Monthly Archives: April 2017

Extraordinary things that also happened on the day Sgt. Pepper was released

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a remarkable album, even by The Beatles’ lofty standards, and evocative of a particularly giddy moment in pop music. But the startling mix of psychedelic whimsy, music hall pastiche, Indian classical music and conceptual art didn’t happen in a vacuum, nor was it the sole interesting thing to have happened at that moment. Far from it, in fact.

This, then, is a snapshot of the world Sgt. Pepper entered, a look at other cultural events that were also going on during 1 June 1967, on the TV, on the radio, in literature and in sport. So, to put the album back in its rightful context on the family Dansette, crack open a bottle of Corona cherryade, grab a slice of Black Forest gateaux and dive in.

Dee Time on BBC One

TV was very different in 1967. There were only three channels, most television sets were black and white, and programming was not 24 hours a day. But some things remain constant, like a nice chat show in the vein of Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross. Simon Dee was the host of Dee Time, and in the early evening of 1 June, he played the gracious host to the British comic actress Thora Hird, singer Julie Rogers, film composer Bernard Herrmann and American comic actor Stubby Kaye.

Musical support came from the Northern Dance Orchestra and The Frugal Sound – a folk group with an astonishingly 60s name, who’d released a cover of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) a year earlier.

McDonald’s opened their first international restaurant

Although perhaps not as significant an event then as it appears now, the first McDonald’s restaurant franchise to open outside of the United States started serving in Richmond, British Columbia, right in the middle of the Summer of Love, on 1 June 1967. The burger chain would not reach the UK until 1974.

David Bowie released his first album

There were already some fairly way-out albums in the shops when Sgt. Pepper was released. Country Joe and the Fish had released Electric Music for the Mind and Body on 11 May, The Mothers of Invention had released Absolutely Free on 26 May. The Ventures even had an album out called Super Psychedelics, while Paul Beaver put out a musical interpretation of astrology called The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds.

By contrast, David Bowie’s self-titled first album, released on 1 June, was a rum collection of London-centric whimsy, pitched somewhere between Lionel Bart and Anthony Newley, from a man still finding his feet artistically. It’s interesting to note, with the release of Elvis Presley’s album of songs from the movie Double Trouble, that 1 June 1967 is the only date on which the defining artists of the 50s, 60s and 70s all released original albums at the same time.

The Kinks on Top of the Pops

In the week that The Beatles unveiled their masterwork, the No.1 single was the beatific Silence Is Golden by The Tremeloes, soon to be replaced by the even more beatific Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum. For that week’s Top of the Pops – broadcast half an hour after Dee Time had finished – presenter Pete Murray introduced previously taped performances by The Tremeloes, The Hollies, Vince Hill, Engelbert Humperdinck and the New Vaudeville Band, and new footage of The Small Facesand P.P. Arnold. Best of all was a new performance of Waterloo Sunset (also quite beatific) by The Kinks who were sitting pretty at No.2.

Oh, and there was a dance routine from The Gojos – to Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music at No.13 – possibly depriving the world of the sight of some energetic rug-cutting to the hot No.10 sounds of Seven Drunken Nights by The Dubliners.

The Mersey Sound arrived

While The Beatles were celebrating their new album, another Liverpool artistic high watermark was being reached. Penguin Books published a poetry collection called The Mersey Sound on 25 May, which brought the same youthful irreverence to fusty old verse that rock and pop music had brought to society at large. It featured the work of three poets from Liverpool – Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Funny and touching writers all, their verses were informed by modern life and were deliberately accessible, which made them hugely popular. The Mersey Sound went on to become one of the biggest-selling poetry anthologies in the world, selling over 500,000 copies.

Quirkiest world records held by British musicians

This year’s BBC Music Day (Thursday 15 June) is about the power of music, and included among the many events taking place are attempts to break music records. In Bradford, 800 children will gather in the City Park to try and beat the current world record for Bamboo Tamboo (a form of music created by hitting a bamboo stick on the ground, which originates from the carnival traditions of the Caribbean). And in Portsmouth, over a thousand children will join together at the city’s Guildhall Square, with the aim of breaking the world record for the world’s largest djembe drumming ensemble.

To provide some inspiration for those taking part, here’s a list of some of the UK’s quirkiest musical record-holders, from artists playing underwater or in freezing temperatures, to being broadcast in space or coming up with the longest album title ever. A record-breaking drum roll, please…

Katie Melua – deepest underwater concert

Singer-songwriter Katie Melua had to undergo survival training and extensive medical tests before she was given the go-ahead to play the world’s deepest underwater concert back in 2006. Melua then flew from Norway to the Statoil Troll A gas rig in the North Sea, where she and her band performed a show 303 metres below sea level. “This was definitely the most surreal gig I have ever done,” said Melua at the time, who played in front of 20 rig workers as well as an official Guinness World Records adjudicator. “It took nine minutes to go from the main part of the gas platform down to the bottom of the shaft in a lift. Giving a concert to the workers there was something really extraordinary and an occasion that I will remember all my life.”

Paul McCartney – first live concert broadcast to space

As you’d expect, The Beatles’ record-breaking exploits are impressive. The Fab Four have had more UK No.1 albums than anyone else (15), and more UK No.1 singles than any other British artist (their 17 chart-toppers are only surpassed by Elvis Presley’s 21); in 2001, the Guinness Book of Records declared them the best-selling group of all time (by that point, they’d reportedly sold over one billion discs and tapes worldwide). But they’ve got some more unusual records under their belts, too. In 2005, Paul McCartney became the first musician to broadcast a concert to outer space after his show in Anaheim, California was transmitted to two astronauts at the International Space Station, floating some 220 miles above Earth. NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russia’s Valery Tokarev were treated to a performance of The Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine, as well as McCartney’s solo track English Tea. “That was simply magnificent,” McArthur told the singer. “We consider you an explorer just as we are.”

Billie Piper – youngest artist to debut with a No. 1 single

Billie Piper launched her career by popping a bubble of gum in an advert for teen pop bible Smash Hits but by 1998, she was more likely to be appearing in the pages of the magazine itself. Her debut single Because We Want To, a rallying call for like-minded teenage rebels in the face of stuffy, conservative parents, sold over 300,000 copies and went straight to No.1, making the 15-year-old Billie (who, like Madonna and Princebefore her, had decided surnames were too clunky for pop stardom) the youngest artist to claim the top spot with their debut release. She had a further two No.1 singles (1998’s Girlfriend and 2000’s Day & Night) before swapping singing for acting, hopping into the TARDIS to star in the rebooted Doctor Who in 2005. The youngest ever artist to score a No. 1 single, meanwhile, is ‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond, who reached the top with his 1972 smash Long Haired Lover from Liverpool.

Sacked! What happened to members fired from famous bands?

Most groups appear to burst into the limelight fully-formed, but in reality there’s usually been plenty of chopping and chiselling to get to that point. Often there’s a Pete Best figure, elbowed out of the picture just before fame came knocking because their face didn’t fit. Or perhaps they couldn’t keep up, or they kept getting “tired and emotional” on tour. And when success does come, it can sometimes be divisive, leading to further sudden personnel changes. The official press release may say “mutual consent” but the look on everyone’s face suggests summary dismissal.

So what happened to those unfortunate musicians left clutching their P45s as their former bandmates marched on to glory? Here are the stories of seven high-profile rock firings, and what the recipients did next.

Tony McCarroll (Oasis)

Oasis’s original curly-haired drummer played on Definitely Maybe but once the band became megastars, his relationship with the Gallagher brothers deteriorated. Noel repeatedly derided McCarroll’s musical chops in public and would pretend to forget his name in interviews; amid rumours of a punch-up with Liam, it was no surprise to anyone when McCarroll was sacked in April 1995. “I like Tony as a geezer but he wouldn’t have been able to drum the new songs,” said Noel, referring to Oasis’s notoriously complex rhythm tracks.

Now: Having sued Oasis for unpaid royalties, McCarroll took further revenge on Noel in his 2010 autobiography, Oasis: The Truth, although his allegation that the Oasis songwriter regularly echoed melodies from other sources was hardly a revelation. These days – minus the hair – McCarroll is still drumming, and, according to The Mirror, was primed to take part in an Oasis reunion for the One Love Manchester concert, until Noel nixed the idea. McCarroll was also recently immortalised as a garden gnome, as the Manchester Evening News reported.

Kim Shattuck (Pixies)

When Kim Deal quit the reformed Pixies in summer 2013, former Muffsfrontwoman Kim Shattuck was drafted in as her replacement. All seemed to be going well until Shattuck was unexpectedly relieved of her duties less than six months later. No reason was given, but the bassist speculated to NME that an over-enthusiastic stagedive may have sealed her fate. “When I got offstage the manager told me not to do that again. I said, ‘Really, for my own safety?’ And he said, ‘No, because the Pixies don’t do that.'”

LaTavia Roberson / LeToya Luckett / Farrah Franklin (Destiny’s Child)

Let’s face it, Destiny’s Child were always going to be Beyoncé’s group – especially with her dad Mathew Knowles as their manager. The moment original members LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett voiced their dissent about the band’s uneven power structure, they found themselves unceremoniously airbrushed out of the picture; according to MTV, the first they learned of their sacking was when they saw the video for Say My Name and realised they weren’t in it. Not that one of their replacements, Farrah Franklin, fared much better. After missing a promotional trip to Australia, she was turfed out of the band after just five months; Franklin complained that she was ill with stomach flu and had actually quit of her own accord due to the Knowles family’s stranglehold on the group, as MTV also reported.

Now: LaTavia featured in season three of reality show R&B Divas: Atlanta and on 25 June 25 will deliver the keynote speech at the Dare 2 Aspire conference for “women and moms in business”. LeToya has starred in 13 films and recently released her third solo album, Back 2 Life. Farrah made headlines for the wrong reasons last year following an arrest for public intoxication, but hopes to finally release her debut solo album soon.

Crazy instruments invented by famous musicians

There comes a time in every forward-thinking musician’s journey when it seems the possibilities of traditional instruments have been exhausted, every string already plucked, every chord already strummed. Computers and samplers are one contemporary solution to composer’s block, but they don’t provide quite the same satisfaction as being able to hit, blow or caress a physical object in order to create a pleasing noise. For some, the only solution has been to invent their own instrument.

Here are eight examples of when musicians ditched the guitar, bass and drums for something more outlandish of their own creation. Most of these bespoke instruments led to some pretty interesting music… even if you’re unlikely to see any of them being played at your local open-mic night any time soon.

Björk – the gameleste

Icelandic innovator Björk has a history of using strange or bespoke instruments and incorporating them into her digital world. Having used a celeste – a kind of small, spectral piano – to great effect on 2001’s Vespertine, Björk decided that for her multimedia Biophilia project, she wanted to cross-breed it with Balinese gamelan tonebars, adding remote control for good measure. British percussionist Matt Nolanand Icelandic organ craftsman Björgvin Tómasson were commissioned to build the hybrid instrument, which they managed to do in a very intense week-and-a-half. You can hear the bewitching results on the track Crystalline, below. The gameleste isn’t the only instrument Björk invented for her Biophilia tour; she also created a visual synthesiser, a pendulum harp and a crystal trombone. OK, we made that last one up. But maybe next time, Björk?

10cc – the Gizmotron

In the days before sampling, 10cc’s quest to cheaply reproduce the sound of an orchestral string section led them to invent the Gizmotron – a device that clamped across the strings of an electric guitar, its small motor-driven plastic wheels providing a hypnotic sustain effect. 10cc used the Gizmotron widely on 1974’s Sheet Music and its two subsequent albums. Drunk on possibility, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme then quit the band to develop the instrument, showcasing its charms on their 1977 triple album Consequences. Mass production commenced, yet despite further exposure on albums by Wings and Led Zeppelin, the Gizmotron proved unreliable and ended up bankrupting its manufacturer, Musitronics. Luckily, there’s a happy ending – in 2013, a new team of engineers took up the concept and you can now buy your very own Gizmotron 2.0 for $289.99.

Pat Metheny – the Pikasso

This incredible mutant guitar looks like a photoshop creation but we can assure you that jazz virtuoso Pat Metheny has been witnessed playing the Pikasso at many of his concerts since the mid-80s. The four-necked, 42-stringed beast was invented by Metheny in conjunction with Canadian luthier Linda Manzer and was named the Pikasso because, well, you can see why. It took two years to build and includes a ‘hexaphonic pickup’, allowing Metheny to trigger samples as he plays. More recently, Metheny has unveiled his Orchestrion – a whole ensemble of custom-built, self-playing instruments that serve as his backing band. Which is one way to get the tour bus to yourself