A LONG TIME AGO in a Corrie far away (TAC53 page 6), a correspondent by the name of Badger Bill (probably a pseudonym) attempted to get a riff going on the subject of rock stars on the hill, alleging that the supergroup Cream had attempted to climb Ben Nevis on acid in the 1960s. I was reminded of this by the news that the great Glenn Tilbrook, singer and co-writer of Squeeze fame, had recently attempted to play a gig on a hill above Everest base camp.
Mr Tilbrook is now claimant to the title of highest gig ever played, a record previously set by Hawkwind at the Glasgow Apollo in 1974. On 21 October 2007, Tilbrook and a number of other musicians played the 5643m peak of Kala Pattar in aid of the Love Hope Strength cancer charity. (1) This feat automatically shoots Tilbrook straight to numero uno in TAC's hurriedly organised Rock Stars on the Hill Chart, easily overtaking Clapton on the Ben.
More information has come to light on the Ben story, incidentally. It appears that it did actually take place during Cream's 1967 tour of Scotland, (2) and was recorded by a photographer, some of whose snaps of the band Sitting (not quite) on Top of the World appeared on the back cover of the Disraeli Gears album. (Hey, Disraeli and Gladstone in the same issue of TAC; don't ever let it be said this isn't a joined-up magazine - Ed.) It is unlikely that the trio of Cuban-heeled fops made it anywhere near the trig, in the manner later popularised by Griff Rhys Jones, so there was little danger of Slowhand coming to grief in Five Finger Gully, thus sparing the world interminable solos, Powellite rantings and Tears in bleeding Heaven. Nevertheless, their bid to be Britain's doubly highest band merits a place in mountaineering history: so Eric, Ginger and Jack occupy numbers two, three and four in the Hill Parade.
All hail David Lee Roth at number five. Diamond Dave it was who insisted in his contract rider that his dressing room be supplied with a bowl of Smarties with the brown ones removed. He can be seen stretching the spandex both on stage and on precipitous Yosemite faces in the video for Just Like Paradise. (3) And he has appeared on The Sopranos. Now that's what you call a rock star lifestyle, Pete Doherty.
In the number six slot we have Jimmy Page, perhaps a surprising entry given that, by reputation, Led Zeppelin would have no difficulty winning election to Sodom and Gomorrah town council. In their pomp, however, the Zepp banged on about the outdoors like German Romantics on amphetamine mint cake: Misty Mountain Hop, Over the Hills and Far Away, Ramble On, etc, all doubtless produced in the warm hashish fug of a silk-draped studio. But evidence exists of Page the Scottish winter climber: (4) in The Song Remains the Same, the guitarist appears in a fantasy sequence climbing cocaine-strewn rocks above Boleskine House in Aleister Crowley's old tricounis. At last he reaches the Old Man with the Lamp from the inner gatefold of Led Zeppelin IV. Page looks under the holy hermit's hood and sees his own face. I was very impressed by the profundity of this back in 1976, and started hillwalking in the hope of experiencing a similar epiphany, not realising just how many bearded and hooded men there were out there.
Some rockers do not appear so comfortable in the mountains, an example of which is provided by Sting at number seven. The Police filmed the video for De Do Do Do De Da Da Da (5) on a snowy slope somewhere in North America, but clearly look as if it was a tedious interruption to their skiing holiday: Sting puts as much effort into the lip-synching as he did into writing the chorus. The Tantric Tool's performance reminds one of the musicians' joke: question, how many lead singers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer, just one, to hold the bulb while the world revolves around him.
At number eight, a special award for effort rather than achievement: step forward Clare Grogan. The pop pixie appears in front of a cartoon Cuillin at the end of the video for I Could Be Happy, (6) smiling coquettishly and, I like to think, a little apologetically for mangling the phonemes in the line about going to Skye on her holidee, in order to create a hitherto unattempted rhyme with tree.
Although not the winner in this rock'n'roll tour, the polka dot jersey for King of the Mountain videos, and number nine spot, must go to Ricky Ross for Fergus Sings the Blues. (7) TAC's esteemed editor was personally involved in this production, scouting for locations (atop the Dumpling and in the Butterbridge car park) and hauling supplies of cappuccino and Gauloises up the hill for various media softies. Look out for a personal appearance at two minutes 36 seconds, as he looms over the gap-toothed Ross like the In Pinn over Sgurr Dearg. Marvel at how little 20 years have altered his craggy visage.
Err... that's about it. It seems a shame to end on nine, so to complete the Top Ten let's shoehorn in a mention of Sir Elton John, surely an honorary member of the RHB messageboard and contributor to the Marhof newsletter: for isn't Candle in the Wind (at least the original version) the lament of a sad, lonely, frustrated obsessive, fantasising about a Marilyn he can never have?
TAC 73 Index