Last month, tickets for the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary gigs sold out in record time; you can still get em for upwards of £400 on Seatwave. Hey, bargain! But just head over to Spotify and dig into those 50 year-old Stones’ R and B covers. Time is NOT on their side. 'Little Red Rooster'? Please - let me suggest Howling Wolf.
Mick’n’Keef had a sincere go at Chicago blues back in the day, but looking back today, it all sounds a bit wonky and self-conscious. That wasn’t their fault – they certainly weren’t in control in the studio, and for all the good intentions, it was a big jump, geographically and culturally, from 60s Swinging London... to Chicago or Mississippi.
But when those 60s English musos dabbled with stuff from way beyond their culture, they really did break new ground. Quite understandably, they didn’t hit the spot to start with. But only six years later, Zeppelin showed up with technique and showbiz chops that left Mick and co in the dust; the ball was rolling. After that, imperfectly, but slowly and surely, things opened up. Which - some time later - brings us to musicians like Khaliq.
Nowadays it’s not a one-way flow, the way it was two generations back. In fact, for the latest generation, some of whom I admire enormously, identity and ethnicity really doesn’t matter; it’s simply not relevant. And that’s a fine thing. Khaliq - the name comes from their lead singer and main writer - have just released an album, recorded at Magic Garden. Now, these boys are not spring chickens; they’ve got over thirty years’ listening shining out of their music. I wondered where Khaliq started off….
“When I was a kid? Led Zeppelin. My brother got me the Stairway to Heaven t-shirt. And he played me the album. I’d never heard anything like it. But I listened to everything. Sabbath… massively into Stevie Wonder… Van Morrison. Then, when I heard Bob Dylan, I didn’t listen to Zeppelin for about six months … Springsteen, Weller, Tom Petty. Genres didn’t matter. If it did something to me, that’s how I judged it.
“So when I started writing songs as a kid, I used to think the only songs I can ever put out have got to do the same thing to others as these songs have done to me.
“Not for me. I’ve got a comparison in my head. You know when you go into a studio, and you want to… reference it…to see if it’s got it going on? I’ve got that mad reference in my head. I wish I could get rid of it sometimes.From listening to what I did, it set a certain standard, a certain level. And I can tell straight away if it’s ‘up’ there. And then we play, it and work it with the band, and see how people react…
How do the songs come?
"Whole songs come. The verse, the second verse, the chorus, the last verse, the story from start to finish. It all rhymes, it all makes sense, and it comes out in five minutes. But some of them, I’ll get the first verse at 13, and the second when I’m 27. It just happens.
"First band was ‘As We Are’ – heavily into U2. When I first started I started on an acoustic guitar. My brother helped a lot. He was going to gigs; no other Asian lads were going anywhere, but my brother was allowed to go because he had three A levels and eleven O levels. He was top of the school, so the community couldn’t say anything. The community couldn’t slag him off and say he was wasting time with his hair and that. He was like the impeccable Asian kid, but with hair out there, and singing Phil Lynott songs!Same old, same old… sounds a lot like my grandparents leaning on my dad to take a respectable career - they were German Jews. So how much pressure did you get from Mum and Dad?
“At first, people weren’t happy. I was supposed to be an accountant or a lawyer. My dad thought it was going to be a phase. After a bit they realised this was everything for me. But there were conflicts. Am I English or am I Asian? Do I go to the mosque, or do I chill out with my mates and have a quick beer? Am I even supposed to have a beer? All this mad stuff going on. But the guitar was the best thing – you can sit in your room on your own, and once you’ve hit the tune – not even a tune a couple of notes… that was it That feeling, it made me like I’ve just done something. And then the words started coming out.What about the album, gigs to promote, all that?
“We’re releasing the album (Astral Projections) on iTunes and all the other online places. But we’re doing a big local release, and a big campaign in March. We’re supporting Reverend and the Makers, maybe a support slot with Simon and Oscar from Ocean Colour Scene; I’m writing with Steve Craddock for an acoustic album. He called me a week ago, before flying out to tour with Paul Weller. I’m a massive fan… and he took the album with him to give to Weller. And we’re doing a living-room tour. …Khaliq - and the guys in the band are great. Nice guys with passion and interesting perspectives to explore. We could have talked for hours. But as I touched on at the start, what is striking about Khaliq’s situation was how, in two generations, the flow of ideas, and our ability to knowledgeably and respectfully embrace new musics across multiple cultures, and in many cases interpret and re-interpret it with skill and passion, has so completely changed.
A while back, I did a documentary - Handsworth Evolution - on the post-war generations of Caribbean musicians who came to the UK and saw their music flow into the creative pool.
There’s another gig coming up soon that highlights this very clearly, when two fine sets of musicians, already featured on this blog – The Beat and Xova, second and third generations respectively - play Birmingham Town Hall on December 15th. Hey, a lot cheaper that the Stones, and it's my guess there'll be a lot more heart to the gig as well.
It was relatively easy to trace the musical generations for my Handsworth documentary, and slightly harder to try to pinpoint the musical and creative flows out from and back into Asian musicians. I'm pretty sure that this will become clearer in time.