Saturday, 24 March 2012

TAKE A SAD SONG, AND MAKE IT BETTER

My little sister is getting married today.

Why bore you with the details as to why I won't be there.  I'm not going to.  Families are strange and complicated countries where not everyone belongs. Some people choose to blame the inadequacy of their present on the bitterness and recrimination of the past. I can't say that I haven't paddled in these waters. All they made me was at sea.  Dry land seems preferable, despite the fact that even this is open to interpretation.

I was thinking about my youngest sister a lot last night as I sat with my friend Jane in Islington's sublime Union Chapel, listening to one of my favourite artists ever: Judie Tzuke. I won't enthuse and gush on the grounds that I have known Judie almost longer than I have known myself, because I hadn't seen her to speak to for some years.  Our lives overlapped frequently during the Eighties, when I worked at Chrysalis Records and she was signed to the label.  I remember clearly the first time I met her:  in the upstairs bar of the Lamb and Flag, a trad Victorian boozer on the corner of St. Christopher's Place, off Oxford Street, to which we escaped via the basement postroom stairs.

Judie was a vision. Angelic. Fragile. Not the kind of person one expected to find in such a pub. An ethereal, floaty, other-worldy creature who stood out from the throng on account of her exquisite blonde hair. It wasn't just the barnet, though:  she had this air of confidence, of having 'been here before'. 'Wafted in from some parallel universe', in the music-press jargon of the day.  An English Stevie Nicks, we thought.  Without the mad.  Not that I knew Stevie was bonkers at that point.  She just looked it, in all those 'it's my arty' Fleetwood Mac publicity shots. A few years on, I found myself on a plane with Stevie, heading for LA to do an interview and photo shoot.  I had never experienced a flight like it, and that's saying something - there were times mid-flight when anything went, and everything did.  But I'd never known a companion pull out a full-sized easel and a palette of oils at 35,000 feet, and start painting my portrait ...

I digress. Where was I?  In the Lamb and Flag. Lovely Kirsty McColl was at the other end of the bar. This must have been late 1981, '82, when Kirsty was signed to Polydor and had an unusual song out, 'There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis'.  Was she married to Steve Lillywhite at the time?  The memory lulls.  So there was jaw-drop Jude, famous throughout the world for her exquisite 1979 hit 'Stay With Me till Dawn' at one end, and quirky Kirsty at the other in a jaunty green bowler hat.  Some kind of fantasia.

Forget feminist polemics, enlightened subversiveness, the joyful fresh visions of womanhood. These were simply good birds. What they were was what I wanted to be, but I couldn't sing.  Jude and Kirsty, in their different, special, individual styles, retained their integrity and wrote songs from the heart.  Had they ripped open their own chests, torn apart the ventricles and slushed blood all over the mixing desk, they could not have been more honest about it. They wrote from experience, about what they saw.  It has always been daring, hasn't it: to refuse to conform.

We drank a lot in those days, so there wasn't much bigger-picture.  But now and again, you'd find yourself pausing to reflect, to look about.  While the Eighties music scene was diverse, entertaining and endless fun, there was a whole lot of self-serving going on.  Even the Live Aid caper, conceived by Bob Geldof in genuine, frustrated response to the shame of what was happening in Africa, proved over time to have done more for those who performed in it than for those supposed to benefit from what it achieved. 

I could bang on about that ad nauseam, but all I really want to say is this. There was no small talk with Jude and Kirsty.  They didn't do crap.  They said what they meant, and vice versa.  You knew where you stood. No back-biting, no back-stabbing, what you saw was what you got.  None of this 'us and them':  you're only a record company minion, we are the stars.  They were women. We bled together.

Kirsty had a fantastic career, knew heartache and tragedy, co-created the best-loved Christmas pop song of all time.  She paid the ultimate price for love in 2000, literally giving her life for her sons in a boating accident in Mexico. Who doesn't miss her.

As for Jude: well hey, hasn't it always been about the music.  She has been signed to so many labels, released so many albums. She personifies honesty in songwriting. She has never suffered fools, nor turned a blind eye to the unscrupulous.  She has never sold her soul.  Perhaps she would have had a Whitney of a career, had she done so.  But look, what kind of a price to pay in the end. Jude's heart has been broken, she has suffered, she has still soared. She has learned, evidently, to find joy in the little things.  If we can't have true happiness as our default, as the umbrella of life, at least we can lay  hands on the odd rainhat.  This is probably not quite how Judie herself would articulate her personal philosophy, but it's a take. She speaks for so many of us in her songwriting.  Her voice, delivering such carefully-crafted, quite beautiful lyrics, taps into our elation as well as our pain.

Oh sure, the tears fell last night, as I sat in the front row at the Union Chapel with friends who had driven all the way from Cheshire to see Judie and  'my beautiful Bailey', her daughter, born the same year as my eldest, Mia - so yes, we shared pregnancy, which was a moment. Back to the Lamb and Flag I drifted, with young Jude and Kirsty and with life to come.

Regrets?  Bring 'em on. Our hearts grow bigger because they heave with them.  With these swollen, shredded organs can we love more than we did when they were whole.  Buy Judie's new album, One Tree Less (www.tzuke.com/) and immerse yourself in  meaning.  I am sending it to my sister, on her wedding day.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

VERY SANDERSON

St. Patrick's Day. We've so often stood on New York's streets, three sheets to the wind and beating our legs in time to the marching bands. We've downed a good few gallons of Black Velvet while crooning Happy Birthday to our cherished honorary Irishman, Gerry Sanderson.... who was always honorary something or other, come to think of it, because Gerry loved people and was that kind of bloke. He is no longer with us, having succumbed in 2008 to the cancer he fought so bravely for the sake of his wife and children. His soul marches on.

Armed with a knife and a bag of shells, dressed in a sexy white bikini and crooning ‘Underneath The Mango Tree’ as he welcomed guests to the Sanderson James Bond-themed ball back at Bucklebury, Gerry was the classic English eccentric who loved a laugh at his own expense. From his impression of Ursula Andress’s Honey Rider in Dr. No to a Heroes Ball get-up as John Lennon in Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club garb, there were few extremes to which Gerry would not go in search of the crack… including presenting himself butt-naked in the bedchambers of female house guests, invariably protesting that he had been on his way to the toilet and must have lost his way …

Born between two sisters in Norwich on St. Patrick’s Day 1953, Gerry was a lifelong supporter of Norwich City football club from the moment he could walk. One of the proudest moments of his life, he’d later claim, was following Delia Smith into the shareholders’ box … and he wasn’t after the Christmas pudding on which she must have modelled her haircut …

His lively, diligent school years spent at Greenacres, Great Yarmouth and Peers School Oxford led to a place at Manchester University’s School of Architecture in 1971. He graduated with Honours 7 years later, and became a chartered member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1979. His early career was spent affiliated to a number of architectural partnerships before he launched his own, Sanderson Associates, in 1990.

The fun started, he once admitted, when he met his match, at a party to celebrate his future wife’s 30th birthday party at Bibury Court in 1990. He told anyone who would listen that it was love at first sight. He was terminally besotted with Lynda, and their love affair was for all time. Having wooed her relentlessly with poetry, drawings, illustrated love letters, days at the races and nights at the opera, he moved her into his Shepherd’s Bush flat and then on to Dodbrooke House, South East London - their first family home and the scene of much merriment and many a raucous turkey-and-mince-pie, dance-til-dawn-and-throw-up-in-the-bald-Christmas-tree bash. Oliver was born the following year. Their wedding, four years later, was by their wild standards a modest affair in Gibraltar. They compensated with a two-day Bucklebury event for the rest of us on their return. The hangovers lasted a week. Some longer. Hermione arrived in 1997. Gerry remarked, on her birth, that his eyes were now brimming with apples and that he felt that his heart would burst.

Whilst forever insisting that his wife and children were his greatest and most fulfilling achievements, he was never neglectful of his talent. Highlights included the £110 million extension to the Grade II Listed Prudential headquarters, Holborn; award-winning shopping centres in Birkenhead, Preston, Chorley and Ealing Broadway; a £4 million Trust House Forte hotel redevelopment in Hull. Ever the Italophile, he bought and renovated a villa in Umbria, which inspired him to take on another in Murcia, Spain, a barn conversion in Normandy and major chateau rejuvenation project in the Loire valley. Various healthcare and commercial work included Maidenhead’s Grade I Listed Huntercombe Manor special care unit, a 90-bed nursing home/brain injury unit in Blackheath, and a major film editing and post-production facility in Soho. In 1992 he designed Windsor House, the award-winning £6.7 million headquarters for South West Water in Plymouth, which earned him a short-list nomination for Italy’s Andrea Palladio International Award for young architects.

It was shortly after his return from a fund-raising trek in the Andes in 2004 that Gerry fell ill unexpectedly, and was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Having responded well to gruelling treatment which he described with typical understatement as ‘just a little prick’, he could only stand and stare in astonishment as Lynda bailed the family out, building a business from nothing at The Manor House, and hosting weekend hen-parties for unruly gaggles of guests. Gerry and Lynda later put their minds to some major investments in Somerset and Devon. The former, a deconsecrated church, was to be redesigned as self-catering hen party accommodation, while the latter, an obsolete family hotel on the North Devonshire coast, would be developed as luxury seaside apartments.

Late 2007, Gerry began plotting with Tony Sykes, to run the New York Marathon in celebration of his return to health and in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. But by the time the application forms arrived, Gerry had developed metastatic tumours in the liver, and was forced to withdraw from the race.

Still talking with Lynda, if only in the abstract, about taking Manhattan with Tony in five weeks’ time, Gerry lost his fight for life on Saturday 6th September 2008 - ironically in Frenchay Hospital’s Macmillan palliative care unit, the very charity for whom he had planned to run.

It is Gerry’s unquenchable thirst for life, his easy smile, his modesty, his huge intellect, his sense of fun and taste for the ridiculous - his energy, in essence - which we will never forget.

In the words of the Remembrance Day Exhortation, which seem appropriate,
'They grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.'




Thursday, 8 March 2012

GREATEST HITS?

Where do you start?  Queen's catalogue is so rich, diverse and all-encompassing that a request to select twenty five tracks for a pre-American publication playlist has had me in knots for days.  Still, I had to choose. Let me know what you think.  If you have better ideas, please tell me why.


The tracks chosen here correspond loosely to the chapter headings in the book. They were not necessarily released during the period covered in the chapter I have selected them for … but something in each song evokes the content and personality of the chapter to which it is linked.



Montreux - A Winter's Tale


Live Aid - Radio GaGa


Zanzibar - Seven Seas of Rhye


Panchgani - Save Me


London - Now I'm Here


Queen - Killer Queen


Front Man - I Want It All


Mary - Mother Love, and Love of My Life


Trident - Under Pressure


EMI - Hammer to Fall


Dudes - You're My Best Friend


Rhapsody - Bohemian Rhapsody


Fame - Fat-Bottomed Girls


Champions - We Are The Champions


Munich - I'm Going Slightly Mad


Phoebe - Friends Will Be Friends


South America - Las Palabras De Amor


Barbara - Too Much Love Will Kill You


Jim - Somebody To Love (Freddie's favourite song – and his mother's)


Break Free - I Want To Break Free


Live - Don't Stop Me Now


Budapest - It's A Kind Of Magic


Garden Lodge - These Are The Days Of Our Lives


Barcelona - Barcelona (with Montserrat Caballe)


For The Road - Who Wants To Live Forever


Legend - The Show Must Go On