Enchanted by her first album, The Lion And The Cobra, on 6 November, 1990, I bought last minutes tickets to see Sinéad O’Connor at the Royal Albert Hall, standing up in the gods as all the seats had been sold. From up there she looked tiny, her shorn head making her seem almost childlike, very vulnerable and dwarfed by the big stage and vast spherical surroundings. I thought she was fantastic, a huge presence, especially when she switched on a boom box for accompaniment and danced an Irish jig to one of her songs. Boy, she has a lot of bottle, that girl, I thought as her set progressed. She’ll be a huge star one day.

In those days I was the managing editor at Omnibus Press, which specialised in books about rock and pop performers, and seeing Sinéad at the RAH prompted me to commission a book about her. I sought out a Dublin-based journalist called Dermott Hayes, who was keen to write it, and even commissioned my future wife, Lisa, who’d been at the RAH with me, to design the cover. Published in 1991, the book, entitled So Different, was very successful, our second best seller that year, and it attracted several foreign language editions. Sinéad, however, was displeased. Not long after it was published Dermott encountered her at some event in Dublin and was the target of her sharp tongue, so he relayed to me. 

        In common with other non-fiction publishers, Omnibus Press regularly revised and updated titles on our back catalogue, and whenever we suggested this to authors they were always delighted to do so. Not only would it improve their books but they’d benefit financially, from a top-up advance for producing any necessary editorial work and the probability that their royalties would increase too.

        There was only ever one exception to this: So Different by Dermott Hayes. When I contacted Dermott and proposed he revise and update his book, he declined, which surprised me. Evidently, he had come to a concord with Sinéad not to do so, in the hope that the book would go out of print (which it eventually did, though it’s available on kindle). I later learned, an even bigger surprise, that he and Sinéad were in a relationship. 

        “The irony of that achievement [the book’s success] can only be surpassed by myself and Sinéad having a very public love affair nine years later,” wrote Dermott on a website. “There’s a song on Sinead’s fifth studio album, Faith And Courage, released in 2000, called ‘Dancing Lessons’… She says it’s about our relationship.”

I thought at the time that if I’d never commissioned this book Sinéad and Dermott might never have met. Maybe that’s the case, or maybe they’d have met anyway, but I hope they were happy together, at least for a while. 

Happiness was a commodity that seemed forever to elude Sinéad O‘Connor. She was a warrior and warriors are rarely content. They thrive on confrontations, of which there were many in her troubled life. Like everyone else, I followed her travails by reading about this or that strange or sad set of circumstances in which she was involved. She wasn’t one to grow old gracefully. Grace wasn’t her style. I still play her records and always will. 


BOWIE ODYSSEY ’73 by Simon Goddard

It is unusual to begin a series at the fourth episode but that is what I’ve inadvertently done with Bowie Odyssey ’73, the fourth in Simon Goddard’s ambitious sequence of books that, year by year, will chart David Bowie’s progress throughout the decade he made his own, one book per year, hopefully, up to 1980. 

        The project’s ambition is matched only by the sumptuousness of Goddard’s writing. These are not biographies in the accepted sense, researched through interviews with those on the side-lines collated alongside details of events like record releases and concerts, all glossed up with the author’s own take or critique on things. No, they are attempts to get inside Bowie’s head and observe things from his and everyone else’s perspective, in this case a heap of folk with whom Bowie associated; wife Angie, Spiders and other musicians, maverick manager Tony Defries and his flamboyant Mainman assistants, clothes designers, hairdressers, friends old and new, fans, and, last but by no means least, lovers, of whom there are several: take a bow Amanda, Marianne and Lulu to name but three. 

        This kind of writing is not new but is nevertheless quite rare, and it takes a good deal of skill to pull it off. The late great Nick Tosches succeeded to a certain extent with his wonderful Jerry Lee Lewis biography Hellfire, and to an even greater degree in Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business of Dreams, his astonishing excavation into the life of Dean Martin. The master, of course, was Hunter S. Thompson, who placed himself at the centre of the stories he wrote in a style that became known as gonzo journalism.

        Simon Goddard does not place himself within Bowie’s orbit, which, because he wasn’t there, would be foolish, but instead walks a mile in the shoes of those who were. Eschewing any hint of musical criticism or analysis, Goddard has produced 150-odd pages of fly-on-the-wall reportage, scrupulously researched through interviews with the flies but in place of the usual quotes from interested observers we have the actual conversations, real or imagined, all combined with vivid descriptions of time and place. He can’t know for sure what Bowie was thinking, or feeling, or saying, but his assumptions ring true time and time again. At times as I read Bowie Odyssey ’73 I felt like his shadow.

        David Bowie’s life in 1973 was nothing less than hectic, chaotic even. Ziggy was on his final tour, in the US, Japan and UK; his Earls Court show was a humiliating disaster; he travelled everywhere by land, across the USSR by rail; Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups were recorded and released, four singles appeared too, one of them, to his deep annoyance, ‘The Laughing Gnome’; the Bowies were itinerant, rarely home but moving house more than once; Angie was hankering after equal billing; money was recklessly squandered, not least by manager Defries; cocaine arrived; fans with thunderbolts across their faces were everywhere he went. Snapping at his heels were Roxy Music and Slade, with Marc fading and pretenders galore waiting in the wings to render glam rock artless. In the real world there were strikes, the Lambton sex scandal and the marriage of HRH Anne, among much more. It’s a rich stew and Simon Goddard does the ingredients justice, blending all into a genuine page-turner. 

        There are hints, too, of things to come: financial woes, the arrival in Bowie’s midst of a nondescript girl who will, in time, prove indispensable, and a bold idea involving a theatrical presentation based on Orwell’s 1984

        Thatll have to wait until Bowie Odyssey ’74. Bring it on, and in the meantime I’m turning back to ’70, ’71 and ’72

        (Bowie Odyssey ’74 is published by Omnibus Press, and has an eight-page photo section; RRP £16.99, £12.76 on Amazon)