Friday, 31 October 2014

GRAB A LITTLE PIECE OF HEAVEN, WITH ROGER SCOTT, FROM THREE TIL SEVEN ...

We were all rookies once. Beginners, starter-outers, dangling our hopes on the dangers of the remote unknown. Taking chances, sticking our necks out, scrounging favours, looking for a leg-up. Where would any of us have got, were it not for a hand from those who'd tiptoed the tightrope ahead of us? Charles ArmitageDavid MindelJonathan MorrishJudd Lander, Dave Cash, Bob Harris, David Stark, Chris Wright, Hyacinth Daniels et al, et al: looking at you. I owe so much to so many that the names elude me. I hesitate to write 'mentor', which seems flaunty and disingenuous. None of these gems would ever dream of using the word. 

No one will mind me saying that Roger Scott was the D's Bs, the DJs' DJ. When I went to Capital Radio as an 'intern', post-Uni, he had already been at the station for ten years. To the millions of Londoners who grabbed a little piece of heaven from three til seven daily, who cruised with him on his Oldies show every Friday night, he was as good as it gets.

He took me under his wing. Nurturing my ambition to write rather than broadcast, he devised an unofficial role for me as an assistant on rock star interviews - in the days when lovely record companies coughed generously for us all to fly places. I'd transcribe the tapes for the Capital Radio archive, which I was later able to use to write newspaper and magazine profiles that would promote the station. Perfectly legit, as, thanks to him, I'd met them all. I know only now that I didn't come close to appreciating the enormity of this favour, nor to understanding the privilege that it conferred. Thanks to Roger I met Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon for the first time, and David Bowie for the second (I'd already encountered him as a child, with Hy Money) at Mountain Studios, Montreux, where they were working on 'Under Pressure'. We interviewed Bowie again at the Birmingham NEC, and also Lionel Richie. Kate Bush at home, Prince at the Roof Gardens, Spandau's Gary in a room above the Groucho, John Taylor of Duran, Mick Jagger. In Los Angeles, where Roger signed a coast-to-coast contract with Westwood One Radio to syndicate his all-American shows - coals to Newcastle or what - we hung with his great hero Bruce Springsteen and conducted the last-ever interview with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. Perhaps the most musical Boy of the lot, Dennis confessed that the greatest love of his life had been Christine McVie. He drowned at Marina del Rey shortly afterwards, in December 1983, drunk out of his skunk. His 1977 solo album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' was a Roger favourite. 

In Florida, we rendezvous'd with flat-capped, born-again Dion diMucci, the 50s/60s teen idol who'd found his calling a capella-ing on street corners of the Bronx. Roger idolised him. Dion & the Belmonts' first hit 'I Wonder Why' had made them rock&roll pioneers. Dion survived the 1959 tour that killed Richie Valens and Buddy Holly. He also survived heroin addiction, and opened up about both. His solo hits 'Runaround Sue' and 'The Wanderer' were  Roger Scott classics. 

In New York, we ambled with Billy Joel over to 142 Mercer Street, SoHo, where they'd shot, on the front doorstep, the cover image for his rock heritage tribute album 'An Innocent Man'. In New Orleans, we immersed ourselves in the Neville Brothers. Keith Richards had introduced Roger to the group: he'd played on their 1987 album 'Uptown'. In 1989 they released 'Yellow Moon', which was perhaps the album, notably its tracks 'Healing Chant' and their cover of Bob Dylan's 'With God On Our Side', featuring brother Aaron's haunting vocal, that turned Roger inwards and most lifted his soul when the oesophageal cancer took hold. By this time he was at BBC Radio 1, prevailing in great style over the Saturday afternoon and late-night Sunday shows. He had hung up his passport, quit the relentless globetrotting and was hoping against hope, taking half a day at a time, along with the painkillers.

He didn't take long to die, having tried everything not to. His final birthday party, at a Wembley Park restaurant for his forty-sixth, was always going ahead, with or without him. As it happens, he was there, but only just.

He would have turned seventy one last Thursday. The only consolation in dying young is that it allows you to remain that age for eternity. He once told me that his whole life had been a 'con': he'd 'conned his way into the States as a 'Beatles expert' during the Sixties, talking himself onto the airwaves as a personal friend of the Fabs. Flaunting his British accent, his sardonic humour and his tongue-in-cheek, he got away with it. He'd 'conned' himself into the Montreal hotel bedroom where John and Yoko recorded 'Give Peace a Chance' in 1969. There is footage of him talking about that, on YouTube. He'd 'duped the lot of us,' he said. Yet Roger was anything but a con-artist. He was the most honest fan of music I have ever known.




Thursday, 30 October 2014

RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE, 40 YEARS AGO TODAY ...

I done kicked a lotta butts, all them people who thought George was the baddest man in the world,” said Muhammad Ali after knocking out George Foreman to regain the Heavyweight Championship in Zaire at the fabled 'Rumble in the Jungle', forty years ago today.
My father Ken Jones was there, both ringside and in a strange bungalow with Ali afterwards, on the verdant expanse of the Zaire River. Here, from his book 'Boxing: The Champions' (Crowood), is what happened after the fight.
'Sport provides us with a convenient vehicle for exaggeration, success and failure, youth and ageing. When set against the ultimate verity, it is never thus.
'Even before the fighters reached their corners, I trembled with anticipation, objectivity set aside, the commitment to Ali absolute.'
After the fight, the rain.
'Rain that turned the highway into a torrent, hammering on the roof of the springless vehicle that carried us back to N'Sele, the water level rising steadily up over the wheels. Our driver wanted none of it, pleading that it was impossible to complete the journey. We urged him on with promises.
'Dawn and all was still, steam rising from the swollen river, giving ghostly form to clumps of foliage so that they passed by like floating carcasses. After a while, Hugh McIlvanney and I made our way towards Angelo Dundee's bungalow, and suddenly Ali was standing in front of us. We followed him into the villa.
'He lay back on a settee, legs stretched onto a low table.
“I kicked a lot of asses, not only George's,” he said contentedly. There was a slight redness in the corner of his right eye, and the suspicion of a small bruise beneath it, but apart from those minor blemishes he was unmarked.
“All those writers who said I was washed up, all those people who thought I had nothing left but my mouth, all them who were waiting for me to get the biggest beatin' of all times: they thought George could do it for them, but they know better now.”
'It became clear that Ali had long since sensed important deficiencies in Foreman, most notably that hurt would be a new experience for him. "Did you see how George turned his head?" cried Ali. "He's not used to being hit, and he needs room to hit you. I was nervous but not afraid because nothing new could happen to me. I had been knocked down, and I had got up. I had lost fights, and I had been stunned by big punches. George didn't know none of those things. I called him a sucker when he hit me good, and asked him if that was the best he had."
Forty years ago. People are still talking about it. The anniversary is being recognised and fanfared as we speak. Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn't. It matters to me because my father, my champion, was there, and he wrote about it. It strikes me now, in a way that didn't occur to me then because I was too young to understand, that The Rumble in the Jungle was, is, a metaphor for life. The loser is not necessarily the guy who gets knocked down. The winner, the hero, the champion, is the guy who gets up again.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

MY MARCO PIERRE WHITE NIGHTMARE

My worst nightmare, set in a kitchen the size and temperature of a sauna, features a wild-eyed, Medusa-haired celebrity chef attempting to strangle me with a table napkin. Its recurrence this week, after watching Marco Pierre White fiercing all over Masterchef Australia contestants (my kids are addicted to the show) was hardly surprising, given that some years ago, he did the same to me.
My Marco Moment has in some ways scarred me for life (had it happened in the States, I’d have been urged to sue for attempted homicide!) Mythology maintains that Marco is ferocious only for the camera, but is an absolute pussycat in real life. Having worked with him, I can report from experience that the man is mean for real. He's an eccentric, imposing, enormous (6’ 3”), sexist, volatile, demanding perfectionist. A multi-millionaire flirtatious father-of-four with a foul mouth and an evil temper. An essentially cruel man, given to vengeful, egocentric behaviour, who treats women like dirt - hence two and a half divorces.

I forget now whose bright idea it was to second me to Harvey’s restaurant kitchen in Wandsworth, where Marco was still building his reputation as the hottest chef in town. Harvey’s, off the beaten track, boasted two Michelin stars, one of only four restaurants in Britain at the time to do so. My brief was to spend a week in his kitchen, experience his mad methods first-hand, and report back on the outrageous rumours that he treated his staff like animals. Because my employers at the time, the Daily Mail, were about to serialise recipes from his cookbook ‘White Heat’, he agreed to it.

Not the softest of gigs, I mused, as I crossed Wandsworth Common one August afternoon with the Firstborn, heading for my initial meeting with the Beast of Bellevue Road - who allegedly throttled staff, hung chefs by their aprons from hooks, and slashed their uniforms with knives if they complained. Before I could interview Marco, he demanded to interview me, retorting that he wouldn’t have ‘any old f-ing riff-raff skulking about in his kitchen’.

When a stale, bleary-eyed Marco finally appeared as if directly from a mattress, it was without apology or greeting.
‘You know we’re going to f---, don’t you?’ were his first words to me, I kid not ( no of course we didn’t: as shock tactics go, he had nothing on rock stars.)

His second utterance, to my little daughter, was ‘would you like a drink?’ She said yes please. Handing her a wine glass, Marco wrenched the top from a bottle of mineral water and instructed her to ‘Say when’. Mia stared at him, dumbstruck.

An Italian Yorkshireman (the posh-Brit accent is affected), Marco spent his early childhood near Genoa. He returned to England aged only six, after his mother died. He has admitted that he took up cooking because he was ‘thick at school - a real doughnut. My brain didn’t start working until I was sixteen.' His wild appearance was enough to terrorise an adult, let alone a toddler. Despite having been the teenaged protege of legendary Albert Roux of le Gavroche, he’d have looked more at home frying onions outside Wembley Stadium, or rearranging amplifiers for the Stones.

He poured the water without stopping. It overflowed from the wine glass and glugged down Mia’s dress, splashing into her new white leather sandals. I sat in silence, not daring to speak. I feared that an angry reaction from me was precisely what he was trying to provoke, thus giving him the perfect excuse to pull out of the proposed arrangement. When Mia laughed, so did I. An hour later, Marco and I were chums.

Two weeks later I took my place backstage at Harvey’s. Within ten minutes, I'd heard him give a fictitious address to two telephone callers who according to Marco ‘sounded far too common, we don’t want his/her sort round here’. ‘Let’s face it,' he reasoned, ‘there is only one reason why a man takes a woman out to dinner. But let’s try and be a little refined about it, shall we?’

The kitchen was so tiny, the chefs, cooks and bottle washers (I was one) were bent like hunchbacks. Marco had reached sublimation point already.
‘Oi - UGLY!’ he rounded on me. ‘Yes, you! Could you get any uglier? Got a nice little family, haven’t you? Want to see them again? No? Well carry on the way you are doing and you won’t, know what I mean? Who’s nicked my sodding clingfilm? I’d like it back! Whoever’s taken it, give it back, now!’

Orders flooded in by the table-load: salt cod, pig’s trotter, pigeon. Frantic chopping of herbs, massacring of tomatoes, violent slicing of fish. Marco yelled orders like a surgeon:
‘PLATE, William! Olive oil, William! Pan please, Bertrand (he said PLEASE!!) Caviar! ... Lemon juice! ... I said, f-ing CHIVES!’

It was not so much hands-on cookery as hands IN. Marco tested, not with his fingertips, but with his entire fists. Every spoon he used went into his own mouth (and several into mine ... then straight back into the mixture.)

In flitted the maitre d’ Jean-Christophe, with a menu and a Biro in hand. Somebody wanted an autograph.
‘That’s six quid on the bill!’ Marco roared, sweat dripping off his ringlets into the seafood as his chipolata fingers flew. He plopped a prawn onto my tongue, licked his palms and carried on creating.
By the end of the night, we were all quivering wrecks. And we knew what we could do if we didn’t like it.

Very late, that Saturday, he took me to the Chelsea home of his fashionista girlfriend, Nicky Barthorpe, for whom he had left his first wife Alex and baby Letitia, and who didn’t last long herself (he went on to marry model Lisa Butcher, then Spanish firebrand waitress Mati. They are separated.) After gambling all night in Nicky’s kitchen, Marco drove us all at dawn to Albert Roux’s Sussex estate to go fishing. Later, the great chef, Marco’s mentor, cooked us sauteed aubergine and courgette in garlic, coq au vin and summer pudding. With Albert and his wife Monique, Marco was a different pan of trout. Meek, respectful, lapping up the affection they lavished on him, he was the perfect surrogate son.

A couple of nights later he was throttling me and booting me onto the pavement ... for making a tasteless joke about spitting in a customer’s food (for the record, in case he sues me, he didn’t do it). 
The next time I saw him, he was all over me like a rash. I still have it. 















Wednesday, 22 October 2014

WINDING YOUR WAY DOWN ON BAKER STREET ... FAREWELL, RAPH RAVENSCROFT

SO FAREWELL RAPH RAVENSCROFT. Raf, Raphael, however you want to call the saxophonist's saxophonist, who died in Exeter at the weekend. Only sixty years old. Makes you think. Does it? Is it the numbers that really matter? I like to think not.
'Baker Street' did it for me. Still at school and dreaming of living and working in London, I felt that Gerry Rafferty's sublime song managed to turn a dull thoroughfare famous only for a fictitious character, Sherlock Holmes, into an avenue as glamorous and exotic-sounding as Sunset Boulevard or Broadway.
It was the song that made us fall in love with the saxophone. There are plenty of indelible, incredible sax solos - Andy Mackay's on Roxy Music's 'Virginia Plain', say, or Ronnie Ross's on Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side'; Dick Parny's perfect blues solo on Pink Floyd's 'Money', Bowie himself on 'Soul Love' from 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust ..' I also want never to forget Steve Norman's on Spandau's 'True'; but 'Baker Street' has always seemed the definitive ... regardless of that fact that, by his own admission, Raph was a bit flat.
But when 'Baker Street' hit, Gerry Rafferty was a has-been. Stealer's Wheel were stuck in the middle and on the way out, their moment past. How many thousands, millions of musicians have been there. They come and they go, most of them hoping against hope for everlasting fame and fortune, for the legendary status that inevitably eludes all but the few. Still, they make music honestly. They leave a legacy of their own, to those who remember, and who care. Raph did. He worked as a session musician for Daft Punk only recently. He also wrote and published the definitive work, 'The Complete Saxophone Player', in 1990. There'll be a rush on for that now.
The brilliance of a track like 'Baker Street' is its ability to transport us, in an instant, to the time when we first heard it. Who we were, who we hung with, what we fretted about, what we wore. It gifts us the magic to experience youth again.
Raph Ravenscroft played with so many greats. His contribution to all that remarkable music by Marvin and Floyd and Bonnie et al is all but forgotten now. Gerry Rafferty's gone. Now Raph is too. But 'Baker Street' will live forever.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

YOUNG, GIFTED, BLACK, FEMALE: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE TOUCHLINE AT PALACE?

The first female photographer in sport held a long-overdue exhibition last night. I was honoured to speak at this prestigious event about the incredible woman who not only inspired my own career, but who has been both a loyal supporter and a lifelong friend.

I met Hy Money in West Wickham, Kent, more than forty years ago. She was, is, the mother of Lisa Smith, my classmate and best friend at Oak Lodge. Hy made an immediate impression on me because she was nothing like my own nor any other friend's mother. She is Indian, for a start. You didn't see many dark skins on suburban streets in those days. She was glamorous, exotic, and wore colourful clothes. Her front door was always open, and she welcomed her children's friends, while I was only allowed to have chums home for tea on my birthday. When we pitched up at Hy's, she'd pull out boxes of musical instruments and dressing-up clothes. We'd doll up, grab a tambourine or a drum, and parade around the streets like a little band of Hare Krishna devotees. All very bohemian. Her neighbours thought she was nuts.

We are fed so much pap nowadays about how 'liberating' the Sixties were for women in this country: equal opportunities, encouragement to work outside the home, fair wages, birth control, the whole bit. I sometimes wonder what they're on about. It was not my experience. My mother-of-four married at 19, had me at 20, and was never again employed outside the home. Most of the mothers at our school gates were the same. Hy was different. Other women felt threatened by her, and poured scorn. Why on earth did she, also a mother of four, even want to go gadding about earning money when she had a husband to do that for her? It 'wasn't respectable.'

We went to Hy's house often, for folk soirées and parties. She drew and painted our portraits. When she began taking pictures for local rag the Beckenham Record, she came to our house to photograph my family. My father, sports writer Ken Jones, was off to cover the World Cup in Mexico, 1970. As England had triumphed at Wembley four years earlier, hopes were high and our Fleet Street journalist dad was newsworthy. It was the first time I saw my image and name on the front page of a newspaper. I decided there and then.

Hy had her ear to the ground. She always knew what was going on locally. When David Bowie, then still a Jones, began hosting Arts Lab meetings in the back room at the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street, Hy took Lisa and me along one Sunday afternoon, where we met not only Bowie-to-be but Marc Bolan. Not that Hy was all that interested in rock stars. She'd heard that an internationally-acclaimed sitar player, Vytas Serelis, had been invited to give a workshop that afternoon, and she wanted us to see and hear the instrument played. 

Lisa and I progressed to different secondary schools. We all lost touch, as you do. I was delighted, a few years later, to learn that my father and she were now crossing paths regularly on the touchline at Crystal Palace and at other sporting events. Hy had reinvented herself as a sports photographer. Imagine the other mothers' disgust.

She is open about the fact that she spent the first decade of her new profession fighting prejudice. Sport was still a male-dominated world. Female sports reporters and photographers were virtually unheard-of. Her glamour didn't help. Rival male snappers treated this 'bit of skirt' with disdain, brushing her aside with sarcastic comments. They'd stumble deliberately into her, saying 'sorry, Sir, I didn't see you standing there', and the pack would fall about laughing. Imagine how intimidating. It's against the law now.

The prejudice and abuse culminated in a petition, signed by many members of the Sports Photographers Association and presented to the National Union of Journalists, attempting to bar Hy from the union on the grounds that she was 'taking men's work away from them.' The Union secretary called her to say that it was the worst case of sex discrimination ever brought before them. He then awarded Hy her well-earned union card, letting slip that the SPA rep had left the meeting 'foaming at the mouth.'

Being such a good-natured and unassuming person, Hy never thought to claim credit for breaking down barriers and opening up the profession to the many women who came after her. With hindsight, she gets it. She told me that this exhibition was to be a 'trip down Memory Lane.' It's much more than that. It epitomises the maxims 'Don't let the bastards get you down', and 'Follow your dream.'

Hy followed hers. She has been a beloved fixture at Palace for decades. Her best-selling book 'Hy on Palace' is a unique observation of the life of a football club, in that it goes behind the scenes as well as out into the stand and onto the pitch. It benefits greatly from the woman's touch. Its wider achievement is that she has managed to make footballers and their followers appear human.

I jest: I grew up in a footballing household. My father was still playing when I was born. My Uncle Cliff played for Spurs, my Great Uncle Bryn for Arsenal, and my Grandad, Emlyn, kicked up a storm for Everton when his boot came in. My father respected Hy as a gifted and hard-working lensman of football and many other sports. She never demanded special treatment because she was a girl. She simply got on with the job, oblivious of the effect she was having on the men. There's the rub? When Des Lynam told her recently, 'How we used to fancy you in the Seventies', he perhaps spoke for all of them.

PROPOFOL KILLED MICHAEL JACKSON, JOAN RIVERS & MY BEST FRIEND ROB. WHEN WILL IT BE BANNED?

PROPOFOL, the drug Joan Rivers was on while her throat surgery was being performed, is used to induce or maintain anaesthesia during surgery. Rivers died, it has just been revealed, when she stopped receiving oxygen to the brain. 

It is the same drug that caused the death of Michael Jackson, when he overdosed on it in 2009.

It was also administered to my cherished friend, Rob Lee, during a 'routine hip replacement' earlier this year. 
A few weeks later, he too was dead. Rob, once part of the pop duo Levinsky Sinclair, who found fame on Ev's mad TV series 'The Kenny Everett Video Show', ran The Who's official website for Pete and Roger, and co-designed their recent sensational live shows. Rob couldn't stop talking about having had the drug that 'killed Michael Jackson', when I went round to have a go on his crutches at his sister's home during his post-op recuperation. He boasted about how 'brilliant' it was to have been able to cope without the vomiting, fatigue, likely depression and all the usual fall-out of general anaesthesia, saying ' I was awake the whole time. I only had a 'local', and I bounced right back.'

Only weeks later, we were mourning his death, from a 'massive' heart attack. When will authorities here and in the USA consider banning this killer drug?

Monday, 13 October 2014

TUNE IN: THE BEATLES' MARK LEWISOHN REDEFINES THE ART OF BIOGRAPHY

So my love affair is over,
it has sent me quite berdserk (sic).
You have this writer's sympathy
for all that long hard work.

'Tune In' is such an oeuvre,
it required you to be wise,
to take the big step backwards,
and to write it with your eyes.

Though 'they' told it all too often,
mixing fantasy with myth,
fudging facts too hard to soften,
'zaggerating, taking pith,

all that FAB-lore long was in there,
you were brave enough to look.
Mr Lewisohn, you've been there,
all the proof is in this book.

So I'm raising twat-'ats to ya,
thumbing tears out of my eyes,
wanna thank you for this treasure,
and forgive you for its size.

Now the doggerel's almost over,
you'll be enchanté to hear.
May the good times roll for you and yours,
until we meet for beer.



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

DON'T CRY FOR TIM RICE & ANDREW LLOYD-WEBBER

It haunts me, Marti Pellow's mesmeric debut at Ronnie Scott's with Wet Wet Wet. I can remember standing next to Debbie Bennett. 1988, wasn't it, Deb? I remember, too, all the hoochin'-an'-a-smoochin' at that year's Montreux Rockfest. Those Clydebank boys party, I should have known, from all the years spent hanging with Jim Diamond. While the other guys looked a bit also-ran, Marti oozed charisma and killed with those eyes. Everyone urged him to ditch the band and go for it solo. He'd never do it, though. In the end, it was Tommy the drummer who quit, and that was that. Goodbye band, and thanks for giving 'Love is All Around' a go for 'Four Weddings', extending dear Reg Presley a good few cushioned years before he trogged off to the sky. Solo Marti fell off the side after that, and succumbed to the hard stuff. Got clean, effected a comeback, and found his feet in musical theatre. Were I to write that as rock fiction, it would be junked as implausible. Yet it's what happened.
So, Marti in EVITA as Che: some insist 'Guevara', others point out that this character was a classic Tim Rice invention, the anonymous narrator, the Greek chorus, a device so effectively tested earlier in 'Joseph'. Anyway. I'd heard great things about his performance in last year's touring production, and was keen to lap it up. But what happened? A vocal delay - mic-ing or transmission problems, maybe, or was it me? - proved distracting, of both my ability to focus on the lyrics, and of Marti's to sing them. He never really found his groove last night. This mildly 'behind', hiccuping delivery seemed a metaphor for the entire performance. The sinister rumbling, at three-minute intervals, of the trains beneath the foundations of the old theatre - something I'd never noticed during my many attendances at 'We Will Rock You' and 'Time' - heralded the Argentinian earthquake re-enacted in the piece, and evoked a sense of the past warning the present that it needs to get its act together. I have been known to overthink things.
Woe is me for having gorged on the original 'Evita'. For having fallen passionately, irrevocably in love with David Essex's Che, Joss Ackland's Peron, Elaine Paige's Eva. That production made 3,000 sumptuous performances over 8 astonishing years. Patti Lupone originated the lead role on Broadway in 1979, but later declared that she hated it. More fool her, it was the first British creation to win the Best Musical Tony. Before all that, though, Rock Follies' heartbreaker Julie Covington made a worldwide hit of the signature song, and Barbara Dickson did commendably with the lament of Peron's mistress, 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall.' These songs loom large on the soundtrack of my youth. They don't write them like that anymore. Not even Rice and Lloyd-Webber do.
Overall? I'd have to say, a little dated. The pace is patchy, and at times way too slow. The vital sense of the grandeur, and the historical importance of Eva Peron's life, seem lost. Perhaps musical theatre, having come so far since Evita first opened in 1978, is diluted, reduced, to a less tastebud-tingling and so-what sauce these days. Jukebox musicals rule, ok, and wider audiences are ok with it. They know all the words.
Still, we quirk and twitch and are aroused by the paso doble- and tango-imbued music. We deep-breathe the magic, and try to be there, back in 1940s Argentina. She was a remarkable woman, Eva: an under-age gutter-scrubber who popped her cherry to an oily cabaret singer and cornered him into carting her off to Buenos Aires, where she did the MAW thing, as the girls say today - Model, Actress, Whatever - got on the radio and made a name. Sleeping your way to the top ain't no new thing. Eva aimed high. She landed the guy who couldn't wait to be king, er, President. She then 'saw the error of her ways', owned up to erroneous ambitions of fortune and fame (she got them anyway) and reinvented herself as the charity queen and saviour of her people, sanctified, reborn, still dripping in diamonds. Cancer took hold as she was preparing for election herself, as vice-president. In true rockstar fashion, the best thing she could do for her image and profile was die, and she did. Her embalmed body, destined for a gawdy and grotesque monument, went missing for 17 years. A musical in itself.
The lyrics will always be exquisite. The score can be lumpy and self-interrupting at times, but rises in glory. What a partnership Rice and Lloyd-Webber were. The ultimate double helix, a magical twist of individual strands and strengths wrenched together in perfect harmony. If we could turn back time.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

GONE GIRL: THE MOVIE

Have you read this insane novel yet? If you haven't, don't. DON'T. Race 'em to the nearest picture house, blindly, as if life itself depended on it, kicking pensioners out of the way if you have to, before every last bastard you know comes charging like a bull in a bowl shop, desperate to wreck the ending for you. 

Actually it's not the ending you really need to worry about. Not so much. In predictable Hollywood style, the director David Fincher (Panic Room, The Social Network etc) does that for you. The damage is limited, you can live with it. I have. Look, they do it to Dickens and Shakespeare. It's every little, creepy plot-twist and turn from beginning through middle towards the least obvious ending, ever, that you don't want to spoil by knowing what's coming. The movie is faithful enough to both theme and plot for that to happen. My friend Richard Hughes made me read it, about a year ago. I do as he tells me. Nothing scares me. This book did. I was too frightened to go down to the kitchen for more wine. Had to make do with just the two bottles, imagine. Sat up all night, second-guessing, calculating whodunnit, putting words into characters' mouths, and still got it all wrong. I misread every principal, every motive, every last outcome. Everything shocked me. Still does. What I wish, massively, is that I hadn't eaten the book before the film. 

So I'm not going to say too much more about it. Ben Affleck as 'The Husband', Nick Dunne, is a little chunky and surly for my taste. I had in mind someone leaner, less thuggish, more in touch with his feminine side. 'The Wife', Amy Dunne, played by Bond beauty Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) is more convincing. At least they didn't give it to Keira Knightley. Handed the choice, I would have stood Reese Witherspoon in front of the lens instead of behind it - she co-directs - as it's the role that could have brought out her Meryl Streep. But where we are, we are. I'm still drooling over the lawyer (Go, Tanner!) and I still want to murder Amy's bloodsucking parents. Beyond that, I must say only this: that marital meltdown is a poisonous, festering bog. Gillian (hard 'G') Flynn, the author, cheerfully admits that she has zero experience of its hideous soul-destroyingness, and yet she writes as a real-life survivor of relationship-rot. This is vile imagination at its most dreadful, most brilliant, most irresistible worst. Can any individual ever know another truly? Even the one to whom they pledge their love and life? You don't want to know the answer to that. Yet you know you do.



Flynn's earlier two novels Sharp Objects and Dark Places are also movies coming to a cinema near you soon. The former, I think I remember, will star Cameron Diaz. Do yourself a favour and don't do read those, either. It's a chocolate-box thing. Save the best 'til last.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

KATE  BUSH : BEFORE THE DAWN 

The  Ones Least Likely To. The Concerts We Thought We'd Never See. Fifteen years must have passed since I last interviewed this quiet storm of an artist - she had a baby boy then, he's sixteen now, and performing live with bursting-proud and tearful mamma on stage - and what struck me was, for all Kate's bonkersness and apparent weird reclusiveness, how warmly human and happy she really seems.

So Kate did not reach for Wuthering Heights. What did they expect? Fifty six is fifty six. Not even the blindly adoring fan could have hoped for a wailing waif in lycra and legwarmers, swirling dervishly while lamenting love. The elfin-ish face is filled out by time - face or figure, ladies. The urchin locks are undoubtedly augmented by a hairdresser's hand. The simmering sex kitten has boiled over into a voluptuous earth mother. She stomps, barefoot, widening ample arms to a predominantly English audience (as she acknowledges), in this quirky old, freshly-painted but anciently dusty monument of a theatre where we all lived when we were young  (I spent the entire night there, more than a few times), in which you're well-aware that you're inhaling Debbie Harry's old eyelashes, Kid Creole's desiccated coconuts, the dried-sweat flakes of Asia's and Bad English's feet. I don't think she'd have got away with this show anywhere else.
Kate goes not gentle. She fills her stage with a confident army, of tight musicians, singers, dancers and actors, with props and projections and laughter, lots. Sombrely black-clad and sailing majestically about the stage, a robust little boat dressed up as a ship, her facial expressions, gestures and speech are those of a child. She's delighted to see us. We too.
It's no Greatest Hits excursion. No Stevie Nicks-esque 'Look How Good I Used To Be (though I strain to hit the high notes now). Kate does hit them, though she chooses to indulge in the more obscure. Hounds of Love and Running Up That Hill, King of the Mountain and Top of the City are banged out bravely. It gets folky and prog-rocky, there are shades of diddly-diddly in the best Dublin bars. Then the Ninth Wave, Kate life-jacketed and drowning at sea, gulps of Golding's Pincher Martin and refusing to be dead, great waves of emotion emulating the swathes of rippling fabric billowing out across the stage. Seahorses, fishy skeletons, overwhelm. The terrifying treacle of the deep. Kate is not rescued from the ice, alas, God help her, and yet she emerges, living it large, belting it out. Her notes are true. Giant doors and birds and puppetry and mannequins. Her son Bertie rigged out as a foul-mouthed Vincent van Gogh type, brushing blue into a mushrooming clouded sky. All torment is here, all food for thought, all magic. Kate's no nutter, she's an artist, daring herself, giving birth to herself, dredging her depths, pushing her envelopes. Scaring her most secret insides out.
It's no rock concert. It's the most unfathomable, gorgeous expression of what it really means to be an artist that I might ever see.
I was submerged.There was deliverance. How I long to go back. But she wraps tonight. I probably don't have thirty five more years.