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Madrid City in English
Saturday 25th of November 2017
1208 1st of August 2012 by admin 1st of August 2012
Jimi Hendrix & Tony Norman - London 1969
Write on!

During his career as a music journalist in the sixties, Tony Norman met some of the biggest names in the business. and meet him in Madrid to discuss his book about the decade, My Cool Sixties: Lennon, Jagger & The Rest

“Had the BBC TV bosses not taken the music show off the air, who knows what could have happened!” smiles Tony Norman, casting his mind back to 1966. London was groovy, music was cool, and he’d written a song with the title of the BBC cult show—Ready Steady Go!—primarily in honour and admiration of its young, attractive presenter, Cathy McGowan. Sadly, the show was cancelled before Tony’s band could cut the disc. But the sixties were about hopes and dreams, and little did he know that, forty five years later, it would be his book about that swinging decade that would bring his group back together and the song to fruition.
    Arriving for a chat whilst visiting Madrid on his way to the Spanish coast for a promotional tour, Tony is a larger than life character, distinguished by a wide-brimmed black hat, and bubbling with enthusiasm for the sixties era and music. The title of his book, My Cool Sixties: Lennon, Jagger & The Rest, is a fun word-play. In his career as a music journalist he interviewed Lennon and Jagger, but The Rest were his mod band—with his sixties mates Shay McKeown, Colin Green, Graham Lynch and Fred Giulianotti—rather than ‘the rest’ of the music scene at the time.
    “I had two dreams,” he begins, “The first was to have a hit with The Rest. Of course, when you’re a teenager, everything is very simple. We all loved Ready Steady Go! and Cathy McGowan. So I said I’d write a song for her, we’d record it at Tin Pan Alley [London’s Denmark Street, famous for its music shops and recording studios in the sixties], send it to the BBC, Cathy would love it, she’d immediately put us on the show and we’d be famous. We had it all worked out; but then suddenly the show came to an end!”
    Dream number two was to become a writer. 


Finding the words
Having finished school, but with no idea about how to get a start in journalism, on his Dad’s advice Tony looked at some small ads in the Daily Mail’s “Printing and Allied Trades” column, a section that was usually only for printers. Nevertheless, he spotted a tiny advert saying “Trainee Reporter Required”. He applied, got an interview, and had to write a 1,000-word short story, which he decided would be about a pop group. He got the job with Scottish newspaper group DC Thompson, and after a year as a trainee reporter, he became pop correspondent at Jackie magazine, which was selling one million copies per week. For the rest of the sixties he moved to Top Pops, a magazine with highly regarded music content, similar to the famous Melody Maker or New Musical Express. 
    His writing led him to cross paths with countless big names. “I start with journalism in the book when I interview John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their return from their Love-in in Amsterdam,” continues Tony, “It puts you right in the heart of the music world.” There were also encounters with George Harrison, who happened to enter an office at Apple Records just as Tony was presenting a recording of his own. “George gave the guy I was presenting it to, Derek Taylor, a look to say ‘What the hell is this?’ I let my imagination take hold as to how it could’ve panned out so differently,” he laughs.
    His naivety occasionally got the better of him, not least in an interview with Mick Jagger. They had been chatting about the Rolling Stones’ new single, “Honky Tonk Woman”, and also the band’s forthcoming concert in Hyde Park (Stones in the Park, 1969). “I thought I’d ask him about drugs,” admits Tony, “so I suddenly popped the question, intended in a mellow, hippy way, ‘What does marijuana do?’ Mick stumbled, but then responded ‘Different things to different people’. So I followed up with ‘What does it do for you?’, and he answered ‘What does it do for me?’ but at that point his publicist jumped in because Mick had been subject to a drugs bust not long before. I felt really embarrassed because Mick had been chatting to me so nicely.”


Being there
Mick Jagger and Tony Norman, London 1969 Writing My Cool Sixties: Lennon, Jagger & The Rest also presented Tony with an unexpected challenge. He had completed about 5,000 words, but the story wasn’t coming alive. “I felt like I was writing a history book, it was all past tense,” he explains. “In the sixties, something new was happening all the time, and I realised that readers had to feel that they were really there. So I started again, this time writing entirely in the present tense. The star of the book isn’t me, or Jagger, or Lennon, but the sixties, the events, the lifestyle, the counter-culture. I’ve had a lot of kind comments from readers saying they felt as if they were back there again, which makes me happy.”
    In addition to the music, the book touches on the turbulence of the times, such as the death of Kennedy, the civil rights movement, and the Cuban missile crisis. Despite the precarious state of world affairs, there’s a also strong sense of humour, and the influence and incentive of sex and girls rolls throughout. The cover blurb of ‘For Adults Only’ is not to be taken lightly.
    For the accompanying photos, Tony managed to track down his photographer at the time, Chris Walter, now resident in LA. Many of the shots that Chris provided had not been seen before, and formed part of a My Cool Sixties exhibition in the UK. Perhaps the most eye-catching is a photo of Tony with Jimi Hendrix (see cover), taken during an interview in the BBC canteen. “But as you can see,” says Tony, “no entourage. Just me and him.” An equally relaxed sign of the times was a meeting with James Taylor. “I interviewed James Taylor on several occasions,” Tony recalls, “but after my future wife and I saw his show at the Palladium, we bumped into him in the street. He recognised me, asked us if we’d enjoyed the concert and then introduced the girl at his side: ‘This is Joni Mitchell’. My partner and I were speechless. It was the strangest situation. My girlfriend and I standing in the street, talking with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell like they were just anyone else.”


Keeping track
His book was the spark to reunite The Rest, to the extent they have recorded an EP. “Ready Steady Go!” is one of the tracks, now laid down after 45 years on the shelf. It’s a swinging sixties number, touching on the psychedelic, that couldn’t have been written at any other time. A video accompanies it on the My Cool Sixties website, sequencing the sixties photos with an enchanting perspective.
    As well as Lennon, Jagger and Hendrix, Tony caught The Yardbirds at The Marquee in 1964, with Eric Clapton playing for them at the time, and as we draw to a close he still appreciates how fortunate he has been. “I was very lucky. To be honest, I can’t believe how lucky I was!” he reflects. “The guys in The Rest kept me very grounded though. They’ve proved to be lifelong friends, and even today we’re still on a kind of trip—we don’t know where it will lead.” Forty five years on for The Rest, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are (still) a-changin’.

My Cool Sixties: Lennon, Jagger & The Rest (Steampacket Publishing) is available in paperback or kindle from amazon.co.uk, or from the My Cool Sixties website, www.mycoolsixties.co.uk. The EP is also on the site, where you can hear the tracks for free. A new deluxe e-book for iPads, incorporating six of Tony’s sixties-inspired songs, is now available online at iTunes or Kobo. You can also follow Tony Norman on Twitter @mycoolsixties. For photos and work by Chris Walter, see www.chriswalterphotography.com.

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