Monday, 28 December 2015

SINATRA: WE DID IT OUR WAY

FRANK SINATRA at 100, CHANNEL 5, TONIGHT, 9pm
followed by a live recording of Sinatra in concert in New York in 1974.

Frank Sinatra strode out onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1980, ambled across to the orchestra stalls where my father Ken Jones and I were seated in the front row, and sang the opening verse of 'Fly Me to the Moon' right into my face. Old Blue Eyes locked with Young Green Eyes, and that was that. It had long been a habit of his, I would discover later, to zoom in on a female in the audience to sing the first song to. I'd grown up on his music, thanks to Dad, and I knew the songs by heart. But everything crystallised in that moment. I've been hooked ever since.
This has been a year of Sinatra tributes, it being the centenary. What could Simon Napier-Bell's new documentary add to praise already heaped? I did wonder myself, when I was invited to take part. But I can't ever say no to Simon.
The cleverest man I know has sleeves heaving with tricks. He never disappoints. Taking the long view back over the crooner's career from a uniquely British viewpoint was a stroke of creative genius. Although Francis Albert was flogged to America through his live performances, movies, recordings, and via relentless press and publicity, whipping up hysteria among the bobbysoxers and guaranteeing him a place in the pantheon, information about him over here during the Fifties and early Sixties was bewilderingly scant. Imagine that today. No way. The result was a British music-loving public intrigued by and hungry for a singer they couldn't get their hands on. Sinatra fan clubs began mushrooming all over the UK long before his records were ever released here. Every import became an instant collectible. 
Those fans stayed loyal for life, tidal-waving to catch him in his acclaimed Royal Albert Hall and Festival Hall concerts. His nod to them? The only Sinatra album ever made outside the US was recorded here. 'Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain' featured gems by the British composers he most admired, including Noel Coward's 'I'll Follow My Secret Heart', Ivor Novello's 'We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring', and Ross Parker's and Hughie Charles's most enduring war-time rouser for Vera Lynn, 'We'll Meet Again'. The recordings were made in 1962 at CTS Studios in London W2. Only a few days before Sinatra began taping in Bayswater, the Beatles were convening a couple of miles away at Abbey Road, and the world was about to change irrevocably.
Simon's quirky, irreverent, unique documentary, which of course Channel 5 cannot broadcast in its Technicolor entirety, because, well, you know, focuses on the opinions and reminiscences of celebrity fans. Thus, Sir Tim Rice, Alice Cooper, Louis Walsh, boxing promoter Frank Warren, Mark Ellen, Paul Gambaccini et al, et al. We'll find out tonight which of us were left on the cutting-room floor. One for my baby, and one more for the road.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

IT'S YOUR SONG, ELTON

I confess to a double-take at Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun column yesterday, announcing that PR and communications supremo Gary Farrow had terminated his working relationship with Sir Elton John. Surely some mistake: these two go back more than forty years. To 1974, in fact, when gift-of-the-gob Gary landed a job as a runner at Rocket Records after pestering the Rocket Man for a break. Which I happen to know first-hand, because I've known and loved Gary since I was a teenager, when his garden backed on to my Mum and Dad's.

Only one way to find out. Our long conversation today left me saddened beyond words. Gary, who once flogged singles off a barrow in Berwick Street market, Soho, before rising to fame in his own right in the entertainment industry, has represented, promoted, protected and made superstars of the cream of the crop - Bowie, Elton, Wham!, George Michael, Bob Geldof, Frankie, Duran, Jonathan Ross, Ozzy & Sharon, you name them. But he has called it a day with Elton, with whom he was once so thick that they attended each other's weddings, and Elton became Godfather to Gary's eldest daughter. He can apparently no longer abide the way that EJ's husband, David Furnish, is running the singer's life. We could go into blood-curdling detail here, but let's not. It's Christmas. Although how could we ever shrug off the unbearable misery of Elton's mother, Sheila Farebrother, forced to hire an Elton John tribute act to perform at her 90th birthday celebrations this year - because her own son, the globally famous genuine article, has not spoken to her for seven years. Why? Because dear Sheila refused to cancel her friendships with her son's former manager and sometime lover, John Reid, and with Bob Halley, Elton's ex-driver and PA, who are like 'sons' to her.

Life being too short. It's a long time since I supped and chewed cud with the excitable Furnish. The last time was in Atlanta, Georgia, in God knows when. But from what I've heard, he has found his vocation as a talentless control freak hell-bent on destroying the most meaningful relationships in his partner's life. I can't imagine what he is trying to prove. But what will they do when there's nobody left?

Knowing Gary, never short of a line of two - he once bumped bang-smack into Mel Gibson and retorted, 'What a f-ing stupid place to put a mirror' - he'll be raising a Yuletide glass to all the good times, and privately wishing Elton well. He's unlikely to lose much sleep over it. But I bet Elton will.

I owe Gary eternally for the best piece of advice a media guru could ever give an insecure writer (is there another kind).

'It only takes one,' he told me. 

'Of all the nine billion however many people on the planet, it only takes one person to invest, to go 'let's have a punt', and to make your dream a reality. I've seen it happen more times than I've had cold breakfasts. I've seen for myself that it's true. So never, ever give up. Keep doing what you're doing. If you're any bloody good, then sooner or later it comes to you.'

Monday, 14 December 2015

WHY I WROTE IMAGINE AS A NOVEL

'Shock and Amaze on Every Page!' This was the brief, during the Eighties. We were the shady stars of the most outrageous rag this country had ever known. Rupert Murdoch appointed Kelvin MacKenzie as the brash new editor of Britain's biggest-selling daily, The Sensational Soaraway Sun, in 1981. MacKenzie hired me. He was the first newspaper editor to perceive that rock and pop stars were looting the limelight hitherto dominated by dull old Hollywood movie broads, and I was his brainwave: a fresh-meat girl-about-town columnist to augment the breathtaking celebrity gossip dished daily by jumpin' John Blake on his crackerjack spread,'Bizarre'. Too many adjectives for you? Never enough on the Currant Bun.

A front-page headline proclaimed me to be a 'Cheeky Telly Girl', so it must be true. I got there via an internship (not that we had the word then) at Capital Radio, a stint writing sleeve notes in the art department at Chrysalis Records, a regular gossip slot on Tommy Vance's show for BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service), and a Warholian stab at TV stardom as co-presenter, with DJs Gary Crowley and Nicky Horne, of rock'n'pop TV series 'Ear Say' for the new Channel 4. I soon found myself further down the Street, poached by the Daily Mail to interview rock stars. I spent the next decade on the road with the biggest artists in history, from Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, The Who and Elton John to David Bowie, Queen, Blondie and the Rolling Stones.

On the road, anything went. We rock hacks toed the line and kept their secrets, and got everything we wanted in return. Unrestrained by the managers, promoters, agents, PRs, record company reps and every other kind of hanger-on hell-bent on scoffing their slice nowadays, journalists and musicians could and did forge close friendships. I was despatched to the New York bureau, where I shared rooms, briefly, with La Toya Jackson – making me perhaps the only correspondent alive who could contradict the rumour, having dined with them together, that Michael and his sister were the same person. Relocating to Los Angeles for the Mail on Sunday, I dossed chez Raquel Welch (she was 'Rocky, I was 'Baby'), and interviewed them all, in every imaginable circumstance: Grace Jones on a massage table, U2 in a pool, Cyndi Lauper on a plane to Vegas, Stevie Nicks inside the Betty Ford rehab clinic. Graduating, after the birth of my first child, to the paper's award-winning colour supplement YOU Magazine - in those days more world features than lipstick and fashion - I broke my share of cover-stories, hitting the road with Cher in a tour bus that also contained George Best's ex-wife Angie, who was the singer's personal trainer; getting nicked for speeding with Rod Stewart; breaking rules in the British Embassy at a reception for Freddie Mercury and Queen; painting Amsterdam pink with the second-hand car dealer who taught Liz Taylor to like sex. It's what he said.
Piers Morgan airlifted me to the News of the World in the mid-Nineties. I wrote 'The Lesley-Ann Jones Big Interview' for him until he quit for the Daily Mirror. By then, Fleet Street was a memory, technology had taken hold, and the unions were buried. Our beloved industry was dissipated and in the early stages of decline. I paused to marry and have another child. I published a biography of supermodel Naomi Campbell, my first book on Freddie Mercury, and then came baby number three.

A year or two out of newspapers was a life sentence. I was in love with the job, and took little luring back in 2007, post-divorce, skin-cancer surgery and all the usual old heartache, to a world so changed that I barely recognised it. I penned freelance features for the Mail, and wrote columns, comment, reviews and interviews for the Sunday Express. My editor there was Martin Townsend, one of the merry band of music-loving mischief-makers with whom I'd once hurtled about the globe. What goes around. A commission to rewrite my biography of Freddie Mercury, and another to chronicle the lives and times of T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, drew me into pastures new.

But how to park such a back-story and move on? I was never allowed to. It occurred to me that I was often invited to dinner parties and on long weekends in country piles by Haves and Have-Yachts because I was a fount of filthy gossip and farcical yarns. I'd meet people at functions both domestic and foreign who'd perhaps seen me on 'E! Entertainment' in America or equivalent, and who'd say, 'You should write a book!' 'I do,' I'd reply, 'look, here's where you buy them.' 'Not that kind of book,' they'd say. 'A book about you.' 'Nobody would believe it,' I'd laugh them off. Eventually, it dawned.

I've had a life. Like my father Ken Jones, the former 'Voice of Sport' at the Sunday Mirror and The Independent, and a fixture on BBC TV's Grandstand, I have ink in my veins. I've worked on-staff at five UK national newspapers, and have freelanced for many more: here, in the US and as far afield as Japan and Australia, over a quarter of a century. I was at Live Aid. I've covered the Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Awards, the Grammys; the Montreux and San Remo music festivals. I've toured with bands, survived the talk circuit with Sir Ian Botham, and in 2009 accompanied the Royal Ballet on their historic visit to Cuba - the first by a foreign ballet company for over forty years. I have wenched and wassailed with superstars across five continents, written reports from countless countries, got away with it more than most would consider fair. I've lived the double life, and I tell the tale. The other me remains a normal daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, aunt, mother, god-mother, god-daughter, girlfriend, friend. I've known my share of glory and ignominy, been party to the triumphs and despair of not only my cherished pals but also innumerable household names. Plenty of people make a living writing about less. I could pen volumes, couldn't I, exploring the seething, faded, moth-eaten tapestry of my own life, reliving the magic and dirt and marvelousness of the music industry and Fleet Street? So I have.



Sunday, 13 December 2015

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF FRANK SINATRA

It makes you think. I grew up on the maestro's music - my parents were (are) die-hard fans. I interviewed Ol' Blue Eyes in LA - twice - and spent time with his widow, Barbara Marx. I got to know his daughter, Nancy, when I lived with Raquel Welch in Beverly Hills - 'Boots' was her best mate. Only after his death, when I was researching Ava Gardner, did I realise I'd known barely the first thing about him.
What we knew was the Sinatra myth, the legend. What we didn't want to know was what got him there. We certainly didn't want to hear about his backstreet-abortionist mother, nor the hell through which she dragged him - which accounts, at least in part, for who he became. Perhaps most telling was that night in Elaine's, New York - the night that Frank, on being introduced to Mario Puzo, author of 'The Godfather', refused to shake his hand.
A recent survey on the kind of music played at funerals revealed that traditional hymns are now chosen by fewer than 35%, while pop songs have soared to an 'incredible' 58%. It 'devalues human life', declared one commentator about the survey, to take one's final, shortest journey on earth to the accompaniment of music from popular culture.
Why so? Why not pop our clogs to popular music, if that's the way we lived?
Unsurprisingly, the song most played at funerals these days is Sinatra's 'My Way'. What's so bad about that? Whatever turns you off.
My friends and I have spent countless happy moments dancing round the kitchen to 'New York, New York'. I've certainly slated that one for my own funeral - along with Cockney Rebel's 'Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me). performed live. Every time I see Steve Harley, he asks me if I've got a date. Clearly I have. I just don't know it yet.

Thank you for the music, Francis Albert. For better or worse, way to go.