Music, Madness and Mayhem: Allan Jones Recounts his Rock & Roll War Stories – Part I
Allan Jones is a well travelled British music journalist and editor who joined the staff of Melody Maker in 1974 having responded to an ad for a new music journalist in the very same publication. A young wide eyed Welshman with a passionate love of music, he sent a letter outrageously exclaiming that Melody Maker needed ‘a rocket up its arse’ and he was the man to do it. Astonishingly he got the job and found himself in the enviable position of reviewing gigs, and interviewing some of his life long heroes, it was a job that would eventually lead to him becoming Editor ten years later. His hilarious new book Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down: Rock’n’Roll War Stories recounts his career and life around the music industry, mixing with some of the most famous faces on the planet and launching the careers of some of the most celebrated artists in the music world. The MALESTROM caught up with Allan to discuss his fighting David Bowie, upsetting Pink Floyd, getting pissed with Lou Reed and his transvestite girlfriend, and somehow managing to find himself with Ozzy Osbourne when he infamously decided to urinate on the Alamo Fort in Texas, upsetting an entire nation and getting arrested in the process, and there’s plenty more where they came from.
The MALESTROM: So, Allan how did you get your first break in the music business?
Allan Jones: There was actually an advert in the Melody Maker and it said under 21, highly opinionated and crucially no journalistic experience. I wrote in and said I was a typical small town music fan, talked about some of the groups I liked, and some of the groups I didn’t like, and right at the end I was stuck for a way to end the letter because the Melody Maker was one of the biggest selling music papers in the world at the time and this was the chance of a lifetime for somebody. After a bit of thought I came up with, ‘Melody Maker needs a bullet up the arse, and I’m the one to pull the trigger!’ (laughing)
TM: That’s hilarious!
AJ: Well, it didn’t just get their attention, it got me the job! But ironically I didn’t receive the letter they sent me offering me the job and I was working in a book shop one day and I got a phone call from the Editor’s secretary and she said,‘They were surprised I hadn’t replied to their letter offering me the job, and did I still want it?’ And that’s when I started in 1974 and I was thrown in at the deep end. At the time I didn’t really know what to do, I didn’t have any experience of any journalist work whatsoever.
TM: And there you were like a wide-eyed Welsh boy, totally green behind the ears…
AJ: Absolutely, and they sent me out immediately to do interviews and like two or three a week.
TM: Set the scene, what was the music like back then in 74?
AJ: We were just coming out of Glam and prog-rock still prevailed, the front pages would always be Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin… all stuff that I really f****** hated!
TM: Do you remember who the first big name was that they gave you?
AJ: Well, the break came inadvertently. It was late one day and everyone was down the pub or somewhere and I was dropping some work off at the assistant Editor’s desk, and his phone was ringing and I picked it up and it was someone from CBS to confirm an interview that had been set up with Leonard Cohen, and they confirmed that he’d be available at like 9.30 / 10am the next morning and they gave me an address that I was supposed to pass on, so I made a half hearted stab at passing it on and then at some point I decided, ‘F*** it!’ I’ll go and do it myself. So, the next day I turned up at some hotel and introduced myself to Leonard Cohen, as nervous as hell. I turned the tape on and did an interview with him for about an hour and it seemed to go really well. He was just about the release his fourth album.
TM: What was he like?
AJ: As you’d imagine, really nice, a really charming guy. The same as meeting Lou Reed many years later, he was exactly how you would imagine Lou Reed to be, or a lot worse, or David Bowie or Neil Young.
TM: But wasn’t Lou Reed notoriously difficult and cantankerous?
AJ: Oh that’s the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard. He was ferociously hard to get on with. But for some reason when I was sent to interview him, it was a bit of an ordeal at first.
TM: Is that at the point when he was living with the transvestite?
AJ: Yes, Rachel, an absolutely beautiful person, a really lovely person.
TM: But Rachel was a guy though?
AJ: Oh yes, she was Lou’s lover. And when I went to interview Lou the first 20 minutes were just absolute insult after insult after insult. His first words to me were, ‘What kind of toilet did Melody Maker find you in, f****t?’ And then it kind of got worse from there. But my recorder was on and I thought, ‘Even if I don’t get to ask him a single question, I’m going to walk out this room with just this great screed of ‘quotes’. And when he finished I just laughed, said something to him and he just cracked and said sit down and have a drink. I was told all these things, I wasn’t supposed to ask him about The Velvet Underground and David Bowie and this and that and I thought f***, I won’t have anything to talk to him about, so I did! And he answered them all and we just got on, and then at the end of the interview he asked me what I was doing the next week, I said, ‘No idea.’ And he said, ‘F*** it, you’re coming to Sweden with me.’ And he made arrangements on the spot that I should be flown out to Sweden to join to him on his European tour in Stockholm, and when I got there he was waiting for me at the hotel and we just hung out together, me, him and Rachel.
TM: That’s an amazing story! What were his thoughts on The Velvet Underground? Did he have any idea they’d be that influential? Even to this day there are still bands copying them.
AJ: Yeah, he knew how influential The Velvet Underground were, there wasn’t any doubt about that. As he said, he would have idolised himself if he hadn’t have been in the band. He was very aware of the ground breaking work they’d done, and they deserved to be revered.
TM: What about his love hate relationship with Bowie, they had such a competitiveness. It’s often thought Lou Reed would not have had such a long career if it wasn’t for Bowie?
AJ: I don’t agree. I think he wouldn’t have had such a long career if it wasn’t for Lou Reed. I don’t think he owes that much to Bowie. When I spoke to him about Walk on the Wild Side, he regretted that, he regretted that being a hit. He didn’t like the album he’d done with Bowie (Transformer).
TM: He didn’t!
AJ: Well, Lou being pretty perverse, especially as it was the biggest hit of his career, or possibly the only hit of his career, but he wouldn’t admit it. But then again he could be very sour about Bowie. I think he was thankful that Bowie had helped him out, but resented the extent to which people thought his career depended so much on Bowie.
TM: Did you interview Bowie around the same time?
AJ: No, I didn’t interview Bowie till around 1977, just after Heroes came out, but I did run into him again with Lou and that was a great example of their rather volatile relationship. Lou had played a show at Hammersmith Odeon that was pretty confrontational in itself, people were staggering out of it like they were walking out of a plane crash and I was invited back stage for a drink. When I got backstage Lou had gone and there was a message for me saying he’d just gone off to have dinner in Knightsbridge with David Bowie and would I like to join them? Of course I said, ‘Yeah’, and I got there and the rest of the band were there and their entourage and Lou was sitting at the top of the table with Bowie to his left and I went over and had a quick chat with both and went and sat down. They’d had a big falling out a good few years before this and it was great to see these two back together again and it was definitely old pals again. After a while there was an almighty uproar and Lou was on his feet punching Bowie in the face and shouting, ‘Don’t say that! Don’t you ever say that to me!’
TM: You’re joking?
AJ: He was just punching the life out of Bowie and all hell let loose, and then Bowie’s minders and Lou’s minders jumped on them dragging Lou off, there was much sobbing from Bowie and then Lou calmed down, and then they embraced and they had a kiss and a cuddle and everyone returned to their food. But barely a mouthful went by before Lou was back on his feet smashing ten bells out of Bowie again and shouting the same thing. So, whatever David had said, he’s said again and he’s smashing him up again. Lou was then frog marched out of the place.
TM: What was going through your mind while this was going on?
AJ: Well, I just kept wondering what Bowie had said. As Lou got dragged out, Bowie was sitting there just quietly sobbing to himself and I thought f***, I’ve got to go up and ask him. So, I went over to ask him and at which point he stood up and stared wrestling with me, grabbing me by the lapels and screaming and shouting and I thought, ‘Shit!’ Anyway, we were separated and Bowie was just hysterical by this time and he was shouting and screaming at me. Bowie went and got his coat and with his small party went to leave up the stairs, and on every step there was a potted plant and he proceeded to pick up every plant as he stopped, and flung it down and smashed it. And as he reached the top I walked to the bottom of the stairs and shouted out, ‘Goodnight then, Dave’. Then next a plant pot came flying down the stairs and missed my head by inches.
TM: That’s pretty funny being able to say you got in a fight with the great David Bowie. Were you being deliberately provocative?
AJ: Yes, I was being provocative. I have to be honest there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do for a good story. If someone needed provoking, I wasn’t shy about provoking them. I think art school taught me that, question everything, don’t accept everything. But I have to be honest when I’d met him before he was absolutely charming. He had huge charisma that was almost illegal, buzzing from the end of one room to another.
TM: The next period we’d love to hear about was when it all kicked off in 1977 with Punk Rock and the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Did anyone see it coming?
AJ: Not really, but something had been brewing. There were a lot of writers in the music press who’d been railing about the monotony of prog-rock and the excesses of the super groups, I mean it was f****** ludicrous. People thought that something might come out of Pub rock, Dr Feelgood, Ian Dury with Kilburn and the High Roads. I’d known Joe Strummer since art school, and then he ended up in the 101’ers and I ran into him a couple of years later, and I went to see the band and I absolutely loved them. And it was via the 101’ers that I saw the Sex Pistols for the first time in April 1976 and they were the support band one night. But I remember thinking they were just a tinny little racket, Rotten was quite funny but there wasn’t much reaction, but on the first night there was a kind of put-up fight, but a photographer from the Melody Maker managed to get a photo that looked incredibly dramatic and that ended up on the front page of the Melody Maker. Then, at another gig I was watching them with Joe Strummer at the bar and he reacted like he’d seen a burning bush, and then months later he was asked to join The Clash and his life changed forever.
TM: When you look back at that era in music, was it as exciting and as dangerous as what its been made out to be?
AJ: It was always an electric atmosphere at those gigs, but these were scrawny little f******, I mean I was from a housing estate in Wales, so I never felt intimidated by a load of blokes in leather jackets off their heads on speed. Dangerous? Hmmm, it became very, very dangerous for the Sex Pistols after the Grundy show. I mean they were there singled out and subject to a couple of really brutal attacks.
TM: By who?
AJ: There were a lot of violence in the 70’s, Johnny Rotten was attacked with a machete, Paul Cooke was really badly beaten up. I mean there were running battles down the King’s Road between punks and Teddy Boys. It was a real spectator sport.
TM: But Steve Jones was a bit of a hard nut wasn’t he?
AJ: Oh yeah, I wouldn’t have liked to have messed with Steve. One of the pities was that the Sex Pistols only ever did one album and never got the chance to go on and do more. I would have been dreadfully disappointed if I was in that band, but it all ran out of control with McLaren and he couldn’t control what happened and the ferocity of the backlash by everyone after Grundy really was hysterical. I remember interviewing them just before God Save the Queen and we were walking down the road and we were immediately stopped by police, and he started taking names, it was that bad.
Pre-order your copy of Allan Jones’ brilliant new book Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down: Rock’n’Roll War Stories HERE. Out on 10th August 2017.
Part 2 of this interview Coming Soon, featuring Ozzy Osbourne and The Alamo, a revelation from Sting and more.
Allan Jones David Bowie Dr Feelgood God Save the Queen Ian Dury Joe Strummer Johnny Rotten Led Zeppelin Leonard Cohen Lou Reed Male Magazine Melody Maker Men's Lifestyle Men's Magazine Music Neil Young Pink Floyd Punk Rock Style The Clash The MALESTROM The Sex Pistols The Smiths Walk on the Wild Side