Sunday, 28 January 2018

DAVID BOWIE & THE BABYCHAM BOTTLE




I met Paula and Nick Fitzherbert through mutual Dulwich College parent-chums when our sons were pupils there. When my marriage collapsed in cruel circumstances, they were the only couple who didn't run away. While the rest of Dulwich behaved as though I had leprosy, crossing the road outside the school gates to avoid having to talk to me and perhaps running the risk of becoming contaminated, Paula and Nick continued to invite me as though I were still a real and valid person. Nick and I took to going to gigs together, by artists obscure and long-forgotten, or fledgling and as yet unsigned. It was a bit like a live-musical version of the TV quiz game 'Pointless', in which we endlessly tried to out-do each other by finding the least prolific band imaginable...
Nick died today. The big C finally got the better of him. I have no right to feel devastated. He was not ours to lose. Still, I am sad beyond words, and have spent the day reflecting on both his upbeat and giving spirit and his ever-ready willingness to help, never expecting any favour in return. When Brian Bennett, Ed Bicknell and I decided that we should put together a commemorative CD to celebrate the long and all-encompassing career of Clem Cattini, for example, and I was up to my eyes in Bowie, Nick stepped in with an offer to design and create the packaging. Phil 'The Collector' Swern selected the tracks and worked out the running order. All I had to do was write the words.
The anecdote below appears in my memoir-biography of David Bowie, 'Hero'. Nick told it with glee, and it about sums him up. What a friend he has been. How very, painfully much we are going to miss him.
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David Bowie spent his fortieth birthday skiing in Switzerland with his son, and relaxing before the onslaught. He had no idea that a major sponsorship and marketing deal was going on behind his back. He was supposedly going to accept sponsorship from the makers of Babycham - the sparkling perry which had been hugely popular in the UK during the Sixties and Seventies, and the first alcoholic drink to be advertised on British TV.
‘The sponsorship deal was for Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider tour,’ recounts Nick Fitzherbert, a former public relations expert, presentation skills coach, magician, member of the Magic Circle, and author of the books 'Presentation Magic!' and 'The Business Presenter's Survival Guide'.
‘The client was Showerings, and I was working on their PR. Francis Showering was the Shepton Mallet, Somerset brewer who invented the drink. Babycham was still a big brand in those days, but they were looking to reinvent it. They thought that David Bowie would be a sure-fire fast-track way to do this. This all went on for about four months.
‘They talked to David Bowie’s people. It got as far as Concorde flights going backwards and forwards to New York. A comprehensive video was made to explain why it was all such a brilliant idea. I didn’t personally believe that it would ever happen. But I knew more about music than anyone else on the team, so I got dragged to all these important meetings with lawyers for both sides.

'All the contracts were drawn up in both names - David Bowie and David Jones. The idea was that he would promote the product during his live performances on the forthcoming tour. We hadn’t got as far as deciding exactly how we were going to brand it, but an enormous amount of money had already been spent. I was planning to start with an outrageous idea, such as, David was going to perform with a microphone shaped like a Babycham bottle, and he’d have it in his face all the time, during every concert! Perfect! Then somebody thought, finally, that perhaps it might be a good idea to mention it to David himself. Needless to say, his horrified reaction was "Absolutely no way!" You’d think that someone might have thought to ask him first!’

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

BACK, HELPLESSLY BACK, INTO THE DEPTHS OF WINSTON'S JOWLS




I am distracted from work this morning by having seen 'Darkest Hour' last night. A few thoughts linger. I knew from the reviews that the whole truth is not told. Hollywood does our children such a disservice in this way. As they do not read, and have no firm handle on modern history, millennials tend to ingest as hard fact whatever is put before them on screen. No use telling them until you are blue in the face.
'Darkest Hour' leaves us in no doubt as to the statesman's contrary nature. It gives us the prime minister who played an essential role in liberating the world from Nazism. But it does not give us Winston Churchill the extremist, the racist, the beast. He is remembered and revered for having preserved our sceptred isle and as one of the greatest of all defenders of democracy - but scholars are now falling over themselves to remind us that he in fact regarded it as a privilege to be conferred exclusively upon the white.

Gary Oldman, rightly Oscar-nominated, could not look less like Winston if he tried. He'd refused the part in the past. Enter the true star of this sinister extravaganza: Japanese make-up artist and prosthetics guru Kazuhiro Tsuji, who distinguished himself on such pieces as 'Planet of the Apes', Dr. Seuss's 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', ageing Brad Pitt's head and face in the most eerie, haunting way. Tsuji was apparently reluctant to take this on. Having spent twenty years in the movie industry, all he wanted was to retire quietly into the altogether more sedate and safe world of fine art sculpture. Fat chance. Oldman, a best friend of David Bowie, who shares more than a few character traits with our greatest-ever rock star, can be all too persuasive when he wants to be. He lured Tsuji back to bone structure and anatomy, back to the precise and fraught regime of sixty sets of facial appliances a day, back, helplessly back into the depths of Winston's jowls. Despite Oldman's heroic portrayal in this not entirely accurate flick, it is Tsuji who triumphs. The Oscar is his.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

PILOT OF THE AIRWAVES




David Jensen’s brave declaration, that he has been suffering from Parkinson's for the past five years, is typical of him. He has done this neither to draw attention to himself, nor to attract pity, but to raise the profile of the debilitating and ultimately fatal disease which affects men more than women, that cut short the career of Michael J. Fox and made a quivering wreck of Muhammad Ali. David's aim is to help to find a cure for it. There were indications that all was not well: he retreated into his family and stopped going out to play. He has made his wife, children and grandchildren his priority, and has quietly got on with life. At the BBC Radio 1 Golden Reunion party in London last October, he seemed on great form. One of the finest broadcasters of his generation, he remains one of the most selfless and best-loved. Our collective tenure at the original incarnation of Vintage TV was as good as it gets. David's sane voice and steadying hand helped to offset the madness (and boy, was there madness). We survived.
Music broadcasting has always depended on a single fundamental ingredient: an inherent love for and understanding of music and musicians. It's that simple, and that complicated. There are many in the game today who will never get the point, selected as they are for their profile in other arenas and 'ability' to put bums on seats - not for their handle on what Keith Richards calls 'life's fourth essential' (after air, food'n'water, and a roof). Few got this as completely as the Kid. Keep going, DJ. X


Monday, 8 January 2018

DAVID BOWIE IS ... AN OPEN BOOK



'The President of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounds himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound. He is manifestly unfit for the job. Who knew? Everybody did,' writes Masha Gessen in the New Yorker.
Indeed: the whole world knows that America has been had, and that Trump is a cartoon. So is Michael Wolff, author of the best-selling 'Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House'. Yet his latest book has conquered the New York Times best-seller list, and has been flying out of bookshops faster than they can re-stock it. I haven't read it: I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy. Maybe we think that we have read enough reviews to know the content by heart; to know that this overnight sensation is a poorly-written recycling bin of questionable gossip; a cocktail of old news and sloppy reporting padded with superfluous detail. Someone, I forget who, said that the fact that everybody is talking about it is both illogical and degrading to us all.
Wolff has been denounced by Trump for never having entered the Oval Office, and for not ever having spent three hours interviewing him. A number of individuals who grace the pages of the book now claim to have been misquoted. Writers are used to this kind of thing. Presumably, if Mr Wolff is a professional, he will have recorded every conversation, and will be able to produce back-up transcripts of the interviews upon which he based his work. If not, it is his word against theirs. Has anyone filed a lawsuit?
I experienced some of what Mr Wolff is currently going through when my book 'Hero: David Bowie' was published in hardback just over a year ago. The paperback edition, for reference, is out now. This book is by far my best work, and I stand by every word. I knew David as a child. I became a music writer because of him. I went on the road and wrote about him, because it was all that I wanted to do. Meeting him changed my life. He championed the cause of misfits and kooks like me. He validated us. He gave us the confidence to survive. I reflected all of this in my book, which is part-memoir, part-biography. It's very personal, and not at all an encyclopaedia of his life and music. There are far too many of those. It is my own experience of the man who became the greatest rock star who ever lived. I had the right to write it, and I did.
Just before the book was published, the Rights department at my publishers Hodder & Stoughton offered the book to Fleet Street for serialisation. It went to the highest bidder, the Mail on Sunday. To be clear, the author does not receive the money for serialisations: the publisher does. The newspaper in question is then able to deploy the copy and images as it sees fit. We get neither copy nor picture approval. Quite rightly, as to grant it would compromise the fundamental tenet of journalism. We do not get to vet the headline. We have nothing whatsoever to do with the process, and yet ours is the picture byline that is stamped on the piece. We are therefore held responsible, and are 'to blame'.
The Mail on Sunday bannered its extract 'DID DAVID BOWIE KILL HIMSELF?' Yes, way. Nowhere in the book do I claim this. Nowhere in the book do I even suggest such a thing. I did not go there. Please read it for yourself, and see. In the concluding chapter, Andy Peebles makes respectful passing reference to the sweeping rumours surrounding the 'timing' of David's death - a long-awaited record out on his birthday, 8th January, then he died two days later, on the 10th - but not in any callous or sensational way. He merely mentions them. I merely quote him. No conclusion is drawn. That's it, we move on. But thanks to the Mail on Sunday's headline, I was vilified. Thousands of people who had not read the book but had merely seen the piece, either in the newspaper or online, and jumped to conclusions, rushed to abuse me. I was attacked on social media, particularly on Twitter. Fake reviews damning the book, a book they had not even read, were posted widely. Complaints were written to the paper's editor. I received a string of frightening death threats. High-profile 'Bowie people' were moved to express their contempt for me. No, they hadn't read it either. What could we do about it? Nothing.
Time has a habit of shaking things up. Balance shifts. Reality is restored. Some of those die-hard, devoted Bowie fans eventually got around to reading my book, and saw for themselves that they had made a mistake. A few of them wrote to take back what they'd said. This was gratifying. One well-known friend of David's whom I interviewed at length hit out publicly to say that I had misquoted him, and that he had not made certain statements. I had spent two days at this man's kitchen table. I had recorded every word of our interviews on a reliable device. I had transcribed the material personally. I returned to his home and combed through every word of my printed transcript with him. A few words were deleted at his request, and a couple of statements modified. He signed off every page, with his own pen, in his own handwriting. I was of course able to produce this proof when he later questioned what I had written. His response? That he 'didn't want to talk about it ever again.' But he didn't back down and admit that he was wrong, either. People say that there is no smoke without fire. Oh boy, there so is.
There are few on the planet who knew David Bowie better than his record producer Tony Visconti, a man for whom I have gigantic respect. I interviewed him for my biography of Marc Bolan, 'Ride a White Swan'. He even penned a glowing endorsement for the cover. He declined to be interviewed for 'Hero', and was scathing about the book when it was published. He hadn't read it. I'm sure he still hasn't. He also dumped me on Facebook.
My point being, assumptions are the root of all cock-ups. We can assume all we like about Michael Wolff's book on the Trump administration. We should probably read it. I intend to.

Today would have been David Bowie's seventy-first birthday. Wednesday will be his Anniversary. This is a week to reflect, for Bowie aficionados. He is right here, of course. He hasn't gone far. We still have the music.