John Miles

I first encountered the music of John Miles when I bought a new all-in-one Music Centre in 1979.  Eager to try it out I started recording concerts from BBC Radio.  One of these was an 'In Concert' featuring John Miles.  If I remember correctly it was introduced by Tommy Vance who, in his intro, referred to the hit 'Music' and agreed 'It really was!'  I took the green C-120 tape on a holiday to Germany and must have listened to it fairly constantly (the other side was a live recording of 'Dark Side of the Moon'), getting to know and love the songs it contained.

In particular, 'We All Fall Down', 'Overture', 'Fella In The Cellar' and 'Oh Dear' stood out - capturing me with the variety of styles I had become accustomed to through being a die-hard Harry Nilsson fan.  here were rockers - but rockers with good melodies, lovely piano-led ballads and great chord sequences - all things that appealed to me, even though I was only 16 at the time.

To cap it all, I could not help but notice that my voice and John's were quite similar - in range and, at times, in timbre.  I used to be able to sing along with any of John's music but can't manage the 'Every time you put me under' line from 'C'est la vie' any more...I wonder if John himself can???

So I began to collect the recordings.  'Zaragon' and 'More Miles Per Hour' have always been my favourites and these were the first two LPs I ever transferred from vinyl to CD when I bought a PC in the mid-1990s.  'Zaragon' is, to me, the near perfect album - I love every song right up to the last, the title-track, which has never quite managed captivate me in the way the whole of the rest of the LP does.  The brooding, building, atmospheric 'Overture' segueing effortlessly into the blistering 'Borderline' get it off to a great start before the first of two consecutive ballads, 'I Have Never Been In Love Before'. This mid-tempo ballad has a nice guitar introduction and the excellent musical feature of a verse in the minor key followed by the chorus in the major.  Not many pop/rock artists use the minor key - probably the most notable is John Wetton, another of my heroes - yet it certainly adds a another dimension to the music.

The last track on 'side one' is the superb 'No Hard Feelings'.  This, in my opinion, has to be one of the best ballads ever composed - simple in structure yet remarkably beautiful.  The middle 8, in particular, is - as they say - to die for!

Side two (for I still think in those terms, even though I almost exclusively listen on CD or mp3 these days) is made up of three 'epics'.  'Plain Jane' is another favourite - whimsical yet musically interesting with yet more interplay between major and minor.*  'Nice Man Jack' is a three part song about Jack the Ripper with everything from pretty ballad to heavy rock included before overdubbed de-tuning synths segue into the eponymous last song.

So much for Zaragon!  MMPH is as good most of the time 'It's Not Called Angel' probably my favourite stand-alone John Miles track.

I've never been privileged to see John perform live nor meet him but a group of us from the John Miles mailing list made plans to form a tribute band a few years back.  It has not come to anything yet, probably for a combination of reasons including ill-health, busy lives etc. but I hope that maybe, one day, myself, Tudor, Bimal, Zoe etc. might still be able to make something happen!  It would be good to hear these great songs played again - even if John himself doesn't get much opportunity to play live rock shows these days (he still performs live on occasions and in the European 'Night of the Proms' events.  A couple of years ago he also played with a 'Rat Pack' tribute big band.)

John's career has spanned almost 40 years now from early recordings through the 'hit' years of the late 1970s to guest performances with bands and artists like 'Alan Parsons Project' and 'Jimmy Page' and in more recent years as lead guitarist in Tina Turner's backing band (right).  'Music'?  It certainly is!

*it is only in writing this piece that I became aware of just how much of Zaragon IS in the minor key.  Almost every track has minor sections in it - in fact I think EVERY track does!


No 'official' John Miles site but some links:

Stephen Carson's excellent tribute site

Night Of The Proms

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