Monday, 30 December 2013

FOR AULD LANG SYNE

So here's a variation on the New Year's Honours theme.

Can you:
1 - name the five wealthiest people on the planet?
2 - the last five World Cup-winning countries?
3 - last year's chosen ones in the New Year's Honours list?
4 - the last five winners of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize?  The Man Booker?
5 - the last five Oscar-winning Best Actors and Best Actresses?
6 - the last decade's worth of FA Cup Winners?

Me neither.

Few of us remember yesterday's headlines. Not even when they brim with the Best Of.  Applause fades, awards rust, achievements are forgotten.  All this important stuff swirls to nothing in the mists of time.  The point dies with he or she who made it.  I am thinking especially of Addison Cresswell, who passed away in his sleep last week.  Who will remember, in a year or two's time, the exhaustingly high-achieving super-agent and producer who made Jonathan Ross, Michael McIntyre, Jack Dee and countless others? Only a handful. 

So try this.

Name the teachers at school who made pennies drop for you.
The friends who were there for you when the chips were down.
The people who taught you something worthwhile, something that may have changed your life.
Those who have made you feel appreciated and special.
Those with whom you genuinely enjoy spending time.

The point?  That those who make a difference in your life are not those with the most money, the most awards, the most influence.  They are simply the ones you care about the most, and who care about you.

Happy New Year. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

SISTERS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES

With 'Issues' by the Band of Sisters, producer David Mindel has pulled off the virtually impossible. Having dared to impose his definitive direction and co-writing on fifteen of the most distinctive and sought-after female voices in the music industry, he has shaped a magnificently moving album of such profound depth and quality that it encapsulates perfectly what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century.

Every stage of the female life cycle is embraced, from pre-pubertal to post-hormonal. Our angst is not only heard, it is respected. Our highs, our lows, our joys, our sorrows, our residual regrets, our hopes for what may never come. Every nuance of emotion is confronted and delivered with humility and majesty.

Mindel, though he would deny it, is a legend. A multi-instrumental musician, composer, songwriter, producer, arranger, a master creator of jingles and theme music, he even writes musical theatre. Most people I know in this remarkable, confusing, confounding but ultimately sublime business claim to be his best friend. 

I suspect that every one of the ladies featured is a little in love with him. Certainly I am - with respect to his beautiful wife Darcie - for having heard the voice of my youngest daughter, Bridie Rose, and for having chosen her to sing his song here, about the bullying of teenage girls.

That aside. He who dares, Mindel. You have mixed an explosive cocktail. Strike a match, and stand well back. Sisters, doing it for themselves.


Monday, 28 October 2013

EVERY PICTURE TELLS AN UNTRUE STORY


Yesterday I went to see James Corden in his new film 'One Chance'. Cheeky Chappy plays Paul Potts, the goofball nobody from nowhere who won the first-ever series of 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2007, and gave a performance at the Royal Variety for Her Majesty the Queen. Against all odds do losers like Paul achieve greatness, is the message. The movie lacks the sweeping style of Billy Elliot, to which it has been compared. Nor does it do a lot for Julie Walters, invariably perfectly-cast in everything she signs up for, whose role as Potts's doting mother deserves more screen-time that it gets. With the big guns behind it – Weinstein, Cowell – it is predictably no-expense-spared: the location work in Venice is sublime. It features shameless product-placement - Carphone Warehouse, Boots the Chemist (I'd love to see those contracts) - and has the requisite happy if so-what ending. For the real Paul Potts, despite having shifted five million copies of his three albums, the debut also called 'One Chance', has not metamorphosed into the Pavarotti-style opera singer he yearned to be. He's a good enough light tenor concert performer now and again, and a recording artist, primarily - with precisely the requisite charisn'tma to be just that.

I made myself take the night to digest, but I'm still a bit sad about it. You'd think, after making my living for more than twenty years on a street unaccustomed to allowing any truth to get in the way of a good story (or whatever Mark Twain actually said: I prefer the line about first getting your facts, after which you can distort them at your leisure, myself, not that I ever, ever did this, you understand, there are exceptions to every rule, blah), that I'd be utterly immune to a tad of truth-bending. Granted, the disclaimer is clearly displayed before the film even starts: that the feature is based on a true story. In which case, why call the poor bloke Paul Potts?

The first thing that grated on me, as a Welshwoman, was Corden's complete lack of Welshness. It was pathetic, really. The little bugger lives in Port Talbort, for Christ's sake (and his pronunciation of his town annoyed me too: we say TALbot, not TALLbot). The real Paul spent his childhood in Bristol before moving to Wales, and speaks in an accent best described as Bristolian Welsh.

There was worse. Potts the Real has a degree in Humanities, and once worked as a Bristol City councillor. Corden's Potts was a bullied academic failure with no future beyond that of salesman in the local mobile phone shop – oh, and a brief stint in the steelworks. The distortions thereafter come fast and thick: not least the beam-me-up depiction of his wedding night, when Paul confesses to Julz (in real life Julie-Ann, irresistibly played by Alexandra Roach) that he has 'never done this before.' 'I've had thousands', his bride deadpans. The real Paul had his share of girlfriends too. To portray him as a virginal fumbling fatty, on top of all his other loserliness, was a piss-take too far.

All this aside. I get creative license, it's the point of most entertainment. I understand that movies change even the endings in Shakespeare, though who the hell could approve? If studio executives perceive that they must rewrite the greatest storyteller of all time, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark (for which, read Hollywood). The real Paul has just penned his autobiography, actually written it himself, without resorting to a ghost. If that's true, it is no mean feat, for a non-writer: I mean, we all find the process crippling, even after decades churning out millions of words. I read somewhere that he claimed to have blitzed the manuscript 'over four or five weekends'; that he was contracted to turn in 60,000 words, but presented his publisher with a whopping 130,000. As a writer, I want this to be true, I so do. But the point is, he has had to produce this autobiography to set the record straight. To make clear which parts of the film were exaggeration, invention, distortion and lies, designed to up the sentimental ante and tear-jerk the audience deep into their popcorn. Aside of the fact that his book is sure to be launched in time for the all-important 'Christmas market', and will undoubtedly find its way into millions of Christmas stockings, netting jillions in profit, could they not have cut to the chase and told the celluloid story correctly in the first place? I've just answered my own question, forsooth.

Which brings me back to Simon Cowell. He's had his ups, his downs, his riches-rags-riches in his own real life, don't we know. He's been bankrupt, discarded and a loser in love. He even fell for a baby with another man's wife: 'fell' being the operative. But he overcame all earlier obstacles to recreate himself as the patron saint of no-hopers, whose fortunes turn on a sixpence against those all-important odds. Whether we're talking Britain's Got Talent or the X-Factor, the tale is much the same. On this year's series so far (and I don't even watch it, really) we've had every down-and-out drama: from Tamera, the shoplifting Beyonce pose-alike to SeSe, the pregnant group-dumper who wound up in Magimix or whatever they were called. Yep, another group. Anyway, they're out now.

Against all odds. The moral of the Paul Potts story is this, isn't it: that without the magic wand of Simon Cowell, Potts might still be toiling in the phone shop, or shovelling slag. Like Susan Boyle he dreamed a dream. He made it over the rainbow: one of the few I-want-this-sooo-muchers who ever do. What happens to the losing contestants beyond the money-spinning touring shows? Who cares. Cowell can't do. He is reborn as the Wizard of Oz, reinforcing his own self-madeness. Dishing out brains and hearts, and courage, and new teeth, even. Winging Dorothy Gale back to Kansas. Making Emperor's New Clothes.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

TELL ME SWEET LITTLE LIES



Better to snuggle beneath a duvet plumped with comfortable lies than to shiver through naked honesty? It's a question I 've often asked myself during the eight years since my divorce. Had I known the truth, would I have turned a blind eye and have gone with the flow, as wives tend to – terrified by the thought of the disintegration and withdrawal of all I held dear - ? I sometimes wish that I'd had that choice, but I didn't.

Is it still relevant, this honesty business, or has truth had its day? Just because it mattered to the ancient Romans, who worshipped goddess Veritas as the mother of virtue; to Confucius, who declared it to be the foundation of love, fairness and communication; and to the children of Israel, for whom the Ninth Commandment as given at Mount Sinai taught against bearing false witness – should it matter to us? Everyone seems to lie about everything these days. We all seem to be getting away with it. We 'know' that truthfulness is the foundation of positive human relationships and personal integrity … but with such abandon do we cast it aside in the name of 'love' and the pursuit of our 'truest' desires.

It's not something I often dwell on, to tell you the truth. But I did last night. I was at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, for Sir Richard Eyre's provocative revival of Henrik Ibsen's 'Ghosts.' Bear in mind that Ibsen penned the play in 1881, ripping into the hypocritical morals of of Victorian society with such rage that he was vilified for it. Denounced as a 'cesspit of a play', it was called 'sordid', 'shocking', 'blasphemous', even – at a time when promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases were never acknowledged in polite circles, heaven forfend.

The wealthy Widow Alving reveals to her Pastor the long-hidden, shameful secrets of her late husband's infidelity. Having denied herself the privilege of motherhood by banishing her young son to protect him from his father's debauched lifestyle, she is overjoyed and empowered by the boy's return. But the great Dane contrived a hell of an ending for Ozzie. He has the young man fall in love with Helen's housemaid, Regina – who turns out to be the bastard of the late Captain Alving himself. Oswald is smitten by his own half-sister. The union can never be. The sins of the father appear visited upon the child. He succumbs, in the end, to hereditary syphilis. Helen is faced with the unthinkable decision of whether to administer the morphine and euthanize her offspring out of his misery. We never know which way this goes, it's left hanging.

Helen is portrayed by the phenomenal Lesley Manville (of Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies, Another Year and All or Nothing) as a brave but hopeless femme. It is revealed that she had acted on the stern advice of the Pastor, a man she once loved. Duty, respectability, charity and philanthropy were prized above all in that confounded patriarchal age. The hideous Victorian Compromise had much to answer for – but what choice, for females of her ilk? Helen condemned herself to keeping up dishonest appearances and concealed hideous truth. Her morality is consequently corroded. Oh boy, does she regret the unfortunate business now.

'Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it', asserted Jonathan Swift. Sure does. On the other hand, what goes around, returns.

Want to know what I have found to be true so far? Here you go. 1), everybody's not you. 2), things will change, they always do. 3), it's always darkest just before dawn.

Would I lie to you?


Sunday, 29 September 2013

IN THE STILLNESS OF REMEMBERING


It took me back ... to LA, twenty seven years ago, when I went to spend a couple of days with Stevie Nicks at her Spanish-style house on El Contento Drive in the Hollywood Hills. This was July 1986. There had been a soul-shattering earthquake a few days earlier, and Stevie had hundreds of crystals out, to balance the place. There were other collections, of all kinds: antique dolls, and fans, and shawls. Cherished skirts and dresses that she could no longer wear but couldn't bear to part with were draped over lamps and pinned to walls. She couldn't offload these garments, she explained, because 'they are like pieces of love.'

Mick Fleetwood once described her as 'the girl who sang just like the sweetheart of the rodeo, a daughter of the great American southwest.' She was that all right, all five feet of her, every stack of her six-inch platform boots. Fleetwood Mac turned a corner when Stevie and Lindsey dropped in. They've careered that crazy highway ever since. It was Stevie who made the band mystical. She's still doing it. 'Rhiannon', 'Sara', 'Gypsy', 'Gold Dust Woman', these were all variations on a theme, she told me. They were all her. I remember going to visit her again that same year, during her sojourn at the Betty Ford Clinic. The cocaine blizzards, the booze blitzes, the too many rock'n'roll lovers - Eagles Joe Walsh and Don Henley, Tom Petty, producer Jimmy Iovine, as well as Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood and the rest - had got the better of her. She 'confessed', if that's not crass, to five abortions: 'Mick made me have them', she insisted, 'how could I tour the planet with this 'biggest band in the world', as we were then, with a baby under each limb?' She was, she admitted, still looking for love...

Married to her music, she still is. Her raspy resilience is show-stopping. She is dignified and unrepentant, dominating the stage in soot-fairy get-up, between two men who broke her heart - 'Johnny Mac' being the only member of the band she has not had an affair with. She hurls her insides out in homage to every man she has ever loved, and a whole heap more.

Christine McVie was her big sister, her mentor, who taught her so much and helped her 'grow into the woman I am now. I owe her everything.'

Stevie Nicks is sixty five years old, incredibly. Christine McVie is seventy, and no longer inclined to tour. But her brief appearance tonight with her old band mates, for 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow', was the song that had the entire arena on its feet. My personal highlight? 'Silver Springs' - the track that fell off the 1977 'Rumours' album - back then, the fastest-selling LP of all time - but which became the B-side of the single release of 'Go Your Own Way.' Too magical.

It's the Seventies again tonight, and the sky is star-less ... when dreams unwind, love is a state of mind...

Monday, 9 September 2013

THIS WOMAN WAS BORN ONE MILLION YEARS BC


I was interviewed today about the time I spent living in Hollywood with Raquel Welch.  Because of her, I will never have plastic surgery, however badly I might need it.
 
We met on Mustique in a rickety beach bar, where she sat eating tuna tartare with her tiny fingers while sipping a long Rum Punch. I barely recognised her. Her cherry nail polish was chipped, her tawny hair hung in rats' tails, and her perfect doll's feet were bare. The famous breasts were suspended like huge hams in a Lycra top, and her skin glistened with oil. Up close, she smelled like a Bounty bar. Not a single punter bothered her, most of the diners were stars themselves. Tossing a cap-toothed smile at Mick and Jerry, she leapt to embrace Basil, the owner, and undulated a little to some steel band tunes. Out across moonlit Britannia Bay, billionaires were turning in for the night on twinkling yachts. Perhaps the fantasy world of a private island had worked its magic on Raquel Welch, softening a tough movie broad into the sassy woman who charmed us so effortlessly that night. Back in LA, the Hollywood Raquel I got to know during my tenure as a West Coast showbiz reporter bore little resemblance to her Caribbean incarnation. I should have known. But what young, opportunistic journalist eschews the chance of friendship, however fleeting,with a motion picture icon like Raquel Welch?

She was a fabled but faded drama queen old enough to be my mother. I was an upstart nobody, young enough to be in awe - which was the rub. Hollywood friendships are always symbiotic but rarely equal, never devoid of ulterior motive, inevitably short-lived. It is not the fond beginnings of former friendships that we tend to recall, but the sorrow provoked by their demise.
  
The thin line which divides love from hatred, fantasy from reality, has never existed in Hollywood. All edges are blurred, and anything goes. Arguably the only town in the world in which a personality disorder is a distinct advantage, everyone is from somewhere else, and everybody is Going Places. Even the guy serving your coffee and bagel at breakfast has a script-meeting later. It can take minutes, months or a lifetime to comprehend its hidden shallows, and even then, too many fail to take heed. It is all but impossible to plant roots. Some newcomers last a week, others get trapped for a lifetime. When I left, it was because I had to, before the place swallowed me whole. Looking back on heady days spent with Raquel Welch and others like her, I still believe what I suspected then: that Tinseltown is nothing but its own facade, and is certainly no place for the sane.

A chance encounter with Raquel's then manager in Atlantic City had led to her granting me an interview to promote her new fitness video – a big deal for Raquel, a workout and meditation fiend, as she was about to turn fifty that year. I was looking forward to meeting her again when I arrived at her elegant home in Evelyn Place on the Trousdale Estates. She may not have remembered our Basil's Bar encounter, but Raquel wasted no time in playing to the camera, even though there wasn't one. Perched on the edge of a mustard leather sofa in her creamy drawing room, I found myself dealing with a real-life Norma Desmond - the over-the-hill silent screen idol played by Gloria Swanson in cult classic Sunset Boulevard, who is determined to make an against-all-odds comeback. Self-absorbed to the point of obsession, oblivious of the fact that the world had moved on from inflatable dolls in chamois swimwear, it occurred to me that Raquel would be the perfect choice for a remake.
Everywhere I looked, pictures of her gazed down at me. Two huge Warhol-style portraits sat one either side of her fireplace. A vast Revlon advertising print dominated her formal dining room. Her home was part museum, part shrine, paying homage to her then quarter-century as a superstar. Not that she had worked much in movies since her 60s/early 70s heyday, denounced by the industry as too high-maintenance. A brief spell on the set of Cannery Row had led to her sacking by MGM Studios and replacement by Debra Winger. Raquel sued so brilliantly that she banked $15 million and never had to work again. She did, though - Body and Mind videos, cosmetic endorsements, TV shows, stage work, a hugely successful line in wigs - for profile rather than remuneration, the usual thing that keeps a superstar at it. If fame is a drug, the addiction knows no cure. Raquel and her ilk would sooner be dead than Has-Been.

She had a peculiarly masculine energy. All-woman, scarily sex-on-legs, her smooth, tanned complexion looked more Latin than in her photographs. But her personality revealed a perplexing Alpha Male-ness. Her language was ripe, her laugh straight out of a locker room. She spoke loudly and clearly, her pronunciation at times almost English. Her maid looked long-suffering as she pottered about, fetching 'Squirt' grapefruit soda and black coffee,and serving a chicken lunch. Raquel called me 'sweetheart', 'darling', 'Baby'. I'd heard vague bisexual rumours, and had a fictitious boyfriend up my sleeve, just in case.

'White girls are just so tightly-wrapped sexually', she remarked through ravenous mouthfuls.
'Hmmm', I thought, 'how does she know?'  

It seemed a good time to ask why she'd never done topless or nude work.

'Dark Latin nipples, Baby' she shrugged.
Wanna see?' 

Reader, I declined. It didn't stop her talking about her sex life. I was taken aback, as I hadn't asked. She confided that she had a 'very European' attitude towards sex, which most American men 'found intimidating'. Munching away on chicken and rice cakes, she'd clutch her fingers together and jab at me to emphasise a point. Her hand was like a snake's head, preparing to strike. I was mesmerised. While I found her compelling, I was terrified. She even confessed to a penchant for sex in cars, a habit acquired during her misspent San Diego youth. Embarrassed now, I clicked off the tape and legged it to the bathroom. On my way back, a stash of racy videos caught my eye.
Hours later, when I made to leave, Raquel insisted on driving me in her new Japanese car. She sang along unselfconsciously to Beatles tapes, getting the lyrics wrong – very Raquel - played Peter Gabriel full-blast, and raved about the singer Jody Watley. On pulling up outside my hotel, she invited me out to dinner. As I sat watching her tuck in to Caesar salad and tomato soup, and knocking back Martinis in famous Musso and Frank's Grill, the urge to phone home and squeal 'guess where I am' was irresistible.

For what felt like years but was in fact only months, we seemed inseparable. At Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset and Doheny, we'd bump into her celebrity pals - Carrie Fisher, Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin. Jack In the Box drive-through was another fast-food favourite, as was The Apple Pan diner on Pico. She adored being seen at Le Petit Four on Sunset, and at Le Dome (now closed). During the day, with nothing better to do, we'd meet for lunch in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, then hang by the pool until dinner. When we weren't indulging in 'mani-pedis' in the hotel beauty salon, I'd sit chatting with her while she had her mane coloured and sculpted at Umberto's. 'She has to look like Sixties Raquel', she'd say, often referring to herself unnervingly in the Third Person. 'This girl has to stay the same with her looks. That's the way people expect her to look. That's the only way they know Raquel Welch!'
But how did she still look as fabulous as 25 years earlier in her only memorable picture, One Million Years BC (who can recall any other?) without ever having resorted to plastic surgery?

'That's the point!', she'd squeal, delighted that 'the work' was undetectable.

'The secret is, start having it before you need it! Raquel started getting things done back in the 60s. All it's taken is a tuck and tweak ever since. You're sitting inches away from her face, you can't even notice? Result! But look at Nancy (Sinatra): richer than Croesus and one of the worst face jobs on the globe - with HER millions! That's because she came to it too late. Take it from Raquel, go now before they notice you need it' – at which she reached out to shove my sagging jowl into my ear.

'By the time you really DO need it, you'll be ahead of the game. Mother Nature figures she has us licked with this ageing business. But Baby (her usual nick-name for me – hers was 'Rocky'), it doesn't have to be that way'.
I never took Rocky's advice, however. I have never regretted it. Too squeamish. I couldn't help but admire her, though, for having the guts to admit to what so many in her shoes were denying back then, before surgery got respectable.

Our 'Girls' Nights Out' took us from the Rainbow Bar and Grill to le Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Strip, Raquel often raunchily attired in black stockings and mini skirts. Even at 50, she got away with it. At her beloved Trader Vic's, she'd drink Mai Tai and Pina Pepe cocktails, served up in a real pineapple shell. Raquel, health-obsessed, would otherwise plump for apple cider or plain water. While her behaviour was never that wild, she enjoyed a good time. Her enjoyment hinged not a little on being recognised. She'd cluck about like a mother hen, introducing me as her 'new best friend'.
I never understood why the most legendary sex symbol since Marilyn wanted to hang with me, a nobody. Was it for my plainness, which accentuated her beauty, my Englishness, my innocence, my 'minion' stance? Every Leading Lady needs her lackeys. Reluctant to rock the boat, I never asked. If it sounds trite to say that she taught me plenty – about love, men in general and husbands in particular (she'd had three by then, there was later a fourth, so she knew a bit), single motherhood (later to hit me – Raquel was a mother of two), about Hollywood, self-belief, about guts and determination and not giving up – I make no apology. Her control freakery was forgiveable while the ride was still too exhilarating for words.
Raquel could talk for Bolivia, her native land. She was under no illusions: it was reflection rather than talent which got her hired.

'What's wrong with keeping a hold of my image while I still have it?' she'd reason.

'It's more constructive than wailing 'They never treated me right because I was so pretty.' Women have to be so many things, because men can't be. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy them all. I'm very grateful for my image', she declared, 'and will maintain it for as long as I am able. I made my choice a long time ago, and now I have to live up to it. Other people can let themselves go in middle age, and that's fine too. I cannot afford that luxury.'


And then, just as swiftly as our friendship had ignited, it faded. That's show business. I'd begun to irritate her - she'd tell me my outfit was 'tacky', while she was wearing leg-warmers! She lost her rag with me once too often, screaming and screaming before crying her eyes out, expecting me to forgive and forget. Her compliment-fishing, speaking volumes about her deep-rooted insecurity, was beginning to get on my nerves.

'Baby, aren't you going to tell me I look pretty today? Do I look sexy, c'mon, Baby, a girl's gotta know ...'

Worse, she had a terminal falling-out with her manager. Because he had introduced us in the first place, I found myself tarred with the same brush. It proved the perfect get-out.
Regrets? Only a few. As a journalist, I'd had nothing but a walk-on part in Raquel Welch's epic drama. I doubt she's even thought of me since. I never heard from her again after quitting LA. Not a Christmas card, fewer happy returns, even though our September birthdays fell only days apart.

I was not your typical Tinseltown victim. But I'd had my fill. The tragedy is probably that Raquel has, too. Anonymity is preferable, in the greater scheme. We bit-part players get to walk away, call time on the madness. Nearly 20 years on, still caught in the trap, Raquel Welch, now 73, is still doing Eyes And Teeth whether she wants to or not, for a camera which is only sometimes there.



















Thursday, 29 August 2013

THEN BACK TO TREBANOG


Cliff Morgan OBE, the mercurial rugby international and broadcaster who died today aged 83, was a proper Welshman. Low-level charming and quietly passionate, he was blessed with deep modesty and a voice that resonated. Once heard, it was never forgotten. He'd be the loudest person in any room, without opening his mouth.

He hailed from Trebanog in the Rhondda Valley, all but an ember's throw from Merthyr Tydfil, my father Ken Jones's birthplace. Both were sons of coalminers, and neither ever forgot it: when life has literally been the pits, getting paid to play sport is the dream from which no one awakes. Cliff turned down an offer to sign as a soccer player for Tottenham Hotspurs, and legged it instead onto the rugby pitch. My father opted for football, becoming a marginal pro, and later watched from the stand as another talented Jones, also a Cliff (and the one we know as 'Uncle'), made soccer history on a world-record transfer deal to Spurs.

In 1951, aged only 19, Cliff Morgan was selected for Cardiff; he was part of the Grand Slam-winning team of 1952, and the following year showed his colours against New Zealand's fearsome All Blacks. In '55 he was the star Lion during the team's tour of South Africa, scoring a momentous try against the Springboks in Johannesburg. Their 23-22 victory before a crowd of 96,000 down in the Transvaal was, Cliff always said, the greatest moment of his sporting life.

Retiring at 28, he took to broadcasting with BBC Wales. He soared within the Corporation, becoming editor of Grandstand, and then head of outside broadcasting. He revolutionised the way the BBC covered sport. He later knocked wind from the sails of the lot of them by moving to ITV to edit current affairs show This Week.

Cliff suffered a stroke in 1972, which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. Astonishingly, he recovered sufficiently to commentate on the legendary match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms park the following year. He went on to star on A Question Of Sport alongside his buddy Henry Cooper, and, unforgettably, to BBC Radio 4, where he became a legend.

The cruellest blow was the more recent and terrible illness that silenced him. Even so, he insisted on giving a speech at his own special birthday party on the Isle of Wight.  That was humbling to behold, and will stay with me forever.

RIP dear Cliff. What an honour to have known you. Carpe diem, as you always said, and onwards.


Friday, 23 August 2013

SINGULAR SENSATION


 
 
We live in a singlist world, people. It just doesn't do to be just you. Couple up or be banished to restaurant Siberia. Don't even think about walking into a bar and having a drink by yourself. Prepare to be treated like a weirdo when you travel alone and not obviously on business.
I don't hear too many men moaning about this, but some of my girlfriends in full-blown rose mode - the irresistible fragility we achieve, just before our petals drop off - seem almost suicidal about solo-dom.
Come on, weepers. Live your lives. Get happy in real time, rather than await some fantasy happy stance that the future we don't even know we're going to get may never fetch. Haven't we all resisted retiring to an echoing bedchamber, wishing there were someone to cuddle ... but haven't we all, also, if only sometimes, quivered there wishing that the head on the other pillow wasn't his ?
All your friends are happily married? Zoom in: how many of those gargoyle husbands would you swap your do-as-you-please for?
In any case, why do we need another human being to validate who we are?
Insofar as anything goes, these days, we have pretty much the perfect world. Compromising one's existence for second best is for mooses (meese??) Single life is pretty desirable, most of the time. The smug marrieds may conspire to have us believe otherwise, but only because it is they, in truth, who crave validation.
So burn the Dyptique candles daily. Fling out all the bedlinen foaming with memories of labours lost, and make a date with the White Company. Fill the freezer compartment with Haagen Dazs and king prawns, eat them together if you like, in bed, while watching old episodes of Thunderbirds. Lust all you like after Geoff Tracey, and wake up to pristine sheets.
Blokes come and go. The only person you can bet on to stick around for the rest of your life is you. Make friends with her. Dust her off, take her out, treat her cute, and she'll treat you in turn to many years of good, honest fun. Your mates really like her. Toughen up in the knowledge that most of your married girlfriends secretly envy YOU.
Besides, everything but everything ends. Every perfectly blissful match made in heaven winds up with a heart torn in two.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

BEWARE THE URBAN SOCIOPATH


Delectable Rosie, MD of Blake Publishing, she tells it like it is. Yesterday's lunch was tasty food for thought which has taken a night to digest.

So we discussed a few folk, mutual and otherwise, and she nodded sagely.
'The urban sociopath', she declared.
'Beware. A lot of them about these days.'
Who is he?
Look around you, my friends, and take note. There's at least one in your life.
Often a relatively high-achiever, a bit 'alpha', who can't or won't 'fit in.'
He has either a conscience like a sieve, or lacks one completely.
He is always in the right: it's everyone else who is wrong.
He cares only about himself: the rest of us are for his benefit.
He is reptilian, cold-blooded, he barely blinks.
He is egocentric, having an exaggerated sense of self-worth.
He is a predator, with a lust for life, power and total control - over money or people or situations, which he strives to achieve through superficial charm, manipulation, intimidation, aggression and sometimes violence.
He can be delusional, irrational, and is rarely remorseful.
A sociopath may be made (nature/nurture), or true (he was simply born that way). There are other kinds, every shade of grey on the spectrum, but really, aren't we all bored out with those?
He can be callous, over-sexed, contemptuous of women. He is mostly incapable of long-term relationships - whether with a partner, children, colleagues or friends. He can be sublimely charismatic, irresistible even, oh sure. But he doesn't give a flying duck about you. He lies compulsively: He is way more qualified than you happen to know he could ever be; he is writing a best-seller, is about to hit the big-time; he once served in the SAS, he knows personally the guy who slaughtered the Princess of Wales: he has seen both the bullet and the Fiat, never found. He was once a millionaire, gadzooks, but the Government robbed him, and he now banks only off-shore. He has a safe at home containing £3 million-worth of gems.
He'll tell you he is in love with you on the first date - he's a fantasist, too. He will push every boundary of sexual behaviour, or attempt to, and try to compromise you beyond your wildest nice. He will never feel guilt, he cannot learn from his mistakes.
He is incapable of understanding what he is supposed to have done.
He thinks that this post is all about him.
Didn't Carly Simon sing it?
London seems to be crawling with such deadly losers these days. Other cities, countries and continents too.
What happened to the human race?
Go well, my daughters, truly. All your daughters, and your sons.
I have been here, seen it, done it.
I am watching, and I bite.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

WHO CAME BACK





'Quadrophenia' with the original four faces of Jimmy at the 02: for John Entwistle and Keith Moon were imaged large. Though the rock opera first appeared in October 1973, Pete Townshend looked back in anger at 1965, when he was just turning twenty. His childhood had been a Britain in the aftermath of war. Changing social structure and austerity, national pride and blanket optimism disintegrated into disaffectation and hopelessness.

Thanks to the picture archives and to the amazing graphics directed by Roger and exec-produced by Rob Lee, we saw it all there last night. Raw, unsubtle, aggressive, The Who voiced teenage angst through music in ways that no band had hitherto dared to do. With The Beatles and The Stones, they wiped the floor with America. They still do.

It is perhaps difficult to comprehend now what it all meant then.  Most of us in the audience last night were too young to have known first-hand. Many of us only got to The Who in the early Eighties, by which time Moonie was gone, and they had become already the loaded landed gentry they'd once scorned. Round and round ... 'There's life in the old f***ers yet!' crowed Roger. 'Rock 'til we drop! It's better than getting smelly and old!'

I missed John, so much, though how incredible to see his face looming huge during '5:15' at 'I hear thunder ...', Pino standing aside to let the maestro roll.

The greatest bassist who ever played? He has to be. Go, Johnny, go

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

GOT A LICENCE FOR THAT DANCING?

'Going to the PPL AGM today', I said.
'What's the PPL?', they said. They are still asking me this question, in spite of all my banging on, all my boring-for-England at dinner parties, all my Facebooking and Tweeting and general annoyingness on behalf of my buddies at Number 1 Upper James Street.  In spite of much valiant raising of awareness on the part of the good folk at PPL themselves, the vast majority of men and women in the street haven't got a clue who PPL are or what they do.

Well, since you ask.

Founded by the record companies EMI and Decca in 1934 as Phonographic Performance Ltd, this organisation was set up to make sure those who work at creating music are paid for the music they make.  That they should be paid is a no-brainer to most of us who have ever worked in the music industry.  Beyond this strange and wonderful world, however, too many people appear to believe they should be getting music free.

'Perhaps it is our over-use of the words 'play' and 'playing', observes Fran Nevrkla OBE, Chairman of PPL.
'There is a widespread belief that musicians and songwriters don't actually 'work'.  They 'play' at it.  And because they appear to enjoy their 'play' and 'playing' so much, they are constantly expected to do it for nothing.  This was particularly apparent, and disappointingly so, in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Artists were expected to contribute their performances free - and organisers seemed shocked by the notion that they ought to be paid.  But why shouldn't they be?'

He is right.

Music, besides being a highly complex and imaginative art form, is also a product.  A commodity.  It accounts for a huge proportion of UK GDP.  I don't want to quote figures from memory, in case I get them wrong, but you could look them up. Suffice it to say that our recording artists and the music they make are among this country's most valuable exports. Look no further than the British artists topping the charts in America - Adele and One Direction to name but two - for proof.

I have sometimes heard PPL denounced as 'just another rip-off.'  No, it isn't, and here's the proof:  the company does not make a profit.  Once costs have been deducted, all revenue is paid directly to its members:  songwriters, performers and record companies alike.  Membership is free.

So if you play recorded music in your place of work, be it saddlery, sandwich shop, hair salon, car showroom, college or gym, you need to have a licence to play it.  This is the equivalent of obtaining permission from the copyright owners of the music.  Imagine having to go to every single recording artist in turn - from Elton to Macca to Sting to Jessie J to will.i.am., say - and having to ask their permission before you could play their recorded work.  For this is what it amounts to. To have PPL doing it on all our behalf, collectively, from one central London office, makes sense for performers and consumers alike. 

A great deal has changed since the 1930s, when PPL was born.  The radio boom of the 1960s and 1970s saw its revenues surge.  There were more copyright law changes in 1988.  In 1996, performers were granted the right to receive 'equitable remuneration' where recordings of their performances were broadcast or played in public.  PPL were now able to pay them royalties directly. From humble beginnings of £1 million over the first decade of its existence, PPL now collects, on behalf of its members, more than £150 million per year. 

Bottom line, businesses use music to maximise their customer proposition.  They must pay for the right to do so.

That's showbusiness.

 




Thursday, 30 May 2013

REASONS TO BELIEVE

The lilac satin tracksuit, remember it?  The smooth bare chest, the quail's-egg navel, the haircut worn better by Steve Harley, slightly yellow on the Mod. Why the Union wristbands? I never knew.  I let it be, and bopped to Bolan, and fell in love to Wings.

The history I caught up with, eventually.  His Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Reg Dwight years.  His bit of Tommy. America getting Rod Stewart before we did.  That was cool.  Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, blotchy Faces albums, blondes.  One of them, the prettiest, Dee Harrington, is now my personal trainer. Get me. Famously a great band member, too good a ligger, the solo move at the end of '75 surprised. He became entangled in tinsel and was swallowed by LA. I kind of forgot about him.

All these years.  The gravel-in-a-biscuit-tin voice has smoothed now. It no longer grates.  The raucous in Rod has subsided.  Even the tartan is less, and somehow tasteful, his best brazen laid to rest, his hormones halted by too many children, and even grandchildren.  His what is there left to do?  Only this. 'Time', his first studio album in more than a decade, bounces right to number one.  Eleven original tracks, written and produced by he himself, every one of them heaving with the familiar and the heard it all before, yet new, yet loaded, with all our yesterdays and sentiment and been there and wept it and laughed and choked, and smiled, and loved you more. 

Listen no further than 'Brighton Beach' for the meaning of Rod Stewart, then.  Weep at the timeless effortlessness of dear Jim Cregan, the song's co-writer: can't you still see his green grin on Top Of the Pops as he took to the guitar solo of 'Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)'  for the Rebel Steve?  Wallow in 'Live The Life' and 'Picture In A Frame', full-tidal with echoes of 'Amazing Grace', and 'Time'.  Wish, and know that they won't, ever, that someone would some day write a song like 'Pure Love' about you.

Do I think he's sexy?  At sixty eight?  Not much.  There are men who do hold it, whom I could name, but let's not.  Rod doesn't.  Penny thinks so, or maybe she doesn't.  Who knows?  Her portraits of her husband, featured in the CD booklet, certainly suggest mutual attraction, and are reminiscent of those taken by lovely Linda of Paul.  Perhaps it takes the look of true love through a lens to capture one's deepest essence.  Most of us wait in vain for a lifetime, sometimes knowing how much we love someone, knowing that they do not love us back. That's hopeless. Rod gets it.  He's been listening. This is an album for loved-and-losts, as well as winners-take-all.

Love: the last indefinable, the great unfathomable, all our beginnings, our ends of the world, is the thing that this album celebrates.  Love drove Rod's recent autobiography, which also topped the charts.  Elegant and dignified, most of its mischief lay in careful whispers between the lines. Rod learned long ago to close the bedroom door.  The paradox - that life's most tender moments are both universal and personal, is Rod's big life lesson learned.  Finally.  'Time'  reminds us to hope, and to believe.  Someone like you?  There was a reason.  I always knew.


Monday, 20 May 2013

THE PAST IS YET TO COME


Aztec Camera said it all in their greatest hit 'Somewhere In My Heart', from their 1987 album 'LOVE':
 'From Westwood to Hollywood,
The one thing that's understood,
Is that you can't buy time,
But you can sell your soul,
And the closest thing to heaven is to rock and roll ...'
 
I was pregnant with my first-born at the time; ducking and diving between Sunset Blvd and the shadowy confines of Fleet Street, covering the biggest rock tours on the planet for the Daily Mail. I would have sold my soul for Roddy Frame. We all would. He got us.
 
So is the inexorable passage of time eased any by life's soundtrack? I have always believed so. Keep listening, kids, the past is yet to come. Yet it can't all dangle from nostalgia, can it. Music must keep tiger-feeting on. It can nod to the old guys, pay a little homage, and must certainly immerse itself in influences - for inspiration is what it's all about. But it must, must do its own thing. It must invent as well as re-invent. It has got to keep laying its neck on the line, keep putting it out there. If you're any good, the establishment and even your own fans will be suspicious of you. Nobody loves a winner, until they know how.
 
I don't want to sound jaded, but very little stops me in my tracks these days. I've heard it all before. And yet. Every now and then, I have to stop the car, get out for a few moments, take a jig down the freeway, hurl my hat, let down my hair, have a swig. Guess what did this today? Daytona Lights did.
 
I've raved about them before, with good reason. I make no secret of the fact that I've known their guitarist Louis Souyave since he was twelve. What a thrill it is to hear the irresistible music that he and his band mates are making now. So go, spend a little money on their brand-new five-track EP 'Old-Fashioned Love'. Immerse yourself in its spunky, necessary heart-throb beatiness. Its jangly attitude and cheek, its echoey Brian Wilson lilts, its le Bon-ness, its Rhodes-and-Taylor cockiness. Its rhythm, its blues, its light and shade, its sparks and chimes and don't-know-who-you-are. Get this. Drown yourself in its harmonies and hooky choruses and indie-pop energy. Be thrilled that people can still do this.
 
I booked my August ticket to Ibiza today, by the way. If they're not playing this in the clubs, I'm heading for the Midnight Beach, me.  It's what I do. X

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/old-fashioned-love-ep/id635563301


Sunday, 7 April 2013

THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED


Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD by THERESE ANNE FOWLER

TWO ROADS BOOKS


Everything is fiction. Our memories and our yesterdays. The conversations inside our heads, and with others. Lovers, children, colleagues, friends; the way we think of them, the way we see and hear and smell and touch and taste them: all made up. They are as we want them to be, their histories rewritten to embellish, enhance and disguise our own. Isn't fiction just another word for perspective – and can perspective be anything other than a point of view?

Whatever it is, here's a story about all of that and none of it, a novel about lovers who really lived, their reckless lives revisited and re-imagined. A book to break your heart, Therese Anne Fowler's 'Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald' is a brave exploration of the blurring. Shredded and in mourning as I turned the last page, I wept, as I hadn't done in years.

Wretched Zelda Sayre, the so-called 'First Flapper' of the Jazz Age, whose charmed life seems to have been cursed from the moment she set eyes on F. Scott Fitzgerald, was out of time. As the born-to-be-wild daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge, there were appearances to be kept up, behavioural codes to be adhered to. But teenage Zelda was already shrinking from the thought of a dutiful family future in the backwater yellowhammer state. There had to be more to life, as her childhood playmate Tallulah Bankhead knew ahead of her. Awake, and aware - of a changing between-wars world, of emancipation, of a profound inner smouldering to express, and to create - Zelda craved an enabler. Scott longed for a muse. Theirs was a marriage made in hell.

Their honeymoon sealed their fate. Behind an illusion of wealth and marital bliss, the celebrated pair lived it up in New York, Paris and all over the Riviera. They were sucked, as they went, into a vortex of alcohol addiction, profligacy, jealousy both sexual and professional, creative rivalry and ultimately mental torment. Choked by Scott's public profile, capsized by his obsessive friendship with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda flailed for the life raft of personal identity. She wrote – short stories with a joint Fizgerald byline, or that were published (outrageously) under his name only; and a single, autobiographical novel, 'Save Me the Waltz', which appeared in 1934. She painted, too, and even ballet-danced herself almost to death. She was a talented woman, married to an insecure control freak who belittled and ridiculed her while maintaining undying love. Which of the two was nuts here?

Was it frustration over thwarted potential, over-indulgence in the hallucinogenic Absinthe, her husband's exposure of her as the shallow, self-obsessed Daisy Buchanan living an uptown, Long Island life cluttered with silly distractions in Scott's piece de resistance 'The Great Gatsby' (1925) that rip-rugged Zelda? The author leaves us in no doubt as to her thoughts about that.
Promising lives frittered. The inexorable finitude of existence. Yet here we are … F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most revered American authors of the 20th Century. Failed, crumpled Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, esteemed feminist icon. You couldn't make it up, and Therese Anne Fowler didn't. All that she did was breathe it back to life. Bewitchingly.

All, in the end, is pointless. All is fiction. As such, this is as good as it gets.