Monday, 30 December 2013


A variation on the New Year's Honours theme.

Can you:
1 - name the five wealthiest people on the planet?
2 - the last five World Cup-winning countries?
3 - last year's chosen ones in the New Year's Honours list?
4 - the last five winners of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize?  The Man Booker?
5 - the last five Oscar-winning Best Actors and Best Actresses?
6 - the last decade's worth of FA Cup Winners?

Me neither.

Few of us remember yesterday's headlines. Not even when they brim with the Best Of.  Applause fades. Awards rust. Achievements are forgotten.  Important stuff swirls to nothing in the mists of time.  The point dies with he or she who made it. I am thinking of Addison Cresswell, who died in his sleep last week.  Who will remember, in a year or two, the high-achieving super-agent and producer who made Jonathan Ross, Michael McIntyre, Jack Dee and more? Only a handful. 

So try this.

Name the teachers at school who made pennies drop for you.
The friends who were there for you when the chips were down.
Those who taught you something worthwhile, something that may have changed your life.
Those who have made you feel appreciated and special.
Those with whom you enjoy spending time.

The people who make a difference in your life are not those with the most money, the most awards, the most influence. They are the ones you care about most. The ones who care about you.

Happy New Year. 

Friday, 15 November 2013


With 'Issues' by the Band of Sisters, producer David Mindel has pulled off the virtually impossible. Having dared to impose his direction and co-writing on fifteen of the most distinctive and sought-after female voices in the music industry, he has shaped a moving album of profound depth and quality. It encapsulates perfectly what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century.

Every stage of the female life cycle is embraced, from pre-pubertal to post-hormonal. Our angst is not only heard, it is respected. Our highs, our lows, our joys, our sorrows, our residual regrets, our hopes for what won't happen. Every nuance of emotion is confronted and delivered with humility.

Mindel, though he would deny it, is a legend. A multi-instrumental musician, composer, songwriter, producer, arranger, a master creator of jingles and theme music. He even writes musical theatre. Most people I know in this business claim to be his best friend. 

I suspect that every one of the ladies featured is a little in love with him. Certainly I am - with respect to his beautiful wife Darcie - for having heard the voice of my youngest, Bridie Rose, and for having chosen her to sing his song about the bullying of teenage girls.

He who dares, Mindel. You have mixed an explosive cocktail. Strike a match and stand back. 

Monday, 28 October 2013


I went to see James Corden in his new film 'One Chance'. Cheeky Chappy plays Paul Potts, the goofball nobody from nowhere who won the first-ever series of 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2007, and gave a performance at the Royal Variety for Her Majesty the Queen. Against all odds do losers like Paul achieve greatness, is the message. The movie lacks the style of 'Billy Elliot', to which it has been compared. Nor does it do much for Julie Walters, usually perfectly-cast in everything, whose role as Potts's doting mother deserves more screen-time. With the big guns behind it - Weinstein, Cowell - it is no-expense-spared. The location work in Venice is sublime. It features shameless product-placement: Carphone Warehouse, Boots the Chemist. It has the requisite happy if so-what ending. For the real Paul Potts, despite having shifted five million copies of his three albums, the debut also called 'One Chance', has not metamorphosed into the Pavarotti-style opera singer he yearned to be. He's a good enough light tenor concert performer now and again. A recording artist, primarily, with  the requisite charisn'tma to be just that.

I made myself take the night to digest. I'm still a bit sad about it. You might think that a former hack would be immune to a little truth-bending. Granted, the disclaimer is clearly displayed before the film starts: that the feature is based on a true story. In which case, why call the guy Paul Potts?

The first thing that grated on me, a Welshwoman, was Corden's lack of Welshness. It was pathetic. The bugger lives in Port Talbort. His pronunciation of his town annoyed me too: we say TALbot, not TALLbot. The real Paul spent his childhood in Bristol before moving to Wales, and speaks in an accent best described as Bristolian Welsh.

Potts the Real has a degree in Humanities, and once worked as a Bristol City councillor. Corden's Potts was a bullied academic failure with no future beyond that of salesman in the local mobile phone shop and a brief stint in the steelworks. The distortions thereafter come fast and thick, not least the beam-me-up depiction of his wedding night, when Paul confesses to Julz (in real life Julie-Ann,  played by Alexandra Roach) that he has 'never done this before.' 'I've had thousands,' his bride deadpans. The real Paul had his share of girlfriends too. To portray him as a fat, fumbling virgin, on top of his other loserliness, was a stretch too far.

The moral of the Paul Potts story is this, isn't it: that without the magic wand of Simon Cowell, Potts might still be toiling in the phone shop or shovelling slag. Like Susan Boyle, he dreamed a dream. He made it over the rainbow: one of the few I-want-this-sooo-muchers who did. What happens to the losers beyond the money-spinning tours? Who cares. Cowell can't do. He is reborn as the Wizard of Oz, reinforcing his own self-madeness. Dishing out brains and hearts, and courage, and teeth. Winging Dorothy Gale back to Kansas. Making Emperor's New Clothes.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Better to snuggle beneath a duvet plumped with comfortable lies than to shiver through naked honesty? It's a question I 've often asked myself during the eight years since my divorce. Had I known the truth, would I have turned a blind eye and have gone with the flow, as wives tend to, terrified by the thought of disintegration and withdrawal of all I held dear ? I sometimes wish that I'd had the choice. I didn't.

Is ihonesty still relevant, or has truth had its day? Just because it mattered to the ancient Romans, who worshipped goddess Veritas as the mother of virtue; to Confucius, who declared it to be the foundation of love, fairness and communication; and to the children of Israel, for whom the Ninth Commandment given at Mount Sinai taught against bearing false witness, should it matter to us? Everyone seems to lie these days. We all seem to be getting away with it. We 'know' that truthfulness is the foundation of positive human relationships and personal integrity, but with such abandon do we cast it aside in the name of 'love' and the pursuit of our 'truest' desires.

It's not something I dwell on, truth be told. But last night. I was at the Almeida Theatre Islington, for Sir Richard Eyre's provocative revival of Henrik Ibsen's 'Ghosts.' Bear in mind that Ibsen penned the play in 1881, ripping into the hypocritical morals of of Victorian society with such rage that he was vilified for it. Denounced as a 'cesspit of a play', it was also called 'sordid', 'shocking' and 'blasphemous', at a time when promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases were never acknowledged in polite circles.

The wealthy Widow Alving reveals to her Pastor the long-hidden, shameful secrets of her late husband's infidelity. Having denied herself the privilege of motherhood by banishing her young son to protect him from his father's debauched lifestyle, she is overjoyed and empowered by the boy's return. But the great Dane contrived a hell of an ending for Ozzie. He has the young man fall in love with Helen's housemaid, Regina – who turns out to be the bastard of the late Captain Alving himself. Oswald is smitten by his own half-sister. The union can never be. The sins of the father appear visited upon the child. He succumbs, in the end, to hereditary syphilis. Helen is faced with the unthinkable decision of whether to administer the morphine and euthanize her offspring out of his misery. We never know which way this goes. Such torture.

Helen is portrayed by the phenomenal Lesley Manville (of Mike Leigh's 'Secrets & Lies', 'Another Year' and 'All or Nothing') as a brave but hopeless dame. It is revealed that she had acted on the stern advice of the Pastor, a man she once loved romantically. Duty, respectability, charity and philanthropy were prized above all in that patriarchal age. The hideous Victorian Compromise had much to answer for. But what choice, for females of her ilk? Helen condemned herself to keeping up dishonest appearances and concealed hideous truth. Her morality is corroded. How she regrets the unfortunate business now.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


It took me back ... to LA, twenty seven years ago, when I went to spend a couple of days with Stevie Nicks at her Spanish-style house on El Contento Drive in the Hollywood Hills. This was July 1986. There had been a soul-shattering earthquake a few days earlier, and Stevie had hundreds of crystals out, to balance the place. There were other collections, of all kinds: antique dolls, and fans, and shawls. Cherished skirts and dresses that she could no longer wear but couldn't bear to part with were draped over lamps and pinned to walls. She couldn't offload these garments, she explained, because 'they are like pieces of love.'

Mick Fleetwood once described her as 'the girl who sang just like the sweetheart of the rodeo, a daughter of the great American southwest.' She was that all right, all five feet of her, every stack of her six-inch platform boots. Fleetwood Mac turned a corner when Stevie and Lindsey dropped in. They've careered that crazy highway ever since. It was Stevie who made the band mystical. She's still doing it. 'Rhiannon', 'Sara', 'Gypsy', 'Gold Dust Woman', these were all variations on a theme, she told me. They were all her. I remember going to visit her again that same year, during her sojourn at the Betty Ford Clinic. The cocaine blizzards, the booze blitzes, the too many rock'n'roll lovers - Eagles Joe Walsh and Don Henley, Tom Petty, producer Jimmy Iovine, as well as Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood and the rest - had got the better of her. She 'confessed', if that's not crass, to five abortions: 'Mick made me have them', she insisted, 'how could I tour the planet with this 'biggest band in the world', as we were then, with a baby under each limb?' She was, she admitted, still looking for love...

Married to her music, she still is. Her raspy resilience is show-stopping. She is dignified and unrepentant, dominating the stage in soot-fairy get-up, between two men who broke her heart - 'Johnny Mac' being the only member of the band she has not had an affair with. She hurls her insides out in homage to every man she has ever loved, and a whole heap more.

Christine McVie was her big sister, her mentor, who taught her so much and helped her 'grow into the woman I am now. I owe her everything.'

Stevie Nicks is sixty five years old, incredibly. Christine McVie is seventy, and no longer inclined to tour. But her brief appearance tonight with her old band mates, for 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow', was the song that had the entire arena on its feet. My personal highlight? 'Silver Springs' - the track that fell off the 1977 'Rumours' album - back then, the fastest-selling LP of all time - but which became the B-side of the single release of 'Go Your Own Way.' Too magical.

It's the Seventies again tonight, and the sky is star-less ... when dreams unwind, love is a state of mind...

Friday, 23 August 2013


We live in a singlist world. It doesn't do to be 'just the one'. Couple up or be banished to restaurant Siberia. Don't even think about walking into a bar and having a drink by yourself. Prepare to be treated like a weirdo when you travel alone and not obviously on business.
I don't hear many men moaning about this, but some of my girlfriends in full-blown-rose mode - the irresistible fragility we achieve, just before our petals drop off - seem almost suicidal about solo-dom.

Snap out of it, weepers. Get happy. Stop waiting for the fantasy that the future may never bring. Haven't we all resisted retiring to an echo-y bedchamber, wishing there were someone to cuddle ... but haven't we all, also, if only now and then, wished that the head on the other pillow wasn't his ?

All your friends are happily married? Zoom: how many of those gargoyle husbands would you swap your freedom for? Why do we need another human being to validate who we are?
Compromising one's existence for second best is never a good idea. Single life is pretty desirable, most of the time. The smug marrieds may conspire to have us believe otherwise, but only because it is they who crave validation.

Burn the Dyptique candles. Fling out the old bedlinen infested with memories, and make a date with the White Company. Fill the freezer with Haagen Dazs and king prawns. Eat them together if you like, in bed, while watching old episodes of  'Thunderbirds'. Lust all you like after Geoff Tracey. Wake up to pristine sheets.

Partners come and go. The only person you can rely on for the rest of your life is you. Make friends. Treat her nicely and she'll treat you in turn to years of good, honest fun. Your mates like her. Most of your married girlfriends secretly envy her.

Everything ends. Every blissful match made in heaven concludes with a heart torn in two.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


RosieVirgo and I discussed a few folk, mutual and otherwise. She nodded sagely.
'The urban sociopath', she declared. 'Beware. A lot of them about these days.'
Who is he?
Look around you, friends. Take note. There is at least one in your life.

He's often a relatively high-achiever, a bit 'alpha', who can't or won't 'fit in.'
He has a conscience like a sieve, or lacks one completely.
He is always in the right. It's everyone else who is wrong.
He cares only about himself. The rest of us are for his benefit.
He is reptilian, cold-blooded, he barely blinks.
He is egocentric. he has an exaggerated sense of self-worth.
He is a predator, with a lust for life, power and total control - over money, people or situations, which he strives to achieve through superficial charm, manipulation, intimidation, aggression and sometimes violence.
He can be delusional, irrational, and is rarely remorseful.

A sociopath may be made (nature/nurture), or true (he was born that way). There are other kinds, every shade of grey, but aren't we all bored with those?

He can be callous, over-sexed, and contemptuous of women. He is mostly incapable of long-term relationships, whether with a partner, children, colleagues or friends. He can be sublimely charismatic. Irresistible, even. But he doesn't give a flying fuck about you. He lies compulsively. He is more qualified than you knew he could be. He is writing a best-seller. He is about to hit the big-time. He once served in the SAS. He he knows personally the guy who killed the Princess of Wales. He has seen both the bullet and the Fiat, never found. He was once a millionaire but the Government robbed him. He now banks exclusively off-shore. He has a safe at home containing £3 million-worth of gems.

He'll tell you he is in love with you on the first date: he is a fantasist, too. He will push every boundary of sexual behaviour, or attempt to, and try to compromise you beyond. He will never feel guilt. He cannot learn from his mistakes. He is incapable of understanding what he is supposed to have done. He thinks that this post is all about him. Carly Simon knew.

London seems to be crawling with deadly losers these days. Other cities, countries and continents too. What happened to the human race?

Go well, my daughters. I have been here. I am watching. I bite.

Sunday, 16 June 2013


'Quadrophenia' with the original four faces of Jimmy at the 02: for John Entwistle and Keith Moon were imaged large. Though the rock opera first appeared in October 1973, Pete Townshend looked back in anger at 1965, when he was just turning twenty. His childhood had been a Britain in the aftermath of war. Changing social structure and austerity, national pride and blanket optimism disintegrated into disaffectation and hopelessness.

Thanks to the picture archives and to the amazing graphics directed by Roger and exec-produced by Rob Lee, we saw it all there last night. Raw, unsubtle, aggressive, The Who voiced teenage angst through music in ways that no band had yet dared to do. Together with The Beatles and The Stones, they wiped the floor with America. 

It can be difficult to comprehend now what it all meant then.  Most of us in the audience last night were too young to have known first-hand. Many of us only got to The Who in the early Eighties, by which time Moonie was gone, and they had already become the landed gentry they'd once despised. Round and round ... 'There's life in the old f***ers yet!' crowed Roger. 'Rock 'til we drop! It's better than getting smelly and old!'

I missed John, though how incredible to see his face looming huge during '5:15' at 'I hear thunder ...', Pino standing aside to let the maestro roll. The greatest bassist who ever played.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


'Going to the PPL AGM today', I said.
'What's the PPL?', they said. They are still asking me this question, in spite of all my banging on, all my boring-for-England at dinner parties, all my Facebooking and Tweeting and general annoyingness on behalf of my buddies at Number 1 Upper James Street.  In spite of much valiant raising of awareness on the part of the good folk at PPL themselves, the vast majority of men and women in the street haven't got a clue who PPL are or what they do.

Since you ask.

Founded by the record companies EMI and Decca in 1934 as Phonographic Performance Ltd, this organisation was set up to make sure those who work at creating music are paid for the music they make. That they should be paid is a no-brainer to most of us who have ever worked in the music industry.  Beyond this strange and perplexing world, however, too many appear to believe they should get music free.

'Perhaps it is our over-use of the words 'play' and 'playing', observes Fran Nevrkla OBE, Chairman of PPL. 'There is a widespread belief that musicians and songwriters don't actually 'work'.  They 'play' at it.  And because they appear to enjoy their 'play' and 'playing' so much, they are constantly expected to do it for nothing.  This was particularly apparent, and disappointingly so, in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Artists were expected to contribute their performances free - and organisers seemed shocked by the notion that they ought to be paid.  But why shouldn't they be?'

He is right.

Music, besides being a highly complex and imaginative art form, is also a product. It accounts for a huge proportion of UK GDP.  I don't want to quote figures from memory, in case I get them wrong, but you could look them up. Suffice it to say that our recording artists and the music they make are among this country's most valuable exports. Look no further than the British artists topping the charts in America - Adele and One Direction to name but two - for proof.

I have sometimes heard PPL denounced as 'just another rip-off.'  No, it isn't. The company does not make a profit.  Once costs have been deducted, all revenue is paid directly to its members:  songwriters, performers and record companies. Membership is free.

So if you play recorded music in your place of work, be it saddlery, sandwich shop, hair salon, car showroom, college or gym, you need to have a licence to play it. This is the equivalent of obtaining permission from the copyright owners of the music. Imagine having to go to every single recording artist in turn - from Elton to Macca to Sting to Jessie J to, say - and having to ask their permission before you could play their recorded work. For this is what it amounts to. To have PPL doing it on all our behalf, collectively, from one central London office, makes sense for performers and consumers alike. 

A great deal has changed since the 1930s, when PPL was born.  The radio boom of the 1960s and 1970s saw its revenues surge.  There were more copyright law changes in 1988.  In 1996, performers were granted the right to receive 'equitable remuneration' where recordings of their performances were broadcast or played in public.  PPL were now able to pay them royalties directly. From humble beginnings of £1 million over the first decade of its existence, PPL now collects, on behalf of its members, more than £150 million per year. 

Bottom line, businesses use music to maximise their customer proposition. They must pay for the right to do so. Enough said.


Thursday, 30 May 2013


The lilac satin tracksuit, remember it?  The smooth bare chest, the quail's-egg navel, the haircut worn better by Steve Harley, slightly yellow on the Mod. Why the Union wristbands? I never found out. I lost interest, bopped to Bolan, and fell in love to Wings.

The history I caught up with. His Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Reg Dwight years.  His bit of Tommy. America getting Rod Stewart before we did: that was cool. Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, blotchy Faces albums. Bondes.  The prettiest, Dee Harrington, became my personal trainer. Get me. Famously a great band member, too good a ligger, the solo move at the end of  '75 surprised. He got lost among the tinsel and was swallowed by LA. I forgot about him.

All these years. The gravel-in-a-biscuit-tin voice no longer grates.  The raucous has subsided. The tartan is less, and somehow tasteful, his best brazen laid to rest, his hormones halted by many children, and grandchildren. What is there left to do?  Only this. 'Time', his first studio album in more than a decade, bounces straight to number one.  Eleven original tracks, self-penned and produced, all heaving with the familiar and the heard it all before, yet new, yet loaded, with sentiment and been- there and wept-that and laughed and choked, and smiled, and loved you more. 

Listen no further than 'Brighton Beach' for the meaning of Rod Stewart. Weep at the talent of Jim Cregan, the song's co-writer. You still see his green grin on Top Of the Pops as he played the guitar solo of 'Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)'  for the Rebel Steve, can't you?  Wallow in 'Live The Life' and 'Picture In A Frame', full-tidal with echoes of 'Amazing Grace', and 'Time'. Wish, and know that it won't ever happen, that someone should some day write a song like 'Pure Love' about you.

Do I think he's sexy?  At sixty eight? Well. There are men who do hang onto it  Rod doesn't. Penny thinks so, or maybe she doesn't. Her portraits of her husband, featured in the CD booklet, do suggest mutual attraction. They are reminiscent of those taken by Linda McCartney of Paul.  Perhaps it takes true love through a lens to capture someone's deepest essence. Most of us wait in vain, sometimes knowing how much we love, knowing that they do not love us back. Hopeless. Rod gets it. He's been listening. This is an album for loved-and-losts, as well as winners-take-all.

Love. The last indefinable. The great unfathomable. Our beginnings, our ends of the world. It's all here. Love drove Rod's recent autobiography, which also topped the charts. Dignified and reserved, most of its mischief lay unsaid between the lines. Rod learned long ago to close the bedroom door.  The paradox - that life's most tender moments are both universal and personal - is Rod's big lesson.  Finally.  'Time'  reminds us to hope. To believe. There is a reason. 

Monday, 20 May 2013


Aztec Camera said it in their greatest hit 'Somewhere In My Heart', from their 1987 album 'LOVE':
 'From Westwood to Hollywood,
The one thing that's understood,
Is that you can't buy time,
But you can sell your soul,
And the closest thing to heaven is to rock and roll ...'
I was pregnant with my first-born at the time; ducking and diving between Sunset Boulevard and Fleet Street, covering the biggest rock tours for the Daily Mail. I would have sold my soul for Roddy Frame.
Is the passage of time eased by life's soundtrack? I've always thought so. Keep listening, kids. The past is yet to come. Though it can't all dangle from nostalgia, can it. Music must keep reinventing itself. It can nod to the old guys, pay homage and immerse itself in influences. But it must also do its own thing. It has to keep sticking its neck on the line, keep putting it out there. If you're any good, both the establishment and your own fans will be suspicious. 
Very little stops me in my tracks these days. I've heard it all before. Every now and then, I have to stop the car, maybe get out for a minute, do a jig, hurl my hat, let down my hair, have a swig. Guess what did this today: Daytona Lights.
I've raved about them before. Full disclosure, I've known their guitarist Louis Souyave since he was twelve. What a thrill to hear the great music that he and his band mates are making now. Go, spend a little money on their brand-new five-track EP 'Old-Fashioned Love'. Get into that throb, its jangly attitude, its lilts, its le Bon-ness, its  cockiness. Get this. Drown yourself in its harmonies and choruses and indie-pop energy. Be thrilled that people can still do this.
I booked my August ticket to Ibiza today, by the way. If they're not playing this in the clubs by the time I land, I'm heading for the Midnight Beach.

Sunday, 7 April 2013




Everything is fiction. Our memories and our yesterdays. The conversations inside our heads, and with others. Lovers, children, colleagues, friends; the way we think of them, the way we see, hear, smell, touch and taste them: all made up. They are as we want them to be, their histories rewritten to embellish, enhance and disguise our own. Isn't fiction just another word for perspective? Can perspective be anything other than a point of view?

Whatever it is, here's a story about all of that and none of it. Anovel about lovers who really lived, their reckless lives revisited and re-imagined. A book to break your heart. Therese Anne Fowler's 'Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald' is a brave exploration of the blurring. Shredded as I turned the last page, I wept, as I hadn't in years.

 Zelda Sayre, the so-called 'First Flapper' of the Jazz Age, whose charmed life seems to have been cursed from the moment she set eyes on F. Scott Fitzgerald, was out of time. As the born-to-be-wild daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge, there were appearances to be kept up, behavioural codes to be adhered to. But teenage Zelda was already shrinking from the thought of a dutiful family future in the backwater yellowhammer state. There had to be more to life, as her childhood playmate Tallulah Bankhead knew ahead of her. Awake, and aware - of a changing between-wars world, of emancipation, of a profound inner smouldering to express, and to create - Zelda craved an enabler. Scott longed for a muse. Their marriage was made in hell.

The honeymoon sealed their fate. Behind an illusion of wealth and marital bliss, the celebrated pair lived it up in New York, Paris and all over the Riviera. They were sucked, as they went, into a vortex of alcohol addiction, profligacy, jealousy both sexual and professional, creative rivalry and ultimately mental torment. Choked by Scott's public profile, capsized by his obsessive friendship with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda flailed for the life raft of personal identity. She wrote: short stories with a joint Fizgerald byline, or that were published (outrageously) under his name only; and a single, autobiographical novel, 'Save Me the Waltz', which appeared in 1934. She painted, too, and ballet-danced herself almost to death. She was a talented woman married to an insecure control freak who belittled and ridiculed her while maintaining undying love. Which of the two was nuts?

Was it frustration over thwarted potential, over-indulgence in the hallucinogenic Absinthe, her husband's exposure of her as the shallow, self-obsessed Daisy Buchanan living an uptown, Long Island life cluttered with silly distractions in Scott's piece de resistance 'The Great Gatsby' (1925) that rip-rugged Zelda? The author leaves us in no doubt as to her thoughts about that. Promising lives frittered. The futility of existence. 

Yet here we are. F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most revered American authors of the 20th Century. Failed, crumpled Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, esteemed feminist icon. You couldn't make it up, and Therese Anne Fowler didn't. All that she did was breathe it back to life. Bewitchingly.