Extra!

[INSERT DAVID BOWIE SONG-OR-LYRIC-BASED HEADLINE HERE]*
It’s a wet Wednesday night in Soho in 1971-ish London. A group of school friends who meet to rehearse and play Creedence Clearwater, Marc Bolan and Atomic Rooster songs have decided that they should find a pub to play in (if any will take them). They have tried busking on Waterloo Bridge until their portable amp has died, and they haven’t even made enough in four freezing hours to replace the battery.

They walk into The Sun and 13 Cantons, on the corner of Great Pulteney and Beak streets. In the corner are two men with guitars working their way through recent pop smashes – Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Dave Edmunds’ version of Smiley Lewis’s “I Hear You Knocking”, Terry Jacks “Seasons in the Sun”, Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”

The boys buy halves of lager and lime, that early version of an alcopop, and study everything. Guitars, amps, the acoustics of the room – mostly things that they have little or no knowledge about – are assessed, discussed. When the men finish they move closer to ask questions: How much do you get paid? Is the audience always this small? Do you need it to be bigger to actually get paid? Do they pay you in money or drink? What songs go down well?

The men are Scottish and seem old to the boys, but they’re probably in their forties. Their answers start out gruffly, but they show patience at this naked attempt to suck up their hard-won knowledge, to go away and practice, all in the hope of coming back and stealing their Wednesday night gig off them.

And as the boys have exhausted their lines of questioning and start to leave, the older of the two men calls to them at the door in a deep Scottish accent, “Oh, and lads, whatever you do… whatever you do – Don’t. Play. No. Bowie…”

*Actually, there are just no more left now…

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: DAVID BOWIE, US ESQUIRE, MARCH 2004 ISSUE
A couple of excerpts:
You’re never who you think you are. Sometime in the Eighties, an old lady approached me and asked, “Mr Elton, may I have your autograph?” I told her that I wasn’t Elton but David Bowie. She replied, “Oh, thank goodness. I couldn’t stand his red hair and all that makeup.”

They’re never who you think they are. When I first came to the US, around 1971, my New York guide told me one day that The Velvet Underground were to play later that night at the Electric Circus, which was about to close. I got to the gig early and positioned myself at the front by the lip of the stage. The performance was great, and I made sure that Lou Reed could see that I was a true fan by singing along to all the songs. After the show, I moved to the side of the stage to where the door of the dressing room was located. I knocked, and one of the band members answered. After a few gushing compliments, I asked if I could have a few words with Lou. He looked bemused but told me to wait a second. After only moments, Lou came out, and we sat and talked about songwriting for 10 minutes or so. I left the club floating on cloud nine – a teenage ambition achieved. The next day, I told my guide what a blast it had been to see The Velvets live and meet Lou Reed. He looked at me quizzically for a second, then burst into laughter. “Lou left the band some time ago,” he said. “You were talking to his replacement, Doug Yule.”

Five Things: Wednesday 15th May

Bowie Walk

Bowie
Having helped the V&A with a photo of Dobell’s, they’re kind enough to send me this Jonathan Barnbrook-designed pamphlet, David Bowie Is Walking In Soho. The tour starts here.

Riders Of The Stars
FRANK SINATRA: One bottle each: Absolute, Jack Daniel’s, Chivas Regal, Courvoisier, Beefeater Gin, white wine, red wine. Twenty-four chilled jumbo shrimp, Life Savers, cough drops. No mixers?
BRITNEY SPEARS: Fish and chips, McDonald’s cheeseburgers without the buns, 100 prunes and figs, a framed photo of Princess Diana. Britney, as always, touched by genius!
AL GREEN: Twenty-four long-stem (dethorned) red roses. Having seen Rev. Green present these in the flesh to his adoring audience, I’m touched by the thoughtfulness.

Cat Power, Bathrooms & Bullies
On Woman’s Hour I catch Chan Marshall talking about the best places she found to sing as a teenager and she talks of school bathrooms when no-one was in them, singing to the walls and the echo – and when she’s on Later that night you can see how her voice now has those reflections and deflections built into it. With a haircut borrowed from Nick Lowe and her hands jerking in and out of her jean shirt, her performance of “Bully” was twitchy and vulnerable, but beautifully her – she doesn’t sound much like anybody else (the same is true of Laura Mvula, also on the show, who – making a nod to Nina Simone – is refreshingly different from her peer group).

Found on the website bestofneworleans.com while googling “who wrote Walkin’ to New Orleans.”
Well Composed: Bobby Charles tells how he wrote three of his classic songs.

Walking to New Orleans
“I had sent Fats a copy of ‘Before I Grow Too Old,’ and he had recorded it, but I didn’t know. The next night he was playing in Lafayette, and I went to see him play. He told me, ‘I cut your song last night – I wish I’d brought a copy of it for you to listen to.’ And he said, ‘You gotta come to New Orleans to see me and hang out with me.’ I said, ‘I’d love to, but right now I’m really on my butt and got no money and no way to get over there.’ He said, ‘Take a bus or something.’ I told him, ‘The only way I’d be able to get there would be to walk to New Orleans.’ As soon as I said that, I said, ‘I gotta go.’ I jumped in the car and wrote the song on the way back home from Lafayette to Abbeville.”
See You Later Alligator
“I used to say to the band or friends, ‘See you later, alligator.’ One night after a dance, I was walking out the door, and my piano player was sitting down in a back booth, and there were two drunk couples in the booths in front of him. I said, ‘See you later alligator’ to him as I was walking out, and it was one of those doors that closed real slow. I heard a girl say something about ‘crocodile.’ I walked back in and said, ‘I don’t mean to bother you, but I just told him, “See you later, alligator.” What did you say?’ She said, ‘After a while, crocodile.’ I said, ‘Thank you,’ and went home and wrote the song in 20 minutes. My daddy was screaming at me to turn out the lights, because he had to get up and go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning. I said, ‘Give me five more minutes.’ I had to sing it to myself over and over so I wouldn’t forget it.”
The Jealous Kind
“I was married at the time, and I was in the bathtub. My wife was fussing and hollering at me while I was taking a bath. I said, ‘Why don’t you bring me paper and a pencil and just leave me alone for 30 minutes.’ She said, ‘You and your damn paper and pencil.’ I wrote it right there in the bathtub. Same thing with ‘Before I Grow Too Old.’ She said, ‘You gonna be like this for the rest of your life?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna try and hurry up and do as much as I can before I get too old.’ Bam! Bring me a paper and pencil!”

I’m appalled that I’d never known that Bobby Charles wrote one of my all-time favourite songs.

And more from The Big Easy…
…in the shape of another Hugh Laurie documentary. He’s dry and funny, and has great taste in producers and musicians, and plays pretty good piano. I just never want to hear him sing again, if that can be arranged. Best bit: the amazing Jon Cleary, an Englishman in New Orleans, doing a staggering take on James Booker and Professor Longhair. He rips through a sonic wonderworld of rhumba rhythms and tumbling blues, then turns to Laurie and says, “New Orleans comes into fashion, goes out of fashion. They don’t stop playing here just because no-one’s looking.”

Professor Longhair’s House, 2010

Professor Longhair’s House, 2010

Longhair had my favourite band name ever: Professor Longhair and The Shuffling Hungarians [called that, as Wikepedia says, for reasons lost to time. As far as I can ascertain, there were no Hungarians in the band]. I do remember going with Mark to see James Booker at the 100 Club. As we came down the stairs to the basement room we heard the sound of a New Orleans band pounding out “Junco Partner”, the bass shaking the walls, what sounded like a horn section high-stepping the accents. We stepped through the door to find Booker alone at the piano, committing his mischief, conjuring up an orchestra’s worth of accompaniment with just two hands…

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