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MICK GREEN – 1945-2010

29-01-2010

Mick Green

Dave Woodhall pays tribute to a recently-departed and often overlooked musical genius.

Ironically I’d just put the finishing touches to the Steve Gibbons article yesterday when I read that Mick Green had died a couple of weeks ago. I must have missed the news at the time; serves me right for not paying closer attention.

Mick was a guitarist. In fact it could be said that he was the first great British rock axeman. Mick first came to prominence with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates in 1962; Kidd is widely regarded as the ultimate British rock’n’roller but by the time Mick joined the Pirates the singer’s classic rock’n’roll days were behind him and he was settling into the beat group era which would give him a second stab at chart success before his early death in a car crash in 1966.

By this time Mick had left the band and become a member of Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas, then working with Englbert Humperdinck. It may have paid the bills but for such a blazing talent backing a cabaret crooner was no long-term move.

1974 saw Mick forming the fledgling r’n’b supergroup Shangai and writing songs with Staus Quo bassist Alan Lancaster. His unique rhythm and lead playing was already a massive influence on the likes of Pete Townsend, Lemmy and Wilko Johnson, to name but a few.

In 1976 the classic Pirates line-up reformed. The timing was perfect – pub rock had given way to a harder edged r’n’b sound led by Green’s protégés Dr Feelgood, punk was starting to make itself known and the Pirates were the perfect band to straddle both stools with ease.

They were, by all accounts (I was too young to see them) the hardest, rockingest, most blisteringly ferocious live attraction in the country. However, such talent may have been a two-edged sword.

Support gigs with such names as AC/DC and Chuck Berry may have introduced them to many new fans but the reaction the band got soon made sure they were frozen out of the big tours. One of the unwritten rules of the music business at this time was “Never go on after the Pirates.” They even managed to transform the Reading Festival arena into a sweaty bar as they stole the show there in 1978.

Naturally, the Pirates live act was difficult to put across on record but they made a better job of it than most. The first album Out of Their Skulls wasn’t a bad stab but the part-live follow-up Skull Wars was a stormer. Culminating in a storming Johnny B. Goode and the anthemic should-have-been-a-smash-hit All In It Together, Skull Wars was the album to make the Pirates stars. But it wasn’t to be.

As these things do, the band’s star waned and they spilt in 1983. Mick went back to working as a jobbing musician, even playing with Freddie Starr for a while, but never forgot his roots. The Pirates reformed once more towards the end of the nineties and continued playing occasional gigs from then until last year.

Ironically Mick was more in demand during the last decade of his life than ever before, as a host of big names wanted to honour one of their equals. Mick played with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and it was during a world tour with Bryan Ferry that he suffered a heart attack five years ago.

After some time recovering he got back onstage both with the Pirates and as a sideman, and even did a few Midlands shows that meant I was finally able to catch his talent live.

One at Coventry in 2007 stood out. It was a freezing cold day – England were playing the West Indies at the same time in the coldest temperature ever recorded in test cricket, the gig was outdoors in the cathedral ruins and under a strange tent contraption.

Hardly the ideal circumstances for a rock’n’roll gig but the Pirates gave their all and I could hardly take my eyes off Mick Green throughout their entire set. The only word to describe the man was, and is, genius. I could but wonder at how good the band would have been thirty years earlier.

But thanks to Youtube, we can all at least get some idea.

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