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Chuck Berry 1926-2017: "The only true king of rock'n'roll"

The groundbreaking singer has died aged 90. 

Chuck Berry, the "father of rock'n'roll", has died aged 90, a year after announcing his first album in four decades.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry, better known as Chuck Berry, was born into a middle-class African-American family in St Louis, Missouri. He first rose to fame in the 1950s with songs such as "Maybellene" and "Rock and Roll Music". In particular, "Roll Over Beethoven", which jokingly told the classical greats to give way, became "the ultimate rock and roll call to arms", according to Rolling Stone magazine.

He would go on to inspire the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Both bands released covers of his songs.

Although Berry stopped recording studio albums in 1979, on his 90th birthday he announced he would be releasing "Chuck", an album dedicated to his wife Themetta. . 

As the news broke of his death, tributes began pouring in. Bruce Springsteent tweeted that Berry was "the greatest pure rock'n'roll writer who ever lived".

But Berry - thanks in part to his (by rock'n'roll standards) unusually long life - has already been widely acknowledged as one of the instrumental musicians in modern popular culture. Here are how some of the other musical legends described him in his own lifetime:

"All of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry"

- Leonard Cohen

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

- John Lennon

"One of greatest poets America has ever produced.” 

- Paul McCartney

“There’s only one true king of rock ‘n’ roll. His name is Chuck Berry.”

- Stevie Wonder

"Chuck Berry was the key to everything that happened in the 60s."

- Dave Davies, The Kinks

"Chuck Berry, we all love you"

- Michael Jackson

"The Shakespeare of rock'n'roll"

- Bob Dylan

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.