Monday, 26 January 2015


Goodbye Demis Roussos. The hugely charismatic Greek singer best known for his hair, his kaftans and his hits 'Forever and Ever' and 'Goodbye', has died at just sixty-eight. 

Plenty of less talented individuals sent up the fat guy for thin laughs over the years. Not least Freddie Starr, who might wish he had a voice that good. It was, is, a unique voice, loved by millions. There was depth and soul in his warble. Many will remember Demis for the theme tune to Mike Leigh's brilliant television play 'Abigail's Party'. Before we were all born, of course. As Alison Steadman famously said, 'He doesn't sound fat.'

His illness was undisclosed. As were his final measurements. What a waist. The one-time frontman - and backman, and sidesmen - of prog rock outfit Aphrodite's Children was the consummate all-rounder. 

He was born Artemios Ventouris Roussos in Egypt, to a Greek father and an Egyptian-Italian mother. A Mediterranean Greco-Italian African. With so many rich cuisines to mix and match from, little wonder that he piled on the pounds.

His was an unusual image, to say the least. But music was like that during the Sixties and Seventies. The more eccentric the disguise, the better they did. Think Gilbert O'Sullivan's bereted-and-braced waif; Leo Sayer's Pierrot. The Slade look. No one gave a toss whether the image hindered or helped. It was usually little more than something to hide behind, for performers who might not have had the nerve to do it otherwise. After his appearance on my favourite kids' TV show, Basil Brush, he became known as the Kaftan King. He sold sixty million records around the world. Not to be scoffed at. Few modern artists sell in the millions today. 

Demis once published a book about obesity. He needn't have bothered. He'd already invented the answer to it: fling on a bigger dress.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


So farewell Page Three... for a moment, at least. They had us going there. But let's not get too excited. Twenty-two year-old Nicole from Bournemouth exposes herself in today's Sun. Back to basics, then. Cunning stunt. They've got to get people to buy the 'news'paper somehow.

I'd never have made it onto Page Three, not even if I'd wanted to. I never had 'the build'. But I was amused to receive this leaving card when I moved on from Chrysalis Records, made by Tef and Dave in Art. The feminazis have banged on for decades about the way Page Three objectifies women, perpetuating the myth that we are good for only one thing. That it diminishes us, and renders us the weaker sex. 

I have always believed the opposite. If anything, Page Three diminishes men. Are most males that stupid, sexist and sleazy? Are they stuck in the Dark Ages? Is this country really dominated by White Van Man leering at teenaged schoolgirls from a wound-down window? No. Page Three insults the intelligence of the enlightened male majority. That is the truth about why it should go. The tits who run the rag calling time on the bare-bazoomed? That would be poetic.

I agree with the observation that, had not Clare Short and her ilk banged angry feminist drums for so long, Page Three would probably have faded away naturally, years ago. It may well have fitted the culture during the Seventies. It doesn't now. 

While I remain pro-choice, topless models do not belong in a family newspaper. I heard one busty beaut admit on Sky News that she won't allow the Sun at her breakfast table, because she doesn't want her eight year-old son to see Page Three - even though it's stripping for money that pays for their Coco Pops. The irony. 

At Chrysalis Records, the Press Office maintained a Willie Wall, in retaliation against the many male staff members who had posters of Foxes and Lusardis taped above their desks. It made the men uncomfortable. Few of them wanted to attend meetings in that office, pouted down upon by naked males flashing generous genitalia. The point was made. The breasts came down. The Willie Wall? Never!

Monday, 5 January 2015


Fleet Street's first lady Rector, the Revd. Canon Dr Alison Joyce, fed provocative thought in a New Year sermon hinged to the carol 'In the Bleak Midwinter'. Swirled out of Christina Rossetti's starkly moving poem, it turns on the giving of hearts. 'Yet what I can I give him/Give my heart', Rossetti wrote. Yet a couple of hundred years earlier, 17th Century clergyman and writer Nathaniel Wanley got there before her, in his poem 'Royal Presents': 'And though we have no gold, if for our part/We can present thee with a broken heart ...' Broken being the operative. In 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol', penned in 1897 after his incarceration for homosexual offences, Oscar Wilde confronted the specifics more specifically: 'How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?' I was jolted by the memory of the 1986 Carly Simon single, 'Coming Around Again', with the lyric 'So don't mind if I fall apart, there's more room in a broken heart ...' I'm not the only one to agree, from bitter experience, that there is.
I haven't thought much about poetry since I graduated. Having said that, like Steve Harley, I remain partial to T.S. Eliot, and still dip into Charles Bukowski and R.S. Thomas. As an art form, it has always seemed arduous. So much blood and sweat over so few words. A little over a year ago, I realised I was wrong about this, when I attended the funeral of Welsh rugby international turned eminent broadcaster Cliff Morgan, my father's lifelong friend. Max Boyce delivered a eulogy to Cliff so poetic, so passionate, that I knew he must have been planning and polishing its couplets for weeks. Not so, he confessed during the boozed-up wake at an Isle of Wight yacht club afterwards. He had sketched it on the train up from Wales that morning, and had finished it on the penultimate leg of his journey out of Waterloo.
In November 2012 I spoke at a literary festival in Mumbai, and sat in on lectures by poets both domestic and foreign, including Ruth Padell and Glynn Maxwell. It struck me then, in a way that I had never before appreciated, how a poem has the power to ram home a thought or a message in ways that perambulating prose can never do. Though the birth is brief, the labour is often long, despite Max Boyce's claim. Every syllable counts, as does its juxtaposition to and relationship with every word chosen.
The same may be said for songwriting. Last night, on my way back from the peculiar film 'Mr. Turner' (fascinating to me primarily because two of my friends are in it, Marion Bailey and her real-life daughter Alice Bailey Johnson, as well as Margate, where my grandparents lived and where I spent most of my school holidays - I digress), I listened to a Johnnie Walker interview on BBC Radio 2 with Ray Davies. They were discussing the phenomenon of songs such as 'Waterloo Sunset', and how those hits have resonated so deeply for millions of people over fifty-odd years. Ray couldn't explain where they came from. They never can.
He said, provocatively, that songwriting cannot be taught, proceeding to paradox by mentioning that he teaches occasional masterclasses, in which he tries to impart a little of his knowledge and experience. What's interesting, he said, is to put twenty people in a room together and set them all the same songwriting assignment. You will get back twenty different but equally stimulating ideas. This 'proof' of infinite human creativity is 'why he does it.'
Every art form is poetic, in its way. Turner's paintings could be described as visual poems: dreamy pre-Impressionist expressions of landscapes, oceans and weather. Pop songs explore, in contemporary language, the conundrums and complexities of living, primarily through human relationships. The best stories, paintings and songs stick around because they transcend the boundaries of time, reaching a hand through generations and linking us to the past, while reassuring us of a future we may never know. Happy New Year.