Episode 23. Three autographs, three memories.
I love autographs. Selfies are nice but they don’t portray the moment as well later as you are too busy posing for the camera and showing people how you met so-and-so and let’s be honest, you can search the internet for similar photos of yourself with the same Rock Star and unless it happens to be Keith Richards or Jimmy Page, there are hundreds if not thousands. Hence the reason an autograph for me is something more personal, something beyond the pose, something that is more than just a photo on a phone: it is a memory between yourself and the moment, to be left to be discovered (or displayed) to anyone who happens across it and say ‘You met Thin Lizzy? You’re kidding! I never knew that!’ or more often ‘Is that real?’ Sometimes a personal message is scrawled on there as well as the name which makes it truly unique. Conversations and discussions begin from such moments and so for this month, I’d like to share three autographs and the seven three behind them.
I interviewed Midge for beatleg magazine (as was the following two interviews) in 2013 which is when he signed my album. We began by talking about films and then onto Ultravox, Do They Know It’s Christmas? And Live Aid. He was very open, very honest and I asked him if he still had his classic car collection to which he replied “No I sold them all after the first time we came back from Ethiopia. I dumped the lot. I was living in an eight bed-roomed house in Chiswick, six car garage, studio underneath and I came back from Ethiopia and thought I had all this stuff and I don’t know what I bought it for”. He then asked me how I knew about his classic car collection and said “Well actually, we’ve met before but you wouldn’t remember…” In the summer of 1984, I freelanced a bit for Peter Webber’s backline hire company and on one particular afternoon, myself and Peter Webber regular Paul Froud were called to go to an address called Zachary House in Chiswick, west London, pick up a flight case and deliver it to the airport. Zachary house incidentally is famous for being in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night but at that time, it was the home of Midge Ure and we were somewhat surprised when he answered the door himself as we hadn’t been told who we were doing the job for. Anyway, he leads us to his garage and there are two gorgeous vintage cars parked side by side: a red jaguar and a silver Aston Martin DB6. Now I’m in heaven. I’m in a house where the Beatles filmed with the singer form Ultravox whose album Lament had been on my stereo constantly for the last two months standing next to a real James Bond car but heaven quickly turned to fear as we were shown the flight case and how we had to get it out of the garage – between the two cars. Too heavy to lift, we had to wheel it across the floor which was covered with stones and hay and then discovered there was about 3” (8cm) either side between the flight case and the mirror-finished polished beauties. Paul and I looked at each other, clasped our hands on the corners of the case so that it anything was going to get trashed, it was our knuckles and started to ease the flight case between the two. It slipped, skidded, bumped, careered, twisted all the way, all the time Midge frowning at us, his eyes burning the back of my neck but we squeezed it through with no casualties, loaded it onto the truck and collected the paperwork, much to the relief of all three of us. Midge disappeared quickly and we went to the airport via the pub for a well needed pint. A few months later Midge would write Do They Know It’s Christmas? in his studio in the basement of that house. If you’d like to buy the house, it is currently for sale for £7,000,000 (¥1,000,000,000).
It’s not often that ordinary blokes like me can have the honour and pleasure to have Miss America on my arm but it did happen, just once back in 2014 when I was asked to interview Vanessa Williams, A.K.A. Miss America 1984. In truth I hadn’t followed her acting career very much and had heard only sporadic releases since she released her mega-hit Save The Best For Last in 1991 but that was a recording I loved and was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to her. The venue, Tokyo Billboard, was sold out for all her shows and there was already a long queue to enter as the photographer and myself were swept through the doors towards the dressing room. This I had done many times before and have done many times since but on this occasion, the atmosphere backstage was different. Usually, it’s a bunch of guys hanging out, cracking jokes, opening beers, tuning guitars, etc but here was a flurry of activity as it seemed a dozen people all had important questions to ask the lady at the centre of attention who had her back to me. A rack of clothes whisked by and disappeared into another room; assistants took calls and made notes, someone handed her a bottle of water. Vanessa answered each enquiry politely and with thought and when the Billboard PR lady informed her it was time for the interview, she said ‘Ok’ stood up, turned around and walked towards us. We shook hands, Vanessa smiled and introduced herself, her eyes widened and I melted…she was stunningly beautiful. For the interview, we sat across a table from each other, just a yard apart (one metre) as she answered my questions with the same politeness and thoughtfulness, she had to her staff earlier. It was one of the most difficult interviews I have ever done, purely because I found it hard to concentrate; her eyes are hypnotic. I asked her about Save The Best For Last and she told me was lucky because that both Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand heard the demo and passed on it. I asked her how she felt about making history, for being remembered as the first black woman to be crowned Miss America, to be remembered alongside Obama and Martin Luther King and she replied rather humbly ‘I just hope people can learn from my life.’ After the interview, we had photos taken, my arm around Miss America and a big grin on my face. I asked her for an autograph and handed her my blu-ray copy of Eraser, an action film she made in 1986 starring herself and Arnold Schwarzenegger, she signed it ‘To Glenn, Best Always, Vanessa’. We shook hands again, and went to leave. Just as I got to the door, I turned around again for one last glimpse of those eyes…stunning.
Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to someone from the 1960s, someone who was there, witnessed it, lived through it, I get very excited as I am going to be able to talk to somebody about my favourite decade. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Jim McCarthy from The Yardbirds, chat with Chris Slade who drummed for Tom Jones, Morgan Fisher from Mott the Hoople but was previously in Love Affair in the late 60s and a few others including Andy Fairweather-Low who have all given me insights into those years and have enthralled me with great stories from that era. Brian Auger though was going to be something special for me as not only was he there, he was sober through it – bonus! When we met in June 2014, he had just been inducted into the Hammond Organ Hall of Fame and now sat alongside Al Kooper, Booker T. Jones, Keith Emerson, Jon Lord and his own hero, Jimmy Smith. I started by congratulating him and asking how he felt about being in such illustrious company as personally I felt it was long overdue. ‘Surprised’ came the modest reply but added that being inducted in the same year as Jimmy Smith meant a lot. From there he jumped right back to his early life in Shepherds Bush and the first time he heard Jimmy Smith, England after the war (he was born in 1939), the music scene in the UK in the late 50s, buying his first Hammond, etc. Now, Brian it must be said is a raconteur and so by now, I have only ten minutes left and mention it to him as I need to get a few sixties questions in there. ‘Are you busy after this?’ he asked. I replied I wasn’t and would just go to the bar and wait for the show. ‘Good’ he said ‘let’s talk.’ and for the next hour he regaled me with tales of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Lulu and a host of others. He wasn’t name dropping; that was just his life back then when he was playing with Rod Stewart and doing Yardbirds sessions. ‘Did you ever get ripped off?’ I asked and he laughed at the memory. “Yeah we had Giorgio Gomelsky managing us and we must have worked right through that period where we had records going everywhere and never got paid anything. Then there was Mike Jeffrey who I thought was probably the biggest crook on the scene at the time – and proved to be true!” Mentioning Mike Jeffrey led me nicely into Hendrix as he was one of Hendrix’s managers along with Chas Chandler, recently retired bassist from The Animals. I had read a few different versions of the events about Brian and Jimi and wanted to hear them first hand from someone who wasn’t a crook or stoned at the time.
“I get to the office, there’s Jeffrey behind the desk with dark glasses on so I sat in front of him and Chas came in.
Chas: Mike and I brought this guy over from New York. He’s a guitar player and we want him to front your band.
Brian: Well, first of all, I don’t know who this guy is and I’ve never heard him! The other thing is, I already have someone who fronts my band. Her name is Julie Driscoll and I already have a guitar player whose name is Vic Briggs. Are you saying to me that I should fire these people and install this guy I’ve never heard before? Look, we are playing at the Cromwellian on Friday, why don’t you bring him down there because it would be a chance for me to hear the guy.
That was what I wanted. For years it had been reported that the club was the Scotch of St James but now I had first hand information that it was indeed the Cromwellian and I asked him to confirm that. Without hesitation he said ‘yes’ and added ‘I have a mental picture of Jimi being introduced to me and looking out across the stage at the staircase that goes up from upstairs to the first level of The Cromwellian’. That was good enough for me. We talked more, right up until twenty minutes before he was due on stage and it was amazing to think that this man could count Eric, Jeff, Jimi and pretty much anyone else from the 1960s swinging London scene as his friends – actors and stresses included. That one little conformation of the club Hendrix played at may seem insignificant but in these days when Rock history facts are fast becoming Rock history 'Ermm...I think it was...', these opportunities for us journalists and lovers of that era are precious and time is fast running out to clarify things. As for Brian Auger, to date, I have yet to meet anyone from that era who can recount those days with such accuracy and exactitude and I thank him profusely for that precious opportunity.