Saturday, 25 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 11 (Well At Least Its British)



And so to the the holy grail of this series about David Bowie's influences: Well At Least Its British, Alan Klein's 1964 solo album. (Find details of the CD release with extra tracks on the RPM website here.)

That may overstate the case - I don't know whether Bowie has ever actually credited him as an inspiration - but as mentioned earlier Klein had the same manager (Ken Pitt), and Damon Albarn has said of him: "I can’t believe that David Bowie didn’t know him inside out, and the same with Ray Davies." 

So he's worth consideration, at least - and as there isn't much about the album already out there, this post could even be something of a public service.

But the big question is: now that I've had a chance to hear it, does Well At Least Its British provide the key to unlocking those early Bowie songs?  Or failing that, is it at all Kink-y?

Gnome Thoughts ... 10 (Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp)


We are perhaps wandering away from Bowie and the Kinks in this entry, but thinking about Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town in the previous post has reminded me of another succinct story in song which also made a lasting impression on me as a child: The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp, in the soulful version by O.C. Smith (above), a major UK hit in 1968.

Even if, as with Suggs and his response to the Kinks' Lola, I didn't really get it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 9 (Ray is in the details)


This is more of a postscript to the previous two entries than a new undertaking, but worth placing separately as the ideas haven't come from me.

 Still fizzing with thoughts after the last entry, I was talking to a colleague about Waterloo Sunset and its possible influence on Bowie's songwriting. After a bit of mulling he cited Heroes - which instantly seemed obvious. It too couldn't really be described as a narrative, but it does have that image of a couple kissing which seems central to the song.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 8 (Waterloo Sunset)


I must have been eight years old when I first heard Waterloo Sunset, in the year of its release, and - like just about everyone else in the world - realised it was something special.

Perhaps for a child the fact that it wasn't, strictly speaking, a love song had something to do with it, even though lovers figure in it. Certainly Davies' late friend and mentor Ned Sherrin said that was what made it unique in the pop charts of the time.

For someone growing up in Scotland, however, the song's setting was enough to suggest something magical, even if the Engerland in my head may not have swung like a pendulum do. My childish notions of the country and its capital came largely from Ealing films on the telly, all decency and community spirit, tempered by odd glimpses in police series of a modern day city seemingly awash with criminals, spies and pyromaniacs like George Cole  (below) in Gideon's Way.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 7 (Bowie and the Kinks)


I've belatedly realised this series about early influences on Bowie can't end without mention of Ray Davies and the Kinks.

Bowie has paid explicit homage to Davies on at least a couple of occasions, with covers of Where Have All the GoodTimes Gone? and Waterloo Sunset; he has even duetted with Davies on the latter at a Free Tibet concert.


 And, following on from the last entry, if anyone did fuse aspects of music hall and rock successfully you'd have to say it was Ray Davies: Dedicated Follower of Fashion, which he still employs as a breezy singalong in concert, could just as easily have been strummed on a uke.


Incidentally, could that song have been, in part, a riposte to the huge commercial success of Herman's Hermits' recording of the old music hall number I'm Henry the Eighth? Targetted at America the previous year (it wasn't released  in the UK), it peddled a comforting and familiar idea of Englishness (Peter "Herman" Noone, above, even exaggerated his Manchester accent), rewarding the group with what wikipedia says was  "the fastest-selling song in history to that point."

Davies, on the other hand, utilised the form for an up-to-the-minute social commentary. Not, perhaps, his most accomplished song - too much upfront mockery - but there's no doubt it has endured because it freezes a moment in time. (And you can sing along to the chorus.)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 6 (music hall to rock)



This series of vaguely Bowied-related musings may be coming to a natural end. Or not. But this entry has the feeling of tying  up loose ends.

One question I've been wondering was whatever has Alan Klein being doing since 1970, as wikipedia isn't any use in this respect. And why didn't he write more musicals - assuming he didn't? And why did that whole vigorous genre of Theatre Workshop musicals die out?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 5 (What a Crazy, Violent Playground)


Have just found details of the 1975 Stratford East revival of What a Crazy World in which Ray Winstone (not playing the lead) made his debut. Seems like his real-life father had a touch of the Harry H Corbett character about him, as he was so unimpressed with his son's performance he advised him to "Give it up, while you're ahead".


The songlist below is taken from a theatre programme reproduced on the Ray Winstone  tribute website, copperlilly, here. Interesting to see that numbers which  were written for the film like Independence, have been retained - in fact, Winstone's character, Chas, is one of the singers.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 4 (What A Crazy World)



Have just refreshed my memory of What a Crazy World. Very enjoyable and - unlike Three Hats for Lisa, much as I love it - rooted in a very specific time. There's a lot of resentment from the parents, the father in particular (Harry H Corbett, who made his name at at Stratford East), about how much an office boy is earning these days.

Diversion: Which reminds me that a former boss who'd grown up in the sixties told me that you could have an argument at your work and storm out, certain in the knowledge that you would be fixed up with another job that same afternoon. So you could have as many arguments as you felt inclined, seemed to be the message. Unfortunately, by the time of our brief work acquaintance in the mid eighties I got the impression he was surprised and angered about where he'd ended up in a game of career musical chairs which had come to an abrupt halt. Luckily, I was only passing through his world. But that's another story - a play, even. Now all I have to do is rewrite to make it GOOD.

Sorry, that's my problem, I'll deal with it. (Or not.) To return to the film: although the title song mocks the parents for their negligence ("No one seems to notice me"), preferring bingo and betting to quality family time, there's a counterbalancing song shared by the mother and father, surrounded by their mates at the bingo hall and dog track (below) respectively.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 3 (Three Hats For Lisa)


Joe Brown went on to star in another film of which I am very fond, called Three Hats for Lisa. It's also set in London, but with no stage original that I know of, and songs not by Alan Klein but Newley collaborator Leslie Bricusse.


I have, on occasion, maintained that this is The Best Film Ever Made. But here, in the deep privacy of the unread blog, even I would have to admit that whatever the verve of the playing, we are veering more to Cliff Richard territory in the storyline (also by Bricusse, although the screenplay is by Talbot Rothwell). No pretentions to social criticism here, and the film is candyfloss-light and yet...

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 2 (Anthony Newley, Alan Klein)


More thoughts and connections suggested themselves after I finished the previous entry.  My own fault, I suppose, for picking up Spencer Leigh's book (below) again. But it is a very enjoyable read.  Drawing on interviews with over a hundred musicians for a radio series, the story of the early days of British pop is told almost entirely through the words of the musicicans involved, and there is a mass of detail which I haven't read elsewhere. Apart from a few chapters in individual artists it's arranged by theme - US stars on tour, novelty records, early British idols (including Anthony Newley), skiffle, TV programmes, the trad boom, etc.


In between each chapter there are a few pages of archive music paper cuttings, allowing you to see less than overwhelmed initial responses to records - did you know, for example, that Love Me Do "tends to drag about mid-way, especially when the harmonica takes over for a spell"? Glad I wasn't within Lennon's orbit when that little pronouncement appeared.

Another cutting announces that Stanley "Scruffy" Dale (a devious character known to me from Graham McCann's biography of Frankie Howerd) is the new manager of Johnny Kidd and that "this should get the 'Kidd' really going places."; in the main text one of Leigh's interviewees angrily laments the way the trusting Kidd was duped by his management.

Quotations are numbered, so it's very easy to use the index of contributors to focus in on individuals such as Newley (the book was first published in 1996) and Ken Pitt. You can buy it directly from the author's website, here, rather more cheaply than through a well-known shopping website. It's not a lavish volume but it is packed with fascinating comments from a whole herd of horses' mouths.


I've already mentioned my surprise on learning from the book that Ken Pitt, Bowie's early manager, was involved in Anthony Newley's management. Going systematically through all the the contributions from Pitt and Newley has yielded further information. The difference between Anthony Newley (above, on location for Jazz Boat, 1960) and performers who "came out of that rock'n'roll chain" is spelt out by the man himself.