Saturday, 29 November 2014

MUHAMMAD ALI, THE MOST FAMOUS AMERICAN OF ALL TIME?

The claim is made in the new Universal Pictures documentary 'I am Ali', produced by Claire Lewins, which I saw last night. I've been thinking about this all day. Is he really? He's got to be a contender. Alongside whom? George Washington. Teddy Roosevelt. JFK. Marilyn Monroe. Humphrey Bogart. Frank Sinatra. James Dean. A lot of other folk, people I've never heard of, people they tell me are very famous, and 'they' should know. If I have to look them up, they're not quite there.
The acid test was once described as taking a stroll into an African kraal with a handful of pictures, to see which ones barely educated kids could pick out. Her Majesty the Queen is usually chosen. The Beatles - or at least Macca, more often John. Nelson Mandela. Elvis Presley. Madonna. Michael Jackson. Of those, five are British, one South African, three American, but a 'fifty-fifty' three. No one of any age, creed or colour ever mistakes Ali.
It's a curious documentary in many ways. I am biased towards liking it, as it largely came about because of my father, former sportswriter Ken Jones. Dad's first contact with Ali was in 1972, '73 - long before journalists were considered important enough to be significant in the story. 'That's when I remember being no longer a face in the crowd, but part of it,' he says.
When he and his late close friend, Sports Illustrated journalist Pat Putnam, introduced Claire to Gene Kilroy, 'the Facilitator', that was it. Claire was made. Gene knows everyone. She had everything.
Look, a million people could have done this story. It's out there. It always will be. Whatever your take on professional pugilism, and the mood is still shifting, there is no denying the impact on the fight game of the man born Cassius Marcellus Clay. The film features much personal family video and a lot of audio recordings made by Ali of his delectable children when they were small - all supplied by Ali's daughters Maryum and Hana, who were there last night for this special screening, and who could not have been more delightful had they tried.
If I'm honest, I was unsettled by the movie's timeline and shape. I would have edited it differently. Parts were jumpy, and lacking in pattern. More could have been made of its contributors. I'd have woven them throughout the piece to illustrate key points, rather than feature them chronologically and then cut them off, before they'd hit their stride. Its salvation was the soundtrack: exquisitely chosen pieces, many of them rock and soul classics, which breathed fire into the visuals, and which resonate.
Two important aspects of Ali's life linger in my mind today. The first concerns him having refused the draft: Ali did not fight in Vietnam. For a fighter, he was probably the ultimate pacifist - although my father points out that he does not recall having met many violent prize fighters, with the exception, perhaps, of Mike Tyson: 'but he's a psychopath.' The other is the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', when Ali went to Zaire to fight George Foreman. It was akin to the Second Coming. He could have gone into Africa, said 'I don't like what's happening here, let's have a war', and there would have been one. Parts of the dark continent would have gone up in flames, because he said so. As well as being a cauldron of contradictions, he was that famous, that powerful. People came to him. He was the Pied Piper, he was Jesus. Don't get on my case about this. I'm not John Lennon. The comparison doesn't add up, anyway, and it's almost obscene. Jesus Christ preached on earth in ancient times. Muhammad Ali was a fighter in the television era. But you know what I'm saying.
That night, In Zaire, George Foreman the great ogre was destroyed. He'd battered everyone who ever got in his way, and that night he got battered. They talked, at the time, of Foreman's life turning into an eternal silent turmoil, while Ali would be forever famous.
But it turns on a sixpence. George came out of it. He's lucid, he has a life. He's in this film. Looking back on it all, he didn't have many fights. Most of them were pushovers. He rarely got hit. He emerged with a clever brain intact.
Ali, meanwhile, so often smashed in the head: he can't even speak, now. He has Parkinson's. He probably won't live very long. The Greatest irony.
The point is made perfectly in the film. It made us all weep.
When Ali started out, boxing was the fastest way for a black American to make it.
'I was not that bright nor quick in school,' he said. 'I couldn't be a football or basketball player because you have to go to college, pass examinations and get degrees. A boxer can just go to the gym, jump around, turn professional, win a fight, get a break, and he's in the money. If he's good enough, he makes more than ball players make all their lives.'
He paid the ultimate price. Enough who were along with him for the ride know enough to tell his tale. They tell it wonderfully. See this beautiful film.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS, FREDDIE'S HOME SHOULD BE A MUSEUM FOR HIS FANS

It is always thought-provoking to spend time with Queen fans down at Garden Lodge, Logan Place in Kensington, on the anniversary of the Great Pretender's death. We joined the throng at around 7.30pm last night, by which time the candlelit vigil, chanting and singing were in full swing. I was delighted to meet fans from Spain, Romania and Lithuania, as well as several from Poland - and honoured to be asked to speak at the 2015 Polish Queen Convention. I'll be there.

There was a time when Mary Austin, the former girlfriend turned lifelong assistant and companion who lived in the house after Freddie's passing, would emerge from the discreet green wooden door in the brickwork to read out a poem or a prayer, acknowledge Freddie's followers, and share precious moments. Last night, the house sat in darkness. Mary doesn't live there anymore. Those of his co-habiting friends still alive at the time of his death, including his PA, Peter Freestone - 'Phoebe' - were promised that Garden Lodge would always remain their home. Not long after Freddie died, Mary ejected them. 
It won't be hers forever, however. Her legal tenure is only fifty years, almost half of which is spent.

I've often thought she should have opened the house to the public as a museum and monument to her friend. 
A genuine rock shrine - Freddie's own home, the place he died in - to which his millions of fans around the world could make their pilgrimage, pay respects, inhale a whiff of his spirit. The place is stuffed with treasures and artworks from the furthest-flung corners. At least, it was. Such things can be sold at major auction houses for serious prices. Maybe they have been. Collectively, they represent an earthly reminder of the cultured, artistic and unique individual who remains loved by so many. As single pieces, divided and traded, antiques, paintings and furniture are only 'stuff' - deprived of the personality of the man who so lovingly chose, purchased and enjoyed them during his lifetime.

Yes, a museum would have been nice. Apart from a mere bronze statue overlooking Lac Leman in Montreux, there is nowhere else. The fans are all too often derided and scorned for congregating in Logan Place at this time of year, leaving their flowers, cards, letters, tributes and candles. All they want to do is express gratitude for Freddie's life and grief over his death, and draw comfort from each other, strangers and friends. Living in the past? Not the faithful I see down there each year who hadn't even been born in 1991, the year Freddie died.

Much has been done, over the twenty three years since, to deter them from coming. Plastic shields were nailed in place to stop the writing on the wall. Plenty of fans have managed to wedge their tributes behind them anyway. Tough trellising was erected along the top of the walls, a barricade to prevent trespassers from gaining entry. But would allowing them inside once a year have been a bad thing? All they want to see is the cherry tree - beneath which, they believe, Freddie's ashes are buried. In consolation, I can assure them, Freddie is not there.

I hope he rests in peace and makes merry hell. A contradiction, sure. But that was Freddie.

Monday, 24 November 2014

NOT EVEN FREDDIE MERCURY SAYS NO TO SIR BOB

Number 1 in 61 countries.

There.

In the global battle against Ebola, Bob has done it again with Band Aid. His critics can say what they like, and do. Lily Allen and Adele are entitled to their opinion and their abstention, of course, and don't go on at me again. You are entitled to yours too. 

So am I.

Some artists do these charity recordings and gigs to kick-start, boost or revive their careers - as Freddie Mercury and Queen were accused of doing at Wembley Stadium in 1985. As good as a live rock performance gets, it did give the band a new lease of life. 

'Queen were over,' said Paul Gambaccini. 'They'd had their day. Yet here they were, reinventing themselves and going again before our very eyes. It still takes my breath away when I think about it. Freddie Mercury delivered the greatest front-man performance anyone had ever seen.'

Uplifted by the Global Jukebox experience, Queen had soul-searching to do. Perhaps they had been bracing themselves for a natural conclusion to their mostly phenomenal career. They couldn't go on indefinitely, could they? Bands that do so run the risk of diminution into caricature. Legendary status is achieved by quitting ahead. Each member of Queen had sidetracked into solo projects, with mixed results, and only Freddie with a modicum of success. Now forced to accept that they were better off sticking together than stalking separate paths, particularly at their time of life, they resolved to defer oblivion and go again. Live Aid gifted them a second chance. No rock act worth its stash would pass that up.  Let's be honest about it.

It was, if only we'd known it at the time, a hollow victory for Queen. The irony of the title of their 'It's A Kind of Magic' tour the following year - their most ambitious ever - took a while to dawn. For Freddie, the writing was on the wall. Today, we pause to remember that he has been gone for twenty three years.  His voice, however, is louder than ever. 

 I can't do compassion-fatigue, however cheesy and self-serving it might all seem. I'm pretty sure that most who took part in this year's Band Aid offering did so for altruistic reasons, and for 'there but for the grace of God'. Good for them. If it also helps their own careers a little, as it helped Queen's - hugely - is there harm in that? I choose to regard it as preferable to the bribery, corruption, cynicism and exploitation that dominates so much of the music business today. 

I always think of the Human League, living to rue the day they turned down Live Aid. You say no to Geldof at your peril.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

IS FACEBOOK STEALING YOUR BABIES?

I got a call from the Diary desk of one of 'Fleet Street's' raggier rags, informing me that a well-known photo agency had sold them an image in which I feature. They identified a household name in the line-up, asked me for a left-to-right, requested dirt, scandal and filth on said celebrity - a generously priapic type - and offered a laughable fee for my contribution.
'You can't use that photo,' I said.
'Of course we can,' came the response, 'we've bloody well paid for it!'
'Well, UN-pay for it,' I responded. 'The photo is mine, it was taken at a private party, in someone's home, not at a public event. With my own camera, by the way. That makes it my copyright.' This wasn't the time to point out the 'grey area' in this particular scenario: as in, it may be argued that copyright of a photo technically resides with the individual who physically snapped it - i.e., not me, but the person to whom I'd handed the camera, so that I could be in the pic. Even though it was taken on my little Leica. But, you get why I parked it.
'You're not hearing me,' barked our buddy. 'An agency fetched us this photo. We have every right to publish it.'
'I say you don't.' I stood firm, oh boy
, you should have heard me. I explained that the only possible place that  photo could have come from - and therefore, had been stolen from - was my Facebook page.
'Well there you have it!' yelped Diary-Hack, triumphant. 'You post these pictures on Facebook, you've gotta expect them to get lifted and sold. Everything that appears on Facebook, BELONGS TO Facebook.. and they are not gonna take the time to argue the toss here. You can't even get through to them on the 'phone!'

I left the chap with a warning. Should he proceed to print, I would retaliate. It's no hollow threat, I've got plenty on these guys, but have chosen to behave like a lady. Until now.
A brief trawl through the pages of your friends, your acquaintances, and especially the ones you're not sure about either way, and you'll find your own photos all over the place. We don't mind our pals having a bit of a share. It's one of the reasons we use Facebook - of FaceBoast, or Boastbook, just a few of its other names. But when unscrupulous folk trade them on, for personal gain - I've even had some of my own photos offered back to me, with the expectation of payment - that has got to be pushing it.

I rarely post photos of my three children, adorable and accomplished like everyone else's though they are. All our children are. I tend only to do so when they've been or are about to be involved in some musical event. I won't be doing so again. I have often winced at the plethora of precious, juicy little newborns who make their first public outings on Facebook; the chubby-pawed toddlers on swings, the grandmas and grandpas proudly promenading their beautiful charges. It's all melting stuff. But out there, beyond the apparently harmless realm of friends connecting and networking and celebrating life through simple pleasures, lies a seething underworld - of paedophiles, stealing and storing your images, for unholy and unthinkable practice and gain. Please, fold your favourites into some polished frames. Display them on a mantelpiece, a sideboard, a bedside table. Don't share them on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media. They are yours, but they are anyone's for the taking. They really, absolutely, shouldn't be, I agree with you. It's the way it is.


Monday, 17 November 2014

PEOPLE ARE DYING FOR YOU TO BUY THIS SINGLE: BAND AID 30

It matters not that Sir Bob went on the show that has slaughtered the music industry to promote it, looking as though he'd been dossing in a goat pen for a month; nor that he badgered Adele by phone a hundred times, but she refused to pick up, and isn't on it; nor that Chris Martin is. It's irrelevant, too, that 'it's that song, yet again, when will they learn to leave the bloody thing alone?' I said it myself, a week ago, but I take it back.
Whatever we think about 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', and despite the fact that it never snows much in Africa anyway, not even the frozen-hearted can remain unmoved by the efforts of Bob, Midge, Bono, Sinead, Guy Garvey, Roger Taylor, the Bastille boys, Emelie Sandé, Olly Murs, One Direction et al et al. When Bono was asked, outside SARM Studios on Saturday lunchtime, 'Doesn't it feel unbelievable to be back here thirty years on, doing this all over again?' his retort was immaculate. What's unbelievable, he said, or words to this effect, is that we HAVE to be. If all those international politicians at all those G8 summits and the rest had kept their promises, there would be no need.
Was it appropriate to screen footage of the harrowing removal of a dead African extinguished by Ebola on The X-Factor last night - to all intents and purposes an entertainment show - ? By God, it so was. Bleary Geldof, himself no stranger to anguish and tragedy, never beats about the bush. We are left in no cotton-woolled doubt. This disease can arrive here on a plane, at any time. It can finish us in a heartbeat. It's not going to. We will dutifully do our bit. We will all download or pre-order this single today - the CD is out on December 8th, three Mondays' time, but you can have it on iTunes immediately.
We may reflect on the updated lyrics; compare the impassioned, older, wiser recording to the almost gleeful innocence, three versions ago, of the very original; we will perhaps love, hate or be left indifferent by what is, after all 'only' a pop single - all the while knowing, in our bones, why it means much more.
This song, such as it is, stands for compassion. For the saving of lives that could in a blink be our own. If not for them, then do it for you. Do it.


Friday, 14 November 2014

SUSAN BOYLE PUT ME BEHIND BARS ...

Now it can be told. I confess, I had parked it on the top shelf of my mind, along with countless other embarrassing and demeaning mishappenings, those wince-inducing memories that remind us who we are. Hey,we were all young once. I think I got away with it.
But then I bumped into him: the nicest man in the music business. Yes, there are Great Pretenders. A myriad cool contenders who have my vote. I'd be skewered for not mentioning Jonathan Morrish,Simon Napier-BellDavid StarkDavid MindelDavid SymondsCharles ArmitageKeith AlthamMike Charidemou and Judd Lander - he who lent his lips to Boy George on 'Karma Chameleon', the superlative harp solo of recent times. Judd it was who hosted last night's most hedonistic showcase of the year, at Camden's Cob Studio & Gallery, where we feasted our minces on painted horses, and tickled our tongues with garlic quails' eggs and white chocolate tits. Perfectly pint-sized singer-songwriter Laura Jeanne, quintessentially both English and a rose, was the featured artist. She is beautiful and fragrant in every way.
Long time no see, Andy Stephens.God, but he's nice. As is his Mrs, Hilary. I used to see a lot of him when he was managing George Michael. Then not a glimpse for yonks. After that, it was Geri Halliwell for five minutes. By the time I ran into him at Utopia Village, he had become the personal manager of Susan Boyle.
Not long after, in December 2009, Spandau Ballet invited me to a launch party at the Groucho Club for the DVD of their friends-again comeback tour. I had just been commissioned, that day, to write a  spread on the 'Hairy Angel'. Quelle gift. Andy, over here, mate, long time no butcher's, have another Laurent Perrier, single or a double, tell me everything. Rarely does it fall in your lap. Yesss. I remained stone-cold - this is relevant - jigged with John Keeble, and made a run for it back to my car, intent on hitting my desk as soon as possible to record all that Andy had imparted about SuBo.
Back home, I did something I rarely do. A single parent of three, I almost never drink alone at home. Slippery slope. Libation can only liberate among close friends. Toute seule, it is almost degrading. Not for you, perhaps. That night, however, I was on a high, a roll, a mission. I'd had a great night, had caught up with loved ones, and was in a buoyant mood. I know, I'll celebrate. I poured myself a goblet of Merlot, gulped it back, glugged in more, kicked off my Choos - also relevant - and legged it upstairs to my desk.
The Susan Boyle CD had landed on the mat only a day or so earlier. Where is it? I know, it's in the car. I'll go and get it: a bit of background Boyle while I'm sketching the piece won't do harm, and should get me in the groove. Down the stairs and out into the freezing December night air I go. The car is right in front of the garden gate, I'll get away without shoes if I hop. No coat, either, come on. I was a Queen's Guide.
I'm in my car. No ignition key, but a fangled key-card that must be inserted into the slot to activate lights, sound, vision, everything else. In it goes. Glove compartment, CD, action. The digital clock catches my eye: it is almost 2am. Oh. I can hardly go blasting the abode with Boylie at this hour. It's a school night, the kids'll go nuts. I know: I'll sit here and listen to it for a couple of tracks. In the car.
As rude awakenings go, it was award-winning - courtesy of the strong arm of the law. Literally. Two burlies dressed as police officers had me up against my own railings, reminding me that I did not have to say anything, but that anything I did say may be taken down. Do fill in the gaps. I was breathalysed, despite my protests that I'd not driven anywhere under the influence. Tell that to the Beak. But look, I protested, I have no shoes on. So what, sneered Plod. You won't find them in the car, I reasoned: they're in my house, right there. There, on the stair. But you've been out for the evening? Yes, I have. I came home, sat down to work. What, at this time of night? Yes, it's common. Writers are weird. We are. It's why we do it. Anyway, then I was looking for a CD, I came out here to get it, stuck it on to listen to it, must have fallen asleep. Your headlights are on. I suppose they are, yes: the keycard does that, automatically. You're under arrest. I haven't even got a bag or a coat on me. Please, think about it: how the hell would I have driven home from an event without shoes, bag or coat? Get in the van. Can I just go inside and tell my kids? Mind your head.
I spent the night in a cell, at Peckham nick. How low does it go. I was there until well after 4pm the next day, when my eldest daughter and a friend came to rescue me. All that day, my family had no idea where I was. Even my former husband spent several hours calling hospitals. If you know me well enough to know the facts of the breakdown of my marriage, you will understand how traumatised my children were. My office lights and my computer were on. My coat and bag were on the banister, my shoes at the bottom of the stairs. So far, so Marie-Celeste.
Come the February hearing, SuBo's Angels were on my side. A female magistrate, for a start - I don't want to be sexist, but you get it. She got it. As she explained, she had no choice but to find me guilty of being 'drunk in charge of a vehicle', because I was. She had to do her job by the book. The fact that I had consumed alcohol in the privacy of my own home, then gone outside and sat in the car, could not be accepted as mitigating. According to the law, I should have lost my licence. I didn't. The Mag was merciful. I received ten points. A further mishap over the coming three years, and I would have been banned.
I saw Tony Hadley a few months later, in 2010 - I was interviewing him for my show 'Me & Mrs Jones' on Vintage TV. 'A funny thing happened to me on my way home from your party at Christmas,' I told him. 
'F- me,' he exclaimed, 'you couldn't make it up.'
Andy and Hilary, this one is so going in the book. 


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

THE NATION'S FAVOURITE QUEEN SONG ... AS IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW ...

So 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is voted The Nation's Favourite Queen Song in an ITV poll (Who do they ask? You? They never ask me!) and nobody is surprised.

And what a song. Although it is engrained in the collective consciousness, every note, every nuance, to the point, perhaps, of having become a caricature of itself, it stands alone, outside time, beyond definition or categorisation, as the most enigmatic, rule-breaking and anti-rock rock song ever composed. 

Who wants to live forever? This song does - and therefore, Freddie does. And does. 

The writing was on the wall before he wrote it.

"UNHEARD-OF SINCE HITLER'S NUREMBERG RALLIES ..."

News reaches me of the death, aged 91, of Charlie Watkins, an adorable and most modest man. Charlie's contribution to the UK music industry was immense. In August 1967, he launched the first WEM P.A. system with hi-fi quality at the National Jazz, Pop, Ballads & Blues Festival at Royal Windsor racecourse. It had a basic starting power of 1,000 watts: 'unheard-of since Hitler's Nuremberg rallies,' Charlie said. That occasion marked a watershed for live music, from which Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, the Small Faces, the Move, Cream, Jeff Beck, Donovan and Denny Laine would benefit greatly on the day, and to which much is owed by live touring bands to this day. 
Charlie's fascination with the guitar, its mechanics and its electronic reproduction paved the way to the first Watkins 'Westminster' guitar amps. In 1958, the 'Copicat' Echo and 'V'-fronted Dominator amps revolutionised music overnight. Charlie's amp is still regarded as an important element in Sounds of the Sixties chemistry - the other two being the Vox A.C. 30, and the Fender Strat. WEM P.A. made possible all those fabled early festivals, from the Isle of Wight to the Stones in the Park. Charlie is revered as 'the Father of the British P.A.'
'The curtain lifted on a new world of music,' he said to me, when I interviewed him for my book 'Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan': Charlie was a long-cherished friend of Marc and his wife June. 
'Multi-thousand audiences were now practical, possible, desirable and certainly available. And they could at last hear! Now, all these brilliant young musicians could emerge and do their thing. Backline gear could be mic'd up to help it all along. The singer could be heard for miles. The rest is their history.'
Charlie was enchanted by the coincidence that my beloved maternal grandfather was also called Charles Watkins. Both saw active naval service, playing the accordion throughout.


Remembering them with love on this Armistice Day.
Rest in peace and rise in glory, both. XX

Monday, 10 November 2014

FLESH OR FANTASY, BILLY IDOL?


Take me back, Billy Idol, to those infernal Stratford Place days. To sensational times as told last night by the former Chrysalis Head of Press in the High Road House Chiswick, pre-Billy at the Hammersmith Apollo.
When Chrysalis agreed to continue backing post-Gen X Billy and brought him in from the States, they knew they couldn't put him up in a hotel. He was pre-programmed to trash such places. Chrysalis had a flat down the road on Park Street, Mayfair, which had just been renovated, as they were planning to sell it. Berni Kilmartin stocked it to the hilt with Billy's favourite red wine and champagne, made her excuses and charmed off home. 

Drop-out rocker-Billy didn't care much for record company personnel. He didn't care much for anything much, as it went. He just wanted to make punk rock that people could dance to. His songwriting collaboration with guitarists' guitarist Steve Stevens, an apparently fright-wigged, bell-bottomed dude with not a little of the Jeff Beck about him, endures to this day. It was through Steve that Billy had met Bill Aucoin, manager of Kiss, and it was Bill who was masterminding Billy's metamorphosis from daft punk to mainstream rock star.

It might seem unimportant now, there being so few record companies left to tell such tales, but in those days it was vital for an artist to get the label behind them. Secretaries, receptionists, every last dogsbody. Dear Berni, who masterminded everything that mattered, sensed a tall order. The first warning came when she visited Billy at the flat, after his interview with Pet Shop Boy-to-be Neil Tennant of Smash Hits. Billy answered the door wearing less than on the day he was born. Well you don't look, do you. You glance up, down and from side to side, praying frantically for distractions. She didn't have to gaze far. The telly had been toppled from the window into the street below, and red wine had been sprayed all over the newly-painted walls. The interview, evidently, had not gone well, and Billy had vented his anger on 'the suits' responsible for providing him with accommodation.

Billy couldn't stand 'suits'. There were a few, though not too many, at Chrysalis. Berni resolved to crack ice by throwing her charge a 'meet-'n'-greet' at the company canteen, the Coconut Grove, up the office back stairs and out the fire exit, opposite the Lamb & Flag. To bridge the gap, she invited the likely lads from the post room - and instructed Alan, the Grove's manager, not to serve them Billy's vintage champagne, but to tank them on beer instead. Either he failed to hear the request, or he chose to ignore it. 

In the blue corner, a posse of pissed-up posties spoiling for a punch-up. With anyone. In the red, a gaggle of glamorous, gargling execs, primed to tame their Turn. The boy Billy, after arriving suitably chastened and gifting Berni a peace-offering of roses, had vanished. He was locked in the Ladies' with a pair of erupting cocktail waitresses, allegedly attempting a world record.

When the balloons were blown, the streamers streamed, when the party was over and all had vomited their way back to the orifice, the stone-cool hostess was handed the bill. There was so much else going on that she barely glanced at the '£675-something' reckoning, thinking it not too bad, considering. Turned out she had overlooked the zero, and the bill was in fact over six grand. For a party lasting only a couple of hours. Pause to imagine the equivalent cost today.

And there he was, last night. For a man about to enter his 60th year, he was a vision. He doesn't take long to get the skin out. The abs are as bars of carbolic soap, aligned in pairs under stretched chamois leather. The facial features might well be enhanced, but you'd have to stick your nose in to really tell. The Look: leather, chains, sweat, backcombed barnet - has barely budged since the Eighties. It works. Kinda. For this is Panto Billy, a self-made caricature, longer incisors, larger than laughs, having us on that nothing has changed. Not that his audience minds. I swear they crammed double the usual number into the Apollo last night, and they were roaring their ribs up for him. All Billy had to do was curl a lip and insinuate a bad time, and they were in meltdown. What he didn't have to do, for my money, was ponce about with instruments too grown-up for him, plucking the odd chord, making like the axeman he never was. It's fake, not to mention a waste of a pending sexagenarian's energy when you've got a crap-hot Anglo-Swedo-American line-up tighter than a gosling's gusset doing the necessary. Just sayin. What Billy told Neil Tennant years ago was that 'rock'n'roll is a type of music that goes beyond whether you can play a guitar or not.' So why pretend to?

But he redeemed himself musically, right? Well. The new material had the shakes. A couple of the good old numbers creaked. His vocals were flat, here and there, not that he noticed. He took longer to belch them  than I would have liked, and there were fewer than I remembered. But I guess I'm knocking on too.


Friday, 31 October 2014

GRAB A LITTLE PIECE OF HEAVEN, WITH ROGER SCOTT, FROM THREE TIL SEVEN ...

We were all rookies once. Beginners, starter-outers, dangling our hopes on the dangers of the remote unknown. Taking chances, sticking our necks out, scrounging favours, looking for a leg-up. Where would any of us have got, were it not for a hand from those who'd tiptoed the tightrope ahead of us? Charles ArmitageDavid MindelJonathan MorrishJudd Lander, Dave Cash, Bob Harris, David Stark, Chris Wright, Hyacinth Daniels et al, et al: looking at you. I owe so much to so many that the names elude me. I hesitate to write 'mentor', which seems flaunty and disingenuous. None of these gems would ever dream of using the word. 

No one will mind me saying that Roger Scott was the D's Bs, the DJs' DJ. When I went to Capital Radio as an 'intern', post-Uni, he had already been at the station for ten years. To the millions of Londoners who grabbed a little piece of heaven from three til seven daily, who cruised with him on his Oldies show every Friday night, he was as good as it gets.

He took me under his wing. Nurturing my ambition to write rather than broadcast, he devised an unofficial role for me as an assistant on rock star interviews - in the days when lovely record companies coughed generously for us all to fly places. I'd transcribe the tapes for the Capital Radio archive, which I was later able to use to write newspaper and magazine profiles that would promote the station. Perfectly legit, as, thanks to him, I'd met them all. I know only now that I didn't come close to appreciating the enormity of this favour, nor to understanding the privilege that it conferred. Thanks to Roger I met Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon for the first time, and David Bowie for the second (I'd already encountered him as a child, with Hy Money) at Mountain Studios, Montreux, where they were working on 'Under Pressure'. We interviewed Bowie again at the Birmingham NEC, and also Lionel Richie. Kate Bush at home, Prince at the Roof Gardens, Spandau's Gary in a room above the Groucho, John Taylor of Duran, Mick Jagger. In Los Angeles, where Roger signed a coast-to-coast contract with Westwood One Radio to syndicate his all-American shows - coals to Newcastle or what - we hung with his great hero Bruce Springsteen and conducted the last-ever interview with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. Perhaps the most musical Boy of the lot, Dennis confessed that the greatest love of his life had been Christine McVie. He drowned at Marina del Rey shortly afterwards, in December 1983, drunk out of his skunk. His 1977 solo album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' was a Roger favourite. 

In Florida, we rendezvous'd with flat-capped, born-again Dion diMucci, the 50s/60s teen idol who'd found his calling a capella-ing on street corners of the Bronx. Roger idolised him. Dion & the Belmonts' first hit 'I Wonder Why' had made them rock&roll pioneers. Dion survived the 1959 tour that killed Richie Valens and Buddy Holly. He also survived heroin addiction, and opened up about both. His solo hits 'Runaround Sue' and 'The Wanderer' were  Roger Scott classics. 

In New York, we ambled with Billy Joel over to 142 Mercer Street, SoHo, where they'd shot, on the front doorstep, the cover image for his rock heritage tribute album 'An Innocent Man'. In New Orleans, we immersed ourselves in the Neville Brothers. Keith Richards had introduced Roger to the group: he'd played on their 1987 album 'Uptown'. In 1989 they released 'Yellow Moon', which was perhaps the album, notably its tracks 'Healing Chant' and their cover of Bob Dylan's 'With God On Our Side', featuring brother Aaron's haunting vocal, that turned Roger inwards and most lifted his soul when the oesophageal cancer took hold. By this time he was at BBC Radio 1, prevailing in great style over the Saturday afternoon and late-night Sunday shows. He had hung up his passport, quit the relentless globetrotting and was hoping against hope, taking half a day at a time, along with the painkillers.

He didn't take long to die, having tried everything not to. His final birthday party, at a Wembley Park restaurant for his forty-sixth, was always going ahead, with or without him. As it happens, he was there, but only just.

He would have turned seventy one last Thursday. The only consolation in dying young is that it allows you to remain that age for eternity. He once told me that his whole life had been a 'con': he'd 'conned his way into the States as a 'Beatles expert' during the Sixties, talking himself onto the airwaves as a personal friend of the Fabs. Flaunting his British accent, his sardonic humour and his tongue-in-cheek, he got away with it. He'd 'conned' himself into the Montreal hotel bedroom where John and Yoko recorded 'Give Peace a Chance' in 1969. There is footage of him talking about that, on YouTube. He'd 'duped the lot of us,' he said. Yet Roger was anything but a con-artist. He was the most honest fan of music I have ever known.




Thursday, 30 October 2014

RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE, 40 YEARS AGO TODAY ...

I done kicked a lotta butts, all them people who thought George was the baddest man in the world,” said Muhammad Ali after knocking out George Foreman to regain the Heavyweight Championship in Zaire at the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', forty years ago today.
My father Ken Jones was there, both ringside and in a strange bungalow with Ali afterwards, on the verdant expanse of the Zaire River. Here, from his book 'Boxing: The Champions' (Crowood), is what happened after the fight.
'Sport provides us with a convenient vehicle for exaggeration, success and failure, youth and ageing. When set against the ultimate verity, it is never thus.
'Even before the fighters reached their corners, I trembled with anticipation, objectivity set aside, the commitment to Ali absolute.'
After the fight, the rain.
'Rain that turned the highway into a torrent, hammering on the roof of the springless vehicle that carried us back to N'Sele, the water level rising steadily up over the wheels. Our driver wanted none of it, pleading that it was impossible to complete the journey. We urged him on with promises.
'Dawn and all was still, steam rising from the swollen river, giving ghostly form to clumps of foliage so that they passed by like floating carcasses. After a while, Hugh McIlvanney and I made our way towards Angelo Dundee's bungalow, and suddenly Ali was standing in front of us. We followed him into the villa.
'He lay back on a settee, legs stretched onto a low table.
“I kicked a lot of asses, not only George's,” he said contentedly. There was a slight redness in the corner of his right eye, and the suspicion of a small bruise beneath it, but apart from those minor blemishes he was unmarked.
“All those writers who said I was washed up, all those people who thought I had nothing left but my mouth, all them who were waiting for me to get the biggest beatin' of all times: they thought George could do it for them, but they know better now.”
'It became clear that Ali had long since sensed important deficiencies in Foreman, most notably that hurt would be a new experience for him. "Did you see how George turned his head?" cried Ali. "He's not used to being hit, and he needs room to hit you. I was nervous but not afraid because nothing new could happen to me. I had been knocked down, and I had got up. I had lost fights, and I had been stunned by big punches. George didn't know none of those things. I called him a sucker when he hit me good, and asked him if that was the best he had."
Forty years ago. People are still talking about it. The anniversary is being recognised and fanfared as we speak. Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn't. It matters to me because my father, my champion, was there, and he wrote about it. It strikes me now, in a way that didn't occur to me then because I was too young to understand, that The Rumble in the Jungle was, is, a metaphor for life. The loser is not necessarily the guy who gets knocked down. The winner, the hero, the champion, is the guy who gets up again.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

MY MARCO PIERRE WHITE NIGHTMARE

My worst nightmare, set in a kitchen the size and temperature of a sauna, features a wild-eyed, Medusa-haired celebrity chef attempting to strangle me with a table napkin. Its recurrence this week, after watching Marco Pierre White fiercing all over Masterchef Australia contestants (my kids are addicted to the show) was hardly surprising, given that some years ago, he did the same to me.
My Marco Moment has in some ways scarred me for life (had it happened in the States, I’d have been urged to sue for attempted homicide!) Mythology maintains that Marco is ferocious only for the camera, but is an absolute pussycat in real life. Having worked with him, I can report from experience that the man is mean for real. He's an eccentric, imposing, enormous (6’ 3”), sexist, volatile, demanding perfectionist. A multi-millionaire flirtatious father-of-four with a foul mouth and an evil temper. An essentially cruel man, given to vengeful, egocentric behaviour, who treats women like dirt - hence two and a half divorces.

I forget now whose bright idea it was to second me to Harvey’s restaurant kitchen in Wandsworth, where Marco was still building his reputation as the hottest chef in town. Harvey’s, off the beaten track, boasted two Michelin stars, one of only four restaurants in Britain at the time to do so. My brief was to spend a week in his kitchen, experience his mad methods first-hand, and report back on the outrageous rumours that he treated his staff like animals. Because my employers at the time, the Daily Mail, were about to serialise recipes from his cookbook ‘White Heat’, he agreed to it.

Not the softest of gigs, I mused, as I crossed Wandsworth Common one August afternoon with the Firstborn, heading for my initial meeting with the Beast of Bellevue Road - who allegedly throttled staff, hung chefs by their aprons from hooks, and slashed their uniforms with knives if they complained. Before I could interview Marco, he demanded to interview me, retorting that he wouldn’t have ‘any old f-ing riff-raff skulking about in his kitchen’.

When a stale, bleary-eyed Marco finally appeared as if directly from a mattress, it was without apology or greeting.
‘You know we’re going to f---, don’t you?’ were his first words to me, I kid not ( no of course we didn’t: as shock tactics go, he had nothing on rock stars.)

His second utterance, to my little daughter, was ‘would you like a drink?’ She said yes please. Handing her a wine glass, Marco wrenched the top from a bottle of mineral water and instructed her to ‘Say when’. Mia stared at him, dumbstruck.

An Italian Yorkshireman (the posh-Brit accent is affected), Marco spent his early childhood near Genoa. He returned to England aged only six, after his mother died. He has admitted that he took up cooking because he was ‘thick at school - a real doughnut. My brain didn’t start working until I was sixteen.' His wild appearance was enough to terrorise an adult, let alone a toddler. Despite having been the teenaged protege of legendary Albert Roux of le Gavroche, he’d have looked more at home frying onions outside Wembley Stadium, or rearranging amplifiers for the Stones.

He poured the water without stopping. It overflowed from the wine glass and glugged down Mia’s dress, splashing into her new white leather sandals. I sat in silence, not daring to speak. I feared that an angry reaction from me was precisely what he was trying to provoke, thus giving him the perfect excuse to pull out of the proposed arrangement. When Mia laughed, so did I. An hour later, Marco and I were chums.

Two weeks later I took my place backstage at Harvey’s. Within ten minutes, I'd heard him give a fictitious address to two telephone callers who according to Marco ‘sounded far too common, we don’t want his/her sort round here’. ‘Let’s face it,' he reasoned, ‘there is only one reason why a man takes a woman out to dinner. But let’s try and be a little refined about it, shall we?’

The kitchen was so tiny, the chefs, cooks and bottle washers (I was one) were bent like hunchbacks. Marco had reached sublimation point already.
‘Oi - UGLY!’ he rounded on me. ‘Yes, you! Could you get any uglier? Got a nice little family, haven’t you? Want to see them again? No? Well carry on the way you are doing and you won’t, know what I mean? Who’s nicked my sodding clingfilm? I’d like it back! Whoever’s taken it, give it back, now!’

Orders flooded in by the table-load: salt cod, pig’s trotter, pigeon. Frantic chopping of herbs, massacring of tomatoes, violent slicing of fish. Marco yelled orders like a surgeon:
‘PLATE, William! Olive oil, William! Pan please, Bertrand (he said PLEASE!!) Caviar! ... Lemon juice! ... I said, f-ing CHIVES!’

It was not so much hands-on cookery as hands IN. Marco tested, not with his fingertips, but with his entire fists. Every spoon he used went into his own mouth (and several into mine ... then straight back into the mixture.)

In flitted the maitre d’ Jean-Christophe, with a menu and a Biro in hand. Somebody wanted an autograph.
‘That’s six quid on the bill!’ Marco roared, sweat dripping off his ringlets into the seafood as his chipolata fingers flew. He plopped a prawn onto my tongue, licked his palms and carried on creating.
By the end of the night, we were all quivering wrecks. And we knew what we could do if we didn’t like it.

Very late, that Saturday, he took me to the Chelsea home of his fashionista girlfriend, Nicky Barthorpe, for whom he had left his first wife Alex and baby Letitia, and who didn’t last long herself (he went on to marry model Lisa Butcher, then Spanish firebrand waitress Mati. They are separated.) After gambling all night in Nicky’s kitchen, Marco drove us all at dawn to Albert Roux’s Sussex estate to go fishing. Later, the great chef, Marco’s mentor, cooked us sauteed aubergine and courgette in garlic, coq au vin and summer pudding. With Albert and his wife Monique, Marco was a different pan of trout. Meek, respectful, lapping up the affection they lavished on him, he was the perfect surrogate son.

A couple of nights later he was throttling me and booting me onto the pavement ... for making a tasteless joke about spitting in a customer’s food (for the record, in case he sues me, he didn’t do it). 
The next time I saw him, he was all over me like a rash. I still have it. 















Wednesday, 22 October 2014

WINDING YOUR WAY DOWN ON BAKER STREET ... FAREWELL, RAPH RAVENSCROFT

SO FAREWELL RAPH RAVENSCROFT. Raf, Raphael, however you want to call the saxophonist's saxophonist, who died in Exeter at the weekend. Only sixty years old. Makes you think. Does it? Is it the numbers that really matter? I like to think not.
'Baker Street' did it for me. Still at school and dreaming of living and working in London, I felt that Gerry Rafferty's sublime song managed to turn a dull thoroughfare famous only for a fictitious character, Sherlock Holmes, into an avenue as glamorous and exotic-sounding as Sunset Boulevard or Broadway.
It was the song that made us fall in love with the saxophone. There are plenty of indelible, incredible sax solos - Andy Mackay's on Roxy Music's 'Virginia Plain', say, or Ronnie Ross's on Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side'; Dick Parny's perfect blues solo on Pink Floyd's 'Money', Bowie himself on 'Soul Love' from 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust ..' I also want never to forget Steve Norman's on Spandau's 'True'; but 'Baker Street' has always seemed the definitive ... regardless of that fact that, by his own admission, Raph was a bit flat.
But when 'Baker Street' hit, Gerry Rafferty was a has-been. Stealer's Wheel were stuck in the middle and on the way out, their moment past. How many thousands, millions of musicians have been there. They come and they go, most of them hoping against hope for everlasting fame and fortune, for the legendary status that inevitably eludes all but the few. Still, they make music honestly. They leave a legacy of their own, to those who remember, and who care. Raph did. He worked as a session musician for Daft Punk only recently. He also wrote and published the definitive work, 'The Complete Saxophone Player', in 1990. There'll be a rush on for that now.
The brilliance of a track like 'Baker Street' is its ability to transport us, in an instant, to the time when we first heard it. Who we were, who we hung with, what we fretted about, what we wore. It gifts us the magic to experience youth again.
Raph Ravenscroft played with so many greats. His contribution to all that remarkable music by Marvin and Floyd and Bonnie et al is all but forgotten now. Gerry Rafferty's gone. Now Raph is too. But 'Baker Street' will live forever.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

YOUNG, GIFTED, BLACK, FEMALE: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE TOUCHLINE AT PALACE?

The first female photographer in sport held a long-overdue exhibition last night. I was honoured to speak at this prestigious event about the incredible woman who not only inspired my own career, but who has been both a loyal supporter and a lifelong friend.

I met Hy Money in West Wickham, Kent, more than forty years ago. She was, is, the mother of Lisa Smith, my classmate and best friend at Oak Lodge. Hy made an immediate impression on me because she was nothing like my own nor any other friend's mother. She is Indian, for a start. You didn't see many dark skins on suburban streets in those days. She was glamorous, exotic, and wore colourful clothes. Her front door was always open, and she welcomed her children's friends, while I was only allowed to have chums home for tea on my birthday. When we pitched up at Hy's, she'd pull out boxes of musical instruments and dressing-up clothes. We'd doll up, grab a tambourine or a drum, and parade around the streets like a little band of Hare Krishna devotees. All very bohemian. Her neighbours thought she was nuts.

We are fed so much pap nowadays about how 'liberating' the Sixties were for women in this country: equal opportunities, encouragement to work outside the home, fair wages, birth control, the whole bit. I sometimes wonder what they're on about. It was not my experience. My mother-of-four married at 19, had me at 20, and was never again employed outside the home. Most of the mothers at our school gates were the same. Hy was different. Other women felt threatened by her, and poured scorn. Why on earth did she, also a mother of four, even want to go gadding about earning money when she had a husband to do that for her? It 'wasn't respectable.'

We went to Hy's house often, for folk soirées and parties. She drew and painted our portraits. When she began taking pictures for local rag the Beckenham Record, she came to our house to photograph my family. My father, sports writer Ken Jones, was off to cover the World Cup in Mexico, 1970. As England had triumphed at Wembley four years earlier, hopes were high and our Fleet Street journalist dad was newsworthy. It was the first time I saw my image and name on the front page of a newspaper. I decided there and then.

Hy had her ear to the ground. She always knew what was going on locally. When David Bowie, then still a Jones, began hosting Arts Lab meetings in the back room at the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street, Hy took Lisa and me along one Sunday afternoon, where we met not only Bowie-to-be but Marc Bolan. Not that Hy was all that interested in rock stars. She'd heard that an internationally-acclaimed sitar player, Vytas Serelis, had been invited to give a workshop that afternoon, and she wanted us to see and hear the instrument played. 

Lisa and I progressed to different secondary schools. We all lost touch, as you do. I was delighted, a few years later, to learn that my father and she were now crossing paths regularly on the touchline at Crystal Palace and at other sporting events. Hy had reinvented herself as a sports photographer. Imagine the other mothers' disgust.

She is open about the fact that she spent the first decade of her new profession fighting prejudice. Sport was still a male-dominated world. Female sports reporters and photographers were virtually unheard-of. Her glamour didn't help. Rival male snappers treated this 'bit of skirt' with disdain, brushing her aside with sarcastic comments. They'd stumble deliberately into her, saying 'sorry, Sir, I didn't see you standing there', and the pack would fall about laughing. Imagine how intimidating. It's against the law now.

The prejudice and abuse culminated in a petition, signed by many members of the Sports Photographers Association and presented to the National Union of Journalists, attempting to bar Hy from the union on the grounds that she was 'taking men's work away from them.' The Union secretary called her to say that it was the worst case of sex discrimination ever brought before them. He then awarded Hy her well-earned union card, letting slip that the SPA rep had left the meeting 'foaming at the mouth.'

Being such a good-natured and unassuming person, Hy never thought to claim credit for breaking down barriers and opening up the profession to the many women who came after her. With hindsight, she gets it. She told me that this exhibition was to be a 'trip down Memory Lane.' It's much more than that. It epitomises the maxims 'Don't let the bastards get you down', and 'Follow your dream.'

Hy followed hers. She has been a beloved fixture at Palace for decades. Her best-selling book 'Hy on Palace' is a unique observation of the life of a football club, in that it goes behind the scenes as well as out into the stand and onto the pitch. It benefits greatly from the woman's touch. Its wider achievement is that she has managed to make footballers and their followers appear human.

I jest: I grew up in a footballing household. My father was still playing when I was born. My Uncle Cliff played for Spurs, my Great Uncle Bryn for Arsenal, and my Grandad, Emlyn, kicked up a storm for Everton when his boot came in. My father respected Hy as a gifted and hard-working lensman of football and many other sports. She never demanded special treatment because she was a girl. She simply got on with the job, oblivious of the effect she was having on the men. There's the rub? When Des Lynam told her recently, 'How we used to fancy you in the Seventies', he perhaps spoke for all of them.

PROPOFOL KILLED MICHAEL JACKSON, JOAN RIVERS & MY BEST FRIEND ROB. WHEN WILL IT BE BANNED?

PROPOFOL, the drug Joan Rivers was on while her throat surgery was being performed, is used to induce or maintain anaesthesia during surgery. Rivers died, it has just been revealed, when she stopped receiving oxygen to the brain. 

It is the same drug that caused the death of Michael Jackson, when he overdosed on it in 2009.

It was also administered to my cherished friend, Rob Lee, during a 'routine hip replacement' earlier this year. 
A few weeks later, he too was dead. Rob, once part of the pop duo Levinsky Sinclair, who found fame on Ev's mad TV series 'The Kenny Everett Video Show', ran The Who's official website for Pete and Roger, and co-designed their recent sensational live shows. Rob couldn't stop talking about having had the drug that 'killed Michael Jackson', when I went round to have a go on his crutches at his sister's home during his post-op recuperation. He boasted about how 'brilliant' it was to have been able to cope without the vomiting, fatigue, likely depression and all the usual fall-out of general anaesthesia, saying ' I was awake the whole time. I only had a 'local', and I bounced right back.'

Only weeks later, we were mourning his death, from a 'massive' heart attack. When will authorities here and in the USA consider banning this killer drug?

Monday, 13 October 2014

TUNE IN: THE BEATLES' MARK LEWISOHN REDEFINES THE ART OF BIOGRAPHY

So my love affair is over,
it has sent me quite berdserk (sic).
You have this writer's sympathy
for all that long hard work.

'Tune In' is such an oeuvre,
it required you to be wise,
to take the big step backwards,
and to write it with your eyes.

Though 'they' told it all too often,
mixing fantasy with myth,
fudging facts too hard to soften,
'zaggerating, taking pith,

all that FAB-lore long was in there,
you were brave enough to look.
Mr Lewisohn, you've been there,
all the proof is in this book.

So I'm raising twat-'ats to ya,
thumbing tears out of my eyes,
wanna thank you for this treasure,
and forgive you for its size.

Now the doggerel's almost over,
you'll be enchanté to hear.
May the good times roll for you and yours,
until we meet for beer.



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

DON'T CRY FOR TIM RICE & ANDREW LLOYD-WEBBER

It haunts me, Marti Pellow's mesmeric debut at Ronnie Scott's with Wet Wet Wet. I can remember standing next to Debbie Bennett. 1988, wasn't it, Deb? I remember, too, all the hoochin'-an'-a-smoochin' at that year's Montreux Rockfest. Those Clydebank boys party, I should have known, from all the years spent hanging with Jim Diamond. While the other guys looked a bit also-ran, Marti oozed charisma and killed with those eyes. Everyone urged him to ditch the band and go for it solo. He'd never do it, though. In the end, it was Tommy the drummer who quit, and that was that. Goodbye band, and thanks for giving 'Love is All Around' a go for 'Four Weddings', extending dear Reg Presley a good few cushioned years before he trogged off to the sky. Solo Marti fell off the side after that, and succumbed to the hard stuff. Got clean, effected a comeback, and found his feet in musical theatre. Were I to write that as rock fiction, it would be junked as implausible. Yet it's what happened.
So, Marti in EVITA as Che: some insist 'Guevara', others point out that this character was a classic Tim Rice invention, the anonymous narrator, the Greek chorus, a device so effectively tested earlier in 'Joseph'. Anyway. I'd heard great things about his performance in last year's touring production, and was keen to lap it up. But what happened? A vocal delay - mic-ing or transmission problems, maybe, or was it me? - proved distracting, of both my ability to focus on the lyrics, and of Marti's to sing them. He never really found his groove last night. This mildly 'behind', hiccuping delivery seemed a metaphor for the entire performance. The sinister rumbling, at three-minute intervals, of the trains beneath the foundations of the old theatre - something I'd never noticed during my many attendances at 'We Will Rock You' and 'Time' - heralded the Argentinian earthquake re-enacted in the piece, and evoked a sense of the past warning the present that it needs to get its act together. I have been known to overthink things.
Woe is me for having gorged on the original 'Evita'. For having fallen passionately, irrevocably in love with David Essex's Che, Joss Ackland's Peron, Elaine Paige's Eva. That production made 3,000 sumptuous performances over 8 astonishing years. Patti Lupone originated the lead role on Broadway in 1979, but later declared that she hated it. More fool her, it was the first British creation to win the Best Musical Tony. Before all that, though, Rock Follies' heartbreaker Julie Covington made a worldwide hit of the signature song, and Barbara Dickson did commendably with the lament of Peron's mistress, 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall.' These songs loom large on the soundtrack of my youth. They don't write them like that anymore. Not even Rice and Lloyd-Webber do.
Overall? I'd have to say, a little dated. The pace is patchy, and at times way too slow. The vital sense of the grandeur, and the historical importance of Eva Peron's life, seem lost. Perhaps musical theatre, having come so far since Evita first opened in 1978, is diluted, reduced, to a less tastebud-tingling and so-what sauce these days. Jukebox musicals rule, ok, and wider audiences are ok with it. They know all the words.
Still, we quirk and twitch and are aroused by the paso doble- and tango-imbued music. We deep-breathe the magic, and try to be there, back in 1940s Argentina. She was a remarkable woman, Eva: an under-age gutter-scrubber who popped her cherry to an oily cabaret singer and cornered him into carting her off to Buenos Aires, where she did the MAW thing, as the girls say today - Model, Actress, Whatever - got on the radio and made a name. Sleeping your way to the top ain't no new thing. Eva aimed high. She landed the guy who couldn't wait to be king, er, President. She then 'saw the error of her ways', owned up to erroneous ambitions of fortune and fame (she got them anyway) and reinvented herself as the charity queen and saviour of her people, sanctified, reborn, still dripping in diamonds. Cancer took hold as she was preparing for election herself, as vice-president. In true rockstar fashion, the best thing she could do for her image and profile was die, and she did. Her embalmed body, destined for a gawdy and grotesque monument, went missing for 17 years. A musical in itself.
The lyrics will always be exquisite. The score can be lumpy and self-interrupting at times, but rises in glory. What a partnership Rice and Lloyd-Webber were. The ultimate double helix, a magical twist of individual strands and strengths wrenched together in perfect harmony. If we could turn back time.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

GONE GIRL: THE MOVIE

Have you read this insane novel yet? If you haven't, don't. DON'T. Race 'em to the nearest picture house, blindly, as if life itself depended on it, kicking pensioners out of the way if you have to, before every last bastard you know comes charging like a bull in a bowl shop, desperate to wreck the ending for you. 

Actually it's not the ending you really need to worry about. Not so much. In predictable Hollywood style, the director David Fincher (Panic Room, The Social Network etc) does that for you. The damage is limited, you can live with it. I have. Look, they do it to Dickens and Shakespeare. It's every little, creepy plot-twist and turn from beginning through middle towards the least obvious ending, ever, that you don't want to spoil by knowing what's coming. The movie is faithful enough to both theme and plot for that to happen. My friend Richard Hughes made me read it, about a year ago. I do as he tells me. Nothing scares me. This book did. I was too frightened to go down to the kitchen for more wine. Had to make do with just the two bottles, imagine. Sat up all night, second-guessing, calculating whodunnit, putting words into characters' mouths, and still got it all wrong. I misread every principal, every motive, every last outcome. Everything shocked me. Still does. What I wish, massively, is that I hadn't eaten the book before the film. 

So I'm not going to say too much more about it. Ben Affleck as 'The Husband', Nick Dunne, is a little chunky and surly for my taste. I had in mind someone leaner, less thuggish, more in touch with his feminine side. 'The Wife', Amy Dunne, played by Bond beauty Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) is more convincing. At least they didn't give it to Keira Knightley. Handed the choice, I would have stood Reese Witherspoon in front of the lens instead of behind it - she co-directs - as it's the role that could have brought out her Meryl Streep. But where we are, we are. I'm still drooling over the lawyer (Go, Tanner!) and I still want to murder Amy's bloodsucking parents. Beyond that, I must say only this: that marital meltdown is a poisonous, festering bog. Gillian (hard 'G') Flynn, the author, cheerfully admits that she has zero experience of its hideous soul-destroyingness, and yet she writes as a real-life survivor of relationship-rot. This is vile imagination at its most dreadful, most brilliant, most irresistible worst. Can any individual ever know another truly? Even the one to whom they pledge their love and life? You don't want to know the answer to that. Yet you know you do.



Flynn's earlier two novels Sharp Objects and Dark Places are also movies coming to a cinema near you soon. The former, I think I remember, will star Cameron Diaz. Do yourself a favour and don't do read those, either. It's a chocolate-box thing. Save the best 'til last.