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!

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Neil Jenkins (and his Randy pics)

Ozzy Osboure with Neil Jenkins

Regular visitors to the Words and Music website may recall my post about the ‘disputed’ Cardiff gig on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour. There are those who believe that the entire UK leg of the Diary tour was cancelled. Neil Jenkins is not one of them. Neil Jenkins was there, and has provided me with some extremely rare photos of Ozzy and the late, great Randy Rhoads to prove it. In fact, Neil Jenkins is possibly one of the most experienced gig-goers I have ever met. He is an intrepid gig-goer par excellence. If Neil was a footballer, his fans would sing: “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f****n’ where!” with both fondness and admiration.

This is clear Words and Music territory, especially given that I met Neil at a Magnum gig, and that the title of the gig chapter in Words and Music (‘This One Sacred Hour’) is drawn from a Magnum song. I spoke with Neil to find out more about his love of live music, his Randy Rhoads photos, his Blizzard of Ozz signatures and his Randy Rhoads portrait. Check out his stories and his Randy pics (you know what I mean) below.

Hi Neil, when we met at a recent Magnum gig you told me that you’d seen them 63 times, but I get the impression you’ve seen a lot of other bands too?
I’ve seen every band I’ve ever wanted to see except one – ELO. I would have loved to have seen ELO. Magnum, yes, I’ve seen them 63 times. I have been a huge fan since my school days. I still have the Kingdom of Madness tour programme!

What was your first gig?
The first gig I went to was Rainbow at the  Capitol Theatre [long since demolished – Ed] in Cardiff, on the Long Live Rock And Roll tour. Of course, Ronnie James Dio was in the band then. I still have the scarf.

What are the best gigs you’ve been to?
Well, it has to be the Ozzy gigs at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman tours … and the Donington days and Reading Rock, if they count!

Your most disappointing gig?
Sabbath with Ian Gillan. He forgot his words, and the lowest part of the night was when he swore at the audience for booing when they did ‘Smoke on the Water’.  

Best and worst venues you’ve been to?
Well, the worst venue for me is St. David’s Hall, Cardiff – crap sound, terrible acoustics for rock music, and security will chuck you out for taking pictures! The venues I’ve been to that I like best are the Hammersmith Odeon, Bristol Colston Hall, and Sophia Gardens [also, of course, demolished – Ed] which has legendary status. The old venues are the best, and I quite like venues like the Ponty Arts Centre – cracking sound.

Looking at your photo collection, you’ve met a lot of musicians. What’s your best experience of meeting a rock star? 
Ronnie James Dio - Rest in PeaceI met Ronnie Jame Dio. He was so kind and made sure everyone got an autograph. True gentleman. I told him how much I enjoyed his concerts and he seemed genuinely interested in my experience of seeing the band. I know it sounds corny but the guy said “God bless mate,” and “See you soon”. I think it will stick in my mind. It’s so sad that he’s passed away.

Has anyone you’ve met given you a really hard time?
Yes, one. Malmsteen – wanker! My wife and I had guest passes for Cardiff. I bumped into him in the corridor in St. David’s Hall, asked for a picture and autograph and he said, “For fuck’s sake fuck off”!

Tell us about the signatures you got on the Blizzard of Ozz tour and what happened to them.
I sold the signatures to a guy in Australia for £600 in a moment of madness! And I sold the programme too. I didn’t meet Ozzy then mind, and I never met Randy. Someone else got the signatures for me. I got more Ozzy stuff later, from the Ultimate Sin and Bark at the Moon tours.

Blizzard of Ozz signatures

You have some extremely rare photos from the Cardiff gig on the Diary of a Madman tour. What do you remember about that gig?
Well, mainly the excitement of Ozzy coming. I am a huge Sabbath fan. Musically the best part of the night for me was ‘Revelation Mother Earth’/’Steal Away The Night’.

Randy Rhoads portraitI’m impressed with your Randy portrait – what you can tell us about that?
Well, there’s nothing hard in what I did there. It was all done on Photoshop – send me a picture and I’ll do the same for you!

How do you rate Randy as a guitarist?
Randy is an amazing guitarist. I like his style of playing, with the selector switch and the way he fills the song with those guitar neck techniques. That’s his trade mark and he has a distinctive sound as well. I like Brian May too, he has a good sort of style, nothing too flash. I don’t really like guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and instrumentals bore me.

And you’ve kept up with Ozzy’s career since?  Which tours and albums have impressed you?
Besides the Blizzard and Diary tours, I’d say The Ultimate Sin tour – I had fun that tour! I’ve seen Ozzy driving around in a beat-up Capri a few times!

I finally met him in Wembley at a Brit Awards ceremony. Magnum, Thunder and the Quireboys were on the bill and played for half an hour each. I remember buying the Just Say Ozzy CD there. I think it was around the time No More Tears was released.

To be honest, I think Sharon took pity on me and my wife outside the gates. She came out in a car, stopped and asked us what we were waiting for. I told her I was waiting for Ozzy to sign my album. She went somewhere then came back for us and took us backstage. She took us to a room where we mixed with a lot of ‘big wig’ people in suits.

You also sing in a band. Tell us about that.
Well, at the moment I’m in a duo called 48 Crash playing a lot of fun stuff like Madness and Bad Manners, and some rock like Rainbow and Sabbath – arse-moving music as I call it! Until last year I was in a band called Belladonic Haze doing Queen stuff. The name comes from a line in ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. I had a good laugh in that band, and we even managed to play the Liverpool Cavern. We sound-checked with Neil Murray too, at the last Queen Convention – though I found him quite rude, actually. He was trying to tell us we were playing a song too fast and he got really funny about it! We did, though, get quite a following among Queen fans. I think there are some reviews on Facebook!

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Bollocks! I would ask them why they would say that and in what way they think it’s dead. I could understand a person saying that if they didn’t like the music but in no way has it died in my eyes. It’s been a big part of my life both in terms of playing and listening. I have made a living playing and still enjoy it today, so … yeah, I think I would say to them what I just said to you!

Diary of a Madman tour photos
Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Please note: Neil’s photos come from a time which pre-dates the widespread availability of mobile phones and digital cameras. In those days, you weren’t allowed to take cameras into gigs either. Getting close enough to take any kind of snap was some achievement!

Ozzy Osbourne Randy Rhoads - Sophia Gardens Cardiff 30 November 1981

Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads on stage, Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981


Ozzy on stage

Randy Rhoads rocking out

Randy Rhoads rocking out, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Randy Rhoads on stage Diary of a Madman tour

Randy Rhoads on stage, Diary of a Madman tour, Cardiff, Wales 30 November 1981

Ozzy with bodyguard Cardiff 81

Ozzy with bodyguard, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November, 1981


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Relics 3: Finding My Marbles

Relics Script Poster

So here I am once more, rolling out some relics from my playground of yesterday … and … er … of today too, actually. And probably tomorrow come to that. (It’s never a good thing to grow up too much.) Anyway, here are some images to accompany some of the more anecdotal parts of Words and Music and other things that came to mind as I jotted down a few notes. This game is most certainly not over!

A Matter of Life and Death
Maiden A Matter of Life and Death passTo some fans – ususally teenagers, but sometimes middle-aged obsessives too – getting backstage at a show by one of your favourite bands can seem like a matter of life and death. How we strive for all we are worth to breach that final frontier. In Words and Music I recount the tale of a meeting with Steve Harris. I was tongue-tied. The moment was signficant for me. Steve, of course, will have no recollection of it. But here’s the pass that got me that far.

I had a bit more luck with Adrian Smith, who popped into the lounge where we were sitting to meet up with an old friend of his. I let him finish his chat, and as he got up to leave I moved towards him. “Adrian, will you sign the album for my daughter?” I asked.
“Sure, what’s her name?”
“Dave!” shouted some wag from the next table. I laughed. Would I really pull that stunt?
“Alys,” I said, acknowledging the joke, and Adrian duly signed.
My cousins and I also posed for a photo with him – the type that rock fans love putting on Facebook – though in this case I still haven’t actually seen it.

Nicko also popped in, wearing a bath robe and a big smile, but he didn’t stick around for long.

Maiden Final FrontierThere is another event that does stick in my mind from that evening. As we relocated to an upstairs bar, the youngest member of our entourage (who shall remain nameless) spotted a stack of cans in an apparently empty room. As he reached in for a ‘complimentary’ beer, he became aware that he was being watched. He looked up and saw the collective eyes of the support band on him. He had inadvertently invaded their private space. “Who are you?” he asked calmly.
“We’re Trivium,” said one of the band, “and who are you?”
“I’m Jesus,” he said, picking up a can and legging it down the corridor. Is it any wonder that so many bands guard their backstage privacy so fiercely?

If you’ve read my earlier blog (Drawn by Quest for ‘Arry), you’ll know that undetered I went back for another crack at Harry on The Final Frontier tour. I’d sent him some book extracts and was hoping to get a comment. I didn’t get a comment. But I did get a dodgy photo!

Hang Cool Teddy Bear
Meat Loaf Hang CoolAnd speaking of backstage passes, here’s one from Meat Loaf’s Hang Cool Teddy Bear tour. I reported on this gig, or, at least, what was most significant about it to me , in the “This guy could use a hair cut” blog. Suffice to add that the entire band, including singer Patti Russo and the man himself, were exceptionally friendly and a joy to meet. As noted elsewhere, drummer John Miceli was great with the kids, Meat was ‘good value’ and guitarist Paul Crook has since done a Q&A for this very website. Hang cool guys!

Steve Morse – Monster of Rock
Steve MorseCaptain’s log, 2006 AD, and we’re in Milton Keynes for the relaunched Monsters of Rock Festival. Deep Purple are headlining, with Alice Cooper, Journey, Queensryche, Thunder, Ted Nugent and Roadstar making up a fine bill. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful event. Purple were magnificient – a great, great performance from the first note to the last. There was a great band vibe – a joy and togetherness that has characterised their live shows in recent years. And, as much as I miss Jon Lord, I’d never seen fingers move as fast as Don Airey’s in his solo spot. (He even threw in a few snippets of his ‘Mr. Crowley’ intro!) With the help of our Classic Rock subscriber  ‘queue jumping’ pass we also got into the signing tent to meet Steve Morse. He signed the picture you can see here, and he signed a wedding card for my cousin Jon and his wife. (Jon is a big Purple fan, but couldn’t make it to the Festival.) Steve also commented on my wife’s rather revealing summer attire. He was out of luck though – she was hoping to get sacrificed by Alice Cooper.

Marillion – Access Most Areas and a bag of marbles
Marillion marbles!Having rediscovered Marillion after a hiatus of about 15 years (maybe more), it was a thrill to be one of the winners of the Marbles ‘Golden Mug’ competition. You entered the competition simply by ordering a Marbles coffee mug. A small number of the mugs, packed entirely at random, were golden (bright yellow in fact) and included a winners slip that gave you a selection of prize options. The winning mugs also contained a bag of Marillion marbles (see photo). We (my wife and I) opted for the soundcheck/gig/aftershow tickets for a Marillion gig of our choice. We chose the first night at the London Astoria on the Marbles tour – check out the Tobusaurus Wrecks blog for a Pete T. photo from that evening.  (I also saw them in Newport two days earlier; the first time I’d seen them in about 20 years. They were in stunningly good form – well-rehearsed and note perfect, with a set list that took you to emotional breaking point and kept you there through a series of h-era classics and rousing encores.)

Relics Marbles passWell, we got the soundcheck and AAA passes okay, and being in the venue early also meant we could stroll down to the front row just before the doors opened. This is where we met Antonis from Cyprus and Monica from Portugal – who were rather surprised that they’d queued outside for hours only to find that others, like us, were already inside the venue and in pole position. I’ve not seen Monica since, but the connection and friendship with Antonis has endured. Great gig – filmed for the Marbles on the Road DVD, and we can be seen (briefly) occasionally, enjoying ourselves at the front. Unfortunately, though, there was no aftershow – there was a strict curfew as Marillion and fans were cleared out in preparation for the regular Saturday night gay disco. By way of compensation, we were given soundcheck passes for the Bristol gig on the Somewhere Else tour – a review of which appeared in a later edition of The Web Magazine. (We are refered to in that review as “a young couple from Cardiff”, which flatters me somewhat.)

Tenacious D
There’s not very much Tenacious D in Words and Music, save a couple of passing references to Jack Black and Wilderbeest, but that’s probably an oversight. Check out the photo below.  “Michael, We Love You!” “Michael, Party!” I could tell you that Jack and Kyle gave this to me as a token of appreciation for my contribution to their first album, or about the time I partied with the D over a long weekend in Vegas. Or I could tell you that I had a small part as an extra in the cafe scene in The Pick of Destiny. Actually, my sister got me this photo and got Jack Black and Kyle Gass to sign it. I’ve never met either of them. It used to hang over the stairs in my old house. It was the last thing I’d see every morning as I left the house for work, and it always used to make me smile. It’s good to maintain a sense of perspective!

Tenacious D

And finally …
That big cardboard Script jester I got from Spiller’s Records and forgot to photograph for Relics I? Well I’ve finally managed to dig it out and do the honours. Now if only I could find that giant Fugazi poster …

The Script Jester

Relics 1: And Don’t Forget the Joker

Relics 2: Programmes That Can Be Read


Relics 2: Programmes That Can Be Read

Following on the heels of Relics 1, welcome to the second post in the ‘Relics’ series. This one focuses on some tour programmes of note, most of which have been in a box in the attic for over 25 years, and most (though not all) of which are from 1982-83.

I don’t tend to buy tour programmes these days. As a rule I think they are overpriced and uninformative, but back in the day I did purchase them from time to time, and occasionally I managed to get them signed.

The Eagle Has Landed

Saxon’s Bristol Colston Hall gig on The Eagle Has Landed tour was the first gig I went to outside my home town. I loved Saxon in those days. They were the first band I ever saw. They were a fantastic live act and, in fact, I saw them on every tour from Strong Arm of the The Law through to Crusader and they never failed to deliver. (For an amusing Crusader story, check out the Dobby’s Shoelace blog.) On this particular night they played to an ecstatic and appreciative audience. In the words of the tour programme: “They took no prisoners.”  They were touring their live album The Eagle Has Landed and used the tour to debut a new song of the same name. It sounded great and augered well for the next album – though when it came I didn’t think the studio recording quite captured the power of the live performance.

Cheetah supported. Man, did I over-fixate on Chrissie Hammond. “I just wanna spend the night with you,” she sang. As a horny 15 year old, I felt the same way.

The only slight mystery here is how I managed to get the programme signed. If I recall correctly, we left the gig in  a rush to get the train back to Cardiff (a prelude to the shenanigans described in Words and Music).  Though I don’t remember with any certaintly, I suspect I took it along to the HMV signing session (described in Relics 1) on The Power and The Glory tour. I notice, flicking through it now, that Nigel Glockler and Steve Dawson signed the back as well as the front, and Graham Oliver also signed his portrait inside! Overkill, you might say!

A Light in the Black

The music of Ronnie James Dio has played a significant part in my history as a rock fan. I loved the Dio-fronted version of Rainbow and his involvement in other Deep Purple-related projects, such as Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball album. As readers of Words and Music (and, indeed, Relics 1) will recall, I saw the Dio version of Sabbath live on the Heaven and Hell tour early in my gigging history and was blown away. I was greatly excited, then, when Dio emerged with his own band and a new album – Holy Diver – which proved to be one of the three greatest studio albums he recorded. I saw him on the Holy Diver and The Last in Line tours, both fine performances. This programme is from the Holy Diver tour. The fact that Ronnie has passed away makes this signed copy all the more special to me.

MSG: Re-Armed and Ready

There’s surprisingly little in Words and Music about Michael Schenker, save a short section in which I suggest that his playing “takes you as close to the Platonic Form of beauty as a heavy rock guitarist possibly can”. A slight overstatement? A touch pretentious? You’d only think that if you’ve never heard or appreciated Schenker at his best! He’s a great talent and his playing is truly sublime. Soulful, melodic, controlled, chaotic, cutting, frenetic, soaring … just go listen!

This particular programme is from the Assault Attack tour, November 1982. The tour was notable for the suprising return of original MSG vocalist Gary Barden. Gary had been replaced for the Assault Attack album by former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet, in  a line-up shuffle that also saw Ted McKenna replace the late, great Cozy Powell on drums to team up with his old mucker from the Alex Harvey Band, bassist Chris Glenn. Assault Attack was a cut above. It had a crisp, clean production that gave it a unique sharp and fluid sound, and, arguably, the Schenker/Bonnet songwriting partnership threatened to eclipse the work of the earlier line-ups. All looked as rosy as the flowers on one of Bonnet’s shirts. Then he got pissed and disgraced himself at a warm-up gig, and that was that.

These were pre-internet days and information travelled less quickly than it does now. Rock fans relied on Sounds, Kerrang! and Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show for their news. I didn’t know that Gary Barden was back in the band until he bounded onto the stage! But his return went down well with the faithful and a great evening was had by all. I particularly remember Schenker crouched over his guitar, almost statue-esque, delivering a note perfect rendition of the extended solo in ‘Rock Bottom’. Great stuff!

Piece Be With You

What can you say about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been said? They have always been an astonishingly hard working band and their tour schedules have, at times, been truly punishing. How amazing then that they came out to sign autographs for a small group of us who had gathered patiently at the St. David’s Hall cloakroom after the gig. They didn’t all come out together, not at first anyway, but Bruce sorted that out in a wonderful gesture of kindness towards my friend John.

John had broken his ankle not long before on a school skiing trip to Switzerland and attended the gig on crutches with his leg in plaster. We persuaded him to ask the band to sign his plater cast. Held up by friends, John stood with his ‘bad leg’ up on the counter. The first of the band to see him was Bruce, who had a towel wrapped around his neck and was signing and gesturing rather than talking, to rest his voice and keep it in good shape. Despite this, as soon as he had signed John’s leg he went off to get the rest of the band to come and do the same. Think of the kudos John gained, hobbling round the school playground with a plaster cast signed by Iron Maiden! My main memory of the rest of the band that night is that Nicko told a lot of jokes and talked very loudly. He also kept saying: “Well, fuck my old boots!” The next time I came face to face with Nicko, about 25 years later, he was no different! (For more Maiden-related gig memories, check out the Drawn By Quest for Arry! blog.)

Speak of the Devil

This was Ozzy’s first UK tour since Randy’s death. Brad Gillis featured on guitar, in an unusual line-up that also included Pete Way on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums. According to the programme, Lyndsey Bridgewater played keyboards. The tour featured the full, theatrical stage show, with John Allen playing Ronnie the dwarf who was ritually hung during ‘Goodbye to Romance’. Mad times, but quite a show, and how Ozzy managed to keep going and maintain standards at the time is beyone me. Between album release and tour ‘Talk of the Devil’ had also become ‘Speak of the Devil’.

Support was provided by the Impeckable Budgie. Often touted as the ultimate arena support band, their presence seemed appropriate. Tommy Vance had played two Budgie tracks from their Nightflight album as a tribute to Randy on the night he announced his death to the UK rock community. I notice that drummer Steve Williams signed the back of my programme. I saw him wandering around during Ozzy’s set and duly popped down to say hello.

The Werewolf programme is from the Bark at the Moon tour, with Jake. E. Lee. I caught the Bristol gig. The remarkable thing about this gig was that no one left when the lights went on. The band were forced out of the shower for a second encore.

Damage Inc.

The second ‘untimely’ death (is there ever a good time to die?) discussed in Words and Music, another senseless tour accident, was that of Cliff Burton, the extraordinary Metallica bass player. As noted in my book, the UK leg of the Master of Puppets/Damage Inc. tour had been a total triumph, and the Cardiff show I attended was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Tour t-shirts and programme alike feature a list of dates that sadly neither Cliff, nor the band, were able to fulfil. By then I had pretty much stopped buying tour programmes. It’s kind of odd that I bought this one. I reproduce Ross Halfin’s portrait here as my own tribute of sorts. (Hope that’s ok, Ross!)

Farewell to ’83

This was the first time I saw Marillion live. My friend Ray and I went on a Concert Travel Club trip to catch the Birmingham Odeon gig.

1983 had been a great year for Marillion – they had released and toured debut album Script for a Jester’s Tear. As they were readying second album Fugazi, they used a short Christmas tour to get out of the studio, maintain a bit of momentum, try out a few new tracks and ‘break in’ new drummer Ian Mosley. There was a wonderful celebratory Christmas vibe at this gig, well captured by the artwork on the front of the tour programme and the picture of the Christmas Jester into which it unfurled. I found the gig utterly engaging. I loved Fish’s between-song banter and our first taste of the new songs.

Support was provided by Pendragon. They were great. There was a real warmth to their music and performance that was also captured on the cassette tapes they were selling on the merch stand. I bought the ‘blue’ one; Ray bought the ‘pink’ one. These remain the best things I’ve heard from Pendragon. (There’s something here, I feel, about not overproducing music, but just giving it the space it needs to breathe.) One question: ‘Alaska’ – does Nick Barrett really sing about “kippers in the fridge”? (Or rather the lack of them.) I always think of ‘Alaska’ as the Eskimo fishing song! Pendragon also supported Marillion a few months later on the Fugazi tour – and were just as good then.

I’ve seen Marillion on numerous occasions since. There are other gigs I’d probably rate more highly in terms of both performance and set list, and, Script aside, I do have a preference for the Hogarth-era material. Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like the first time you see a band live. The Farewell to ’83 gig will always carry special meaning for me.

Fish in Water

Read Relics Part One

About Words and Music


Relics 1: And Don’t Forget the Joker

In his review of Words and Music, Simon Robinson of the Deep Purple Appreciation Society suggested that the book would have benefitted from a few more photos. I’m not sure exactly what Simon had in mind, but one or two other people have asked me about particular events or items mentioned in the book. I thought, therefore, that I would dig out a few of the more accessible relics and curiosities I’ve acquired and present them here. Part One …

First gig: the Saxon patch

I bought this patch at my very first gig from an unofficial vendor outside the venue (Sophia Gardens Pavilion). I was 13, a very small 13, and this was Saxon’s Strong Arm of the Law tour. I’ve no idea how common it is to find an embroidered patch that is so gig specific, particularly for a young band on the up.  The seller couldn’t possibly have expected to sell many. Anyway, buy one I did, and it’s become one of my most treasured gig relics. It’s a wonderful memento of an evening that turned me on to gigs and, in that sense, proved to be not only life-affirming but set me off on a path from which I’ve rarely wavered since.

Black Sabbath: selling souls for rock and roll

I love this badge. I bought it from the merch desk on the Heaven and Hell tour. The geometry, the colour contrast, the symbols drawn from some obscure alphabet. I found it powerful and aptly expressive of what I was experiencing at the time through Black Sabbath’s music. I was a good Catholic boy, troubled not at all by the devilish character on the badge, which I wore proudly on my denim jacket for many months after the gig. In school I’d doodle away in class – it aided my concentration; not that the teachers believed me – trying hard to replicate the design on the covers of my exercise books. Invariably I’d also write lyrics around the outside of my drawings. “The world is full of kings and queens, who blind your eyes and steal your dreams, it’s heaven and hell” ran one. My friend Anne-Marie thought I’d made it up myself and told me I was very profound. I reluctantly confessed that they were Ronnie James Dio’s lines.

I also had a ticket to see Sabbath at the same venue, the Sophia Gardens Pavilion, almost a year later on the Mob Rules tour. Unfortunately the roof of the venue collapsed under weight of heavy snow just a few days before Sabbath were due in town. The old pavillion, pictured in its collapsed state at the top of this piece, had a lasting effect on my idea of what a proper rock gig should be like – and the sights and smells and feel of those early gigs have stayed with me.

Ozzy Osbourne: button badges of a madman

I loved the first two Ozzy albums (sorry Sharon, but I still think of them as the Blizzard of Ozz albums) and, in particular, the playing of Randy Rhoads. I bought this simple button badge at the Sophia Gardens gig on the aborted UK leg of the Diary of a Madman tour. (For more on that particular gig see my Diary of a Madman: or ‘a few gigs short of a tour’ blog and the relevant section in Words and Music itself.) There’s nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing about it, but it has value because this was the one and only time I saw Randy Rhoads playing in the flesh.

This second badge I think I bought on the Speak of the Devil tour at Birmingham N.E.C. Randy had not long died, and for band and fans alike the wound was still raw. This heavier duty badge is striking and a touch gothic. Those who saw those gigs will remember the castle stage set, the hanging dwarf, Ozzy’s throne and the theatrical stage show that were part of the mayhem surrounding the band at that time.

Marillion: Fugazi playing cards (and don’t forget the joker)

I was well into early Marillion and remember rushing into town to buy Fugazi on the day it was released. I bought in from the old Marillion - Fugazi playing cardsVirgin Records which used to be on Castle Street directly opposite the front of Cardiff Castle. (Spillers* was my record shop of choice, but it was at the other end of town and I was worried about failing to get there before it closed.) I remember this well, as the first copy I bought was damaged. I didn’t discover this until I was on my way home on the bus, and I leapt off quickly and went back to change it. This meant I had to pay a second lot of bus fare from my meagre pocket money, but there was no way I was going to go home with a cracked, chipped unplayable copy and have to wait another 24 hours to hear it!

At a slightly later date, I went back to the same shop to buy a Marillion 12″ single (‘Assassing’, I think). The shop assistant, who I’d always fancied like mad (long tousled hair, tight jeans, leather boots, sultry poise) took a look at my purchase and my ‘Punch and Judy’ sweatshirt and said: “Oh, do you like Marillion?” Second image of Fugazi playing cards
“Yeah, love ’em.”
“Wait there, then,” she said and she disappeared into the back room. “Would you like these?” she asked on her return, thrusting a pack of Fugazi playing cards in my direction.
“Wow, yeah, thank you,” I said, hardly able to contain myself. I couldn’t have been more excited, even if she’d asked me out on a date (which, of course, she didn’t).

Saxon: the power, the glory and the signed pound note

Saxon did a signing session in the HMV in Cardiff on the day of their St. David’s Hall Power and the Glory gig. My friends and I were there, of course, in high spirits and eager to meet Biff and the boys. I bought the album, and duly had it signed by the whole band. I lived for this band for a while so it was fantastic to finally get up close and … er … conversational.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but as we waited our turn in the queue, one of my friends suggested getting the band to sign a pound note. The band did so with looks of amusement and mild bewilderment. “No one’s ever asked us to sign a pound note before,” said Biff, and I felt a bit proud and all warm inside. Someone later told me that in British law it’s a treasonable offence to deface the Queen’s head, so Glockler, mate, you’d better not upset me.

Of course, all this was before pound coins were introduced, when pound notes were still a very common unit of currency, so having a pound note signed by Saxon was a bit cool, and a bit funny, more than anything. With the demise of the pound note, however, I’ve sometimes wondered about its collector’s value. “You might get 99p for it,” someone told me recently, “if you’re lucky.” But I don’t believe him, and I’m still anticipating a big cash offer – probably from Nigel Glockler. This is my pension plan.

Marillion: Sidestep

My Sidestep experience is recounted in Words and Music. It’s an experience in which a teenage boy drives 45 miles to wave a fish earring on a chain in the face of a fully grown man called … er … Fish, while simultaneously asking him a question “that will probably shatter all my illusions.” Ho hum, that’s what happened, can’t do much about that now. It was also the night that a young Peter Trewavas promised that same teenage boy that Marillion would never stop playing ‘Forgotten Sons’. (For more about that particular conversation, and a subsequent follow-up, see Tobusaurus Wrecks)

Anyhow, here’s my autographed Sidestep ticket. It was the first time I had met any of the band and the last time I’d meet any of them for about twenty years. Since then though there have been quite a few opportunities, not just for me but for most of the loyal, hard core, Marillion fan base. Marillion certainly look after their fans, giving them a sense of engagement and involvement that I’ve not seen replicated anywhere else.

Magnum: Ollie and the SMF

Readers of Words and Music may recall the failed attempt made by some friends and I to start a mag which, with a tip of the hat to Twisted Sister, we christened SMF – Southampton Metal Fanzine. At the first editorial meeting, which was really me making suggestions and everyone else agreeing, it was decided that the jewel in the crown of Issue 1 was to be an extended Magnum feature. I’d communicated on the matter with a bloke called Ollie who ran the Magnum fan club. He sent me tons of biographical material, some gig information, and a set of signatures on Magnum headed paper to accompany my piece. I suggested meeting up at a subsequent gig so I could buy him a pint to say thank you.

It turned out that Ollie was singer Bob Catley’s mum. I learned this from speaking with some other Magnum fans, well known to Ollie, in a West London pub just before a Hammersmith Odeon gig. They had made the same mistake. It also turned out, as reported elsewhere, that despite pulling together quite a body of material, we got precisely nowhere with SMF, meaning that none of the Magnum material ever saw the light of day. Until now that is, when I can proudly present the set of signatures that Ollie and the band so kindly provided.

I later had cause to communicate with her again, not least when a dodgy Swansea promoter traded on the band’s good name to get people along to his rock disco under false pretences. In my experience you always got a response from her, and you always got a friendly response from her, regardless of the nature of your request. There was always a sense of bonhomie around Magnum. They were good times.

*If I’d thought about it I’d have also photographed my giant cardboard Script For A Jester’s Tear jester, which I did get from Spillers Records (free, for no money) and which was originally part of a promotional display they were about to chuck out!

Read Relics Part Two: Programmes That Can Be Read