Friday, May 31, 2013

Apart from sitting on the instrument how does one produce Mandolin Wind?

In January 1971 I made my way by tube, bus and shanks’ mare from the wilds of Wimbledon in South London to Willesden in the London Borough of Brent.
I rarely ventured north of the river in those days.

So the reason for my pioneering adventure into the wasteland of North West London?
To interview a gentleman by the name of Rod Stewart for Thursday Magazine a weekly Belfast music paper I was the “London Correspondent” for in those days.

Rod Stewart was the lead singer with the Faces (nee The Small Faces.) He and his good mate Ronnie Wood joined their favourite band’s line up when Steve Marriot defected to help form the supergroup, Humble Pie, with Peter Frampton, “the face of ‘68”. The Faces recorded for Warner Bros. However Rod had also been signed to Phonogram as a solo artist, which was quite unuusal in those days. Mind you these days it's equally unusual to even have one record deal. 
The Faces were certainly the most fun band on the circuit and Rod’s first solo album - An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down - had been very well received as was his second album, Gasoline Alley. Both were excellent albums, favourably reviewed, although neither release troubled the charts.
My journey to Willesden was to visit Rod in Morgan Studios where he was busy working on what would become his third solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story. My previous two attempts to interview Rod had been rescheduled by the ever helpful and patient Carole in the Warner Bros press office. Perhaps she felt if she set up the interview in the studio during the recording he would have nowhere left to hide.
Anyway third time lucky; Rod was there, it was a late night session and everyone seemed to be in great form, perhaps re-creating the party atmosphere Rod and The Faces were famous for.
This would have been one of the first times I would have been in a recording studio. I was totally, as in totally, blown away by the sound of music through the amazing speakers cabinets. I remember thinking that if I (somehow) managed to get those speakers into my bedsit I’d have absolutely no room for any other furniture whatsoever. The magnificent speakers completely transformed the audio experience into another dimension altogether.
The song they were working on while I was present was Maggie May and they were overdubbing the incredible mandolin playing of Ray Jackson, a musician from Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne were a new Tyneside band whose main songwriter Alan Hull, was one of the best emerging UK songwriters of the early seventies.
I seem to remember that Ray Jackson was stick thin and had a massive thatch and beard like Roy Wood (but vividly cooper coloured) and he “nailed it” to quote someone who’d been twiddling knobs on the colossal control desk, “and quite quickly at that.” Then there was a little frivolity, partying if you will, in the recording room while the engineer set up the next track they were going to work on with Ray Jackson.
Rod and I retired to one of the studio’s outer rooms to commence our long delayed interview.  I don’t remember much about the interview apart from the fact that Rod was very together, preoccupied with his hair, down to earth, earnest about his career and extremely easy to talk to.
By the time we returned to the control booth again it appeared that work had ground to a halt and an eerie silence had fallen over the proceedings. Apparently in our absence one of the musicians, while distracted by the partying, had accidently sat upon Ray Jackson’s mandolin and completely demolished it.
The Geordie was being very good about it, putting on a brave face; claiming it was neither a great nor an expensive instrument. He had several in reserve as they were always being broken while he was on the road with Lindisfarne. He even went to the trouble of demonstrating  just how poorly the said instruments were made by pulling the skeleton to pieces and removing bits of yellowing foam cum sponge padding which had been stuffed into the sound holes in order to help with the  acoustics of the pick-up he had added.  
I left them waiting for a new mandolin to be delivered to the studio. They clearly found one because the finished album contained Ray Jackson’s fine picking on the classic Mandolin Wind.
Anyway that album, Every Picture Tells A Story, was released six months later in July 1971.
Maggie May was co-written by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton. Quittenton also played acoustic guitar on the sessions; he was a member of the band Steamhammer. The other musicians on the track were: Ray Jackson on Mandolin; Mickey Waller on Drums; Pete Sears on keyboards; Sam Mitchell on slide guitar and of course Rod Stewart on vocals.
In hindsight it’s easy to say that Maggie May was the perfect vehicle for Rod Stewart’s unique story-telling voice. It’s very easy to say it in fact because it’s true, but the aforementioned Maggie May had a very shaky start. It very nearly didn’t have a start at all. The record company didn’t like the track. In fact they soooo didn’t like it they didn’t even want it on the album. They claimed it, “lacked a melody.” They relented only when Rod advised them he didn’t have any other material. The record company confirmed further how little they thought of the track when they deemed it fit to qualify only as the B side of a single with Reason To Believe (a Tim Hardin Song) gaining the A side honours.
But then a DJ in the USA flipped the single and started to play Maggie May. The song received phenomenal reaction from the radio audience and went on to become the A side and not only that but the number one single in both the USA and the UK. And not only that; the single and the album hit the top spot in the charts in the USA and UK simultaneously. An achievement usually only enjoyed by artists such as The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.
Mr Stewart was off on his mega career and few have had a better start than he did with his back to back classic (first) three albums.
Then this week just over 40 years later he returned to the acoustic feel of those early albums and the No 1 spot in the UK charts with his new album Time.

And now this time we have a few Top 10s – all Beatle related.  (Guess who has a new Beatle book out? Please see front page web site)


The Top 10 Beatle Tracks

01. Here Comes The Sun

02. Something

03. In My Life

04. Across The Universe

05. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

06. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band

07. I Should Have Known Better

08. If I Fell

09. Hey Jude

10. A Day in The Life


Top 10 Beatles Singles.

01. Something

02. Help

03. Hey Jude

04. I Want To Hold Your Hand

05. She Loves You

05. Day Tripper

07. Please Please Me

08. We Can Work It Out

09. Strawberry Fields Forever

10. Can’t Buy Me Love


The Top 10 Beatles B Sides

01. She’s A Woman

02. Penny Lane

03. I’m Down

04. This Boy

05. Old Brown Shoe

06. Come Together

07. Don’t Let Me Down

08. Things We Said Today

09. Rain

10. Revolution


The Top 10 Beatles.

01. George Harrison

02. John Lennon

03. Ringo Starr

04. Paul McCartney

05. Billy Preston

06. Jeff Lyne

07. Eric Clapton

08. Graham Nash

09. Brian Wilson

10. George Martin

This time as well as working on my new book, THE LONESOME HEART IS ANGRY,

I’ve Seen:

I Give It A Year

Bullet To The Head

Die Hard 3

To The Wonder

Butterfly Dream

Diminished Capacity


Open Road

Robot and Frank?

Friends With Kids

Side Effects

Good Vibrations – Jodi Whitaker stole the honours with her great screen presence and class performance. The other major star was of course Teenage Kicks!


Olympus Has Fallen

The Place Beyond The Pines

Into The Storm

The Look of Love

Ironman III – definitely does what it says on the poster!

Love Is All You Need

Star Trek – Darkness

I’m So Excited

Mud - excellent

Beware of Mr Baker – painfully honest.

Hangover III

And read.

A Prince Among Stones Prince - Rubert Loewenstein

Seven Deadly Sins - David Walsh

The Soundtrack Of My Life - Clive Davies – a brilliant and revealing insight into the workings of a record company.

Talking To Strangers: The Adventures of a Life- Insurance Salesman – Peter Rosengard – some very interesting tales.

And heard

Loudon Wainwright III at Basingstoke Anvil and London Royal Festval Hall. Two great concerts and he gave us an amazing taster of a work in progress theatre show he is working on based upon some of his father’s writings for Time Life magazine.

Eric Clapton @ The Royal Albert Hall - on something like his 180th appearance on this particular stage he's so comfortable it felt like we were all in his living room enjoying a beautiful concert.  

And listened to:

Someday Never Comes by Dawes and John Fogerty from John Fogerty’s collaborations album, Wrote a Song for Everyone. If this track is anything to go by I’d love to hear a Dawes (my current favourite non-Asgard artist, especially live) CD produced by Mr Fogerty. This and the next track - Who’ll Stop the Rain with John Fogerty and Bob Seeger - are definitely guaranteed to send you back to the CCR catalogue.

An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down;  Gasoline Alley; Every Picture Tells a Story And (hardly surprisingly)Time, all by Rod Stewart.

I’m Alive by Jackson Browne - the perfect companion for the writing room.  
Until the next time.






Monday, February 4, 2013

Playing a Game of Snooker is a lot Like Writing (or Solving) a Murder Mystery

For some time now I’ve been toying with the idea that writing a murder mystery – such as I’m currently doing with Down On Cyprus Avenue, the first of what I hope will be a new series set in modern day Belfast and featuring McCusker who had a brief cameo in an early DI Christy Kennedy Mystery, called I’ve Heard The Banshee Sing – is a lot like playing a game of snooker.  

Now that thought - playing a game of snooker is a lot like writing or solving a murder mystery - could in fact, be the entire piece, because from there we could go off and think about it and draw our own comparisons and conclusions.

But… the longer version…

In snooker you have two players and a referee, or a judge if you will.

In the murder investigation you also have two opponents; your detective and your prime suspect (who hopefully will turn out to be the murderer). You also have the judge; the law of the land.

As much as you may practice your potting in advance, it will never help you win a particular game because each and every game is different. In order to have at least a chance of winning a game of snooker you have to be able to react to the ever-developing, ever-changing puzzle the game throws up for you.  You hit the first ball, you open up the game in a unique form; your opponent takes their first shot and off you go reacting to each other’s play and the set of individual circumstances each pot (or miss) reveals. Once again the comparisons with writing (or solving) a murder mystery are obvious.

In a game of snooker we have our set of balls: 15 red balls- each worth 1 point; one yellow ball (2 points); green (3 points); brown (4 points): blue (5 points); pink (6 points) and black (7 points).

The red balls in the snooker game are like the clues in the mystery. Just like the red balls in snooker we will keep returning to the clues in the case until, near the end, we will start to dismiss (or pocket) them one by one for the final time.

Then we have the colour balls. In the snooker game and they can be considered to be the suspects in our case. Again we will keep returning to them throughout our game/mystery until one by one they are all dismissed (pocketed) and we have concluded our game or resolved our case.

If we assume that our detective is the white ball then our prime suspect must be the black ball. Talking of which, I think it’s interesting to remember that in the early western movies the good guys always wore the white cowboy hats while the baddies were always, but always, decked out, head to toe, in black.

The ever important snooker cue is the detective’s logic and sharpness of mind. The better the cue and the cueing action the better the chances are of winning the game or solving the mystery.

The cue rest and the various sized cue extensions are like the detective’s team or assistants if you will. I’m referring to the Detective Constables, the Detective Sergeant, the forensic departments etc., etc.

The referee is, as we have inferred, comparable to the judge or the law of the land.

The table is like the detective’s patch (and office) and it’s vitally important that both the snooker player and the detective intimately know the ins, outs, not to mention, imperfections of their table or patch. For instance if the cushion at one position of the snooker table is not true then the ball will not react the way it is expected to. Should the detective not be picking up on the truth as he or she goes about their investigation, then, just like the stray ball described above, our detective will be off on a wild goose chase.

The break in the snooker game is exactly like the run the detective longs for in solving the case. Should the detective have the experience and sharp eyes for clues and he manages to solve the case immediately then that is equivalent to achieving the extremely difficult, and much desired, maximum break.

A snooker occurs in the game/mystery when the prime suspect (the snooker opponent) puts the ball beyond the natural line, whereby it becomes impossible to get a clear shot with the target ball (clue) due to the strength of a good alibi, or, in the case of the snooker game, a first class snooker.

A trick shot occurs when the detective grows a wee bit too confident and sets up an Agatha Christie style trap for his or her prime suspect; a trap which could potentially solve the case or go a long way to winning the game of snooker outright.

One of the main similarities between snooker and murder mysteries would have to be the way in which both the game and the case develop uniquely depending entirely on the natural progression of the game or the amassing of the clues and questioning of suspects. So, as we’ve already mentioned, the snooker players and the detective and prime suspect all depend on their ability to be able to react to each other and the unfolding game/case before them.

And yes snooker players can and do practise as much as they want ahead of a case and detectives can do their research, try for clearness and sharpness of mind and gather their wits about them, but the bottom line is neither snooker player nor detective can ever plan out a case or a snooker game entirely in advance, because once the initial break takes place then both sides are acting and reacting to their opponents.

A bit like real life; well I suppose you’d really have to say it’s a lot like real life.



This time I’ve seen:


Bruce Springsteen & The East Street Band at the Honda Centre, Anaheim.  Now this man really knows how to put on an incredible, exciting, marathon live show. It’s not vital that you see Bruce Springsteen perform in front of an American audience but it does help to understand the degree of his sustained success. He is so audience conscious it’s unbelievable. He spends the entire concert eyeballing every single member of the audience. You get the impression that he knows every member of his audience on a first name basis. This is how it should be: first class sound and lights with an incredible band and artist not just performing the songs but living them as well.

David Lindley at McCabes, Santa Monica – a national treasure, the man who can get a tune out of any stringed instrument playing in the perfect location – the world famous guitar shop.  

Jackson Browne at Keller Auditorium, Portland with an amazing new combo singing his heart out. Perfect set-list, perfect concert. 

And read:


Michael Connolly – The Black Box. I’m a big fan of Michael Connelly I’ve loved all 24 of his books so far and this one is easily up there with his best.


John Grisham – The Racketeer. A great yarn and it’s going to make a great movie.


Rod Stewart – Rod. I was expecting (hoping for) a lot more background stuff from the An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down days.


Magnus Flyte – City of Dark Magic.


Greg Smith – Why I Left Goldman Sachs.


Sjowall & Wahloo – Roseanna & The Man Who Went Up In Smoke. By far the best police procedural books I have read since the Colin Dexter Morse stories.


Dick Wolf – The Intercept – Clint Eastwood could turn this into a brilliant film.


Stephen Hunter - The Third Bullet – loved it.


Tommy Mottola – Hitmaker: The Man and His Music – an interesting account of what happened at Black Rock.


And watched:


Luck the TV series.


The Firm TV series.


Felicity TV series 1, 2, 3 & 4. – absolute gems one and all


House – the 8th and final TV series – please see next blog.


The House of Cards (US Version) Excellent five-star production from NetFlix. I wonder will the big American TV stations - CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, XYZ etc – rue this day as much as the ever dwindling number of major Record Companies rued the day file sharing was first introduced to the internet.


Lincoln – a master class in directing – from Stephen Spielberg - and acting - from Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is just an absolute joy to witness.


Silver Lining Playbook – might be my favourite movie of the year. This film is so good I went to see it twice and enjoyed it even more the second time. There’s genuine on-screen chemistry between the two leads.


Argo – very enjoyable.


Life of Pi – looks amazing.


People Like Us – I loved it.




Anna Karenina – not for me.


A Royal Affair – big surprise, unlike Anna K they got this one spot on.


Cloud Atlas – brave.


The Sessions – brave and successful.


Late Quartet – a different kind of rock and roll.


Addicted To Fame – very sad.


End of the Watch – compulsive viewing and disturbing.


Jack Reacher – effectively does what it says on the tin.


Playing for Keeps – would have been a perfect vehicle for George Clooney in the ER days.


Hitchcock – Anthony Hopkins just doesn’t make bad movies!


The Quartet – shows, perhaps just a wee bit too effectively, where we’re all heading.


Hyde Park and Hudson – loved it especially the performances from Bill Murray and Laura Linney.


Flying Lessons.


Led Zeppelin Celebration. A fine testament to the band’s legacy; amazing sound, perfect performances from one and all and brilliantly captured on film, in fact, if anything, better than being at the gig - the ultimate celebration.


Django Unchained – mixed reaction from my party (of 4) but I loved it and thought it was very funny in a spaghetti Western kind of way.  


West of Memphis – documentary of the year and they weren’t scared to name the name. I find it equally disturbing that a) these crimes are so casually committed and b) that the real offenders always seem to get away with it at the expense of other people’s liberty and c) that local politics get in the way of justice. Same as it always was.


Impossible – brilliant and a true story.


The Hobbit – equally brilliant but (hopefully) not a true story.




The Guilt Trip.


A Dark Truth.


The Last Stand - again you get what you pay for and not a vampire in sight.


The Fitzgerald Family Christmas – Edward Burns taps back into very rich, multi layered stories of second generation Irish American family life.


Save The Date – another slice of American family life this time with the focus on two sisters – a wonderful rewarding film.


Price Check.


Stand Up Guys – well worth the ticket price if only for the Pacino, Arkin and Walken performances.


Trouble With the Curve – there’s never ever any trouble with a Clint Eastwood movie!


Parental Guidance.




Breaking Dawn Part 2 – it would appear even vampires need a family life and long to live happily ever after with their loved ones. It’s just that when happily ever after means forever and a day it’s quite a difficult concept.


The Promised Land – another must-see movie from Matt Damon


The Gangster Squad – a great yarn.


This is 40.




Broken City – worked well for me


Movie 43


The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Paperboy.


The Top Ten (in a particular order) Breakfasts while on the way to the movies in Santa Monica.


Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery

50s Diner (on Lincoln)

M Street Market *


Shutters On The Beach


Ye Olde Kings Head (ead (Th(English Pub)

Blue Daisy Café

The Omelette Parlour

The Farm Shop, 26th Street.

*Special Mention for best Hash Browns.

^ Technically not in Santa Monica (more Malibu) but on the circuit and well worth the trip because of the view. Famous because certain movie stars (allegedly) used to dine there with their mistresses while staying at the nearby hotel.

And finally, this blog’s official top ten:

The Top 10 Beatle Albums

01. Abbey Road

02. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

03. Revolver

04. Rubber Soul

05. The Beatles (The White Album)

06. A Hard Day’s Night

07. Magical Mystery Tour (US)

08. With The Beatles

09. Help

10. Beatles For Sale (if only for Mr Moonlight)


Until the next time,