Back in 1973 The New York Dolls came to London and played in Biba's, the fashionable department store on Kensington High Street. During the afternoon of the gig Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane, Dolls guitarist and bassist respectively, went strolling around the store and, as was their want, nicked some gear or, at least, switched some price tags. Unfortunately the store security saw them and they were promptly arrested and marched into the office of Barbara Hulanicki, the divine founder of the store. "They were two bedraggled looking creatures... reluctantly we had to let them go," she later wrote. 
         All of this came to mind on the evening of March 10, 2006, when I went to see The New York Dolls, or what remains of them, playing in a large area of the basement of Selfridges department store on Oxford Street. It was called the Ultra Lounge and it was very dark and noisy and smoky, and throughout the evening beautiful models in off-the-shoulder short black dresses with long legs and six-inch heels plied me with champagne as I shouted above the din, trying to make small talk with old friends from the music press.
         The event was to mark the opening of a punk fashion week, though quite why the Dolls had been flown over at huge expense from New York for one free gig escaped me completely. For starters they weren’t really punks, more 60% glam, 35% Rolling Stones clones with the remaining 5% punk – but only in attitude, not musically. Far better surely, to have had some genuine English punks up there signing about nihilism than these excitable New Yorkers looking for a kiss.
         It was strictly invitation only and the invites themselves – big yellow pieces of plastic with cut out letters – indicated that this was a swish do. It was only thanks to the intervention of my old pal Bob Gruen, the NY-based photographer, that I got an invite from the snooty PR lady at Selfridges, who was initially unwilling to part with one in my direction as I was neither an influential taste-maker nor a photogenic celebrity. She told me that entry was limited to 200, so unlike most freebies it wasn’t overcrowded. In the event I was probably one of a tiny minority there who’d actually seen the Dolls in their heyday, in the early Seventies, when all of them were alive – well, not the first drummer admittedly, but she wasn’t to know that. Bob’s iconic pictures of punks in CBGBs and elsewhere adorned one wall of the Ultra Lounge, and were on sale at fabulous prices. On another wall were life-size pictures of punk girls in ‘interesting’ Agent Provocateur lingerie. What with the models sashaying provocatively around the room, it was a very sexy evening.
         Until the Dolls appeared the DJ played punk and reggae for two hours, and I circulated with a rarely empty champagne flute chatting to a surprisingly large number of people I knew or was introduced to. One of the latter, curiously enough, was the journalist who was conducting an interview with John Entwistle at the exact moment Pete Townshend phoned to tell him that Keith Moon had died the previous night. We swapped Who stories. My old mate Glen Matlock was there too – long ago I published his book, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol – and Keith Allen, the actor and former hedonist, whom I played alongside in the Rough Trade XI cricket team back in the eighties and whose daughter has since become more famous than him. (I remember Lily as a toddler playing at the edge of cricket pitches.)
         It would have been around midnight when the Dolls finally tottered on to the small stage in their high heels and finery but they played so excruciatingly loud that I was hard pressed to identify anything other than the opening number, ‘Personality Crisis’, a song that was played endlessly at Max's Kansas City, the arty bar and venue in Union Square where I used to hang out in NY before Ashley's opened. Thereafter the Dolls turned up and up and, in a room with a relatively low ceiling which was never intended for live music anyway, the sound degenerated into a great wash of noise that repelled all but those with no concern for their eardrums. I don’t think my ears have been assaulted in such a way since I stood on John’s side of the stage for Who shows back in the Seventies. As ever, David Jo pranced around like Mick Jagger, colliding into Sylvain – the only other living and breathing original Doll – and sharing his mike. Also on stage were an additional guitarist, a bassist and drummer, all of whom looked like they could be David Jo’s prodigal sons but they were all up to the task and despite the volume the Dolls didn’t disappoint.
         Between songs one of the models lingering tantalisingly close to me leaned over to ask the name of the band. “The New York Dolls,” I shouted into her perfectly-shaped ear. “Where are they from?” she shouted in mine, thus reinforcing the long held view that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive.
         My ears were still ringing when I climbed into bed, and it’s the first time that had happened for as long as I can remember. Also, incidentally, there were no reports of any of the Dolls helping themselves to unpaidfor goods.

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