The guest on our snug Chesterfield was Daniel Rachel, who won the Penderyn Prize for best music book of 2017 for his “Walls Come Tumbling Down“, a triumphant oral history of the story of Rock Against Racism, 2-Tone and Red Wedge. It all began when he was just a kid and his parents mistakenly found themselves in the middle of a National Front rally. Now listen on.
Johnny Rogan almost didn’t make it to this Word In Your Ear. He was so absorbed in a discussion about biography with friend of the podcast Mark Lewisohn that he had a small traffic accident that almost sidelined him for the evening. Anyway, he made it and brought along both volumes of his mammoth new account of their complex career. To help tell their story we were also delighted to welcome another friend of the pod Sid Griffin. It’s all here: the folk revival, Swinging London, psychedelia, square glasses, country music, personality conflicts and some very sad ends.
Usually our guests are talking about freshly-published books. It’s actually ten years since Sarfraz Manzoor put out Greetings From Bury Park, his memoir about growing up in a traditional Pakistani family in Luton with an obsession with Bruce Springsteen.
With the prospect of the story being transferred to the screen in the offing, Sarfraz came along to talk to David Hepworth about how he found parallels between Springsteen’s songs and the challenges he faced in his life and how his desire to identify with the Boss led him into the odd unfortunate fashion choice. At the same time the two of them talk about Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born To Run as it comes out in paperback, because, face it, he could use the royalties.
We loved them because they could do things we could never do. We adopted them as our fantasy friends when we were teenagers and were still measuring ourselves against them forty years after. David Hepworth talks about his best-selling book “Uncommon People” which traces the history of the cult of the rock star from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain.
Thomas Dolby’s career has seen him sharing a helicopter with a terrified David Bowie over Wembley Stadium, labouring on the nightshift at a New York studio in search of noises that Foreigner might like and dropping in on Michael Jackson at home in the days before scandal consumed him. All this and a good deal more is in his memoir The Speed Of Sound which also covers his pop success and his adventures at the heart of the great Internet revolution. He came to Islington to talk to Mark Ellen and David Hepworth all about it.
John Ingham used to sign himself Jonh Ingham when he covered the very early stirrings of punk rock in 1976 for Sounds. Although he was a writer by trade he took along his camera because literally nobody else was taking pictures and he recognised that early punk was above all things colourful. Forty years later he’s got those pictures out from storage and published them in a fabulous new book called Spirit Of 76: London Punk Eyewitness, which has pictures of all the key players – the Sex Pistols, Clash, Siouxsie, Generation X and Subway Sect – in the last days before they were household names. It’s an extraordinary document. The book comes with an introduction from Jon Savage and a commentary from John himself. He came along to the Islington to tell us about the year it all happened.
David Hepworth started at Smash Hits in the late 70s, Mark Ellen joined in the early 80s, Barry McIlheney arrived in the middle of the decade and Miranda Sawyer came along in the late 80s. Therefore they were well placed to talk about such key Smash Hits experiences as being pinned to a door by Jimmy Pursey, taking Bananarama to Burger King, asking U2 to draw a duck and getting a bit tired and going home halfway through a Stone Roses interview. All this and more in this bumper ish.
“Captain Fantastic” is Tom Doyle’s account of Elton’s most tumultuous decade, the 70s, during which time he assumed every role from bedsitter poet to intercontinental hell raiser, from singing frontiersman to singing hornet, from Pinner to Philly and back. He came along to Word In Your Ear to talk to us about the eternal puzzle that is Elton.
There’s a rich British tradition of well brought up young men from the leafier suburbs developing a fixation on music from a very different culture and somehow getting themselves a job playing said music on the radio. Nobody has done it more successfully and more unexpectedly than David Rodigan. For a part of the career he’s run it alongside his work as an actor. No wonder there’s so much interest in turning his book “My Life In Reggae” into a film. It’s a story rich in humour and packed with incident, some of which he recounted to Mark Ellen and David Hepworth.
We were delighted to be joined by two of the UK’s most respected providers of backing vocals and harmonies, who between them have sung with everybody from David Bowie at Live Aid on down. They showed us aspects of their vocal techniques, instructed us in the diplomatic arts required to rub along on tour when the members of the band aren’t speaking to each other and explain why the wordless refrain has gone the way of the whalebone corset. You can find the full story in Tessa’s book “Backtrack”.