Category Archives: Book review

133. NICHOLAS BARRETT’s “Michaelmas Term: Or – Why Is That Boy Naked?” (2016)

(Pic: N.Barratt)

(Pic: N.Barrett)

Its a bit of a departure for me to review a subject that is not strictly musical; although author Nick Barrett (not to be confused with his namesake in Prog-Rockers Pendragon), is a bit of a muso himself (he was round my place the other day strumming through some old Rush songs on my acoustic), and he did once bash the skins for a certain well-known Canadian Blues-Rock guitarist, as well as other groups, so I guess that loosely qualifies his book’s inclusion here!

I have known Nick for some time. Michaelmas Term: Or – Why Is That Boy Naked? is his debut novel, and is, he told me, 70% based on his own experiences at school – so it is semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of Nicky, an eleven year old who wins a scholarship to the posh St Onan’s Academy… and yes, the book is a comedy! But to say that is an understatement… it is hilarious! I began reading it the day that Nick handed me an autographed copy, and I couldn’t put it down – except to periodically laugh aloud!

The book’s characters – all based on real people – are as large as life, and described so well. Look out for the ageing alcoholic teacher Mr. Matthews-elah; the haunted theology master, the Rev. Felchingham; the modern artist Mr.Japsai; and magnificently named art master, Mr. Bell-Enderby (I’m sure we all know a few blokes with that sobriquet?) A real-life mutual friend of Nick and myself and fellow writer Steve ‘Loopy’ Newhouse (see my review #131) is also immortalised in the book as the school’s music teacher. We are told that the pupils of this ancient seat of learning – the Onanists – have been ‘buffing their helmets’ since the Middle Ages; and that the school hymn proclaims that ‘Onanists will take themselves in hand’!

It is not primarily of a musical theme; but there are however, numerous musical references within the pages. For example, in his first latin lesson at St Onan’s, Nicky learns that pro bono is not the singer of U2! And in his first history class, that El Dorado is not a song by The Eagles! This may give you a taste of the humour within; but I’ll say no more.

This book is a seriously good read. It is bizarre, irreverent – and a bloody good laugh! I’m recommending it highly. Nick has a sequel ready for publishing, and two further volumes in the pipeline – as well as a thriller in the making. If this debut is a sample of his work, he has an illustrious future ahead of him. He has already been favourably compared to Terry Pratchett and Tom Sharp. If you like clever word-play; subtly hidden innuendos; or just a damn good laugh, then buy it! Definitely one for the Christmas stocking. It is available from Amazon. PTMQ.

131. STEVE ‘LOOPY’ NEWHOUSE’s “LOOPYWORLD: THE IRON MAIDEN YEARS” (2016). + A trip down Memory Lane for The Quill.

Loopy's book coverBook review.  When Steve ‘Loopy’ Newhouse told me he was writing a book about his time as a roadie for Heavy Metal maestros, Iron Maiden; I was very keen to have a read. So he sent me a pre-publication PDF of his work, Loopyworld: The Iron Maiden Years, from which I could write a review. I was keen because I was a big fan of Maiden long before they had achieved their international mega success; and I saw them innumerable times – mostly at The Ruskin Arms PH in East London, throughout 1979.

I know Loopy; so when I read the book, I could hear him narrating it in my head. It is written really well and flows easily, like a mate telling you a long but fascinating series of anecdotes down the pub! Its an easy read. He writes just as he speaks – in a relaxed London / Cockney accent. Fine for me because I’m of the same stock; but English speakers outside the UK may have a bit of a problem with some of the colloquialisms contained in it. At the end of the day though, its a book about a Rock band from the East End of London, so what could be a more appropriate lingo to use?

The book sets out Loopy’s time with Iron Maiden from September ’78 to July ’84 – with a break of two years in the middle when he got sacked, then later reinstated. The band were of course one of the leading lights of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM); a serious back-lash against the New Wave/Punk aberration of the mid-70s. By using his old diaries, Loopy describes the highs and lows of his career as a roadie/drum tech for Maiden (and other bands). It is not just a memoir, but a valuable history of Maiden in their earliest years; and an eye-opener for life on the road. He is refreshingly honest, and undoubtedly accurate; and has brought to light many anecdotes and observations about Maiden – and the Rock scene in general – that may have otherwise been long forgotten. It is a fascinating read.

(Pic: Loopy)

Loopy with his magnum opus!(Photo: Loopy)

The book comes as a paperback of 200+ pages. It has a very clear format and typesetting. It contains some great photos, although unfortunately without captions which I think would have been very useful (but that’s the only, minor, complaint that I’ve already mentioned to Loopy). The flyers, ads and posters shown from the time are interesting too; as they mention other artists that I’d seen and forgotten (For example: Zaine Griff, who I saw at Reading ’79; and Lea Hart, supporting Judas Priest at Hammersmith in October ’78).

The cover illustration is by none other than Derek Riggs – the man responsible for bringing ‘Eddie’ to life on numerous Maiden album covers. Loopy also tells me that there is a secret code contained in the book – but I’ve yet to suss it out! The book is out now and is available from Loopy’s website. If you’re a Maiden / NWOBHM fan; or you were a London gig-goer in the late ’70s; it is definitely a must have. Put it on your Christmas stocking list! Highly recommended. PTMQ

Link to Loopy’s website where you can order a copy of the book

Link to Loopy’s Facebook page

(Photo: PTMQ)

Loopy kindly signed the book for me. (Photo: PTMQ)

My own memories of Iron Maiden.  Reading Loopy’s book initiated a trip down Memory Lane for me. I found the earlier chapters particularly interesting because Loopy mentions many of my old haunts: The Ruskin Arms, East Ham of course (which is now an hotel); The Rabbits, Manor Park (now a chemist); The Green Gate, Newbury Park (now a MacDonalds); The Green Man, Leytonstone (now an Irish theme bar); and The Red Lion, Leytonstone (still a pub!). All good Rock venues of the time. He even talks about Bonzers Farm, where I used to go to pick up bags of spuds for my Mum – precariously strapping them on the pillion seat of my motor bike!

Apart from the dozens of times I saw Maiden at the Ruskins, I also saw them in other places that Loopy mentions: I was at Neal Kay’s Bandwagon HM Soundhouse, a Rock club in Kingsbury, North London a couple of times; at the Reading Rock Festival (August 1980); the long gone Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park where Maiden played as part of that venue’s anniversary celebrations (With Praying Mantis support, June ’80); at The Music Machine, Camden Town (also August ’79; supported by Angel Witch and Toad The Wet Sprocket); their famous charity gig at the Ruskins (April ’80) – which is the only time I remember having to buy a ticket in advance for the venue (and boy it was packed that night!); and their gig at Hammersmith Odeon supporting Judas Priest (March ’80).

(Pic: PTMQ)

Some old IM tickets I sold on Ebay a few years ago. Top: Music Machine, Aug 79. Middle: Ruskin Arms, April 80. Bottom: Rainbow Theatre, June 80.  (Pic: PTMQ)

But it was the Ruskin Arms that will be forever synonymous with Maiden. I first saw them in April ’79, and I must have been present at almost every gig they played there throughout the rest of that year. A couple of mates and I would always be seen doing the ‘Transylvania Boogie’ (as we called it) at the front of the low stage. Occasionally we’d help shift the band’s gear too. I seem to remember they played three consecutive nights there at Easter, and I went to all three. Before and after these gigs, we would have a chat to the band and got to know them quite well – especially Steve HarrisDave Murray and Paul Di’Anno I also remember being pulled up and searched by the Old Bill on the way home from a Maiden gig at the Ruskins – I remember because it was my birthday in January ’80! But the last time I spoke to any of them was at a Radio Caroline Roadshow in April ’80 when I bumped into singer Paul (I mentioned this in an earlier article #41).

There was one particularly good gig at the Ruskins, when the band (and I think I’m right in saying this, not having kept a diary like Loopy!) debuted ‘Running Free’, and it went down a storm. Then it was ‘Remember Tomorrow’s debut, and after rapturous applause, I recall Steve Harris saying from the stage with a big grin on his face, that he didn’t know how the crowd would like it – he needn’t have worried; because for my mates and I it was the best thing we’d heard Maiden do! It may have been at this same gig that the band played a blinding cover of Van Halen‘s ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ as a second encore.

I’d say I’m not so much a Maiden fan these days, although I have a great deal of respect and affection for them, and always keep an eye on what they’re up to. They are certainly responsible for providing me with a great deal of good memories, and I met lots of interesting people at their gigs. Back in ’79 I always said they’d hit the big time. It was obvious right from the start – although I don’t think anyone (even the band themselves) were prepared for just how far and how quickly their career took off. Long may they continue! Cheers Loopy! PTMQ

41. “RADIO CAROLINE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE BOAT THAT ROCKED” by Ray Clark. Plus, a personal voyage down the piratical sea-lanes of my memory!

I’ve just finished reading the book Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (History Press, 2014) by Ray Clark. My copy is the paperback version, with 256 pages; and it is a bit larger than a standard-sized paperback.  There is a Foreword by EMPEROR ROSKO and KEITH SKUES. It tells the history of the pirate station in great detail, from its inception in 1964; to its current on-line format. It details the planning; the ships; the equipment; the legal and financial wrangles; as well as the less savoury shenanigans that went on –  the plots, the back-stabbing, and even a murder! And there are some fantastic photographs throughout; including a magnificent colour section in the middle. This is a very good book indeed; and I really enjoyed reading it. I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in pirate radio; in broadcasting in general; or in the history of British pop music. At all times it is easy to read and interesting. It is extraordinarily well researched. The author is to be congratulated on a fine piece of writing.

'Radio Carolin: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked' by Ray Clark. (Photo: PTMQ)

‘Radio Carolin: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked’ by Ray Clark. (Photo: PTMQ)

My only complaints about this book are: (1) That I think an appendix containing a definitive list of all the Caroline DJs who ever broadcast, and their dates of service would have been very useful. (2) That some sample play-lists from the various periods of the station’s history could have been shown to illustrate the varied and changing styles of music played – there were so many DJs that I’d bet some of them kept some play-lists as mementos, and would have been only too pleased to lend them to the author. There is one play-list shown but it is from a Radio Atlanta programme from the early 60s. And finally (3) one or two maps showing the positions of the various transmitter ships that Caroline used could have been included; showing broadcasting positions, wreck sites and the three-mile limit.

Personally, my first memory of the pirate radio station is from c.1967. It seems ridiculous now, but as a family, we’d often go on holiday to Felixstowe in Suffolk – only an hour’s drive from where we lived at the time; but it seemed like another world to we kids then!  I remember my Dad saying that there was a pirate ship just off the coast and if they came ashore they’d be arrested. As a seven year-old I didn’t have a clue what pirate radio was; but I knew what pirates were! So I imagined the Old Bill fighting it out with a lot of cutlass-wielding thugs in tri-corn hats! Sadly that was a spectacle that I was never to see!

Then in my mid-teens (mid-70s), searching for more interesting music than that which I was hearing on Radio One and TOTP, I discovered this station playing exactly what I wanted to find out about – album tracks from bands that I’d maybe heard of, but knew nothing about. This was for me, totally new and musically stimulating, and opened my mind to a new world – particularly of Prog-Rock;  with some meaningful Folky stuff there too.  I can still hear the jingle ‘Three One Ni-ine Caroline!’; and the oft-played narrated excerpt from the MOODY BLUES album On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969)  – ‘There you go man; keep as cool as you can….’ They also plugged the concept of what they termed ‘L.A.’  (‘Loving Awareness’ – but I was never really sure exactly what that meant!)

I particularly liked listening to the personal Top 30’s that the listeners sent in to the Caroline HQ based in Spain. Two of these were broadcast each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between (I think) 6pm and Midnight. Many of these Personal Top 30’s would culminate in Led Zep’s ‘Stairway…’ which I never seemed to tire of; and was always surprised if it didn’t reach their respective No.1 spots!  Other very commonly played tracks I remember, were BJH’s ‘Mocking Bird’ and LONE STAR’s ‘Bells Of Berlin’. I recall scribbling out my own Top 30 with a view to sending it off; but never got round to it because I couldn’t decide the best 30 from hundreds of new songs I’d heard in the previous few years. I think RUSH’s ‘Xanadu’ was my No.1 from early ’78 though; with maybe STRIFE’s ‘Sky’ at No.2.

When I first started listening to Caroline; both it, and Dutch language Radio Mi Amigo, were both broadcasting from the ship MV Mi Amigo simultaneously. But then they merged due to financial woes and began to share the same wavelength – R.Caroline by night; and Mi Amigo by day. Even though I couldn’t speak Dutch, it was still worth listening to during the daylight hours, as they played similar sounds that I could relate to.

In order to publicise themselves and make a little dough, there were also the Radio Caroline Road-shows. These took the form of a rock disco.  I remember attending several of these from about ’77 to ’80 in various locations across London and Essex (one in Southend-On-Sea, I recall – and more on this later). These were normally hosted by two or three of the well-known Caroline DJs who’d play everyone’s favourite up-beat rock songs; and sometimes a band would agree to play too. They’d normally finish with Led Zep’s ‘Stairway…’ or Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’.

I particularly recall one Road-show held upstairs at The Red Lion PH in Leytonstone, East London. This was hosted by three DJs – I think they were: Rob Eden; Robbie Day and ‘Harvey The Rabbit’  (now I need that appendix of DJs to be sure!) I remember the sprung wooden floor in this pub started bouncing alarmingly due to all the dancing about! And I can date this gig quite precisely because I remember one of the DJs playing a track from the latest BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW album, Long Live Rock And Roll, which had just been released; and he asked if anyone had it yet. I was one of only a few who’d got my hands on it at the time; and I know it went on sale in April ’78. I also remember my mate Mark (whatever happened to him, I wonder?) impressing some girls with a great impersonation of Leonard Rossiter’s character ‘Rigsby’ from the 70s TV sit-com Rising Damp – and it paid off for us too! Nice one Mark!

Something that regularly used to occur at these road-shows, was when one of the DJs would ask for a volunteer among the young ladies present, to come up on stage, and change into a Radio Caroline T-shirt  – rendering her topless for a few seconds whilst she changed in public. This would bring about great cheers of approval from all the blokes in the audience!  At the Southend gig that I attended, I remember a certain young lady who willingly climbed on stage, but bottled out of getting changed at the last minute (to great Boos from all the libidinous teenage boys in the crowd); but she was given the T-shirt anyway. I remember because I knew her (and no, I never did get to see them either!)

Then in 1980, the rusting Mi Amigo sank in shallow waters in the English Channel; taking Radio Caroline with her, and leaving only her mast above the waves. A campaign was started to raise money to re-float her – or buy a new ship. Part of this campaign was a new road-show. I went to one of these new series of gigs at Ilford Palais, in late April 1980. I seem to remember that the NWOBHM band, TYGERS OF PAN TANG were on the bill. They and some other bands had agreed to help get Caroline on-air again, and I heard they were playing for free. Incidentally, whilst I was there, I bumped into Paul Di’anno – original singer of Iron Maiden; who I knew from The Ruskin Arms, East Ham – and we talked about their debut album Iron Maiden which had just been released.

I think the biggest name that Caroline had on board for this fund-raising tour, was GILLAN. They too had agreed to help out and were booked for a show somewhere. I remember this because I bought a Radio Caroline sweat-shirt at the Ilford gig, with all the other dates printed on the back of it; but I never saw Gillan at that particular road-show unfortunately.

Then, when they finally got their new ship fitted out and started transmissions once again in ’83, I eagerly tuned in; but they seemed to be playing stuff that I really didn’t want to listen to, so I gave it up for yonks and never gave it another thought. Circumstances in my life changed my priorities at around that time too, and I found less time to go to gigs or listen to the radio anyway. From reading the book though, I realised that there was a show on the new Caroline that would have suited me – Caroline Overdrive. But, sorry to say, that passed me by!

Well, that’s about it. Radio Caroline is now on-line of course; and I listen in occasionally. Their website has a lot of interesting info on it. They have a 50th anniversary 500 albums list, as voted by the listeners. Floyd’s Dark Side… is No1; with The Beatles at 2 & 3. I was disappointed to see Wishbone Ash’s Argus (my personal No1 album) at a lowly 68 though! They also have listeners’ personal top 15 album tracks listed.  – a bit like the old days! I’m listening to Caroline as I write this, and they’ve just played Led Zep’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ followed by The Moody’s ‘The Actor’ – I could be back in the 70s again!  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! PTMQ

Here is a link to Caroline’s website…..

Here is an excellent compilation of Radio Caroline jingles…..

‘Climb aboard the Love Ship and sail away!’ PTMQ