Music Blog

Under Pressure – rocking the Bank of England

posted 30th May 2013

I am looking forward to hearing Sir Mervyn King’s “Desert Island Discs” this weekend (Sunday 2nd June): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02116z9.

It will be interesting to see if the outgoing Governor borrows from the approach I took in my Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) leaving speech at the Bank of England two years ago, when I used Desert Island Discs as a theme to recognise the contribution of the people I had worked with and who had supported me during my time on the Committee (2006-11).

According to Larry Elliott in the Guardian (4 February 2013): Sentance… peppered the speech to mark his departure from the Bank with lyrics and song titles from his beloved 1970s rock. It was a memorable exit, made all the more entertaining by passing right over the heads of most of those assembled.”

So here is an edited version of my musical dedications on that evening, and you can compare and contrast with Sir Mervyn’s selections on Sunday!

(1) For the economists in Monetary Analysis, who support the MPC through the economic analysis they provide, I dedicated Side 1, Track 1 of Led Zeppelin’s first album – “Good Times, Bad Times” – though we seemed to have more “Bad Times” than “Good Times” while I was on the Committee!

(2) I was very ably supported at the Bank of England by the MPC Unit which supports the external members of the Committee – Jan Parry as my PA and a series of extremely capable senior advisers and economists – Andrew Holder, Michael Hume, Tomasz Wieladek, Ben Westwood, Abi  Hughes and Adrian Chiu. They always managed to keep the show on the road, so to them I dedicate one of Freddie Mercury’s last recordings with Queen: “The Show Must Go On”

(3) The media and the Bank press office make a vital contribution to the MPC by ensuring that the public are not “Dazed and Confused” because there has been a “Communication Breakdown”!  To them, I dedicate my third musical choice from the mid-1960s, by the Animals: “Don’t Let me be Misunderstood”.

(4) Another key relationship for MPC members is with the Bank’s  Agents around the country, and I was and remain a big supporter of their work. I made a total of 37 Regional Visits as a member of the MPC, but the Agents themselves spend a lot more time on the road. So my music dedication to the Bank’s Agents and Deputy Agents is “Back on the Road Again” by REO Speedwagon.

(5) My fifth music choice was dedicated to friends outside the Bank who supported me during my time on the Committee- from University days, former colleagues from the CBI and British Airways, and people who have offered encouragement and support while I was in a minority on the Committee voting for higher interest rates. I would like to thank you all for helping me to get by “With a Little Help from my Friends”.

(6) The Governor and my MPC colleagues put up with me through 56 monthly meeting rounds and 19 Inflation Report forecasts. Through the financial crisis, the Committee had to respond to unprecedented and unusual events. What better piece of music to sum that up than “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie.  The pressures on the MPC and the challenges currently facing UK monetary policy are not being resolved quickly.

(7) My family – Anne, Tim and Rebecca – were incredibly supportive through my time on the MPC. You are “Simply the Best”, as Tina Turner put it. I could not have done it without you.

Yesterdays_front_cover(8) Finally, I know I am not the only fan of 1970s progressive rock in the economic and financial world, though it is not something people always own up to. And for many of us, there is “one band to rule them all” – Yes.  A trip through some of their song and album titles describes my time on the MPC pretty well. We came “Close to the Edge” during the financial crisis, followed by a “Fragile” recovery. But the global deflation we experienced at the “Turn of the Century” has been replaced by global inflation, with the result that I was “Going for the One” – a rise in Bank Rate to one percent in my final months on the Committee. “Perpetual Change” has been a feature of my time on the MPC, and throughout my career

I’d be amazed if progressive rock features anywhere in Mervyn’s musical selections on Sunday – but who knows? Tune in to find out!

Andrew Sentance

“Without you” – remembering Pete Ham and Badfinger

posted 27th April 2013

Saturday 27th April 2013 was a special day in Swansea, when one of its most talented rock musicians, Pete Ham, was remembered. A blue plaque was put up in his honour in Ivey Place near the entrance to Swansea Railway Station. And a tribute concert was held in Swansea Grand Theatre, featuring former members of Pete’s bands – The Iveys and Badfinger.

Badfinger signed to Apple Records, the record label founded by The Beatles, in 1969. They were the first non-Beatle recording artists signed to the label and the first of many musicians whose careers were launched by Apple in the late 60s and early 70s – including James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston and Hot Chocolate. (The picture below shows the band in 1970 – Left to Right: Mike Gibbins, Joey Molland, Tom Evans and Pete Ham.)

BadfingerWith the Beatles backing the band, it is not surprising that Badfinger’s first hit was a Paul McCartney composition – “Come and Get it”. It reached No.4 in the UK singles charts in 1969, and No.7 in the US. This was followed by three more hits in the early 1970s written by Pete Ham – “No Matter What” and “Day after Day” which both reached the Top 10 in the US and the UK , and “Baby Blue” which reached No.14 in the US charts.

Pete Ham and bass-player Tom Evans were the main songwriters for the band, though Joey Molland also contributed a number of songs to their most successful albums:  “Magic Christian Music” “No Dice” and “Straight Up”. After the Beatles broke up, the members of Badfinger continued their association with the ex-Beatles. Pete Ham played “Here Comes the Sun” with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.

But events took a wrong turn for Badfinger after their early success. When touring the US in 1970, they met up with Stan Polley – who became their manager. When Apple Records became embroiled in turmoil following the break-up of the Beatles, Polley signed them to Warner Bros. Allegedly, he told the band “You’re all millionaires”! But the contracts he negotiated gave him first refusal on the income from the band and he became rich at their expense. He probably became a millionaire himself. But as Badfinger’s musical fortunes declined, the income for band members dried up.

In the meantime, another artist – Harry Nilsson – had discovered a gem of a song buried at the end of side one of the Badfinger album “No Dice”. It was called “Without You”, jointly written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Pete had written the verse and Tom the chorus – reminiscent of the Lennon/McCartney collaborations in the early Liverpool days. Nilsson’s recording of “Without You” gave the song much more passion and emotion, compared to the more laid back and restrained Badfinger version.

“Without You” went to Number 1 in the UK and US in early 1972 and was subsequently taken to the top of the UK charts by Mariah Carey in 1994. Very few records have had such success in the UK and US charts on more than one occasion – particularly when they were not released as singles by the original artist.

The success of “Without You” did not flow through to Pete Hamm and Tom Evans, however. The turmoil at Apple and the dubious activities of Stan Polley meant that Pete, Tom and other members of Badfinger saw little revenue from their creative successes – “Without You” and other hits

Pete became so depressed about this that he took his own life in 1975, just before his 28th birthday – one of many talented rock musicians to die tragically at the age of 27, including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse. Even more sadly, Tom Evans also committed suicide in 1983, struggling with depression aggravated by the loss of his close musical collaborator Pete Ham eight years before.

But on what should have been Pete Ham’s 66th birthday, we should celebrate the contribution he, Tom and the other members of Badfinger have made to popular music.

First, Badfinger were pioneers in translating the music of the Beatles into a new genre – Power Pop. Many bands in the 1970s and 1980s followed in their footsteps –producing punchy pop songs and occasionally mixing with more reflective compositions: Eric Carmen/The Raspberries,  Cheap Trick, The Knack (My Sharona), Blondie, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, etc.

Second, Badfinger have created a legacy of great songs which will be performed again and again. “Without You” is the best known – and has apparently been recorded by 180 artists! My own band Revelation performs “No Matter What” regularly at our gigs and I would commend it other bands.

Third, all the early pioneers of rock music were very vulnerable to exploitation. Even Elvis and the Beatles struggled to escape from the grip of opportunistic and manipulative entrepreneurs and badly drawn-up contracts. Let us hope that new generations of musicians have learned from these mistakes and they will not be repeated.

I couldn’t be in Swansea this weekend to celebrate Pete Ham’s musical legacy with his family, fans and former bandmates. But Revelation will continue to play one of Badfinger’s finest songs “No Matter What”. And when you hear “Without You” or another of their songs, raise a glass to the memory of a very talented bunch of musicians.

Andy Sentance

 

Missing Christine McVie

posted 7th February 2013

Fleetwood Mac are back on the road, with 34 gigs planned for the US, followed by concerts in Europe and possibly Australia and elsewhere. But one key person will be missing from the band, as has been the case for more than a decade – Christine McVie, who wrote some of the band’s most popular and successful songs. Christine retired from Fleetwood Mac in 1998. She has reportedly been to see the band on tours since then, but has not performed with them on stage. She did, however, record a solo album in 2004 entitled “In the Meantime” (with nephew Dan Perfect).

CMcVieThe only time I have seen Fleetwood Mac perform live was on the “Behind the Mask” tour in 1990. Then, I was struck by the contribution that Christine McVie made to the band. On that tour, Fleetwood Mac were missing guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and Rick Vito and Billy Burnette did an excellent job of filling in for him as guitarists. But Lindsey’s absence put more weight on Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie as vocalists. Unlike Stevie, who took centre stage with her theatrical performances, Christine was normally hidden behind her keyboard. However, Lindsey Buckingham’s absence made her contribution to the band more obvious and clearer.

Fleetwood Mac were a successful blues band in the late 1960s, but some of the key talents  – Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan – left in the early 1970s. At that time Christine McVie (née Christine Perfect) – who had married bassist John McVie in 1968 – joined the band. Fleetwood Mac went through a transitional period in the early 1970s, with little commercial success, save for a reissue of their instrumental hit Albatross which reached No.2 in the UK singles charts in 1973.

By the mid-1970s, the core of the band – drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and keyboard/vocalist Christine McVie – had relocated to California which is where they linked up with guitar/singer duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The result was two staggeringly successful albums – Fleetwood Mac and Rumours – which also led to success in the singles charts in the mid-1970s.

Eight singles were released from the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums, and five of them were written by Christine McVie: Warm Ways; Over My Head; Say You Love Me; Don’t Stop; and You Make Loving Fun.Don’t Stop is probably the band’s best known song, and Fleetwood Mac reunited to perform it at Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony in 1993. In the meantime Christine had contributed some of the more successful and popular songs to Fleetwood Mac’s 1980s and early 1990s catalogue, including Think About Me (1980), Hold Me (1982), Little Lies (1987), Everywhere (1988) and Save Me (1990).

We should respect Christine’s decision to retire in the late 1990s – she now lives in the village of Wickhambreaux near Canterbury in Kent. But Fleetwood Mac is surely a poorer band without her contribution. And when the Fleetwood/McVie/Buckingham/Nicks roadshow gets underway later this year under the banner of Fleetwood Mac, remember that some of their best and most popular songs were written by someone who is not on stage – Christine McVie:

If you wake up and don’t want to smile,
If it takes just a little while,
Open your eyes and look at the day,
You’ll see things in a different way.

Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here,
It’ll be, better than before,
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.

Andy Sentance

2013 – The Diamond Jubilee of Rock Music?

posted 31st December 2012

After the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year and the Olympics in 2012, what should be the theme for celebrations in 2013? As rock and roll music started to make its mark in the early and mid-1950s, I propose we should celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of rock music.

The rock and roll era was clearly underway in the mid-1950s. Elvis Presley started his recording career in 1954 with “That’s All Right” and his career gathered momentum through 1955, with his first big hits – like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes” – coming in 1956. Chuck Berry recorded his first major record “Maybellene” in 1955 and “Roll Over Beethoven” in 1956. In 1954, Bill Haley and the Comets recorded “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and their best known song “Rock around the Clock” was popularised in the film “Blackboard Jungle” in 1955.

So when does it make sense to date the start of the rock music era? Some analysts look back to the late 1940s and very early 1950s to identify the origins of rock and roll. “That’s All Right” – which was Elvis Presley’s first single – was originally recorded by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946. Other early candidates for “The First Rock n’ Roll Record” are “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris in 1948, “Rock this Joint” by Jimmy Preston and his Prestonians in 1949 and “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats in 1951. Rocket 88 was written by Ike Turner, of Ike and Tina Turner fame, and featured a distorted guitar sound produced by an amplifier with a damaged speaker! It was also performed by Bill Haley and his Comets in the early 1950s.

But these early records do not necessarily mark the “birth” of rock music or rock n’roll. The time interval between some of these early releases and the explosion of rock n’ roll in the mid-50s is too long. They should be considered as important influences rather than the start of something more substantial.

1953 is a much better candidate for the birth year of rock music, coming just before this rock explosion in 1954-1956. Here are ten reasons which support this view, and hence the idea that we should celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of rock music in 2013:

1)      In 1953, Elvis Presley first came to the attention of Sam Phillips and his Sun Records label based in Memphis when he recorded two songs on an acetate disc for $4 to give to his mother.

2)      Bill Haley and the Comets had their first major commercial success with “Crazy Man Crazy”, recorded in April 1953.

3)      “Rock around the Clock” was first performed by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1953 and the song was recorded by Sonny Dae and his Knights, either in 1953 or early 1954.

4)      “Hound Dog”, which became a massive hit for Elvis, was first released by Big Mama Thornton in 1953.

5)      “Mystery Train”, another early Elvis song, was released by Junior Parker’s band “Little Junior’s Blue Flames” in 1953.

6)      Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do”, released in 1953, featured one of the earliest recorded distorted electric guitar solos – a key innovation for rock music.

7)      “Mess Around” by Ray Charles – his first recording which reflected rock n’ roll influences – was recorded and released in May 1953. “Mess Around” was jointly written by Ahmet Ertegun, whose Altlantic record label launched many notable rock musicians, including Led Zeppelin and Yes.

8)  During 1953, Alan Freed was busy popularising rock music to radio audiences in the mid-west of the United States. The year before – in 1952 – Freed had held what has become known as the first rock and roll concert – “The Moondog Coronation Ball” in Cleveland. By 1954, Freed had moved to New York and was taking the sounds of rock n’ roll to the affluent East Coast radio audiences.

9)      1953 is the first date mentioned in a rock song – “Cell Block No.9” by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, best known in the UK for the version by Dr Feelgood.  As well as “Cell Block No.9” Leiber and Stoller wrote “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Kansas City”, “Poison Ivy”, “Stand by Me” and many other classic rock songs. They also formed their record label Spark Records in 1953.

10)   National Musical Express (NME) started the first UK chart of record sales in late 1952, and 1953 was its first complete year in which the top record sales in the UK recorded. Previous charts had been focussed on sales of sheet music. Charts of record sales were crucial to measuring the popularity and success of rock music.

We cannot pinpoint the precise date when rock music was born. But 1953 looks as good a date as any to mark its birth, which means we should celebrate the “Diamond Jubilee of Rock” this year. Even if you don’t agree with me on that, 2013 is the Golden Anniversary of the Beatles bursting onto the music scene in 1963 and the 40th Anniversary of one of the most iconic rock albums, “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd, released in 1973.

So as we approach 2013, raise a glass with me to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the music which has shaped the culture and lifestyles of two generations. And in the words of Pink Floyd, “Shine on, you crazy Diamond”!

Andy Sentance

The Golden Age of Rock Music

posted 26th March 2012

When I look back to my favourite rock albums and songs, many were recorded in the era I would describe as the Golden Age of Rock Music, which spans the late 1960s and early 1970s.

More specifically, I think you can date the Golden Age to the period 1967-1973. 1967 saw the release of the Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Jimi Hendrix burst onto the scene and bands like Cream started to expand the boundaries of creativity and musicianship in rock music.sgt-pepper

1973 saw the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the crowning glory of their recorded output, and an iconic classic rock album. Genesis reached their creative peak withSelling England by the Pound in November. The end of the year also saw the release of Yes’s Tales of Topographic Oceans. Though there are some interesting musical ideas and some excellent musical performances on this album, it was a signal that classic/progressive rock was starting to degenerate into self-indulgence. Though many excellent rock albums and songs were recorded after 1973, it marked the close of the truly Golden Age.

Three themes underpinned the Golden Age – innovation, creativity and musicianship. Innovation took place at two levels – musically and technically. Rock music moved beyond the standard 3-minute pop song with lyrics about boy/girl relationships and there was widespread experimentation with longer and more complex pieces. At the technical level, electronic music arrived, with the extensive use of synthesisers and other electronic devices to modify the sounds of voices, instruments and guitars. Even Bob Dylan went electric!

A second theme was creativity. Concept albums were developed, with one song merging into another. Song lyrics became more imaginative, chord sequences more varied and bands experimented with drum solos, exotic keyboard and guitar sounds. Even Ringo Starr gets a drum solo on the final track of Abbey Road – “The End”. Song structures also became more complex, with the simple verse-chorus-verse structure becoming the exception rather than the norm.

The third theme was musicianship. Some excellent musicians came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s – many of whom are still plying their trade today. Rick Wakeman, Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Carlos Santana, David Bowie and Elton John. At the same time, established bands from the early 60s – like the Beatles, the Who, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones and the Zombies, raised their game and recorded and performed some of their best music around the same time. Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Eagles and Neil Young set the direction for a new style of acoustic/electric rock music influenced by country and folk, based on the West Coast of the US.

220px-Dark_Side_of_the_MoonThe drive to innovate, be more creative and explore new musical directions caused band memberships to change and shift constantly. Pink Floyd ditched their founder member and chief songwriter, Syd Barrett, but this did not prevent them recording one of the best rock albums of all time – Dark Side of the Moon. The Beatles split in 1970, but recorded some of their best songs in the late 1960s. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison went on to have successful post-Beatles careers and the final year of the Golden Age saw the release of McCartney’s finest post-Beatles album, Band on the Run. Rick Wakeman shifted effortlessly from playing in the Strawbs and as a session musician for David Bowie and Cat Stevens to becoming the keyboard supremo of the progressive rock band Yes.

Sadly, there were casualties too – including Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison of the Doors and Gram Parsons. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys suffered a mental breakdown because he felt he could not keep up with the pace of creative change, even though he wrote some excellent songs in the mid-1960s (eg God Only Knows,Good Vibrations). The drug culture claimed other victims, including Peter Green the virtuoso guitarist with Fleetwood Mac.

In a single blog posting, it is impossible to note all the momentous rock music which emerged in this Golden Age. The four classic Led Zeppelin albums were recorded. Deep Purple were in their pomp – recording the greatest live album of all time, Made in Japan. Yes recorded their three best albums – The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge. The Who also recorded a trio of great albums – Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. The Beatles recorded some of their best music in the late 1960s and the individual members subsequently recorded impressive solo work, including George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. There were some momentous guitar solos – such as Jimmy Page’s contribution to Stairway to Heaven and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.

Below the radar, there is some lesser known classic music from this period. The Zombies are one of my favourite 1960s bands. Their 1968 album Odyssey and Oracle featured the whimsical “Time of the Season”. Rod Argent, a key musical influence behind the band went on to form his own band with Russ Ballard, recording “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” in 1973. Not a bad way to mark the end of the Golden Era of Rock! And Ballard went on to write Since You’ve Been Gone – a great rock anthem which was a 1979 hit for Rainbow (featuring Ritchie Blackmore ex-Deep purple).

Marmalade, best known for re-recording the Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” contributed Reflections of My Life written by Junior Campbell and Dean Ford. Campbell contributes a haunting backwards guitar solo on the track.

Badfinger were signed to the Apple record label established by the Beatles in 1968. They wrote and recorded some excellent tracks – “No Matter What”, “Come and Get it” (a McCartney song) and “Without You”, which was a big hit for Nilsson in 1971 and Mariah Carey in 1994. Sadly, both the creative influences behind the band committed suicide – Pete Ham in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983.

In subsequent blog entries, I will try share more of my enthusiasm for the Golden Age of Rock Music, and hope to convert you to the cause.

Andy Sentance

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