Keith Williams: Rock Reflections

Keith Williams Rock Reflections

Sometimes, social media can be useful. Commenting on a Michael Schenker Group gig on Facebook got me into conversation with Keith J. Williams Esq., currently resident in Brisbane, Australia. ‘You should check out my book,’ he said at one point, and so I did. It turns out that, like me, Keith was brought up in Cardiff, South Wales, and has written a book about his experiences as a rock fan. He’s a little bit older than me – not much older but enough for it to count and provide a different perspective on the same music scene. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you Keith Williams and his Rock Reflections.

Hi Keith! Two rock fans from Cardiff, both writing books largely inspired by music from the same era. What can you tell us about Rock Reflections? What’s the main idea of the book? And what were your motivations in writing it?
Yes, we have had a parallel existence haven’t we?  Without ever knowing it! Rock Reflections is basically a tale of a young lad growing up in Wales and getting more and more attracted to and involved in rock music; not just on a listening level, but really getting involved. It is a story of life, experiences, opinions and anecdotes.  I felt I had a story to tell. The more I spoke to people about my experiences, the more I heard them say ‘You should write a book’ – so I did!

You focus very much on gigs and the live music experience – I thought it was great getting the perspective of a fellow fan on some of the gigs, bands and tours I saw in my younger days. Why did gigs matter so much to you? And what is it, for you, that makes a gig so special?
It was also amazing for me to read about your experiences in Words And Music. Quite often at the same gigs but with a totally different perspective; both of us completely unaware that we would one day publish our stories from our own viewpoint. Our books must provide a great insight to fans of rock music who may not have been there at the time. Same gigs, time and places but seen through different eyes.

For me, a gig is special because you are seeing the people who produced the music we love. We are seeing them in the flesh and also seeing how they perform those songs live; not just in an audible sense but also a visual sense. And we are seeing how the crowd responds.  The ingredients of all these things create a unique atmosphere: unpredictable, uncontrolled and therefore exciting. It’s a moment in time and you are there.

If you had to pick a gig or two – oh, alright, I’ll give you three – that meant the most or had the biggest impact on you, which would they be?
That’s a difficult one. Very hard to choose as a lifetime of great gigs provides myriad reasons to put them on a pedestal but I will try. Just 3?  Okay, here goes.

Blizzard Of Ozz, 9Oct 1980, Sophia Gardens Pavilion, Cardiff, Wales. The album provided an insight to a ‘new’ guitar sound and style that we had never heard before, but Randy Rhoads live took everything to the next level. The most exciting live guitarist I have ever seen.

Van Halen, 18Aug 1984, Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock, England. After a few false starts, like O-level exams getting in the way, a cancelled tour etc., I finally saw Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth and they didn’t disappoint. They brought the party, we were all invited and we left nothing in the bottom of the barrel. Perfect.

The Struts, 31 January 2019, the Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, Australia. I flew interstate on my own for this one. I loved their first two albums but live they went into another dimension. It was incredible. Their first ever headline gig in Australia announced merely days before; they were kings.

Oh…and any gig when Diamond Head are on stage!

You write very warmly about Smiley’s rock club – a bit too early for me, Bogey’s (or Bogiez) was the place to be seen by the time I was out clubbing. How important were clubs like that to the nurturing of the local scene?
I’m not sure that Smileys did anything to nurture the local scene in terms of bands. They only had a short-lived live music programme which was on Thursdays. I was never aware of any gigs on a Friday or Saturday. What Smileys did offer was a place for us to go where we were in our world. That’s how it felt. Our dress code, our music, our environment and most importantly, our people. It was very much a community. Same faces every week. In that way they did support the local rock scene.

Bogeys/Bogiez were much more into live bands, sometimes local and sometimes touring bands. Unfortunately, for me, some of them weren’t very good – I saw the bands as an interruption to the great music the DJ was playing, so I reluctantly went downstairs to the pool area. What Bogeys/Bogiez did offer was a place to go when Smileys was demolished, but the clientele were different. Only a few of us made the transition.

Record shops were also a significant part of the scene back in the day, and we both, I know, have a lot of affection for Spillers Records. Do you think there’s still a role for knowledgeable, independent record shops these days?
I believe there is a place but unfortunately, good business sense says otherwise. There just isn’t an economic case or demand for it with online shopping. But then you lose the personal touch, the meeting place and the listening opportunity. Sure, there can be niche outlets but not every city has enough rock and rollers to support independent record stores as they were.

You are rather harsh on some of the more ‘local’ bands around in the 1980s, for example Budgie and Persian Risk. I loved Risk back in the day, and I have an enduring respect for Budgie, the masters of the alternative song title! How come they didn’t quite do it for you? Were there any local bands you rated?
I wasn’t really into the local bands. I would travel halfway across the country to see club level bands (Shy, Diamond Head and an early Guns N’ Roses) but none of them were from South Wales. I do love the Lone Star albums, who were local boys, [Lone Star included UFO guitarist Paul Chapman, drummer Dixie Lee and vocalists Kenny Driscoll and John Sloman in their ranks – Ed] but I was too late for them and never saw them live. So their first two albums have had to suffice.

One of the most interesting parts of your book is your speculation regarding the influence of Bon Scott on AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ album. Without giving too much away, can you tell us why that particular topic captured your attention?
I think it was because I lived through it and saw it unfold. AC/DC were one of my favourite bands, particularly due to Bon. So, as interviews began to emerge about Back In Black, combined with the lyrics and other things, my ears and my gander began to pick up. The true story was in there somewhere – you just had to look for it. I hope I have relayed it well in Rock Reflections.

Randy Rhoads portrait

You also clearly have a massive respect for Randy Rhoads – why, do you think, his playing had such an impact on you?
Initially it was the guitar sound on the first Blizzard Of Ozz album. The tone and aggression was exactly what my ears wanted to hear, If I played guitar, that was exactly how I wanted it to sound. I had no idea who Randy Rhoads was, but I liked him instantly. No other guitar player I had heard before sounded like him – searing riffs, dramatic solos and even the riffs behind the solos were compositions. Seeing him live elevated that x10 as his performances were so exciting. Meeting him was such a revelation; so unexpected was the contrast between the man and his incredible stage presence.

One gets the sense from your book that you’re not very impressed with the history of rock music since the Grunge period? Have you continued to follow the older bands? And are there any younger bands around you particularly rate?
I still follow the ‘old’ bands that are still doing it. My last international act I saw before Covid was a stunning double bill of Whitesnake and Scorpions. I had to fly down to Sydney for that one and it was great. No pretence, just 2 bands doing what made them famous and doing it bloody well. In terms of new bands, I only seem to like new bands who sound like the old bands. I recently saw a Sydney band called Wicked Things. At the start of the gig I proclaimed: ‘It’s as if the last 40 years never happened’. By the end of the gig I was wearing their t-shirt and professing my love for them. Also, The Struts have quickly become one of my all-time favourite bands. I believe they were on the verge of becoming huge just as Covid broke out.  I hope they keep the momentum going when they get back out on the road. They are the real deal. Nobody else is really doing it for me.

I’ve got to say that I enjoyed some of the more autobiographical sections of your book – it’s always good to see the connections and continuities between rock music and the rest of people’s lives. Was it difficult deciding how much autobiographical material to leave in?
It was difficult knowing what to include and what to exclude. As Rock Reflections isn’t a commercial venture, and nor do I have a publisher to answer to, I had to make the call on what to include. It was difficult to establish who my potential audience was. Anyone who knew me was going to have an interest because they knew me but anyone reading the book who doesn’t know me may only want to know the rock stuff as that would be common ground. Some of the departures were milestones in my life that I felt needed to be included but they also helped to explain gaps in the rock and roll gig-going timeline. I don’t know if I got it right or not but what I do know is that it was my choice which therefore makes it more authentic and I like that.

As an adult you relocated to Australia. How difficult has it been to pursue your early interest in rock music from the other side of the world?
When I emigrated in 1995, my type of music was well and truly in the doldrums worldwide. At first I didn’t really miss out on too much. Strangely enough, with the demise of hard copy sales and royalties, bands had to tour more and Australia is very much on everyone’s tour schedule. Not only is it home away from home with regards to language and sense of humour – it’s a beautiful, safe place so bands tend to overstay after their tours for holidays. Double header tours here are common. Mr. Big toured with Extreme, Scorpions have toured with Whitesnake and Def Leppard, Billy Idol toured with Cheap Trick, Buckcherry and Steel Panther….the list goes on. I often fly interstate and have occasionally flown back to the UK – I couldn’t miss Ritchie Blackmore reforming Rainbow to rock one last time could I?

Are there any good Aussie bands the rest of the world should know about?
The aforementioned Wicked Things are worth a look. I’m afraid I’m not one to pursue local talent, although I’m sure it is here.

And finally, tell us about a band or artist that have stayed with you over time, and an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you.
One lyric that has stuck with me since the day I heard it is from Rainbow’s 1979 album Down To Earth. The song is ‘Eyes Of The World’.

‘No chain of events can shackle him down’.

It’s a great lyric and I would like to think of it as my personal motto. It’s not a bad one to have and has served me well. I’ve done alright!

Cheers Keith!

‘Rock Reflections’ by Keith Williams is available now!

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