the monster of all Festivals it is today, a friend and I made the long journey South West not knowing at the time the Festival itself did not take place in Glastonbury but a few miles away in Pilton, with no evident signs of public transport and armed with our rucksacks and a tent we purchased from the back of a cereal box that was no way suitable for a seven day event , we put our thumbs out and attempted to hitchhike the rest of the journey eventually getting a lift on the back of a bright blue tractor. One of the bands we specifically went to see was Sphinx led by former Hawkwind sax player Nik Turner who had just recorded their album in the Giza Pyramid in Egypt and he would come onstage wrapped in bandages with his flute crossed over with his sax like a Egyptian Mummy, they also provided the stage for the event which was a scaled down model of Giza so that they could harness the cosmic energy or some such thing, in subsequent years this would become the now permanent and iconic Pyramid stage. I recently looked at the Glastonbury Festival archive page for the Free Festival  which shows a picture of the stage and also includes the blue tractor driven by the lands owner, so I can safely say that for my first Glastonbury experience I was driven to the event by none other than Michael Eavis MBE no less.

In later years I have been involved in a number of Festivals on different levels, and one of the biggest problems putting on an outside event is that you can spend the best part of a year organising, planning and booking in artists but at the end of the day the success of the event will be dependent on the weather. A few years back I was asked to organise a small free event for around 500 people, the location was perfect and the sun shone all day, so instead of a few hundred people five and half thousand turned up, which sounds like a success , but the queues for the bar and toilets were endless and people ended up parking in front of residents houses, which then resulted in angry letters to the council and papers. It needs to be said that there were only a hand full of people who complained and most people appreciated and were thankful for a free event, but it did mean the following year we had to fence off the area, provide security, hire a field for a car park and supply attendants which then meant we had to add a ticket fee and the whole event took on a different feel.

The other issue for all Festivals is getting the right acts to headline which is becoming more of a problem as most of the iconic acts of the 60’s and 70’s are literally dying out and with no real investment in the grassroots music scene and music venues closing down there is little done in the way of developing new artists and allowing them to build a following which would be sufficient to headline a Festival. After last year’s Glastonbury there was a large number of people moaning about Ed Sheeran topping the bill saying that he was a solo act and not a band, but with no real band circuit similar to yesteryear and as most grassroots venues consist of acoustic and open mic nights it is likely that that those sort of acts will become a trend and a regular feature of Summer events. So it is vitally important that as well as enjoying this  years’ Festivals and sunshine that people take time out to support existing music venues this summer as it will be them that will be developing the Festival acts of the future.

Graham Steel 29th July 2018

Graham's Music Blog

1977 ... The Death of Classic Rock?

Growing up in the 70’s I got into music by listening to my older brothers record collection, whilst he was out going to gigs and generally being cool, I was devouring all the notes on album sleeves and reading weekly editions of Melody Maker from cover to cover and when he went to the Windsor Free Festival I was deemed to be too young by my parents to go with him, instead the rest of the family went on one Sunday afternoon with all the children sat in the back of an old Ford Zephyr , with our sandwiches and thermos flask of tea to watch the hippies in their natural environment with strict instructions to keep the windows wound up as if we were in a Safari Park.

It was my brother who eventually took me to my first gig which was Hawkwind quickly followed by Led Zeppelin at Earls Court, he and his friends were the epitome of cool with their long hair, flared jeans and cheesecloth shirts I wore my Clarke's shoes, Flannel trousers and Parka, but none the less they all welcomed me and made me feel part of the gang. The more I got into music the more I yearned to see bands on my own or with my mates and started making lists of acts and shows I wanted to attend like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer etc, but just as I was getting to an age where I could do this, out of nowhere came the Punk explosion of 1977, my worst nightmare. Suddenly gone were the days of Love, Peace and Understanding which were quickly replaced by Hate, Anarchy and Confusion, the media had a field day and virtually overnight all the bands that I had ambitions to see were now classed as “Dinosaurs” and “not cool”, the fashion was Mohicans and Safety Pins and the Punk Explosion was deemed to be the new voice of music to take over from the old guard.... or so we were told. ....forty years on and history tells us another story.

Even now it is easy to believe the hype that in 1977 Punk changed the face of music for a generation but a quick Google search will tell us otherwise. That same year Led Zeppelin announced they would play the Knebworth Festival with a capacity of over 200,000 people and at a time before the internet and mobile phones the only way to get tickets was through selected Record Shops across the country which would open especially on a Sunday I remember having to travel to London to get mine, even so they all sold out in a matter of days and a second date was added. Also that year Fleetwood Mac released  Rumours one of the biggest selling albums of all time, other albums released in 77 include Hotel California by The Eagles, Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals, Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp, as well as releases by Foreigner, AC/DC , Status Quo, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Genesis, Thin Lizzy and many more. The following year over 300,00 people attended Blackbushe Aerodrome to see Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton & Joan Armatrading, although Reading Festival made a disastrous attempt to appeal to punks and hippies alike by putting together a line up of Sham 69, The Jam with Status Quo & Lindisfarne, I remember arriving as thousands of people were trying to exit as they were being chased by a few hundred skin heads, I was also mugged later that evening by two guys with a crow bar. Overall it is easy to see that far from being the nail in the coffin of classic rock, 1977 produced some of the finest music we were to hear which even now well outsells some of the more fashionable bands from the time. So perhaps all these years later maybe I wasn’t the “not cool” one after all?

Graham Steel

July 2018