The Sound Cafe
Richard Flohil's 5 Books For Lockdown
Still locked down? Here are five books about music that will make you laugh — and feel a whole lot better.
By Richard Flohil
On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock — Dave Bidini
On his first cross-Canada tour with his band, The Rheostatics, Dave Bidini had something of an epiphany. In a bar in northern Ontario, he saw a wall full of signed pictures of the musicians who had preceded him on the long road between Toronto and the rest of Canada. And he realised that others — many others — had gone before him.
This collection of stories — and I must confess they include a couple of mine — combines Bidini’s love of hockey and the storied arenas he is playing in as well as his affection for The Tragically Hip, with whom he is touring as a member of the opening band. More importantly, he describes the dangers of the road, the possibility that his band might fall apart, and the sheer implausibility of touring in the Canadian winter.
This was Bidini’s first book — he’s written several more since — but it’s funny, perceptive, and he writes with wit and grace. It’s inexpensively available at Amazon.ca
Owning Up — George Melly
It’s odd to think that in the 1950’s the coolest music in Britain — and, for that matter, the rest of the world — were the attempts by young musicians to replicate the sound and the repertoires of early American jazz bands and singers from the ‘20s.
George Melly, gay, eccentric, an art collector, movie critic, actor and author was also the singer with a British band called Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band. He specialized in off-colour songs, exaggerated stage antics, and wore outrageous suits that could have been previously owned by Glasgow bookmakers.
Owning Up is his third volume of autobiography, and describes the glory days of “trad” jazz and its disappearance under the onslaught of rock and roll and the ascendancy of the Beatles, the Stones, and the arrival of American rock and roll.
The stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and describe a long-gone era with astonishing clarity. Melly, alas, is no longer with us, but his book’s a perfect reminder of the now-strange music that preceded rock and roll.
It’s available as part of a trilogy with his other autobiographies: Scouse Mouse (on growing up middle class in Manchester in the ‘30s) and Rum Bum and Concertina (his pre-jazz life in the merchant navy).
White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s — Joe Boyd
Joe Boyd is a New England-raised American who has lived in Britain for years, and is now more English than most of the natives.
He road-managed the American Folk Blues and Gospel tours in Europe, produced Pink Floyd’s first single, and is also credited with creating the term :”world music” to describe genres of ethnic music that owes little or nothing to American, British or Celtic musical traditions.
As a producer, he worked with Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, 10,000 Maniacs, Sandy Denny and dozens more. And he owned his own label, Hannibal Records.
Every one of these experiences, every one of those people (and many more) trigger stories that are still fascinating, informative and hilarious, half a century later.
Long the master of the story telling art, I interviewed him a few years ago on stage at a Toronto cultural festival. A day later, I wrote him an effusive, lengthy note of thanks. I still treasure his economical e-mail response: “It takes two to tango. You danced well.”
This book, easily available, dances brilliantly.
Travels With My Amp — Greg Godovitz
This is the guy who had a heavy Canadian rock and roll career back in the day, in Fludd, a couple of other bands, and his own louder-than-a-B52-bomber band Goddo.
This autobiography looks, unsparingly, at an era when career choices were made, almost always incorrectly. When drugs and sex were more rock and roll than the music. And when the possible promise of stardom faded in a haze of stupidity.
Godovitz writes with self-deprecating humour; this scrappy memoir is hard to find (Amazon has a cooy for a mere $125.96!), but you could ask Greg if he has any under his bed at a more reasonable price (try messaging him on Facebook).
Good news: A new collection of hilarious stories will be published very soon — it’s called Up Close and Uncomfortable.
Night Drive: Travels with My Brother — Garnet Rogers
It’s been more than 35 years since Stan Rogers — arguably one of the best Canadian folk artists of all time — died in a plane crash in 1983.
His brother and long-time fiddle player, backup singer and road companion Garnet Rogers self-published this massive book (735 pages) four years ago. Blessed with a near photographic memory, this memoir of Stan’s early days, his recordings, his later successes, and the pair’s endless road travels is anything but a sad reflective portrait of an artist who died far too young.
Instead, there are hilarious stories of appalling gigs, folk festivals from Winnipeg to Philadelphia, drunken escapades in bars from Bermuda to New Jersey. Along the scattered reminiscences of good times and bad, there are sympathetic portraits of folk like Pete Seeger, the British singer Peter Bellamy, Archie Fisher and even the leader of Iron Butterfly,
Right now I have 220 more pages to go, and I’m dreading actually finishing it. Life will be much less amusing when this door-stop of a book is finished.
Meanwhile, Garnet continues the Rogers tradition, works as a strong solo artist (when the pandemic’s not happening) and has a number of solo albums.
The book is hard to find, but it is available on his website www.garnetrogers.com
About Richard Flohil:
Richard was born in Yorkshire, England and came to Canada in 1957, he established himself as a music promoter, publicist, is a former Mariposa Folk Festival artistic director and journalist.
Richard ran a highly successful public relations company, Richard Flohil and Associates based in Toronto. He is about to publish a book based on a lifetime of stories in a milestone-filled career.