When I was at infants school one day we were sat in a circle by the teacher and asked what did we want to be when we grew up.
I can’t recall what the other kids said;
Maybe it was the usual; Vet, Hairdresser, Footballer, Forensic pathologist etc and I can’t remember what I was thinking in those young years but when my turn came to answer I unhesitatingly said:
I don’t suppose that was a standard thing for a youngster to aspire to & I had to explain not only to the other kids in class but also to the teacher what a roadie actually did.
Thinking back about it now, the most revealing thing about my choice is that I didn’t say I wanted to be a drummer or singer or to have a musical role with an opportunity to show off.
Quite the opposite.
A roadie, or tech as they are often called, is there to make someone else feel like a rock star.
Angus Young couldn’t very well run around the stage with an out of tune guitar.
Jon Bon Jovi couldn’t hit the high notes in ‘Livin on a prayer’ if his mic wasn’t sound checked properly.
No one sees the roadie but without one you couldn’t have a proper show.
And of course Roadies get to walk around with a big set of keys hanging down to their knees.
Looking back I guess the truth was I just wanted to be on a stage and around musicians but I didn’t know how to do it.
Later when I was 11 or 12, I would walk over the road from where I lived and watch a 3 piece covers band go through their set in the village hall.
Watching them from the shadows at the back of the hall introduced me to the humour & the camaraderie of bands,the work that went into it and, although an overused word, the sheer magic of it.
Experiencing the ego wars and backbiting politics of being in a band would all come later.
For the moment it looked like the best way to spend the rest of my life.
As for the local band ( they started out called ‘Saratoga’, the bass player had a droopy black moustache ) well, they may not be setting the world on fire or writing the next ‘Dark side of the moon’ but they were loving every minute of their time together and simply rocking out.
Watching a working band up close once a week meant that however tough things were at home or however boring things were at school, music would continue to be like a rope bridge across the divide between expectation & escape.
I even started to wonder if I could learn an instrument and end up in a band myself.
Many years later at a European airport I saw a bunch of tired middle age men all wearing bandanas and black tour T-shirt’s.
They looked hungover and grumpy and as if they had bad backs and arthritic knees.
I noticed a few of these broken down old men had great clusters of keys swinging from their waist bands...
I shuddered & was grateful that childhood fantasies seldom come to anything.
Since I became obsessed with music as a kid, I’ve had more than my fair share of close brushes with genuine musical heroes.
I’ve shared record labels with Pulp, watched Blackadder videos with grumpy brothers Jim & William Reid of the Jesus & Mary Chain, been granted rare autographs by Van Morrison & Richard Thompson, been told to fuck off by Kim Deal of The Pixies etc but of all of my favourites to date, my most cherished memory is the time I spent an afternoon playing guitar with Louise Goffin, daughter of Mike Goffin and the legendary Carole ‘ Tapestry ‘ King.
Louise was trying to launch a career as a singer songwriter in London all on her own, miles away from her parents million dollar contacts in L.A. but , more importantly, away from their reputation as stalwarts of the music industry.
I don’t blame her.
After all it can’t be easy to carve out your own niche in music when your folks wrote the soundtrack to the optimistic multicultural pre hippy Woodstock generation from ‘Goin’ back ‘ for Dusty Springfield to ‘Pleasant valley Sunday’ for The Monkees to ‘You make me feel like a natural woman’ for Aretha Franklin.
Songs written not just for the 1960s but for THE AGES.
I was introduced to Louise by a mutual friend back in the 90s when I had just left the indie rock band The Perfect Disaster.
She and I were obviously from vastly different worlds but musicians understand other musicians from anywhere in the world, just as jewel thieves or liars do.
We were both at a crossroads I guess.
Not the crossroads where you get to meet the devil & exchange you soul for talent, but more;
‘ How do I get from here to there? ‘How do I change horses in mid stream?
At the time I was only dimly aware of Louise’s heritage and was only really thinking of myself.
As can often be the case, a musical adventure with a promising musical partner only left me feeling more impatient to do my own thing.
She was already somebody. I was just a nobody.
That’s a bad combination for a creative partnership in my book.
After a fairly frustrating afternoon trying to catch fire creatively I guess we called time.
Louise decided that she couldn’t launch a successful solo career without being compared unfavourably to her more famous mother & I realised getting stuck into accompanying someone else on guitar was just a new step backwards.
And anyway I wanted to write my own history. And I wanted to write my own songs.
But as we packed our guitars up and walked out of each other’s lives with a goodbye handshake I felt a surge of power go right through my veins.
That´s when my musical locomotion really got started, just like chain lightning.
I suddenly realised I was shaking the hand of the woman who was the daughter of the woman who had written the first song I ever fell in love with.
It was time for me to get to work.
How Strange the Change
When I was a little kid, my favourite record was The Loco- motion by Little Eva.
The song made me happy & the lyrics were easy, the melody simple.
Whenever I played the record, the sun seemed to explode from the stereo and time hung suspended in the air like a beam of clear light.
I never knew such happiness could be stored on a small piece of black plastic.
As I watched the disk spinning on the turntable, I tried to decipher what seemed like strangely foreign words to my young eyes;
Little Eva/Goffin King
I now know Little Eva’s real name was Eva Narcissus Boyd.
When she was 17 she was living in New York and a friend of harmony singers ‘The Cookies’
As The Cookies’ were working out of The Brill Building with Carole King & Mike Goffin, she quickly became baby sitter for the family including their 4 year old daughter Louise.
Hearing her singing around the house Carole & Mike asked her to come into the studio to cut a demo of a new ‘dance craze’ song they were writing.
It was The Loco- Motion.
My childhood set to music.
The Loco- Motion was a beautiful , happy little dance craze song written in 1961.
Just one year later in 1962 Little Eva was the inspiration for a very different landmark recording.
One day Eva admitted to Carole that her boyfriend had been beating her up.
When she was asked why she stayed with him Eva said the beatings must be a sign of affection.
Surely he wouldn’t beat her unless he was worried that she might leave him.
In her mind it only proved he loved her.
Carole & Mike immediately wrote the harrowing ‘He hit me (and it felt like a kiss) - one of the only pop songs ever written to tackle the subject of domestic violence.
Perhaps the one other that springs to mind is the equally terrifying ‘The Boiler ‘ by Rhoda Dakar
This is the lyric:
He hit me ( and it felt like a kiss )
He hit meAnd it felt like a kiss
He hit me
But it didn't hurt me
He couldn't stand to hear me say
That I'd been with someone new,
And when I told him I had been untrue
He hit me
And it felt like a kiss
He hit me
And I knew he loved me
If he didn't care for me
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me,
And I was glad
Yes, he hit me
And it felt like a kiss.
(Goffin / King)
Whatever Carole & Mike were hoping to achieve with setting out such an unambiguously dark lyric a mere year after the joy of ‘The Loco- Motion,’ giving the song to a basket case of neurosis & rage like Phil Spector was just going to confuse the subject even further.
‘It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums, while the backing vocals almost trilled their own belief that the boy had done nothing wrong. In more ironic hands (and a more understanding age), 'He Hit Me' might have passed at least as satire. But Spector showed no sign of appreciating that, nor did he feel any need to. No less than the song’s writers, he was not preaching, he was merely documenting.’
— Dave Thompson
(To find out more about the background to Spector's mental state I strongly recommend Vikram Jayantis compelling 2009 film ‘The Agony & The Ecstasy of Phil Spector’)
Little Eva died on April 10 2003.
I don’t remember any obituary in the press & unfortunately you are still more likely to hear Kylie's version of The Loco- Motion than the original which is a real shame.
Since The Crystals disastrous release of ‘He hit me’ in 1962 (it was not surprisingly pulled from radio play) only Courtney Love has covered it (as a B side with her band Hole in 1994) and you’d have to ask her why.
Carole King spent years trying to draw attention away from the song before admitting she was the survivor of repeated domestic abuse suffered at the hands of a boyfriend.
A few years ago a female singer I was working with wrote some very heartfelt lyrics that described a horribly familiar theme;
That of a jealously violent boyfriend trying to brutalise a girl to ‘Prove his love ‘
It sounded as twisted a justification for violence then as it ever did.
As a male musician I felt unworthy to collaborate on such a subject but that was the lyric. That was the gig.
I reached inside & back towards ‘He hit me ‘ for an opening musical quote.
The music came quickly but the singer, understandably, found it almost impossible to get past the opening verses:
‘There are many handsome pricks
Who play handsome tricks
But not many like you baby
Yeah you’ve really got something
special going for you
don’t you baby ....?
The way you slam the door
When you push me to the floor
When you grab my hand
And twist it around
Yeah that´s a special kind of thing..’
¨Prick ¨ by Field Trip To The Moon
The song was called ‘Prick’ and it’s still the darkest song I ever want to be associated with.
There’s a common name for the strange change from major to minor chords you soon learn when you start trying to write songs.
Its ‘Happy / Sad’
Major chords are often considered to be the bright ‘sunny’ ones while minor chords make you feel unsettled & blue.
The life story of Little Eva kind of haunts me after all this time in ways I find hard to explain but there’s no question that the music she inspired has been around at the happiest times and the saddest times of my musical life.
Eva Narcissus Boyd (June 29, 1943 – April 10, 2003), known by the stage name of Little Eva.