Mick Green: Guitarist with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates who also played alongside Paul McCartney and Van Morrison
Saturday 16 January 2010
The guitarist Mick Green didn't like to boast about his prowess as an instrumentalist, yet he was one of the most influential musicians to come out of the British Isles in the early 1960s.
While The Shadows' lead guitarist, Hank Marvin, pioneered a clean sound, Green, who joined Johnny Kidd & the Pirates in 1962, was a gutsier, louder, raunchier, more exciting kind of guitar hero.
He managed to simultaneously play blistering lead and staccato rhythm parts on his Fender Telecaster, a trademark style that would soon be emulated by The Who's Pete Townshend and Wilko Johnson of pub-rock legends Dr Feelgood, and was greatly admired by Slade frontman, Noddy Holder. Though Green became a Pirate two years after Kidd's British No. 1 "Shakin' All Over" – a mainstay of The Who's repertoire throughout the Sixties and early Seventies – his driving guitar epitomised the band's high energy, high-octane approach, on stage and on their subsequent singles, including their storming covers of Arthur Alexander's "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues" and Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell", the Top 20 singles "I'll Never Get Over You" and "Hungry for Love" – all issued in 1963 – and "Always and Ever", their last chart entry in 1964.
Green subsequently joined Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas, and later plied his trade backing Engelbert Humperdinck in Las Vegas. Kidd died in 1966, but Green reunited with the Pirates mainstays, the bassist and vocalist Johnny Spence and the drummer Frank Farley, as a back-to-basics trio a decade later. The Pirates proved a natural fit with the pub rock and the punk generation and enjoyed success with their own Out of Their Skulls album in November 1977 and the Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival, a double set documenting a three-week event at the London pub venue which also featured The Wilko Johnson Band, The Stranglers, XTC, X-Ray Spex, The Saints, 999 and Dire Straits, which was released in March 1978. Over the last three decades, Green occasionally performed with The Pirates, but also recorded and toured with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Bryan Ferry, an indication of the reputation and standing he enjoyed as a sideman.
Born in Matlock, Derbyshire, he grew up in Wimbledon in the same block of flats as Spence and Farley. By the mid-Fifties, the three boyhood friends had grown into teenagers, in thrall to the skiffle craze, and were eagerly trying to figure out the chords to Lonnie Donegan's chart-topping version of "Cumberland Gap". They quickly formed their own skiffle group with fanciful names such as the Wayfaring Strangers and the Ramrods.
Green was the inquisitive type and backtracked from skiffle to the blues of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters. He also studied classical guitar for 18 months. His playing was inspired by the American guitarists he admired, Chet Atkins, the Johnny Burnette sideman Paul Burlison, and especially James Burton, whose feel and sound he successfully emulated and moved on into a new era.
He was still at school when Kidd hit with "Please Don't Touch" in 1959 and "Shakin' All Over" the following year, and became a Pirate when he replaced Johnny Patto in March 1962, two months after Spence and Farley had come on board. A stint at the Star Club, the Hamburg venue where The Beatles had honed their craft, helped the powerhouse trio to develop a near-telepathic understanding and Green blossomed as they opened with their own 15-minute set before backing Kidd, the swashbuckling front man, who wore an eye-patch and used a cutlass on stage.
"We didn't have a rhythm guitarist and our sound needed filling out," Green said of his distinctive and pioneering approach to his instrument. "You can only play that way with a trio, you can't play like that with another guitar or a piano. It's achieved by bashing out the chords loudly and twiddling around with the things. It's quite an easy thing to do; there's nothing magical about it."
This line-up lasted two and a half years and appeared all over the UK, including at the Cavern in Liverpool, and topped the bill over The Beatles at a Liverpool Riverboat Shuffle event held aboard the Royal Iris on the Mersey in August 1962. The Pirates also issued their own single, pairing "My Babe" and "Casting a Spell", but after the "Jealous Girl" single flopped in August 1964, Green left for Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas. He played on their 1965 hit "Trains and Boats and Planes" and co-wrote its B-side, "That's the Way I Feel", and several more tracks, and recorded two Kramer-less singles with The Dakotas in 1967 before backing Billy Fury for a spell.
The guitarist's lengthy tenure with Humperdinck started in 1968. It brought steady income for the newly married Green, as well as the occasional side benefit, like meeting Elvis Presley in Vegas, but it was creatively unfulfilling. In 1974, he formed the band Shanghai with the Thunderclap Newman songwriter John "Speedy" Keen, and they released two albums and supported Status Quo on tour in 1976. By then, Dr Feelgood, named after the Piano Red song covered by The Pirates, had become all the rage. They had included "Oyeh!", the Green instrumental first recorded by the Dakotas, on Down by the Jetty, their 1975 debut. "The first time I heard the Feelgoods on the radio, I really thought it was us," he remarked in 1977. "Fine, so the Feelgoods made it by using many of the things that the Pirates developed. That's great and shows how valid our approach always has been."
Green and Johnson became friends and co-wrote "Going Back Home" which became a high point of the Feelgoods' set and was included on both Malpractice, their 1975 follow-up, and Stupidity, their 1976 No. 1 live album. Johnson pestered Green to reform The Pirates and the guitarist eventually relented. Planned as a one-off event at Dingwalls in London, the reunion attracted rave reviews and became permanent as the group upstaged Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Roundhouse. They signed to Warners, recorded Out of Their Skulls live at the Nashville in London and at Rockfield Studios in Wales with Feelgoods producer Vic Maile, and toured the UK and continental Europe. Their mix of the covers and originals which had constituted their Sixties repertoire, plus new compositions like "Don't Munchen It" and the guitar ode "Gibson Martin Fender" went down a storm, and they recorded a second album entitled Skull Wars. As they had done with Kidd, they wore thigh-high boots and other piratical garb and inspired the look Adam Ant sported at the dawn of the Eighties.
Another fallow period followed and Green made do with accompanying Freddie Starr, getting the occasional opportunity to shine as the comedian impersonated Presley and other rock stars.
Given Green's pedigree as one of the originators of British rock'n'roll, it was fitting that McCartney recruited the guitarist to make the Ñíîâà â ÑÑÑÐ/CHOBA B CCCP album of rock'n'roll covers originally conceived as a USSR-only release in 1988. Eleven years on, when McCartney revived the idea for Run Devil Run, and added three of his own compositions to another dozen rock'n'roll classics, Green headed a stellar cast of sidemen including the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, and keyboardist Pete Wingfield of "Eighteen With a Bullet" fame. In December 1999, they even played a landmark gig at The Cavern in Liverpool which was webcast and issued on video and DVD.
Indeed, the last decade saw Green in great demand, as he toured with Morrison and participated in the recording of six of the vocalist's studio albums, starting with Back on Top in 1999 and including the Top Ten albums Down the Road (2002), Magic Time (2005), Pay the Devil (2006) and Keep it Simple (2008). He also contributed to the Ferry solo albums Frantic (2002) and Dylanesque (2007), and performed with him as well, though he suffered a heart attack while in New Zealand in 2004. Farley retired from The Pirates in 2006, but Green and Spence released the Skullduggery album the following year.
"I enjoy all gigs. If I didn't really enjoy the playing, I wouldn't be doing it," Green said in 2004.
Michael Robert Green, guitarist and songwriter: born Matlock, Derbyshire 22 February 1944; married Karen (two sons); died Ilford, Essex 11 January 2010.
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