Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were in the vanguard of the 60s rock and roll movement in Britain, and Mick Green was head of the line of aspiring British guitar players with both the attitude AND the chops to pull it off. Kidd died in 1966, but the late 70s saw the Pirates storm back into action, cementing their reputation with a series of raucous live gigs and a major-label signing. In those days, up-and-coming punk and new wave acts were blown off stage by a bunch of angry men sporting mean expressions and pirate clothes!
In recent years the Pirates sailed on, impressing old and new listeners alike with their high-powered brand of rhythm and blues. Appearances become more scarce as the gentlemen grew older, but a fair amount of the old fire and skill was always in evidence. Unfeasibly loud and forceful, for a bunch of old fellas!
In the last ten years or so, Mick had stints as a sideman with Van Morrison, Paul McCartney and Bryan Ferry.. plus his share of health problems, which have, sadly, now taken their toll.
And it IS sad, because the Pirates meant a lot to me and always will. I first saw them in that 70s renaissance (at Hudderfield Polytechnic, supported by a Cambridge new wave band called The Push, and a Pakistani escapologist!) and many times since then. An understated kind of guitar genius: Paul Burlison and Wilko Johnson rolled into one, more dextrous than either and do you know what? I never ever worked out how Mick Green did what he did.
I’m just happy I saw him do it. RIP, Mick.
After the jump, a Pirates gig review I wrote for Blues in Britain..
The Pirates – Dingwalls, Camden Lock, 17th February 2000
The burly figure of Mick Green hefts his Telecaster Custom and leans into the opening bars of ‘Peter Gunn’ and suddenly I’m 18 again. For those of us present at the second coming of THE original British rockers in the late 70’s, a chance to see them in fine form once more was too good to be missed. Frank Farley and Johnny Spence complete the classic line up: September’s last Pirates blast at the Grey Horse in Kingston was supposed to be the end, but here are our heroes back again, one more time, rocking as hard as they ever have.
Mick grins at Frank, cues in the old set-opener ‘Please Don’t Touch’, and immediately everyone in the room is bouncing up and down. All that’s missing is the illuminated galleon at the back of the stage and the pirate clothes! Johnny’s shifty second-hand car dealer attitude and solid bass playing light up the room; he’s singing loud and clear. Frank keeps the pace going; you just know he’s thinking ‘How many more times can we do this?’ but the Dingwalls crowd neither mind nor care, this is original British rock and roll heaven.
And all the old favourites just keep coming. An impossible breakneck pace on ‘Gibson Martin Fender’, a thumping ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee’, a faithful version of ‘Going Back Home’. “Written with Wilko, is he here?” says Mick. ‘Do The Dog’ was done as a mid-set breather. “Johnny wants to do this one” says Mick, before the less-than-politically-correct lads-on-the-pull “Four To The Bar”. “This could be a bit iffy…” precedes a sturdy version of ‘Don’t Munchen It’. “Didn’t need a break 20 years ago” remarks Johnny as the Pirates go off for a half-time livener…..
Certain elements of the crowd have been baying for ‘Lonesome Train’ all night, and the Pirates kick off the second half with that delightful tune, and a reminiscence about their youthful days, listening to Johnny Burnette records that ex-merchant seaman Frank brought back from his travels. “Who’s actually seen Johnny Kidd on stage?” shouts Mick, answered in the affirmative by a guy who “looks about eighteen!”. Mick pockets his guitar pick and does his Paul Burlison impression on “Honey Hush”, followed with another favourite “Tear It Up”. The Pirates are chatty and so obviously at home, it’s lovely to see. It’s all becoming a bit of a blur, there’s a tear in my eye…..I know I heard fine versions of “I Can Tell” and “Sweet Love On My Mind” and “You Don’t Own Me” too.
All too soon our three heroes are drawing the set to a close, with a belting ‘Milk Cow Blues’ and the anthemic “All In It Together”, and of course a blazing “Johnny B. Goode” as the encore. There’s a genuine emotional connection between band and audience, the likes of which you just don’t see these days. Sure, Johnny forgets a few words, but the rhythm is so sound and solid and, well, just plain sweaty, and Mick is still the finest rhythm guitar player on the planet.
Was this the last ever Pirates gig? If they ever turn out again, beg, borrow or steal a ticket, you won’t regret it. The Pirates, a national treasure. To steal a quip from Pete Townshend, “Guys, don’t grow old gracefully, it wouldn’t suit you”.
Pirates photo: Yukiko Akagawa