January 11, 2010 – Michael Robert “Mick” Green was born on 22 February 1944 in Matlock Derbyshire, England but grew up in Wimbledon, south-west London, in the same block of flats as Johnny Spence and Frank Farley. The three would eventually form a band that would play together for almost 50 years. Green met Farley in rather maverick circumstances; he fell out of a tree and landed on him. His first meeting with Spence was more conventional – Green turned up at Spence’s door holding a guitar and said: “I hear you know the opening bit to Cumberland Gap. Can you teach me?” The result was one of the most original guitarists Britain has ever produced.
The trio formed the Wayfaring Strangers in 1956, a skiffle band. Entering a competition at the Tottenham Royal Ballroom, the youngsters came second to a band called the Quarrymen, who later achieved success as the Beatles.
Green’s first steady gig, however, was as a member of the Red Caps, backing group for Cuddly Dudley. That band also included Johnny Patto, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley, all of whom defected to become The Pirates the backing band for pre Beatle-era rocker Johnny Kidd. In 1962 Green replaced Joe Moretti as lead guitar player for the Pirates.
It was a song called “I’ll Never Get Over You,” which rose to number four, that established Green, his searing lead guitar being one of the most aggressive sounds heard on record in England during this period. Though it would take a few years for anyone to find it out, the song became practically an anthem for a generation of garage rock and punk enthusiasts.
As a member of the Pirates, Mick Green became one of a tiny handful of young guitar heroes of the pre-Beatles era in English rock & roll. Generating a loud, slashing sound from his Fender Telecaster Deluxe that combined the lead and rhythm guitar parts in one, Green’s playing ran completely counter to the more open two-guitar sound that dominated English rock & roll. Among those who picked up on the lean, muscular sound Green created was Tony Hicks, future member of the Hollies.
Ironically, even though session guitarist Joe Moretti (subbing for Alan Caddy) and not Green, had played on the original “Shakin’ All Over,” Green, as the most visible guitarist in the Pirates’ history, became permanently associated with that song, and vice versa.
Although he wasn’t widely recognized in the press at the time, or by the world outside of the music community, Green was as influential a musician during this period as any of England’s early rock guitar heroes, including Hank Marvin of the Shadows, Joe Brown, and Big Jim Sullivan. Moreover, he exerted as much or more impact on rock & roll in England from 1962 onward as George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, or Jimmy Page would later be credited with.
Johnny Kidd & the Pirates were popular among other musicians and made a living playing clubs and smaller concert venues, but they were unable to sustain their recording success past the early ’60s. From 1963 onward, with money being thrust in ever-larger amounts into the hands of the Beatles and other Liverpool acts, the Pirates began falling behind the wave of new acts, unable to rate better than support act status at major venues (though the early Who also played in support of them).
This was an instance of the parts being bigger than the whole and by 1964, Green’s reputation had outstripped that of the Pirates. He was lured away from the band by an offer to join the Dakotas, who were then placing records very high on the charts and playing around the world as the backing band for Billy J. Kramer, but needed more muscle in their live sound.
Green shored up that band, which, with his arrival, became one of the few groups of the period to boast a double lead guitar lineup. He made them one of the most respected backing groups in England, although the only hit Green ever played on was the distinctly pop-oriented “Trains and Boats and Planes.” He was later joined in the Dakotas by ex-Pirate/Red Cap Frank Farley on drums, and the two worked together up through 1967, when the Dakotas broke up.
(Kidd re-formed the Pirates and was attempting a comeback that ended with his death in a car crash in 1966, though the newer Pirates kept playing together until 1967). Green hooked up for a short time with Cliff Bennett before he and Farley became part of Engelbert Humperdinck‘s backing band, spending seven years in that well-remunerated but musically low-visibility position, playing Las Vegas and related venues. Green later played in the group Shanghai, which included John “Speedy” Keen in the lineup, which lasted for two years. During the mid-’70s, however, the admiration that Green evoked within the music community began to emerge in the press. Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood, in particular, was highly outspoken in his praise for Green.
Additionally, several histories of the Who, appearing at a time when the latter band was at the peak of its popularity, credited Johnny Kidd & the Pirates and particularly Mick Green with their role in shaping the group’s sound. It was only a short jump for the English music press to draw the connection to Green as one of the progenitors of the then-burgeoning punk sound.
During this same period, Spence and Farley had begun playing together again and a one-off Pirates reunion gig was arranged. That 1976 gig proved so successful that it resulted in a recording contract and a semi-permanent reunion. the Pirates became a going concern as a performing band and even managed to release albums, cut live and in the studio, that were distributed internationally. Green cut a striking figure on guitar during the second Pirates incarnation, a heavy athlete’s build topped by an intense yet clear-eyed expression, coaxing explosive solos out of his instrument. The Pirates trio became a cult band with a wide reputation , their sound during the 1970s and beyond embraced punk, rockabilly, blues, and classic rock & roll.
In more recent years, Green had been recognized as one of British rock & roll’s elder statesmen, but remained a busy working musician playing with figures as different as Paul McCartney and Peter Green in the 1980s and 1990s. The McCartney gigs, in particular, on the so-called “Russian album” and several of the former Beatle’s subsequent rock & roll ventures, gave Green more mass exposure than at any time in his career and introduced his name to at least a portion of the Beatles’ following. Along with reissues of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ early-’60s work and the Pirates’ latter-day recordings, and his music with the Dakotas, the McCartney rock & roll sides comprise Green’s most visible music.
In those years Green also played with, amongst others, Bryan Ferry, Van Morrison, Robert Plant and Lemmy and the Upsetters. In 1990, Green played guitar with Lemmy and the Upsetters on their “Blue Suede Shoes” / “Paradise” single. The A-side was originally recorded for a charity album, and Green wrote the B-side with Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister for this occasional Upsetters project. With the Pirates he continued to gig well into the 2000s. His other notable gigs included playing guitar for Van Morrison on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005, and with David Gilmour and Paul McCartney at the latter’s return to the Cavern Club in support of his Run Devil Run album in 1999.
In his little spare time left he taught guitar privately, as well as at various local schools.
From 1999 to 2008, Green performed regularly with the Van Morrison band. He played guitar on 1999’s Back on Top and he appeared on his other studio albums up until he was on five of the tracks on Van Morrison’s 2008 album, Keep It Simple.
In 2007 he did a six track mini-album “Cutthroat and dangerous” in Finland with a Finnish rock’n’roll trio Doctor’s Order.
In February 2004 while on stage with Bryan Ferry in Auckland, New Zealand, he suffered a cardiac arrest. His life was saved by two doctors in the crowd and following his return to England and recovery he went back to playing. When he suffered kidney problems in February 2009 it became clear that this was partly connected to his earlier heart problem.
Bryan Ferry, who remembers him as “a brilliant guitarist with his roots firmly based in the traditions of American rock’n’roll. He had enormous talent and was a man of great humour, sharp wit and generosity of spirit.” According to McCartney, “Mick was one of the original rock heroes. He was a classic rock guitarist with a simple but fabulous style and sound.”
Green saw music as his life force, continuing to play – against doctors’ orders – long after suffering a heart attack while on stage with Ferry in 2005.
Mick Green was 65 years 11 months 9 days old when his heart gave out on 11 January 2010