John Dexter Jones (JUMP)

 

John Dexter Jones - Summers End Photo by Martin Reijman

John Dexter Jones – Photo by Martin Reijman

JUMP! A band, not an order. Ever heard of them? You should have. I caught them at HRH Prog 2014 and thoroughly enjoyed their performance. I thought I spotted an early Marillion influence, but singer John Dexter Jones was quick to point out the folk and blues elements in their music. Turns out they have a rich and productive history, a wide range of influences, don’t sound much like early Marillion and might not even be ‘prog’! (I blame it on the beer!) Thought I’d better let JDJ set the record straight. Are you sitting comfortably?

Hi John! You sing for a well-established band called JUMP. What can you tell us about the band?
JUMP has been around for 24 and a half years, so next year is a big one for us! Four of the original six members are still in the line-up – that’s me, Steve Hayes on guitar, Mo on keys and Andy Barker on drums. The other original guitarist, Pete Davies, was replaced by current member Ronnie Rundle over ten years ago and original bassist Hugh Gascoyne has had a couple of successors, with Mark Pittam joining us in 2013. JUMP has released 13 studio albums and two live albums and to date we reckon we’re close to having done 1500 gigs.

I gather you’re a North Wales boy? How did you end up in a High Wycombe-based rock band?
Yes, I’m a Bangor lad through and through. I’d already spent ten years gigging out of North Wales when I decided to make the move to the south of England. I’d learned a lot by then, done loads of gigs and realised that whilst I was gigging a lot, I wasn’t really moving forward. I had some fantastic times but I needed to go. I knew a few people in the Wycombe area and saw a really interesting ad within a week of moving, that wanted a front man for a  rock band, no beginners. They gave me a tape (!) of a couple of pieces and asked me to write parts for them. Both ended up on the first album and both knocked me out on first listen.

I saw you on the prog stage at this year’s HRH Prog event. Do you think the ‘prog’ label suits your style of music?
To be honest I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. I know that people like labels – perhaps it helps them sift things by genre – but I couldn’t tell you what we are. If progressive rock is about fusing different music forms and shaping them into a sound then yes, that’s definitely us; we draw on a wide variety of six people’s musical tastes and that becomes JUMP music. If progressive rock is sounding as close as you can to early Genesis then … er … no, that’s not us. We play electric and acoustic music that turns out the way it turns out. Our last album was predominantly acoustic; the next will be full-blown electric.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
All music can have social relevance. Does it have to? No, I think it can be whatever you want. It’s an art form and its limitations are only defined by the player and the listener. Personally my own style is rooted in the narrative. I like stories and I like the idea that we can learn from stories; we can see our lives and our principles held up and think about things. So JUMP tends to be a vehicle for a loose social commentary illustrated by examples (the songs). On the other hand, if I want to write wizardy fiction, I won’t feel constrained not to. If a band writes a wizardy concept album full of golden threads and four headed cats then good luck to them and their fans – if they go to gigs, love the band and enjoy themselves, there’s nothing better.

John Dexter Jones Photo by Martin Reijman

Photo by Martin Reijman

What would you say to someone who thinks that progressive rock was killed by punk?
I’d say they needed to get out more. Punk was great, it was dynamic and inclusive and rebellious and the best of its music was as sonically appealing as anything before and since. But it didn’t kill anything. It’s a popular myth to suggest that it had this profound effect on ‘bloated’ and ‘self-aggrandising’ establishment music. Well, it had no negative effect whatsoever on my musical tastes, just added to them, and Dire Straits played Wembley Stadium, so work that one out. The spectrum of music gets bigger … things come and go … but killed … nah!

Is it possible to say what music means to you?
It means a lifetime of enjoyment … listening, writing and playing. It means meeting people over a 35 year career and exchanging views and thoughts, drinking beer and valuing their company. It means magic and excitement, special moments, travelling thousands of miles. So that’s pretty good, eh?!

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Gary Glitter. Is it ok to say that?! As a kid in the early 1970s, the glam rock bands switched us all on to pop music. Gary Glitter is, of course, not an individual whose company any of us would crave now, but it was ‘Leader of the Gang’, ‘Hello, I’m Back Again’ and ‘Rock and Roll’ and those records that engaged me and made a first musical impression. Very quickly, by about the age of 12 or 13, bands like Zeppelin and Sabbath overtook the pop, but it was ‘Leader’ and the Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ that lit the fire. I hope that doesn’t offend your readers but it’s the truth.

An album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Too many to list. Different music for different moods. Let’s go with the Led Zeppelin catalogue. If everything else was lost, I could get by with that.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Robert Plant. Don’t know if there’s anything he’s done that I haven’t liked.

Dylan or Morrison?
Morrison. Dylan doesn’t appeal to me. I acknowledge his contribution etc., etc., but not anyone I’d go and see. I’d have gone to see a Doors gig though!

Gabriel or Collins?
In the context of Genesis, don’t care … I’m not a fan. Beyond that, Gabriel … I prefer his music.

Jump - Summers End 2013 - Photo by Bo Hansen

Photo by Bo Hansen

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
In 1984 I travelled as a guest on The Firm’s European tour and spent an hour chatting at the bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfurt with Jimmy Page. We met in the lift on the way downstairs, we had mutual friends, and he was an absolute gentleman. We talked about life in general, the state of the nation and North Wales. Obviously, having done many tour supports I’ve met many notable artists of whom I’ve been a fan, but the encounter with Jimmy Page would probably count as the one to dine out on!

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
In 24 years of JUMP there have been many, many, many … though I think the one that sticks out the most, without telling the whole story, was when a young man who, having lost his girlfriend to suicide over a year before, told me he had felt able to go out to a gig for the first time since it happened. Apparently she loved JUMP and he said he thought she’d think it was ok if he came to our gig. I’m not normally lost for words but for a moment I was floored. It was a lesson in humility – just how important music can be to people, how it can help heal as well. If not ‘strange’ it was certainly the most profound.

What makes a gig special?
I couldn’t tell you. Every gig is unique, every set of circumstances different, every sequence of events that got the band and audience there has never been before and won’t be again. It sounds a bit ‘worthy’ but I honestly love every live performance we do. If I stopped enjoying it I’d pack it in. I suppose sometimes all those circumstances come together and it’s ‘special’ but if we could put our fingers on the secret we’d have taken over the world by now!

What’s the most notable gig you’ve played as an artist?
I couldn’t give just one. Gigs are notable for any number of reasons. My first one was in the Angel Hotel in Aberystwyth – that was pretty notable. If you’re looking for ‘status’, well, The Forum and Shepherd’s Bush Empire take some beating … but then we’ve played the NEC – long story – and even Abbey Road Studio 2 … so I’ve no idea, really. My first gig in London was The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden and the venue I’ve played the most was the legendary Nags Head Blues Loft in High Wycombe.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Ginger Baker and friends supported by Bangor heroes Fay Ray. My first proper ‘big’ gig at the Student Union in Bangor. It lit a fire. I figured if I worked at it I could be up there one day.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Certainly a brilliant phrase. For me, one is my private business, one is my public business and the other is for mugs … by way of a neat little rhyme. Nuff said!

John Dexter Jones - photo by Bo Hansen

Photo by Bo Hansen

How do you view what you do as an artist?
Mostly through rose-tinted spectacles! When we were kids in the band in Bangor we used to finish rehearsals and go to the pub and, to coin a phrase, “drink each other under the table and tell each other how good we were”. Trust me, I’m 50 now and I still do it. Any artist, somewhere deep down, must think that what they do is worthwhile and want to share it. Other people have to judge its real worth … we just sit in that pub and hope!

Is there a particular album, track or performance of which you’re most proud?
No. Live in the moment and keep on doing it! I’m proud of what we’ve done, of course, but no one musical thing defines me or the band.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
The same thing as I’d say to anyone who asserted that punk killed anything. Get out more!

Do you see a future for progressive rock?
I can see a future for all types of music … music just is … it evolves and as it does musicians of all kinds hoover up influences new and old. It’s all there, waiting for another bunch of kids, or even grey old fools like me, to sort it out and give it some legs. Progressive rock? Well, like I said earlier, what is it anyway? Yes, there’s a future for all of it, whatever it is. Give a kid an electric guitar. That’s all you have to do.

What next for JUMP? Where can people get your albums and catch you live?
We have our extensive catalogue available through Bandcamp, via www.jumprock.co.uk and, of course, we’re on Facebook. Anyone who wants to know more can always search for me on Facebook – there aren’t too many John Dexter Joneses out there! All our live stuff is there too. What’s next? As I said, next year marks 25 years of JUMP. There will be more gigs, a new album, beer, road miles, laughs, bleary eyes and 100% every time we hit the stage. What else is there?!

John Dexter Jones - Jump!  Photo by Bo Hansen

Might as well Jump! Photo by Bo Hansen

CHEERS JOHN!

Visit the official Jump site at: www.jumprock.co.uk

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Steve: ‘Every Record Tells a Story’

Every Record Tells a Story logo

When I embarked on what I now like to refer to as ‘the Words and Music project’, I did so with the dual conviction that: i) a lot of human experience in relation to rock music, and fan experience in particular, is neglected and under-described; and ii) such experience is both valuable and entertaining and ought to be captured.

It’s always a joy, therefore, to come across writers and other fans who’ve been inspired and motivated by broadly similar thoughts.

One particular joy is Every Record Tells a Story, a website/blogsite that is maintained and populated with considerable dedication and aplomb by a gentleman we may refer to as ‘Steve’.

Steve’s frequent, informative and humorous articles have not just provided succour to his regular music-loving readership, they have also caught the eye of national newspapers, rock magazines and television documentary makers. He also recently put rock music on trial! Want to know more? Then please read on, and check out the first Words and Music interview of 2014 …

Hi Steve! “Every Record Tells a Story”– excellent name, and very true, what can you tell us about it?
Chuck Klosterman - Fargo Rock City book coverI started writing Every Record Tells A Story a couple of years ago, but the genesis of the whole thing came in 2001, when I stumbled across the newly released book Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. Here was a guy who grew up in the middle of nowhere, listened to a derided genre of music – heavy rock – and could still talk about it with enthusiasm and with his critical faculties intact. It was brilliant. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if I could do something like that, but talking about life in the UK? There were similarities: Klosterman lived in a part of the world that I pictured as a wilderness, whilst in the UK I grew up in a cultural wilderness, musically speaking, thanks to the national radio stations that played non-stop Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Of course I did nothing about actually writing a book, but the idea remained. I can’t review new records as well as Pitchfork or Drowned In Sound and I can’t approach an artist and say: “I’m from Rolling Stone and can I have an interview?” But not many people write about heavy rock, and those that do tend to (rightly) take it quite seriously, and tend not to write about other genres. So I had something different, because all I want to do is make stupid jokes and write about Jack White as well as Whitesnake. The Blogs-With-Stupid-Jokes-About-Heavy-Rock-And-Indie-Bands-niche is not a large or particularly strongly contested niche in the blogosphere, so I think I have a free run at it. I am trying to make a virtue of a lack of focus.

I like to think that blogging is to writing what punk was to music – a DIY ethic – that whole “here are three chords, now go form a band”, only with words. It isn’t of course – it’s basically me, typing into a computer, which is about as far removed from punk as you can imagine. However, my blog is the culmination of years of  just being a fan of music, reading countless music biographies, storing up all these ideas and events – things that happened at gigs for example, and then gobbing them, carefully, onto the page.

I still have doubts about the name, but you have to call it something – and you should have seen the other ideas – they were far worse.

I’ve been following your blog now for about 18 months, and you’re pretty prolific – it must be quite a commitment?
I post something new every three days. It’s always fun, but the family and day job come first (I have a wife and a couple of young kids). I work in London and work long hours, but I write it all whilst I am travelling on the train.

Motivation is rarely an issue – it’s fun to do. Music is full of quirky things – from the idea of playing Dark Side of the Moon alongside The Wizard of Oz, to the daft song titles in Blue Oyster Cult records, so there’s never a lack of inspiration. It’s even better when people leave comments – it’s great to hear what people think. My favourite page on Every Record Tells A Story is something I wrote about the much missed heavy metal record store Shades, in Soho. Not so much because of what I wrote – the article is okay and The Guardian published a shortened version online on Record Store Day 2012 – but more the comments that people have left – including guys who worked there, former owners, people like me who visited to buy records and a former Kerrang! magazine scribe. It must be approaching fifty comments and has become a mini-shrine to a much missed record store.

Kerrang! WASP cover 1985You pointed out to me that we seem to have “ploughed similar furrows, musically speaking”. Tell us more about your own route into rock fandom.
The blog started with my looking back at early musical memories, which made it one of the few Status Quo-heavy blogs out there. Quo were my gateway drug to heavy rock. I also remember seeing Wham! and Queen on Top of the Pops once and telling a friend at school how great Queen were, whilst Wham! just left me cold. Buying my first copy of Kerrang! magazine in 1985 was what confirmed my interest in all things rock. It was all downhill from there …

So, is it possible to say what music means to you?
I’m part of a club of people who seem to be into music more than “normal” people. I have found a few of us. Music can be a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down, a thirst-quencher or a hangover-cure, an ice-breaker or a solo-pursuit, a mood-setter or merely background noise.

Has your taste changed much over time?
It has widened. In his book 31 Songs, Nick Hornby wrote that Led Zeppelin and loud music generally is something you grow out of. I disagree. I now find something to enjoy in most genres, but there’s still nothing quite like the sound of a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Marshall Stack.

Three bands, three albums and three (music) books you rate highly?
Difficult to narrow it down … of bands around now, I really like Queens of the Stone Age – I think Josh Homme has built up an amazing body of work, including Kyuss and Them Crooked Vultures. Of bands from the last twenty years I think The White Stripes were outstanding. Jack White and Josh Homme together saved rock ’n’ roll in the last couple of decades, if it ever needed saving. And from the Sixties, it’s hard to look beyond The Beatles.

Masters of Reality - Blue Garden album coverAlbums-wise, my all-time favourite record is Blue Garden by Masters of Reality, although the follow-up Sunrise in the Sufferbus had Ginger Baker on drums and was quite brilliant. My favourite album of 2012 was Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim – it’s a great record and deserved more attention. This year, I have chosen Drenge by Drenge – they’re a two piece from Derbyshire and make a great noise.

Ian Hunter - Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll StarBooks-wise, I have a list of fifty great rock biographies on the site but three of my favourites include: Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock ’n ’Roll Star, which is a journal of a slightly bewildered Englishman Abroad on a tour of the USA. It paints a great picture of the US in the early Seventies; STP: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield which is superb throughout and just pips Keith Richards’ bio for the best book on The Stones; and Billion Dollar Babies by Bob Greene – about a young Alice Cooper – which is  similarly close to its subject although is out of print and hard to find. On my “to read” list is Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, which was released this year and is a history of the UK charts.

What, for you, makes a rock gig special?
Getting down the front, in as small a venue as possible. The best gigs are the ones where you are closest to the band, and you get the feeling of a communal spirit, everybody’s jumping up and down and singing along.

Your most memorable gigs?
There are many. Kings X played The Marquee a couple of times and absolutely blew the roof off the place on both occasions. In the second show the boys from Anthrax were in the audience, stage-diving into the crowd. Badlands at The Astoria was incredible because they were amazing, but had already split up acrimoniously before going onstage. Jimmy Page’s solo show at Hammersmith Odeon in ’89 stands out also when he played ‘Stairway …’ with just a spotlight focused on an empty microphone stand, and the crowd just sang along. Then there was Robert Plant playing a warm-up show at a tiny basement at Colchester University and I missed my last train home, sleeping overnight at the station on a cold January night covered only by jeans, denim jacket and a t-shirt.

They say never meet your idols. What are the best and worst encounters you’ve had with an artist?
I have had very few encounters to speak of. I think I have only ever met three or four musicians. I interviewed Will Rees from Mystery Jets last year. It was a cold day, I was the last of a dozen people he had met, and he was freezing cold – literally shivering. I had a quick chat – he was very nice – and let him get back into the warmth.

You put heavy rock on trial recently, tell us more about that.
I had been building up to those articles for a while. Heavy rock is an odd genre, and splits opinion like no other. I wanted to deconstruct rock’s appeal and work out why people like or dislike it. Why did I like it so much when I was growing up? Why do I look back at some of it with fondness and at other bits with embarrassment? I loved heavy rock when I was a teenager. Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi – all those guys. But for many it’s just noise, or stupid, or sexist.

Maiden's Maiden

Maiden’s Maiden. What’s wrong with being sexy?

I wanted to work out why the genre splits opinion, and came up with ten reasons why people dislike heavy rock. These included the way bands dress, the way they sing, the propensity of guitarists to show off, the sexism, the possible lack of innovation. I mean, look at the way Manowar present themselves. It’s ridiculous. But I had a couple of their albums, and I overlooked their farcical dress sense. Other questions asked include: Are you more likely to suffer a nose bleed listening to Mariah Carey or Geddy Lee? Were Kingdom Come influenced by more than just the sum of Led Zeppelin’s quiet songs, plus Led Zeppelin’s louder songs? And does David Coverdale really have to be such a dirty old man? Using the pretext of a “trial” allows me to present the arguments for and against in an engaging way, and lets readers be judge and jury by voting.

So, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Somewhere in between. There has been some great music inspired by the first two – Appetite For Destruction is a good example – but also some pretty dire stuff too.

How do you view the role of the rock writer, and the ‘blogger’ in particular?
If I have a role, it is to entertain people with the writing, make people laugh and hopefully get them to dig out a new or old record. That’s all. Every Record Tells A Story will appeal to gig goers, vinyl lovers, and fans of indie, rock and metal. It’s like a poor man’s Mojo Magazine, only not as well written, but with (hopefully) better jokes.

There are many very good music blogs out there, much better than mine, a lot of which tell you about new music and new bands, and they play a great role in promoting new bands. Well, that’s not the kind of blog I write. Who wants to only listen to new stuff when you haven’t heard all the old stuff? It gets exhausting to keep up with. I start to doubt someone when they recommend their eightieth new band of the year as being something special. So I’ll write about say, six new bands a year, and I’ll really like them all.

Of everything you’ve presented on the site, is there anything of which you’re particularly proud?
I once took on a bet that I could buy all the Beatles albums on vinyl in a limited time and budget – that was a good series and was as much fun to do as it was to write. I had to do a fair bit of research, which I enjoyed. It ended up being part record collecting, part Beatles history and part comedy caper. Well, I thought it was funny anyway. I enjoyed it so much I did a follow-up with Bowie’s records six months later. As a consequence, I now own a lot of Beatles and Bowie vinyl. Which is no bad thing.

Has the Every Record Tells a Story site led to any other opportunities?
One of the first pieces I wrote for the blog was a jokey thing about my memories of taping the charts off the radio. Somehow a BBC researcher found it and invited me to take part in a BBC documentary called Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top Forty. They found a boom box and got me to tape a recording of the top forty countdown from the early Eighties. It was a lot of fun.

More recently the editor of Classic Rock magazine got in touch to ask if they could publish one of the ‘Rock on Trial’ articles about sexism in rock. I pulled together a few Pie Charts to illustrate the point, so it had a quirky visual element to it. There are very few Pie Charts in music criticism, I find. It was very flattering to rub shoulders with “proper” writers. It was encouraging. Maybe, I thought, I should carry on doing this blogging thing just a little bit longer …

I had no expectations or ambition that blogging would lead to anything else, so these things are nice to do when they come up.

Are you involved with music in any other ways?
I play guitar at a rudimentary level – I can manage the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ on a good day. But I’m no Jimmy Page. Or even Patti Page for that matter.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Dick Rowe of Decca Records said that guitar bands were a passing fad back in 1962, just after he passed on signing the Beatles …

Manowar Into Glory Ride

Manowar: “farcical dress sense”, and records, one suspects, that have many stories to tell!

CHEERS, STEVE!

Please check out the excellent Every Record Tells a Story blog and Facebook page

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Mark Stanway (Magnum)

 Mark Stanway - Magnum keyboard player

Introduction and interview by Paul Monkhouse

Magnum  have long been a band that I’ve loved. Since first seeing them in the very early 1980s I was hooked, and their superb musicianship and the brilliant songwriting skills of guitarist Tony Clarkin have elevated them to one of THE best English rock bands this country has ever produced. With the mix of Clarkin’s gritty yet highly melodic guitar and partner in crime Bob Catley’s distinctive and mellifluous vocals they have stamped their mark on the hearts of anyone who’s ever heard or witnessed them. Another vital element to the band’s success is the outstanding keyboard work of Mark Stanway, a man who’s shared the stage with Messrs Clarkin and Catley since 1980 and whose addition saw the (already great) band step up a notch or two sonically.

One of the nicest and most talented guys you could hope to meet, I got to know Mark a bit better through our mutual friend Pat McManus and caught up with him for a chat on the last night of their On The Thirteenth Day tour over a drink in the relative peace and quiet of the Magnum tour bus.

So Mark, what does rock music mean to you?
Good and bad really … because there is both. It’s a bit of a general term but I think it will last forever … it certainly seems that way as we’ve been doing it an awfully long time! There’s a lot of new bands who’ve learnt to pull the shapes but haven’t really learnt how to play. I feel we continue to get better at it and this [On The Thirteenth Day] is as rocky an album as we’ve done. Rock to me is something that’s done well … especially if there’s keyboards in it! (Laughing.)

Who was the first artist to make a real impression on you?
Well my father, God rest his soul, was a big band swing drummer so I was brought up with swing music so Count Basie had a huge influence on me. But with regards to what I’m doing now, when I found out you could buy an electric piano and be in a band John Mayall was the biggest influence because I could sort of copy, playing blues and to this day I still love playing blues, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. John Mayall was the biggest influence on me from the piano playing/keyboard point of view.

Is there a particular band or album or song which means a lot to you?
Good question. Yeah, Booker T & The MGs because of that organ sound. Early Whitesnake: Jon Lord that was a huge influence, especially when I got asked to do the Moody/Marsden/Murray classic Whitesnake (as) it was my first chance to play raw organ. I had to listen to what Jon Lord was playing and I’d really underestimated him … what a phenomenal organ player and THE best rock organ player in my opinion. Oh, so many! The Beatles … I don’t think any of us would have a job without them and I still listen to The Beatles today.

You mentioned Booker T. Are they someone who’ve really stayed with you over time?
Oh yes, yes … it’s one of those special things. That rhythm section was sent from Heaven and they just groove. There’s no reason why rock music can’t groove either, it’s got to have a good feel … it’s not all thump and bash. I’ve had the chance to play with many great players, drummers included, and it makes all the difference when you can lock into a really solid groove. I’ve been really fortunate with drummers too and have played with some of the best.

As a well-respected musician yourself what do you say to a fellow musician or someone you admire (who may be considered a ‘rock star’) after you say “hello”?

Mark Stanway and Phil Lynott

Mark with Phil Lynott

Obviously I work with Robert Plant but I’ve known Robert for so many years he’s a friend before I look at him as a ‘Rock God’. It’s only when people start gathering round him wherever we are that you realise what a ‘giant of music’ he is. For me to go up and actually be in awe of somebody it’s got to be something that’s poignant to me. I’ll give you an example, say someone like David Paich, the keyboard player with Toto. I went out of my way to say hello to him two months ago when we were doing a show together in Switzerland. I knew Steve Lukather anyway, known him for many years, great guitarist, but I especially wanted to say hello to David Paich because I love his keyboard playing. Jeff Beck … when I did one of The Honeydrippers gigs we had a special surprise guest open for us and it was Jeff Beck and I went “Ooh!” because he’s my favourite guitarist and he’s such a nice guy and we’ve remained friends since … and he’s opening for ME … well, for Robert obviously with the Honeydrippers (laughs). That was a phenomenal moment for me to meet an absolute idol because I play a bit of guitar at home myself and I’ve loved Jeff Beck ever since day one, so that was a special thing. It was an enormous privilege meeting Buddy Rich. I’ve met Paul McCartney, that was when he was in Wings in the late 70s. I was a bit in awe of him but hell, he was a Beatle!  So yeah, sometimes I am a little in awe. Stevie Wonder is another one, absolute idol, I just think he’s touched by God that man musically and he’s just a massive world-wide global star. Phil Lynott was another one but again, I was so close with Phil that that was another mate. It’s only when you put your ‘rock star’ head on and walk onstage or you’re out in public do you realise ‘oh yeah, that’s Phil Lynott’ as opposed to ‘Phil, my mate’. There’s a few anyway.

Have you had any strange encounters with fans yourself?
Mark Stanway - '80s pin-upWhen we were at our peak, say ’87 to ’92 we used to get a few fans who were totally obsessed and it was a bit scary sometimes. I don’t miss that side of it because we were much younger and there were a lot of screaming girls which was nice at the time. I had some mail death threats and all sorts, there’s been some strange stuff but that’s a long time ago. It’s just when people have been obsessed and you find out their entire room is covered with pictures of you and you say “Oh … is it?” So, I don’t envy some of these big stars who have stalkers. One or two ‘uncomfortable’ situations but I’m still here.

So, what to you makes a gig special?
Audience response obviously, that’s first and foremost. Even if we’re struggling with a bad sound or monitor or equipment problems a good audience will always overcome that so it doesn’t matter how big the gig is, it’s down to the audience and if they’re really going for it that brings the best out of you.

What’s the most notable gig you’ve played as an artist in your career thus far?

Mark Stanway in jester outfit

“So here he is once more …”

The most notable has to be either the NEC or Wembley I guess because you’re playing to 10,000 people which is a big buzz … but it’s very impersonal because you can’t see anybody. Hammersmith is special to me because you’ve got a nice wide stage and about 3,700 people in there but you could see faces so you could have a bit of interaction in there. I mean, we did one gig in Madrid to 500 people and they stopped us playing for fifteen minutes because they were singing “Way-oh-way-oh-way!” because they were so happy to see us. Things like that really touch you more than the size or prestige of what you do. Glasgow audiences are unbelievable because they stop you playing. When an hour and fifty show goes way past two hours because of the applause, that’s when it’s all worthwhile.

What’s the best gig you’ve attended as a member of the audience?
Stevie Wonder. I saw him ‘in the round’ at the NEC and it was phenomenal. My old keyboard tech is his keyboard tech so I got VIP passes, I was front row, I had my wife sitting next to me, who’s a phenomenal singer, and Jaki Graham, who’s another phenomenal singer, so for the whole show I got three part harmonies. Unbelievable! It still sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it now. Stevie Wonder is a god.

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: is it a jaded stereotype or the Meaning of Life?
Well, I don’t think there’s much life if you get into the drugs side. I’ve lost too many friends to heroin and stuff like that and that’s something that nobody in this band has ever touched. We haven’t been angels in our time but we’re still all here kicking. Drugs to me are an evil that comes along with a lot of it and youngsters can get taken along with it. But the best gig you’ll play is without them.

Do you think rock music is for everyone or is it more tribal?
Well, it depends what you mean. If you take someone like Motörhead, for instance, then no, it’s not for everybody. But then if you look at a band like Magnum, our audience is so varied. We’ve got 12/13 year olds coming with their parents and loving it and we’ve still got people from the ’70s coming to see us so it depends. ‘Rock’ is too open an expression, really. I think anything with a good melody can appeal to anybody and I believe that there’s no limit to who can enjoy  the songs Magnum have done over the years. We’re only limited by the amount of exposure we get these days. (Laughs.)

How do you view what you do as an artist?
There’s a lot of pride involved. When we record an album there’s never any “that will do”. And we rehearse intensely: not because we can’t remember what we’re doing but just in case we can better something live. The songs change from the album version to live. We’re doing ‘Dance of the Black Tattoo’ live tonight and I suggested we put the melody hook in again towards the end and I’ve changed the ending of it. It’s once you’ve played the song live, or at least in the rehearsal studio for a few weeks, that you say “Hey, why don’t we try THIS live?” We haven’t got the luxury of being able to track things live as you do in the studio, so in there you’ll hear a guitar behind Tony doing a solo but that doesn’t happen live so you have to adapt things. There’s a lot of pride going into making things as good as we possibly can because we’re a live band.

How are Magnum most often labelled as a band?
‘Classic rock’, I guess.

Mark Stanway - Laurel and HardyAre labels helpful or limiting?
I don’t really mind the ‘classic rock’ label. I think they can be good or bad…you’ve got to be in a category unfortunately. In Germany ‘rock’ is ‘rock’, they don’t care. The same audience will watch Metallica and come along to watch Magnum. It makes me scratch my head a little … but ‘rock’ means more than one word in Germany than, say, in England or the UK.

Is there a piece of music you’d most like to be remembered for, again, thus far in your career?
Well, I was very proud of doing ‘Sacred Hour’ because that intro was an adaptation of something my wife wrote in actual fact, so it was actually something I tailored for keyboards personally and tagged it onto Tony’s ‘Sacred Hour’ which obviously inspired it. I’m very proud to have played with Robert Plant. Just so many things. Grand Slam with Phil Lynott. It doesn’t all have to be with big names. I’m really proud to have played with Pat McManus who’s a FANTASTIC musician and the likes of drummers like Jimmy Copley – I played on his solo album – and  ‘Classic Whitesnake’ with Mickey Moody, Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray, I like to listen to those once in a while and I’m proud of that. Quite a lot really. It’s really hard to narrow it down to one thing … but from the Magnum point of view I’m very proud of my first effort on ‘Chase The Dragon’.

Mark Stanway - Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise – delighted to finally meet his rock idol.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
I’ve heard that every decade for the past four decades! I remember Kevin Rowland (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) saying it to me in the very early ’80s that “rock is dead” but we’re still playing. Hope you’re listening Kevin! (Much laughter ensues!)

Finally, what have you got coming up?
I’ve nearly finished a book that I’ve been writing for a couple of years that I’ve tentatively entitled ‘Close to the Mark’ which is just about all the behind the scenes stuff – nothing derogative but just some of the funniest things that have happened to me in the 35 years I’ve been a musician that the punters have never even known about. There’s so many things I can’t mention but there have been some really, really funny things … stories with Robert and stories with Phil Lynott, not just limited to Magnum. I’ll hopefully have that ready for the next time we tour in Spring 2014. I’ve been asked to put Grand Slam back together with Laurence Archer and original guitarist Doish Nagle, which is a firm possibility but it’s down to the logistics. It’s got to have an Irish drawl fronting it though because it wouldn’t work otherwise and if I can do [organise] that properly I will. I also have another album with Magnum to do.

Mark Stanway and Paul Monkhouse

CHEERS MARK!

Related posts
Rodney Matthews (Artist)
Magnum at the Muni: The Thirteenth Gig

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Jeff Strawman (Achilles Last Stand)

When it comes to fansites, there can be few as extensive, impressive and well-established as Jeff Strawman’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-Zeppelin website: Achilles Last Stand.

Achilles Last Stand is a truly fitting tribute to one of rock’s greatest bands, and provides an excellent information service, online forum, and more, for fans. Indeed, in drafting the Led Zep sections in Words and Music I often found myself popping over to check out the odd fact or reference.

Achilles Last Stand is an astonishing achievement, and the music of Led Zeppelin clearly means a lot to Jeff. So I tracked him down and was delighted when he agreed to ‘Ramble On’ for the Q&A Series.

So Jeff, how did your work on Achilles Last Stand come about?
The first incarnation of Achilles Last Stand was put online in early 1996. At that point, the World Wide Web was just a small child and finding information about Led Zeppelin was very limited, mostly coming from Usenet Newsgroups, Digital Graffiti, a mailing list (R.I.P.!) and various fanzines.  A lot of the information found at that time was just flat out incorrect. I’m sure that it originated from fans when the band was still active and just got twisted around as new people heard it or misheard it. So, I had decided to create the most accurate, most informative Led Zeppelin website.

It’s a very extensive site. It must be quite a commitment?
It truly is. There were and still are Led Zeppelin websites that focus on one aspect, like lyrics or photos or news. I felt like I wanted to have a website that had everything. The only thing that I don’t put any focus on is the live trading and bootlegs. There are a few websites out there that are very informative and if I were to add this onto ALS, it would be too similar to what’s out there. A lot of time had been spent collecting and researching information, then compiling it into a straight text formatting and then adding HTML coding to make it presentable for the website. I still mostly rely on a text editor to create individual pages. It may take longer, however I get exactly what I want to see. I have several update projects that I always am working on, trying to make everything look as perfect as I can. If the money was there, I could easily make a full-time job out of it. In addition to juggling life outside of Led Zeppelin, my actual hours spent currently are quite minimal.

Why Led Zeppelin? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
I am a lifetime musician, having played piano and various instruments in school bands, as well as the bass guitar for nearly 20 years. The instrumental music in the songs of Led Zeppelin attracts me the most out of any other band that I have listened to. I really enjoy the unison of the bass and electric guitars in riffs like in ‘Heartbreaker’ or ‘Black Dog’ as well as the complexity of layering in their later work. Their music has a good groove. Some songs are heavy as hell and other songs float across the air with the grace and weight of a feather. Some bands are very typecast, meaning that they are really known for one style of music. You absolutely cannot say that about Led Zeppelin. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in October 1970 when Led Zeppelin III came out and people were expecting another song like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with different lyrics & they were treated to ‘Gallows Pole’ and ‘That’s The Way’. Wow, that would have absolutely blown my mind. Can you say that about any other band?

Ever meet any of the band?
No, unfortunately not.

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Led Zeppelin has been different?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, I think the members of Led Zeppelin are just ordinary people and that’s how they have mostly tried to be.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I have about a thousand different questions that I could possibly ask each of the remaining members of Led Zeppelin that would shed light on or correct misinformation that is currently floating out there.

Your first Zeppelin gig?
Unfortunately, I was 5 years old when Led Zeppelin decided that they could not continue, however my first Led Zeppelin live recording that I heard was from June 23, 1977, the famous Badgeholders show at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Being able to hear the various instruments clearly was something spectacular. A 30-minute version of ‘No Quarter’ was amazing. I wondered how a bunch of human beings could possibly continue to play for such a long time. Plus, the banter in between songs, the Plantations as it were, were so hilarious and unique, I believed that what I read in some of the unauthorized biographies were actually true, you know, the rock-and-roll excess, sex, drugs and rock and roll?

Your best Zeppelin-related gig (and why)?
I saw John Paul Jones on the second leg of his first solo Tour, on March 25, 2000 at Park West in Chicago, Illinois. Zooma had been out for seven months and although I was very familiar with all of the tracks, seeing it and hearing it in person was totally different. I was so utterly overwhelmed with the sound that was penetrating my core. It was general admission that night and so I spent most of the evening holding onto a set of stair railing. I had to hold on to something because the three performers on stage could have easily knocked me over.

Your top 3 Zeppelin albums?

  • Led Zeppelin II – it was the first LZ album I listened to. It opened my eyes.
  • Led Zeppelin – the first is always the best.
  • Physical Graffiti or Presence – it’s hard to choose between the two. Physical Graffiti has the light and shade, the heavy and the not-so heavy & everything in between, but Presence portrays a mature band, familiar with each other, wanting to branch out into the unknown and create melodic masterpieces.

Your top 3 non-Zep but Zep-related albums? (You know what I mean!)

  • Zooma – John Paul Jones. After listening to this album, you can truly tell who was the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin.
  • No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded – I really like the Arabic interpretations of the songs, plus the new material is a delight. The 2004 reissue includes remixed songs from the original, plus the inclusion of two songs that weren’t on the original.
  • Live Yardbirds: featuring Jimmy Page – the 1968 Yardbirds bootleg that Jimmy Page didn’t want released. Canned applause or not, it still is a well-recorded live concert from a band in all of their psychedelic splendour.

Some (not me, obviously) might say running a website or a fan club is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
Perhaps. It does require a fair amount of time to maintain and you do talk to some interesting and unique fans, even ones that had passed the classification of insane. Instead of calling it an unhealthy, I think that the proper way is to call it “a labour of love”.

Of everything you’ve done with Achilles Last Stand and Led Zeppelin, what are you most proud of?
Just putting the information out there. I enjoy getting emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from fans of the website, telling how much they enjoy it.

Are you involved with any other bands or music in any other way?
I was active in cover bands for about 15 years, but I’ve slowed down in doing that as of late.

In your experience, is it the sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique that attracts rock fans to Zeppelin or is it more about the music?
It depends on what type of person you are. Obviously, sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique sells in this day and age, however you’re going to find some musicians and fans that may want to emulate their heroes or those that really dig the music or the words.

How do you view the role of fan sites and fan clubs in the current era? Do you think they have a future?
Official websites for bands may be limited as to what they can post from management, record companies or even by the band themselves. Fan sites and fan clubs often fill in the blanks and tell the whole truth. It’s a way to unite as a community of like-minded individuals. As long as there are fans of bands, you’ll have fan sites and fan clubs.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Music trends are very cyclical. There are always points in time when one style of music rises up to a new generation, becomes popular and knocks the previous trend back down. In addition, various types of music mash up together to form something new. I think that we are currently at a point that rock music has morphed off into new hybrids. Elements of rock are still there, you just have to try and find it.

And finally, who do you listen to when you’re not listening to Led Zeppelin?
Honestly, I really like any type of music that has guitar, bass and drums. I’m quite a fan of classic rock, like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull , Iron Butterfly & Black Sabbath.

CHEERS JEFF!

Vist the Achilles Last Stand website: http://www.led-zeppelin.org/

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