Rock music

Peter Perrett: How The West Was Won

Much though I loved it at the time, not a great deal of lasting worth came out of that fervid punk upheaval between 1976 and 1978. In terms of bands you would voluntarily listen to again, there was just The Clash and The Only Ones, in my book. The latter enjoyed no commercial success, despite leaving behind two of the best British albums of the decade and a single — ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ — which has been called the finest three minutes of rock music ever, ever. Problem was they were too musicianly and literate for a time which exulted in bellowing, grunting, spitting and staccato stabs of noise.

There’s a reason why Isis targets gigs: music is the enemy of fundamentalism

Until last night Ariana Grande’s fans, predominantly tweens and teens, were more preoccupied with the concept of friendship than the ripple effect of international politics. I witnessed this first hand when I was working at MTV and oversaw a Twitter Q&A with Grande, where she spent an hour or so answering questions sent in by fans. As Grande and I scrolled through the 90,000 tweets, I couldn’t help but marvel at how many were on the topic of friendship. ‘What do you look for in a friend?’ they clamoured to know. ‘Who’s your best friend?’ ‘Will you be my friend?’ Today, ‘Arianators’, as her fanbase call themselves, are tragically united in grief

Fallen idols

David Hepworth is such a clever writer — not just clever in the things he writes, but in the way he has conducted his career. A decade older than me, he too started out at the New Musical Express; but he went on to take Smash Hits to glory as editor, to launch Just Seventeen, Empire, Mojo and Heat, and remains the only person to have won both the PPA’s writer of the year and editor of the year awards. His previous book, Never a Dull Moment: 1971, The Year that Rock Exploded, was a great critical and commercial success. And to show how adept he is, he has now

Blondie: Pollinator

Ah, Blondie. Those happy days of glorious power pop, chilly disco and rich, fruity vocals — Debbie Harry yearning away like a very bad alleycat on heat. ‘X Offender’, ‘In the Flesh’, ‘Picture This’ and that one where she’s in the phone booth, apparently gagging for it. People knock it, but the late 1970s wasn’t a bad time to be a teenager. And while Blondie may have been a rather calculating act, cleverly positioned on the fringe of punk and the fringe of pop and the fringe of disco and later even rap, they were at least likeable and the tunes were, largely, effortlessly and simplistically terrific. And then there

Cover stories

These days, Aubrey Powell is a genial 70-year-old who can be found most mornings having breakfast at his local Knightsbridge café. But in the late 1970s, he did something that surely no other human being has done before or since. He photographed a sheep lying on a psychiatrist’s couch on a beach in Hawaii. Its coat had been treated with Vidal Sassoon products, and it was sedated with Valium because it was scared of waves. So what on earth was he up to? The answer — as anybody who recognises Powell’s name will guess — was creating one of the 373 album covers that his company Hipgnosis designed back when

Rod Liddle

Ray Davies: Americana

There is some surprise that after all these years Ray Davies has turned his attention to America. He is the most quintessentially English of pop musicians, a witty and acute observer of the British way of life whose best tunes were drawn from music hall and calypso — even while, with his brother Dave, he was inventing that most doggedly, turgidly, horribly English of genres, heavy metal. And yet The Kinks most famous hit, ‘Lola’, had a real American swagger about it, in the wonderful rolling rhythm, as Davies expressed his profound confusion at meeting a transgendered lady in a Soho bar. It was the first record I ever bought,

Damian Thompson

Mission impossible?

Just before Peter Donohoe played the last of Alexander Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas at the Guildhall’s Milton Court on Sunday, the autograph score of the piece was beamed on to the wall behind him. It was just a glimpse —- but enough to show us that Scriabin had the most beautiful musical calligraphy of any composer since Bach. On the face of it, that’s surprising. You would expect the Cantor of St Thomas’s to inscribe neatly — and indeed baroque musicians often play Bach straight from his own manuscripts, preening as they do so. But Scriabin is often regarded as a messy composer, in thrall to the mystical fads of

Bob Dylan: Triplicate

Having seen Bob Dylan play live a few years ago, I’m pretty sure he is not the first person I would choose to cover three albums’ worth of American jazz-age standards. The sound which came out of his mouth on that occasion resembled that of a demented, elderly dog. ‘Just Like A Woman’ had a chorus which went: ‘Grassum, grassum — rassum rassum rassum’, a neat twist on the original lyrics. It was joltingly inhuman. However, he has been on the Benylin, I think, because his voice here is not quite so gratingly hilarious. Now he sounds like a pissed-up and very persistent old gadgie at a karaoke machine in

An original and brilliant show: Loudon Wainwright III at Leicester Square Theatre reviewed

Loudon Wainwright III: Surviving Twin Leicester Square Theatre Even by the standards of his fellow confessional singer-songwriters who emerged alongside him in the 1970s, Loudon Wainwright III has spared us very little over the years about his marriages, divorces, affairs and — not surprisingly in the circumstances — his often troubled relationships with his children. (Two of those children, Rufus and Martha, have also exercised their right to reply, perhaps most memorably in Martha’s song ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’.) In this original and brilliant new show, he’s still at it — although this time the primary focus is on his relationship with his own father, who wrote for Life magazine

The terrible truth

Here’s the bad news. One day you or someone like you will be shopping in a mall or enjoying a concert or about to catch a train when the first sudden, sharp crack will rend the air and your world will change forever. Around you, people will start to crumple and as the panic and horror finally dawn the screams will begin while the automatic rifle fire escalates and those still standing will begin to flee — but where to? If you run away from the gunfire you’re being herded into a trap. If you run towards it you’ll be shot, either killed immediately, or casually, later, as you lie

Occupational hazard

Rival law-enforcement agencies arguing about which of them should investigate a murder has, of course, been a staple of crime dramas for decades. Rather less common, though, is for the agencies in question to be the Metropolitan Police, the Gestapo and the SS. SS-GB (BBC1, Sunday), based on Len Deighton’s novel, poses the undeniably interesting question of what this country would have been like in 1941 if Germany had won the Battle of Britain. Its primary answer is that — in every way — it would have been very murky indeed. Again, plenty of crime dramas over the years have created a suitably noirish atmosphere, while cunningly saving on the

Rock’s quiet right-wingers

They will be sitting there right now, listening tearfully to the song for one last time on their dinky little iPods, before deleting it for ever. ‘-Heathcliff — it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home, so co-wo-wo-wold, let me into your window.’ No, Kate. You are never coming in through our windows again. What about the cuts? What about the refugees? What about Brexit? How could you? The window is closed, double-glazed and with a mortice lock. ‘Wuth-ering Heights’ — which once I loved — is dead to me. Also that one about going up a hill or something. That’s gone too. Die, Bush, die. They are strange people, and perhaps

Precious metal

Who could resist School of Rock? For me it was a chance to see a heavy-metal musical written by the best-known headbanger in the House of Lords, Julian Fellowes. The movie features Jack Black as a failed rock guitarist who bluffs his way into a private school and turns a class of robotic snoots into a prize-winning band. It’s one of the most joyous stories ever filmed. This version, faithfully scripted by his lordship, rises to the same level and delivers a night of sheer rapture. The thing is like a drug. Every performance sends skyrockets of happiness zinging up and down your spine. David Flynn has an echo of

The Nobel Prize for literature, at long last, has been awarded to a complete idiot

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for literature. And quite right too. But many people seem discomfited by the news, as if the award might represent a token gesture by the Swedish Academy. It doesn’t. The award is serious and we should take it seriously. The protests seem to fall into two camps. The first camp argues that Dylan is a musician, not a poet, and that therefore the award, while being made to a great artist, is a category mistake. The second camp grants that Dylan can be considered a poet, but that his poetry does not merit being ranked alongside that of Yeats, Eliot, Pasternak, Brodsky, Tranströmer

Time to change the record

Back in the high optimism of the 2008 presidential campaign, one of Barack Obama’s more extravagant hopes was that ‘the psychodrama of the baby boom generation’ would finally be left behind: that no longer would the kind of radical late-Sixties politics ‘hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago’ be seen by both its supporters and its opponents as the key to understanding more or less everything about modern life. Sadly, though, if Obama needs proof of how comprehensively this hope has been dashed, he need only head to the V&A — where, with the supporters firmly in charge, the whole story of how great the late Sixties were,

1976 and all that

Forty years ago, I spent 14 hours in a large field near the A1 in Hertfordshire. I had just taken my O-levels, liked Be-Bop Deluxe, Genesis and Rachmaninov, and often danced my head off to The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. I was confused about girls and worried that I’d chosen one wrong A-level (Ancient History). In the nation at large, Harold Wilson had resigned as prime minister in March. Under James Callaghan, Britain would wobble further into a strife that marked the late 1970s like a purulent eczema. Pop music would start, rather violently, to reflect it. In the polity these were not confident times. Friends had persuaded me

War on want

Radiohead have been at the top of the musical tree for so long now that it’s easy to forget what an irreducibly strange band they are. Last Thursday, during the first of their three hugely anticipated gigs at the Roundhouse, they uncharacteristically played three popular favourites on the run — in their defence, it was the encore — causing someone in the audience to call out for another one. ‘No,’ replied Thom Yorke with a smile, ‘this is all getting too much fun.’ And with that, he launched into the melancholy bossa nova shuffle of ‘Present Tense’ from the new album A Moon Shaped Pool — as if to make

Sex offender

I saw Prince play once. I was bored rigid but couldn’t mention this to the girls I’d gone with: as far as they were concerned, watching the purple sex dwarf (he was 5ft 2in) masturbating with and fellating his guitar and generally getting off on his sublime pixieness was like experiencing the second coming. Me, I could have done with a few more tunes. I like ‘When Doves Cry’ a lot: the keyboard hook, the demonic guitar, the naggingly catchy tune, the otherworldly vocals that make him sound like some kind of lascivious reptile from Venus. Whenever I hear it, though, I’m reminded of my fundamental problem with Prince: he

Weekend world

When the time comes to make programmes looking back on the 2010s, I wonder which aspects of life today will seem the weirdest. Quinoa? The fact that we were expected to be ‘passionate’ about our jobs? Being so overexcited by new technology that we constantly stared at phones? Or maybe it’ll just be how many almost identical TV series looking back on previous decades we used to watch: the kind where a family dresses up in period costume and lives for a while like people from previous eras, carefully ticking off the signifiers as they go. (Space hoppers and Chopper bikes for the Seventies, Rubik’s Cubes and shoulder pads for

Chrissie Hynde writes like an angel on angel dust

‘The day I found out that Suzi Quatro wasn’t a dyke was the worst day of my life!’ a teenage Joan Jett once complained to a teenage me — and, substituting Chrissie H for Suzi Q, I knew well how she felt. Here I am popping up on page 150: Little teenagers out in the sticks like Julie Burchill lapped up my half-baked philosophical drivel and prepared their own versions of nonsensical tirades for the day when they too could make a ‘career’ out of it. I even sold the darling little Julie my typewriter for £15 when my time was over, like passing the baton of ‘how to fuck