Passion Play

If you’ve watched an England game on telly this World Cup, apart from a feeling of ennui matched only it seems by Emile Heskey as he spends another match mostly inhaling the pitch, you’ll have gained two things:

Except that they’re sort of the same thing. One is an ex-player’s easy statement on a team’s failure without having to do such things as explain tactics, the other a Danish lager PR machine’s attempt to associate themselves with football, without having to understand anything about it bar the jingoistic assumptions made by sections of the press.

Passion is an odd thing, it’s the only piece of the gamut of emotional reaction to sport that advertisers and the media will attempt to engage the public over. You’ve seen John Barnes, a player torn apart by the press during his playing career for a perceived lack of it held up as someone to connect over just how much of it he has. If it can be whipped up to involve some cheap nostalgia so much the better. Barnes’s appearance is linked to the current wave of re-imagining the golden era of Italy 1990, there’s even a film out One Night In Turin based around the tournament — with the tears and kisses and penalty misses that do nothing so much as remind me how much the video from only twenty years ago has degraded.

It’s not quite how I remember that World Cup, the headlines were about how bad things were, not how memorable. It existed as one of the great last sorties of English hooliganism abroad, there was constant footage of it raining plastic glasses and plastic chairs in picturesque squares all over Italy. The film is based on a book by Pete Davis called All Played Out (now re-issued as One Night in Turin), which is a fantastic, if depressing, read about how Planet Football is divorced from all reality and the lives of the fans. Davis quotes a distressed Englishman — no doubt dressed in too-small shorts and one of those headache inducing plastic flat-caps we used to have — after a disappointing draw against North African opposition: “fight you bastards” he says “like we fight for you”. Sound familiar? The film doesn’t touch too much on that.

Do players really have less passion now than two decades ago, and if so can that role-call of famous English help. Can a naked-from-the-waist (up, thankfully) Jeff Stelling inspire, does our greatest living World Champion — The Power — chucking a ‘good arra’ mean anything to our current team? I’m not sure it goes far enough, these are media savvy young men who will assume well wishes from the stars of stage and green (and have you noticed Steve Davis CGI’d into recent transmissions?). What they need is inspirational figures alongside them when it really counts.

It’s said that the great Liverpool team of the 80s could afford to play Sammy Lee as they “could have covered for Thora Hird at left back”, never mind a player who’d just been transferred a little above his ability. So with that in mind, can’t the England team cover for the lack of experience or fitness of a sententious Englishman who will lead them in all things passion?

If Beckham can travel without being fit to play, surely the presence of a great who can play (without them being able to really play) is a possibility. And we could stick them on the wing that Gerrard doesn’t seem to be using anyway.

Of the advert crew, we have to excuse Dames Holmes and MacArthur for FIFA are not enlightened enough to allow a female winger, but surely Ian Botham could do a job? Beefy is so English that supposedly preferring the charms of the West Indian dressing room to that of his own team hasn’t dampened his iconic status, and he had a few games for Scunthorpe and Yeovil too.

He can’t do everything of course, but not every game needs so much of the passion and we have a lot of national treasures around. An easy qualifier against the Faroes for example might only need the passion of a Bradley Walsh or a Jonathan Wilkes, a friendly against a local side pre a tournament could be the opportunity to rest the big guns and use a Duncan Norvelle or a Stan Boardman (who pioneer Fat Ron Atkinson used extensively in the build up to big Villa games in the nineties).

A vital qualifier away in Turin might be the time to use Brian Blessed, where you could use a home game to blood David Mitchell, maybe he and Robert Webb could be twin raiding wing-backs.

Roy Race knew all about the power of celebrity, and also blow-driers, when he picked Steve Norman and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet for Melchester. Imagine the faces of the opposition when we bring on The Actual Mayor Of London for a corner. And BoJo has experience.

It’s the World Cup and we need to show that passion, so we need to lay every card we have. Princes William and Harry were in the stands on Friday, and the dressing room after — luckily before anyone touching cloth came in to ask to use the bog — why were they not in the room before, kitted and booted, three lions over their royal right-nipples ready for battle. Where their ancestors lead England into the breach, they could be leading Aaron Lennon onto the bench and playing themselves.

Forget Gaddafi’s son somehow making the Libya side (and oddly the squad at Sampadoria), forget Kevin-Prince Boateng. We might just have found a use for our Royal Family, just not Fergie in charge of the sponsorship deals please.

Cultural Birmingham

In the, decidedly non-Birmingham-related, film The Commitments soul music is called “the rhythm of sex. Rhythm of the factory, too”. Sex, maybe, but if any sound has the rhythm of the factory, the hammering, drilling, thumping it’s heavy metal—and Birmingham in the late sixties and seventies was the home of both.

Every few years a politician suggests that Brum’s airport be renamed in honour of Brum’s Ozzy Osbourne in the way that Liverpool airport celebrates John Lennon. And every few years the airport and tourist chiefs dismiss that idea as batty. Birmingham as a city hasn’t served its denim and leather heritage well, until very recently. Local promoters of all sorts of avant garde noise, Capsule produced a huge and popular exhibition—fittingly called Home of Metal—that even featured recreations of the factories where members of bands like Black Sabbath worked; before they clocked off and changed the course of music.

The city seems to be finally spawning a body of new bands comfortable with that heritage. And Capsule are being joined by other rock-focused promoters like It’s Just Noise and the team behind El Ghost Fest, a quarterly festival based at the new Muthers Studio ( a surprisingly big venue gritty, heavy, Digbeth.

Julia Ghost-Fest, also keyboardist in post-rock collective Ghosts of Dead Airplanes, rates Them Wolves highly ( “the guitars are dark and crunchy, the vocals are too. It sounds now”. They’re a fixture at the airless, room underneath The Flapper ( Cambrian Wharf, down by the canal) where the wood panneling will drip with sweat, and the toilets are awash with other liquid and also The Rainbow ( High St, Digbeth). Here bands blast the local surroundings from what was the beer garden but has had to be re-enforced and soundproofed to prevent noise abatement orders.

For the more traditional metal, based on black T-shirts, dark imagery and angular fonts Kataleptic ( are loud and urgent as you like—and voted one of the UK’s top unsigned bands by metal bible Terrorizer.

The factories are all but gone, but the noise remains.

Originally published in The Guardian.

We can win this

When I followed England to the 2006 World Cup in Germany the talk before was of how the England fans would be incarcerated the second they “mentioned the war”. The World Cup was a great success and for England (off the pitch at least) things seemed to go well. It was still with trepidation that I travelled to Berlin this week for a game — would being in the city that was the seat of the Nazi’s power be too much for a certain type of Englishman?

Mentioning or not mentioning the war seems to hold a great power over the English, and not just those you’d think of as hooligans — it’s summed up beautifully by this letter from Viz:

‘Could I take this opportunity to remind the UKTV History channel that a lot of history happened before 1939, and a substantial amount of it has also happened since 1945. Not only that, some of it didn’t happen in Germany.’ A Thackray, Letter to Viz comic

But despite the Great Escape and Dambusters film tunes being a feature of both bars before the game and the England Supporters Band’s badly-played repertoire, I didn’t see any trouble. I also spent an evening in the company of hundreds of German football fans, which was not only trouble-free, but friendly and fun.

One reason for the air of friendship is that the Germans are seemingly full of admiration for England’s footballing history, as exemplified by the banner thanking us for “inventing the beautiful game” (Russell Brand’s take on this is worth a read).

But the main reason is the efforts put in by some England supporters to leave a good impression in the cities and the countries they visit. I hope I’m one, but my good impression normally doesn’t stretch further than being nice to bar staff. The real hard work is done by people like Mark Perryman who organises “The Game before the Game” — where teams of England fans share their common interest with the opposition, by playing them at football.

On the Tuesday before Wednesday’s game I took on the wind and rain of Berlin’s winter and, with only the help of the city’s excellent public transport system, made my way to a suburban sports centre to watch my mate Dan play for England against Germany.

There were two 11-a-side games, Dan played in the first against a team of German supporters (who had apparently won through auditions to take part—the England lads clearly hadn’t), then a team of over 35s took on the team from “The Miracle of Bern”. That might sound like a happy-clappy church, but it’s the highest grossing German film ever—set around the 1954 World Cup.

Another football film gave me my biggest laugh of the trip, sat in the dugout hiding from the rain some of the subs were talking about Escape To Victory: “I’ll be Pelé said one, “I’m Michael Caine” says another, “I’ll be Bobby George”.

The set-up is great: national anthems before, reception afterwards, presentations to dignitaries. The teams were presented to Bert Trautman hero of the 1956 cup final for playing on with a ‘broken neck’ — as a blues fan I felt a little guilty.

These games were followed by a 5-a-side tournament with teams from the British Embassy, Bild, the Berlin Police and a team of ex-pros lead by Fredi Bobic that won comfortably. All played fairly, all watched by groups of English and Germans sharing a beer and a laugh.

All a huge contrast to the traditional view of English football fans abroad, unfortunately one that you struggle to get over to more people than attended these events. There were a lot of German press at the fans’ match, but sadly no English reporters that I could see.

In the bars in the centre of Berlin, however, there were journalists goading the groups of fans to sing. I suspect that they were hoping that the footage they shot could be used to accompany reports of riots after the game. Singing in a bar isn’t an act of aggression, but it depends on how it’s edited. One shot of a few idiots being arrested, interspersed with hundreds singing looks like it’s hundreds causing trouble.

It’s not, there are thousands of English football supporters who are a joy to welcome to your city. It looks like the hard work of people like Mark Perryman will have to change perceptions one game at a time.

Originally published by The Birmingham Post.

King of Comedy

America had the Rat Pack: Frank, Dean, Sammy, they were friends and confidants of Mafioso and Presidents. They are the Platonic ideal of the all-round entertainer. In Britain we’ve got Bruce Forsyth, not so dangerous perhaps but perfectly able to pull off a song, a dance, some passable acting and arrange to have you wake up to a cranial equine bedfellow.

But Bruce is fading, there will soon be a vacuum at the heart of light entertainment. There’s hope that Paddy McGuinness could learn to dance, or that Michael McIntyre might be granted the powers of acting, dance, organised crime and comedy but we need look no further. The Crown Prince of Variety is here, and he’s going to keep the pound shop open as a sideline.

Angelos Epithemiou is about to embark on another nationwide tour, promising that Angelos Epithemiou and Friends will contain “three jokes, two impressions and one dance, some magic and a big quiz.” There’s no doubt that this will be your last chance to see him in such intimate venues. Judging by the attention his earthily handsome frame drew from Hollywood starlet Thandie Newton on BBC Two’s Shooting Stars we may even lose him to Tinseltown sooner than we think. It’s something Angelos himself has noticed but he’s keen to downplay the rumours: “she’ll have to get in line that one” he says, undistracted from the bigger prize.

Women want him, men want him. It must be a trial for Epithemiou, who admits to no more than “one or two” dalliances with groupies on the current tour “I never reveal me secrets”, “I’m an handsome man” he says in his rich London tones “I could turn a man’s head. I could turn it with me hand”.

“They fling themselves at me, which is right, ‘cos look at me—I’m a looker, so the ladies love me… Last week, y’know now I’m in showbiz, someone asked me to open a supermarket, which was very good. Until they sort of flung the keys at me and said: ‘can you open it up at four o’clock in the morning and let the bakers in ‘cos I’m going on holiday’.”

Scenes reminiscent of A Hard Day’s Night—Epithemioumaina if you will—are following him up and down the country: “Birmingham was the place where I turned up three hours before-hand and there’s five people stood outside in the freezing cold saying ‘can we have your autograph Angelos?’. I thought ‘I like this’…I could start just signing things and slinging them on eBay, make a few quid on the side.”

“It’s ridiculous, I just want to be at home watching me Crimewatch videos.”, but fame “is inevitables.” he says in a reflective moment, perhaps conscious of the bigger stardom to come. “Yeah I’m ready for it, whatever they throw at me I’ll take it. Rip as many people off as I can and then clear off to the Bahamas.”

Attention hasn’t yet driven the performer’s ego over the top, Epithemiou is level-headed even about the traditional touring excess “They’ve got me in the good hotels, and quite right ‘cos I’m a superstar. I’ve been trashing ’em, sometimes I leave the bed unmade, leave the kettle on”. His entourage, or his “carers” as he touchingly refers to them, must have had worse times despite a true star’s insistence on everything being just so. Take his backstage rider: “tea, milk, coffee an egg…it has to be fried, I’m not mucking about with poached or scrambled, orange juice. A breakfast really, just at six o’clock in the evening. Sometimes they’re funny about it”.

It’s a troubled Angelos that is watching his career take off so fast, maybe even out of his control: “I’ve got to do more blinking TV, I’ve got to do more of that ‘Shooting Stars’ with those two chancers, the lucky club members, but after that we’ll see happens I don’t know.” It’s obvious that his heart is in his art: “the quicker I can get back to me pound shop the better as far as I’m concerned. I’ve bought all these wet suits…suits that have been in a flood. Everything is a pound, apart from the stuff which is a tenner. Most of it’s a pound. Apart from the stuff that’s like two pound or three pound or 4 pound. Get out of the touring and back into the pound shop that’s what I need to do.”

Art and commerce, the complete entertainer, the new Sinatra with the humility of Forsyth, Angelos Epithemiou is probably a genius and his career is about to blow up as big as his burger van. Only this time it won’t be by “mysterious forces.”

Originally published in Area Magazine.

Cult Fiction

For Ian Astbury, The Cult has something of the power of a cult; not a homogenising hippy-ish commune, with robes and hidden sexual practices. Although that sounds like a cracking basis for any rock-troupe, I really just mean that he’s seemingly been unable to leave—name changes, two reunions and tens of members later he’s still creating.

The band’s forthcoming tour (Wolverhampton Civic on Jan 26th) gives Midland fans a slim window of opportunity to snatch and re-programme the singer, should you want to, I have a cricket bat you can borrow. But if you’re happy to see the mystic-rock continue for another 25 years, then you don’t need to do anything—except go along and hear the, pretty stunning, new material.

Last time The Cult were playing live it was in support of the remastered Love album, and doing the increasingly fashionable “play the whole of an old album” thing, including a huge show at the Albert Hall with former members turning up for the encore. Fans were ecstatic, but Astbury? Not quite so much: “The Love Live tour was from Billy [Duffy, the other main Cult-ist],…he wanted to do something to celebrate the album and we’d kinda missed the 20th anniversary so it was 25 years. I’m not a fan of nostalgia or anniversaries
so I kinda compromised with him, and all he wanted to do was play the Albert Hall. Then it just grew from there into a World Tour. I’d sort of acquiesced, but it worked out really really well.”

“It was strange… Mark Brzezicki I hadn’t seen since we’d made the record and Jamie [Stewart] usually turns up if we’re playing some shows in the UK but I rarely speak to him. You get to rediscover things, songs feel like old sketches…we’ve been playing ‘White’ from Ceremony—which I don’t think was one of our better records—it’s become a really important part of our set. It has so much more guts.”

Not being a Cult completist, I’d been listening to that back catalogue on Spotify before talking to Ian, I could feel the lineage of that crisp chiming guitar across the albums and Ian’s vocals are never less than the heir to Jim Morrisson that he briefly became. And when they get it all right at once, it’s epic in all the right ways.

All except their short rock opera about the latest news from British Gas, that was shit.

Ian Astbury isn’t a man who the race forward of technology bothers, however. Driving through the early morning on the way to Michigan he’s reading Area on his iPad and planning different ways to do music.

“Pre-internet, pre-new-formats, pre-iTunes, older artists can get entrenched in a way of doing things: tour, album, tour, album. It drives the way you create. Writing a single for the radio? It doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s a dead format.”

“The bands that are really important are what I call the ‘wilderness bands’, it’s happening in the wilderness, in the fringes.”

“Billy and I are from the North West, but we came up through Brixton doing shows, Punk was incredibly important, it touched everybody…but that’s all gone, that’s all gone…maybe we wouldn’t have made the Love album if we’d had computers, there may not have been that need to escape.”

“We came up with the idea of the capsule, something a lot fresher—writing songs and releasing them as we go along. The idea of sitting in a studio for a year and a half chiselling out an album for a commercial market is something we just don’t subscribe to anymore. We don’t even have a record company.”

“The twenty-first century is a level playing field. Here’s the wonderful thing—I’m sitting on a bus driving from Cleveland to Grand Rapids and I’m looking at Area online, being exposed to artists in the Midlands. It doesn’t matter where you are, you have access to information. It’s all down to what you—what creative people—chose to do with it.”

“Tony Iommi [Ian worked on his recent solo album] is rapidly becoming the poster boy for the twenty first century… Black Sabbath were for real. Black Sabbath volume four is one of best pieces of work ever, I’d like to see an exhibit purely to Black Sabbath vol 4… I get excited when I hear it.”

The capsule is a single, of sorts, but more so—each one has a lead track, live and other music and a film, produced by Astbury himself and comes downloadable or in increasingly lavishly packaged CD and collectors editions. It’s making the most of what you’ve got, and the most of the “true fans” that will still pay for music these days.

I get the feeling that Ian Astbury is happy at the way his life and art works at the moment, he’s not only relaxed and enjoying the extra freedom that not being forced to create on schedule provides, but just freedom in general:

“The Cult have been going for years, and we live in such an ageist culture that you’re meant to be irrelevant after the age of 28. But most of my heroes didn’t start producing their best work until their forties…like Mark Rothko… you need that experience to have a broader palette to draw from. As an artist if you don’t exploit that you’re doing yourself and your audience a disservice.”

“I can make films, I can interact with artists from all over the World. When I come off tour I’m going to Tokyo to work with Boris, then I’m going back to California to make another film, as well as being in the studio with the Cult. Maybe more music with UNKLE.”

Doing just what he wants to do seems to agree with him.

Originally published in Area Magazine.

Morrissey and me have history

Morrissey and me have history, or rather I have histories. Rogan’s massive tome on The Smiths of course, but five or six Moz companions of varying degrees of cash raking, muck raking and queer power agendas. But I care only for him. his strong arms and Dino-esque ability to make you feel safe with an aside.

But first, I am to be searched for contraband, suspended above Birmingham on a vat of lard (or whatever it is that’s meant to make Symphony Hall acoustically perfect) and encouraged to watch Doll and the Kicks. Encouraged mainly it has to be said by it being three quid for a bottle of lager.

Doll and the Kicks are the latest in a line of Moz support bands hand-picked by our hero because, theoretically, they’ve got everything. Doll teeters about having forgotten to put her skirt on in a way not seen since Daisy Chainsaw, the Kicks are amphetamine skinny — which takes real work these days, what with there being no decent speed about. Alas they have no tunes, or at least no tunes that also have decent songs attached. They have a tune called “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which is about, like, khama or something.

Led to a darkened stage by torchlight, overlooked by a vast projection of some who may or may not be Reggie Kray, Moz spends the next hour battering his past into various shapes. A breakneck “How Sound Is Now” makes you think about how The Smiths at their most rock, were still sedate, “Cemetry Gates” [sic] pumped by stand-up bass is fast enough to make SPM stumble over the words.

It’s still astonishing that The Greatest Lyricist of his Generation™ gives his words so much space, when there’s nothing to improve on an anguished yodel says more than any number of extra lines. This stands out even more when the set includes — as it does — album tracks from his 22 year solo period. There are words here than only the obsessed know, all the better to bellow with your arms outstretched, and a B-sides collection to flog, to the extent of having a vinyl copy to show us as if he’s on Des O’Connor, there’s ample reason for the obscure tracks.

Where the band are at home, on tracks from “the comeback” recent three albums, the sound is complex and epic. Boz Boorer changes guitars mid-song, the drummer has a gong he’s not afraid to crash, lights pump and Morrissey sings about intimate feelings that fill a room as big as you like. He could throw his arms around Paris, he could hug the world, but so often doesn’t want to.

Moz, Symphony Hall, 23/10/10

Originally published by Area Magazine

Sweet Surrender

If pop stars were sweets, which ones would they be?

Noddy Holder — Cadbury’s Crème Eggs

Zooming out of Birmingham, wrapped in shiny paper, our Nod is a cultural icon. He is only seen once every year, re-appearing with monotonous regularity before a major religious holiday. (It’s Cerrristmasssssss! ) Can be found all year round in obscure places, dusty old Confectioner / Tobacconist / Newsagents in out-of-the-way suburbs, and for Noddy, musty old independent local radio and obscure satellite TV gameshows. It’s great to be reminded of Slade, but too much swiftly makes you sick.

Lightning Seeds — Mars Bars

No one can remember a time when they weren’t around, solid, sell a vast amount of sweet stuff to the middle aged, and Mars Bars are quite popular too. For some unknown reason they became associated with sport, leading beery thirtysomethings to try to recapture lost youth. Both are a uniquely British experience, difficult to swallow a lot in one go, and are well liked without being anyone’s actual favourite. Also come in king size, or The Beatles are they’re known.

New Order — Kit Kats

Built to be separated into four parts, providing an enjoyable but not satisfying experience. The separate fingers, Hooky, Bernard, cannot produce something as good when apart, leaving you wanting more. Comes in a variety of special editions, ‘True Faith ’98’, mint, and orange, all interesting but without the class of the original. Monaco are of course the Time Out bar, a poor imitation that fills a gap without ever coming close to being essential.

Paul Weller — Wurther’s Originals

The beige, butter sweet could be Weller’s doppelganger, and not just because of its popularity with grandparents. Paul is obsessed with keeping it real and old fashioned and light brown corduroy, tending to evoke the same memories of trees and slow train journeys. He seems to think that he’s passing something important down the generations, but all right-minded people prefer their sweets / music a bit more interesting. The modfather will also have the same problem staying popular as his fans contract Alzheimer’s and forget how to shop.

Happy Mondays — Flake

Stuffed with innuendo, the Mondays are the Flake of the pop world. Inherently sexy but difficult to keep in one piece, they are best taken mixed, with Paul Oakenfold as the vanilla ice cream to stick them in. They are both packaged in an unusual way, dancer Bez being analogous to those twisty bits at the end of the wrapper. Does current reformation indicate that Cadbury’s are launching a Flake with Nuts?

5ive — Penny Chews

Cheaply manufactured and struggling to keep their own identity amongst a glut of similar products, 5ive are sold in Woolworth’s nation wide. They are put together in ‘mix-ups’ (“I’ll have a singer, a rapper, a good looking one and the one with spiky hair, please mister.”) and are far too sugary and bad for you. On closer inspection they are surprisingly old, and have been left on the shelf in unsanitary conditions, but were strangely popular with kids. Far too cheep for solo success.

Oasis —  Space Dust

Explosive in a chemically enhanced and slightly toxic manner, Oasis have got to be the musical equivalent of ‘popping candy’. It all seemed great when you were younger, but had no real content and very little taste. Didn’t have the staying power of a sherbet fountain and now are increasingly difficult to find. Stories abound of their volatile nature and are especially dangerous when mixed with fizzy drink.

John Lydon — Spangles

Johnny Rotten will be forever associated with the seventies, fluorescent colours and acting like you’re on a sugar rush. His commercial potential cannot be ignored amongst the nostalgia generation so he periodically relaunches for financial gain. Despite changes in content, remixed versions or strange packaging neither the Pistols, PiL, nor the sweet can ever hope to capture anything like previous status.

I wrote this back in 1997 or thereabouts for now defunct music weekly Flipside. I discovered it on my laptop the other day along with a few other pieces from the era. 

Beards in Rock

Facial follicles in popular music, is a hairy chin an indication of greatness or does the music deteriorate along with the increasing number and luxuriousness of beards in bands?

George Michael

The only pop star to have patented two styles of facial hair, the designer stubble Wham! look and then his solo half-finished goatee, (beloved of those whose beards won’t grow in a proper circle). The first was more a case of five o’clock shadow, 9am TV appearances, and looking back it’s the hand clapping and skipping antics (akin to Morris dancing) that have become a source of embarrassment. However, the smoother the beard, the cooler the artist and George’s Ming The Merciless look elevated him to celebrity status. But with embarrassing toilet liaisons ensuing, will the beard return?

Bob Dylan

The solo artist is always prone to chin growth, lots of time spent alone creating in basements with few mirrors, personal hygiene can go out of the window. Although Bob has toyed with various degrees of wispy beard throughout his career, the angry peoples’ poet disappeared, as did his lower face, on Infidels. A dull album of Christian rock with all the musical invention of a person who models his face fungus on Brian Blessed. Enjoyed creative revival as soon as someone got him a shaver. (See also Costello, Elvis.)

The Who

The demise of The Who was more due to Pete Townshend auditioning for Planet Of The Apes than his invention of the rock-opera. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind, to walk round looking like you’re being attacked by a couple of loose mink. From fresh faced young mods to indulgent prog-rockers in the time it took to grow whiskers that even eight out of ten cats couldn’t prefer. John Entwistle grew one too, looking more like a buffalo than an ox. Thankfully though, Roger Daltrey had used up his hair allocation on top of his head and Keith Moon was too busy learning to drive underwater.

Liam Gallagher

While the smart money was on Noel attempting to be John Lennon, it only took the overnight growth of thatch around Liam’s gob to possess him with the spirit of the great walrus. Within no time at all he’d married a publicity-seeking woman who threatened to split up the band. It must have been catching as well because, despite Liam not writing the songs, all Oasis music since has been self-indulgent shite.

Bee Gees

The toothsome trio have flirted with face fleeces in the same way they flirted with disco. That is smoothed them over and added populist appeal long after fashion has moved on. Giving hope to all men with weird mouths, and harming Victor Kiam’s profits into the bargain. Their current popularity has lead to many pop acts covering their songs, fine as long as they don’t cover their chins at the same time.


The Dublin dad-zone were always going to be prime candidates for confusing serious art with serious beards. The band is at it’s most pompous when Bono’s lost his bic. The Edge can be excused, at least his ‘tache provokes discussion of the Zaptta/Village People variety. When Bono lets his chin pubes get out of control disaster, and looking like Robin Cook, is only an Eno collaboration away. The terrible Passengers album included Pavarotti, a man using a huge expanse of hair to hide his huge expanse of chins.

ZZ Top

Without doubt the most famous rock beards, (and currently challenging Madonna’s breasts for all time top musical appendage). They solved all problems of the band ageing gracefully, since they looked a hundred to start with. It’s a fantastic ploy, there could be anyone under those neck warmers, forget Kraftwerk sending mannequins to gigs, ZZ Top could send Bill Clinton, Richard Whiteley and Cher and no-one would notice. No matter how many times you hear it it’s still hilarious that the clean shaven one is called Frank Beard.

Manic Street Preachers

Not so much beards as a collective decision not to shave very often, the Manics have been rocking the sports casual wino look since the release of Everything Must Go. Less ‘Australia’, more chins that look like a dingo’s backside. It’s worked in terms of record sales however, proving that looking a bit old, fat and scruffy is no barrier to a number one hit (take heart Peter Hook and Monaco). If only they’d thrown away their razors earlier, Richey might still be around.

Barry White

The walrus of lurve’s beard is a classic of sorts, and can be imitated by shaving around a saucer, combining with a thin chinstrap motif. It’s a high-maintenance goatee though, and the many copyists (Huey out of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals for example) haven’t the time or the army of ‘personal assistants’ to carry it off.

I wrote this back in 1997 or thereabouts for now defunct music weekly Flipside. I discovered it on my laptop the other day along with a few other pieces from the era.