In this second post with music journalist and author Phil Sutcliffe, he talks about working with some of the biggest bands on the planet.
I knew AC/DC somewhat when they’d just come to London. Bon was the best storyteller and his narration of the Whole Lotta Rosie legend was a treat – 19 stone, Bon the 32nd bloke she’d had that month, the ‘Climb on top’ – although I don’t think it was her who’d got the jack.
The Police had a famous story of one of those early career gigs that Sting told me about, I mean famous once they were getting interviewed. They were in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York, their first US gig after their CBGBs debut, and the story goes that six people showed up.
The band played full-on regardless, broke off to introduce the ‘crowd’ to one another, all had a good time despite circumstances and one of the six was a DJ who played, Roxanne, and world conquest began right there!
The Police book I did in ’81 with Hugh Fielder was the real thing, mid-story right-there excitement, the Springsteen biography will be the best I can do, skill and enthusiasm on a long creative life – his I mean, though mine will be in there too. From that English and American Lit degree to the old retired music journo, exploring still – not necessarily getting anywhere.
In the Springsteen biography have you found anything you were surprised at ?
My approach is connections and that makes for a wide reach and the surprises you ask about. For months I’ve been reading about Elvis, racism and the south, and that has extended to books on MLK, Mahalia Jackson, Gospel, plus infinite circles around Elvis, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Dylan, Stax – all occurring when Bruce was 8-20 year old.
So the title might be a sonorous BS and The Great Tradition, if I ever get there, fun en route though. Regardless, it all interests me and other fans, beyond that probably no readers.
Throughout your career who were your memorable interviews with ?
That’s the question very old music writers don’t want. My disappointing answer is they were more or less all enjoyable, including Lemmy for Sounds. Flying to France in a bigger-than-small plane his manager Gerry Bron owned. He was remarkably direct and engaged with anyone who looked him in the eye, so another different-planet interview that worked very well.
AC/DC for Sounds, my first and favourite being at the house they rented in London. The Youngs and Bon Scott being nothing but their down-to-earth – with a touch of python-round-the-neck – selves and storytelling till the teabags ran out.
Springsteen in Mojo, my lifetime fave, who I first heard through Bedrock (BBC Newcastle radio programme). To interview, no one I met has ever combined such clarity, such heart, such ideas, such grasp of the sweat-and-blood inner lives – well, we’ve been travelling over rocky ground you know.
In sum though, through all these blessings, I’d just state musicians all have a lot to say and I’m happy to take notes and tell the story. Never met a stupid musician, never.
Vocabularies vary according to background, but the ability to express themselves verbally seems pretty consistent to me, whether or not they’re wordsmith lyricists by trade – the creative, artistic instinct and inclination carry over into speech – fortunately for us music writers.
What are you doing now?
Meandering through semi-retirement writing a much-needed Springsteen biography which pleases me – if the Bruce book counts as professional work.
Still very active in my union the National Union Of Journalists, whereof I’m a Member Of Honour. My only honour! But a good one.
Lived with my wife Gayle in the same south London flat since we left Newcastle in 1979. No reason to move, never saw the ladder. Lucky, lucky, lucky as the lovely Kylie said.
Thanks to ‘Soundclips’ on twitter for articles from Sounds 1975-80, archivist Steve ‘Stig’ Chivers.
Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2021