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
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.
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
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 Give It A Year
Bullet To The Head
Die Hard 3
To The Wonder
Robot and Frank?
Friends With Kids
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.
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.
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.