John Walters on Xmas Shopping & The Curse Of The Muso
The last Zigzag of the seventies was one of the first under new publishers who would effectively submit the mag to a long and painful death. Led by a clueless, conniving Hooray Henry con artist who called himself Julius, the mag would now inexorably be steered out of its golden age into an excruciating process of ripping off contributors and losing all character, visual impact and respect. At first, I was tolerated as a necessary evil but gradually relegated to a placatory column every month. Finally, I was banned from the Notting Hill office which had had become a meeting place for new groups, reggae artists and local figures like Youth and Motorhead.
Sometime in the early 80s, I walked, allowing the odious Julius to further abuse my baby while ploughing all the wedge into the ill-fated Zigzag Club, which eventually killed this particular incarnation - not before Robin Banks famously pissed in the publisher's Xmas whisky bottle [which he enjoyed a glass from the next day].
John Walters couldn't hack the new regime and soon stopped writing his wonderful columns. That was when I knew something was wrong. His last piece of the 70s came with a photo taken during his days as trumpet player in popular beat combo the Alan Price Set during the late 60s. That month 'London Calling' was number one in the Green Man jukebox chart, holding off the Angelic Upstarts' 'Who Killed Liddle Towers', Madness, the Psychedelic Furs, Motorhead and Junior Murvin's 'Police And Thieves'. Punk had splintered and diversified but Walters was taking the piss out of the Sunday Times' notoriously out-of-touch music critic Derek Jewell. This man made Bob Harris look cutting edge. His year was rocked by Billy Joel. Walters then goes off on one of his inimitable diversions, this time about getting me a Christmas gift because I'd sent him a record company standard issue paper-clip dispenser [It's all bollocks - we never exchanged gifts, just pleasantries and insults].
'Actually the main reason for looking through the Sunday Times was to go through their unusual present advertisement page on the lookout for something for Needs...It's amazing what they advertise. Cosijamas and Freezalarm are fairly self-evident in their usefulness. But did you know that if you write to an address in Market Harborough you can have a bathroom dangler? I must say these days I don't have to write to Market Harborough to get one of those...I was immediately attracted to a box headed 'Up And Over'. That sounds like Needs I thought. It was illustrated by what appeared to be a police artist’s impression of the Yorkshire Ripper saying. "It's so easy to put in!" Needs all over, I thought and then noticed that the speaker was supposed to be Jimmy Greaves and the ad was for garage doors. Another blank. But wait!...This could be it. It's headed "Surely the cheekiest present of the year. Deep, rich, satin finish. Looks good, feels good." Just the thing - a toilet seat. Apparently you can have one with a brass plaque for your personal inscription. What would be suitable for Needs? When the lid was down it could perhaps have one of those slidy things saying, "Kris is In/Out". Not very practical. But speaking of the impractical: how about this little ad? "The ideal little present - Tit Bells!" Good grief, Needs would look a complete fool - apparently you have to hang them in the garden after having filled them with hot fat! And who are they to say the British have no sense of adventure...?'
All this is a typically Walters way of getting to the point of his piece. He'd been asked to comment in a Melody Maker feature about the upcoming decade and, despite coming from a jazz background, happily laid into what are still called 'musos'. Musos are widely accepted as what punk rock opposed. Not rock stars so much as a self-styled 'elite' corps of musicians with aspirations of virtuosity who would roll up their designer jacket sleeves to uncurl another flurry of lightning notes while pausing only to spit a ball of disdainful phlegm at the nearest punk rocker. They had 'paid their dues'. You could also call them session men. Men with finger work and bank balances but no fire or soul. Although they got maximum respect from Derek Jewell.
Even taking into account that some of the names will date this to over 25 years ago, John Peel's late producer was as spot on then as his DJ-ing accomplice in musical passion and mischief was until his passing:
'First what is a muso? A muso is someone who has won the respect of fellow musicians. What does this mean in practical terms? The archetypal musos were the Grease Band. Who knows what happened to the Applejacks or the Honeycombs? After their hits, cheerio, but the Grease Band summed up guys who had been around. They could pop up on anyone's record. Just like jazzers. Actually, I'm a bit worried about Budgie. One minute it's Big In Japan, then it's sorting out the Slits album, then he's on the programme with Pink Military, then it's being brought in to save the day for the Banshees - soon you'll be booking him and it'll be all that, "Sorry squire, I've got to be at De Lane Lea at two - they're doing a Cadbury's ad where punks break up a Crunchy bar...” The first punk muso? I hope not. The muso, you see, is the supreme craftsman. Someone sent a disc along to the Peel programme with a press handout quoting some booker as saying "I thought they'd just be another bunch of punks but when they got onstage they were real musos!" Yikes! If anything was guaranteed to give the author an instant Afro as from having thrust thumb firmly into light socket and to have record dropped unheard into bin, that's it.
You see I've suffered musos for years. I'm an old jazz buff. Those musos are now the people who pop up on the Parkinson show...'let's hear from somebody who can really show these rock and rollers what being jive's all about...Whatever 'appened to music, eh?'
All you need is the technique to do what you want to do. I knew pro musicians in the 60s who poured scorn on blues players like Muddy Waters andJohn Lee Hooker because they'd sometimes add a bit. "Hark at that - 13 bar blues", they'd sneer, before launching into the "Little Muso Gig Guide" arrangement of "Harlem Nocturne". When rock started, dance band musos stood in the wings having a smoke and sneering at the beat group playing the interval because they were resentful at the excitement generated and felt that the group didn't have their craftsmanship [just as 'serious' musos resented the dance band saxophonists]. Now rock musos stand in the wings looking down their noses at the punk generation. There was an interview recently with Steve Harley, of all people, moaning that the punk was all very well but would these guys be around playing sessions in a few years time. I certainly hope not, Steve. Nobody's singing the praises of incompetence but it's just that you only need an alphabet large enough to form the words you're trying to say. The rest is vanity. If we'd waited for the Slits to become mistresses of their instruments then we'd have waited until the crack of doom, as Macbeth observed, and missed some nice ideas. As opposed to, for instance, Dire Straits, darlings of the muso set whose undoubted musicianship will enable them to bore us for years. Pah humbug!
Here Needs, accept this subscription to Musicians Only. Happy Krismus.'
Kris Needs/John Walters tMx 22 11/05