New Musical Express, October 14th 1972
STEVE TOOK- from Bolan boogie to gutter rock
by Charles Shaar Murray
Most people know who Steve Peregrin Took is, but few people know what he does. A few more know him as a somewhat bizarre figure who materialises at concerts, armed only with an Epiphone guitar, and performs a free-form set of songs, raps, jokes and anything else that flashes through his mind. At times he seems to be the ultimate caricature of the Ladbroke Grove dope casualty, so much so that one former friend advanced the theory that he has in fact been dead for two years.
A few weeks ago I ran into Took at the OZ office, and he told me that he'd signed with Tony Secunda, the man who'd super-charged the careers of Procol Harum, the Move, the Moody Blues and Marc Bolan. Secunda is not a man who messes around, and he doesn't sign people whom he considers to be losers, so one may assume that the Steve Took renaissance is at hand.
Steve Took cuts a rather sad figure. He's five foot ten and weighs about eight stone, and his unevenly cut brown hair falls well below his shoulders. He has an air of rather tattered elegance, a perpetual underdog, a battered ornament, something of a joke. A while ago, Marc Bolan told an interviewer that Steve was "in the gutter somewhere", a statement which he took to heart. So what now? Over a bottle of wine in Hyde Park and some time in the Grove via Pizzaland and a couple of movies, we bring you the gutter rock of Steve Took.
"I'm trying to suss out what boogie is. I did a bit of boogying around with the Fairies when they broke up when they first broke up and I've done a bit of boogying with Trevor Burton, who's a very fine guitarist (abrupt switch to upperclass twit accent) absolutely wizzo, deffo. "Then I decided that I'd been doing solo gigs and it was a bit strange working with other people, so I thought I'd better go away, do a bit of writing, see where my head's at, because I hadn't really concentrated on writing for about six months. I was doing the old 67 hippie benefit rip-off route, which in the end got me down again it's the two sides of the business, and they're both completely untogether. There's always about half the bread that seems to disappear.
"I think we're all over the hill. I'm definitely over the hill. I was reported in your newspaper as 'back on the road after straightening his head out'. This is entirely untrue, I haven't straightened my head out. I can't think how anybody could think my head's straightened out, because it's not, is it? (comic German accent) It's not straightened out at all!
"I like pouring hot wax over people, especially young ladies with large breasts, or small breasts, or any sort of breasts. I don't really mind. I'm not fussy. Next question."
How did Evets Koot (as he likes to refer to himself) decide that playing music was to be his metier?
"At the age of about four 'cos I can't remember three my granny bought me a tin drum, one of those cream tin drums with red and blue on the sides, at which I banged away with gusto. It was then I decided. Then I took up playing the guitar, and after a couple of months the guy took it back, so I borrowed a Boys Brigade drum then I bought a drum kit. Then I sold the drum kit in pursuance of bongos because we were starving at the time.
"I had a group called the Water-proof Sparrows, which was my what do they call them now? urban guerrilla psychedelic boogie rock. We had an echo chamber, and then I moved to town, I was living in SE9 so I though SE9's no good, so I moved into town and met Nalob (And thats Bolan, if you follow his general drift, backwards).
"I MET Nalob Cram through International Times, which I always read, which was something about flower pots, cosmic dancers and something like that something to do with drugs, and we met and had this band together, and I had a double drum kit then, and he'd got this guitarist together, and a bass player and we rehearsed for a while, and we did one gig at the Electric Garden, which used to be Middle Earth, and the lead guitarist went mad.
"He started knocking my drum kit about, knocking my cymbals over, thought he was Pete Townshend. It was Pete Townshend, you know! After that we decided that we couldn't work with these other two cats. I sold my drum kit and got some bongos, and that was that.
"I used to play flutes and penny whistles, anything just to get a boogie going. I had bongos. I had a miniature drum kit, bass, gong and pixiephone." What? "Well, I was falling around Harrods one day, as is my wont, in the toys section and I saw this little thing with "Pixiephone" written on the side so I picked up a couple of bangers and tapped it and it went ding dong ding dong. It's really like a little kid's xylophone. So I bought the first model, and a couple of weeks later I bought the second model and then I progressed to the full double sharps and flats chromium-plated model, which wasn't really a pixiephone. Pixiephones are sort of multi-coloured things.
"We went thorough that boogie and I got into playing guitar again, playing bass and we did an electric single, 'King Of The Rumbling Spires'. They took the end off it, I was playing drums, Nalob was playing guitar. I played bass and he played organ. We put on some percussion afterwards, and we were both singing, but there's only so much room for harmonies there."
KOOT CAST a jaundiced eye over references to him in Keith Altham's Bolan interview. "I said down here that the split with Peregrin was partially due to the fact that I wanted to boogie, I've always been into the on stage performance. I was into that, I used to chew my gong and dribble over it." Took dribbles a lot, they say. "Not too much. Occasionally, when I was doing a solo set, the cat who asked said that his last band had played for one and a half hours, and I said I'm not a band, but I'll see what I can do. This was during the electricity strike, so I was the only person who could go on. I said, "Well, I'll stretch it out a little bit, and dribble for 15 minutes. He went (Monty Python Scottish accent) "Great! Great! Wonderful! Dribble! Dribble!" Because that's what they want. They can identify with that, because they were all downered out of their minds anyway.
"I've given up chemicals, you see."
So after the split with Nalob Cram, did Took go into seclusion in the depths of the Gate and commence to write songs and explode on to the world with his Epiphone guitar? "This is not true. We went to the States to promote the "Unicorn" album. I'd been boogying with the Pretty Things and this caused some disruption in management circles, which is why I've been loath to get involved with the business side of things because that's what music's all about, jamming. There's a lot of it going on, that's music, but it was bad for the image, you know?
"Flower children, rushing around with revolutionaries bad for the image. So I split after America that was an experience. I was obliterated for months afterwards. I was totally chemicalised. I was well into chemicals then, which have since faded away. I've got no tolerance any more.
"I didn't go back to the Gate, I was living in SW7 I hid away, started boogying with my guitar, writing, doing songs with rude words in them like "breast" and "high", which have since become acceptable. And then I laid around until 1970, which wasn't very long and it wasn't very hard, and got very stoned, drank a lot of wine. Then I got Shagrat together.
"Shagrat was me and a guy called Larry, who's now in UFO, with David Bidwell, who's now in Savoy Brown. I was playing bass. I used to play bass with Nalob so it wasn't much hassle, and we did one gig, and about six months rehearsal. It was just boogying, and we got it down. "I couldn't get it together with any I'd go to record companies and talk contracts and they'd go. 'Who's your manager? and I'd go, 'Manager, I'm the manager, man.' And they'd go (indescribable sound effect)! 'We're not handling that freak!' So many grand, you know, because he's gonna blow it, he's not gonna spend it on what he's supposed to, he's gonna spend it on getting' out of his head'."
Drink, drugs and loose living?
This is it. That's what I keep together. If they can't keep it together that's their whatever. So about the end of '70, that broke up 'cos I couldn't get on with Larry. So I rang up this recording man, because we ran out of money, and we kept it going for a few months, but they didn't want to buy "Steel Abortion" or "Peppermint Flickstick". A bit naughty, the words, but then I'd taken in all this American culture and American society in general, and got chemicalised out of it, a general trip, and put it all into words.
"Now there's Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' and 'Killer'. Hawkwind and the general thing is there now, and it wasn't there then because they couldn't accept that it was gonna sell. I was saying to 'em. "Look, man, look at the Yanks, because we're about three years behind them as far as youth culture is concerned. This is what's gonna sell." and they'd say, 'Oh yes, lads sure, do they really want to hear this sort of thing?
"Then I had my dreadful illness. My chest illness. I was very ill, nearly died. Then I decided to work on my own. I'd had a chest complaint in the middle of summer. I believe it's all down to the noxious fumes and that took like six months out of my life, and then it took me two or three months to recover so I could sing and it weakened my resolve (Cackling granny voice).
Then by the time I got over that it was 1971, summer of and I worked quite hard until Christmas, and then to June or July of '72, when things changed a little. I was getting problems again. It was a case of being like the second on the agency list and they don't particularly care what you go out for. I was being managed by Doug Smith who manages Hawkwind and he was trying to get Hawkwind off (being as nice as I can possibly be) and so he didn't really have too much time for getting me off chartwise whatever that is. I mean in terms of getting me more success than I'd had previously. I mean "The Best Of T. Rex" was in the charts for three months, and I was on all but two tracks.
When I left Tyrannosaurus Rex, I didn't want to know about the business and I got an awful lot of heavy write-ups, like smashing up equipment and all this lunacy. I mean like picking up a copy of "Rolling Stone" and reading that Steve Took wanted to put acid in the water supplies and burn down the cities, and I'm the original flower child! I mean if you wanna put acid in the water supplies I'll drink it, because I don't know what they're putting in the water supplies.
"Fifteen thousand Japanese have just keeled over with this terrible disease, man, and it's from the drinking water and they're all screwed up with malformed brains and bones and there's a generation of children that's been born malformed, and it's from the drinking water. Now that's chemicals, and that's what I've been into and that's what I've just come out of, and now I like looking at both sides and listening to Radio Peking. Where was I?
"Oh, yes, agencies. Now Doug was trying to get Hawkwind off, (swift Hawkwind impression). One day Mr Tony Secunda appeared. We ran into each other and rapped a bit and then went away and thought about it and then we rapped a bit more and I thought, 'Business is business, business is business' and we spent about four or five months arguing and then we just signed this contract, which is something I haven't done for a long time.
"Since Tyrannosaurus I'd turned down a lot, because I just didn't want to know about those cats, y'know? Just bummers, man, they wouldn't let me do what I wanted to do, which was the whole basic point of splitting. Because you want to boogie and I want to boogie, but you want to choogle and I want to elgooch.
"Therein lies the difference. When it comes to boogying on stage, I took my shirt off in the Sunset Strip where we were playing and whipped myself 'til everybody shut up. With a belt, y'know, a bit of blood and the whole of Los Angeles shuts up. 'What's going on, man, there's some nutter attacking himself.' I mean Iggy Stoodge had the basic same approach, but all they were getting through was violence. We were very quiet, y'know.
"I can't understand Nalob wanting to change, to be electric, after being acoustic myself. Sometimes I got very pissed off with the people. They didn't want to listen to any words, they just wanted to listen to (more Hawkwind impersonation) they wanted their ears to hurt, like jamming signals on the radio.
"So actually here we are at the present day." opined Koot, spitting with enviable precision at a point uncomfortably close to the reporter's elegant blue suede toe and hooking down another glurp of red wine. "I seem to be the thing that's not wanted in certain camps.
"I was reading a new pop book that came out, and I got to the Marc Bolan chapter. The time was like 1969, and suddenly I turned into Mickey Finn, and there was no mention of any change. All you have to do is look at the 'Beard Of Stars' cover Ask me a question, man." I point out that good interviewing technique consists of allowing the subject to ramble on and then crucifying him afterwards. "Don't crucify me." howls Took. I point out that that's one of Marc's latest lines and inquire why everybody's into crucifying Marc.
"I don't know, man, I wouldn't crucify him. He writes nice singles, and I've always admired his writing ability.
"So here we are in this present day lunacy when Hawkwind are stars I mean they're all Syd Barrett heads. I mean, what a gas, we're taking over." Does this great freak revival mean that Steve's time has come?
"I think my time has always been. It's the machine that selects your time. The time has come. Oh yes, we must own up to this. This is what half the pop business is about: rip-offs. That's the music machine. I don't really mind people ripping me off as long as they tell me when they're ripping me off.
"I mean 'Children Of The Revolution' sums it all up, doesn't it? There's a whole generation come through I mean you go down the Roundhouse (London) and it freaks you out, because they're young. They're not blind and they haven't got three arms and fourteen legs.
"Bowie's into that. He used to do mime things with us when we did our tours. I mean the cat's got it together, he's rocking. I go through periods of rocking and not rocking. The last things I did were a bit of rock".
So when can we actually expect some real live Steve Took records?
"Well, there's a few things going down now, like business, but it's actually signing up with someone, isn't it?
We're just seeing whose machine is capable of launching my things. Launching is the word, isn't it? I wouldn't like to presume to say who it's gonna be, because I don't know who's got the machine that I'm after.
"I did a track called 'Amanda', a year ago, two years ago, I don't know. And then I wrote some more stuff and did some recording with Trevor Burton and a couple of other cats who will remain nameless, and I just sat down and listened to that stuff recently and thought, well that's where I was at six months ago, but what I really want is now.
"No-one's heard anything I've done. I've done one radio programme in three years a BBC Radio London show, 'Breakthrough' with Steve Bradshaw. He just said, 'There's a microphone, you got fifteen to twenty minutes, just do what you want.' So I did what I wanted."
"Well, I didnt get arrested. I asked 'em what I could say and what I couldn't say, and it was quite liberal, but how much exposure is that? But then the radio's been taken over, hasn't it? Since the days of Radio London, Caroline and Geronimo (Mid-Atlantic DJ accent) Geronimo, nothing much has been going down."
What about John Peel?
"John's a victim of what the Press puts out. It's like the two sides of the coin. I'm lying in the gutter, you know, and I am gutter rock, I'm a guttersnipe, I'm a schnide (nasty leer). Print that: I'm a schnide. I mean that's what I am. That's why I had Shagrat it was a rat trip.
"Rats turn over at an amazing pace, and they have a lot of kids. Not only do they eat the rat poison but they thrive on it and get bigger, and they can still slip under doorways. It's the ecology trip. Do you know how many rats were killed in New York last year? 'Cos I don't know. Hah! I can't remember my figures."
"You can expect a single. I don't know how long pressings take. I've got the songs, I mean I'm writing at the moment. I want to put out what's going on in my head now, so that in three months time or six months time, or however long the machine takes, I'll know almost what was going down in my head. I mean a lot of people know what was in head six or nine month's ago "
In those days, Steve was fairly well into his chemical period. "I'm de-chemicalising myself to the point where I won't even drink tap-water. I won't drink beer, which may be some indication of where I'm going or not going. I'm not better than Pete Townshend, I'm just different.
"Bobby's all right, but I wouldn't even presume to say that. (Fearsome pterodactyl screams.) At the last gig I did they said go easy out there, it's a bit violent, and I went, 'What, violence?' and I did my set and they went encore encore.
"I thought, 'what'll I do for an encore?' So I did 'Steel Abortion', which was one of my electric boogies that I can do acoustically. I said: I'm gonna do 'Steel Abortion' now and all these bits of metal started flying around and bottles were flying over the roadies' heads. The place broke up, I mean, that's the direction audiences are going in, I've been through that, I'm getting old now, I'm 23.
"I don't want to vamp on anyone's energy, man. I don't want to vamp on Nalob, Janis Joplin was the greatest vamper in the world, man.
She vamped on audience's energy and the audience vamped on hers and it exploded. I was seen trying to jump over the edge of my box at the Albert Hall, I mean she really got me at it, got me off.
She was something else, y'know, apart from the fact that she once walked up to me and asked for a glass, which was a paper cup, and she didn't give me any of her booze in return, and I'd just ran out.
"'Janis whatta you doing give me some of your booze!' And she said, 'Come round to my place I'll give you all you can drink.'"
Returning to the vexed questions of Steve's latterday recording career, I delicately requested information about existing tapes.
"I did the Shagrat tapes, which I've got. They might come out after I've put out where I'm at now. They're quite good. I've got tapes of piecing the group together. I suppose we got about three hours boogying down.
"I've got a couple of people I dig working with, but it's not complete, so we're just looking for the other man, whoever he is." Will it all explode on the world with a blaze of publicity?
"Warner Brothers did that with Nalob's "Slider". They gave it 150 television spots, and that guarantees 'em a Gold Disc. The TV advertising will guarantee 'em that. So that's the other side of the business. You put ten grand into something and you get a hit. It could be the worst crap in the world, right? But I like packaging. It's nice to look at a nice album cover. It's nice to have a nice poster. Apart from all this crap, we got three hours boogying and a couple of songs, none of which are the completed thing.
"When I start I'll start, and people will know I've started. That's the other side of the business, putting ten grand in. Theoretically I could go out and have a hit record now if I put ten grand in, but I'd rather buy a couple of tons of smack. No I'd rather buy an acre of land or something and open a zoo.
"I like playing on my own I've got into that. I could get behind good promotion, good packaging as long as I got the measure of control, and I have it now. People are getting behind that now, I'm glad people are talking about it, but the energy lies in doing it, not talking about it. I do like talking though I'm a garrulous fellow.
"THAT'S WHAT'S good about being solo. I can stop anywhere and have a rap with the audience, tell a few jokes, and fall about a bit, which is enjoying yourself and they're enjoying it. You stumble into microphones and they say, there he is, dribbling and falling over again and the microphones rock back in perfect time with the music.
"That was one of the troubles with me because they didn't know whether to book me as folk, or freak or rock or cabaret."
Cabaret? They couldn't contend with the jokes. I like rapping, you know. If I feel in a jocular mood I like to tell jokes. My voice is quite weird. I'm more of a cackler than a singer. I like cackling, and screeching. You know this Alice Cooper for President thing? I want Hawkwind for the Cabinet and the Pink Fairies for Police."
I know it's crazy, but it just might work. Yes, it's number one, it's Top Of The Pops, it's ... STEVE PEREGRIN TOOK!!!
On the other hand, don't hold your breath waiting .
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