A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mike [The Bike] Hailwood - Still the Greatest

Nine Times World Motorcycle Champion
Mike [The Bike] Hailwood MBE
1940 - 1981
Still the Greatest Motorcycle Racer of All Time

The Classic Hailwood
Honda 6 cylinder RC 166 Grand Prix 250
60 horsepower @ 18,000 rpm in 1966

One of the most loved and respected riders of all time, Mike Hailwood's career can be defined by extraordinary successes, under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, executed with a humility rarely seen in today's sportsmen.

He raced and won in all the classes, including 125cc machines, despite his height. He rode "unrideable" motorcycles such as the MZ 250 and the first Honda 500 to victory. He reached the finish lines despite some frightening falls. And he won a TT race after coming back from years in retirement. He won 9 World Championships, was adored by millions and even towards the end, still did not know what all the fuss was about.

Despite being incredibly shy, with his bike racing friends, he was the life of the party, enjoyed a drink, had a quick wit and was quick to play a practical joke. He loved jazz, and he could play the guitar, the clarinet and the piano. Mike was very comfortable around women and in the 'swinging sixties' he was in his element. Rich, famous and fast. A very heady combination.

Mike returns from South Africa in 1958 as National Champion and with the trophies to prove it.

Mike Hailwood was born in 1940, the second year of World War II. Mike's father Stan had married twice. Mike was the last of three children of his first wife.

Stan Hailwood was an interesting enough person in his own right. Stan broke his leg badly as a child, and it had to be broken and re-set many times. As a result, he was largely self-schooled for two years. He left school at 13, started working for a motorcycle repair outfit at 16, and started grass-track racing at 17.

At 21, he joined a motorcycle dealer in Oxford called Kings on a month's trial. The boss was cautious about employing someone with a disability, so Stan insisted on working for commission only. He retired as the managing director 38 years later. When he retired Kings was the largest dealer in the country.

Stan was also very competitive and raced 500cc sidecars, despite his troublesome leg.

So it's easy to see how Mike had his first bike at the age of seven. The first time Mike rode it, he didn't know where the brake was, so he circled around a paddock until it ran out of fuel.

Born into a wealthy family, he was a mischievous boy. He was once caught driving his mother's Jaguar, but he didn't go that far, he couldn't see over the steering wheel.

At fourteen, he got a James trials bike, which he used to ride around a backyard grass track when home from college. His father once surreptitiously timed him, and found he was going faster than a grass track racer whom he sponsored.

Mike was not suited for college, so he worked in the family business for a while, and then his father sent him to work at Triumph Motorcycles.

He entered his first event at 17 -- the Scottish Six Days Trial. A week later, he entered his first race, on a borrowed 125cc MV Agusta. He came 11th.

A few months later, he had his international racing licence and with the help of a sizeable cheque he received from his father, he brought a semi-official MV.

After that every time he raced he won prize money and used it to buy a better bike -- first a 125cc MV Agusta, then an 196cc MV Agusta with a 240cc overbore job, and a 50cc Iton.

Later that year, in 1957, he travelled with his father to South Africa to gain some overseas experience. He borrowed a 250cc NSU from John Surtees. He made enough prize money that he didn't have to give it back -- he bought it.

When he came home in early 1958, he was the South African national champion.

Back home, he started racing a 125cc Ducati, John Surtees's NSU, and 350cc and 500cc Nortons. He won the British 125, 250 and 350 championships and came second in the world 250 cc championship.
In 1958, Mike's second year of racing, he won a total of 74 races.

In 1959, he won the British 125cc championship on a Ducati, the 250cc championship on a Mondial, and the 350cc and 500cc championships on Nortons. He won the Northern Ireland 125cc GP on a Ducati, and he finished 3rd in the 125cc World Championship.

Mike poses alongside his trophy and his Ducati 250 1959

In the 250cc Isle of Man race, Mike was on an eight year old bike. Mike was leading with two of the latest Factory MV Agusta's behind him, when his ignition failed 50m from the finish.

The legend of Mike the Bike hadn't started yet. That was to happen in 1961 when Stan and Mike went back to the Isle of Man.

The was a new face in the pits at the Island that year. A Japanese motorcycle company called Honda, who were only to happy to lend Mike their little 125cc Honda racer.

On the first two laps, Mike broke the lap record twice. Taveri, the rider he was duelling with, then broke the lap record again catching Mike. And Mike passed him and won by seven seconds.

He borrowed another Honda, this time a 250cc and raced it later that afternoon. The 125cc race was three laps of the Island, the 250cc race was five laps. Mike had raced 486km back to back in one day.

In the 350cc race, he had a two minute lead with twenty one kilometres to go, when his Norton stopped with a broken piston.

In the 500cc race, despite having a bike which was 15km/h slower than Gary Hocking's MV Agusta, he hounded Hocking until Hocking overshot a corner and took an escape road. Hocking eventually caught up, but then his Agusta broke and Mike won. In the process, Mike became the first person to average 100mph around the Isle on a British bike, and the first person to win three Isle of Man TTs in one week.

Appropriately riding a Triumph in the Thruxton 200 Mile Race in 1958

He won the 250cc races at the Dutch, East German and Swedish TT, and chased Gary Hocking's four cylinder MV Agusta 500, on his 500 Norton, so hard that Count Agusta lent him works 350 and 500 MVs for the last two races. Jumping straight from a Norton single to an MV four, Mike came first and second in the races and finished second in the world championship.

Count Agusta invited Mike to join his team for the 1962 season.

In 1962, 1963 and 1964 there were twenty seven 500cc races held. Mike Hailwood won twenty two of them. In the other five, either he did not start or he did not finish.

In 1964, Mike decided to try for the hour record at Daytona International Raceway. Using a practice bike and standard tyres, Mike rode 144.8 miles in an hour, beating the previous record by about two miles. That was in the morning. In the afternoon, he won the United States GP.

In 1965, Mike took the 500cc championship for MV Agusta again. However, the awesomely talented Giacomo Agostini had joined MV, and Count Agusta liked the idea of an Italian rider winning on an Italian bike. He started giving Mike inferior equipment, so Mike left and signed with Honda.

In his first season on Honda, he took the 250cc and 350cc championships, and came second to Agostini in the 500cc championship. He repeated this in 1967.

And his legendary fan base was growing. Mike somehow got his bike to lean angles which were greater than his competitors could achieve, but he didn't hang off the bike like modern riders do. He was famous for wearing through the leather on his boots so far that he would grind his toes on the road, with bloody results. And, perhaps as a result of his early grass track training, he would spin the rear wheel out of corners, too; a technique which was not widely used then.

He was riding Hondas which were then at the apex of how much power could be extracted from an internal combustion engine. There was a five cylinder 125. There was a six cylinder 250. And there was a four cylinder 500cc bike that was so powerful that Honda couldn't build a frame that would contain it.
In 1967, Mike complained about that.

The next year, they squeezed even more power out of the 500cc engine. And left the frame the same. Witnesses reported the motorcycle wobbling severely as it went down straights. Another racer said Hailwood deserved a Victoria Cross if he dared ride it in an Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. He did. He pitted with a throttle grip falling off. The mechanics couldn't fix it, so one of them tied it to the handlebars with his handkerchief. Mike re-joined the race and won. In catching up, he set a lap record of 108.77mph, which stood for eight years. And then Honda pulled out of the World Championships. 

The Hailwood Ducati at the Isle of Man

Mike left bikes for a while to try his hand at car racing. He raced Formula 5000, Sports cars, Formula 1 and Formula 2. He did quite well, but nowhere near as well as he had done on motorcycles. He was apparently not comfortable. He believed he was looked down upon because of his motorcycling background.

He came back to the Isle of Man in 1977. The Isle no longer had Grand Prix status (most riders thought it was too dangerous) and the promoters were willing to pay handsomely for Mike to bring some of his former glory back. Hailwood returning to the Island brought a record crowd in excess of a 100,000 spectators to jam the Mountain course, all desperate to get a glimpse of their idol.

He started twelfth in the TTF1 Superbike class, but had a nine second lead at the end of the first lap, and won the race on his Ducati, beating the second place holder by about two minutes. Since then a replica of the Ducati he rode has become a must have in any decent collection.

Hailwood on Ducati's 750 SS in Australia's Castrol Six Hour Production Race at Amaroo Park 1977

Re-enthused by his spectacularly successful return to the Isle of Man, Mike was encouraged to have a few more rides, including two trips to Australia.

Mike appeared in Australia's biggest production motorcycle race, the Castrol Six Hour at Sydney's Amaroo Park. Typically, Mike camped in the pits with everyone else, refusing any special priveleges.

At the time, I was the promoter of this event and had arranged sponsorship of the Ducati 750 SS Mike rode. Despite our relationship, Mike came up to me in the Control Tower and asked if he could buy another pit pass to get a friend into the pits. He refused accommodation in the best hotel we could find, preferring to sleep on the couch in his co-rider's lounge room.

No doubt lots of other people who came in to contact with Mike Hailwood have similar an anecdotes about their experiences.

Mike eventually became a devoted family man. He had met Pauline Fields, one of the main women in his life, when he was 19. She was an airline hostess. She later became an actor, and appeared in a few Carry On movies. She eventually married Mike in South Africa after he retired, and they had two children, David and Michelle.

Mike Hailwood MBE. GM. is still regarded as the greatest motorcycle road racer of all time.

In a mocking twist of fate, after thousands of racing miles at breakneck speeds, Mike Hailwood died in a road accident together with his young daughter Michelle on 22 March 1981.

It was a Sunday night and he was off down to the local to collect pizza for dinner when he ran into the back of a truck. An ordinary incident that turned into a disaster.

His funeral was the biggest. And for years after, leaving from the former Norton Works in Bracebridge Street, Aston, Birmingham, the Mike Hailwood Memorial Run attracted thousands of riders.

Mike Hailwood will always be the best - because he did it for the love of the sport.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Spirit Lives Forever

Some years ago I was forced to cull my collection of comics. This down-sizing was as a result of having to move into smaller digs and some stuff had to go. I junked about 1,500 comics and just kept the best 500. This process took about three months, as I could not help reading them all - just one last time. It was also a great opportunity to re-discover just how good Will Eisner's The Spirit titles are.

In the piles of boxes I found dozens of pristine The Spirit comics - masterwork illustrations that bond an eclectic mix of anti-heroes, pulp fiction crime stories and witty tales of the city, spun in a tongue-in-cheek storytelling style and drawn with unmatched originality, creativity and energy.

Will Eisner is one of the most revered and respected creators in the history of comics. An innovator all his life, he is credited with coining the term “graphic novel.” He created The Spirit in 1940 and he wrote/drew and supervised the numerous titles through the early 1950s. At a time the average comic art was very basic and one-dimensional.

He was a short story writer in the medium of graphic storytelling, with cinematic visual style adapted to the graphic snapshot of sequential art. It’s the art of his work more than the durability of his character that made his stories so essential and inimitable.

The Spirit was in many ways Eisner’s take on the urban crime milieu that was bubbling up in the movies and would later be called film noir, full of shadows and urban badlands and criminal miscreants.

And it was colorful, as the recent definitive reprints so boldly remind us. Eisner created a vibrant world of primary hues that descend into monochrome hard shadows and dark screens, punctuated by blinding street lights and the vibrant blue of The Spirit’s defining trenchcoat.

Eisner’s classic comics simply don’t have the cultural recognition of a Batman or a Spider-Man. The average fan of action movies and superhero cinema has probably never heard of The Spirit. But the writers and directors who made those movies know Will Eisner's character very well.

For example, today's luminary directors George Lucas and Steven Speilberg are quoted as having being in awe of Eisner's illustrations, the multi-layed perspectives, the worms-eye views of the action and the incredible details that are happening above, below and to the sides of every frame. Like an M.C. Escher puzzle disappearing into the distance only to end up back at the start.

WILL EISNER was born William Erwin Eisner on March 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 3, 2005, following complications from open heart surgery.

In a career that spanned nearly seventy years and eight decades — from the dawn of the comic book to the advent of digital comics — he truly was the 'Orson Welles of comics' and the 'father of the Graphic Novel'. He broke new ground in the development of visual narrative and the language of comics and was the creator of The Spirit, John Law, Lady Luck, Mr. Mystic, Uncle Sam, Blackhawk, Sheena and countless others.

One of the comic industry's most prestigious awards, The Eisner Award, is named after him. Recognized as the 'Oscars' of the American comic book business, the Eisners are presented annually before a packed ballroom at Comi-Con International in San Diego, America's largest comics convention.

In 2002, Eisner received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Federation for Jewish Culture, only the second such honor in the organization's history, presented by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman.

Wizard magazine named Eisner "the most influential comic artist of all time.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Freddie Bartholomew - Ugly Scenes Behind The Scene

Freddie Bartholomew, one of the greatest child stars of all time 
and second only to Shirley Temple in the Hollywood high-earners list.

Freddie Bartholomew was born in 1924 in Middlesex, England. Freddie's talents were instantly obvious to those around him. In 1930 he made his film debut in Toyland, aged six. The next year Freddie had bit parts in Fascination and Strip Strip Hooray and then scored a feature role in 1932 with Lily Christine.

Freddie's otherwise occupied parents soon tired of the novelty of their precocious child and were only too happy to palm Freddie off to his aunt Millicent, who ferried him to the set everyday and gave him the support he needed.

At the same time, in Hollywood, movie moguls and producers David O Selznick and George Cukor, were busy planning their next big budget film, David Copperfield. A local young actor, Florida born David Jack Holt, had been chosen for the role and the youngster was studiously learning a British accent.

To also ready themselves for the production, O Selznick and Cukor decided they needed a dose of  British culture, so the producer and director sailed to London to get a feel for the landscapes, sets and local atmosphere. It was then they saw Freddie Bartholomew and decided they had to sign him to the role.

Freddie with W.C. Fields in David Copperfield in 1934

After some difficult negotiations with local authorities and a murky episode involving the local child labour laws, Freddie and his Aunt Millicent boarded a liner for the United States. At the wharf Aunt Millicent waved goodbye clutching a proof of guardianship and a power of attorney certificate Freddie's parents were only too happy to sign.

On the David Copperfield set, young Freddie astounded the production crew and he sent the Hollywood gossip machine into overdrive with his performance. The movie cost a massive $1 million to make and took $2.8 million in a record breaking 86 week run. It also made Freddie a huge star. He was paid $100 a week for his trouble.

Freddie as Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1936
Freddie's upper-class British accent, angelic face, gentle trusting manner and china-doll fragility
was perfect for his role in Little Lord Fauntelroy.

Freddie's successful Hollywood screen debut in David Copperfield had studio executives clamouring to bounce little Freddie on their laps and offer him roles. MGM were desperate to sign Freddie so they offered him the lead role in Oliver Twist. Once again with the critics raving about the newcomer, MGM touted Freddie as a young male Shirley Temple and backed it up with a new long-term contract, casting  him to play young Cedric in Little Lord Fauntelroy.

Soon Freddie was bringing home a salary to his Aunt Millicent of over $1,000 a week! [33 times more than average wages at the time]

In Little Lord Fauntelroy, Freddie role as Cedric, heir to a British Lord, was unforgettable. He plays opposite his screen-pal Mickey Rooney, a 15 year old bootblack in the Bronx, whom Freddie must leave behind to claim his peerage in England.

Despite the many film adaptions of Little Lord Fauntelroy, in hindsight, no-one can match Freddie Bartholomew's mastery to pull at our heart-strings. His expression of vulnerability and the innocence of his performance had audiences desperately involved in his fate.

When he arrived in Hollywood, Freddie had the dubious honour of eclipsing previous child-star Jackie Coogan, who was entering adolescence and outgrowing his parts. Although Jackie was gaining some extra bits, he was fast losing his popularity as America's favourite son.

Freddie snuggles up to Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina in 1935

Freddie's sudden fortune did not go unnoticed back in Britain. Soon Freddie's mother suddenly realised she loved the little superstar and showed up in Hollywood to wrench guardianship away from Aunt Millicent. Not to be left out Freddie's estranged father and grandfather soon followed with their own claims of undying affection.

Freddie spent the next three years in court testifying in 27 seperate lawsuits filed by his family members against each other, as to who owned his pay packets. Freddie finally had to give 20% of his earnings to his family but there was little left. After his mother and father left to sail back to Britain, Freddie had only $1,400 in the bank. His defence lawyers got the lot.

Movie poster for Captains Courageous circa 1937. Notice how Mickey Rooney has equal billing with Spencer Tracy and Freddie does not get a mention.

Spoilt rich-kid Harvey Cheyne falls overboard from an ocean liner and nearly drowns but for Portuguese fisherman Manuel Fidello. Manuel [Spencer Tracy] calls his unusual catch "my little fish" and young Harvey is forced to drop his "airs" and grow to survive his ordeal on the boat.

Freddie and Spencer Tracy in 1937

Totally shattered, young Freddie bounced back to give the performance of his life opposite Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous. Appearing in almost every scene, most of it soaking wet and cold, Freddie amazed all around him with his resolute attitude and absolute professionalism, holding his own against a screen legend like Tracy.

One can only imagine the pressure on a 13 year old, being dragged through the courts by his parents, and then having to front the cameras everyday with the weight of expectant, critical movie audiences on your shoulders. Do yourself a favour, get this movie out and watch it, now knowing what was going on in Freddie's personal life.

Freddie Bartholomew went on to make Anna Karenina with Greta Garbo [1935] and Professional Soldier [1935], Lloyds of London with Tyrone Power [1936], Captains Courageous [1937], Robert Louis Stevenson's adaption of Kidnapped [1938] and then Lord Jeff with Mickey Rooney [1938].

A strong male role model may have been just what Freddie needed at a time when his own parents lacked any moral conviction or commitment. Certainly this iconic image with Spencer Tracy is life imitating art.

Lord Jeff 1938

In Lord Jeff, spoilt child Geoffrey Bramer [Freddie] teams up with a pair of small time crooks to pose as an aristocrat and steal jewelry from exclusive shops. During a caper, Geoffrey is caught and is sentenced to a reformatory where young men are trained to be sailors. He is befriended by model in-mate Terry O'Mulvaney [Mickey Rooney] but soon starts to get them both in trouble.

As he grew Freddie managed his transition into his teenage years better than most child stars. He continues to co-star with Hollywood's A-List . In 1938, a 14 year old Freddie played Buzz in Little Darling opposite 16 year old Judy Garland.

But with the advent of young manhood, his dimpled, angelic good looks began to fade. After a stint in the Air Force in World War II, his film career was all but finished. In 1954, he went to work for an advertising agency as a television producer and director, and remarked at the time that the millions he had earned as a child had been spent mostly on lawsuits, many of which involved headline court battles between his parents and his aunt for custody of young Freddie and his money.

"I was drained dry," he said.

Freddie Bartholomew died in Florida in 1992 at the age of 67.

Freddie Bartholomew

The famous child star of his generation and one of the best juvenile actors in the history of Hollywood.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Jimi Hendrix - Power, Passion, Fragile Genius

James Marshall Hendrix [1942 - 1970]

Jimi Hendrix was born November 27th, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, USA. The first of five children to James "Al" Hendrix. He was part Cherokee Indian and part Afro American. From humble beginnings and a $5 acoustic guitar when he was 15, Jimi Hendrix went on to become the greatest electric guitarist in musical history.

He grew up listening to BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Albert King and Elmore James. His real rock influences came from listening to and playing behind Little Richard. Jimi always said he wanted to, "do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."

" His official biography says: "Jimi Hendrix was one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century. Innovative style of combining  fuzz, feedback and distortion top create a new musical style."

I believe this description sells Jimi short for it does not take into account his genius as a record producer and his use of the recording studio as an extension of his creative abilities. It does not acknowledge his engineering and manipulating of new sounds, that influenced musicians across a broad genre of music. Jimi was the only musician to be top of the Billboard Chart listings in Jazz, Rock and Blues, all at the same time.

I've been trying to think of another instance where one person completely mastered his instrument or excelled in displaying his talent to the degree Hendrix did. Superlatives do not do justice to the natural ease at which he seemed to demonstrate his art.

After a stint in the Army in 1961, he came back to play in the line-up for Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Bros and Little Richard. In 1965, he moved to be part of the developing scene in Greenwich Village and whilst all the bands wanted Jimi behind them, he decided to take his trip to London to get noticed as a solo artist.

He formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. By 1966 he was the talk of the U.K. Every venue he appeared, night after night, some of the biggest rock stars in Britain would pack the Clubs to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the most iconic images in Rock and Roll. Jimi finishes his set at Monterey in 1967.

By the time Jimi went back to the States he was welcomed as a superstar. His first L.P. Are You Experienced was a huge successes but it was not until his incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival that he became of the biggest acts in the world - overnight.

At the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the Who were booked to close the show, until Pete Townsend realised they had to follow Jimi. Townsend refused and after a stand-off, the promoters insisted Jimi go on last. The Who pulled out all stops, Townsend smashed his guitar, the band wrecked the stage set and the urban myth has it that when Townsend left the stage he said to Jimi, "Beat that ni**er!"

The rest his history. Jimi closed the show playing Wild Thing, poured lighter fluid on his Strat and set it alight. Still vibrating and screaming feedback, Jimi picked up the burning guitar, smashed it and stormed off.

Jimi's signature guitar was a right-handed, white Fender Stratocaster. He played left-handed so he turned the guitar upside down and re-arranged the strings. He also moved the tone and volume controls to the top of the guitar so he could access them easily. Later when he could have what he wanted he chose a black maple-neck and a blonde maple neck Strat.

And strangely for someone with such a good voice, Jimi was always very nervous about his singing. In the studio he recorded his vocals behind a screen

Jimi followed Are you Experienced with Axis Bold as Love in 1968. By 1969 the pressures of touring took their toll and the Experience disbanded.

After experimenting with a new line-up he changed the group's name to Band of Gypsy's. A self-titled compile album followed. And then the double album Electric Ladyland which he recorded in his own Electric Ladyland studios he built in New York.

Jimi plays the Woodstock 3 Day Festival in 1969

The Woodstock Music Festival was staged on a farm at Woodstock, Bethel, NY on August 17th, 1969. It was a fitting climax to the peace, love, dove era of the Sixties.

[After Woodstock, the peace came to a shuddering halt at Altamont, the next big outdoor festival. The headline act was the Rolling Stones who on stage when a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels security]

At Woodstock the best bands of the Sixties appeared, including Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, Ritchie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jerrerson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Crosby Stills Nash & Young. 40 years later Woodstock still belongs to Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix assembled a group called Gypsy Suns and Rainbows including the original drummer Mitch Mitchell playing with bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Larry Lee, plus two other percussionists, Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.

Jimi was booked to close the show but they ran so late that he ended up on stage at 7am on the Monday morning, playing to only a few thousand mud-soaked, die hard fans. Most had already left the night before to get home for the working week. They missed the performance of the decade. A performance that defined the Sixties.

Even though the band was worn out and wired, they played for nearly two hours, one of the longest sets of Jimi's career. The first time he ever played in the morning.

Jimi greeted them with, "You can leave if you want to ... we're just jammin', that's all."

Message to Love, Hear My Train A Comin', Red House, Mastermind, Lover Man, Foxy Lady, Jam Back at the House, Izabella, Gypsy Woman, Fire, Voodoo Chile, Star-Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, Improvised Villanova Junction and Hey Joe as an encore. The only time Jimi played an encore. [During Redhouse he broke a high E-string and played the rest of the song with 5 strings.]

His inspired, improvised performance of the Star-Spangled Banner anthem is the sound of Woodstock.

Watch the vision and the total control with which he creates his wall of sound. Sure there have been master technicians that can play the notes, but still nobody can match the exact sound, let alone create it from scratch.

Great photo - wrong album!

Despite the hundreds of bootleg, live and "lost tapes" versions that are available, during his lifetime, Jimi only ever released three studio albums, The Experience, Axis Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. There were also two live albums and two compilations and twelve singles from those albums.

Since his death the "official" album releases were Cry of Love, War Heroes, Rainbow Bridge, Crash Landing, Midnight and the latest, Valley of Neptune. Whilst any Hendrix is better than none, I would not waste my time with the others. [If you need a fix just go back and listen to the long version of Voodoo Chile!]

Jimi with Buddy Miles

Jimi Hendrix died in his sleep, in his London flat, September 18, 1970. He was 29 years old.

The autopsy said he died of asphyxiation, choking on his own vomit, which had filled his airways. Earlier that night he attended a party with his friend Monica Dannemann. Getting home at about 3 am he reportedly took up to nine sleeping pills - the recommended dose was one and a half.

Apart from the pills there was not much else in his system, certainly no cocktail of drugs as was commonly thought at the time.

Unless you were there its hard to explain to people the impact his music, his sound, his easy, relaxed style of playing had on the scene as it was back then.

Even now it totally stands the test of time. Nobody has come close.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Downton Abbey - The Real Story Is Much Stranger Than Fiction

Almina, Countess of Carnarvon and Chaterlaine of Highclere Castle

Like many millions of others around the world, I was recently swept up in the Downton Abbey television series, although I must admit I was more interested in the setting than the storyline. The real star of the series is surely the magnificent Highclere Castle and the wonderful protocol that was strictly followed by the resident family and their guests of that early 1900's era. Namely George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon. And it is their true life story that is fascinatingly colourful, if not scandalous - much more so than the story portrayed in the television series on which these characters lives are based.

Highclere Castle in Hampshire, setting for the Downton Abbey TV Series

Even Almina's parentage is a source of controversy. When she was born in London in 1876, her French mother, Marie, was already separated from her husband, Fredrick Wombwell and Almina was thought to be the result of a liasion with Alfred de Rothschild - of the Rothschild banking dynasty and one of the world's richest men. Whatever was the truth, Alfred took a fatherly interest in Almina and thanks to his financial support, when Almina was presented at Court at age 17, it was not only her looks but also her wealth that made her an attractive proposition to aristocratic young men looking to prop up their family fortunes.

Lord Carnarvon, no doubt, had the upkeep of Highclere Castle in mind when he proposed to Almina, as well as his massive gambling debts.

George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon

Together with his Eton schoolfriend and Indian prince Victor Suleep Singh, a notorious playboy, George toured the fleshpots and gambling dens of Cairo, Hong Kong and Paris. By the time he met Almina at a Buckingham Palace state ball, George was suffering from the ravages of his exploits, looking very much the dissolute aristocrat.

Prince Victor Duleep Singh, Lord Carnarvon's Eton schoolfriend.

Alfred de Rothschild was keen for Almina to marry into peerage so he agreed to pay off the Earl's gambling debts, which amounted to an incredible 150,000 pounds, in return for her hand. Sensing a money stream, George also asked for a staggering 500,000 pound dowry, about 50 million dollars in today's money!

The unlikely pair were married in June 1895, the Earl towering above Almina who was only 5 feet tall. After an expensive honeymoon, Almina soon settled into Highclere Castle, spending millions on refurbishing the run-down state rooms and hosting lavish parties for up to 500 guests.

The Library at Highclere Castle

In 1895 alone the Countess spent $360,000, in today's currency, on chefs, wine and flowers to prove to her new husband she could "run the house."

Highclere Castle's Salon

Almina was nicknamed "the pocket rocket" such was the vigour and energy she displayed in playing the society hostess at Highclere, interspersed with her regular appearances in London wearing fabulous "royal" gowns, dripping with precious diamonds and pearls.

Countess Almina's diamond Carnarvon Tiara

Whilst Almina was entertaining, her husband, the Earl soon tired of this scene and took up reckless, high-speed motoring which ended in a spectacular crash whilst racing in Gemany. The Earl was trapped under his overturned car with a broken jaw and punctured lungs. Almina nursed him back to health at Highclere but the Earl was now a semi-invalid, relying on a stick to walk and suffering from debilitating migranes. They had two children together, a son and heir to Highclere, Henry, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and a daughter Evelyn.

Countess Almina and Lord Carnarvon - A Day at the Ascot Races

The Earl developed another passion - aviation. So did Almina. Hurt and frustrated, in true Lady Chatterley style, she required the regular services of one of Highclere's gardeners. Fortunately the Earl's doctor recommended he spend the damp winter months in a drier climate, so he decided to exercise his interest in egyptology. Travelling to Luxor he soon sponsored local egyptologist Howard Carter's digging exploits, a famous partnership that resulted in the historic discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.

Lord Carnarvon and his daughter Lady Evelyn are greeted by Howard Carter at Luxor Railway Station

During this time World War 1 had started and Britain's young men were coming home maimed and incapacitated. Almina converted Highclere Castle into a luxurious military hospital, recruiting teams of pretty nurses. The 200-room castle housed operating theatres, exquisite salons became casualty wards and the grounds saw teams of nurses pushing wheelchairs around. She established another hospital in London for the officers who needed to be near specialist doctors. During their long recuperations they were waited on by butlers and footmen.

Almina's generosity drained even her resources. On the edge of financial collapse and very conveniently, her benefactor Alfred de Rothschild died, his huge legacy saving her from bankruptcy. Temporarily.

The discovery of the boy pharaoh's tomb brought the Earl fame and recognition. He also died as a result. In 1923, whilst staying at the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor, the Earl was bitten by a mosquito. The bite became infected and he was rushed to Cairo. Almina hired a de Havilland biplane and flew to Cairo with one of Britain's best doctors but they could not save him. His death started the "curse of the pharaohs" cult.

Almina's mourning did not last long. That same year she married Colonel Ian Dennistoun, an army officer permanently wounded in the war. He died in 1938 and Almina took a lover 20 years her junior.
Her conduct was such that she was no longer welcome in high society and royal circles.

Her son Henry, the 6th Earl, inherited Highclere, but she ensured he did not receive any of the Rothschild money keeping it all to maintain her lifestyle. Henry was a renowned "womaniser" and with very little interest and income, the grand house soon succumbed to a lack of maintenance, with whole wings being closed and abandoned.

Almina continued to spend her fortune until in 1951 it was all but exhausted. Shunned from society she was forced to move to a modest terrace house in Bristol with only her housekeeper. After a full life of triumphs and scandals that makes the Downton Abbey scripts look very tame, she died in 1969, aged 93.

Its interesting to note that the famous composer/stage producer Andrew Lloyd Webber currently lives on an adjoining estate to Highclere Castle and he is reportedly upset about the increased traffic and fuss created by the Downton Abbey production. On the upside some of the funds generated as location fees will help to restore this magnificent castle for future generations.