Bikes & Music

Phew, after two months writing about my adventures on the Monster S4, I gotta tell you I’m feeling all biked out. I know it wasn’t a proper review (the editor told me) but with only my SRX to match it against, I can’t imagine how he expected me to come up with any meaningful comparisons?

So I didn’t even try. Instead I confined myself to attempting to tell you how the Monster made me feel (which was very happy). Proper review or not, it still felt like I used up a hell of a lot of motorcycling adjectives in the last couple of issues so I was worried that if I tried to say anything about bikes this month, there was a serious danger I’d come across like a hackneyed motorcycle journalist.

However as this is The Rider’s Digest, I also kind of assume that most of you expect the content to have at least minimal relevance to that thing which unites us all. I was struggling to come up with something I could write that would possibly be of interest to a reasonable chunk of the readership, but at the same time wouldn’t involve the use of any biking clichés. Drugs were the first thing that sprung to mind (funny that!) but I realised they were a non-runner, because in reality their use and abuse isn’t quite as universal as the Daily Snail-Trail would have us believe (is it?).

Then I considered writing about music. It’s certainly a subject that’s way overdue, because although it’s always been a fundamental part of my life, in the last three years I’ve hardly even mentioned it within these pages. Which is particularly ironic, as the only things I ever use on this PC are the word processor and the mp3 player. Whenever I sit down at the keyboard I always turn the “Winamp” on (sod the Microsoft Media Player) as in my experience, surrounding myself with the food of love (five speakers!) tends to tickle the creative buds – which in turn helps to get the old juices flowing. Usually I simply bung my entire music file (almost 1,500 tracks) into the virtual player, hit the shuffle button, then tap away with two fingers while the freeware decides what order to play my favourites tunes in {it’s “The Grave & the Constant” by Fun Lovin’ Criminals at the moment}.

When I thought about it, I realised that when I’m on a bike, it’s one of the few occasions when I’m happy to allow my life to proceed without music (which in its own way, is a pretty good indicator of all the other amazing things a bike provides me with). Most of the rest of the time, whether it’s radio, cassette, CD or mp3, my life is usually accompanied by a soundtrack. I know that I can’t be alone in my love of music; most of the World’s population enjoys a little something to tap their toes, shake their booties or simply chill out to, so why would bikers be any different? {Ooh, it’s “London Calling” now!}. My worry was that if I attempted to discuss it in a motorcycle magazine, it’s such a broad subject and it’s so impossible to account for personal taste, that I’d be guaranteed to please no one. {Cry Me A River / Julie London}

Consequently a couple of weeks ago when I joined Roger and Kat for eine kleine Nachtmusik in a North London pub, I was still no closer to deciding what to write. It was an open mic evening and when the Editor’s turn came, he stepped up to it and told the audience that he was going to perform a song that he had only been introduced to himself five days earlier. He then went on to dedicate it to me (which of course was deeply touching) because, as he informed the crowd, I’m well known for my love of motorcycles and red headed women, so he’d thought of me the moment he read the lyrics. It was a Richard Thompson track that I’d never come across entitled “Vincent Black Lightning 1952”.


After a rousing intro on his acoustic guitar, he launched in with the words:

“Oh says Red Molly to James, that’s a fine motorbike

A girl could feel special on any such-like

Says James to Red Molly, my hat’s off to you

It’s a Vincent Black Lightning 1952


And I’ve seen you at the corners and cafes it seems

Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme

And he pulled her on behind

And down to Box Hill they did ride”

My heart felt like it was going to explode and I almost sobbed. It could have been written for me. By the time Roger reached the verse before last, I was substituting the words in my head.

“Says Dave in my opinion, there’s nothing in this world

Beats a ’79 Ducati and a red headed girl

Now Hondas and Yamahas and Suzuki’s are fine

But they don’t have a soul like a Ducati ‘79”

I can’t begin to tell you how great it is at the age of 48 to be reminded that aside from all the great new stuff that comes out year on year, there’s still a whole treasure trove of old gems I’ve yet to discover. I just sat there and soaked it in. {“Cloud 9” by the Temp’s…} Although I’d never heard it before, it struck an immediate chord and reminded me of a tradition linking motorcycling and music, which goes all the way back to the Fifties. The “Rockers” got their name from the music they favoured, rather than anything to do with the arrangements for lifting their tappets. The devil’s music and diabolical machines – what an irresistible combo? The “reckless behaviour” of those ton-up boys spawned a whole genre of tragic teen tales. “Terry” and “The Leader of the Pack” are a couple that spring to mind but there have been untold variations on the theme over the years (and in case you missed the moral that runs through all these sagas: it’s never a good idea to leap on your bike and scream off into the night flat out, just because your bird’s dumped you).

With a bit of help from Jim Steinman, Meatloaf took the adolescent angst of those motorcycling sirens and cranked everything up to eleven to produce a mini opera. It had everything: a silver black phantom bike, hot metal, a hungry engine, “tearing up the road faster than any other boy has ever gone”, thinking about his girl (“the only thing in this whole world that’s pure and good and right”) and the sudden curve he doesn’t see until it’s way too late – classic stuff, with the definite suggestion that the devil might have been in on the deal tossed in for good measure. Then there’s Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”, a biker’s song of epic proportions that never even mentions them. “Born To Run” is another one. It would be a real arse kicker of a biking anthem, if only it wasn’t about hot rod cars. A great shame, but Bruce gets an honourable mention anyway because he famously failed his Vietnam medical, due to injuries he received in a bike smash – and even more importantly because he wrote “Red Headed Woman” which contains the lyric: “Listen up stud your life’s been wasted, ‘til you’ve got down on your knees and tasted, a red headed woman…”

While we’re on my favourite subject, I used to have a recording of Tom Robinson having a private jam, which included a track entitled “Red Headed Angel”. OK given Tom’s sexual orientation, the Duracell in question hardly qualified as my ideal woman (in fact he was another rider working at Mercury) but it was a brilliant biking track nonetheless, which included the evocative line: “Kawasaki Z900, two up over the ton”. {Take My Breath Away / Kelly McGillis, blond curls flowing in the wind, on the back of an original Ninja} Then there’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway”. It must have caused a dilemma for quite a few homophobic bikers, who knew he was gay, but just couldn’t help moving their feet to the driving beat, or punching the air when he got to the bit about the “Whiz kid sitting pretty on your two-wheeled stallion” (in fact the line was originally a lot more personal and began: “Crippled kid sitting pretty…” a reference to the aforementioned copper topped courier and the aftermath of an accident he had on his Z900). {Tom Joad / Woody Guthrie}

Chris Spedding, for those of you who weren’t around in August ’75, delivered exactly what you’d expect from a song called “Motor Biking”. By contrast Jasper Carrot’s “Funky Moped” which was out at the same time (and rose nine places higher and spent seven weeks longer on the charts) definitely wasn’t. Anybody who hadn’t heard the BBC banned “Magic Roundabout” on the alternate A side, was entirely mystified by the silly song’s success. {The Man Who Sold The World / Nirvana (unplugged)} All sorts of people have done songs with a motorcycling connection. Dillinger’s reggae ditty “CB200” was a fine example; although it would probably be kinder to draw a discreet veil over David Essex’s “Silver Dream Racer” (Both the single and the film).

By contrast “Easy Rider” sits all the way at the other end of the bike movie scales. Even though the “Hey man” dialogue and hippy idealism seems incredibly dated these days (but then it already did when I first saw it in the early 70’s) it’s still the definitive motorcycling road movie. {Horse Pills / The Dandy Warhols – top track!} But where would it have been without its soundtrack? “Born To Be Wild”, Steppenwolf’s paean to the open road, tells you all you need to know about the movie and says everything a biker wants to hear in the first few lines: “Get your motor running, head out on the highway; looking for adventure, in whatever comes our way…” You, your bike, and the freedom of the open road. Fucking hey right, were you born to be wild (just watch out for those rednecks with gun racks though. ‘Cos like Jack said, straight people love to bang on about freedom, but there’s nothing scares them quite as much as seeing someone exercising it).

Anyway having – I hope – established that it’s legitimate to write about music in a bike mag, I hope you’ll allow me to take a moment to tell you where my personal preferences lay. {Spoilsports Personality Of The Year / Carter USM} As you may have noticed from the occasional {inserts} there’s a pretty eclectic mix sitting on my hard disc. Truth is I can enjoy just about anything that hits a spot; but overall I’ve got to say, I’m a guy who’s pretty much hung up on the lyrics (man!). That’s why I enjoy acoustic sessions so much, because in their simple arrangements you can really appreciate the craft of a good wordsmith.

The open mike night where Roger sang about the Black Lightning ‘52 is my idea of heaven – and it’s free! {Always The Sun / Stranglers} The first time I attended one of the Tuesday night sessions, it was shortly before Xmas. I don’t play any instruments and while I have a pretty solid ego, it never ever tries to delude me that my voice even strays near the acceptable end of the spectrum. That evening the only thing to do with me that made sweet music, was the S4 I’d arrived on. {I Wish I Didn’t Love You So / Angie Stone} On that occasion I met up with Roger and the Honourable Dennis Loobman and watched as they both got up and did a turn. I was genuinely surprised at just how good they were. Roger’s no slacker on the guitar and he’s got a good voice with plenty of expression; while Dennis is a bassist extraordinaire. It’s a good thing they weren’t crap, because all of the “Acts” were of an incredibly high standard. In fact the evening was notable for the total absence of any creaking, croaking Karaoke singers. {Waiting For The Miracle / Leonard Cohen}

The next time I headed north for a little night music it was the middle of January and I was back on my SRX. I turned up on my own, confident from my previous visit that even if I didn’t know anybody there, I’d still be up for a top night. And I was right on the money again. The high point was Lawrence B, a singer/songwriter whose down home blues delivery (particularly on the brilliant self penned “No Win Situation”) made a lie of an accent that was a lot more local than I’d expected. Talking of accents, the Dick Van Dyke mockney Loobman (ace bass player, motorcycle courier, chain lubricator and Welshman lately of this parish) adopted for his laconic acoustic rendition of “Cool For Cats” was absolutely priceless. All right he got the verses back the front a bit in the middle, but there are lots of them and even Elvis blew his lines from time to time. In the death it was a classic bit of live music and I’d have happily ridden right across our fair city just to hear his rendition of the Squeeze classic.

Even without Roger’s redheads and old British iron, my last visit would have been the best yet. {Rocking In The Free World / Neil Young} Lawrence B was there again; and this time when he performed “No Win Situation” he had top notch backing vocals courtesy of Amber and Louise Noble. Louise had earlier presented a great set of self-penned songs. {Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain / Willie Nelson} and that’s pretty much how the evening went on. Fast Freddie Fourier lived up to his moniker with some furious guitar playing and lively lyrics. And talking of word play, an extra special mention to Cornelius, a fast singing Irishman whose flow of consciousness musical poetry, was a wonder to behold.

At chucking-out time I was honoured to be the only non-musician invited across the road to Jeff’s flat. Jeff Musgrave (who’s the asst. manager at Dingwalls) organises the Tuesday evening entertainment in this pub back room for the sheer joy of it – and he’s certainly got a good scene going on. However, good as the main event was, it couldn’t touch the jam that developed later in his kitchen. {Beat Surrender / Jam} All the above mentioned (with the exception of the ethereal Amber) were joined by Loobman, Jules (a funky drummer from the Ivory Coast) Antonio Rasta (another African, with a neat line in reggae guitar riffs) and Naveed Ijaz (whose band “The Bag” expect to release their first CD in June) for a few hours of follow the leader.

In between stuff they were clearly making up as they went along, they covered quite a few standards like “For What It’s Worth” and “Big Yellow Taxi” (and a tune I decided was called “Coffee Cup Blues” because it sounded so familiar, that I was sure I knew it; but it could just as easily have been sung on the hoof). They went off in all directions (including a Caribbean combo that went all over the place – beautifully – for about half an hour) but the night definitely reached a peak when everyone joined Cornelius on his ad-libbed opus “The Ocean” that seemed to perfectly sum up the spirit of the 2 million strong Peace March (which included me and the family) that had happened only three days earlier. {Wishing On A Star / Rose Royce}

Live music is similar to sex and motorcycling, in so far as when it’s really good there are few things in life you can compare with it. Thanks again to Roger for his thoughtfulness and to everyone else for allowing me to enjoy the fruits of their talents for free.

Be Careful (and tuneful) out there

Carin’ Sharin’

{That’s Life by Frankie – honestly! How’s that for man and machine in harmony}

PS: If you read this and thought “Tosser he left out…” e-mail or write to me via “In The Saddle” naming your favourite (and don’t forget to mark it: “Songs For The Saddle”)

This first appeared in issue 67 of The Rider’s Digest in March 2003. I was prompted to dig it out after TRD cartoonist Simon Kewer pointed me at an article on the Two Motion website.

Today I play my music via iTunes and those 1,500 tracks have expanded to 43,405 and counting; and whereas I hadn’t embraced the joys of in helmet music eighteen years ago (perhaps, at least in part, due to the wonderful note the SuperTrapp produced on my 600 single), a couple of years later with the help of an iPod and pair of pricey but perfect fitting Ultimate Ear in ear monitors, it quickly became apparent that riding with a soundtrack, takes it to whole other level. Consequently nowadays I never leave home without hitting the shuffle button on my phone – which has 22,646 songs on it! 


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