Posts tagged Monday Masters
Monday Masters; John Lennon

There were many John Lennons. He was the witty, intellectual one from The Beatles. He was the loving and caring bringer of the message of Love and Peace. He was a yobbish scouse Teddy Boy with a penchant for vandalising phone boxes and mugging English Sailors in Hamburg Night Clubs, he was a devoted family man who took five years out of being a super star to raise his son, he neglected and finally left his first wife and child.

He was the archetypal angry young man, with a chip on his shoulder that was bigger than his feet. He had a tragic childhood, having lost through circumstance or death at least three of the most important people in his life by the time his was 20. (One of them, his mother, he'd actually lost twice) He was violent. He put Cavern DJ Bob Wooler in hospital for jokingly inferring that Lennon was having a gay relationship with Brian Epstein. He admitted to having hit the women in his early life in jealous rages. I think this makes it all the more remarkable that he spent his later years banging on about peace; he managed to change his behaviour. He did, however, maintain that angry, sarcastic streak which could be very damaging to people.

I think he felt less musical than Paul McCartney. When they first met Paul had more ability than Lennon, despite being younger. From the outside it looks as if Paul was always more confident in this regard than Lennon, and John used bluff and sarcasm to guard against his own insecurities. At times Lennon dismissed McCartney as a schmaltzy writer of "boring songs about boring people" I think we can see his true feelings in other stories, such as how Here, There and Everywhere was his favourite song on Revolver. Personally I think that the Beatles, in particular Lennon, thrived because of their limitations. As is the case with most musical innovation they invented a lot because they couldn't quite do what they were intending to copy.

It's a well recorded fact that Lennon was insecure about his singing. If you listen it's pretty obvious. To begin with, compare the vocal on early, confident Beatles tracks with the solo stuff. Beatle Mania John's voice was thick and raucous. Solo John often had a thin, almost timid voice. Don't get me wrong, I love everything he sang. In fact the singing on a track like Jealous Guy is so beautiful because it is timid and heartfelt. His rocky voice changed too. On Beatles Rock and Roll covers he sounds like he might just kill you, and tracks like Mother and Gimme Some Truth he sounds like a man declaring all his inner issues and using them to kill himself.

Throughout his recording career he did his best to change and disguise his vocal. On the solo records he used delay and reverb effects, I've heard one producer say he wouldn't sing a note in the studio until his favourite effect was dialed in. Once the Beatles started to use four track machines practically every Lennon vocal was double tracked to sound thicker, and a little later he instigated the creation of Artificial Double Tracking, simply to save time by electronically beefing up his vocal sound rather than physically recording each vocal twice.

Even before the Beatles used studio tools and tricks to change their sound we can hear how Lennon, despite being ostensibly the lead singer, frequently used George and Paul to harmonise with him for huge sections of songs. In my view this was an attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to cover up his own singing.

Luckily for us Lennon's arrogance and wish to be leader proved to be stronger than his insecurities about singing and writing. For me the fact that the biggest cultural and musical icon of the 20th Century doubted his abilities so much only makes him more fascinating and dare I say it, inspiring.

He may have died six years before I was born, but I love the man

Monday Masters; Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend has been an inspiration to me for years. It really kicked in when I watched The Kids Are Alright the 1979 documentary movie of The Who. I bought the DVD to cheer myself up after a teenage romance ended badly, and the scene in which the band perform A Quick One While He's Away on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus just totally summed the musical power and inventiveness of The Who and in particular Pete. In this clip Pete sings, jumps all over the place, plays beautiful guitar, plays hard guitar and kicks over then rescues a drum mic mid song.

As well as the seminal performances on that DVD I also studied The Isle Of White 1970 DVD. So influential was Townshend that I could often be seen at gigs with my then band The Bleak emulating some of his stage craft. Windmills, jumping around, all that sort of thing. Many was the gig where I'd bloodied my hands and bruised my thumb. I carried on though and in my way I meant it. And Pete means it too, even going so far as to impale his hand on his Strat's wammy bar at a gig in the 80s.

I never smashed up my guitars though and I wouldn't recommend anyone else doing it either. (I heard a great story around this time about a local guitarist who smashed up his crappy old guitar at a gig because his band had just been signed to a major label. A day later not only had the deal fell through but he was scratching around for money for a new old crap guitar.) I would say I was too poor to smash up my gear but according to legend so were The Who in 1964. They didn't make proper money until the album Tommy in 1969 because of all the debt they had built up through being expected to destroy their gear at EVERY gig. It's hard to really appreciate now what effect this smashing of gear must have had when The Who were the first band to do it. It had only been a matter of a couple of years since the cutting edge of British Rock and Roll was Cliff and The Shadows (nothing against Cliff or The Shadows by the way, I love Move It and Wonderful Land)

So Pete the showman had a big effect on me. The Who were one of the most visually arresting groups in history and Pete's performance style had a very obvious effect on Jimi Hendrix in 1966 and thousands of others since. When I actually got to see The Who play in concert in 2007 it was astonishing to see Townshend, a man in his 60s, still being the frenetic and energetic showman he was in his 20s. He was also the only member of the band to stay on stage throughout the show.

Then there is his influence as a guitarist. If you look up his name in one of those great Rock Guitar Players lists you'll most likely find him described as a truly inventive rhythm player with an aggressive, staccato, almost flamenco style. This is very true and this alone makes it very likely that of all the 1960s guitar gods he has been influential on the most bands. I've got to add some more to that though. Whilst it's true that his lead guitar style never reached Clapton, Beck, Page or Hendrix levels of technicality and speed he did play a lot of stunning solo lines from the late 60s onwards. Maybe he hasn't got the big famous solos of other players but he always did the right thing. You can't improve on the lead guitar in the intro of Eminence Front, or the beautifully melodic breaks in tracks like Join Together. Very often his rough edges made the perfect sound, such as in all those improvised jams in the Woodstock/Tommy era. He also has a fabulous acoustic style which can go from delicate finger picking back to that aggressive rhythm.

So he helped make me the guitarist and the performer I am today. Thanks Mr Townshend. Most important of all, of course, is his song writing. By the time he was in his early 20s age Pete had already written I can't Explain and My Generation. Had this been his only contribution to the cannon of British popular music he would be a giant, but by 1969 he was working towards Tommy and from there Who's Next and Quadrophenia...

There are so many of Pete's songs that I love both mega famous and criminally under valued. The lyrics on Quadrophenia, the Synths on Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, the beauty of Blue, Red and Grey, none of these things are accidents.

Great songs, great performer, exceptional guitarist.

When I first started playing solo Pete's appearances on the webcast series In The Attic were very helpful in convincing me to make the plunge. I even had a slightly surreal dream in which I sought Pete's assurances that I should perform solo and he said yes. I don't think he liked me much though...