Monday, 20 January 2014

WHO





I was devastated to hear the tragic news of Rob Lee's death today. Many knew him as half of Levinsky Sinclair, the pop duo who achieved fame on 'The Kenny Everett Video Show'. Remember their single 'Only Feel This Way'?
Rob had plans for this year. He'd moved to the coast, and had just ordered a juicer, a Christmas present to himself. He was looking forward to getting fit again after his hip-op last summer. He'd fallen in love, and was hopeful for the future. He'd written a song that Roger Daltrey loved, and had promised to record. Too late for Rob to enjoy the fruits of his labour, but I hope sincerely that Roger honours the promise. It would be a wonderful tribute to Rob, who did so much for The Who, not least running their official website - thewho.com - and contributing his considerable creativity to their live tour last year.
We shared much over the years, not least an enduring passion for our mutual friend John Entwistle. He wouldn't mind me sharing this extract from an email he wrote me in 2012, which speaks for itself. We wept when we watched it. God bless, Wholigan.

'Here’s a clip (below) you might like to see, filmed by a fan of The Who playing 5:15 from Quadrophenia with visuals I worked on. The ‘John’ sequence starts with Roger’s ‘I hear the thunder’ at about 5.00 in. Then the bass solo starts. The fan filming it doesn’t quite realise what’s happening for a while so it takes him a while to point the camera up at John on the top screen After John’s solo, Pete goes into a blistering guitar solo. NB it doesn't really give you the full impression because the set is HUGE. But enjoy!'


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gjxg499gGY


Saturday, 11 January 2014

BAROQUE 'N 'ROLL!


What do opera, ballet and rock'n'roll have in common?

My son and I spent the morning at the Royal Opera House, for the final dress rehearsal of 'Manon', Massenet's operatic interpretation of Prevost's 1731 novel 'L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut.' Torn between reason and passion, the classic conflict, Grieux falls for the convent-bound Manon when she is only sixteen and steals her away to a garret in Paris, where she betrays him and breaks his heart. Years later, the spoilt femme fatale hears that her former lover has committed to the church and is entering the priesthood. Fickle Manon cannot resist the ultimate challenge: winning back the heart of a man who has turned to God. This echo of Grieux's abduction of the child Manon en route to a life of devotion is irresistible. Both, need I say, are doomed.

Across Covent Garden, I joined my two daughters at the Coliseum, for the English National Ballet's  'Le Corsaire'. Based on the poem by Lord Byron and scored originally by Adolphe Adam at the Paris Opera almost a hundred and sixty years ago, it recounts the tale of swashbuckling pirate Conrad who falls for harem girl Medora, and features the famous Le Corsaire pas de deux, one of classical ballet's best-loved pieces. The ENB, under the guidance of former Royal Ballet principal turned ENB Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo, is the first British ballet company to perform it as a complete work. Full of Eastern promise, sultans of swing and slaves to the rhythm, it concludes with a dramatic shipwreck but also happily ever after, in contrast to Manon's manic demise.

All of which had me pondering, perhaps incongruously, the countless rock and pop gigs at which I've spent my life. What struck me is that there's a distance between audience and artist in ballet and opera that we don't experience in rock'n'roll. No active participation. We sit still and silent, never daring to cough, enthralled by these complicated and highly-disciplined art forms that explore the human condition with power and passion, in ways we are incapable of ourselves. Though we may know the names of the principal performers, have followed them a little, know something of their private lives, they are as other-worldy and removed as if they lived on other planets. At a rock gig, however, we are on our feet the moment the band appear, clapping, cheering and singing along, responding to our idols as they welcome us into the show and seduce us into taking part. We get these people, we have relationships with them, we've got to know them inside our own homes. We know, or we think we know, what makes them tick.

Opera and ballet are much less about individual performers, much more about the art form. Rock is about its superstars. The common theme, the bridge, is love, and the common denominator is music. Add music and love together and we get hope, as expressed through soaring strings, heart-stopping harmonies and entrancing dance, via agony, tension and joy.

It got me wondering again where we might be without music: a universal currency out-done only by sex. Or is it? Whereas sex is often inappropriate in the circumstances, music almost never is.  Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, music can give us pause for thought, allow us to express and feel emotions, help us rise above the worries and struggles of our day. We happen to hear a piece that takes us back, or we choose to escape our problems for a while by immersing ourselves in it deliberately. It washes over us, drowning the negatives. It's no accident that the music that touches our hearts most deeply arises from pain and sorrow. Even the blackest night delivers dawn, a glimmer of light as we are about to give up. However we hear it, whatever we listen to, wherever we partake, music lets us feel. Most songs are about emotions. The greatest songs last a lifetime, and can move us beyond words.
 

With thanks to Christopher Millard at ROH, and to Max Westwell at ENB








Wednesday, 8 January 2014

DAVID BOWIE IS .... SIXTY SEVEN TODAY!


Gold sunlight splashed our faces as Tash and I got off the 227 bus and walked down Beckenham High Street towards our first encounter with The Man Who Fell To Earth.

In our Friday dregs of uniform, tennis rackets and straw boaters wedged under our arms, we squinted in silence along Southend Road until we reached the scariest house on the street. ‘Haddon Hall’, number 42. 

A red-brick cross between a Gothic church and the Addams Family mansion, with stained-glass windows, mangled balconies and turrets. I remember straining my eyes to look for bats.

It was the summer of ’69, our last summer as children. The year of Woodstock and Monty Python, of men on the moon. Bryan Adams would later immortalise the season in a song. Natasha Holloway and I, classmates from Bromley Grammar, had for some time been secretly aware of David Bowie, known around our way as Davie Jones. He’d been friends with ‘Face of ‘68’ teen idol Peter Frampton at Bromley Tech, where Peter’s father was Head of Art. Davie had dropped the Jones to avoid confusion with Davy Jones when the Monkees emerged, and had been building a reputation as a songwriter, singer, sax and guitar player and mime artist with his own Arts Lab studio in the back room of a pub, the Three Tuns, on Beckenham High Street.

We were taken to the Arts Lab by an exotic Indian photographer, Hy Money, whose daughter Lisa was in my class at Oak Lodge Junior. Hy was also a fine artist and folk-singer, who held regular soirees at her home. She danced like Isadora Duncan, and had a friend at the Arts Lab who played sitar.

It was there that we first saw Bowie. We couldn’t take our eyes off his. His right pupil was so massive that it almost obliterated the iris. One eye was luminously blue, the other a dull, owlish grey. He wore a washed-out pink tee shirt over a blouse with a wallpaper pattern, one half of his hair ruffled, almost curled, the other side swept back. He had bits and pieces of teeth. We had never seen anything like him, it was love at first sight. He was surrounded by gerbil-cheeked girls with curtain hair, and moody guys with moustaches and guitars. Giggling behind Hy, clicking away with her camera, we made a pact to find out where he lived.

Little could I have known the extent to which David Bowie would influence my life or my future. Nor that, a quarter of a century later, I’d find myself a guest at his fantasy island home on Mustique, actually sleeping in his bed - in his absence, mind.

The autograph we were on the hunt for took several attempts. David was never at home when we called round. Three or four times his American girlfriend Angela, later briefly his wife, stood chatting to us on the doorstep. She was bleached-looking, sexy and beautiful, with an unusual nose, and large hands. She gave us signed photos. Tash and I remained determined to get to him ourselves.

Luck looked in eventually, that summer Friday afternoon. David answered the door, in his dressing gown, an open bottle of nail polish in his hand. ‘Come in,' he grinned, showing us into a huge Christmas-coloured room, with bottle-green walls and red velvet furnishings. Angie wasn’t there. David excused himself, returned from the bathroom after a couple of minutes, lay down on the floor on some stale pillows and resumed decorating his nails, applying the varnish with a cocktail stick for want of a brush. His pale face seemed to hang out of place, as if attached to the wrong neck - much as it does today, since his heart surgery. Even so, as if having reinvented himself yet again, he continues to defy time - looking nothing like a man who turns sixty seven today. 

He was friendly. We were thrilled - particularly as we had wormed our way into his house behind our unsuspecting parents’ backs. We talked about astrology, reincarnation, karma, Tibet, the mystic stuff we'd read he was into. We were trying too hard to look intelligent. If he noticed, he didn’t let on. He asked if we believed in UFOs, and what we thought of Marc Bolan. Tash the joker sang ‘Ride A White Swan’. He talked about his many failed auditions for ‘Hair’, the risque stage musical of the day. Tash asked him about ‘Space Oddity’, his new single. David said he was ‘out of his gourd’ and ‘totally flipped’ over it. It was later chosen as the theme track for Apollo 11’s televised moon landings. Tash asked him ‘How does it feel to share a birthday with Elvis?’David was born on January 8th, 1947, twelve years after The King.

No idea, kiddo’, David drawled. ‘Ask him’.

He was already on his way to becoming the most iconic rock star of all time, with a string of alter egos, images and sounds that have stood the test of time. He would achieve huge success as an actor, with movies like Nicolas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who fell To Earth’ and stage roles such as ‘The Elephant Man’ on Broadway. Tash and I, die-hard Bowie fans, did six more years at school, with a few little alter egos of our own. I was ‘Ground Control’ to her ‘Major Tom’. We’d write coded messages in our rough books during class: ‘take your protein pills, put your helmet on’. ‘Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing we can do ...'

Against the odds, in July 1973, we obtained tickets for the legendary gig at Hammersmith Odeon. We went weighed down with glitter, David’s initials etched in brass studs into the navy leather of our platform boots. That night, an already burnt-out, drug-abused Bowie, backed by guitarist Jeff Beck as well as Mick Ronson, retired Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, to the distress of millions. Before he went, the all-time favourites: Changes, Life On Mars, Ziggy Stardust, John, I’m Only Dancing, All The Young Dudes, Suffragette City, and Space Oddity, re-released as a single that year.  

Eight years elapsed before I saw him again. By then, I’d spent three years at college in London, a year in Paris, six months in New York. I had immersed myself in the London music scene, and was freelancing in the press office at London’s Capital Radio. In 1981 I went to Montreux with Roger Scott and Nick Elgar, to assist at a recorded interview with Freddie Mercury, whose definitive biography I would write. Queen were working in their own Mountain Studios on the shores of Lake Geneva. When we arrived, David Bowie, a neighbour, was there too. They were recording what would become the number one hit ‘Under Pressure’.

David didn't recognise me. Why would he.

Two years on, life had come full circle. I found myself backstage at the Birmingham NEC for the start of Bowie’s ‘Serious Moonlight’ European tour, to promote ‘Let’s Dance’. By now a music writer, I was there to interview him. The spangled, half-strangled, androgynous weirdo who had vanished from the scene five years earlier, had metamorphosed into an athlete filming an ad for breakfast cereal. He was barely recognisable: cool, elegant, clean-cut, his hair baby-blonde to offset a classy pale suit. In place of the tombstones, he now flashed perfect white teeth.
I was tired of the idea of being a freakish cult figure’, he told me. ‘I wanted to do something more accessible, more soulful, a bit more R & B, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. I certainly didn’t expect this much limelight. It’s a joy to me. I have never performed like this before in my life. I feel so much more relaxed, now that I’m not carting some character around with me any longer. At long last, I think I have learned how to be myself.’ 

By this time, his stormy marriage to Angie dead and buried, Bowie was involved with his personal assistant Corinne Schwab. It was obvious to all that he and ‘Coco’ were lovers, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Anyway, she was in the room. I found myself staring at an unravishing woman with lank hair and a chilly smile, trying to fathom the attraction.

A band member read my mind.

She does everything for him,' he explained. ‘I mean everything. Ange never did, and it's a revelation to him. David just sits back and lets Coco do the lot.’

The way David explained it, ‘She is a very good friend, she became the most important person in my life in the mid-70s. My whole lifestyle at that time made me quite bonkers, and I had a complete breakdown. Coco was the one person who told me what a fool I was becoming, and she made me snap out of it, I’m glad to say. Sex is not all there is. There really have to be relationships in your life to make it worthwhile.’

He talked about his twelve year-old son Duncan, formerly Zowie, of whom he had won custody and with whom he shared his life in an New York apartment and a house in Lausanne. They skied together there. Skiing was his only sport. 

I saw him backstage at ‘Live Aid’ two years later, then again at the premier of ‘Absolute Beginners’ in 1986. We'd exchange a brief kiss, and he'd say ‘You again!’ 

In 1987 he was planning the Glass Spider World Tour, which would kick off in Rotterdam on May 30th. I spent a couple of months negotiating an exclusive interview for the Daily Mail, where I was now a rock and pop writer. But when the time came, the Editor, Sir David English, didn't want to let me go.

How the hell are you going to make it to Rotterdam in your condition?’ he quizzed me. ‘You can’t even fly.’

I was six months pregnant. A huge and minor detail. Determined to have my major exclusive with the rock star I’d worshipped since childhood, I said I’d get there. Train, ship, train. It was some journey. I found myself knocking on David’s dressing room door backstage at the Feyenoord football stadium, outside Rotterdam.

You again!’ His eyes fell to my enormous bulge.

What happened to you.’ He pinched my cheek. Saw that I was wearing one green, one brown contact lens.

Very funny. Shall we do this?’ My baby, now twenty six, attended her first-ever Bowie gig before she was born.

It was the ultimate stadium rock spectacle. Choreographed by Toni Basil of ‘Oh-Mickey-You’re-So-Fine’ fame, it was the culmination of all the performing skills he'd honed down the years. Even Peter Frampton, Bowies’ old school mate from Bromley Tech, had joined him to play lead guitar. Caught up in the excitement, I remembered only afterwards that I hadn’t made arrangements to get back. The trip from hotel to stadium had been easy enough, but for the return journey, not a cab to be had. I wandered outside into a milling throng of about 80,000 fans, all trying to make their way home. Beyond the stadium lay the kind of wasteland you wouldn't want to venture into after dark. I was not exactly in any fit state to make a run for it.

I nipped back inside and lurked a bit. David poked his head round the door of his dressing room.

'You again. What’s up?’

I explained.

Within minutes he'd despatched a minder, who returned with a couple of Dutch policemen. Negotiating with them personally, he arranged a police escort to deliver me back to our hotel.

You hear a lot of negative stuff about David Bowie. From personal experience, I have to dismiss most of it. It is his spontaneity, kindness and sardonic humour that I’ll always remember. And the music, of course. That, and the magical month I spent with my daughter at his Balinese home on Mustique, where I escaped to in November 1995, to begin work on my first definitive biography of Freddie Mercury.

Freddie died of AIDS-related illness in 1991. The following year, David performed outstandingly at his Wembley Tribute concert. He also married Somalian supermodel Iman Abdulmajid in Florence, with whom he now has an fourteen year -old daughter Alexandria Zahra. The Mustique home, which Bowie had put together with Coco Schwab, had become surplus to requirements. Before he sold it, to Time Out publisher and poet Felix Denis, David wanted people to experience the place. 

Built of Balinese and Indonesian teak on a peak above Brittania Bay looking out towards St. Vincent, the house, with its infinity pools and exotic pavilions, was a true tropical paradise. Time was on hold. I remember getting into his bed that first night, shattered from the long journey but ecstatic at the thought. Just a gauche Bromley schoolgirl who had idolised a rock star since childhood. Look at me now.

The next day, the house chef took us to visit Mick Jagger at his house on the beach, and later let us in to Princess Margaret’s old house, Les Jolies Eaux (he had a key). We misbehaved, I'm not really ashamed to say. We read her letters, jumped on her beds, played hide-and-seek in her wardrobes. At Basil’s Bar on the beach that night,we toasted David with the cocktail he referred to as a ‘Penis Coladis’, and drank to his long, against-odds health.

It doesn't get better.