Tag Archives: David Bowie

Rocks In The Attic #763: David Bowie – ‘Pinups’ (1973)

RITA#763I just saw Martin Scorsese’s new documentary, covering Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour of 1975 – 1976. I’m not much of a Dylan-head, so it was all new information to me. I’d seen pictures of him playing with a face painted white, but I had no idea what that was all about. And I was surprised to learn that Gene Simmons and Kiss were partly to blame!

Another surprise was spotting a post-Bowie Mick Ronson playing in Dylan’s tour band. I’m not much of a Bowie-head either, so I wasn’t sure what Ronson ended up doing after he left Bowie’s employ. Turns out he was a very busy boy, recording two solo albums and essentially becoming a gun for hire.

Ronson appears in the Scorsese film a couple of times, playing some blistering lead guitar on a couple of songs on stage, and can be glimpsed walking around backstage and in some of more interesting off-stage sections of the film. It really made me realise how much I miss seeing him strutting around with his Les Paul. It was sad to hear Joan Baez recount asking Ronson what Dylan thought of him, and Ronson replied ‘I don’t know; Bob’s never spoken to me’.

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The highlight of the Dylan film for me was seeing Joni Mitchell playing Bob and his entourage the song Coyote, which she had written for the tour. Bob half-heartedly joins in, and you can see his face almost drain at Joni’s use of non-standard tuning and funny chords. It’s the same look of despondency he throws at a pair of CBS records executives when he goes in to ask about them releasing Hurricane as a single (to draw attention to the false imprisonment of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter). One executive immediately starts talking about markets and the possibility of airplay on black radio stations. Bob just doesn’t care and his face shows it.

My one very small criticism of Scorsese’s film relates to the only time I’ve seen Dylan play. At the end of the film, in the run-up to the credits, each of Dylan’s tour dates since the Rolling Thunder tour are listed, separated by year. I paused the 2018 list to have a look at the date I saw him play, in Auckland. Not only is the concert listed against an incorrect date, but it’s also attributed to Brisbane, New Zealand – an imaginary combination of locations in the Pacific. Jeez, Scorsese is such a hack director!

Pinups is probably the Bowie album I know the least from his early glam period. I don’t know why; I think I just avoided it in my youth simply for being a covers record. Whenever I do listen to it though, I really enjoy it. It’s nice to see the kind of mainly London-esque material that was making Bowie tick at the time – The Who, The Pretty Things, Pink Floyd, Them, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Mojos, The Easybeats and The Merseys. It’s actually a bloody strong LP, finding Bowie having a lot of fun, backed by Ronson and bass player Trevor Bolder from the Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane albums, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Nice to see Twiggy on the cover too.

Hit: Sorrow

Hidden Gem: Here Comes The Night

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Rocks In The Attic #733: Queen – ‘A Night At The Opera’ (1975)

rita#733I finally caught Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema recently. I wasn’t too bothered at first, thinking I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. In the end, it was okay, but – just like the band’s discography – it had some killer moments, surrounded by too much filler.

The problem with music biopics is that they tend to go down two routes. They’re either interesting artistic exercises (Control (2007), Ray (2004), I’m Not There (2007)), or they exist as a paint-by numbers exercise to sell cinema tickets on the strength of their subject’s name.

Bohemian Rhapsody falls firmly in the latter. It’s always risky watching a biopic when you know so much about the band. How will the film keep me interested and entertain me, when I already know what’s going to happen?

This film isn’t for me though. It’s for the other 99% of the cinema-viewing public; those whose experience of the band is a well-played copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits in their car’s CD-changer, and the knowledge only that Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.

It’s a wonder the film ever got made at all. Original lead Sacha Baron Cohen departed the project back in 2013, after falling out with the film’s executive-producers, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor. He claims they wanted Mercury’s death to be plotted in the middle of the film, with the second half dealing with Queen’s dull as dishwater post-Mercury career. He wouldn’t clarify which of the two said this to him, before adding that Brian May was “an amazing musician” but “not a great movie producer.”

Baron Cohen’s involvement might have led to a better film. He suggested directors David Fincher and Tom Hooper, before the film landed with Bryan Singer, whose departure due to ‘personal issues’ led to the film being completed by Dexter Fletcher. Having seen what Fincher can do with a biopic (The Social Network (2010)), it’s a real shame he wasn’t hired. Hooper would also have been an interesting choice, being no stranger to biopics either, with both The Damned United (2009) and The King’s Speech (2010) under his name.

Baron Cohen’s mooted replacement was Ben ‘low whisper’ Whishaw, an actor with a similarly limited range as the film’s eventual star, Rami ‘low energy’ Malek. I first saw Malek in HBO’s mini-series The Pacific, in a role that suited his mumbling, bug-eyed weirdness. He then landed a similarly comatose lead in Mr. Robot, a TV show that rewarded viewers of its first year with an awful nudge-nudge-wink-wink season finale.

rita#733aWe’ll never know what Baron Cohen’s interpretation of Mercury would be like, but we can imagine. And I imagine it to be far, far more interesting than what we got from Malek. Aside from a bit of pouting, and a plummy accent, I didn’t ever think I saw Freddie Mercury in him. His performance (and the film’s marketing) reduces Freddie to a caricature of a moustache and a pair of aviator sunglasses. He’s just won the Golden Globe though (which might suggest an Oscar win in February), so what do I know.

The casting of the rest of the band deserves credit though. At one point, at a band meeting to discuss Mercury’s plans to go solo, the actor playing John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello, also from The Pacific) looked so much like the bassist, that I thought it was him. I glanced at the actor playing Brian May (Gwilym Lee), who embodied the guitarist from his first scene, and the lines between fiction and reality started to blur. Then the camera cut to Rami Malek and it was like somebody waking me up from sleepwalking.

Only Ben Hardy’s casting as drummer Roger Taylor felt a little off the mark. The actor did a fine job delivering his lines, but he just didn’t come across as enough of a cunt.

Much has been said about the screenwriters’ toying with timelines for dramatic effect, leading to a glut of historical inaccuracies. Most importantly, Freddie Mercury didn’t learn he had AIDS until 1987, and didn’t inform the band until 1989 – four years after the film’s Live Aid finale.

Some of the other changes didn’t even make sense. Backstage at Live Aid, Mercury passes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it U2, leaving the stage, fresh from their legendary set (when Bono decided to spend three minutes dancing with a member of the audience, rather than perform their big hit, Pride (In The Name Of Love)). But it was Dire Straits, not U2, who played directly before Queen. Wouldn’t a sweatband-headed Mark Knopfler be a more recognisable figure to walk past? He could even have been walking with a yoga-suited Sting. Given how loose the writers were with the facts, they might as well have had him walking past a jumpsuited Elvis.

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The most annoying thing about all of this, of course, is that the film will now become the generally accepted version of events. Adults of today and tomorrow will think that Queen were on the verge of breaking up before Live Aid, not that they used the opportunity to win back public support lost after playing in apartheid South Africa. They’ll think that they were a last minute addition to the Live Aid bill, when in fact they were one of the first bands announced. They’ll think that the band’s Live Aid set was notable for the ramp-up in charity donations, when it was Michael Burke’s video report from Ethiopia, introduced by David Bowie and set to the music of the Car’s Drive, which started the ball rolling. They’ll think the band were managed by that creepy Irish guy from Game Of Thrones and Queer As Folk.

I remember finding about Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis while reading the headlines during my Sunday morning paper round. By the following Sunday, the papers were filled with his obituaries. It was only then, when Bohemian Rhapsody was rereleased as a cassette single – which I bought, helping it get to #1 in the UK – that I started listening to the band.

Many years later, I picked up a second-hand copy of the album the song was taken from, 1975’s A Night At The Opera. It is a fine record, but the stand-out track by country mile is Bohemian Rhapsody.

Listening to I’m In Love With My Car reminds me of my favourite line of the film, a subtle ongoing joke with the rest of the band ribbing Taylor about his song: “So, Roger, what would you say is the sexiest part of a car?”

Hit: Bohemian Rhapsody

Hidden Gem: Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)

Rocks In The Attic #720: David Bowie – ‘Glastonbury 2000’ (2000)

RITA#720The year 2000. My second Glastonbury festival, aged 21.

My friend Vini came with me this year, and we got the train down from Manchester to Somerset. All of the other years I’ve been to the festival, from 1999 to 2007, I’ve driven. It was just the two of us heading down this year, but we were set to meet up with friends in the same area of the site we had camped the prior year.

The trip down to the South West was quite quiet as we were travelling down on the Wednesday morning, as the music and the festival doesn’t really kick off until the Friday morning. The only bit of the journey that slowed us down was a small queue at the Castle Cary station to wait for the shuttle bus to the festival grounds. It didn’t matter; the sun was out in force.

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Vini and I circa 2000

We got to the campgrounds and met up with my friends from University, Robbie and Natalie, and various other people they’d travelled with. We pitched our tents by the perimeter fence, between the Other Stage field and the Dance Tent field.  I seem to remember the year 2000 as being one of the last years before they started to curb down on campfires, so Thursday night found us stocking up on firewood.

2000 was the also the last year before the dreaded security fence went up, so it was probably the last Glastonbury with any ounce of anarchy in it. From the following year, it all got a bit safer, a bit more middle-class, a bit more Radio 2.

People started breaking into the festival on the Wednesday night. There was still a fence at this point – but it was still quite easy to get over, and wasn’t anywhere near the height of the megafence that went up by the time of the next festival two years later (2001 was a ‘fallow’ year for the festival).

By the Thursday night, the fence had been damaged near where our tents were pitched, and people were starting to spill into the grounds. By the time we woke up on the Friday morning, the fence had been completely breached, pushed aside, and people were just walking in. The security staff had given up trying to stop them, it was just too hard. The organisers sold 100,000 tickets, but it’s estimated that a further 150,000 entered without tickets.

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As a result of the increased numbers, the infrastructure of the festival started to break down. Toilets and litter started to build up, and lawlessness was in the air. At one point, as Vini and I queued up at a food truck, two gypsy teenagers got into a fight next to us. Well, I say fight, it was more like one aggressive gypsy was battering another gypsy, who wasn’t keen on being battered.

Vini’s tent got broken into at one point, and Natalie woke up to an intruder in the middle of the night. We would laugh at this whenever she brought it up in subsequent years – ‘Do you remember that year I woke up and this guy was on top of me going through my stuff?’ – and I’d jokingly apologise.

I saw lots of great bands that year, as I did every other year at Glastonbury: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Bluetones, Dark Star, Muse, Idlewild, the Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, the Wailers, Live, Death In Vegas, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay, Robert Plant’s band Prior Of Brion, and many, many others. Vini swears to this day that we saw one-time James Bond George Lazenby there, introducing Ladysmith Black Mambazo on stage, but I don’t remember that at all. It sounds like the makings of a fever dream.

By the time Sunday night rolls around at Glastonbury, I’ve usually had enough. Festival fatigue kicks in, sometimes with disastrous consequences – and I hate to think about the time I chose to miss Muse headline in 2004. In 2000 though, I was excited to see Bowie play; energy levels were high. This was the first time he had played the festival since its second year in 1971, so it felt like the festival and the artist were somehow coming full circle.

At that time, I wasn’t too much of a Bowie fan. I adored Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But aside from a couple of other singles, I could take or leave everything else. I had heard that his live shows could be quite abstract affairs too, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. His last tour had been in 1997, promoting Earthling, but apart from a 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in that same year, he had only sporadically playing the hits throughout the decade.

Surely he wouldn’t do a greatest hits set on his return to Glastonbury. Would he?

RITA#720dHe walked onto stage to the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind from 1976’s Station To Station –starting a lifelong love affair with that song for me. So far, so deep-cut. He looked beautiful, with a long elfin coat and flowing blonde hair.

Then he played China Girl and Changes. Was this just an attempt to get the audience onside before he started playing Tin Machine b-sides?

Another Station To Station track was up next – Stay. The second of three Station To Station tracks played, with the title track being the third. This was undoubtedly to showcase the guitar playing of Earl Slick who had played on that album and was among the band at Worthy Farm that night. Perhaps this was the start of the setlist slipping into the esoteric?

Life On Mars?, Absolute Beginners, Ashes To Ashes and Golden Years left little doubt that Bowie was in fact doing a greatest hits set. Amazing.

Vini and I had been performing a cover of Ziggy Stardust in our band at the time, and while I thought it was unlikely Bowie would play the song, Vini was hopeful. “Nah,” I said. “He doesn’t do it anymore.” He hadn’t played it regularly in his set since 1990, although the excellent www.setlist.fm shows that he had played the song in a warm-up show in New York, nine days prior to Glastonbury.

Bowie finished the main set with Under Pressure, but despite all the big hits I was hearing, I was still sure I wouldn’t be hearing my favourite song of his. The band left the stage, and returned five minutes later for the encore. “It’s gonna be Ziggy Stardust!” Vini proclaimed. And BLLLLLLAAAAAAANNNNNNNGGG – it was!

Hands shooting up in the air, hugging, huge grins. Wow. We were ecstatic.

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My one blurry photo of Bowie on stage

Since Bowie’s passing in 2016, the Glastonbury set has taken on an almost mythic status. It was a watershed moment for the festival and its presence on the BBC. From that year, it became almost expected for the big headlining slot to be broadcast live on television (even the decision to show the Bowie set ruffled a few feathers at the Beeb).

I would never see Bowie in concert again. His heart attack on stage in 2004 led to a change in priorities, and big tours were taken off the agenda. I’m so glad I saw him when I did. It turned me into a Bowie fan, and I started to go back and listen to the albums I hadn’t heard before. There isn’t a period of Bowie’s career I don’t love now. He’s the ultimate artist with something for everybody.

Hit: ‘Heroes’

Hidden Gem: Wild Is The Wind

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Rocks In The Attic #693: John Barry – ‘A View To A Kill (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#693.jpgJames Bond, 007, British Secret Service, licensed to kill, fifty-seven years old.

Roger Moore is so old in this, his seventh and final outing as James Bond, that he was only prompted to give up the role due to an off-screen discussion with Bond girl Tanya Roberts. Moore discovered that he was the same age as the actress’ mother, and so finally realised that it was time to hang up his tuxedo for good. It’s was fortunate he did, as things were starting to get a little creepy. Before Bond finally seduces Stacy Sutton in the – ahem – climax of this film, he tucks her into bed during the film’s bloated second act. Ugh.

By the time of this, the fourteenth official Bond film, it had become very hard to take 007 seriously. Not only do we see Bond parading around with a girl old enough to be his daughter, but the writers take the character further and further away from Ian Fleming’s original secret agent. Prior to Bond tucking Sutton into bed, he bakes her a quiche. I swear I’m not making this up.

Christopher Walken does a nice turn as the villainous Max Zorin – a role originally turned down by both David Bowie and Sting. It’s actually a shame that Walken took the role, as it looks like the producers were offering it to every 1980s British rock star. Personally, I would have liked to see Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel battle Bond for world domination. Sledgehammer, in particular, would have made a great Bond theme – and a great film title.

Hit: A View To A Kill – Duran Duran

Hidden Gem: Snow Job

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Rocks In The Attic #686: David Bowie – ‘Bowie Now’ (1977)

RITA#686Another year, another Record Store Day. This year’s celebrations – on Saturday 21st April – passed by quite quickly. I was seventh in line at Real Groovy on Auckland’s Queen Street , just half an hour before the doors opened. I found two titles in there, was in and out within ten minutes, and on to Auckland’s other inner-city record stores, Marbeck’s and Southbound, searching for other titles.

On the day I scooped up The Alternate Tango In The Night (the latest in Fleetwood Mac’s demos and outtakes series, which gave us Alternate Mirage last year), and Ocean Colour Scene’s Marchin’ Already. As usual, I was disappointed at the absence of titles that didn’t make it to our shores, so I’ve had to resort to hunting online for the soundtracks to Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy – all of which are in transit.

My local chain store also carried a few titles and so I picked up Led Zeppelin’s 7” of (extremely familiar sounding) alternate mixes of Rock And Roll and Friends, and this – Bowie Now – a reissue of a 1977 U.S. radio sampler on pristine white vinyl.

If there’s one artist that has really made good use of Record Store Day – both before and after his death – it’s David Bowie. Each year brings a slew of releases that are put together with care and don’t feel like the schlocky cash-in releases by some labels.

This year’s Bowie releases were a 12” Let’s Dance demo (backed with a live version of the song), Welcome To The Blackout – a 1978 live album recorded at London’s Earls Court, and Bowie Now.

Does the world need a reissue of Bowie Now? Well, considering the number of people I saw buying the record on the day, and the number of times I’ve seen it posted online since, the answer is a resounding yes.

A compilation of album tracks from Low and “Heroes”, the record essentially makes a new album out of the two – an easy feat considering that both were recorded by the same personnel, in the same location, just nine months apart. The singles Be My Wife, “Heroes” and Beauty And The Beast are excluded, presumably because radio DJs would have been more than familiar with them, but the highlights of the record – Speed Of Life from Low and Joe The Lion from “Heroes” are just as fantastic.

Hit: Joe The Lion

Hidden Gem: V-2 Schneider

Rocks In The Attic #651: David Bowie – ‘1966’ (2016)

RITA#651.jpgIt’s interesting that Bowie emerged from such run-of-the-mill ‘60s beat-pop into something so relevant and unique. For me, aside from standout singles Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, he doesn’t really become interesting until Hunky Dory – and then all of a sudden he’s very interesting.

This LP – a collection of his 1966 singles recorded for the Pye label – could have been recorded by any number of London-based mod singers from the mid-‘60s. It’s not a million miles from the likes of the Kinks, except that it’s a million miles from them at the same time. You can hear that it’s Bowie – that strange, almost pained delivery of vocals is hard to miss – but the material is second-rate. Where Ray Davies made ordinary sound interesting, here Bowie makes ordinary sound, well, ordinary.

Still, it’s a nice little time-capsule of where he started, and at least it’s not as bad as The Laughing Gnome.

Hit: I’m Not Losing Sleep

Hidden Gem: Do Anything You Say

Rocks In The Attic #567: ABC – ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ (1982)

rita567I often wonder what would have happened had I been born a full ten years earlier. That would push 1978 back to 1968, and would mean reaching my teenage years around 1981. Punk was dying by that time, and New Wave was quickly morphing into what we now refer collectively as ‘80s music.

Would I have been a fan of ABC? It’s hard to say. The one aspect of ‘80s music that always puts me off is the fashion. I think this stems from looking at the sleeves of my brother’s Adam & The Ants records. I always thought Adam Ant himself straddled the line between looking like a cool motherfucker and looking like an idiot, but I always though the rest of the band looked ridiculous in their camp eyeliner and dandy highwayman clothes.

ABC are a little less offensive to the eyes, and obviously put the music first. Image is obviously still very important to them though – just check out that wonderfully composed record cover. Trevor Horn’s bold production really brings the band to life, and isn’t quite as overbearing as his work a few years later on records like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome To The Pleasuredome. They also wear their Bowie influences on their sleeves, and I really love that; it’s one of the saving graces of a lot of pop music from the early ‘80s.

Hit: Poison Arrow

Hidden Gem: Show Me