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Thursday 14 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No 6: The night Eric Clapton paid West Bromwich Albion to play

Another treasure from the keepsakes box.

It was September 27, 1978 the night Eric Clapton paid for a West Bromwich Albion football match.

I'd only been at the town's Sandwell Evening Mail for just over a month when the news editor asked if I'd do a colour piece on Albion's second round UEFA Cup tie against Galatasary.

And, by the way, could I see if I could get a chat with Eric Clapton, who was sponsoring the whole shebang?

I dutifully headed for the Hawthorns more in hope than expectation and came back with an exclusive.

I met Eric and other members of his family, headed by his 70-year-old gran Rose, who he'd brought up for the game in a minibus.

"It's a family tradition to support Albion," he told me before the kick-off. "Rose has been a fan as long as I can remember. No-one really knows what started it.

"I grew up in this Albion atmosphere and played a bit of soccer at school. My football never really took off but I've always really wanted to play for West Brom. Albion are simply the best..."

They certainly were on the night. Already leading Galatasary 3-1 from the first leg in Istanbul, the Baggies replicated that scoreline with goals from Bryan Robson, Laurie Cunningham and John Trewick.

Eric later presented gold discs of his Slowhand album to each member of the team.
There was a sting in the tale. Eric later played a 'secret' gig at West Bromwich Gala Baths for John Wile's testimonial year, and I organised tickets for the Mail.

My news editor pulled rank, took the tickets and got to see the show!

Monday 11 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No.5: The day I made the earth move for Britt Ekland

NOVEMBER 22, 1979. It was the day that I made the earth move, quite literally, for Scandi superstar Britt Ekland.

The Swedish movie star was out on the road to promote saucy single Do It To Me (Once More With Feeling), a pop picture disc bearing a photo of Britt in her birthday suit.

So what better, she decided, than to head out to the Wolves training ground to have a kickaround with the players?

It was a photo opportunity any tabloid would snap up. 

Except the Birmingham Evening Mail, for whom I was working.

At the time the Mail’s editor believed that no self-respecting Brummie would have any interest in Wolverhampton.

Hence anything happening over the border was out of bounds. 

But this was beautiful Britt, then a huge star. Almost on our patch.

Today you could snap a picture then photoshop it onto a more local background. But back in 1979 that was still the stuff of a picture editor’s dreams.

I decided to take drastic action. With a photographer, I popped in to the Sandwell Council sign writing depot somewhere down Great Bridge way.

I explained our predicament. Did they have, I enquired, a spare West Bromwich sign that I might borrow for a few hours? The man on the desk disappeared into a back room.

He emerged brandishing a huge metal West Bromwich sign which he said was surplus to requirements. He’d be happy for us to have it.

We bundled it into the back of my Marina estate, then drove up to the leafy training ground where I collared Britt for an interview and asked if she’d pose for pictures. 

And, by the way, would she mind holding a giant metal sign while she was at it?

Ever the professional, Britt did the deed and the next day’s Mail carried a front page picture under the headline ‘Britt visits Sandwell for kicks’ or some such. She autographed the sign for us too.

Fake news? No, not really. A chat with a A-lister who chose the West Midlands as the place to promote her record - just displaced by five miles or so.

So yes,  I'd made the earth move for Britt, for those five miles at least...

Friday 8 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No 4: The day I babysat for Meatloaf

August 20, 1983.

Birmingham Mail photographer Alan Tromans and I had backstage access at that year's Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington, and mopped up several interviews.

We were chatting with Meatloaf and his wife Leslie, also a backing singer in the band, outside their trailer just before they were due to go onstage.

We had earlier got the mighty Meat to square up to Twister Sister frontman Dee Snider for a fun photo, and we got on well.

As the couple got ready for their set, Alan and I looked after the children as they played and drew pictures of their rock star daddy.

Alan snapped this rare picture of the family that Meatloaf liked so much he later included it in his autobiography!

Thursday 7 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No 3: The surreal night I had dinner with Michael Jackson

As I ransack the contents of my keepsake boxes in the attic during lockdown, here's one of the strangest of them all.

Would I like to have dinner with Michael Jackson? It was an invitation that, as a showbiz writer, I’d never even dreamed of.

So it was that I found myself a VIP guest at London’s Guildhall on July 20, 1988 for the most surreal evening of my career.

The King of Pop was in town to celebrate his imminent Bad shows at Wembley Stadium, and they laid on a party like no other. 

Guests of honour at Guildhall banquets are more usually kings and queens, world leaders and politicians.

And, indeed, Michael was treated like royalty. He became the first commoner ever to enter by the hall’s Royal Entrance, a unique privilege that required the Queen’s personal approval.

His arrival was heralded by the red-jacketed trumpeters of the Life Guard cavalry, usually seen marching along the Mall. There followed a £75,000 banquet, during which the roast beef was paraded through the room by the Corps of Drums of the Honourable Artillery Company.

Dancers in Olde English costume scattered rose petals at Michael’s feet. Then he watched wide-eyed as first Henry VIII, then Elizabeth I, Lord Nelson, Nell Gwynn, Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Dick Whittington paid their respects.

Ballet dancers burst from a box. Fire-eaters, jugglers, jesters and Elizabethan musicians visited his table. Then Michael was stunned as Merlin appeared in a puff of smoke, and glittering knights in armour bowed before him.

But as guests tucked into the finest food England had to offer, the reclusive singer nibbled only at corn on the cob, vegetable salad and orange juice prepared by the personal chef he had flown over.

It was after the dinner that things took an even stranger turn. I joined Jackson and his pony-tailed manager Frank Dileo in the Guildhall courtyard, where the star took the salute as the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers beat the retreat, walking up and down a line of liveried Life Guard troops as if he were a general inspecting them.

He bopped lightly on his heels as the band played and grinned wildly when they launched into a version of Billie Jean. Then a knight in shining armour galloped across the courtyard, leapt from his saddle, pulled a sword from a stone and went down on one knee before handing the sword to Michael.

He was blissfully unaware of the historical significance, and handed the sword to a 7ft minder wearing a top hat. “Do you realise,’ I said, “that you’ve just become the King of England? That’s supposed to be the sword King Arthur pulled from the stone before he recruited the knights of the Round Table.”

His response was utter delight. “Gee,” he said. “A King? I never knew. I love your traditions!” And with that, he was whisked away to a limo to take him back to his Mayfair hotel.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No.2: Seeing The Byrds at Manchester Free Trade Hall - by accident

When I reached the age of 15 I was desperate to go to my first rock gig.

I’d heard The Strawbs were good, so my dad queued up in Manchester to buy tickets.

A few days later we saw them on a TV show called Disco 2.

They strummed their guitars, playing jangly folk rock – and they were bloody awful.

Dad and I looked at each other and said, as one: “Naaaahhh....”

He managed to swap the tickets for the next gig onsale at Manchester's Free Trade Hall – by The Byrds.

Roger McGuinn’s Byrds. McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin, Gene Parsons.

Lovers of the bayou.

I wanted to fit in so my dad took me to a shop in Blackpool where I got kitted out.

Yellow flowery shirt, blue flares, a big steel buckled belt, a suede jerkin.

If he raised an eyebrow, I missed it. I thought I looked the bee’s knees.

Truth was, I looked more like a very camp window cleaner.

We got to the Free Trade Hall on May 11, 1971 to find everyone wearing faded T-shirts, denim and greatcoats.

I didn’t care. We loved every minute.

Support band for the night was Rita Coolidge, then backed by her Dixie Flyers and the first artist I ever saw live (other than a childhood panto appearance by Freddie & The Dreamers).

Then The Byrds played an unforgettable show.

Eight Miles High stretched out to nigh on half an hour. I was hooked.

The set included all the songs you'd want to hear, and then some.

It was based on the set that appeared on the live disc of the (Untitled) album.

Here's the setlist...

Lover Of The Bayou
You Ain't Going' Nowhere
Truck Stop Girl
My Back Pages
Baby What Do You Want Me To Do?
Jamaica Say You Will
Black Mountain Rag / Soldier's Joy
Mr Tambourine Man
Pretty Boy Floyd
Take A Whiff On Me
Chestnut Mare
Jesus Is Just Alright
Eight Miles High
Hold It
So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star
Mr Spaceman
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
The Ballad Of Easy Rider
I Wasn't Born To Follow
Hold It (Reprise)

You can actually hear the Free Trade Hall gig at the wonderful Wolfgangs concert archive here 

Sadly, I've long since lost the ticket for my first ever gig but here's the programme.

Thank God The Strawbs were so awful that night on TV...

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No.1 : The night Creedence played Manchester

During lockdown I've been raiding my keepsake boxes in the attic and running a brief series on my Facebook page. As the UK enters Lockdown 3.0 I thought I'd share them with a wider audience by reviving my long-rested blog.

So here we go... The most exciting gig of my life. It was September 1, 1971, the night a 16 year old fanboy got to see his rock and roll idols live for the first, and sadly final, time.

Although I grew up with The Who and The Kinks, my obsession was Creedence Clearwater Revival. Early in the year I’d written to them, pleading with them to play Manchester.

They wrote back a lovely letter thanking me for my support and enclosing a folder full of CCR goodies and, when the UK dates were announced, there was just Manchester Free Trade Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall.

By now a trio after the departure of Tom Fogerty, they played two sets on the same night, both only about an hour long and I saw the late 9pm show, a performance I can never forget packed with short sweet CCR classics.

Here's the short, sharp and sweet setlist...

Born On The Bayou
Green River
Door To Door
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary
Fortunate Son
Who'll Stop the Rain
Sweet Hitch-Hiker
Travelin' Band
Keep On Chooglin'

Not the best gig I've seen - contenders for that include Zeppelin, Lucinda Williams, The Who, Bowie, The Prayerboat, Ian McNabb and more - but the most exciting.

Poignant too because it turned out to be the farewell tour. Like Elvis they’d rarely played the UK and they called it a day the year later.

Here are a couple of reviews of the gig.

I’ve seen John Fogerty three times since, and interviewed Stu Cook when he launched Creedence Clearwater Revisited but it could never be the same again.