December 4, 1970. I’d turned 20 three and a half months ago and was on my way to a gig to see a band I’d heard about – ex-skinheads playing proper rock. It was Slade, and that gig was going to change my life as a music lover.
The crowd at Derby College of Art and Technology was, as always, packed and joyful. So many have left this earth and even the younger ones are older than me now – I avoided adulthood as a bore – but I have vivid memories of just how the Black Country foursome thrilled every one in the audience. Perhaps, Slade did as well. When it came time to record Slade Alive, still the best live album in my opinion, a party from the college was invited to Piccadilly – and I was among them.
My review of that concert was, in retrospect, immature. I don’t remember many of the tracks, with the exception of Born To Be Wild, which was, and remained, the best rendition of a rock classic. There was Comin’ Home and Tudor Baker, both mentioned in the next day’s Derby Evening Telegraph ‘Saturday Page’, along with Knights In White Satin with Jim Lea on violin.
Slade took rock music in their vibrant, hard-worked hands and offered it up as a tribute, and it was gratefully accepted. They were, and remained, totally professional and, despite the Glam Rock of glitter and Dave Hill outrageous costumes, music was always the ultimate priority. They were No 1 several times during the early 70s, not because Dave wrapped himself in tin foil, but because of the band’s exceptional musical ability.
I’d seen some great bands – Chicken Shack, Family, East of Eden, and the full line-up over two days at the Bath Festival – but meeting Slade was the life-changer. If I was in awe after the gig preparing for the usual interview, that was swept away in a salvo of warmth and welcome in the dressing room, followed quickly by banter and mickey taking. These were not just ordinary guys; they’d become firm friends within minutes. A short while later they dubbed me ‘Big Dick from Derby’ – and I have treasured signed albums with that moniker.
The change in my attitude to music crystallised from purely aural understanding to a deeply personal feeling. These guys, plus the amazing roadie and ‘doorman’ Swin, were going to be special – and within a few months they began their legendary time as the greatest UK rock band.
Almost by association I was drawn into Slade’s success. The late middle-aged news editors agreed with every request to accept an invitation to see them and review gigs. I was ‘sent’ to Bardney in Lincolnshire where I experienced pre-gig self-doubt that dissipated as the first chords were struck; I covered the recording of Slade Alive; the Lanchester University gig where Slade handed over to Billy Preston and where Chuck Berry recorded My Ding A Ling; and many more gigs.
But it all stems from that first gig at the college. So today, 50 years on, I can say thank you to Tim Price, who booked the band; Swin, who sadly is no longer with us; and Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, and especially Don Powell, a powerful friend and one of the world’s most powerful drummers.
If I have any advice for young music lovers today it’s: Avoid adulthood – just keep living the dream of great rock music.
This is how to do a book launch! Rock music from the 70s era that’s captured in the plot, in a venue that not only features in the book series, but is also a great pub.
The idea is to get away from bookshops with their fuddy-duddy, serious literary connotations, and instead aim directly at the people who matter – readers. Especially those who don’t consider themselves to be stereotypical book readers: the ‘only on holiday while I’m on the beach’, types; the ‘I only buy a book if I like the cover’, sort. These are very important people: they’re possibly among the most vital in the book industry, after bloggers and reviewers and those inveterate souls who read all day, every day.
Let’s have a party to celebrate many months of hard work stooped over a laptop; the writer’s pain of overcoming word blocks and ideas that come to nought; and the eagle eyes of an editor who ‘gets it’, but is hell bent on making it better.
Why Pouk Hill Prophetz? Because they are good musicians who play the music of the 70s that features in Vinyl Junkie, and because, while they are amateurs, they have a professional attitude to making music.
Why The Exeter Arms? It was the first pub I was taken into by my first newspaper’s Chief Crime Reporter, Dick Wallis, and the first taste of a beer that was going to stay with me to this day.
Come along. Have fun. It’s a party first, and a book launch attached.
Two hours of some of the most distinctive rock music ever written, and the sound of Family, the band that got together in mid-60s, is still ringing melodiously in my ears.
As the last strains of Shadow on the Wall faded and Roger Chapman put away his intensely gloccal (my word) wailing for another night, perhaps it was the time to reflect on how a 75-year-old bloke flawlessly grabs an audience and keeps it rocking, clapping and baying for more for nearly 120 minutes.
Chappo has put an amazing band together for this short tour, which included the O2 Academy in Leicester, Family’s and Chappo’s home town. Most of those at the packed gig knew what to expect – Chappo returns to the city once every few years and is always well received – he’s a recognised star in a musically star-studded city.
Rock and roll is in the man’s blood; it flows through every vein. The on-stage persona has change from being, I still believe, a major theatrical influence on Peter Gabriel in the 60s, to the cheeky chappy that was always there. He’s always had that beaming smile, and he’s always played to an audience as if he’s one of us. It cannot hide the man’s talent and brilliance as a lyricist and poet. The days of cavorting around the stage with gay abandon, long hair flying irrepressibly and playing rock festivals with naked youngsters dancing have gone; what’s left is a purity of music.
Chappo bestrides the stage like the Best Man on a stag night. He rules, but his ‘party’ consists of some of the greatest rock musicians this country has produced, many unsung, all remarkable. Behind him there’s John Lingwood on drums, with a Family style that seems to portend the massed ranks of mythical warriors marching to war; beside John, Gary Twigg reminds me of a canal lock keeper – a laconic smile on his face as he controls the flow with minimum effort and absolute note and time perfection; while off to Chappo’s left is keyboard maestro Paul Hirsh.
Poli Palmer has been on vibes for as long as Cappo’s been in long trousers, or so it seems; Nick Payn, sax, flute and anything else he can put in his mouth, adds that jazz feel that Family were so good at in the 60s and still are; and then there’s Geoff Whitehorn. I’ve seen a fair few guitarists, but rarely have they been so accomplished, fluent, commanding and in complete touch with the lead singer’s demands. Roger Chapman’s backing musicians have just improved with age.
There were tracks from Music in a Doll’s House and Family Entertainment, the early albums that I remember best. Chappo may not have retained the incredible range in his voice and that signature, extended vocal catch in his throat (that’s what I call ‘gloccal’), but the man’s a rock beast. We had Who Pulled The Night Down, the crowd sang along to My Friend The Sun, and the Stones’ Let’s Spend The Night Together. Track upon track, Chappo ruled that stage.
The man belies his years. He moves and rocks like someone well under half his age. Go see ‘em – January 13, The O2 Shepherd’s Bush, London; 18th Newcastle O2 Academy; and 20th the Great British Rock & Blues Festival, Butlin’s Skegness. It’s a night in with the Family.
Derbyshire Noir #1: Q&A with Tony R Cox, author of A Fatal Drug 5*
I was born in Lancashire but I went to secondary school in Derby and residential college in Buxton. So Derbyshire is a setting I know and love in novels. Derbyshire varies, from the beautiful peak district to the urban inner city that I know and love!
I have met very few authors in person. But one I have met and certainly won’t forget is Tony R Cox aka Richard Cox.
I met Richard just over a year ago at the signing of All Through The Night by M.P Wright in London. He is such a fantastic bloke and what Richard don’t know about Derby, ain’t worth knowing! I knew as soon as I started my blog, He would be brilliant for a Q&A. Very intelligent, a cracking sense of humour and rather dashing in ‘that shirt’ pic above. here is Richard’s Q&A………..
A Fatal Drug by Tony R Cox 5*
England. 1971. Reporter Simon Jardine is on the hunt for the story that will kick start his career and when a tortured, mutilated body turns up on his patch he can’t help thinking his luck is finally in. At first glance the provincial town of Derby is about as far away from the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll of London and California as it’s possible to imagine but as Jardine begins to scratch below the surface he finds that all is not well in England’s green and pleasant land. Along with fellow reporter Dave Green and local DJ Tom Freeman, Jardine is soon drawn into a spiral of gangland drug dealing and violence that stretches from the north of England to the south of Spain.
Q) Please can you give the readers a summary of your background, main character Simon Jardine & novel A Fatal Drug?
A) My father was a railway signalling engineer and mother a nurse. I was born in Barking, London, and lived in Glasgow, Lancaster, Crewe, Lahore in Pakistan, and then back to Cheshire before secondary school in Buxton, Derbyshire. I have a long family history in Derby, going back to the early 1800s. My great, grandfather worked alongside Sir Robert Peel, MP for Tamworth; my great grandfather and his brother were in the wine and beer business in Derby. My maternal grandmother was the last private nurse to Richard, the last of the Arkwright family – ‘Father of the Industrial Revolution’ and creator of the factory system.
My first proper job was as a cub reporter at the Derby Evening Telegraph in 1970 where my love of rock music and jazz was allowed full rein as a reviewer, as well as learning the ropes of regional journalism. It is from this era I chose my central characters. Simon Jardine is an amalgam of some great young journalists, with the naivety we all showed in our early 20s; Dave Green and Tom Freeman are loosely based on major influencers – both of whom have died.
For A Fatal Drug local reporter Simon Jardine’s romantic hotel room assignation is rudely interrupted by a grey, lifeless body staring through the skylight.
Simon, with crime reporter Dave Green and DJ-cum part time private investigator Tom Freeman, become enmeshed in the mystery of who the dead man was and how he ended up on the hotel roof.
The story travels to Spain and North Africa as the search for answers and a front page lead draws the three friends deeper into a growing drugs trade. Murder and prostitution are rife, but they’re no nearer getting the answers to their questions.
What links the hotel body to the drugs trade? Why does a would-be music reviewer go missing? Who is a bigger ‘godfather’ than Derby’s Mr Big? Is the threat of violence and death really worth it for a front page lead?
Q) I went to secondary school in Derby in the 1990’s. I absolutely loved the setting of Derby, I think Derby is such an intriguing City and its demographic changes street to street. It is also home to some of the most beautiful countryside. A Fatal Drug is set in 1971 Derby, what made you pick this era & this city?
A) The early 1970s were a time of sexual freedom, the drugs trade reached deeply and openly into the music scene, and society was undergoing some big changes society. For newspaper reporters, there were no mobile phones or the internet, and there was a culture, accepted by editors, that they could drink as much as they liked as long as they got the story.
Derby was transitioning slowly from being a heavily engineering-based employer to a more diverse economy. At the same time it was preserving some great architecture; building a new series of bridges over the River Derwent and a new ring road; and feeling the effects of some disastrous planning approvals, like any large urban area trying to build a strong future.
I like to think of Derby as ‘manageable’. It is possible to segment it historically and a short walk will take the visitor into wildly differing, architecturally emotional sectors: the new shopping centre; the Cathedral Quarter (Britain’s Best High Street); the riverside; the railway cottages conservation area; the miles of redbrick terraces, built to house workers at Rolls-Royce and the other engineering companies; and the wonderful parks.
Q) How much change have you seen in Derby from the 1970’s to 2017? Do you think it still makes for a brilliant location in 2017?
A) The city is a great ‘town’. It was given city status in 1997, but cannot shake off the ‘town’ tag. This, I believe is brilliant. I occasionally take people to Derby (200+ real ale pubs is a pretty good ‘draw’) and delight in showing them history that is still happening!
I am very surprised that some Derby locations have not been used for filmed period dramas, and by ‘period’ that could be Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and right through to the 70s. In a literary sense, an author I much admire, Steven Dunne, has set his enthralling Reaper series in 21st century Derby to great effect.
Q) I love that in your novel you are not afraid to shy away from themes of drug dealing, brothels & organised crime. It’s also hard to imagine such goings on in Derby. Did you base the novel on any real crimes? Or did they influence the writing in any way?
A) I don’t remember the town being so violent, but drug dealing was rife. I interviewed prostitutes and worked with an Irish newspaper to gain affidavits in a legal case, which meant entering a pub in the area of terraced housing by one door, meeting a prostitute at the bar, and running out of the other door – followed by a horde of irate men! Scratch the surface of any urban area and I think the criminal element will float up.
Q) The novel is set between two locations Derby & southern Spain, which is very good in terms of reflective locations. What drove the story this way?
A) There were two key drivers: the first is that I know Derby and its history well; secondly, drug smuggling involved people tapping into the burgeoning holiday destinations of southern Spain. While development in the Costas has covered vast areas in concrete, the geography remains largely the same.
Q) What are your favourite novels from childhood, teenage years to adulthood?
A) There were four phases I remember, apart from the early years of comics and Billy Bunter. My first ‘big’ author was W. E Johns and the Biggles series; then came Dennis Wheatley and Rider Haggard; later secondary school was the time of JRR Tolkien, James Joyce (and I was one of the only kids to actually enjoy Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners), and the First World War poets.
Now, depending on what I’m doing, I immerse myself in the works redolent of ‘my era’, such as Alan Sillitoe and John Braine. For pure enjoyment I read the latest novels by such luminaries as Steven Dunne, Stephen Booth, Sarah Ward (all set in Derbyshire), and, of course, my much acclaimed friend, M. P Wright. I also try and read as many of the books published by Fahrenheit Press, my publisher, as possible.
Q) What is next for Tony R Cox and will there be another Simon Jardine thriller?
A) The next Simon Jardine thriller is currently with my ‘editor’ who has found faults (don’t they all), but has called it well-crafted. From such an incisive and critical reader, that takes on the role of an Oscar in my estimation!
Jardine, Dave Green and Tom Freeman are again on the trail of news headlines. This time the story starts with a rock band’s homecoming gig in Wolverhampton, moves quickly into a possible expose of corrupt record sales in the music industry, and thence to drugs and murder. Police corruption lies at the heart of a novel that casts a spotlight on the finances of the IRA.
I’m also writing short stories and a more difficult work that has two main characters who speak in different dialects. It’s tough, but it exercises the writing brain.
Q) Aside from meeting me, What has been your favourite thing about being a published author?
A) Meeting your husband! No, not really, but he’s a great bloke.
There are so many positives about being a recognised writer. My first self-published Simon Jardine thriller, First Dead Body, was a personal achievement and the ‘launch’ party at Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire, was fantastic; being accepted by Fahrenheit Press for my second, A Fatal Drug, was hugely thrilling. I think the biggest change is the chance to mix with so many writers and readers whom I have admired for years, and the undimmed support they give me.
It’s the steps that put the lump in my throat: hewn from chalk and perfectly formed for a slow march uphill, two abreast before the tunnel curves, light streams in, and the snipers pick off the appearing soldiers, sending their tin hats tumbling, holed, back down the white stone steps.
This is the Carrière Wellington, a museum in Arras, which opened in 2008. There can be few places that so accurately and vividly portray what it was really like in the First World War – the ‘war to end all wars’: that sad and false hope.
What makes Carrière Wellington different is that it is all about ‘real’ war: 90 per cent inactivity, 10 per cent sheer adrenaline and terror. Here it seems so easy to imagine the Tommies’ mindset and join them metaphorically – and sometimes physically – stumbling along, allowing a herd instinct to take over from individual actions. The museum is all about how the soldiers lived, breathed, ate, drank and carried out the most basic functions, just like normal human beings. And then they marched obediently up those deadly steps.
Arras is a beautiful city built on a deep bed of chalk and limestone that was mined from medieval times to provide the building blocks of homes, workplaces, churches and public buildings. The city refused pointless resistance against the advancing German army in 1914, but when the British won it back and refused to budge it was the start of a bombardment that removed the towering spires and went on to devastate some of the most beautiful Flemish-style squares and buildings in France.
Two years later, still under British control but now a frontline hub for Allied forces from all over the British Empire, the relative safety of those limestone caves, quarries and connecting tunnels became a true refuge from the assault. With the cream of Britain’s miners and tunnellers already lying under Belgian and French soil, entrenched in the near-stalemate of the Somme after the battle began on July 1, 1916, or working flat out back home digging the coal for factories, the Army turned to New Zealand for help.
With skill, power and enthusiasm the Antipodeans set about turning the network of caves into a vast interconnected honeycomb of sleeping quarters and billets, tunnelled railways, latrines and officers’ messes. Defecation was a real and logistical problem. Waste could not be left underground for obvious health reasons, and it had to be carried in buckets up to the surface. And woe betide the man who let a bucket slip!
So life carried on as normally as possible. A steady 11C temperature meant that the caves were constantly chilly, but at least the men were sheltered from the howling winter storms above. Washing was possible, but difficult. Water collected in natural ‘baths’ or basins, and the soldiers used these for a full wash – but it was often better to be fourth or fifth into the bath when the water was not quite so cold.
The plan was a masterstroke: at a specific time the Allies would emerge from a hole in the ground, completely surprise the dug-in German army and march on to victory. The reality was not quite so simple. Just two weeks before the planned attack the Germans pulled back, leaving the emerging Allies exposed in No Man’s Land. But it was too late to make big changes, so the 25,000 troops who had lived underground for months on end marched out of the chalk caves at 05.30 on April 9, with snow turning quickly to mud, to be met by sniper fire and machine guns.
Incredibly, the plan worked. In just two days the Allies overran two German lines and achieved their objective – until the Germans rested, brought in reserves and attacked again. Nevertheless, the Arras attack was the beginning of the end. German forces rallied but on November 7, 1918, the politicians were driven to surrender at La Pierre d’Haudroy and boarded a train for the armistice signing at Compiegne.
This haunting museum is a tribute to all who marched up those steps. There are few artefacts – the tunnels were cleaned out during the Second World War – and the audiovisual presentations are low key enough not to over-dramatise.
Carrière Wellington is only a day trip away from southern England, so catch it now before the moneymakers realise that they can turn it into a tourist spectacle. So far, no overpriced café, ice cream booth or ‘made in China’ toy soldiers compete for your cash. For a meal, try one of the restaurants in Arras – they offer probably the best cassoulet I have ever deserved or tasted.