John Miles and Bimal Jangra
John Miles - My Life In Music - September 2001
It hardly seems possible that it was only on the 24th August 2001, that I became aware that John Miles was appearing "live" at the Customs House, South Shields, only one week later.W ithin hours of arriving home I contacted the mailing list to let them know the fantastic news. Obviously, there was a little debate, what would it be like? would he be playing and if so what? The ad read:
"After many years as musical director for Tina Turner, John is making a hometown return with his first performance at The Customs House."
The word "performance" sounded encouraging. But I read on.
"An international recording artist, who had a huge hit with the song Music, John has appeared with some of the worlds greats, including Roy Orbison, Stevie Wonder, and The Rolling Stones. No stranger to the venue, John wrote the music for Tom & Catherine and The Machine Gunners, and here presents stories and anecdotes from his life and career."
The last sentence gave the impression that it was more of a talk than a concert. So I thought we might have John with guitar and keyboards with some backing tracks available where he would tell anecdotes and talk about his songs like the "storyteller" series on TV interspersed with short renditions of his songs.
As the week progressed and speculation increased, my wife received a call to let me know that a second gig was taking place in Billingham, near Middlesborough. The information was more encouraging when my wife was told that John was currently rehearsing with the band. I then thought "there must be at least three of them". Perhaps John on keyboards and guitar, a bassist and a drummer. Concert info. was passed to the list members. Unfortunately, due the short notice a mere 4 members plus 3 associates who appreciate John’s music, (including an original John Miles Fan Club member) agreed to meet at the Customs House prior to the show. Similarly, my wife, who is a Marie Curie nurse, could not get ther shifts changed. Luckily for me my understanding boss was happy that I arrived in late for work on Monday (Obviously, I had to make up the time.)
Before the 1st Show
If you had seen me you would have thought I was going on holiday. Toilet bag packed, Hotel Confirmation packed, Camera & films, JM tee-shirt packed, stickers packed (I made stickers with the mailing list address on it to wear and hand out to anyone interested.) and oh yes, clothes to wear.
I checked my e-mail (read Bimal's post) and almost left the house without my mobile. Normally, this would not have been a problem but John and Neil were going to contact me on theirs. The journey down was very smooth. I left at 1.45pm and arrived in South Shields at 4pm. To get in the mood I listened to "Tom & Catherine" followed by "Upfront" live and tracks from "Night of the Proms". At South Shields I spent about half an hour trying to find my way to the "Quality Hotel" in Boldon. This should have been a five minute journey (I have poor sense of direction).
Considering the ridiculously low price I paid for the room (though not as cheap as John McW got!!) the accommodation was pretty good. Once washed, changed (now wearing my JM T-shirt) I drove into the Customs House. Again, another 5 minute journey lasted half an hour. I arrived at the theatre at 5.45pm, well ahead of schedule. I had a look around but found that I was the only one there. I nosed into Romano’s and could see that John amongst a number of others was dining. I picked up my ticket from the box office and waited to see who would arrive. At 6pm I contacted John McW. He and Tam (huge JM fan!) had picked up their tickets and had gone to find a pub (to watch football, the drink is just a bonus) and accommodation so were arriving around 7pm. I called Neil to find that he was still on the A1 but was arriving soon.
Around 6.15pm Bimal and his good lady, Gill arrived. We had intended eating at Romano’s but it was fully booked, so we ended up eating rolls in the café, which was situated in the foyer. Just as we had bought our sandwiches, my phone rang. It was Neil. "Where are you?" I asked. I turned around to see the guy behind me also on the mobile. John McW and Tam were the last to arrive. We had a good natter about our respective journeys up and threw about ideas as to what we were about to see. However, the reality was much much more.
The Concert, The First Half
I entered the auditorium with a little apprehension. What was it going to be like? My seat was in the front row and was the last seat on the row. I.e. as far to the right of stage as you could be. And I was right in front of the speakers. Therefore, not being able to hear was not going to be a problem. The crowd were in a jovial mood. The age group was very mixed with people both younger and older than me. To my right was an elderly gent in a wheelchair who looked in his 70's and to my left were a chap and his wife who I think would be in their late fifties. Both seemed to talk of John fondly. I felt like I was in good company. They must have wondered who I was a s I scribbled down details on pieces of paper that I had brought with me so that I could prepare this review.
The amount of equipment of the stage was a little more than I had expected. In front of me was a bass guitar. Behind that there was a platform where microphones were set-up. To the left of the bass was a set of two keyboards. Behind the keyboards was a set of drums (which because of seat position I couldn't actually see). Farther to the left, now past centre, was a couple of guitars placed beside another set of keyboards. One of the guitars looked to be John's 1959 Les Paul. Finally on the very left of the stage were a couple more guitars.
At just after 7.30pm the lights dimmed and the musicians made their way onto the stage in a very low-key affair. The bassist, Frederick (Fred) Hill entered first and spoke briefly to the chap on my left. The drummer was Simon Ferry, who with Fred Hill has performed as the "Brendan Healey Band". Two ladies took up their places on the platform. They were Sara Murray (who sang on the "Tom & Catherine" CD) and a young lady called Dion. They were obviously going to be backing vocalists. Four musicians took up position to the left of the drums. This was the brass section, which consisted of two trumpets, a trombone and a saxophone.
Last, but not least Brendan Healey, John Miles Jnr. and John Miles took to the stage. The crowd gave them a very warm welcome. John explained that in the first half he was going to perform stuff that he used to perform "way back" when he used to perform covers around the clubs. He started with the first record he ever bought, Tutti Frutti (originally by Little Richard"). He admitted that it was actually a 78. It was a super rip roaring start that had the audience tapping their feet. John put a lot of energy into the song that was rewarded by great applause. Brendan commented that he (John) should lie down and takes an Iron tablet after that performance considering his age. Brendan then told a joke which would become the format for the evening. I.e. music interspersed with light relief between songs.
Next up was a brace of Otis Redding tracks. Firstly, "Mr Pitiful", a slower song that features nice touches of brass. This was followed by "Try a Little Tenderness" which Mileophiles will remember from the last Tina Turner tour. The main difference being John sings all the vocals and it is a little slower. Some may think that John's rendition is based on the "Commitments" version. However, if you listen to the original you will see that John is very faithful to it.
Following the audience's appreciation Brendan said: "I went to the supermarket the other day and bought 2 sausages 2 slices of bacon, one egg and a bread roll and the girl on the checkout said "You're a bachelor aren't you?" and I replied "How can you tell? She replied "You're ugly!".
Following this Brendan asked John "Are you going to do your hit?". This got a big laugh. John looked around him shook his head and said "no". "Are you sick of it?" continued Brendan. "Yes I'm sick of it" John replied. Brendan retorted "We're sick of it as well!". Another big laugh.
It may have been at this stage or later that Brendan told a story of when John and he went to Ibiza on holiday (Brendan pronounced it eye- bye-za). Apparently, Eileen, John's wife, told Brendan if they were sharing a room he wouldn't get any sleep because John snored like a pig. However, Brendan said that after kissing John goodnight on the first night he slept soundly for the rest of the week.
Brendan asked if Eileen was here. He noticed that his wife, daughter and auntie were there. Brendan asked "Were there any "punters" in the house?" That got another big laugh.
John next turned his attention to Michael McDonald. He has been a hero of John's and John managed to meet him a few years ago. John said that Brendan looked like Mike McDonald but Mike was more handsome. John proceeded to say that Brendan had recently told him that he had always wanted to play the part as Fagin and John had retorted. "Well you'll save on make-up".The band then launched into "Sweet Freedom", which is a very upbeat tune with nice brass work.
John followed this with "Tired of being alone" which was made famous by Al Green. John's vocals were close to that of the Reverends, with some touches, which showed where Michael Jackson got some of his "Hehehe" sounds.
Up till now John had left the guitar work to his son, while he had played keyboards. However, for the next track John played electric acoustic guitar. John introduced it as being a "Big O" track, which was not a big orgasm but a Roy Orbison song. "Blue Bayou" sounded like Roy Orbison with a little Hawaiian feel thrown in.
The next track was "Halleluiah! I just love her so", which was originally a hit for Eddie Cochran. The track has a Jools Holland, Boogie Woogie feel to it. It was followed by "Makin' Whoopee", a real oldie, which was once a hit for Ray Charles. This was a light-hearted track where it showed off John's keyboard skills and Brendan only had the occasional note to play. Chuckles all round.
They then moved on the first Beatles related track, "Lady Madonna". This featured the drummer, Simon Ferry on washboard. This provided some light heartedness. Overall, the track was played brightly.
John introduced the next track as being by "one of the greatest artists of all time", Stevie Wonder. The track was "I Wish" This featured John Jnr. on lead guitar and some nice backing vocals in addition to the brass work. During the track Brendan did a "solo" a little dancin', a sort of soft shoe shuffle.
The next track was the second Beatles related, being a cover of John Lennon's version of "Slippin' and Slidin'." From the album "Rock and Roll". This featured a sax solo.
Brendan introduced John for the last track of the first half as an "incredible musician who is a legend in the North East". For this all the musicians left the stage and John was solo in the spotlight. John played keyboards and sang another Stevie Wonder track, "Lately". This was a marvellous ballad. When listening to this you felt a tingle go through you. He can certainly move an audience. Applause was thunderous as John left the stage and you just couldn't wait for the second half.
The Second Half
At the interval, a number of us met up. Unfortunately, both the bars were pandemonium. There was an announcement over the tannoy to apologise for the delay. I found out later that this was because the staff had expected the first half to finish at 8.45 but it finished at 8.30. Therefore, the drinks ordered before the shows were not ready.
A chap called Colin Bound came up to me and showed me part of his cuttings collection that he had brought with him. He told me that he had met John on a number of occasions. In his clippings he had a photocopy of "I want to live" the first single John was associated with. It was autographed. He also had tickets from a concert John did in 96 and the Allendale one in 99. He asked about the sticker that I was wearing and I explained that I had made them. I gave him one, which he insisted upon keeping on the backing so he could keep it for his collection. He also had a copy of a piece of paper with "The Influence" and the name of the manager "Mel Unsworth" on it. Again it was signed. (He gave me a photocopy that I will scan at some point and post to the list.)
The list members agreed to meet up afterwards in the bar and I made my way back to my seat. The couple who I was sitting beside then spoke to me. Was I a reporter? This was because I had been jotting down notes during the first half. I explained about being a fan and about the list. He introduced himself and his wife to me. He was Dave Duffy. He explained to me that he had taught John all he knew …. about engraving!! Mileophiles will recall from the numerous bios about John that he had begun an engraving apprenticeship. He told me a few things, which I might divulge in future but he promised to contact me to let me know of John in his early days.
At just after 9pm, the lights dimmed and the band returned to the stage to tremendous applause. The set began with a blistering version of "Why don't you love me", his first solo single. The audience certainly showed their appreciation. John quipped "Wow, I haven't played that in about 37 years!" A bit of an exaggeration but the point was well made.
Brendan then told a few jokes in his own inimitable style. One of them was, "John was in Specsavers today and guess who he bumped into…… everybody!" John then told the audience that his last album was called "Upfront" which is what he would normally call Brendan. Next up was "Oh How The Years Go By" from that album. This pleased Bimal greatly which I will explain later. To me it sounded very close to the original but with John Jnr. playing lead.
Before starting the next track, John noted that the last time he played this next track it was 1971, to which Brendan retorted innocently "I wasn't born". John quick as a flash remarked "you weren't even a twinkle in a taxi driver's eye!". Brendan interrupted and asked what key it was in. John told him to ask the proper musicians. He continued that if you (the audience) remembered it you should join in. I needed no second time of asking. The track was "One Minute Every Hour" which was released on the Orange label in 73. John certainly seemed to really enjoy performing it and again it was well received.
John introduced the next track as probably being from the Stranger In The City album. (It actually came from Zaragon). He then explained that the title of the song had come from a comment made to him after being banged up for the night in a Glasgow jail. He had attended court and had been acquitted. On the way out a copper said to John. "No Hard Feelings Mate". At that stage a loud cheer came from the audience. Brendan interjected. "John, you haven't seen that policeman for 20 years!….". The crowd was in uproar.
As John began to play the intro on keyboards, there was another scream from the crowd. One of the brass section played the flute which fitted in quite nicely with this interpretation.
A trio of tracks from Upfront followed. Firstly "Absent Hearts" followed by "Pale Spanish Moon". On the former John Jnr. played lead guitar which while very individual in nature had a recognisable "miles" feel about it. On the latter track John played an electric acoustic guitar, while Brendan was alone on keyboards and John Jnr on Rhythm Guitar.
Between the tracks Brendan & John introduced the band. At one point the opening bars of "The Adams Family" could be heard just before the girls took a bow. There was great mirth & laughter from the audience.
Brendan introduced the next track as being one of the greatest songs that John ever wrote . He acknowledged that John had another great song "his hit", but he wished he had written this one. "Now That The Magic Has Gone". For this John was on lead guitar. John put a tremendous amount of passion into the song. His guitar playing was fantastic and there was so much feeling in the vocal. Could a performance get much better than this! I was really sorry to see the track finish but it did after much applause.
As with his albums, John changed pace to the more upbeat "Highfly". John was still playing his Les Paul, but now John Jnr was playing lead and he gave a very capable performance. Simon Ferry's drumming had been solid all night but here it was particularly good.
Once the audience had shown their appreciation, Brendan addressed them. "It's come to that time of the night", he began. "We are going to finish off. This is going to be the last one …. Before the encore." There was much laughter from the crowd. "It just saves a lot of messing about and John's eyes are failing. It's much easier if we finish, stay where we are, you go bezerk and then we do another one!" .
Brendan then thanked everyone for coming and then they launched into "Slow Down" at a furious pace. John Jnr. was on lead guitar and played the solo in his own style. The voicebox solo was replaced by a wah wah sound produced by Brendan using a synth.
The band did leave the stage and the audience roared and clapped until they came back on. Brendan and John came back first holding hands as if trying to steady each other so as not to fall. Brenadn then said "Eeh What a lovely surprise!" which was followed by another roar of laughter from the crowd.
The distinctive guitar intro that followed needed no introduction. "What Goes Around" demonstrates that John still has what it takes. John was playing lead and should he can do almost anything with a guitar. The performance just kept getting better and better. Once the terrific solo that ends the track was complete and John's efforts were rewarded he returned to behind the keyboards, still with his guitar around his neck.
The crowd hushed as he began the to first notes of the last song of the night. What else but "Music". I was a little apprehensive. This masterpiece needs to be done well. However, I needn't have worried. The keyboards, drums, guitars and brass section gave it the "wall of sound" that it deserves. John switched from keyboards to guitar for the solo and then back again. It was just magnificent. A perfect end to a fantastic concert. The crowd were on their feet, whooping and a hollering. Alas , this time the band did not return. The lights came up and we knew it was time to make a move.
However, while many wound their way through the streets of South Shields, the list members had agreed to meet in the bar……
After the Show
After the show I made my way to bar beside the Italian restaurant. All of the Mileophiles were there, Gill & Bimal, John McW and Tam, Neil and Richard and me. We were all congregated around some seating across from the bar. I had indicated to them all that I had assured that John would make an appearance. In fact, I had spoken to John's wife Eileen who had told me. There was much talk about the concert. Comments such as "Wasn't it brilliant", "Better than I could have imagined" and "I can't believe that I was here". The latter was from Tam who was very grateful to John McW for telling him about the concert. There was obviously comments about which tracks would have been nice to hear such as "Nice Man Jack" but these were by no means complaints.
Anyway also in the bar was Ollie Marland. Ollie you may remember played with John both on Upfront and as part of Tina Turner's band. I asked the group to "pose" for a photo. No sooner had I done so that Ollie asked if he could take a pictuire of the "John Miles Fan Club".
After around half an hour, Neil and Richard were getting itchy feet. They were not staying over and had a long journey ahead of them. I agreed to call Neil should John turn up shortly after he had left. Around half an hour later Bimal's wife Gill was also getting itchy feet. She is a senior teacher and had to prepare class-work before the school restarted. Bimal persuaded her to hold on for a few minutes longer. Suddenly Gill and Bimal both shot off. I think someone said "He is here" and I followed into the foyer. Sure enough, Bimal was waiting to speak to John. John said "Hello" to me, which I think indicated recognition and not just being courteous. Bimal told John how much he had enjoyed his performance. Bimal asked John if he would mind signing his sheet music of "Music" and "Slow Down". Bimal told John that he had "Oh How The Years Go By" played at his wedding to Gill (who was keeping herself in the background). "I didn't write that" said John, "It was by Simon Climie". "Yes" said Bimal "but it was YOUR version that means so much to us". (Apologies to Bimal if the quotation is not wholly accurate) I said hello to both Eileen and Tanya, John's wife and daughter before we all moved through to the bar.
Minutes later Bimal and Gill were saying their goodbyes and left for their journey down south. And then there were three. Tam was propping up the bar. I joined him and we chatted to Ollie. I got Ollie to autograph my Upfront album cover as well as a Fixate single cover on which he had written and produced a track. Tam plucked up courage to go over and talk to John. Tam's face was beaming when he returned having spoken to his idol.
I also spotted that John's manager Cliff Cooper was there and also John Jnr arrived into the bar. I chatted to him and also asked him to sign my Fixate cover. By this time the bar had shut and many were leaving. John, his family and his close friends moved through to the restaurant, leaving Tam, John McW and I plus a couple of others. Tam and John McW finished their drinks and decided that they would go for a curry to round of a brilliant evening. I decided to stay and finish off my drink.
Fortunately, John passed by me. I suddenly thought that in all the excitement I had failed to ask for an autograph. I therefore asked John if he would mind signing my Upfront cover. Not only did he sign it he chatted to me for about ten minutes. I told him how much I had enjoyed the show. He told me that he had really enjoyed performing and that he was being encouraged to do a few dates early next year. I asked him if his range had changed over the years. He told me that all of the songs were in the original key with the exception of the first track, "Why do You Love Me". He was only 19 when he recorded it after all! I indicated that I thought his voice seemed to get better as he got older. He put it down to "Drink and cigarettes."
As it was getting late I said to John that I had better make a move. He wished me a safe journey and said he would see me at the gig the next day. As he made his way back to the restaurant he turned for a second and said "Thanks for the letter, I really appreciated it". That made my night. I left the venue and made my way to my hotel. Getting back took a lot longer than arriving as I got lost. Well it was dark! Eventually I found my hotel and got to my room, my head was still buzzing after the events of the night. And incredibly the next night I could do it all again..
Stephen Carson