Write Here, Write Now: 10.10 – Live Wire

AC/DC – Live Wire. “if you’re lookin’ for trouble

I thought I only got into AC/DC after leaving Worcestershire, with Highway to Hell, but I remember the band being part of the soundtrack of our lives. I recall them being more dangerous before that album, more crude, more unpredictable, and looking at images and videos of Bon Scott, he comes across as a tougher frontman than Brian Johnson.

What was great about the band was the rhythm section, and with this song, it cracks along at a swinging pace. The lead guitar throws out notes like shards of broken glass and Scott menaces the words over the top.

I wouldn’t say my friend was like a Bon Scott in my life. Though he did introduce elements of danger and excitement that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have known, and maybe helped establish a pattern I’ve followed of going against my inner slug to try things that I don’t think I would like, get to know people who I might not initially find sympathetic or my type – to break away in my own quiet style. Going round to his place, he often seemed to be in trouble with his older siblings and particularly his father. I’d show up and he might be at the door, ready to make a beeline away on his bike. Messing around in farmers’ barn and outhouses, opening rusty pots with no label (I managed to cover my hair in creosote a day before the school photograph), scaling narrow bridges – escapades that brought a drop of adrenaline into my life – always chivvied along by the live wire I knew, never happy to settle for the mundane, when cheek and bravado and twinkle would take us to more adventurous states.

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Write Here, Write Now: 10.9 – Whole Lotta Love

Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love. “Keep it coolin’, baby

There gets to be a point when there are no distinctive songs that I can remember from 40 years ago, just moods, atmospheres, associations. There were key bands, key albums, but they were only one part of a decade-long association, much pre-verbal.  As much as anything else, what remains is mood, sensory and visual impressions that get hard-wired, repeated activities such as the walk from house to house, localised geographical rootings that lasted over years through varied interactions, songlines for want of a better word.

The Brown Bomber, the second LZ album, was the other fixed point in the loose association of memories that remain, and the first song off that album seems oddly appropriate for a drifting post about scantily-remembered past events. The much-loved riff, the well-known chorus are loosely anchored in a song where the music often stops in space, looks around and then reconnects, where the rhythm sounds like a distant drum, another instrument in a fog of sound. What starts so confidently, so definitely, with such a glorious rush of connected musicians just cuts out into a wide-open field of cymbal strokes and toms, and Plant pants, before someone throws out an electric cable of Page’s guitar, arcing and spasming and briefly illuminating the dome of cloud. Do we know where we are? No, but if we keep on, we might stumble towards meaning.

In my mind, I am walking down a claret-tiled corridor, with white plaster walls, unadorned except for Gillray cartoons of medical procedures and family life and strife to a plain wood door with a latch opening onto a small room of green fabriced furniture and a record player. The walls of this room are impregnated with multiple layers of music, invisible but perceptible through a shake of the head, and a step back in time to when the room reverberated to a different song. The stillness and the dampness of the surrounding countryside seep in through the lead-lined windows. We are isolated from, but connected to the moss greens and chocolate browns of the farmland around us. This is a distillation of sound, a product of the Midlands, cast between the streams and hedgerows of a half-hidden world, a place limited by the border stridings of children, a place where growing familiarity built landmarks, created structure, but could see beyond the bounds to places not of its realm.

It’s a load of old bollocks, but it’s just a blog.

Write Here, Write Now: 10.8 – Space Truckin’

Deep Purple – Space Truckin’. And there’s another country I’ve heard of long ago.

I’ve just spent part of the weekend rearranging our living space – the top floor under the pitched roof. It involved gathering all my daughters’ play things in one area, separate from the rest of the space. Much of their toys are different from what I would have had at their age – Barbies and other dolls of different scales, a play kitchen and a play shop, but one thing they have that I had is Lego, although in their case it is the large scale Duplo. they have accumulated enough of it over the years for its storage to be an issue. For a while it was colour-coded – everything of one colour in one box. Fine, but it took up a lot of space. Now it is all piled together in one open metre square box – a random collection of bricks, windows, roof pieces and other items.

The former way of sorting was how I would have categorized my own Lego when I was that age – everything in a clearly-identifiable place – ordered, often by model. My friend preferred the second option – everything piled in together, and usually spread out all over his bedroom floor. When I overcame my OCD desire to sort it all, I began to realize the creative potential of working with what you can find, rather than from model instructions with a clear view of what would be made.

Scanning the miniature acres of assorted colours and shapes, I’d alight on an unusual piece and wonder what could connect to it, what the resultant shape looked like and how to develop it from there. How could I adjust my idea to use two wildly different but cool bits in the same model?

And often what emerged was a spaceship of some description. I think, by this time, Star Wars and similar space operas had made an impression and the idea of massive, massively-complicated hovering vehicles seemed imaginable and a launch pad for all sorts of creations that indulged hours crouched on a carpeted floor, accompanied by suitable music.

The album version of Space Truckin’ is a bit like an instruction-led Lego model. Basic, simple, quick to produce and frankly a bit childish. “Let’s go Space Truckin’” over and over again, anyone? The version from Made In Japan, on the other hand, is really the sort of extended epic that matches the more creative Lego modelling, picking up bits from here and there, trying them out, letting them stay for a while, even if they make the overall piece ridiculously elongated, bloated or unbalanced.

Listening to this monster track again after all these years, made me think how good it is to take the time to indulge your creative side. I’m not saying I and my friend were Blackmore and Lord, but I do remember we gave our imaginations free rein. I’m sure my daughters will too, in their way, though possibly more with their Playmobil figures than with the Duplo – social constructions, rather than engineering being more their forte.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 10.7 – When The Levee Breaks

Led Zeppelin – When The Levee Breaks

Led Zep IV was always my favourite album of theirs, but that’s not particularly why I’m playing this track, which isn’t a favourite off that album. It’s more the association of dams and dams failing¬† that drew me to it tonight.

At the bottom of the hill behind our house, when you crossed the field behind the garden you got to a small stream meandering its way through the village. The local farmer must have used a shallow area there for crossing, as there was a lot of bricks, stones, debris scattered about that a tractor could drive over without churning up the low bank.

That combination of factors also made it an ideal place for improvising a dam across the flow. We would lift stones, unpick bricks and pile or plonk them down in the water in a line across the stream. Pretty soon, the shallow stream, restricted at either edge by the encroaching arms of our dam, would get deeper and deeper, until the final stones were put in place in the middle.

Water being what it is, it either went round the sides, flooding the field a little, between the cracks, which we backfilled with the thick local clay soil, or over the top – the best sign of success. A second layer of stones was not much use against the force of the water, so then, sopping wet and cold, came the highlight of the morning/afternoon – removing a key stone in the middle and watching the higher water all flood out, surging downstream, like a mini tidal wave.

Nothing to compare to the force of a proper levee breaking, or to the righteous kick of a Bonham foot on a bass drum, a Plant blast on a gob iron, or the relentless stream of Page’s guitar notes, but playing the song reminds me of freedom of blocking and then going with the flow, all those years ago.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 10.6 – Running Free

Iron Maiden – Running Free

It occured to me today that in pursuing this thread idea this month – a tribute to the my first friend and the music we used to listen to, that there’s a danger of trying to cover all the bases – to list and comment on a sample track from all the bands we liked, whether or not I still like that song. As the threads should also be about music I Iike, that shouldn’t be too restrictive a category.

As it happens, Running Free was the first Maiden track I tried tonight, and it was a good one. The rhythmic jungle drumming, the guitar riff, the simple chase theme of the lyrics are as entertaining now as they were back then, when they would have been the soundtrack (possibly in pre-Walkman days in my head) to riding our bikes over the Worcestershire countryside. It’s a simple formula, but I can picture myself poised at the tip of a hill, about to add all my weight onto my right pedal to launch myself down the dirt track of the BMX slope, in time with the beat.

A great feeling, a great track.

Write Here, Write Now: 10.5 – Speed King

Deep Purple – Speed King “Some people gonna rock some people gonna roll

The third of the three groups that launched heavy rock/metal, alongside Led Zep and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple were a strange combination of power and intensity with progressive tendencies and jazz swing. If I can remember what they sounded like back in my pre teen years, I think I was overwhelmed by all the different elements in their music and this song is a good example of that.

Ornate organ intro interrupted by sudden bass burst, intensely frenetic drumming with extraordinary rolls filling the gaps in the beat. Fast paced, but grooving and tight to the beat. Then, not to be left out, Blackmore starts dueling with Lord, guitar against organ. All in a song about partying conveyed by Gillan’s enormous screech of a voice. The more I listen to it, the more difficult I find it to imagine how they managed to cram all that competing sound into 5 minutes.

A glorioius noise, I think I liked the frenetic technique, while my friend liked the chaos and the brutal sound it made. Whatever, it was great intense stuff.

 

 

Write Here, Write Now: 10.4 – Wheels of Steel

Saxon – Wheels of Steel. “I thought that were fuckin’ fabulous!

What was great about the heavy rock and even more the heavy metal bands was the thought put into designing complicated fonts and logos for the band names – from Whitesnake, that actually was a snake, to Iron Maiden’s unique triangular ‘o’s. I tried to draw out all of them, but the challenging one was Saxon with the double headed axe in the ‘S’. I remember siting at my desk in my bedroom, occasionally looking out over Worcestershire countryside and trying to trace and infill letters.

My neighbour bought both Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law in quick succession and put me through my paces listening to songs sung by Biff in a high-toned voice, primarily about driving fast in cars, motorbikes and planes, over very simple rhythm guitar riffing, similarly basic rapid drumming and screechy lead guitar solos.

I’m not sure how impressed I was by this ingression into all things NWOBHM. Enough anyway that when I left Worcestershire completely I took with me a prerecorded cassette of The Eagle Has Landed, a live album featuring songs from both these first two records.

Probably, Saxon was one of the bands we bought patches for and got our mums to stitch onto our denim jackets. I think we thought we looked really cool and hard – rough country lads, touring the lanes on our bikes. Out of that environment, it didn’t take long to realize the world had moved on and there’s nothing as much a fashion crime as wearing something from an outdated and unloved music genre.

What I love about this track is how unremittingly dumb it is. The melody, such as it is, is carried by all the instruments – there is almost no improvisation or counterpoint, and the drums hammer home the simple pounding sound. And then Biff keeps on repeating the same three words over and over again. And then gets the audience to repeat the same words. Over and over again – as a whole, as different sections, and then as one whole again. First explaining their task in a very clear didactic style.

Music back then – it didn’t have to do very much to give big dumb fun.