Tag Archives: The Beatles

Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots

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I have been, among other things, a musician of sorts. Since I was a lad, I have played at least the guitar and dabbled with many other instruments. It all began when I was in Grade 9 in Canada. The lads in the senior grades were forming a band for the High School variety night. It was 1966. They needed another guitarist. As we lowly Niners sat on the other side of McCrone’s Diner, listening to the revered senior classmen talk about forming a band, I spoke up and said, “Me. I play guitar.”

I didn’t of course, but my dad had one at home and I thought this was as good a time to learn the damned thing as ever. Besides, the audacity of even speaking to seniors was nothing short of social suicide back then and I was risking everything to start being cool. The seniors looked at me, sized me up and the coolest guy in school, John Campbell said, “OK Turner, be at my place Monday at 7:30 for practice.” It was Friday.

Off home I went and got my dad’s Stella guitar out and his Mel Bay chord book and practiced all weekend till my fingers bled (slight exaggeration). John was the other guitarist and it turns out, I was better than he was….after just a weekend. We practiced 3 Beatles songs. One of the local lads loaned me his electric guitar. It has never been better than the moment I got it home, plugged it in and played it. Much easier to play than the old Stella too. Only problem? We had no name.

My dad was not a fan of the new music, not even Elvis Presley. He was still old school Big Band Swing and such. He ridiculed the Beatles as being slobs and their music as repetitive and simplistic beyond anything worthy of being called music. And, he thought the Band names were silly. “Why don’t you call yourselves The Fish Head Snots” he offered with a sneer. No takers, although the guys were amused. We became ‘We Four Plus Two’. The two were our Go-Go dancers, Wendy and Nadine, two local farm girls with big….um….well, you know. We were the High School hit and I got to dance afterwards with Barb Crane and Betty-Ann Kennedy, the hottest young ladies and both in Grade 10 at school.

Over the years, I’ve brought up the name with various bands I’ve been part of to see if they would bite. I had added the frontman name of Buttnutt Willy….Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. Has a ring to it. Probably more Punk than Blues or Rock, but no mind. It has a place. Just not with any of the people with whom I’ve played music. Pity.

Let me tell you, finding a solid Band name is not easy. The Beatles bandied band names about before coming up with the version we have now. No one really liked it back then, but now it’s an iconic part of history. Reading the histories of some of the Band names from the glory days of the 60s and 70s and how they came up with their band names has been a hobby of mine since moving to the land of The Beatles 12 years ago. Fascinating stuff. The easiest solution is to have a frontman with a solid name and the rest of the band can have some generic title, like Freddie and the Dreamers or Little Caesar and The Consuls for example. I saw one once, Bob and The Slobs. Simple and silly. Can’t recall their music though.

The people I have had the good fortune to play music with since my debut have had some fun names….The 2Plus, Amethyst, Fat Seagull, Blondin (photo below….yours truly 3rd from left), Hangtime and The Coffee House Band (boring that one). There were others but I’ve forgotten a few. None of those comes remotely close to Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. None of them. At one point, I had changed Buttnutt to Butthole, but was told it was too tacky and tasteless. I relented.Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

 

After all, what’s in a name? as Shakespeare wrote (or didn’t depending on who you believe). If the music is good, the band doesn’t even need a name. I’ve played in a few of those, ad hoc bands in composition and venue. Sometimes the best, raw music comes from those gigs. I mean, how imaginative do you have to be to call yourself ‘The Band’ and become famous? Most of the guys in that band were Canadians and relatively unknown as a collective until their first album. Their music was unique for the time, original, and found a niche in an otherwise psychedelic and heavy Rock world.

The Punk music world comes out with band names more in line with my dad’s throwaway title….’Snot’ from California, ‘Butthole Surfers’ from Texas,  ‘Mindless Self Indulgence’, ‘Slightly Stoopid’, ‘Lard’, ‘Exploding White Mice’, ‘Crumbsuckers’, ‘The Yuppie Pricks’, ‘Whole Wheat Bread’ and my favourite from Kent in England, ‘Splodgenessabounds’ (obviously fans of the old British radio show from the 1950s, The Goon Show). ‘Pissed Jeans’ would have been a bit too rude for dad. But if you needed Punk bands with a frontman, you’d get, ‘Me First and The Gimme Gimmes’, ‘Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards’, ‘Peter and The Test Tube Babies’, ‘Wayne County and The Electric Chairs’ or ‘Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds’.

Last, but never least, is the one that takes the proverbial cake. Bet they’d eat it too….’No Use For A Name’. But they used it anyway. There are many other weird band names. Too many to mention and how they came about. Just for fun, look up how Nickleback came up with their name. Almost as silly as their music…..although, I must confess, I liked a couple of their songs until they all began sounding the same.

The winner of band names comes from a dearly departed friend. Years ago I was a Presbyterian Preacher in a small town in Ontario. I was coming to the end of my Christian era and was tired of church music. So, I formed a band to play secular covers, everything from The Beatles to the Eagles and lots of Folk and Blues. We formed ‘The Coffee House Band’, all proceeds going to local charities or, in my congregation’s case, new carpeting for the sanctuary.

Anyway, our bass player for a while was none other than Peter Quaife, former bassist for the British Rock Band, ‘The Kinks’, one of the good band names. He was Peter Kinnes to us. He had changed his surname back to the birth name to dodge taxes. Hey, he’s a musician. I met him while doing a wedding for someone in a park. Long story. So, Pete is rehearsing with us one night and we were tossing out better names for our little Combo. I told Pete my dad’s name with the frontman addition and he went quiet for a moment.  “Got it,” he said at last. “Your dad’s name is brilliant. But what about ‘Froggy Farts and The Toadstool Tiddlers’.

If any of you out there are in a band looking for a name, feel free to use dad’s or Pete’s (RIP from 2010 to both gents) gratis. They won’t mind I’m sure. I won’t either. Promise.

 

The Pilgrimage: Part 3

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And so my pilgrimage to Liverpool and all things Beatles come to a close. But not before taking a look at The Beatles Story, a 2-part museum experience, ferrying across the Mersey and a closer look at some of the fine old and new buildings featured in this great port city. If you are a Beatles fan, you must make a pilgrimage. If not, Liverpool still has so much to offer in every respect, from theatre to night clubs, restaurants to live music venues and a shopping district that will take your breath away. Imagine, I don’t even get a penny for selling the place.

There is a museum here that is actually called The International Slavery Museum. This was the port where slaves came to be processed before going to the Americas. A stain on the city’s illustrious seafaring history, but of interest historically. And it was brought about because of the Beatles song Penny Lane. You see, the lane was named after James Penny, a 19th century slave trader who also lived in the area. A few years ago, there was one of those lobby groups, who take it upon themselves to eradicate from memory  anything deemed politically incorrect. In this case, they wanted to change Penny Lane to another more acceptable name, not wanting it to seem to be endorsing the memory of a slave trader.

You can imagine the backlash to that proposal. First of all, no one knew who James Penny was and second, it was the title of an iconic Beatles tune. The second reason was the bigger issue for most. Scousers to a man quashed the idea of a change. Instead, the city council said rather than burying the past by ignoring it, why not talk about it. Thus the slave museum. Penny Lane was saved.

I didn’t visit that museum. Instead, I went to the Beatles Story Museum at Albert Dock and the second at Pier Head (where you also catch the ferry to cross the Mersey). Quite an adventure through the Beatles’ decade and even beyond to their solo careers. Each visitor was issued a listening device with Beatles info fed to us at each station by John’s sister Julia. The displays were set up like a fun house. You move from room to room. There were moments I thought a robotised Beatle might jump out of the shadows and say ‘Boo’. But none did. You begin in a room that features all the early guitars, even the one John played at home in Mendips. The Quarrymen instruments were there too.

You walk into a re-creation of the Casbah, West Derby, Liverpool and the club where the Beatles honed their skills in Hamburg, Germany, the office of The Mersey Beat newspaper, The Cavern Club as it was originally, even the street outside, minus the rat (not real) that used to be there but scared too many people and had to be removed, Brian Epstein’s NEMS record shop, Abbey Road studios complete with the Beatles instruments from some of their recording sessions there, a room with the Sgt. Pepper’s cover….full size….with Ringo’s costume, The Magical Mystery Tour Bus side panel and two of the original seats (one on which I sat), the inside of The Yellow Submarine and then a room dedicated to the solo careers of the Beatles after the split. In John’s room was a pair of his round lens glasses and copies of the two books he wrote. So much information to take in with one visit.

The museum at Pier Head had a 4D animated film….complete with water spray, smells and moving seats. The displays were as much about the music and culture of the Beatles era as about the Fab4. Costumes worn by The Supremes, James Brown and guitars and other instruments from many of the musicians of the day, including BB King, Keith Moon’s (The Who) drums and all the Mersey bands. John Lennon’s piano from the Imagine recording is there. A Smorgasbord of Beatles paraphernalia, including lunch boxes, dolls, posters and wigs.

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What to do when you come out of all that? Get on a ferry across the Mersey, that’s what. And not just any old ferry either. This was the Royal Iris, otherwise known as the Fish and Chips boat back in the Beatles’ days. The Fab4 played a number of times on this very boat as did all the local bands of The Mersey Beat. The Royal Iris also ferries regular folk across the Mersey to Woodside in Birkenhead and Seacombe (not Harry….for all those old enough to remember the British Goons). It has been the same trip for years.

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And that, dear reader, nearly ends this pilgrimage to a city that surprised me beyond the Beatles’ presence. The architecture is old and new. The streets are clean and the place seems alive and vibrant. But the thing that impressed me most was the friendliness of the Scousers we met. Funny, quick-witted and helpful. I would not turn down another visit. Maybe on my 70th.

When we got back, the Beatles played on our stereo for days. My best friend says her dreams were filled with everything Beatles. I watched ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ on Netflix. I wore my John Lennon sunglasses and Beatles (Abbey Road print) hoodie until I was forced to put it in the wash. I imagined myself playing my guitar alongside Lennon and Harrison while I ran through my well worn Complete Beatles song book. ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you give….’

The Pilgrimage: Part 1

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You turn 65. A pilgrimage is required. Forget retirement. These days especially. But a pilgrimage must be undertaken…while there is life in the old carcass.

Some people go to Mecca. The poor ones go to Kairouan in Tunisia. I went there, but not as a pilgrim. Christians and Jews prefer Jerusalem or somewhere in Israel. Many Christians go to Lourdes or Lindisfarne. Other pilgrims go to one or another ashrams in India, or Machu Picchu in Peru. Actually, ashrams can be found anywhere these days….Glastonbury in England or somewhere in Wales for example. Pick your own Mecca and that’s where you’ll go to find meaning, connect the dots, be inspired. Maybe just to be. One person I met says he goes on a pilgrimage to Las Vegas once a year. Another goes golfing at one of the world’s golf meccas. He has 5 under his belt so far.

For me, it was Liverpool….up the canal from where I live. A long way up, but doable. It would take about a month by boat, so my best friend and I boarded one of Richard Branson’s Virgin trains to the Mecca of the north. It isn’t the city of Liverpool so much but the music group that has had such an influence on my life. I was there at the beginning of Beatlemania. I had to go to see the birthplace of the best group of the last century. After all, I had just turned 65.

My best friend arranged the whole thing. She asked what I’d like for this momentous birthday and Liverpool and the Beatles trek was the first thing to mind. I have been a lifelong fan, ever since hearing ‘She Loves You’ on my little salmon and white transistor radio under my pillow in 1964. I was hooked. The first song I learned on the guitar was The Beatles’ ‘The Night Before’. I wrote about this in an earlier Blog about the 5th Beatle, George Martin. I was gutted when the Beatles broke up, but followed their solo careers….except Ringo until recently.

So we arrived in Liverpool at Lime Street station, walked to our hotel and got ready for part one of the pilgrimage, The Cavern Club where the Beatles played nearly 300 gigs. Problem is, the original club was closed in 1973. British Rail thought they needed a ventilation shaft for a new underground (subway) line and tore down that whole side of Mathew Street, burying the club under tons of rubble. It became a car park. And it was never used by British Rail after all that. Attempts were made to recreate the Cavern Club in the area, even across the street, but it just wasn’t the same.

In the 1980’s, following John Lennon’s untimely death in November 1980, people gathered at the old site until it was decided to dig out the rubble and recreate the original club as close as possible. They did just that, even using 15,000 of the old bricks dug from the old club to reconstruct the Cavern Club as it was when the Beatles played there. The main difference is the bar has been relocated and is much larger than the original where the likes of Cilla Black worked. The venue has live music all day from noon to midnight featuring everything from Beatles tribute bands to the latest Indie groups. But it’s still mostly Beatles. It certainly was when we visited. Even across the street from the Cavern Club, beside the Cavern Pub.

We arrived in Liverpool on a Sunday afternoon. The weather was sunny and mild. A short walk later, we arrived at our hotel in the centre of the city. We had no idea just how close we were to the famed club. We had tickets for that night to see a group who played only Beatles music. How appropriate. After wandering down to Albert Dock alongside the Mersey, getting our bearings, we headed to The Cavern Club. I felt like that little boy with his trasistor radio.

The entrance has changed since the days of the Fab4. You wind your way down the stairs and enter the holy of holies. It’s everything you imagined it would be….crowded, very hot and noisy. A warm-up trio called The Shakers played 60’s tunes, some Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, all that. They were Scousers all. Scousers you say? A term given to Liverpudlians, especially those from Merseyside, the docks area. It comes from a Scandinavian and German term (lobscouse….Norwegian) meaning a meat/fish stew eaten by sailors. It was introduced to Liverpool by Swedish and German sailors. The name was shortened and is now more a term referring to the local accent than any food.

Then the featured act came on. By this time, we had miraculously found a seat, in one of the wings off the main aisle leading to the stage and opposite a young Scouse couple. Turns out it was the young lady’s 24th birthday. We introduced ourselves and discovered that the birthday girl’s grandfather was Paul McCartney’s first cousin. She knew very little about the Beatles. Her boyfriend (30) was the real fan. He loved her grandad’s stories about growing up with a legend. The grandad hated Heather, Paul’s third wife. She told him not to smoke in his own house during a visit. He told her, “Fuck off and get out of my house!” in his strongest Scouse. Paul came back. She never did.

The grandad loved Linda. Paul and she used to babysit Paul’s cousin’s daughter (our young lady’s mum) when in Liverpool. Paul sang her ‘Blackbird’ to put her to sleep. Happier days. The stories kept coming about the Beatles visits to her grandad’s place. Apparently, Paul’s cousin wasn’t impressed. He preferred Freddy and the Dreamers and Frankie Vaughan. We were in the middle of another story about one of Paul’s visits when that famous G7sus4 chord began the Faux Beatles’ set. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. I almost cried.

These guys were the real deal. They played the songs straight, dressed in Beatles attire and grew their hair like the early Beatles had it. You understand, of course, that the suits were their manager Brian Epstein’s idea. When the Fab4 played The Cavern Club, they wore leather jackets and bluejeans. They preferred that look but deferred to Epstein’s wishes that the lads appear cleancut and wholesome. But they were fun-loving, quick-witted, cheaky Scousers and that would eventually win the day.

Even the Faux Beatles’ musical instruments were authentic reproductions of the real Beatles’, even the mics, amps and Ludwig drums. Tune after tune poured out. Their rendition of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was spell binding. They asked for requests. I kept yelling ‘She Loves You’, but I was further back and in one of the wings, so my voice was drowned out. The one song I wanted to hear. Not to be. They ended with ‘I Should Have Known Better’. An admirable substitute. I left the Cavern Club a happy pilgrim.

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Ruminating….

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That’s what I do while walking along the towpath. I ruminate. Yes, I watch the swans, the ducks, the heron, the coots and all. I get distracted by the different boats moored along the towpath. They change every few days. Except for the boats named ‘Bramble’ and ‘Ken’s Free’. They’ve been there a while now. If a boat is in a lock (there are two near us) I gongoozle for a bit. But mostly I ruminate. About life. I turn 65 in a couple of weeks. Lots of life to ruminate about.

Today I went off to the local Sainsbury’s for some comestibles. It rained heavily last night, so the towpath was soggy. I wore my wellies and had fun walking through the puddles while a few others, unprepared, had to dance around them, avoiding the water, but sliding in the mud. Amusing.

It was on the way back, comestibles in hand, that I began to ruminate. The British papers seem as interested in The US elections as in Britain’s June referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU (European Union). Anything Donald Trump appears to be good headlines. David Cameron isn’t. He’s just another in a long line of privileged Brits who think they know what this island….and the other island…. need(s). I ruminated about all that….and more.

The more came in the form of a musical hero of mine who finally gave in to age. Sir George Martin died at age 90. He was indeed the 5th Beatle and made the band what they became. I was thinking that the best of who we are as humanity seems to be from those who are in the background. They endure. They never look for public accolades. They are just good at what they do and do it quietly and efficiently. The only reward they ask is that what they do makes a difference or matters and will be remembered.

I didn’t know who George Martin was for years. I may have heard his name in conjunction with The Beatles’ production, but, let’s face it, it ws John, Paul, George and Ringo who had our attention, whether they wanted it or not. Their music is as much a part of my life as anything else. I remember hearing ‘She Loves You’ on my transistor radio one night (I had to hold it under my pillow in case of parent alerts) late in 1963. I listened to WBZ Boston from my lower bunk bed in Grand Valley (population 400), Ontario. A new song from England.  I was sold.

I have since learned that George Martin didn’t like the way the Beatles ended the song….on a major 6th. The Fab Four stuck to their guns and it turned out to be a piece of genius writing for the time that Martin hadn’t approved. He later admitted, given the fan evidence, that he may have been wrong on that occasion. It would not be the only time he had to back down. I ruminated what some of the songs might have sounded like had George Martin gotten his way on all the Beatles tunes. He produced over 700 of them.

Then my friend in Grand Valley, Chris Menary, bought the Beatlemania album and we listened to it at his house (when his parents were out) until we wore the vinyl thin. I have found out since that the title was issued only in Canada. Elsewhere it was known as, ‘With The Beatles’.We hopped around Chris’s house to the beat of ‘Please, Mr. Postman’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and the rest. My favourite was ‘All My Loving’. It was the first Beatles song heard by most Americans.

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The first song I played in a band was The Beatles’ ‘The Night before’. That was in Grand Valley too, at the High School variety night. We all wore Beatles caps and Neru jackets. I haven’t felt as cool since. And I got to dance afterward with the second prettiest girl in school. Heaven on earth. I owe some of all this to George Martin. No one else wanted to record the Beatles. Martin took a chance. He saw potential and raw talent and moulded it.

Then in 1969, at High School in the north west corner of Toronto, I skipped class one day to join some mates in the library to listen to the newly released ‘Abbey Road’. We were all in awe. What George Martin did with that album can only be described as magic, from crunchy guitar work to a country ditty to Paul’s throat busting rendition of ‘Oh Darlin”. It remains my favourite Beatles album. When I got back to the boat, I put in the little Brennan JB7 and listened to the whole Beatles’ catalogue. Had to be done.

From rumination to reality. The two go hand-in-hand in my life. Most of the time. Just writing this has started me ruminating about old friends from Grand Valley and elsewhere. I wish you all a tuneful moment. Whatever your taste. Could be that over the years you have loved a tune produced by George Martin. The Beatles were not his only musical project. Worth delving into and ruminating about methinks.