‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 5)
This week, good ol’ Mick talks about beaches in Cornwall, Ozzy’s autobiography and brandy fetish, Heep’s upcoming Classic Rock Awards gig, and his admiration for The Small Faces, Neil and Tim Finn, Les Paul, Django Rheinhardt and Tony Iommi… Click here to read previous columns from Mick.
On my return from Armenia I took a train from Paddington to St. Austell to join my family for five days in Cornwall, on the south west coast of England. They had already gone ahead of me in the car. It is school half term, so it is nice to have a few quality days with my family before we hit the road for a long European run of concerts, that takes us up to Xmas. Plus, we are going to the Classic Rock awards on November 2 and, of course, playing a show at the Relentless Garage in Islington on November 4. It is an awkward day, being a Wednesday, for the Garage show, with work for people the next day, but we hope to see a full crowd nevertheless, and we are really looking forward to it. These intimate shows are always a challenge, but in Heepworld we thrive on it. We always say we give the same show to 500 people, 5,000 people or 50,000 people.
Cornwall is beautiful part of the world, with fantastic beaches that even match Sydney, Australia for their beauty and surf. That is an informed comparison, folks, because I did live in Sydney for eight years, and even had an apartment there. There is nothing like walking along a beach with the wind blowing in your face, and filling up your lungs with sea air. It is the last week of October, and we have seen sunshine [and a fair bit of rain], my son Romeo has been swimming in the sea every day, our 14-week-old puppy dog Elvis has just loved following Romeo around, and my wife Sheila and I have walked miles and miles along the beaches. We spend so much time in tour buses, vans, aeroplanes, boats and cars, that it is good to balance it with breaks like this.
Anyway, when I arrived at Paddington railway station to catch the train, I went to W H Smith’s to try and find a book to read. Then I saw one book staring me in the face, it was I Am Ozzy, by Ozzy Osbourne. A perfect holiday read I thought, and I purchased it straight away. Ozzy has shared with me, during his solo career, some excellent musicians. On his first two solo CDs, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman, my old mate Lee Kerslake played the drums, sang and co-wrote some of the songs. Plus, along with Randy Rhodes on guitar, he had Bob Daisley on bass. Bob joined Heep for the Abominog and Head First CDs and then left to rejoin Ozzy. Then, of course, Trevor Bolder came back to Heep from his short stint with Wishbone Ash. John Sinclair, our old keyboard player from the Abominog and Head First days, joined Ozzy too when he left us.
Ozzy was always popping down to The Roundhouse studios in London when we were recording, and we usually ended up in The Belmont pub across the road. I do remember getting to the bar first to buy a round, and asking Ozzy what he would like to drink, and he asked for a quadruple brandy. Not bad for a first drink, I thought. Anyway as we chatted. he left it there for a few moments, and then quickly picked it up and, as they say in Australia, skulled it. He pulled the most amazing screwed up face, and declared, “I hate the taste of it, but I like what it does to me,” and promptly ordered another one. It was going to be a long night, I thought.
Back to the book, and as autobiographies go, it is a good read, and worth buying, although I knew a lot of the stories through Lee, Bob and John and, of course, Ozzy himself. He has had a colourful life, to put it mildly. What a legend!
On this short break, I have had time to listen to some music too, and I have given my iPod a good bashing here in Cornwall. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane as I played stuff from The Small Faces amongst others. The impression I had when I first saw The Small Faces dressed in their mod gear, on a TV show called Ready Steady Go in the late 60s, was fantastic. Here was a small geezer, Steve Marriott, with a voice as big as the Tower Of London, with so much soul. We played a show with them in the early days in the East End of London in a place called Leytonstone Baths, and I remember Steve Marriott standing in the wings giving us the big thumbs up. What a buzz that was! I went out front to see the Small Faces to get the best possible view, and the band set up behind these huge heavy velvet curtains. I heard Stevie tuning up at full pelt, and if I thought that was loud, then it was nothing to when the curtains were pulled back. G Force springs to mind. They just went for it, and the energy was brilliant.
It was then I decided that it was time to shop for clothes in London’s Carnaby Street just off Oxford Street, because they looked so cool. This is where most bands went for stage clothes, as well as street clothes, and it was a great meeting place. Heep covered a Small Faces number, Tin Soldier, and I think we did a fairly good job, but nothing as good as the original. It was merely a tribute to them. I had met Steve quite a few times, and he was always a lovely bloke. The last time was when his Packet Of Three band supported Heep in Houston, Texas. He played some blinding blues guitar that night, and sang with so much soul and power.
I have also been listening to the Finn Brothers from New Zealand, Neil Finn and Tim Finn. Neil Finn, of course, was in Crowded House, and both the brothers were in a band called Split Enz. I have always liked Crowded House and Split Enz. The brothers write quality, well crafted songs, with great lyrics. Their CD, Everyone Is Here, is a really good example of this. Plus I have been playing Buddy Holly & The Crickets. Buddy inspired me a lot, and was a great rhythm guitar player and a fantastic songwriter. He played the first tobacco sunburst Fender Stratocaster I had ever seen. His songs are unbelievable, and have stayed with me forever. Considering there were only three of them in the band, the sound was never empty. The solo, all in chord shapes, on his song Peggy Sue was fantastic, and was always one you had to learn back then, as was the drum beat for drummers. The string arrangements on True Love Ways is fantastic, and way ahead of its time.
Eddie Cochran was around then, and he left us with some amazing music. He was a musician’s musician, and when he went into the studio, he knew all of the parts, on all of the instruments, and could play them all himself. There were not many artists around then, that had that sort of talent. His song C’mon Everybody was covered later by The Who amongst others, and he was a lot edgier than Buddy. The ballad Three Steps To Heaven is an absolute classic.
I put on John 5’s first CD Songs For Sanity, and he is flying. He covers a number of styles, and this CD showcases his talent. Had a good listen to Les Paul And Mary Ford, especially a song called Nola. I spent weeks trying to get the guitar part off, and it was very difficult because it was so fast. Little did I know, until years later, that Les Paul recorded his guitar part at normal speed and then he doubled up the speed to get the sound he wanted. Les Paul as we now know, did not only invent the Gibson Les Paul guitar, but was on the cutting edge of studio technology in those days, and he was the first to use techniques like this. Still, the upside of the story is I ended up with dexterity and speed in my guitar armoury, along with sore fingers and a headache. He was recently a sad loss to the world of music. Same birthday as me too!
Also played Swing From Paris by Django Reinhardt, the Gypsy jazz guitarist, and he is just amazing. Nice to know that Tony Iommi was inspired by Django, because of injuries they both had to their hands, and this is documented in Ozzy’s book. When Tony was an apprentice sheet metal worker, he lost the fingertips on his middle and ring finger, on his right hand in an accident. This is his fretted hand on the guitar neck, as Tony plays guitar left-handed. He now uses homemade thimbles and leather patches over his injured fingers, to be able to play.
Django’s story was that his family were very poor, and to supplement their income, Florine ‘Bella’ Mayer, his first wife, made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbours were quick to pull him to safety, he received first and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralysed, and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burnt. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again, and intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year, with the aid of a cane. Both of these guys have showed so much courage and determination, and ended up at the top of their profession. A fine lesson for us all, in turning adversity into accomplishment of the highest degree.
The very thought of this sends shivers down my spine, so now it is time to put on some Neil Young [Harvest], have a glass of wine, and chill.
Until next week.
– Mick Box
Tags: Bob Daisley, Buddy Holly, Django Rheinhardt, Eddie Cochran, John 5, John Sinclair, Lee Kerslake, Les Paul, Mick Box, Mick Box Column, Neil Finn, Neil Young, ozzy Osbourne, Small Faces, Steve Marriott, The Mick Box Column, Tim Finn, Tony Iommi, Uriah Heep