Archive for the ‘songs’ Category
Started the day off track at a coffee shop meeting inspired by Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman a couple of weeks ago. Chris Ward, who gave me some publishing advice on Day 22, gathered together a small bunch of people who were struck by the Newsnight interview to discuss its implications and possibilities. We met up in Somerset House for a couple of hours and kicked about some ideas. This is an appropriate location in that it’s within yards of both The Coal Hole and the site of The Fountain Tavern (home of The Kit-Kat Club) which were places of political gathering and activism in the 17th and 18th Century. Given his increasing activism, Allen Ginsberg would have approved of this tangent.
Having spotted Ginsberg in the background of DA Pennebaker’s Subterranean Homesick Blues promo (shot in 1965) on an ad on Channel 4 the other night (Day 43), and being just a couple of streets away, I decided to seek out the location. And very atmospheric it was. Totally unchanged since 1965 (though the scaffolding has finally gone). Documentary-maker DA Pennebaker came back around 1985 and they were still working on The Savoy building on its left-hand side. The streets and alleys around The Savoy remind you of the rich palimpsest of history and stories that lays over this fabulous city.
I set up office in Westminster Reference Library, the Art bit, and carried on with my current pass at the Literature/Ginsberg chapter. Research-wise I pushed on with Hettie Jones’ memoirs, How I Became Hettie Jones, taking it into the legendary Gaby’s for lunch (it’s as perverse as ever, how many Cash Only restaurants can there be in Central London?)
In the late afternoon I spoke to the Allen Ginsberg Project / Estate in the East Village, NYC who are kindly helping with some interviewees, thanks to documentary-maker Yony Leyser whom I met in Leipzig last week.
I found out today while researching the Ginsberg chapter that the term “subterraneans” was one Ginsberg coined to describe the intellectual hipsters and hip hedonists who hung out in Greenwich Village bars like the San Remo and Fugazzi’s. Dylan took the term from Kerouac but Kerouac had actually adopted it from Ginsberg.
I’m having a session with The Box tonight and its 50+ songs as I’ve just made an adjustment to the record-player set-up to increase accessibility (a crafty pull-out shelf) and to usher in a new age of black plastic – the Vinyl Frontier is crossed.
Here’s what I’m listening to and the thoughts prompted/verdicts. Going according to how they sit in the box, so pretty much random order.
Thin Lizzy – Emerald
Started with this B-side after which my friend Eddie named his production company, with which I worked for a couple of very happy years. The song is typical Thin Lizzy, a romantic view of the Hibernian past, epic battles turning green fields red. Phil Lynott was a fascinating character and I love passing his statue off Grafton Street in Dublin, with plectrums attached by fans in homage (I believe it’s been restored recently, though it’s not that old – probably been living the high life and taken plenty of abuse).
Pet Shop Boys – It’s a Sin
Always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude to the PSBs. Couldn’t take the Smash Hits roots seriously. This one has a touch of the A-ha synth sound about it but is none the less catchy for that. Jolly and not very sinful or dark.
Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
How on earth can a vinyl single wow and flutter? – this one does! But nothing can obscure a unique, soulful and beautiful voice like this. It’s not flawless but it is perfect. This song is very difficult to separate from its video which sears itself into the memory with its simplicity and beauty.
Irish Heartbeat – Billy Connolly
Bit of an Irish theme so far (not that surprising given the mix of my friends). This is comedian Billy (who used to make me laugh the minute he opened his mouth, from his accent and attitude alone) doing a Van song, with a Scottish twist when he wheels in the band of bagpipers. It’s a live performance and he gets away with a larger than life approach. (But I’ll take the Van version if push comes to shove.)
So the idea was simple: 50 songs from 50 friends/family to mark 50 years. All in a box decorated by the Enfants Terribles. In short, Now That’s What I Call a Birthday Present 50.
Various people asked me what was in The Box so I’ve finally gotten round to listing the gifts, all 7″ vinyl singles. There turned out to be 65 songs in the box as some people decided to give one song per decade, some very naturally hedged their bets as choosing just one is tough as we all know from Desert Island Discs and the like. (There’s no special significance about the first nine, that’s just how WordPress decided to cut&paste and the wisdom of five decades dictates that life’s too short to tidy up such things.)
- She Loves You – The Beatles [Jonathan & Julie] (No. 1 the weekend after I was born)
- Righteous Man – Little Roy [Nigel]
- One by One – Ruefrex (Good Vibrations) [Conor & Aoife] (given to him by Terry Hooley)
- Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys [Meabh & Orla] (I gave them Pet Sounds – the first CD they ever owned)
- Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan [Sean]
- I Want That Man – Deborah Harry [Maura]
- Carmen – Malcolm McLaren [Maura]
- Higher & Higher – Jackie Wilson [Patsy]
- From Me to You – The Beatles [Anthony & Ruth]
10. Send Another Moses – The Willows (CoxSone) [Neil]
11. Run Run – Delroy Wilson (Studio One) [Neil]
12. Door Peeper – Burning Spear [Neil]
13. There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards – Ian Dury [Neil]
14. Telegram Sam – T-Rex [Neil]
15. Something – The Beatles [Neil]
16. Double Barrel – Dave & Ansil Collins [Neil]
17. The Ayatollah Song – Not the 9 O’Clock News [Dave & Nicole]
18. Murphy’s Law – Cheri [Elizabeth & Des]
19. Close to Me – The Cure [Eileen] (we saw them live together in Wembley Arena)
20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd [Matthew]
21. LA Woman – The Doors [Jon]
22. Cat People – David Bowie [Jon]
23. Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan [Jon]
24. Wet Dream – Max Romeo [Peter]
25. Go Wild in the Country – Bow Wow Wow [Judyth]
26. Modern Love – David Bowie [Mike] (we saw him together live in Grenoble on the Serious Moonlight tour)
27. A Paris – The Style Council [Mike] (we once bumped into each other totally by chance in the Louvre)
28. Speak Like A Child – The Style Council [Mike] (Mick Talbot shares the same birthday)
29. Universal Soldier – Donovan
30. Young Parisians – Adam & The Ants [Noah]
31. Pictures of Lily – The Who [Dylan] (he wanted My Generation but couldn’t find it – I taught him how to spell WH question words using a photo of Keith Moon’s drumkit)
32. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron [Dan & Steff] (we saw him together at Somerset House shortly before he died)
33. Denis – Blondie [Paul] (we went to see them as his first and my second gig)
34. Thank You Very Much, Mr Eastwood – Dermot Morgan [Elizabeth-Ann]
35. Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra [Cecelia] (we both adore Frank)
36. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye [Stuart]
37. Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin [Stuart]
38. The Celtic Soul Brothers – Dexy’s Midnight Runners [Stuart] (he mispronounced ‘Celtic’ in his best-man’s speech at our wedding)
39. Baby I Love You – The Ronettes [Seth]
40. Live at Hollywood High – Elvis Costello [Joan]
41. The Next Day – David Bowie [Ela]
42. Shady Lane – Pavement [Alfie]
43. Congratulations – Cliff Richard [Annie]
44. Blanket on the Ground – Billie Jo Spears [Annie]
45. Ernie – Benny Hill [Dan]
46. Tears of a Clown – The Beat [Dan]
47. Ball of Fire – The Orb & Lee Scratch Perry [Sarah]
48. Nelson Mandela – Amy Winehouse [Farrah]
49. It’s a Sin – Pet Shop Boys [Anita & Don]
50. Nothing Compares 2U – Sinead O’Connor [Maud] (my favourite female voice)
51. Irish Heartbeat (Billy Connolly) [Maud]
52. A Dreams A Dream – Soul II Soul [Maud]
53. Take It Easy – The Wilf Brothers [Maud]
54. Dedication – Thin Lizzy [Maud]
55. Round About Midnight – Miles Davis [Una] (Debbie Gould sang this magnificently at my party)
56. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Bob Dylan [Una] (we named a son after him)
57. Breakfast in Bed – Lorna Bennett [Sue]
58. Wildwood – Paul Weller [Sue]
59. Streets of London – Ralph McTell [Katherine]
60. September – Earth Wind & Fire [Ja]
61. Life’s What You Make It – Talk Talk [Ja]
62. Reasons to Be Cheerful – Ian Dury [Ja] (source of Simple Pleasures blogs)
63. Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush [Ja]
64. 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band [Ja] (my first gig)
65. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division [Ja]
66. The Boys Are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy [Eddie]
Simple Pleasures part 4 was inspired partly by an Ian Dury song (via my first blog Simple Pleasures) and partly by an article from the pen of the poet Andrew Motion. In that line of heritage, I was reading Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From and was much taken with his thoughts on the ‘commonplace book’, the practice of keeping a scrapbook of quotes and thoughts which he traces from John Locke in the late 17th century through to Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), ultimately linking it to Tim Berners-Lee’s inspiration for the World Wide Web. I’ve kept these kinds of notebooks and notes for any years but being reminded of their value in creative thinking, the repository for the ‘slow hunch’ and the petri dish in which disparate but related thoughts grow together, makes me feel encouraged to write here more often and in smaller bursts. Here’s one I wrote a couple of days ago after reading about the Commonplace Book and then chatting to an old friend of mine from the Universite de Savoie, year of 83…
4/8/13 Mangskog, Sweden: Sitting on the deck outside Bjorksuset (whispering of the birches), my friend Hanna’s house, this afternoon overlooking Mangen lake I was thinking a bit about Swedish neutrality in the War before Hanna told me a story from a documentary she made recently for NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. It was about so-called ‘war children’ in Norway (the off-spring of Norwegian women and German soldiers) and the on-going impact of the Second World War on Norwegians. Hanna filmed a woman who recently discovered her father was in fact a German bureaucrat of the Occupation, not the Norwegian man whom she had called daddy all her life, father of what had been her two brothers up to the point of this discovery in her advancing years. When she told her mother she had acted on some bothersome doubts from her childhood and uncovered her true parentage through a specialist agency her mother went nuts with her, majorly upset by having her secret unburied. And the brothers went crazy too, especially the older one who runs a big well-known Oslo-based shopping mall (he threatened to sue). In revealing her discovery the family imploded and she lost mother, (half-)siblings and extended family at a stroke. Although she acquired some half-brothers in Germany in the process. So seventy years after the occupation of Norway the dark forces still swirl, much as in France, like molten lava beneath the crust busting out when cracks appear.
6/3/13 I’m sitting on that same deck behind Bjorksuset, listening to the wind in the canopies of the silver birches. My grandparents had silver birches which fascinated me as a child in their inappropriately named street Cyprus Avenue. Their shiny trunks punctuated the way to the red postbox twenty yards down from their house, which at the age I am recalling seemed a major journey to be let loose on alone. The sound of the rustling leaves is a constant in this beautiful place in the West of Sweden. I think ‘suset’ in Swedish must be related to ‘susurration’ in English. The whispering sea-like sound made me think of the soundtrack of Antonioni’s Blow-Up – the mysterious breeze in the trees of the South London park where the ‘corpse’ lies worked its magic on me big time. And my train of thought then headed off down the line of the sound of wind in films and pulled in to these three stops:
Blow-Up (1966): the wind in the trees makes the park where the photographer (David Hemmings) accidentally photographs a dead body weird&wonderful – I always meant to visit that location, I’ll have to rewatch the movie then make the trip this autumn
Ryan’s Daughter (1970): The eponymous Irish colleen and the English captain make illicit love among the bluebells in the West of Ireland and what David Lean shows us is the strong breeze shaking the treetops above them
Black Narcissus (1947): Michael Powell set nerves on edge in this English Romantic Technicolor tale by having the Himalayan wind blow constantly through the mountain-top convent in which a nun gradually succumbs to an irreligious magic
In all three (the last one in too sparse a landscape for leaves to accompany moving air) the whispering of the wind brings the magical and mystical to the scene.
At the nadir of my teenage years, when I retired to a room with David Bowie and Jane Austen to see me through, just like Renton prepares the room for going cold turkey in Trainspotting, Wild is the Wind struck me as a uniquely Romantic song a bit apart from his others, with a touch of epic, majestic magic.
The song was actually written for a film of the same name made in 1957 and recorded by Johnny Mathis. Bowie was inspired to cover it by Nina Simone’s version. It is to be found on his 1976 LP Station to Station which neatly brings this thought-train to its terminus.
Like the leaf clings to the tree
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind
Wild is the wind, wild is the wind
When I was still half asleep this morning, the radio playing from some vague distance, I heard the sad news of Richie Havens’ passing on. I found myself standing in front of my Wall of Fame where a photo of Richie is among the select few. I looked out a non-existent window to the left and the top of a ship could just be spotted. As the news hit home it transformed into the top rigging and masts of a bright white ghost ship like Frank Hurley’s images of The Endurance.
Richie Havens first entered my life as the opener of Woodstock. I went to see Michael Wadleigh’s movie of the festival of festivals at the cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue near Seven Dials with my best man and music compatriot Stuart R. The big close up of Richie’s pounding sandal stays in my head – a true leg/end. He had to go on first, although he was originally billed fifth, because traffic was holding up other performers. He held fort and held forth for a couple of legendary hours until reinforcements arrived and his repertoire was entirely exhausted. He climaxed with an improvised medley of Motherless Child and a chant of Freedom (not sure where that comes from). The energy and deep soul is spell-binding and made his name for ever…
I met him once – on a very special occasion. September 1995, Jazz Cafe, Camden Town, London. I took my mum out for a last night out with me still as her unattached boy. We had a chat with Richie after the show and he signed the picture which has since sat on my Wall of Fame. Alongside the likes of Michael Powell and Neil Armstrong and Dave Brubeck. He was the last man standing on the Wall – now they are all up there together again…
He sang a song called Adam on his 1988 LP Mixed Bag. It has his distinctive voice underpinned with its characteristic gruffness. It has the hippy vibe, more San Francisco than his native Brooklyn (I’m not sure why I associate him with San Fran, maybe he lived there in the 90s?) It has the strongly rhythmic approach. Echoes of Gil Scott-Heron, Cat Stevens and Terry Callier. A bit of Jefferson Airplane psychedelia. A wonderful mix all his own.
The sweat on the back of his monk orange kaftan as he walks off stage still singing Freedom at the end of his Big Moment at Woodstock says everything you need to know about what he put into his music.
To mark that special Londoner David Bowie’s 66th birthday today and the release of his new single Where Are We Now? here are four of his best ever songs:
- Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed (Space Oddity) – the height of his hippy phase and I’m a sucker for the blues harp
- Life on Mars? (Hunky Dory) – from intimate to epic in the space 3’52″
- Station to Station (Station to Station) – a journey and a half of electronic, stereoscopic, systematic, hydromatic, goodbuzzin’, cooltalkin’, highwalkin’, fastlivin’, evergivin’ self-dramatisation
- Aladdin Sane (Aladdin Sane) – more madness, this time with crazy plinking, the perfect soundtrack to teenage chaos
And now a line or two from each:
- It must strain you to look down so far from your father’s house
And I know what a louse like me in his house could do for you
- Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
- The return of the Thin White Duke
In lovers’ eyes
- Clutches of sad remains
Waits for Aladdin Sane
My last Bowie adventure is here at Heddonism
Here are 4 tracks really worth a listen which I’ve dug out from the back of the cupboard over the holidays – they’re arriving here one by one, one a day…
(1, Christmas Eve) TIDES by Nitin Sawhney from Beyond Skin LISTEN
I don’t know too much about this album, I never liked it that much when I got it in around 1999 after it was nominated for the Mercury Prize. After I saw Talvin Singh play a couple of weeks ago at Kings Place, Kings Cross at a Not So Silent Movies session with Evelyn Glennie, and really enjoying his drumming (as well as hers – it was a brilliant improvised percussion-focused session), I had a vague memory of having one of his records – but it turned out to be this one. Wrong talented British Indian. But nevermind, it turned out to be a great find – loads of fabulous tracks such as Nadia and Broken Skin. But Tides was the stand out. It picks up on a big theme of the record, nuclear weapons, in particular in India and Pakistan but weaving a thread all the way back to Oppenheimer and Los Alamos. It melds the Drum & Bass spine of Beyond Skin with jazz piano and the gentle breath of the waves. The piano theme is very reminiscent of Stan Tracey on Starless and Bible Black. And like that precedent, it’s simply beautiful.
(2, Christmas Day) DON’T YOU GO by John Martyn from Glorious Fool LISTEN
A lot of John Martyn’s work from later in his career is written off in the wake of his classic 70s albums like Solid Air, but he never made a record that didn’t have something of genius on it. Glorious Fool came out in the bad taste decade that was the 80s, in 1981, produced by not-to-everyone’s-taste Phil Collins. From memory both of them were in the aftermath of messy divorces. This track has an immense sadness in it, a keening quality you get in Irish sean nos singing. It has a background drone reminiscent of the bagpipes (he went to school in Glasgow, real surname McGeachy) or uillean pipes (he died in Ireland), complemented by a simple piano. It’s an anti-war song though which war he had in mind I’ve no idea, the Falklands conflict didn’t break out til the following year, but there’s never really any shortage to chose from. Listen to it at the right moment and there never was anything more melancholy.
(3, St Stephen’s Day) PARADISE CIRCUS by Massive Attack from Heligoland LISTEN
One of those cases where an album has a track that just stands out a mile. The combination of Hope Sandoval’s Mazzy Star-style laid-back vocals and a phat old bass line are a totally winning one, perfect for back to mine in the wee small hours.
(4 plain old Thursday) TIGHINN AIR A’mhuir Am Fear A Phosas Mi by Capercaillie from Nadurra LISTEN
From memory I came across Capercaillie on a compilation of Celtic music, most of which was Irish, but they were holding up the Scots end. I don’t know much about the band and have no idea what the song’s about, although I think I heard the word Gra in there a few times which is Love in Irish so I presume the same in Scots Gaelic. It’s a sweet sound any way and very reminiscent of Irish singers like Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan (who I met in Carlingford a couple of years ago and had a drink with at the sailing club bar) and the Brennan sisters of Clannad (one of whom is a friend and whose painting The Ghost of Our Trees sits in my hall below). Bottom line, I just like listening to the soft spoken Celtic words.
Last night I went to listen to the Philharmonia performing music and songs from all 23 plus 2 Bond films as recently listed in My Bond’s My Word. Carl Davis, who came to prominence through Channel 4 Silents in the early 80s, conducted this 50th Anniversary Bond concert at the Festival Hall and the ever elegant Honor Blackman (aka Pussy Galore) gave context to the music between each of the 25 pieces. It seems like a good opportunity to extend the list from My Bond’s My Word to summarise who sung what when in the world of Bond. The highlights yesterday evening for me were You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy and Licence to Kill. What was striking was the amount of very effective quotation and echoing of earlier themes in the later scores, not least in the recent Skyfall.
Dr. No (1962)
Music: Monty Norman
Performed by: John Barry & Orchestra
From Russia With Love (1963)
Music: Lionel Bart
Performed by: Matt Munro
Music: John Barry
Words: Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse
Performed by: Shirley Bassey
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Tom Jones
Thunderball (1965) Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: John Barry (Dionne Warwick – wasn’t used in final cut)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Music: John Barry
Words: Leslie Bricusse
Performed by: Nancy Sinatra
[Casino Royale (1967)]
Music: Burt Bacharach
Performed by: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Music: John Barry
Performed by: The John Barry Orchestra
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) We Have All the Time in the World
Music: John Barry
Words: Hal David
Performed by: Louis Armstrong
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Shirley Bassey
Live and Let Die (1973)
Music: Paul & Linda McCartney
Words: Paul & Linda McCartney
Performed by: Paul McCartney & Wings
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Lulu
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Words: Carole Bayer Sager
Performed by: Carly Simon
Music: John Barry
Words: Hal David
Performed by: Shirley Bassey
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Music: Bill Conti
Words: Michael Leeson
Performed by: Sheena Easton
Music: John Barry
Words: Tim Rice
Performed by: Rita Coolidge
[Never Say Never Again (1983)]
Music: Michel Legrand
Words: Alan & Marilyn Bergman
Performed by: Lani Hall
A View to a Kill (1985)
Music: Duran Duran, John Barry
Words: Duran Duran
Performed by: Duran Duran
The Living Daylights (1987)
Music: Pal Waaktaar & John Barry
Words: Pal Waaktaar
Performed by: Aha
Licence to Kill (1989)
Music: Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, Walter Afanasieff
Performed by: Gladys Knight
Music: Bono & The Edge
Performed by: Tina Turner
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Music: Sheryl Crow & Mitchell Froom
Performed by: Sheryl Crow
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Music: David Arnold
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Garbage
Die Another Day (2002)
Music: Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai
Performed by: Madonna
Casino Royale (2006)
Music: David Arnold
Words: Chris Cornell
Performed by: Chris Cornell
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Music: Jack White
Performed by: Jack White & Alicia Keys
Music: Adele & Paul Epworth
Performed by: Adele
It’s 08:45. I’m dripping wet, just out the shower, drying off by Whitey (our trusty old iMac) with Twitter open. I notice a tweet flow by: ‘Ziggy Stardust plaque being unveiled at 9:45 just off Regent St, if you’re in West End come by’. I’d heard about the plaque earlier in the week from Des Shaw at Ten Alps, the TV indie set up by Bob Geldof. He’s making a radio programme about Bowie and we’re working together on a couple of multiplatform developments – one to do with music, the other about waste – so we’d been chatting on the phone a few days before about Bowie and he mentioned the impending event. 60 minutes – just doable if I didn’t mind venturing forth a bit moist. I took off, kept up a decent pace, the Northern Line behaved and I walked into Heddon Street, powered by Ziggy on the iPhone, with a minute to spare. I positioned myself behind a TV crew and texted Des to check he was there. The ceremonies were opened bang on time by a fella from the Crown Estate who gave us a brief history of this backwater behind Regent Street, personalised by his own memories of the record. He handed over to Gary Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet, who was the prime mover behind the project, much inspired in his music career by the album. He spoke with great enthusiasm about the record and tipped the hat to the two Spiders from Mars who were among the small but perfectly formed crowd, bass player Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey. Then the little curtain was drawn back to reveal the elegant black plaque – one of only two in London to a fictional person (the other being Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street). It reads: Ziggy Stardust 1972 This marks the location of the cover photograph for the iconic David Bowie album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’.
40 years before, outside the office of Bowie’s management which was located for a while at that time on Heddon Street W1, Brian Ward took the iconic photo of the newly created Ziggy character outside the warehouse-looking entrance of K. West. It was a black and white shot subsequently hand coloured by Terry Pastor, who switched on the light and pulled out that resonant name. So Brian Ward’s original photograph was black and white, one of twelve 10 x 8s submitted to Bowie’s artist pal, George Underwood. George passed the one selected for the front cover to his colleague Terry Pastor. It was Terry who airbrushed the cover – he decided on the colouring of Ziggy’s hair, his costume, the lights and so on – very much a joint effort taking it to icon status. Des Shaw has a print of one of the other original 10x8s [above] which gives a good insight into the shoot and what the street looked like back then. Des brought me in to the special reception area where a six foot square print of the cover hung [below]. At 12″ x 12″ its magic and mystery are even more powerful through concentration.
The doorway in question has changed over the years and the whole street is far more salubrious and tamed through pedestrianisation. Less clean cut and tamed than when I first saw him perform To Cut A Long Story Short on telly when I was still immersed in punk and new wave was Gary Kemp who Des introduced me to – he was all a-flutter with the event and went off after a few moments to do another radio interview.
I think the original record was recorded at Trident Studios across Regent Street in Soho (certainly some of Bowie’s 70s classics were recorded there) – I recorded a voice-over a few years ago at Trident and was suitably impressed with the trophy album covers on their wall. Des told me a really interesting story he’d uncovered in the making of his radio programme: at one point around this time Bowie was rehearsing in an innocuous basement in Greenwich with his Spiders from Mars and was joined by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The basement studio space was called Underhill and was chosen because it was within walking distance of Haddon Hall where Bowie was living in Bromley, his old manor. After Bowie met Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in the States he invited them to England where he then produced Iggy’s Raw Power album (after he’d produced Lou’s Transformer). So at one point in the tiny basement rehearsal space there were David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and Lou Reed and his post-Velvets band, three of the most influential groups of the early 70s – all playing in a tiny subterranean space under what is now a pharmacist on the corner of Lewisham Road and Blackheath Road. This city, beneath the surface, behind out back, has a music goldmine rich like no other.
Ziggy Stardust impressed me when I first heard it but was never an absolute favourite. Although I remember Starman in the pop background as a little kid – and V2 Schneider (B-side of Heroes) entered my life briefly on board the SS Uganda on an educational cruise to the Baltic sharing a dorm with a bunch of skinheads from Romford – Stage was the first Bowie album that crossed my path in full consciousness.
Probably the three most significant Bowie records for me were:
* Aladdin Sane – I got totally bored by the monotony of school in the 6th Form and retired to a room at my dad’s house for a few months with Aladdin Sane and a pile of Jane Austens – it just chimed in perfectly with that most fucked up of teenage times
* Lodger – Bowie did a radio programme/interview about it during which he mentioned the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who I’d never heard of and who was much less well known at that time – within a couple of years I found myself in Neulengbach on the outskirts of Vienna on the trail of Schiele (thanks to the Morrison Travel Scholarship from Girton College, fair play to them, it was one of the things at university I probably learnt most from)
* Let’s Dance – the soundtrack for my year living in France, culminating in seeing a very smooth Mediterranean Bowie (he’d been at the Cannes Film Festival that year with Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence – the tanned, light suits, dyed blonde floppy English hair era) at Grenoble, from the front of the auditorium with all the energy of a young man who had just cut the umbilical chord from home.
The other records over the years have pretty much all come to win their places in my heart and life, and one of the key endearing aspects of them is that resolute voicing of the Anthony Newley style London accent. You can take the boy out of London but you can’t take London out of the boy, however much you swing him.
What a wistful look was captured in this famous portrait of Billie Holiday, a world of experience in those dark eyes. What did it take to capture that? The song Strange Fruit (the subject of my last post, Bitter Crop) and a bottle of gin.
The photo session for publicity shots was arranged in 1944 by a young playwright friend of Billie’s called Greer Johnson. The photographer, Robin Carson, had been clicking away for a good while but felt he had failed to capture the singer’s essence. Billie didn’t know what else to do and Johnson suggested she sing Strange Fruit. She protested a bit, said she needed an accompanist, downed the gin, then finally sang it a cappella. Johnson recalled it as: “one of the most fantastic performances I have ever heard in my life, and the camera never stopped”. She has the look of having been transported which seemingly was the impression she gave often when singing that unique song.
By way of yardstick, here’s a photo of Woody Guthrie by Carson from about two years before: