Monday, 10 November 2014

FLESH OR FANTASY, BILLY IDOL?


Take me back, Billy Idol, to those 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 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 went home. 

Drop-out rocker-Billy didn't care for record company personnel. He didn't care for anything much. He just wanted to make punk rock that people could dance to. His songwriting collaboration with guitaristSteve Stevens, an apparently fright-wigged, bell-bottomed dude with a bit of Jeff Beck about him, endures to this day. It was through Steve that Billy met Bill Aucoin, manager of Kiss. It was Bill who masterminded 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 oversaw everything, 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 naked. Berni looked anywhere else. She didn't have to look far. The television had been toppled from the window into the street below, and red wine had been sprayed over the freshly-painted walls. The interview had not gone well. Billy had vented his anger on 'the suits' responsible for providing his accommodation.

Billy couldn't stand 'suits'. There were a few, though not many, at Chrysalis. Berni resolved to put things right 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 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 corner, 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 last, the 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. The damage was over six grand. For a party which lasted only a couple of hours. 

And there he was, last night. For a man about to enter his sixtieth year, he was a vision. It doesn't take him long to get the skin out. The abs are as bars of carbolic soap, aligned in pairs under stretched chamois. The facial features might well be enhanced, but you'd have to stick your nose in to tell. The Look: leather, chains, sweat, backcombed barnet - has barely budged since the Eighties. It works. 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 burgers 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 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 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'm knocking on too.


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