Tuesday, May 5, 2009


And other parts of the puzzle

Standing around in a rough circle with this bunch of blokes I hardly
knew and playing my songs to them on that long late summer day,
deep into the afternoon in 1975, was a little intimidating.
The sun slashed though the blue smoke of hash joints and cigarettes;
we drank pints of bitter that the owners of Newlands Tavern, located
in Peckham in the south of London, had kindly allowed us to pull
from the taps, with no charge that I can remember paying.
Things weren't gelling on that first rehearsal, I can tell you that
much. Martin Belmont actually mentioned it to me later, apologizing
for the lackluster nature of the band's attempts to pull off my
material without anything approaching excitement. It didn't matter;
it was our first attempt and compared with any bunch of musicians
I'd done half-hearted rehearsals with before, little imagination
was needed to tell that these guys were going to be very, very good
backing me up.
We worked in a back room when the pub was closed after lunch, and
the creaking, wooden stage of that venerable London venue, just a
few feet away, started to look like something that would soon be
within my reach, an idea hard to imagine mere months before.

It all started with an ad I placed in the back pages of the Melody
Maker, one of the music rags that I devoured every week.
"Singer/songwriter needs band. Into Van Morrison, the Stones and
Dylan," it said, or something very close to that.
In no time, people were responding to the ad, calling the gas station
where I was working in Deepcut, my childhood home that I'd recently
moved back into after a few years on the Hippie trail, dossing
around in different countries with a guitar on my back, honing my
skills at a leisurely pace.
Some dick who billed himself as a bass player called, insisting we
meet at his "office," a pub a few villages away called "The Who'da
Thot It" (keep saying it, it'll come to you); I drove miles and
miles to meet a girl who could only play the licks of Paul Kossoff
(very badly, too), the late great guitarist from the band Free, who
I had seen a year or two before playing to about 30 people in the
Gin Mill Club in Godalming, Surrey, before they broke with "All
Right Now."
The trombone player whose ad seemed a permanent fixture in the
paper ("Trombone Player Needs Work") called, but my horn section
fantasieswere not in the front line of my transom yet; they would
soon emergeby the time I got to the recording studio, but first I
needed a rock 'n' roll band: drums, guitars, and keyboards.
Eventually, a guy named Noel Brown got hold of me. He lived in a
flat near Wandsworth, south London, and played great slide guitar
and dobro. At last I'd found someone who didn't have the taint of
progressive music hanging over him, a genre I'd long left behind
(well, two years ago anyway) and was determined to wipe off the
face of the earth with a whole new attitude; an attitude that at
that time seemed only to exist in my head and on records that were
made before 1970.

Noel introduced me to one Paul "Bassman" Riley, a guy I'd actually
seen on stage playing bass in an outfit called Chilli Willi and the
Red Hot Peppers who were on the "Naughty Rhythms Tour."
I'd been reading about a band called Dr. Feelgood and went to check
out this extravaganza in one of my old stomping grounds, the
Guildford Civic Hall, a few miles from my village. Chilli Willi and the
other band on the bill, the soul inflected Kokomo, were very good, but
of course the Feelgoods were incendiary, and when I saw their suits,
short hair and wickedly angry performance, I knew I was already on
the right track.
You have to realize that progressive rock still ruled, and I was
probably the only guy in the room,* apart from the band members
on stage, who had got rid of his flowing mane for a near skinhead
cut. I may have been ahead of my time for the suburbs cum country
areas, but obviously this reversal of style was already happening in
London, hence the ad in the Melody Maker. I needed other people
who also knew that ELP were a load of bollocks, and I found them.
They were not Paul and Noel, though, who did rehearse a few times
with me, along with various configurations of their musician friends,
but when Paul introduced me to Dave Robinson, things changed
rapidly. He recorded my songs in his demo studio, located in a room
in the Hope & Anchor, an Islington pub with a cellar-like venue in the
bowels of the building.
Anyone who would play for a free pint was brought in by Dave to
have a go on the demos, but he was stealthily formulating ideas
about who my eventual backing band would consist of, and before I
knew what was happening, a bunch of guys destined to become the
Rumour were rehearsing with me in the aforementioned Newlands
On the third day of rehearsal, Dave brought down a lanky bird-nosed
fellow named Nick Lowe, who I would learn was another victim of a
mysterious genre known as "pub rock."

(He was not the first contender for producer. Dave and I had had
lunch not long before those rehearsals with Tim Moore, an American
singer/songwriter who had recently scored a minor UK hit with a
song called "Second Avenue." Dave, in his inscrutable fashion had
apparently nixed that idea without much clarification in favour of
It was here, in Newlands Tavern, that we took the democratic tack
of coming up with names for the band and then voting for the winner.
I came up with Graham Parker and the Questions, but Brinsley's The
Rumour obviously won.
The rest, as they say, is history, and if you want to read the most
definitive history of the events and situations that led to my break
into the music business, along with many others who gained from the
smarts of Dave Robinson, among others, read Will Burch's "No Sleep
Till Canvey Island: the great pub rock revolution"

It was some months into the beginning of my career when someone,
a Rumour member or Robinson himself, gave me an actual Brinsley
Schwarz album. The inappropriate term pub rock had been appearing
in articles about me, and I was further confused when I listened to
the Brinsley's album: "What the fuck has this lame country music
got to do with me?" I wondered.
Whatever, it matters not when I point out to journalists the
exasperating irrelevance of this term, which I did just 4 days ago.
It will doubtless be used in my obituary.

(*I guess I was not the only male member of the audience with short
hair at the Guildford Civic Hall that night. According to Burch's
book, a certain 17-year-old named Paul Weller was there, although,
who knows? Maybe he had hair down to his arse until after seeing
the show!

The date of this auspicious event was January 12th 1975. Before
half the year was out I'd have a manager, a crack backing band, and
a record deal. When I saw this gig I was just some bloke working
in a gas station with no future that anyone, apart from myself,
would have guessed at.)

Which brings us to this Official Bootleg, "Live At Newlands Tavern."
On the My Gig List section of Johannes Deininger's excellent "Struck
By Lightning" website, the first two gigs I did with the Rumour
appear thus:

10 or 11/75: Newlands Tavern, London, UK
75: Nag's Head, High Wycombe, UK

The time period seems accurate to me, but starting in a fairly
famous London venue runs counterintuitive to normal tactics in
exposing a new band and also does not jibe with my admittedly
dodgy memory. I'd say that we almost definitely performed in
High Wycombe first and followed up with the London show.
(I'll admit here that I could be wrong about the order!).
I can recall hanging around a soccer field or park in the afternoon
shivering in the cold drizzle, smoking a joint and riddled with
nerves about the upcoming evening. Why we were hanging around a
field I don't know, but that vague memory is in my head and we were
in High Wycombe, not London.
The audience that night was comprised mostly of pals of mine from
various villages in Surrey who would have found the proximity of
High Wycombe more appealing than a trek up to south London.

As for the show featured on this disc: who was that masked man?
Whoever held the tape recorder appears to have been hanging out
near the bar, which was located on the right as you looked at the
stage. At the risk of sounding sexist I say "man" because surely
finding a woman with a tape recorder at a gig in 1975 would be like
finding a female Captain Beefheart fan in any era.
And what are we hearing on this tape?
Martin Belmont is doing the announcing (I don't say a word). And
this may well be the complete show as far as my performance is
concerned, but I'm sure the Rumour did their own set beforehand.
I also remember something that does not appear here: Martin
introduced me thus: "And now we'd like to bring on a friend of ours.
Please welcome, Graham Parker." Yes, to blunt the shock of this
unknown character taking the stage in a well-known London venue
and completely taking over center stage, I was introduced almost as
a sideman! Talk about hedging your bets! In retrospect, this was
probably a smart move seeing as Martin was from the classic Pub
Rock band Ducks Deluxe and Bob and Brinsley were from the Brinsley
Schwarz band, in many ways considered to be the epitome of this
alleged genre. Also, the next time we played London, after our profile
had been upped considerably and articles about us had been appearing
in the music press, Dave told me that some members of my growing
audience had been at that first London gig in Newlands, and that they
had hated my guts. It wasn't that they didn't like the music, and the
applause on this recording seems quite rousing. It was the idea
of this guy they'd never heard of, appearing from nowhere, and
fronting a class A outfit consisting of London's finest as if they
were a mere backing band that pissed them off.

What strikes me most about this tape is the full-grown ferocity of
the performance. Not only do I sound as if I was already competing
with the punk bands that were not to fully emerge until over a year
later, but the Rumour sound as if they've been playing my stuff for
years, and are rocking in suitably ferocious form themselves.
After those brief rehearsals and only one gig, it amazes me just
how good we were already, and how far ahead of anything else going
on at the time (Dr. Feelgood notwithstanding).
Gone is the almost apologetic "let's just play the songs, man"
attitude of the pub rock scene that the band had come from, and my
new found angst (I was lying around watching the ceiling changing
shapes to a backdrop of "Dark Side Of The Moon" only a couple of
years earlier) seems to have been picked up by everyone and applied
with full force, making it seem as if we had planned this like a
military operation.
It's hard to imagine where I got the balls to even consider doing
"Chain Of Fools," and doing it as if I wanted to strangle the
offending member of the opposite sex that the song details.
And the arrangements of my own songs seem very close to those on
"Howlin' Wind," right down to some of Brinsley's sax lines (yes,
that's Brinsley on the sax!) that would appear on the album fleshed
out by a full horn section.
Even "Don't Ask Me Questions" has the brutal urgency of an anthem,
just as it does on the record. How did we get this act together
so quickly? Beats me.
Then there's the strange break in the show followed by a brief
appearance of the Rumour without me, doing an instrumental they had
been working on in rehearsals called "Rockin' Hawk" (don't know who
did this originally) and then I'm back on doing two more songs that
would appear on the first record and a song we probably never did
again called "Express Delivery," which appears to use drug smuggling
as a metaphor for lost love!
What also strikes me is the fantastic lead guitar work by Martin
Belmont. It is assumed that Brinsley was the real virtuoso of the
twin guitar attack and that Martin was more the rhythm player, but
most of the solos are handled by Martin, and what an underrated
lead player he is.
An interesting detail comes before "Questions," which Martin also
plays lead on. It's hard to hear what he's saying before we start
the song, but I believe Martin is commenting (and filling a rare
silent gap) on Brinsley's reggae guitar technique. Brins would
take a piece of foam and place it beneath his guitar strings near
the bridge to achieve a deadened, ring-free sound. Where he'd got
this idea from I don't know, but it was the early days of white
boys playing reggae (apart from GT Moore and the Reggae Guitars who
had made a great album in that groove that very year) and perhaps
the form was still a little mysterious.

Although the sound of this recording is obviously of very low
quality, the intensity of our act comes through nonetheless, and
the noise of the audience ("white wine, white wine..." a woman appears
to be repeating sluggishly at the bar) imbues the experience with
that full-on London pub atmosphere, bringing a bygone era back into
sharp focus.

Hey, it's gotta be worth ten bucks, that's for sure.
Available from this site and at gigs.