Sunday saw the passing of Lou Reed. Long term readers of this blog will know that I am a big time fan of Mr Reed. Like many teenagers in bands, I discovered the Velvet Underground around the same time as I was starting to write songs. Like many of my more unusual (at the time) musical tastes, my big brother Laurie introduced me to the band. At the time I'd babysit for him, for my then baby nephew Christopher (now one of the country's top animators). Laurie would always buy me a big bottle of cider and suggest a selection of music from his large collection of vinyl (this was around 1978-9).
I would often arrange for my then best mate and fellow band member, Pete Conway to come over and we'd listen to the records and write songs. At the time we were both into hardcore punk rock. Lauries suggestion on one such an occasion was a compilation of music by the Velvet Underground. As usually happened, we were not disappointed. The band were so different and so much more contemporary than most of my brothers collection, even though their songs were written at the height of the flower power era. Tunes such as "Waiting for the Man", "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin" were far more in keeping with the era of punk than the love and peace hippy times. I particularly liked the way that the band used acoustic instruments on electric tracks. Although there were many Velvet Underground songs I loved, my personal favourite was "Beginning to see the Light". I loved the lyrics, the mix of acoustic and electric instruments and the crazyness of the performance. I think it is an uplifting song.
We immediately "saw the light" and in one night the music of the False Dots matured by ten light years. We were determined to write a "Velvet Underground" style song. The product was a tune called "Not All She Seems". It had acoustic guitars, a jangly lead and was the story of respectable pillar of the community who falls in love with a transvestite hooker. It is a tale of tragedy and of people not being able to be what they want to be. I think it was one of the best songs I have ever co-written. This was born out when the False Dots did a reunion gig after ten years in 1999 at the Red Lion. After we finished, we were swamped with friends saying "It was great to hear Not All She Seems" again. That was the only song which ever attracted that sort of attention. When we first recorded it at Alan Warner's Lane Studios in 1979, I took the demo into School. We had some great bands and the 'Dots were the new boys on the scene and not taken seriously by the rest of the Orange Hill Muso's. When they heard "Not All She Seems" they were a little surprised to say the least.
That was the reason that the Velvet Underground were so important. If you were a serious songwriter and musician, you couldn't help but be influenced and improved by an encounter with the Velvet Underground. As a result of my interest in the Velvets, I started listening to Lou Reeds solo work The Album "Transformer" is one of my all time favourites. "Vicious" and "Perfect Day" are two of the greatest songs ever written. There is not a bad track on the album. I saw Lou Reed on his last tour. One of the numbers he played was "Sweet Jane" which I hold in special affection as the False Dots covered it for several years. It was a favourite of Criag Withecombe, our old lead guitarist. We learned the song for our tour of Sweden in 1981, as we had a gig where we had to play for 2 1/2 hours and we only had 40 minutes of originals.
A couple of years later, we got booked to play a bikers rally. Paul Hircombe, our bassplayer suddenly quit the band and moved to France. There was decent money at the bike rally and so we decided to do the gig as a three piece with me picking up the bass. As we played, we became aware of this enormous biker walking towards us during Sweet Jane. He just stood and stared at us as we played. It was quite intimidating. At the end of the song, he walked to the back of the marquee (there were about 500 people there). I thought no more of it. At the end of the next song, he reappeared with three pints for the band and said "That is my favourite song of all time, cheers boys". For some strange reason, that moment is one of my most vivid memories of playing live with the 'Dots. I know this little piece may sound as if it is more about my band than the Lou's music, but that was the true power of Lou Reed, in a strange sort of way, I suspect he was the "ghost partner" of several generations of songwriters. If ever I got a block, I'd listen to the Velvets. They broke all the rules and there is always something in their music I hadn't noticed before. We always used to say that Lou Reed was our spiritual director. Every band has one and he was most definately always ours. Without him we'd never had had the dark humour, the songs about inappropriate sexual behaviour and the acoustic guitars. We'd have just been another boring rock band with pompous, up themselves lyrics. We'd never have made the effort to try and look cool and wear shades when we played. That was Lou's gift.
As I watched Lou Reed play the song, I was transported back. It made me realise what an enormous impact his music had on my life. Sadly Lou has shuffled on up to Rock and Roll heaven. I believe his music will outlast everything in the charts today. I listened to Transformer and songs like Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild Side are still light years ahead of their time. Wherever you are Lou, thanks for your gift to the world. You were a true original and you will be deeply missed.