I moved schools when I was seven years old because we moved from Bush Hill Park to Winchmore Hill. On my first day at St. Paul’s Church Of England Primary School I was made to sit next to a boy who seemed very clever. He also got quite excited when he completed some good work and pumped his arms up and down while keeping them straight down by his side. Despite that, we became friends and fifty nine years later it is Peter’s birthday today. We have spent many a happy time together. For example: picking on an adult walking through Grovelands Park and deciding to follow them home. For example: playing “Tell Me” in my house and arguing about whether or not Ted Ray was a radio personality or a television personality. For example: jumping in a huge pile of leaves and getting shouted at by the park keeper who had just swept them up. When I moved to Kent, we remained in touch and it was great when we stayed with each other for a few days – I don’t know how old I was when I first made the trip via public transport from Tunbridge Wells to Southgate – probably about 13 or 14 – it seems quite daring now. I went to Royal Holloway and Peter went to Warwick (in Coventry). I made friends with Paul who lived about half a mile from Peter in Coventry and one afternoon in 1973, when staying with Paul, we decided to pay Peter a surprise visit. He was genuinely pleased to see us and he played us the first Help Yourself album. I think he had also been playing the first track on side two of Albion Doo Wah by Cat Mother And The All Night Newsboys. Later that evening we all went to The Earlsdon Cottage for some beer and that was the last I saw of him until my on line “review” of “Defending Ancient Springs” caught his attention and we resumed our friendship after 30 years. It was very odd to do this as faint echoes of our previous experiences kept resurfacing.
He is of course, my musical guru and he has influenced me more than I can remember. Whether it’s The Velvet Underground, St. Vincent, Teenage Fanclub, Modern Nature or Brinsley Schwarz, there’s so much good music that we both love and what’s incredible is that our musical tastes remained pretty much in parallel over the thirty years that we lost touch. He is still working on persuading me to love Sun Kil Moon and Amy Duncan and I need to find a way to persuade him that Van Der Graaf Generator and Tim Buckley are magnificent but apart from that PnM = PuM.
Brinsley Schwarz were a fantastic band who are often associated with the birth of pub/rock in the UK in the early Seventies. They made six albums between 1970 and 1974. Their manager was Dave Robinson and in order to promote them in 1970, he paid for a plane load of UK journalists to fly to see them play a gig at The Fillmore East in New York. Van Morrison and Quicksilver Messenger Service were the headline acts. Not everything went as planned – the band arrived late and had to borrow equipment; the journalists had time on their hands and made excellent use of the free bar on offer. Brinsley Schwarz called their second record “Despite It All” which pretty much sums it up. Despite a terrible start to their life, the band made some amazing music.
Confusingly, Brinsley Schwarz is the name of the lead guitarist of the band but, in reality, the leader of the group was Nick Lowe who sung most of the lead vocals and wrote most of the songs. Other members of the band were Bob Andrews, Billy Rankin and Ian Gomm.
“Silver Pistol” is one of Peter’s favourite records so I’ve dug it out and I’m playing it now. While I prefer “The New Favourites”, this is still an extremely entertaining and enjoyable record. It is their third record and the first one with Ian Gomm, who wrote four of the songs. Nick Lowe wrote six songs and two songs (“Ju Ju Man” and “Niki Hoeke Speedway”) were written (or co-written) by Jim Ford who had recorded a great overlooked album in 1969 called “Harlan County”. Many years later Andy Kershaw would track him down and enthuse about the album, playing many of its songs on his radio show. When Jim Ford came to the UK in 1971, Brinsley Schwarz tried to record an album with Jim Ford but, as Nick Lowe put it later “quite frankly, we weren’t good enough”. “Ju Ju Man” was also recorded by Dave Edmunds on his brilliant album “Get It”; Nick Lowe, Bob Andrews and Billy Rankin also play on this album. Another connection is that Nick Lowe recorded “36 Inches High” composed by Jim Ford on his debut album “Jesus Of Cool”; Dave Edmunds and Bob Andrews also play on this album. One of the lines on “36 Inches High” is “Silver Pistols at my side, carrying the flags of war”. Presumably Nick Lowe had this lyric in mind when he composed the title track here.
A huge influence on this record was the American band Eggs Over Easy who, in 1971, took up residence at The Tally Ho in London where members of Brinsley Schwarz regularly joined them on stage. Peter saw them frequently at this time too. Their laid back country feel combined with good time rock music was the main starting point for the pub-rock movement. Once Eggs Over Easy returned to the USA in November 1971, Brinsley Schwarz took over their residency at The Tally Ho.
It has often been said that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Music From Big Pink” and “The Velvet Underground And Nico” were the three most influential records released in the Sixties. Roger Waters said that “Music From Big Pink” affected Pink Floyd “deeply, deeply, deeply”. It also affected Brinsley Schwarz and “Silver Pistol” has the same “Americana” feel to it. As a musical concept album, there is definitely a beautiful, relaxed “vibe” running through every song. Bob Andrews keyboards provide a rustic feel, all of the playing is understated and Nick Lowe’s singing is soulful and melodic. One of the quotes from Nick Lowe at this time was that the notes they left out were more important than the notes they played. The power of silence, I guess. Lots of people feel a need to fill every silence with noise but peace, love and understanding can come from the silences. Brinsley Schwarz made a habit of turning down their amplifiers so that they could listen closely to what each of the other members of the band were playing.
Rather than tour extensively to promote this album, Brinsley Schwarz spent most of 1971 rehearsing although they did tour with Help Yourself. Which is where we came in. Or, to be more accurate, where Peter and I parted company in 1973. I am very glad that those thirty years where we didn’t know each other was just a brief interlude and I am looking forward to discovering much more great music and discussing it with wisdom, knowledge and very little bullshit in future. Happy birthday Peter.