JOHN LENNON – In His Own Onion

Although there's enough buskers on the streets to fill the holes in the Albert Hall, the Edinburgh Festival is not really about rock music. There were no name acts performing, not unless you count my old pal John Otway, whose name I spotted on a flyer and whose show clashed with a comic we wanted to see, but Otway is as much a comic as a musician anyway. However, another John, born in Liverpool 75 years ago this October and senselessly gunned down in New York 40 years later, was inescapable, the poster below decorating railings everywhere you looked. And nor was this the only Edinburgh manifestation of the chief Beatle, for his 1964 book In His Own Write has been turned into a stage play, of which more later.

The major production, though, is Lennon Through A Glass Onion, which played nightly at the Assembly Hall throughout the Festival; a poignant bio-play that sees grey-haired John R. Waters reflecting on John’s life and music in a series of soliloquies and songs, accompanied for the most part by his own guitar and Stewart D’Arrietta on piano. Waters, an Australian actor, sounds remarkably like John Lennon, at least the Liverpool-accented tenor of his speaking voice if not quite that remarkable singing voice. Light-hearted it wasn’t, Water’s dark attire – black jeans, shirt and leather jacket – setting a tone that to me seemed to echo the imposing but rather grim and sooty stone architecture for which this lovely city is famous.
The 90-minute piece begins at the end, five shots ringing out to remind us of the awful events of December 8, 1980, then slips back to John’s childhood evoked by the Liverpool Lullaby ‘Mucky Kid’, though I’m pretty sure Aunt Mimi, were she alive today, would flinch at the suggestion that the nephew she raised was ‘as dirty as a dustbin lid’. Thereafter John Waters offers a selective account of John’s life in the first person, punctuated by songs, first those Beatles songs that we now know were largely John’s own work – ‘Help’ (taken at a slow pace and all the better for it), ‘Hide Your Love Away’, ‘Nowhere Man’, ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lucy’, ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Julia’, ‘Come Together’ and more – followed by solo songs, of which ‘Working Class Hero’ and ‘God’ were the most profound. ‘Imagine’ closed the show, perhaps inevitably, and it was clear that all had been chosen for their narrative appeal.
Waters stands with his legs apart, facing down his audience just as John did, and his plain spoken, unsentimental dialogue seems to reinforce the feeling that John Lennon was a bit lost amid the clamour of Beatlemania and the vast, unwieldy fame that came with it. It wasn’t my fault, he seems to be saying, I didn’t ask for this life. It just happened because I liked showing off. There is a deep sense of drama in these spoken words, a sense of impending tragedy that creates an atmosphere of destiny, of impending doom, that was relieved only by the music, especially the up-tempo songs like ‘Revolution’ which was driven along by D’Arrietta’s powerful boogie-woogie piano.

Stewart D'Arietta and John R. Waters 

Yoko is well represented, especially the antipathy she aroused – “British Anglo-Saxon racism – that’s what it was” – but Cynthia didn’t get a mention at all. John’s rivalry with Paul was touched on but unless I missed it I never heard so much as a mention of George or Ringo. John’s drug use, too, is avoided, perhaps on the wishes of Yoko whose blessing must have been sought for copyright purposes. I was also a bit disappointed that two key Lennon songs – ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, both personal favourites – were omitted but these are minor quibbles. The audience of mainly over fifties was rapt throughout, breaking into applause after the most memorable songs.
Lennon Through A Glass Onion is by no means new. Waters and D’Arrietta have been performing it since 1992, and it is a tribute to their skills and the show itself that it still feels fresh, contemporary and – most of all – captivating. For those unfamiliar with Lennon’s story it would have been enlightening too, shining a light on what was going on in the mind of the rock star who more than any other, at least in the UK, opened our ears to the music’s potential.

Meanwhile, over the Princes Street Gardens at the Voodoo Rooms, Peter Caulfield, Jonathan Glew and Cassie Vallence, aka Baldynoggin Productions, were enacting In His Own Right as a series of wry sketches taken from the book, a further look into the eccentricity that made Lennon (and The Beatles) as original as they were. The fact that Vallence was visibly pregnant just seemed to add to the sense of absurdity, something that I’m sure John would have appreciated.
When the short stories are acted out in this way, affectionately and with a sly wink here and there, the influences become more obvious: Edward Lear, the Goons, Milligan in particular, and perhaps even Stanley Unwin. We also see the beginnings of Python amid pieces like ‘No Flies On Frank’, ‘At The Dennis’, ‘The Wrestling Dog’, ‘Treasure Ivan’, ‘Nicely Nicely Clive’ and ‘On Safairy With Whide Hunter’. The Enid Blyton Famous Five spoof contains the line ‘keep off the grass’, which I found touching in the light of Bob Gruen’s now famous photo of John by the Statute of Liberty, while the non-PC bigotry in references to people of colour and, more especially, the handicapped seemed to reflect the Lennon of Liverpool as opposed to the Lennon of the World. It also reflects John’s rather cruel sense of humour, epitomised by ‘A Surprise For Little Bobby’, the tale of a one-handed lad who receives a hook for his other arm as a Christmas present, prompting him to chop off his good hand.
The skits were acted out against a screen on which John’s fine line drawings appeared, a further nod in the direction of his restless spirit, and at one point the three actors appeared to read from copies of The Daily Howl, John’s pre-teen school newspaper that at least one of his long-suffering teachers recognised as the work of a fine mind.
While not as ambitious as Lennon Through A Glass Onion, In His Own Write casts more light on John Lennon’s endless inventiveness and offers yet more evidence that America’s irrational gun madness silenced one of the world’s most original creative talents.


BOBBY FULLER - I Fought The Law

‘I Fought The Law’ by the Bobby Fuller Four was and remains a brilliant record. It was a number nine hit in the US in early 1966, but it only reached number 33 in the UK that April which is probably why it escaped my attention, at least until 1971 when a 12-album vinyl set called Oldies But Goodies landed on my desk at Melody Maker. Since each disc had at least a dozen tracks, albeit crammed together so the hi-fi was lo-fi, it was a terrific package and enabled me to catch up on numerous 1950’s hits from America that I’d either heard but never bought or never heard at all.

One of them, on Volume 9, was ‘I Fought The Law’ and, boy, was I impressed. It’s no exaggeration to say that out of all the 140 or so tracks on the set, this was the one I ended up playing the most and, of course, transferring to cassette so as to play it in my car. It was the crispness of the song that impressed me the most, the clean, sharp guitar licks between the verses, the simplicity of the song itself as it rolled along, powered by a terrific beat, not unlike Buddy Holly of course, and – by no means least – the subject matter that suggested the hero was an outlaw from the Wild West who wrote it 100 years ago while languishing in jail in Dodge City, no doubt contemplating the gallows on the hill. A bit later I discovered it was written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis who joined The Crickets after Buddy Holly died in 1959, and recorded originally for their In Style With The Crickets LP in 1960. Bobby Fuller recorded it twice, once for his own Exeter label and later for his manager/producer’s Mustang Records, and it was this later re-recording that became a hit and which turned up on my Oldies But Goodies album.
          When I lived in America and worked for Melody Maker I was minded in 1974 to seek out Bobby Fuller, only to learn by word of mouth (there was no internet in those days and no rock encyclopedias to refer to) that he’d died aged 23 in 1966, probably murdered by persons unknown, a circumstance that remains unresolved to the present day and, in view of the time that has elapsed, unlikely ever to be resolved. Back in 1974 I didn’t pursue the story, but last year a book called I Fought The Law: The Life And Strange Death Of Bobby Fuller by Bobby’s brother Randell Fuller was published. I read it over the past month but, as I thought, there are still no firm conclusions as to what happened.

Although crammed full of information, the book could benefit from a decent edit, is rather cheaply produced and the pictures, dotted throughout the text, are too small and very low resolution. This is often the case with small independent publishers who don’t have much to invest in their titles, but I commend Kicks Books for taking the chance anyway and offering me the opportunity to learn all I could about Fuller, clearly a musician with a big future had not fate cut him down.
          On the morning of July 18th Bobby Fuller’s body was found in his car parked outside the apartment building where he lived on Sycamore Avenue in North Hollywood. “Bobby was there lying in the car, all beat up real bad and gasoline all over him and there were burns on him,” says his friend Rick Stone, quoted from the book. Others who saw the body in the car noted dried blood on Bobby and that there was a gas can in the passenger seat. He was wearing worn slippers which suggested his body had been dragged across rough ground before being placed in the car and driven to Sycamore. Amazingly, the police attributed his death to suicide – “asphyxia due to inhalation of gasoline,” noted the coroner – and didn’t investigate further, possibly because they were preoccupied with the sudden and unexpected death of the LAPD Police Chief two days before, or because it was a mob hit best left alone.
          So who did kill Bobby Fuller? Speculation has included Charles Manson, though his killing spree began later, an unnamed mob figure displeased by Bobby’s interest in his girlfriend and even his manager/producer Bob Keane who had the misfortune to also work with Ritchie Valens and Sam Cooke, two other singers that died far too young. Then again Keane also worked with Arthur Lee, Barry White, Frank Zappa and Glen Campbell. A more likely theory is that Bobby’s death was somehow connected to his involvement with the notorious label owner Morris Levy, owner of Roulette Records, which had signed a distribution deal with Keane’s label that Bobby was unwilling to honour.

Bobby Fuller left behind two albums and a handful of singles, all of which have been compiled many times. Reading the book prompted me to buy I Fought The Law: The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four which seemed the best of the bunch, and I’ve been charmed by it over the past three weeks, convinced that its mix of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, chirpy harmonies and rattling guitar work ought to have propelled the BF4 into the area that The Monkees occupied, at least in terms of their quality singles like ‘I’m A Believer’, ‘Last Train To Clarkesville’ and’ ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’, if not their TV show boy-band appeal.
          There can be no question that Fuller was a disciple of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, though in truth he updated Holly’s sound and guitar style. He learned his trade in and around El Paso, fronting the Four on his Holly-like Sunburst Stratocaster, with brother Randell on Fender bass, Jim Reese on second guitar and Dewayne Quirco on drums. This was around the same time as The Beatles were cutting loose in Liverpool before being signed by George Martin, so any suggestion that the BF4 were hanging on their coat tails is well wide of the mark.
          The music on my compilation sounds like a group straining at the leash, not far removed from the garage bands on Lenny Kaye’s great Nuggets compilation. It’s dated now for sure, but there’s something there – a touch of Beach Boys harmony, a nice melodic bent, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-but-you-know-it’s-good fizz and pop – that would make any A&R man with ears open his cheque book. And, of course, there’s ‘I Fought The Law’, one of the great singles of the era, covered – perhaps more famously but with less panache – by The Clash and countless others.
          As the blurb on the back of the book points out, Bobby Fuller wrote and recorded his own music, built his own studio and released his own records, so he was both determined and ahead of his time. He certainly didn’t deserve his fate.




For many years now, whenever I get my voting form for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame I include a note expressing my displeasure that Richard Thompson has never been nominated, let alone inducted. He is, of course, a fine songwriter and one of the great guitarists in any style, rock, finger-picking acoustic, country licks, jazz, folk… you name it. In his beret and unassuming clothes, he’s never been fashionable and his stage manner has always been a bit tentative, at least until the minute he begins to play, which might explain why he’s been ignored by the rather secretive committee that decides who should be on the voting form, experts who’d sooner admit the likes of Kiss, Guns’n’Roses and the dreaded Dave Clarke Five to the HoF than a genuinely talented figure like Thompson. Still, Little Feat aren’t in there either so he’s not alone in this.
         A five-hour round trip in the car this weekend enabled me to listen several times to Thompson’s latest album Still, another superbly crafted, immensely satisfying piece of work. Produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Thompson watchers could be forgiven for assuming that their hero would come under his influence and produce something a bit rougher round the edges than the polished creations they’ve come to expect but this is not the case. As ever Thompson flits between the many musical styles he’s honed over the years and, on most of the tracks, sings about his favourite subject, angst-filled relationships and difficult situations. The exception, at least lyrically, is the closing number, ‘Guitar Heroes’, a seven-minute tribute the men who inspired him as a boy, to wit Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton and Hank Marvin, whose styles he adopts in turn, note for note, lick for lick, on a long and rather droll song about how his guitar dominates his social life.
         Still opens with ‘She Never Could Resist A Winding Road’, one of those soupy swirling ballads, the kind of song that registers immediately, sturdy and traditional, a bit like ‘Keep Your Distance’ from 1991s Rumour And Sigh; this one about another footloose female, not unlike the girl he sang about on ‘Beeswing’, who probably broke his fragile heart. But it’s not all doom and gloom: ‘Beatnik Walking’ is upbeat and as catchy as hell, about a stay in Amsterdam, and ‘All Buttoned Up’ is about a girl who, to his evident frustration, keeps her knees together.
         ‘Pony In The Stable’ has a touch of the Fairports about it, a bit of a jig, while ‘Where’s Your Heart’ is a more thoughtful song about a cold oppressor, madrigal-like in the Thompson tradition of unhurried songs. The penultimate song, ‘Dungeons For Eyes’, conveys a righteous sense of anger as Thompson recounts a social encounter with a crooked politician whose hand he is expected to shake.
         And then we’re into ‘Guitar Heroes’ which, after the skilfully executed cameos, closes with a kind of confession from a man who eternally seeks perfection in his work: “Well I played and played until my fingers bled, I shut out all the voices but the voice in my head, now I stand on the stage and I do my stuff, and maybe it’s good but it’s never good enough.”
         I’m inclined to think it is Richard, especially when you make that guitar sing like a choir of hummingbirds.



With apologies to those visitors to Just Backdated for whom cricket is an insect found in warm climates that makes a rattling sound, there’s no music commentary today, just a thought about England’s cricket XI winning the Ashes last Saturday.

It was the day the football season opened, but in the morning English cricket all-rounder Stuart Broad stepped forward to be presented with one of those huge cheques that sponsors favour because their name is in big letters and can be seen clearly on the TV screen. But huge in monetary value it wasn’t, not by sporting standards anyway. Broad won just £2,500 for being nominated Man of the Match in this Fourth Test against Australia at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge, the game that secured the Ashes for England. The MotM award recognised his bowling analysis of eight wickets for 15 runs in 9.3 overs during Australia’s first innings in which they were skittled out for just 60 runs, and in the process Broad reached 308 wickets in Test cricket, thus elevating him to the position of fourth most prolific English bowler ever. For good measure he also made 24 not out in England’s first and only innings at Trent Bridge and took a further wicket during Australia’s second innings.

By any measure this was a superb performance with the ball, not least because Broad stepped up to do his stuff in the absence of our injured foremost strike bowler Jimmy Anderson. It ensured the English victory that secured the trophy that means more to English cricket than any other.
         Test match cricket is played over five days with a minimum of six hours play each day, weather permitting, though England’s superiority with bat and ball meant this particular game lasted only until two balls into the 11th over of the third day (and part of cricket time, of course, is spent in the pavilion waiting your turn to bat). As well as the £2,500 MotM award Broad would have received a £5,000 match fee, so his efforts over two and bit days earned him £7,500.
         The average salary for a Premiership footballer in the UK is £25,000 to £30,000 a week, with the top earners on £250,000 or more. Wayne Rooney, the captain of Manchester United, who secured a 1-0 victory over Tottenham on the same day that England won the Ashes, is said to earn £300,000 a week and is probably our highest paid footballer. He was on the pitch for 90 minutes. He didn’t score a goal. He wasn’t Man of the Match. He earned 40 times more than Stuart Broad. 


THE WHO - ‘Dogs’ & ‘Magic Bus’

Here’s a couple more of the write-ups I did for The Who’s Track singles box set, ‘Dogs’ and ‘Magic Bus’.

A: Dogs
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

B: Call Me Lightning
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

Originally released as Track 604 023 on 14 June, 1968, it reached Number 25 in the British charts.

For the benefit of sensitive radio listeners in America and a few other countries the lyric I look all white but my dad was black in ‘Substitute’ was amended to “I try going forward but my feet walk back” and close observers of The Who's evolution in 1968 might have been tempted to believe this was the way their career was heading. Whatever their motive, ‘Dogs’ was an unlikely follow-up to the sophistication of ‘I Can See For Miles’ and its lowly chart placing reflects a domestic apathy towards the group that, fortunately, would soon change. Any element of uncertainty in the camp, however, was softened by their accelerating progress in America where The Who’s stunning live shows were drawing increasingly large crowds.
              There’s a touch of music hall about ‘Dogs’, a contender for the funniest single The Who ever released; clearly influenced by the Cockney rock style of The Small Faces on ‘Lazy Sunday’, or maybe Ray Davies’ wry observational songs like ‘A Well Respected Man’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’. Recorded at Advision Studios, London, on May 22, it’s quite a complex piece, not unlike ‘A Quick One’ in its musical changes, and evidently inspired by the British working man’s love of greyhound racing, beer and his darlin’ missus, probably in that order; slightly quaint but with just the right degree of Who-like swagger to suggest that Pete really means it. Roger puts on his best East End accent for the verses and Pete, from his recent observations at White City dog track, adopts the doddery old man persona during the fade-out.
              The B-side, ‘Call Me Lightning’, started at IBC Studios, London and completed on February 26, 1968, at Gold Star Studios in LA, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Another from among the earliest songs written by Pete, it was even suggested for The Who’s first single. Its mildly funky R&B feel is emphasised by chanted backing vocals – “dum, dum, dum, do-way” – with Roger emoting as best he can on lyrics that no-one bar Pete understood. John gets a twangy bass solo, which he never regarded highly.
              Pete: “It tries to be a slightly surly Jan & Dean kind of song to satisfy Keith and John’s then interest in surf music, which I thought was going to be a real problem. Being a trumped up Mod band was bad enough for us to handle, but trying to be a trumped-up Mod band playing R&B music with surf overtones was almost impossible... this song was trying to be all things to all men.”
              In the US ‘Call Me Lightning’ was a single in its own right and reached Number 40. The flipside was John’s ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’, their US label no doubt concluding that ‘Dogs’ would have confused the locals.

A: Magic Bus
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

B: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Written by John Entwistle. © 1968 Essex Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

Originally released as Track 604 024 on 11 October 1968, it reached Number 26 in the British charts.

Still seeking a direction in the fallow period between The Who Sell Out and Tommy, The Who dipped into their vaults and came up with a song that Pete had written around the time of ‘My Generation’, in this case a Bo Diddley pastiche that employs his famous ‘shave and a haircut (pause) two bits’ rhythm. This was something they were good at: as The Detours they’d played Bo Diddley songs like ‘I’m A Man’, ‘Here ’Tis’ (which they recorded as The High Numbers at the same time as ‘I’m The Face’ but didn’t release until three decades later) and ‘Road Runner’ in the west London pubs where they learned their trade. Indeed, the evidence suggests that ‘Road Runner’ was the song that 17-year-old Keith John Moon played with them when he stepped up to the plate for the first time at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford in May, 1964. Either way, Bo’s invention is a foundation stone of rock and simplicity in itself, for by repeating this beat endlessly and giving it a good thump from behind by a drummer who knows his way around floor toms, even the most inexperienced of garage bands can get a crowded ballroom up on their feet and dancing in no time at all.
              ‘Magic Bus’ was recorded at IBC in London during May on two separate occasions because Kit Lambert left the master tapes from the first recording in the back of a taxi. Engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw recalls that the band wanted to record it live. “So we miked everything up and it sounded just dynamic. Kit went off with the master and that was the last we saw of it.” The track was completed and mixed by Lambert at Gold Star Studios, LA in June. It certainly sounds livelier than most singles, Keith opening proceedings by tapping away on claves before the Diddley rhythm kicks in, over which Roger and Pete swap preposterous lines about trading their magic bus in for “one hundred English pounds”.
      As a stage number, ‘Magic Bus’ became a crowd favourite if for no other reason than it was quite unlike anything else The Who ever performed. With plenty of room to solo Pete loved it, unlike John who was anchored on one note with little room to stretch out.
              You could be forgiven for assuming that ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ was autobiographical for The Who’s bass player certainly amused himself and others by playing the schizophrenia card. His love of spiders and dark sense of humour, much of it tongue-in-cheek, was part and parcel of his music, both in solo songs and those recorded by The Who, and his various homes contained macabre relics more suited to a fairground ghost train than a domestic hideaway. In reality, however, those fortunate enough to spend any time with John soon came to realise that he was the most amiable of men, eternally modest about his extraordinary skills as a bass player and genuinely gracious towards the many Who fans that befriended him.
              His attempts to translate Hammer horror into his music succeeds admirably on this novelty song about the perils of sharing hotel rooms with Keith Moon, its scary opening prefacing a menacing bass line and spooky French horn solo. Indeed, John’s bass carries the melody and, at the climax, Keith manages a wicked scream and John a rather ghoulish growl, though this was edited out for the US release. 


THE CHÂTEAU D’HÉROUVILLE, Robin Gibb & Kinky Ladies Of Bourbon Street

The Château d’Hérouville, in the French Val d’Oise region 30km north of Paris, famously used as a recording studio by Elton John, David Bowie and many more top acts, is for sale – a snip at £1.12 million. Such news would not normally interest Just Backdated but when the item cropped up on Facebook yesterday, I was reminded of a passage in Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, the 700+ page definitive biography of The Bee Gees by Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Môn Hughes, edited by yours truly and published by Omnibus Press in 2001.

         It is 1977 and The Bee Gees have decamped to the château in order to record the songs that will appear in the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, the album that spectacularly rejuvenated their career as champions of disco. Our intrepid authors take up the story:

         Echoing the beginnings of their first international hit ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’, the writing of ‘Night Fever’ was completed sitting on a staircase, utilising the natural echo. The only difference was that ‘Mining Disaster’ was written in Polydor’s London studios, and ‘Night Fever’ had the more atmospheric setting of a thirteenth century French chateau.  
         That staircase had other claims to fame, according to Robin Gibb. "You know, years ago there were so many pornographic films made at the Château,” he revealed. “The staircase where we wrote ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, all those songs, was the same staircase where there’ve been six classic lesbian porno scenes filmed. I was watching a movie one day called Kinky Women Of Bourbon Street, and all of a sudden, there’s this château, and I said, ‘It’s the Château!’ These girls, these dodgy birds, are having a scene on the staircase that leads from the front door up to the studio. There were dildos hanging off the stairs and everything. I thought, ‘Gawd, we wrote ‘Night Fever’ there!’"
         ‘Night Fever’ was the movie’s big dance number, and besides the drums, it is full of rhythms played on guitars and keyboards. ‘Night Fever’ uses two different verses and is so feverishly fast that it runs through verse-chorus pairs four times in only three minutes.

Robin got the location right but the film’s title wrong. It should be Kinky Ladies Of Bourbon Street and if you key this into Google you’ll discover that it’s a minor classic of the genre, given 6.9/10 on the Internet Movie Database website where it is described as a film that “may very well be the best Continental core ever” and proving “fertile breeding ground for several of the most intriguing French fornication film-making talents of the 70s”. My natural reticence on such matters precludes me from offering my own views on the film’s cinematic qualities.

The Château d’Hérouville

Back at the château, other acts that have checked in include Canned Heat, Rick Wakeman, Iggy Pop, Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens and T Rex. Sadly, it has fallen into neglect and, empty now for the last 28 years, requires a £300,000 refurbishment to make it habitable. Bowie was convinced it was haunted. Perhaps paranormally mindful of what might have been filmed occurring between its sheets, he declined to sleep in the master bedroom. 


DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day, Part 3

This third extract from David Bowie: The Music & The Changes by David Buckley, published by Omnibus Press in May of this year, focuses on the tracks featured on various ‘upgraded’ editions of The Next Day, Bowie’s ‘surprise’ album of 2013.

Bowie might have been ‘away’ for ten years but in his absence, some things never change… and that was the ability of his record company to squeeze as much money from his fans as possible for product they already owned for the tease of something they didn’t have. So we have The Next Day (Deluxe Version), The Next Day EP, The Next Day Extra, and The Next Day Extra (Collector’s Edition), a Japanese version with a bonus track different to the one you can get in the UK, not to mention the temptation of buying the thing on vinyl, or checking out the difference of the version specially mastered for i-Tunes. So, what’s worth having of these extras?

[Limited Edition, Box set, CD+DVD] (UK CD: RCA BB00FANXZL8. Released 4 November 2013. UK Chart:89 [Total weeks in chart: 1]

CD 1: The Next Day (original album).

CD 2: ‘Atomica’, ‘Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA)’, ‘Plan’, ‘The Informer’, ‘Like A Rocket Man’, ‘Born In A UFO’, ‘I'd Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)’, ‘I'll Take You There’, ‘God Bless The Girl’, ‘So She’.

DVD: ‘Where Are We Now?’ ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘The Next Day’, ‘Valentine's Day’.

The highlight of CD 2 is the startling new version of ‘Love Is Lost’, not so much a remix but a complete reinvention courtesy of James Murphy (ex-LCD Soundsystem). The track starts as homage to Steve Reich’s 1972 work, Clapping Music. Applause gives way to a hand-clapped beat before an electronic bed deconstructs the original art rock version of the song. In another moment of inspiration, the melody from ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is recreated in the middle section and is matched perfectly to the lyric and melody of the original. The production is superb and makes one hunger for some more Bowie electronica. The 10-minute track was edited for single release and accompanied by one of Bowie’s most effective videos, released, appropriately, on Halloween, and filmed by Bowie in Manhattan with the help of photographer Jimmy King and his PA and long-time great friend Coco Schwab. Bowie revealed that the cost of the film was the cost of saving it onto his hard drive via a memory card ($12.99). In the film, Bowie is haunted by the shades of his past (the wooden figures of The Thin White Duke and the Pierrot from ‘Ashes To Ashes’ which were made for the aborted ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’ video were here used to great effect appearing, as they do, out of darkness, while Bowie appears both as ‘himself’ and as a grotesque wood-cut-like figure in what looks like a black cape and capotain hat. Just how this latter effect was created without a budget remains a mystery.
         Another song given the remix treatment is ‘I’d Rather Be High’. Now with a rather grandiloquent faux harpsichord sound, it was the music used for Bowie’s opulent appearance in an ad for Louis Vuitton’s Autumn/Winter advertising campaign, shot in Venice in the summer of 2013. The fifth single off The Next Day (or, perhaps, more accurately, ‘The Next Days’ given the number of versions).
         The rest of the ‘new’ stuff collects tracks which many fans will have already bought: ‘Plan’ is actually a very good instrumental, just Bowie’s guitar and a thudding drum figure. It was used as the opening music in the video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and was previously available as a download or in the Deluxe version of the album along with ‘I’ll Take You There’, and ‘So She’ (which as one famous Bowie fan remarked sounded in places a bit like The Brotherhood Of Man’s ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’!). That Japanese-only release ‘God Bless The Girl’ also makes an appearance.
         There are four genuinely new songs. ‘Atomica’, all big riffs and slap-bass teases ‘Let’s get this show on the road’. ‘The Insider’ is a doo-wop slowie with Bowie taking on the big questions about life and God (again). ‘Like A Rocket Man’, is a pretty pop song, while ‘Born In A UFO’ has a Lodger-esque guitar part (there was some speculation that the song dated from those very sessions).
         The DVD contains four promotional videos. After stepping back from making videos in the main for Heathen and Reality, peeved that ageism prevented their widespread showing, Bowie, perhaps in the knowledge that he would be neither playing shows nor even talking to the media, was back in front of the camera. All four videos are classic pieces of Bowie.
         ‘Where Are We Now?’ gained media recognition for the footage of West Berlin, filmed, according to Tony Visconti, at the time (by whom, or when, we are left guessing). More interesting is Bowie as homunculus; a co-joined puppet, his Siamese wife, played by Oursler’s real-life wife Jacqueline Humphries. The big production, and least impressive of the four videos, was the one suspects where all the money went, Tilda Swinton appears as a clone-like Bowie-wife, in the ‘film’ for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. 
         Next up was one of Bowie’s funniest videos of his career. Bowie plays a Christ-like figure to Gary Oldman’s corrupt Catholic priest. The action takes place in a seedy pick-up bar with Bowie, at first, the musical entertainment. Marion Cotillard is Oldman’s lady of choice but their liaison is rudely interrupted by a spot of stigmata with Cotillard collapsing to the floor, blood gushing from her wrists and selfishly splattering a nearby woman’s cleavage. There’s also a woman with eyelashes a foot long, severed eyeballs served on a platter, and a random self-flagellator. The video ends with the cast assembled and thanked by Bowie, before he disappears into the ether with a ping. It was at this point that it became laugh-out-loud funny. However, some people were less impressed. William Donohue, the leader of the Catholic League For Religious And Civil Rights, called Bowie ‘a switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen from London’, and so managed in just one sentence to be ageist and homophobic and unintentionally hysterical (with the ‘London’ bit). Others grumped that such a video could never have been made mocking Islam in such a manner.
         The final video is the most simple, and the best. Shot in a disused grain warehouse in Redhook New York City, Bowie, dressed coolly in white shirt and jeans tells the tale of the killer and gives it another visual twist. It is clear that if ‘The Next day’ took on Catholicism, ‘Valentine’s Day’ is facing up to the pro-gun lobby. In a series of subtle, though enduring images, first spotted by Lucy Jones in the NME, Bowie makes a direct attack on Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association, raising his guitar in a direct copy of Heston triumphalistic poses with a gun. Other images include the silhouette of Bowie’s guitar to resemble a sawn-off shot gun and a bullet travelling at speed through the frets of his guitar. 
         Unfortunately, The Next Day Extra does not include the promos for ‘Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA)’ or ‘I’d Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)’ which used archive wartime footage to reinforce the song’s anti-war theme. Also, why a Blu-Ray option was not available is also puzzling.


DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day, Part 2

This second extract from David Bowie: The Music & The Changes by David Buckley, published by Omnibus Press in May of this year, focuses on the tracks on The Next Day, Bowie’s ‘surprise’ album of 2013. Tomorrow’s post will give details of the music to be found on the Collector’s Edition.

The best opener to a Bowie album since ‘It’s No Game (Part 1)’ begins with a single drum kick, like someone slamming a fist on a table, or slamming the car door in annoyance.  A playful, insouciant guitar line then gives way to the appearance of Bowie, a vocal as angry as any since Scary Monsters starter back in 1980.  Gerry Leonard’s snotty riff is perfect and Bowie is in bad humour – choleric, seemingly given up for dead. ‘Here I am, not quite dying!’ sings Bowie defiantly, while the exhortation ‘Listen!’ makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

A parping, jack-the-lad sax line, and the ghost-of-‘Fame’’s guitar riff announce this tale of feral, urban disorder.  Bowie announces in an ominous matter-of-fact line, ‘I will steal a cricket bat/smash some windows make some noise.’ Two songs in, and it’s clear also that Bowie has spent a lot of time crafting these songs as the lovely melody of the chorus shows.

Motown stomper-meets-Motorik, this, the second single from the album was nominated for ‘Best Rock Performance’ for the 2014 Grammy’s. This song fairly tumbles with startling imagery and haunting lines as the stars of today – ‘Brigitte, Jack and Kate and Brad’ are eerily cast as vampyric alien life forms, ‘soaking up our primitive world’ and who’ know just what we do.’  Incidentally, the mid-song guitar break sounds uncommonly like a snatch of a melody from Roxy Music’s ‘If There Is Something’, covered, of course, by Tin Machine. 

Never has being 22 sounded so hopeless and ridden with futility in this, a cryptic assemblage of observations about youth, outsiderdom, alienation and opportunity thrown away. A highlight of the album, the doomy, insistent beat, angry guitars from Gerry Leonard, Low-era-sounding drums and Bowie’s soulless organ part make this a wonderfully theatrical piece, as undead and breathless as anything on Diamond Dogs. By now one of the features of the new Bowie album is clear; Bowie is taking delight in playing around with vocal styles and techniques, his vocals here eerily double-tracked. The moment when his own backing vocal mockingly call out ‘say, hello, hello’, is a moment of brilliance while the ending, ‘Oh what have you done, Oh what have you done?’ hints at some terrible Macbethian deed done under duress.

The first single, and totally unrepresentative of the album but an instant Bowie classic, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is perhaps the only track on the album where Bowie’s vocal has not been heavily double-tracked, manipulated or augmented by various effects and as such does indeed sound like Bowie’s natural singing voice. One does not get the impression that Bowie’s is modulating his vocal to affect a tremulous, lonely quality as he did on ‘The Loneliest Guy’ for example. As such, its slight frailty is touching and human. “His voice sounds slightly less majestic, slightly older, perhaps inevitably,” wrote perhaps the biggest Bowie supporter of all-time in the media, Jonathan Ross. “But that gives it a quality that suits the song magnificently.” ‘The Bassist Herbie Flowers, who worked with Bowie on ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969, stated, “It made me cry”, while another long-term Bowie-watcher, Karl Bartos (ex-Kraftwerk) opined: “Oh it’s good! He’s locked into that time frame of his Berlin time. It sounds like Kurt Weil. You know, when he plays the piano, he is in love with strange chords. We need him badly. He’s the last one.”
A beautiful, poignant song, it evokes a contented time in the singer’s life, when he was living in then-divided Berlin in the late seventies. Bowie is ‘taking the train to Potzdammer Platz’, sitting in his favourite club, buying food in the supermarket, evoking memories of a time in which he lived a normal life after the craziness of the LA years. The lines: ‘Where are we now?/ The moment you know/ You know, you know’ is a genius piece of writing, a meditation, through repetition, on a split-second moment of self-realisation, while the closing stanza:  ‘As long as there’s sun/As long as there’s rain/ As long as there’s fire/ As long as there’s me/ As long as there’s you’, are the most poetic, most direct and most beautiful lyrics in his entire career as songwriter – ‘sun’, ‘rain’, ‘fire’, ‘me’, ‘you’, the human condition encapsulated in five words. 

Reportedly one of the first songs written for the album, ‘Valentine’s Day’ is in that tradition of pop song along with ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and ‘The One I Love’, whose title is the antithesis of its contents. A snappy beat and wonderful guitar part from Earl Slick, all twangy and earthy, announces this tale, not of love, but of violence and death, more Al Capone than Amore. Bowie is inside the mind of a killer (‘tiny face’, ‘scrawny hands’), plotting ‘who’s to go’, and how he longed for a time when ‘all the world were under his heals’. A chill snapshot into the psychology of a mass-murderer, the significance of the song has taken on a whole new range of associations since we first heard it in 2013 given the numerous brutal assassinations and religious hate-crime attacks of our times. There’s also, perhaps, a resonance with the killing of his great friend John Lennon. “I was second on his [Mark Chapman’s] list,” Bowie once confirmed.

Gail Ann Dorsey’s backing vocals soar disquieting over a frantic, jarring, drum-and-bass beat before Bowie arrives, his vocal heavily treated and phased: ‘If you can see me; I can see you.’  This is the darkest track on the album and also the most abstract: the Bowie character is now some sort of omnipotent ‘end-of-days’ tyrant’, in a fog of unnatural ambition and desire: ‘I could wear your new blue shoes/ I should wear your old red dress.’ Simultaneously evoking the spirit of ‘Width Of A Circle’ and Earthling’s ‘Law (Earthlings On Fire)’, it is impossible to put a time or a place on this song other than a feeling of Bosch-like ungodliness (‘children swarm like thousands of bugs’,) either deep in the future, or some alternative present in which the medieval mind triumphs: ‘I will slaughter your kind who descend from belief/ I am the spirit of greed, a lord of theft.’ This is astonishing stuff and, in the context of a very fine album, the most ground-breaking piece of music.

With a stately, military beat and beautiful guitar line, ‘I’d Rather Be High’ is an anti-war song of great power and finesse: ‘I'd rather be dead or out of my head/ than training these guns on those men in the sand’, and ‘Cities full of generals and generals full of shit.’ Like much of The Next Day, it is an infuriating puzzle of a song with half the pieces missing. Yet there’s fun to be had trying to get into Bowie’s mind to unpick the seemingly random connections. For a start, are we in the trenches or are we fighting in Helmand? Or both? Or is this a universal sentiment of war being wicked and wrong, the young dying for the rich and powerful? In a valiant (though ultimately futile) attempt by Guardian reviewer Alexis Petridis to unpack the mine of metaphor that includes Nabokov next to Clare and Lady Manners (Petridis points credibly to Bowie referencing the 1910s The Coeterie, the precursor to Waugh’s ‘Bright Young Things’), he concluded, “There's a certain cultural richness here that you just don't find in, say, the oeuvre of the Vaccines.” Quite true.

Although still a perfectly good song, ‘Boss Of Me’ seems out of place on The Next Day, or in the wrong place coming as it does after two such strange songs and before another one song of bluff and double-bluff.  This is a brief journey into the more quotidian world of power and possession, a ‘small town girl’’s sexual grip over the song’s narrator. Saxes honk, guitars growl and there’s a cool middle eight yet ‘Boss Of Me’, if no miss-fire, is a miss-fit.

Not many people, make that, no one else in rock music, would include the lines ‘Silent as Georges Rodenbach/ Mist and silhouette’, in what is, on the surface, pop (the reference, apparently may be to the Symbolist’s poem, ‘Du Silence’). The track begins with demo-like tameness; a drum beat, a winey guitar and possibly the flimsiest handclap accompaniment in the history of rock.  There is a poppy, yet airless quality to this, the most conventionally catchy track on the album, and the lyrics evoke images of a Moon-lit dance in the weightlessness of space where no one can see you: ‘Something like a drowning/Dancing out in space.’

(David Bowie/Jerry Lordan)
Obliquely, some of the work for The Next Day takes us way, way back to a time before even this writer was born. The Shadows had some of the best tunes in pre-Beatles popular music and Bowie takes the melody for ‘Apache’ for this, one of the strongest, yet least discussed tracks on the album. Lyrically, we’re back in the no-man’s-land wartime horror of ‘I’d Rather Be High’, and the two are companion pieces; ‘Where do the boys lie/ Mud mud mud/ How does the grass grow/Blood blood blood.’ The piece ends with a squall of Belwe-esque guitars; the bassline a slight crib of the ending of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, another frankly great moment on an album with their fair share.

Earl Slick owns this track; the riff is big enough to fill the most soulless air-hanger of an arena full of mischief; the only problem is that there was no tour to play it on. Visconti adds an excellent orchestration and the lyric, like ‘Boss Of Me’, is relatively digestible; the PR babble to the young hopeful on a quest to stardom. How different today’s stardom has become when a Karaoke contest such as The Voice can make you a million. Imagine a young Bob Dylan turning up if the show had aired in 1962? No chance, mate.

The final two songs end the album with unstoppable, if quite different forces. Here, Bowie mixes Young Americans-style with, again, pre-Beatles American rock’n’roll, in this song of rejection (does the song, perhaps reference Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ or Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’?). Like several songs on The Next Day, Bowie appears visited by unwelcome shades of the past, singing, ‘I can see you as a ghost, hanging from a beam’, while the line ‘And people don’t like you’ appears so personal, so direct, the listener, hit with just five words, is twisted into a spiral of self-examination about their own lives. Both ‘Rock And Roll Suicide’ and ‘Five Years’ are quoted musically in the ending section, reinforcing the ‘Spectre-Sound.’

The parting shot is a reverie, a soliloquy as if Bowie has taken the stage to release his innermost thoughts. The sad music swirls with violin and the sort of brashly-thumbed acoustic guitar that made Hunky Dory, while Bowie’s vocal is the most impressive of the entire album. Bowie is the seer, but also the liar, the man who tells lies but also tells or maybe sells us the truths to come. In a breath-taking piece of self-examination, Bowie concludes: ‘And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am.’ The Next Day, as a piece, reaffirms this central connection between its maker and its audience; with brilliance.



This extract from David Bowie: The Music & The Changes by David Buckley, published by Omnibus Press in May of this year, concentrates on The Next Day, Bowie’s ‘surprise’ album that arrived out of the blue in 2013. The book is an updated edition of David Buckley’s earlier guide to Bowie’s music, originally published in 1996 which a year later Bowie himself used in the promotion of his Earthling album, packaging it for private use.
         The extract is in three parts, opening with some background information on the record, to be followed tomorrow by an analysis of the tracks, and finally details of the music to be found on the Collector’s Edition.

When David Bowie was photographed walking near his home in New York in October 2012, it was assumed that the anonymous figure in downbeat grey with a satchel and cap was wiling away his days in happy retirement. Few were aware that his man-bag carried sheets of lyrics and ideas for songs, and that he was actually on his way to work.
In the small hours of January 8, his 66th birthday, the fruits of Bowie’s clandestine recording sessions with long-term producer Tony Visconti were, finally, heard. The beauteously downbeat ‘Where Are We Now?’ – the lead song released from a brand new album – became his biggest hit single since ‘Absolute Beginners’, way back in 1986.
         The arrival of the new track was kept so secret that even his band members had no inkling. “I was so shocked when I woke up on the morning of his birthday and suddenly I had all these emails and Facebook had exploded,” says Gail Ann Dorsey who contributed bass and backing vocals on the album. Never has a record by a major artist been made under so much secrecy. When Bowie contacted his band members with the idea of making a new record, the email’s subject line read: “schtum!” “We weren’t even talking among ourselves about this because if we get a leak, it will take all the gloss off it,” is how Earl Slick puts it. 
         Notwithstanding its slow-paced melancholia, ‘Where Are We Now?’ was greeted with almost universal critical praise, leading to an unusually high degree of media coverage that spoke volumes about how Bowie had been missed and, perhaps, relief that he was evidently fit and well despite rumours to the contrary. The Guardian had Bowie on its front page with a substantial story inside, as did other UK broadsheets. When even political journalist Andrew Neil on the late-night politics show This Week was moved to mention David Bowie’s ‘terrible dirge’ you knew that Bowie’s return wasn’t simply the property of popular culture. It seems absolutely everybody from across the broad spectrum of human activity had to have a view. For some Bowie watchers, it was all too much; much, much too much.
         Those with longer memories realised that its appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, on i-Tunes and on YouTube was in many ways very much in keeping with Bowie’s shock tactics of old. In February 1974, he released a single, ‘Rebel, Rebel’, which had only been recorded six weeks earlier and which almost no one knew about until advance copies were given to radio, two weeks before its release. The return of Bowie in 2013 was completely in keeping with how Bowie had worked in the past and not so strange after all. It was also a reminder of how exciting pop music used to be, when it could hit you from nowhere, without the endless pre-ordering, pre-pre-promotion and tiresome media campaigning leading up the big day. That all this was missing was a big story in itself, an assault on an industry that nowadays relied more on packaging and publicity than content and merit.
         Another parallel went largely unnoticed. In 1975 Bowie’s great friend John Lennon was finally given his ‘green card’ which granted him permanent residency in the US and, more importantly, permitted him to travel outside of the country and return without hindrance. Lennon then did much the same thing as Bowie had done, absenting himself from the music business so as to help rear his son (in Bowie’s case it was a daughter), await the termination of various contractual obligations and live a life away from the glare of celebrity. When Lennon re-emerged five years later with a new album and single he gave interviews galore, the spotlight returning with such ferocity that it attracted the attention of a crazed assassin. This too may have weighed on Bowie’s mind.
         People were also intrigued by something unrelated to the music. The artwork, co-ordinated by Jonathan Barnbrook in collaboration with Bowie, reminded us all of the days when sleeve design was as important as the music. On The Next Day, perhaps the classic Bowie album cover, “Heroes”, is ‘defamed’ by a block of white space and its title struck through. “There were good reasons for using the ‘Heroes’ cover,” says Barnbrook, “and there are good reasons for it being ‘undesigned’ so it’s very carefully thought about. It’s making people think about David, the music, his age, his legacy. I do think it’s quite an intellectual cover and does what Bowie does best which is bring a concept into the mainstream which maybe people are not comfortable with. Nobody has done this before – play with their old imagery in service of the new. It doesn’t play the pop star game of image or rather the conventional ‘new image for new consumption’ that people expect for an album cover. It had the right kind of impact. The pose also, it’s forward looking, the white square is an obliterating contrast to its organic form.”
The new recordings began life as a series of demos back in October 2010. Visconti, along with guitarist Gerry Leonard and drummer Sterling Campbell (both retained from the Reality tour), began work in a tiny demo studio. Around 20 songs were routined and only on the final day was Bowie persuaded to record them. “He said, ‘We have to keep this secret’,” says Visconti. “We signed NDA’s [non-disclosure agreements]. Then we would take a lunch break and eat at the local Italian restaurant where everyone recognised him! Someone who worked at the Italian cafe snapped a photo of us and he got up and said, ‘Don’t do that! We won’t come back here if you do that again.’ David took the demos home with him for about three months. He then called me again and said, ‘I think we can start an album.’”
The next sessions took place in May 2011 at recording studio called The Magic Shop. “It’s very close to where David lives,” says guitarist Gerry Leonard. “I think he wanted to walk to work.  He’s got his book bag with all the lyrics in there, he gets his Macchiato (coffee) and he’s off. But we had to keep things so secret. On my calendar on my computer I used a code name for when I was working on the album.”
         “He’s old school when it comes to writing; he has his book bag, his legal pad,” adds Leonard, who shares guitar duties with David Torn and Bowie veteran Slick. “He’s got a great way with melodies. He’s really interested in the progression of the chords and the sections. You have to work fast with David. You’d spend more time discussing a video or a book than you will when you’re playing. When you’re playing he wants your first thought, best thought. I remember playing the song and David’s got his lyrics out and he’s singing and writing the song right there on his piano, actually writing the lyrics as we’re going down on tape, or ProTools as it is now. I thought, ‘That’s great, that’s not something you see every day’. He knows what he’s going for.”
         The album debuted at number one in the UK charts, the ninth of his career. In America it reached number two (beating his previous-highest-charting album, not as might be assumed, Let’s Dance, but Station To Station), kept off the top by Bon Jovi, and in Germany it became his first-ever number one album. But still, no interviews and certainly no promotional gigs. Some speculated that this was some grand Warholian device, in an age in which there is so much comment across so many platforms, saying nothing was the loudest sound of all. The ‘mythogenic’ Bowie was back: we would know him only through his music and his art, not by any form of direct communication in interviews. Yet another reason for the silence may have a far more human, and humble origin; perhaps Bowie knew that the first question on every journalist’s lips would be about his health, his absence, his period ‘retired’. It would appear by 2013 that Bowie was tired of talking about himself, particularly having to give answers to personal questions. According to Earl Slick, there was no need to worry in any case: “Because he got quiet, everyone assumed he was definitely ill. And he’s not. He’s fine. He looks pretty damn good for a guy who’s sick, to me. He’s on his game, he’s singing his ass off, he’s writing great. He’s David! Maybe he just needed a break… maybe he just didn’t feel like it.”
         On The Next Day, there is now doubt that Bowie does “feel like it”. The music is honed, crafted and brilliantly written with no weak moments. In style, it is art rock in the mould of “Heroes”, Lodger and Scary Monsters, yet in tone, many of the songs pick out moods and situations from other eras too. What is certain is that the ten-year wait was worth every minute.