Saturday, 19 September 2015

LOVE, PAUL GAMBACCINI

Paul Gambaccini has been a friend and sometime colleague for more than thirty years. We have worked together on various television projects. I have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner with him. I have been to parties at his house. I have filmed and recorded in his flat. I admire him for his encyclopaedic knowledge and love of music, and for being a decent and honest human being.

Paul's life collapsed in October 2013, when he was arrested at home in the middle of the night. His belongings were seized, he was suspended from his job by the BBC, and he was forced to spend a fortune on lawyers in order to clear his name. He describes the nightmare experience as 'a witch hunt'.

Shortly after his arrest, he made a brief appearance at a party at London's Hippodrome to celebrate twenty-five years of Capital Radio's Gold network. There were many other veteran, household-name DJs present, some of whom were more than happy to line up with Paul for the photographer. There were others who were not. 

Paul was declared innocent of historical sex abuse. He was falsely accused, as so many have been, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal Operation Yewtree. He has been to hell and back. What kept him sane was the daily writing of a journal that became this book. As Stephen Fry remarked, Paul's story reads like 'a page-turning thriller'. 'Read it and get very angry!' added Elton John.

If you care about the monstrous collapse of this country's justice system, and if you recognise that what happened to Paul could happen to you, buy this book.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

WE LOVE TO BOOGIE, 38 YEARS ON


When I was invited to write a biography to mark Bolan's thirty fifth anniversary and what would have been his sixty fifth birthday, I couldn't resist. Three and a half decades after his death, there were still many unanswered questions. Where facts are meagre, mythology rules. I started asking around, and was surprised. There were plenty of people left who'd been close to Marc. Why had they not told all? As Marc's oldest, closest friend Jeff Dexter, 'The Man Who Taught Britain to Twist' and who styled The Beatles, put it, 'nobody had ever asked.'

T.Rex hits are oversewn into popular culture, thanks to constant exposure through film soundtracks, TV commercials and radio playlists. Despite the fact that the songs are as familiar to our children as they are to us, little was known about what made Marc tick. The many books about him, some of them excellent studies of and homages to the classic 20th Century Boy and his music, left me wondering about the boy born Mark Feld in London's deprived post-war East End, who had transformed himself into Bolan. There was someone unknown. The tiny one in the nest of Russian dolls. I went in search of him.

It's a common theme, the lowly-born loser with an eye on the big-time. Sport and entertainment are classic escape routes from the ghetto. Marc probably never kicked a football in his life, but had been obsessed with rock'n'roll since he was small. He got his first guitar for his ninth birthday in 1956. He emulated a string of idols - Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan - before he found his true voice. Even that was an invention, a phlegmy gurgle crossed with a kid-goat's bleat, punctuated with the splutterings, groans and hiccups of carnal ecstasy. That he managed to deliver this with butter-mouth innocence was his USP. Having realised he was onto a winner, he worked it. That was Marc.

America never really got Bolan. T. Rex scored only one Top Ten hit in the States. Theories abound as to why, but I believe it was no more complicated than Marc having been ahead of his time. During the Seventies, cowboy country liked its rockers rude. 'Rouge'n'roll' and glam androgyny offended. Times have changed. Take Queen: they had no career to speak of in the US at the time of Freddie Mercury's death in 1991. Look at them now. We're still talking, three years on, about Freddie's impact during the closing ceremony of London 2012. When the crowd joined in with his classic 'Eyyyy-Ohhhs!', it was as if Freddie himself was there, larger than life. Whether thanks to the global success of their musical 'We Will Rock You', or to the popularity of their most crashing numbers as sports-event anthems - 'We Are The Champions', 'Another One Bites the Dust' - America gets Queen as never before.

My biography of Freddie, published as 'Mercury' in the US, is still selling around the world. I'll be giving a lecture about his influence at Chicago Ideas Week on 14th October. Would that I were able to do the same for Marc. Queen's career has lasted longer, granted. Their catalogue is greater. Bolan left a modest body of work, compared. Gone at twenty nine, he didn't live long enough.

Then again, there's 'Billy Elliot'. The soundtrack of this very English piece, which millions of American movie-goers embraced and remain enchanted by, featured 'Cosmic Dancer', 'Get it On (Bang A Gong)', 'I Love To Boogie', 'Children of the Revolution' and 'Ride a White Swan'. I have a feeling that Marc and America are not done yet.

'Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan' by Lesley-Ann Jones, published by Hodder & Stoughton


Sunday, 13 September 2015

SOUL SURVIVORS

'I cry ... but tears don't seem to help me carry on ...'

This is what soul sounds like. This is almost as good as being there on the night. Almost - because nothing compares to the live-music experience. I used to say that singer-songwriter Jim Diamond underestimated his capabilities. I was wrong. I clearly remember him standing his ground and refusing to compromise, at a time when the music industry was consumed by a delirium that caused it to lose its grip on what was any good. A lot of Emperor's New Clothes were being worn. Too many panicky A&R guys headless-chickened about, trying to sign the Next Big Thing and wasting budget on also-rans and never-would-bes. Look what happened. Those same execs, I remember the conversations well, poured scorn on investment in the BRIT School. 'Fat lot of good that will do.' It gave us Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua, Leona Lewis, Adele, and poor Amy, whose music will stand the test. What of the rest?

Jim writes songs from the gut, from the membranes of his eyeballs. He has been to the brink. He shares the pain and heartache. He runs rings around 'X Factor' wannabes who spout a bit of karaoke down the Nag's and present as pop stars. They think that all it takes is the ability to gargle a passable  impersonation of Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift or Lady GaGa, and to 'want it soooo much'.

Listen, wannabes. It takes a unique voice, one that is instantly recognisable. It takes guts, determination and an instinct for survival. It takes hope. It takes a long time.

I remain in awe of Jim's talent. Time has not withered him.  Anyway, age, today, is the least relevant factor. The longer you live, the better you get at it. if you had it in the first place. Our ailing record business needs to summon courage, rediscover its integrity and wise up to the true meaning of talent. Then it needs to persuade this precious one-off and others like him out of the wilderness.