‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 19)
This week, Mick looks at the state of the music industry, comments on the death of one-time Heep bassist Gary Thain’s mum, remembers the late David Byron, ponders about heavy metal as a religion – oh, and mentions some footie team called Spurs! Check out Mick’s previous columns here.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien has warned that the music industry is suffering, because financial pressures mean money is being put ahead of creativity. He said: “I sense, and many artists sense, that it’s become dominated by money, and the need to make more money, and I think the problem with that, is that the creativity’s gone out of the industry, the fun”.
It is good that O’Brien has said this, but to be perfectly honest, I have felt this since the end of the 70s. In the 70s, record companies signed bands to six or seven album deals, and the label grew with the artist, and the artists grew with the label. So much so, that you actually bought albums sometimes purely on the cover, and what label it was on, as you knew that it would be something you would like. The Vertigo label was a good example of this. On Heep’s second album, Salisbury, the title track had a 27-piece brass section on it, and all we had to do was explain that the song required it, and it was done. Nowadays you would have to sit down with the record company, a team of accountants, your manager and have discussions about your market value, to see if this was possible. I totally agree with O’Brien who says that he thinks the problem is that in the last 10-15 years it’s become about money, and the money men are now running the companies, whereas traditionally it’s always been the creatives. I would probably put that at 30 years myself.
The music industry’s current upheavals, however, present big opportunities to bring creativity back. O’Brien goes on to say: “What’s great about the moment, is the very fact that we’re living in this time of change, huge uncertainty, and of course these times are always accompanied by fear for some people. But I think there’s huge scope for massive innovation and creativity, and that’s exactly what this industry needs, in my humble opinion”. Spot on, Ed!
I remember in the mid-70s, Kate Bush was discovered by David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), and he was instrumental in getting her to produce a quality demo of her songs that Terry Slater of EMI heard, and he signed her. Bush herself said that she believed that EMI signed her before she was ready to make an album, so that no other record company could offer her a contract. After the contract signing, EMI forwarded her a sizeable advance which she used to enrol in interpretive dance classes, taught by Lindsay Kemp, a former teacher of David Bowie, and mime training with Adam Darius. In essence, they put her on ice for the first two years so that she could grow as an artist. She released her debut album, The Kick Inside, in 1978, produced by Andrew Powell, when she was 19 years old, and some of these songs on this album were written when she was just 13. The single Wuthering Heights was the first number one single in the UK by a female artist, with a self-penned song. Now that is what I call investment in creativity, that paid off handsomely.
Our ex-bass player Gary Thain’s mother Rita, passed away in New Zealand, with a stroke, on January 21, aged 84, and I have sent a message to the funeral, which will be read out for his Auntie Rita, by Darryl Taurim. I have been in communication with Darryl over the last couple of years, and I have been sending messages and pictures to Rita, who has enjoyed hearing from me immensely. Both Arthur and Brian, Gary’s surviving brothers, will be in attendance. May she rest in peace! There is a fan-based website re Gary at www.garythain.com if you would like to visit it.
As a musician who has trudged up and down UK motorways many times in vans, buses and cars, it was interesting that the BBC announced that only half of the motorways in England reach the top safety rating, with other major roads much worse. No surprise there then, folks! The report said that the study, which analysed motorways and major A-roads, says many do not protect drivers who run off the road. The Road Safety Foundation – the UK arm of the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) – inspected virtually all of the 4,350 miles (7,000km) of motorways and major A-roads in England. It then gave each a star rating from one to four – in much the same way as the car safety rating system works. Only half of motorways were given four stars. Three-quarters of dual carriageways were given three stars. Single carriageway major A-roads fared the worst of all, with most getting only two stars. Still, they are streets ahead (excuse the pun) of some Eastern European motorways and roads from my experience, where I have spent equal time driving up and down them. The report argues that road crashes cost the British economy £18bn a year, and goes on to say that unprotected signs and trees can turn a relatively minor problem, with a tyre for example, into a fatal crash. There are 10 deaths a year on Britain’s motorways caused by motorists hitting trees. My immediate thought would be – removing the trees would be a good start.
Interesting to read in Metal Hammer magazine that heavy metal fans are being asked to lobby for their passion to be recognised as a religion. The magazine wants them to register their faith as ‘heavy metal’ in the next national census. Supposedly 10,000 fans have agreed thus far. However, I do find some comfort in the fact that the classic rock religion is as strong as ever, and has been for four decades – and Classic Rock magazine is the bible says Reverend Box!
When I first started writing these columns, I said to myself that I would not write about my team Tottenham Hotspur, as there are so many matches, and it would take up a lot of space that would only be of interest to a few people. I avoided it for a long time, and then I let my guard down, so here I go again – as my old mate David Coverdale from Whitesnake so nicely put it. Now you have to admit that Spurs do not do routine. In the Barclays Premier League, they have lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers (close to the relegation zone), beaten Manchester City (presently in sixth position), put nine goals past Wigan Athletic (presently in 14th position) and drawn 0-0 with Hull (in the relegation zone). However, Wednesday night they beat Fulham (presently in 10th position) 2-0 with goals from Peter Crouch and David Bentley, and now sit proudly in fourth position in the Premier league, three points clear of Liverpool in fifth place. I am, to put it mildly, delighted!
In San Francisco this week, the computer company Apple unveiled their newest development the iPad, which is a tiny, portable, touch-screen computer. I had to laugh at Richard Morrison of The Times newspaper and his observation, that when they bring new things out like this, it is so hi-tech, it makes your current phone, laptop, and all other electronic accoutrements look like neanderthal artefacts. These are exactly my thoughts. He mentions that a few years ago, a satirically minded sculptor constructed a gigantic statute made from the exact number of electronic goods that an average British person was estimated to discard in a lifetime. It weighed three tonnes, stood seven feet high and included five fridges, eight toasters, six microwaves, seven PCs, six kettles, seven vacuum cleaners and 35 mobile phones. Morrison says that even that seems on the conservative side, as every parent knows that any teenager will get through at least five phones a year. One will drown in the pocket of a pair of jeans chucked in the washing machine. One will be lent to a girlfriend/boyfriend who has moved away. One will be stolen during Physical Education at school. One will be left on a bus, and one will be accidentally flushed down the toilet of a dodgy night club. I book him right on that, as my son Romeo is coming up nine years old, and he is on mobile number four – in one year!
It does seem, though, with technology changing as quickly as it does, that by the time you get to learn how to use the gadgets you have, they are either broken, lost or redundant. Now here’s an idea: how about some new technology that lasts? What a stupid comment, I know. It will never happen in this disposable society that we live in. I remember as a kid when my mMum bought a cooker or a fridge it was for life, but now you are lucky if it last six months. Anyway, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled iPad which to be honest looks like a giant iPhone. Apart from all the good things it has, like it is slim and elegant, a lot lighter than any laptop, there is only one button on the whole machine which is the home button with everything else handled through touch. The iPhone operating system is intuitive, there is a wonderful supply of apps in Apple’s App store, and it has the new iBooks with Apple’s own iBookstore. It is, however, disappointing that the iPad has no camera, and no Skypeing or video chat facilities. The other failing is that there is no multitasking, so you can only do one thing at a time. If you are questioning whether you would want one or not Stephen Fry (actor), who was at the launch, said as he left the hands on area of the launch: “It is a transformative device. You only really get it when you get your hands on it.”
James Cameron’s 3D film Avatar has passed his shipwreck saga Titanic to become the highest-grossing film worldwide. It has taken $1.86 billion (£1.15 billion), beating Titanic’s $1.84 billion record. I told you it was a must-see film. Producer Cameron must have the magic touch after those two mega films. He is probably the toast of Hollywood, even taking Steven Spielberg’s crown. On the 3D front, Sky TV is kicking off the UK’s first 3D channel with a live Premier League football match to be broadcast in nine pubs around the UK this weekend. The match between Arsenal and Manchester United will be viewable in 3D in pubs in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh. In April Sky will roll out its 3D channel to hundreds of other pubs. Later in the year, Sky 3D will be made available to all Sky+HD customers with a range of content on offer. This will include movies, sport, documentaries and entertainment. Sky 3D will initially be available as a free add-on for those with Sky+HD boxes. Viewers need to wear a special pair of glasses to watch the content. It looks like the 3-D TV revolution is under way!
This week it is my son Romeo’s ninth birthday. I don’t want to do the gushing father bit, but he is a complete joy to have in my life. I have been blessed. Now where have those nine years gone?
I was listening to Cream on my iPod the other day, and I have to admit I am a bit of a late bloomer regarding this band. Disraeli Gears is a superb album, and I have some live recordings along with a complete best of compilation. I had a great afternoon listening to Cream while I was working in my office, and I really enjoyed it. I think the trouble with me is that I was more into Jeff Beck than Eric Clapton. Clapton is a great guitarist, but I was never a great lover of the blues, even when there was a big blues boom in England. This was probably because I was a young man travelling around with my guitar, playing in a band, and having it large, as they say. To be perfectly honest I was too happy to play the blues. Jack Bruce, though, is incredible, and how he sang and played together like that is outstanding. What can you say about Ginger Baker? He is definitely a one-off, but so integral to what Cream were all about. They had a good musical chemistry, and more importantly good songs.
I also put on a best of Foreigner. Now that got me bouncing around the office. What brilliant songs… Feels Like the First Time, Hot Blooded, Cold As Ice, Juke Box Hero, Urgent, Head Games, Waiting For A Girl Like You, Double Vision, Dirty White Boy – and so many more. Mick Jones and Lou Gramm were an unbeatable songwriting partnership, and Mick wrote some fantastic songs on his own. I remember when I left the UK to start a tour of the USA, I went a week early. I was armed with an itinerary that was as thick as War And Peace, my luggage, and my trusty guitar. While I was there in that first week, all I heard on the radio was a fantastic song by a band called Foreigner, Feels Like The First Time. The song was racing up the charts, and I loved it. When I joined up with everybody else to start the tour, on the first night, I was informed that Foreigner were our opening act. We did not have any chart action so to speak at the time, so I thought: “Blimey, we might be in a bit of trouble here.” Luckily this was not the case, as we had a formidable reputation as a live band that stood us well, but in every town that we played in, this song was constantly on the radio. It was only a matter of time before they took off in their own right. I have been a fan every since. Lou Gramm has such a fantastic, powerful, identifiable voice. We did a TV show in Germany a couple of years back, and Lou was doing a solo spot on it. He was recovering from illness, and he had put on quite a bit of weight from his medication. Lou is one of Bernie Shaw’s favourite singers, and he was so delighted to be able to give him a hug, and tell him what an influence he had been, as this was the first time he had met him.
On January 29, David Byron would have been 63 years old. It is so sad that he is not here on this earth to celebrate it. David and I spent a lot of our time growing up together, and we had so many wonderful times, eventually gaining success with Uriah Heep, which allowed us to play concerts all over the world. His musical legacy is still with us, and he is loved by so many, as I have witnessed by going on his dedicated website www.david-byron.com. I will have a quiet moment tonight, and sit down with a glass of wine in his honour, and think of some of those memories that we shared as mates.
On a lighter note, Tesco Supermarket in South Wales has banned people from shopping barefoot or in pyjamas. One woman was upset to be turned away, despite wearing her best nightwear. What does she wear to bed then, her best frock, high-heeled shoes and fishnet stockings?
On an equally lighter note, Toyota is preparing to recall over eight million cars, over fears that they may continue to accelerate after drivers lift their feet off the pedals. I wonder if Toyota in that case will cough up for any speeding tickets caused by this too?
Well, that is it for this week, folks!
Tags: Adam Darius, Cream, David Bowie, David Byron, David Gilmour, Ed O'Brien, Eric Clapton, Foreigner, Gary Thain, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, James Cameron, Jeff Beck, Kate Bush, Lindsay Kemp, Lou Gramm, Mick Box, Mick Jones, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Stephen Fry, Uriah Heep