It’s said the golden age for music is whatever age you are when you first connect with it on a visceral, personal level. When the sounds and styles and images and personalities of the bands fuse with your crystalizing sense of self. You always remember the songs you fell in love with when you were thirteen. Every word, every note.
I grew up during that period where the late 1970s flowed into the 1980s and pretty much every style of music was there to discover and enjoy. There were tribes – God, there were tribes – but the biggest thing I took away from my own musical self-determination was that it was okay not to belong to any of them. I could dip in and enjoy a disco track as much as a punk or two tone one, the songwriting of Vince Clarke or Elton John as much as Blondie, Kraftwerk or Iron Maiden.
I liked all of the music of that era, but if I did settle into one tribe more than the others it was rock. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was in full flow and the bands I went to see at the Glasgow Apollo and the Barrowlands were mostly of that ilk. One of the earliest was Whitesnake, just at the end of their initial R&B rock phase and at the start of their metamorphosis into the MTV-ready hair outfit they’d too soon become. Looking back, their lyrical content bordered on a caricature of that era’s in-built misogyny, but they were a proper unit as a band.
And they had one of the best keyboard players the rock world has ever seen. In any genre.
The legendary Jon Lord.
For a nascent keyboard player, rock was somewhat light on role models but from the moment I saw this guy tilt back his Hammond C3 mid-solo until you thought the thing was going to come crashing to the ground, I knew I’d found one. Lord was a phenomenal instrumentalist and, as I’d find out listening to a late night Tom Russell Rock Show interview not long after I first saw Lord on stage, an incredibly grounded, pleasantly spoken dude too. Asked what advice he’d give to young keyboard musicians out there, he said: I know this going to sound really boring but, honestly, practice your scales and arpeggios. That’s the foundation to everything. I both hated and loved him for that. It was exactly the right advice because it boiled down to work hard at the basics and you’ll have a foundation to do anything you can imagine.
I had that interview in mind when Ian Whates asked me to think about contributing a story to a new anthology he was planning. No More Heroes is a collection of stories celebrating musicians who died too early. Think Prince, Lemmy, Bowie. Think Amy Winehouse, Freddie Mercury, Poly Styrene. The list is long, and each of the authors has chosen an artist who meant something special to them. For my story, The Sound Of Smoke, I started thinking about what it really means to idolise someone who is unique, and how healthy it is to go too far down the road of trying to copy them. So, I’ve contributed a story about a tribute artist who has never understood the person he idolised.
It wasn’t the story I expected to write but I’m damn happy with it. And I’d like to think his Lordship would have understood where I was coming from. Jon was 71 when he died in 2012. Not as young as some of the other musicians featured in the anthology, but there was a lot more music to come from him, especially his wonderfully expressive orchestral compositions. The man was a true original.