Friday, 27 August 2010
News, Views and Music Issue 73 (Top Ten): AAA Stars' careers away from music
♫ So, Paul McCartney did what any sensible band member does when the greatest cash cow in the world breaks down – he goes and buys a sheep farm in Scotland! And bizarrely that’s not the weirdest thing a member of the AAA has done, whether it’s by getting any job they could find until the music career kicked in or a side-project to fill in time and make some extra cash, there aren’t half some weird alternative careers out there...
Before finding fame:
5) Marty Balin (singer with Jefferson Airplane 1965-70 and Jefferson Starship 1974-78) didn’t have the kind of problems getting his new band their first gig that other artists on this list had. That’s because he was already co-owner of his own club, ‘The Matrix’, in San Francisco. The club soon became second home to the Airplane and it was there that many of the leading figures of the day first saw the band, including early supporter and music critic Ralph Gleason, whose support was invaluable to the band getting their record contract with RCA Victor. The club wasn’t just about the band, though – other famous visitors include writer Hunter S Thompson (who mentions the club in his book ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’ and is surprisingly complementary about it) and was also home to many other leading lights of the psychedelic days such as Janis Joplin’s band Big Brother And The Holding Company, Grateful Dead, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, It’s A Beautiful Day and the Velvet Underground. Marty sold his shares in early 1967, just as the Airplane were becoming one of the biggest bands of America’s West Coast, although the band and its spin-offs like Hot Tuna continued to play there well into the mid-70s.
4) Mick Jagger (singer with the Rolling Stones 1962-present) was a student who balanced his early career with the Stones with that most rock and roll of subjects, economics. Bear in mind this wasn’t in the current day and age when students are more or less forced to get a degree if they want any job at all but in a day when very few went to university – and it wasn’t on just any campus Mick studied but the London School Of Economics! Sadly for his family but gladly for us, Mick dropped out after a year, although he pretty much put in an appearance to make sure he, Keith and Brian could life off his student grant by the end when music took over his life. To be fair, though, Mick did get three very impressive A-Level results and his tutors remember him as a man with some talent for his work, whenever he actually turned up, although among his fellow students Mick was better remembered by his tutors for illegally riding a motorcycle onto the campus library than for anything to do with music!
3) Godley and Creme (members of 10cc between 1972 and 1976 and a duo from 1976-88) were perpetual art students who studied several courses before taking up music, including one in graphic design. As part of their assignments, the pair were coerced into working on cardboard models for a nearby film studios and ended up painting the background props seen in such films as the Civil War epic ‘Cromwell’ and fences for the famous Jenny Agutter-version of ‘The Railway Children’. Alas for Hollywood, the pair soon ended up in various bands, hooking up with Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann and earning a fortune along the way, so they never did get to see their artwork used in a film proper.
2) Mark Knopfler (guitarist and songwriter with Dire Straits 1978-93) was a teacher for quite a few years before forming Dire Straits (in fact he was 28 by the time the band got their first recording contract, quite an age for rock stars of his generation). He wasn’t a teacher of music though – or even English, oddly, given how prosaic and literary many of his lyrics would go on to be – but history. This might not seem as weird as it sounds when you consider that Mark was the son of a teacher anyway or how many of his songs are obsessed about ‘roots’ and past events shaping the present. Mark was a pretty popular teacher according to one biography I read which reproduced a ‘thankyou’ card written by an excited pupil who clearly loved her time in Mr Knopfler’s class, although the other teachers are meant to have frowned about how much Mark’s musical hobby was taking up his time. Huh, as if all that guitar practice would ever amount to anything!
1) Alan Hull (guitarist and songwriter with Lindisfarne 1970-72 and 1978-95) wrote many of his earliest and best songs while working as a psychiatric nurse. Hull, you see, married young and only broke big with Lindisfarne after a number of failed music projects both solo and with a number of varied groups, so in 1960s Newcastle was always on the look out for any part time job he could get. Fans have much to be thankful to Hull’s oddest career path for, from Alan’s love of Magritte paintings he got into thanks to a patient which inspire many tracks and album cover paintings to the classic song ‘Clear White Light’, a debate about life after death that came about in part from his time with the patients. Above all, being on call often with very little to do meant Hully could still make money while getting on with his songwriting, writing other tracks like ‘Lady Eleanor’ and ‘We Can Swing Together’ during this period. Oh and as if that wasn’t enough, Hully was also offered an MP’s post for Newscastle in the 1980 Labour government although, after a lot of thought, he turned it down. No wonder we suddenly got all those anti-Thatcher and Reagan songs on the Lindisfarne reunion albums!
After Finding Fame:
5) George Harrison bought his own film company ‘Handmade Films’, which actually became rather more successful during the 1980s than his own music! Whilst so many artists go into acting it seemed ridiculous to list them all (including Ringo, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Roger Daltrey, David Crosby and Neil Young), George’s contribution is worth noting not only for its success (films like ‘The Life Of Brian’, ‘Withnail and I’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ were big money spinners for the day, especially considering how low budget they were) and because the company re-ignited the whole of the British Film Industry in the 1980s, but because of all the Beatles George was the one with least interest in film and acting. In fact, George only started the company because so many film studios kept blocking The Monty Pythons’ projects and he wanted to see them unedited and uncensored (‘The most expensive trip to the cinema I ever had’ the Beatle is meant to have dryly noted). The project all went sour when George’s close friend and business associate ran off with all the money, with Harrison eventually pulling out his own interest in the company in 1994 as the productions tailed off both in quality and quantity. George himself only appeared in two films – a cameo in the truly oddball Michael Caine comedy ‘Water’ (which would have been great with better casting – Caine is even wetter than usual, excuse the pun, and Billy Connolly isn’t much better) and ‘Shangai Surprise’, the seemingly cursed Madonna film, where George is working at a nightclub and writing his worst ever songs. Best of all, though, George’s money helped finance ‘Time Bandits’ – the best film of all time that had nothing to do with The Monkees or Beatles (says me, anyway) and features the Harrison song ‘Dream Away’ as its theme to boot.
4) Micky Dolenz (drummer and singer with The Monkees 1966-70) became a director after several years as an actor. His role with the band must have held him in good stead for the zany humour on his two biggest projects, which were very successful on British TV but aren’t that well known anywhere else. ‘Metal Micky’ (1980) is the one most fans quote, a series about a robot created by a science-mad kid to give him a playmate to talk to, and whose ‘metal’ name got added at the last minute when people pointed out how similar the looks and voice were to Mr Dolenz! Even better, but now sadly forgotten, was ‘Luna’ (1983-84), another children’s series set in the year 2040 when families no longer exist in the way they do now and when bureaucracy has gone mad. It also, hilariously, featured a granddad who was a punk rocker –a big stretch of the imagination in 1983 when the genre was in its infancy, although there are quite a few of them around today! The show only ran for two series but was quite pioneering and influentialfor it’#s time. Micky also turned to directing stage work, becoming the mastermind behind a highly successful British production of everyone’s favourite gangster musical not written by Paul Simon, ‘Bugsy Malone’. Bring on the atomic thunderbusters!
3) Roger Daltrey (singer with The Who 1965-82 and various reunions) used the spare time on his hands from The Who’s slow touring criteria of the 1970s to develop his own trout farm. The Dorest Trout Farm and Lakedown Trout Fishery have become almost as successful in culinary circles as The Who were in musical ones, with Roger receiving many awards and compliments for his stock of rainbow trout. Roger reportedly also tried out as a ‘worm farmer’ but gave up the idea after a few months when his first year’s crop proved disastrous. Daltrey has also said that the peaceful act of fishing acts as a strong counterpart to his months of being away on tour and helps him return to normality in between gigs. And that’s not the only fishy tale in music circles – Ian Anderson, lead vocalist with Jethro Tull, runs an equally successful salmon farm!
2) Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam (in the public eye from 1967-78 and again from 2004) runs his own Muslim school. And I don’t just mean as a figurehead – back in the early days, before Yusuf came out of his musical ‘retirement’, he often took the singing lessons and the odd Qu’ran reading class as well as doing plenty of charity work. Had the world moved in different ways, Cat would also have been remembered in quite a different way – during the Gulf War and the US’ first invasion of Iraq in 1990 he successfully bid for the release of four English prisoners, working on behalf of America and Britain to get them home safely. The current governments, or should I say Bush and Blair’s Governments, were deeply embarrassed by this though, especially after having Yusuf deported for being on a ‘suspicious Muslims’ list, and have pretty much successfully covered the fact up since.
1) Finally, Neil Young used to have his own secondary empire making model trains. The venture began after his son Ben was born with Cerebral Palsy and father and son had difficulties communicating until Neil brought out his adored model train set. Neil got in touch with Lionel Trains with his own ideas where children with disabilities could control the track simply by turning their head and the idea proved so successful in the 1980s that Neil is meant to have spent more time working with train companies than on his music! Neil and Ben also have their own mammoth 00 gauge train set laid out permanently in their barn and are said to have spent billions of dollars installing it properly – with natural sunlight from two huge sylights, no foam or rubber and only natural materials to decorate the tracks, which all of the Young family add to regularly after visiting knick-knack shops or finding bits and pieces in the countryside. The trains also take a ridiculous 10 minutes to complete a full circuit of the track!
Well, that’s it for another newsletter. Be sure to tune in (and drop out) next week!