February 2014

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The Making Of Robert Wyatt’s “I’m A Believer” feature in this month’s issue reminds me that when it was released in September, 1974, I made it Single Of the Week during a brief but lively stint as Melody Maker’s singles reviewer.

For as long as anyone could remember, MM’s singles column had been written by ever-cheerful Chris Welch. Ever since I’ve been reading MM, Chris’ bright round face has beamed from the page, a clearly likeable fellow whose reviews generally reflected his bounteous good humour and generously affable outlook. He seemed to like virtually everything he listened to, barely said a bad word about any of the records that came his way. But, back in 1974, not long after I’m taken on as a junior reporter on MM, it’s deemed time to ‘liven up’ the singles page and I’m handed the gig, someone at the top end of the staff block making the not unfair point that since I have an increasingly noisy opinion about everything I should put my mouthy bluster to some practical use.

Everything seems to be going reasonably swimmingly in my new role until I review the new Wizzard single, about which I’m unkind enough for Roy Wood’s manager to call me up in wrathful mood. I don’t catch his name because this tough-talking windbag’s threatening to have every bone in my body broken, my throat cut and my body burned and dumped in an alley somewhere, all which seems an implausible overreaction to a bad review. Who is this bullying wanker?

From his heavy breathing, he sounds like he’s on his way to a cerebral explosion that will leave him with not much more to do for the rest of his life than stare at a wall and wonder where his slippers are. I suggest he thinks about calming down a bit, which sets him off again. “CALM fucking DOWN?” he screams. “Do you know who you’re fucking talking to, pretty boy?” I don’t, which annoys him even more, so he tells me, and things get heated again and we’re both swearing at each other. This attracts the attention of a passing Chris Welch, who mimes the question: who are you talking to? I tell him it’s some onerous twat called Don Arden, who’s threatening to have me so badly beaten up I’ll never walk again. Chris pales, beckons MM assistant editor Mick Watts and news editor Rob Partridge, both of whom flinch when Chris tells them I’ve just told this Don Arden bloke to get fucked, Mick making it clear that I should put the phone down now. He’s clearly taking this a lot more seriously than I am, until Rob gets out Don Arden’s file with a piece Rob has written about him, headlined ‘THE HIT MAN’, Don turning out to be an old-school music biz leg-breaker with a history of violence, intimidation and frankly wholesale corruption, who once hung impresario Robert Stigwood out of a first-floor window in a managerial dispute over the Small Faces. Mick quickly convenes a meeting, COBRA-style, to devise an appropriate strategic response to Don’s threats, which I now realise are not quite as empty as I’d previously imagined. Said plans involve me taking an extended break from the singles column, which is eventually handed over to folk correspondent Colin Irwin.

We don’t hear from Don again, although I spend an uncomfortable hour a year later interviewing actor David Carradine, worldwide star of the Kung Fu TV series, who’s recorded an album called Grasshopper for Arden’s Jet label. At the last moment, the location of the interview moves from Carradine’s central London hotel to Jet’s HQ in Wimbledon, where we convene in Don’s office. Don’s thankfully absent, no doubt on dubious business elsewhere. Carradine sits at Don’s desk, me opposite, staring not at Carradine but the huge framed photograph of Don on the wall behind him, in which Don’s dressed in a chalk-striped suit, pointing either a shotgun or a machine gun at the camera. This makes me nervous enough to seem so distracted that Carradine asks eventually if I’m on drugs, which for a change I’m not, mainly because as I tell him, I don’t have any. “Let’s go find some then,” Carradine beams, which seemed a good idea at the time. Enjoy the issue.

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