Lyricull 2018 Presented By Wrecking Ball Promotions took place 12/15 April at Hull Central Library, where audiences were treated to a stellar line-up: the sparkling Suzi Quatro, a sardonic Chris Difford; a game Glen Matlock and the terrific Kevin Armstrong: with author/poet Russ Litten playing the role of Parky.
Starting with Suzi Q the undisputed Queen of rock n roll, sold 55 million records and had a string of hits in the 70s. Today she is sporting a black Made in Detroit t-shirt and black pants, she dropped in for a chat about her life in music.
The first female bassist to become an International name in rock music, a true trailblazer for women in music, Suzi avoided becoming another rock n roll casualty with a career spanning six decades “I had 48 hours of ego – first time I was number 1 in the charts,’ she says.
Growing up in Grosse Point, Detroit the six year old Suzi saw Elvis on TV and thought, ‘I wanna be just like him.’ After watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show she joined her sisters garage rock band The Pleasure Seekers. ‘There’s a name to ask for trouble,’ she says with a smile to the crowd.
The five piece started playing on the cabaret circuit and became well-known in the Detroit area. With early signs of the same single-mindedness that she would display throughout her career Suzi set about playing every gig that God send. ‘I think I’ve found what I want to do for the rest of my life,’ she told her Dad on the phone one day holed up in a hotel room, ‘I don’t wanna come back and finish school.’
She would have a similar talk with her Dad a few years later, holed up in another airless room – now in the UK doing her damn best to get discovered – a single room with a broken mirror, a bed the size of a postage stamp. It would eventually be Mickie Most who would give her the break and the recording contract – she’d turn down the guy who said she could be the next Janis Joplin, knowing the only thing she wanted to be was Suzi Quatro.
Talking about her early days in music, playing bass guitar with her band, she says, ‘I was a musician not a female musician – I don’t do gender.’
Suzi simply sparkles from the stage, holding the audience just as she has done all her life. Whilst talking about the hit records we find out the meaning behind ‘Can the can’ and ’48 Crash’ and how she inspired a young Joan Jett.
We also learn how she didn’t get punk: ‘I understood the anger, but all that spitting… entertainment was an escape.’ Suzi describes herself as sort of anti-glam – a feral wild child with Motor City grit.
Amidst the anecdotes and stories about how she she set the boys’ and girls’ pulses racing as the bass-playing ‘Leather Tuscadero’ in Happy Days, she shares the story of how she got the part in the first place. Suzi shows she still has the wild child sass when she re-enacts the famous scene where Leather, in need of a dress to wear for the ball, says,’I wanna become a woman.’ Russ Litten suddenly finds himself channeling his inner TV mom, playing ‘Marion Cunningham’.
Suzi learned she got the part just as Elvis’ death was announced, so perhaps Leather was sorta keeping the memory and spirit of Elvis alive in the minds of the audience. She explains how some years before she’d turned down the chance to meet Elvis, after he’d called her up to congratulate her on her cover of All Shook Up ‘It’s the best since my own,’ he’d said to her down the phone line.
It is often said about Suzi it’s all about the eyes, there’s just so much life and warmth in them. Whether she’s talking about playing the lead in Annie Get Your Gun ‘instead of a bass guitar I had a rifle,’ or her famous intuition – Suzi has an uncanny ability to read people which she has honed over the years, ‘I’m not psychic I’m sensitive’ she says to Russ, who is reeling a bit having just had his soul read, ‘Never close those channels.’
The Q & A turns into a bit of a game of I saw Suzi Q, with some in the audience recalling live shows from either end of her career, including the time Suzi Quatro played Spring Street Theatre – that must have been some show.
When asked about current pop music she speaks out against all the nudity. Apparently she had told Billy Ray exactly what she thought of a naked Miley, perched on top of that wrecking ball… ‘How about leaving a little to the imagination…’
Suzi Quatro signed copies of her book ‘The Hurricane’ and her poetry collection ‘Through My Eyes’ avail. HERE
‘A solid gold songwriter. Songs that have shaped the country’s identity.’ says Russ Litten introducing Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford. Growing up listening to Jim Reeves, The Beatles and old rock n roll records, it wasn’t until discovering the pulling power of Leonard Cohen, that the young Chris found the potency of the written word. The newly found love for poetry was further cemented after hearing ‘Little boy in corduroy’ on Donovan’s ‘A Gift from a Flower to a Garden’ double album, he’d nicked from a library.
As a teen Chris describes being stood in the background writing poetry, while around him, his mates scrapped it out on the streets of South London. He stole 50p and put a wanted ad in the sweetshop window, bending the truth just a little bit, he made out he was actually a band with a recording contract.
“What was it that struck you about Glenn Tilbrook?” Russ asked. “Listening to him play guitar – stunning: he had an angelic voice. We had chemistry… I never questioned it… those days were golden.”
Difford and Tilbrook touring the US in a chevy van, had to deal with the American music press touting them as the next Lennon and McCartney, which despite the weight of expectation, meant the radio stations played them all the more. The band formed in 74 then split in changed but between 80 -82
Cool for Cats, Up the Junction, Tempted are you thinking about your audience when writing? The last people are the record buying public – it was all about pleasing ourselves musically. We’ve never been musically fashionably, we’ve never been Spandau Ballet.
Up the Junction was a storytelling song, a kitchen sink drama told via narrative lyrics. Over the next hour the Lyricull audience heard stories about Top of the Pops; making the video for Up the Junction in John Lennon’s house in Tittenhurst and how the label didn’t think Junction would be a hit because, unusually for a pop song, it didn’t have a chorus.
Talking about the song ‘Labelled with Love’ Chris explains how Kevin Rowland had wanted to cover it – but while the original was about a woman’s slow decline into the bottle, the Dexy’s frontman had changed the lyrics and made it about cocaine instead. Difford let the library crowd know he’d been none to pleased. The song Labelled with Love would form the genesis of a foray into musical theatre in 83, where the songs from the album East Side Story, were worked into a jukebox musical, set in a South London pub called the Nail in the Heart. The setting takes its name from the Squeeze song ‘Another Nail In My Heart’.
Chris and Glenn teamed up with fellow musicians Suggs, Jools and Elvis Costello for a show that retold the story of the capital, taking in music by Bowie, Blur and the Kinks.
Russ picks out one of his favourite Squeeze lines, ‘You left my ring by the soap’ from Is that Love, ‘ It says it all that line, everything you need to know is right there,’ but Chris is largely unmoved by the observation.
Difford’s sardonic humour was definitely on show throughout tonight, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming talking about his craft. He was more comfortable, talking about his current interests, musical theatre in particular having recently just seen ‘Jamie’ and Guy Chambers’ new folk musical of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant ‘. He confirmed that he saw his future in musical theatre over anything else.
During the Q & A Chris encouraged us to seek out Chris Wood a folk artist with a song that heralded the importance of working class culture and amateur football – called ‘It’s only a friendly.’ Chris signed copies of his 2017 book ‘Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze’ avail: Here
After the monosyllabism of Difford on the Thursday night, Glen Matlock, introduced by Russ as having ‘Changed British music forever – changed it for the better,’ could not have been more different. An anecdote that was predicated by a question about Matlock and The Faces, morphed into an epic tale all about the Sex Pistols. Honestly Glen could have talked until midnight and the different generations of punk fans, would have let him.
Glen got into music through listening to the Brian Mathews Show and Pirate Radio and watching singer Eric Burdon on Ready Steady Go. He listened to 78s such as Chantilly Lace, Teddy Bear and Whole Lotta Shakin’. He went down the Portobello Road as a kid, got himself a bass guitar wired the jack lead up to the stylus… ‘It’s a wonder you didn’t blow yourself up’ interjects Russ… ‘Never a better bass sound, than on those old wooden radiograms’ says Glen.
Pretty soon he is reminiscing about, working at Let it Rock; drinking snakebites in the booths at the Birds Nest club; Rick Wakeman and pantos on ice… Glen describes meeting Mick Ronson after he came in the shop for a pair of pink loafers.
When Glen began talking about the origins of the punk name, talking about Richard Hell and the Voidoids, I was so engrossed I didn’t write a thing for twenty minutes. He has an eye for detail and remembering events, uncommon for a musician who’s lived that heady rock n roll life.
He talks about Paul Cook and Steve Jones as a pair of likely lads up to no good – knocking off parking meters and much worse – his mate Wally had said, ‘Why don’t you nick guitars then at least we could start a band?’ Glen starts messing about with ‘Three Button Hand Me Down’ on a nicked guitar – with go faster stripes – then gets tickets for Ronnie Wood, where he runs into Paul and Steve, covered in soot and dust, coming into the theatre over the roof.
It’s the time of the 3 day week, national strikes, the IRA, rubbish in the streets: names are dropping like bombs. ‘It sounds just like Stella Street’, Russ remarks before Glen gives us some of his philosophy of music.
“There are three types of songs: those with a good riff, like Whole Lotta Love, songs with chord changes like Waterloo Sunset, and then there are songs with both of those and it’s about something.”
Glen is in his element, relishing sharing all his stories and the time flies by: we get the rehearsal studio hijinks, Granny Takes a Trip, London gangsters, Malcolm McLaren, the arrival of Johnny Rotten – half ideas from Johnny’s bag of lyrics – the writing of one of the first songs ‘Pretty Vacant’, Johnny threatening to kill Glen, drinking in the Cambridge Circus – as seen in John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy… and that’s just the first half hour.
Russ: Did the Sex Pistols ever play Hull? Glen: No. Russ: I just won a tenner.
The Pistols did play some of their first shows up North: Scarborough and Middlesborough… (No Hippies, No Bedrollers) the Conservative Club in Whitley Bay and some ‘chicken in a basket’ place in Northallerton (Sayers Nightclub).
Glen recalls bits of that Sex Pistols gig – the one that everyone who would become anyone would forever say they were at – Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall – with the Buzzcocks where Pete Shelley played half a guitar, and Howard Devoto pulled the plug…
“Everyone was looking for something different they just didn’t know what it was… we came along and then they knew – it was as simple as that.”
Glen touches on the art school influences, the manifesto ideas – he wasn’t all that bothered with the manifesto thing – Jamie Reed came up with the Anarchy idea… Siouxse and Billy [Idol] hanging out in the shop.
‘What a fuckin’ Rotter!’ As expected Glen lifted the lid on that infamous appearance on the Bill Grundy show in December of 76. Steve had caned the Blue Nun, just moments before the Sex Pistols appeared live on telly. The long and the short of it is, that both the band and Bill Grundy had been threatened with losing their wages/jobs, if they didn’t do the show. Glen describes how after the show was aired, horrified mothers would pull their kids closer to them, as Johnny – now being held responsible for the downfall of all society – walked down the street.
Glen gets into it a bit, about how the press twisted every subsequent story, how the newspaper headlines were like currency and the reporting on the Sex Pistols was a deliberate diversion, to avert the attention away, from the great big stinking mess that the country was in. There’s myth-making from McLaren and everything spins out of control until Glen leaves the Sex Pistols believing that it has become ‘more trouble than it’s worth’. EMI having first pleaded ‘Can’t you get along with Johnny? had later said in the Food for Thought cafe, ‘We’d be interested in whatever you come up with.’
‘We solved the problem of the difficult second album by not doing one.’
Towards the end of the mammoth chat Glenn talks about his time in The Rich Kids. There’s dodgy speed dealers; train trips to Glasgow, where he ends up locked in the buffet car in just his underpants; getting bitten to death in a hotel for dossers; meeting Billy Connolly in a record execs office, playing an impromptu gig with Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve New in the Hope and Anchor and managing to wreck the next band’s kit before leaving the stage: that band would turn out to be The Police.
There’s a party on the Thames with a performance artist called Anne Bean, wearing a dress made of bacon (years before Gaga’s meat dress) We think it must be the Anne Bean connected with Hull artist Paul Burwell. Glen bumps into Sid and Nancy partying down by the Thames, all is well until someone, believing they could piss from the balcony into the river below, misses.
That seems like a good place to end… Russ asks about D.O.A. A Rite of Passage, a 1981 rockumentary by Lech Kowalski, in which Mick Ronson turns up as a security guard, wearing those pink loafers, Glen had sold him in the shop. After two hours or more Glen leaves us with these telling words…
‘If you’ve written one good song, it doesn’t mean you can’t write two.’
Glen Matlock’s ‘I was a Teenage Sex Pistol’ from 2006 is avail Here
Sunday was the last in the series of Lyricull 2018 and for many, was the best of the four. Not only did we hear tales about writing and recording with Bowie, playing guitar for McCartney, Iggy and the Big ‘O’ we got to experience some live music; watch some rare clips and hear the unmistakable, chiming guitar sounds of Kevin Armstrong. Sunday was a bit like one of those BBC4 rock docs happening live right in front of you.
‘Kevin Armstrong knocks about with some pretty cool people,’ says Russ introducing the music man with the stellar career, whose life has run parallel to the birth, growth and the demise of rock n roll, as a thing of cultural significance.
As said, tonight isn’t the talking head set up of previous nights, Kevin is armed with his guitar, his memoirs pending publishing, a slideshow of images and a bunch of vintage clips to entertain us. He opens with a pic of Beatles wigs and fab four guitars, he describes hours drooling over the Bells catalogue, looking at pictures of Telecaster Fenders and Gibson Les Pauls. Like so many musicians of the time, upon getting his first guitar – a cheap copy of those he coveted so much – he learned to play by copying the music around him slavishly.
The first time he heard Frank Zappa doing ‘Black Napkins’, he realised the guitar could be a lyrical instrument. He underlines the point by playing ‘Where is My Head Tonight? live in the library and the guitar sound is rich and full-bodied like velvety wine, the chiming chords marking the passing of time. (Big shout to Gav on the desk tonight and throughout Lyricull 2018)
It’s the musicians’ bibles of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds and the auditions listed in the back pages, that Kevin turns to first. He recounts a moment of epiphany where, stood in the middle of a field bag slung over his back, he realises that the thing he is carrying, his guitar, is going to be his ticket to life. He shares the words of the Deputy Head at school, who is tearing a strip off him, for skipping classes to play music, ‘These guitar playing exploits will never amount to anything,’ how wrong he would turn out to be.
I’m aware that Kevin is currently collating his memoirs for a forthcoming book so I must be careful not to steal his thunder. Before playing for us again Kevin shared some more words his dad had said to him after, Kev had said that he wanted to quit school and audition for some band in London. ‘Son if you don’t do that now you’ll always regret it.’
There’s a bit of colourful London life, that Bill Grundy show again, the Anarchy Tour, Harlesden Theatre and ringing up radio producer John Waters, demanding a spot on the Peely show. Kevin was first signed by Charlie Gillet for Oval as part of Local Heroes SW9, later as Bush Telegraph he signed with EMI – he was squatting with the Thompson Twins at the time. A change upstairs sees EMI drop Bush Telegraph and it is around then that Kevin plays his worst gig ever. ‘It’s a big deal,’ he tells us, ‘A n R men from all the labels are there but it turns into a total disaster.’ Everything he’s worked for is collapsing, until a call to go to a session at Abbey Road with one Mr. X – where he will go from zero to hero in one session.
And now Kevin’s in the helicopter on his way to Wembley for Live Aid. After screening a clip where David shows the importance of acknowledging everyone in the band, Kevin introduces his friend Gavin Juniper, who sings ‘Life on Mars’ accompanied by Kevin on guitar.
In ’86 Kevin is at Montrose Studios – Queen’s place on the shores of Lake Geneva – to record ‘Blah Blah Blah’ with Iggy Pop – he shares with us a clip of the infamous teddy bear incident from the subsequent tour. More clips follow, PIL on TOTP ‘I could be wrong – I could be right’ and Roy Orbison doing ‘In Dreams’ – described by Kevin as being a masterclass in songwriting: incidentally, no chorus. Ready for another tune Kevin sings ‘Without Your Love’ by Tin Machine followed by ‘Yes I am Blind’ written by Andy Rourke and sung by Morrissey on Bona Drag.
Kevin has been Iggy Pop’s bandleader for the past four years and he finishes tonight, by talking about sharing a stage with the Godfather of Punk. He screens some live footage of recent shows ‘Passenger’ at Lowlands 17 and ‘I Wanna be your dog’, from Moscow. You almost feel the bulge and bones of the extraordinary 70 year old’s torso, as he plays to the baying crowds. ‘Iggy could make a great show out of an elastic band and a paper cup,’ says Kevin.
The way Kev talks about his transformation from a mild-mannered James Osterberg to the raging foul-mouthed Iggy… you can hear the admiration, the love he has for the music and the man. Kevin leaves us with a lasting image in our minds, of a post-show Iggy chilling with a glass of red…sprawled on the bed, stark-bollock naked.
Lyricull 2018 was brought to you by Wrecking Ball Promotions, James Reckitt Reading Trust, Hull City Council Culture and Leisure.