Enter Search Query:

  • STARDUST MEMORIES

    In 1973, David Bowie invited an old schoolfriend to travel the world. Geoff MacCormack had a smashing time, and his life would never be the same again. Interview by Tony Barrell
    THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2007
    The job was okay, as jobs went in 1973. It was telesales, selling advertising space at Construction News, a building-trade newspaper in London. Geoff MacCormack always enjoyed a nice natter on the phone. But the 25-year-old had done more glamorous work than this: he had tasted the showbiz life. He had fetched and carried for the jive-talking Radio 1 disc jockey Emperor Rosko, and, an aspiring singer, had sung backing vocals on David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane LP. It hadn’t been too difficult to land the Bowie job: they had been friends at primary school in Bromley, when Bowie was plain David Jones. Bowie was just 50 days older than him. And, as Bowie had metamorphosed from Anthony Newleyesque balladeer to curly-haired folk strummer and then carrot-topped gender-bending glam-rocker, they had kept in touch. One day, thought MacCormack, he might get to do some more backing vocals. But now he had a sensible job, with prospects: he could rise through the ranks of Construction News and maybe become a big shot in business journalism.
    Gwen the receptionist announced there was a Mr David Bowie on the line for Geoff. Bowie wanted him in his band
    Then, one morning in January 1973, Gwen the receptionist announced there was a Mr David Bowie on the line for Geoff. Bowie wanted him in his band, the Spiders from Mars, which was about to embark on a world tour, playing a huge string of concerts in the US, Japan and the UK, and stopping in Hawaii and Russia en route. MacCormack would sing backing vocals, play percussion and live the rock’n’roll dream with one of the greatest entertainers of the age. Was he up for it? “Let’s just say,” says 60-year-old MacCormack now, “it wasn’t the hardest decision I’ve ever made.” Normally a rock tour of that kind would begin with the star being chauffeured to the airport. Not this one: Bowie had been frightened by a premonition that he would die in an air crash, and refused to use planes. So MacCormack accompanied him on an ocean liner, the SS Canberra, for a week-long voyage to New York. It was just the first of a series of long journeys that more closely resembled the peregrinations of the Victorian aristocracy than the travels of the 1970s rock jet set. Bowie and MacCormack devised strategies to survive the longueurs. “It took a day and a half to fully realise that near-complete inactivity is par for the course on a cruise ship,” recalls MacCormack. “By day two afternoon tea was an exciting event to look forward to. When it came to dinner we decided to really make an effort and dress up. My fairly conservative clothes and long, dark, curly hair contrasted rather nicely with David’s bright red barnet, shaved eyebrows, make-up and exotic, handmade Freddie Burretti suits. We took on the roles of a modern-day Oscar Wilde and Bosie. I would turn to David while dining and ask, ‘More vegetables, my dear Oscar?’ He would look towards the ornate ceiling with a look of disdain and say, ‘I find vegetables so very vulgar.'”
    David is very intelligent and well read, but there’s a wonderful silliness to him as well
    Though Bowie had announced to the press the previous year that he was bisexual, this friendship was not a full, physical re-enactment of the Oscar-Bosie relationship. In fact, MacCormack says that no “bi” behaviour was evident during their travels together. “David was quite a womaniser, in fact. During the time I was around him, it was women and lots of them.” MacCormack often took photographs, though not with any conscious intention to compile them later. Over 30 years on, he realised they would form the basis of a historic and entertaining travelogue – and so his lavish book, From Station to Station, was created. Whereas less genteel British rock bands ritually trashed hotels, Bowie and the Spiders were better behaved. But they enjoyed their own more sedate brand of mischief on the UK leg of the tour, Bowie posing for MacCormack beside a sweetly slumbering tour driver, and the star and his backing vocalist “experimentally” dropping the components of a china tea service, teapot and all, from a seventh-storey hotel-room window. “David is very intelligent and well read, but there’s a wonderful silliness to him as well,” says MacCormack. One night they amused fans in a bar with a skit that was based on their cruise experiences, and seemed to presage the character of Manuel in Fawlty Towers two years later. “David played the uptight gentleman passenger and I played the incompetent waiter. The scene was set on board a heavily rolling ship and basically involved me trying to serve tray after tray of drinks and sending bottles and glasses flying all around the room.” The final concert of that tour, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, is famous for Bowie’s announcement that it was “the last show that we’ll ever do”. Soon after the blizzard of “Bowie quits” headlines had died down, it became clear he hadn’t, altogether: he was apparently just retiring his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, and disbanding the Spiders. MacCormack was one of the lucky ones: he would be kept on for the next four studio albums and for the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. He adopted the punning Tolstoyan handle of Warren Peace – just because “it all felt like a bit of a holiday, and I was having a laugh” – and he even got to co-write a song with Bowie: Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me’, on the Diamond Dogs LP.
    David was a natural for The Man Who Fell to Earth. It was such an inspired piece of casting
    In 1975 he had a real treat, accompanying his mentor to New Mexico for the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which the uneven-eyed Bowie played an alien sent to Earth to save his own planet. “David was a natural for that film. It was such an inspired piece of casting.” MacCormack drove Bowie’s trailer and became his unlikely body double. “Despite some bright spark in the wardrobe department finding me a red wig to wear, as the shoot went on I was, mercifully, used less and less as a stand-in.” His rock’n’roll adventure came to a natural end after the recording of Bowie’s Station to Station album in late 1975. MacCormack was missing his family in London, Bowie had no projects planned and was spending a lot of time painting. “I decided to step away and get on with the rest of my life.” Since then, MacCormack has made music for commercials and films, married and had two daughters, and had his own glass-fronted house built in London’s Maida Vale. “And I’ve sat on all this stuff for 30 years. Not many people know that I had this amazing experience. I’m really on the perimeters: I’ve read whole books on David where I’m not mentioned at all. So all of this will, hopefully, come as a nice surprise to people.” The book has delighted Bowie himself. “Will you actually be able to get this stuff published do you think?” asks the old joker himself in his foreword. See the book From Station to Station here. © 2014 Tony Barrell Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.  
  • VANGELIS IN WONDERLAND

    The Greek keyboard wizard composed some astonishing music – including the scores for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner – in an old London school
    JULY 2018
    If you’re ever near Marble Arch in London, take a short walk from that historic landmark up Edgware Road, turn right and then left into Seymour Place, and you’ll soon find a left turning into Hampden Gurney Street. This unprepossessing little street is an important part of movie history. An old school building once stood here, in which a European keyboard virtuoso created world-famous film music. Vangelis, as we knew him, was born Evángelos Odysséas Pappathanassíou in the Thessaly region of Greece on March 29, 1943 – the same day in history that two well-known Britons were born. Eric Idle would grow up to be a member of Monty Python, and John Major would become Prime Minister. Vangelis played in the Greek rock band Aphrodite’s Child, who sold millions of records on the Continent and whose singer Demis Roussos became famous in his own right as the unlikely kaftan-draped chartbuster of the 1970s. But the first time most British music fans heard the name Vangelis was when he was tipped to replace Rick Wakeman in the prog-rock band Yes in 1974. The Yes gig wasn’t an easy one – Wakeman had dazzled in the role of the band’s keyboardist, swivelling between piano, organ and synthesisers while wearing a sparkly cape that confirmed his status as “keyboard wizard” – but this generously built, black-bearded musician from Greece clearly had the musical talent to fill his shoes. Vangelis and the band did some exploratory playing together, but it soon became clear that the union wouldn’t work. Vangelis was described as “overpowering”, and he also seemed reluctant to commit to being a full-time member. Yes would end up recruiting another candidate, the Swiss musician Patrick Moraz, to fill their vacancy.
    Vangelis filled the vacant upper floor with cutting-edge equipment and named it Nemo Studios
    Shortly after the Yes sessions, Vangelis began looking for a recording studio in London where he could realise some epic musical projects. He was attracted by Command Studios in Piccadilly, which had once been a BBC facility, and where Roxy Music and Slade had subsequently recorded, but the owners weren’t keen on the property remaining a studio. Then he found the old brick building in Hampden Gurney Street, which had recently been a studio making short films and commercials. Hampden Gurney girls’ school had been established in 1863 and named after the preacher John Hampden Gurney, who was an honorary canon at St Paul’s Cathedral. The school had since moved to another location, and the vacant upper floor of the Victorian building seemed perfect for Vangelis’ needs. He rented the place, filled it with cutting-edge equipment and named it Nemo Studios.
    The composer’s haunting electronica worked perfectly with the noirish future portrayed in Blade Runner
    It was here, in the old classroom space where girls used to recite their times tables, that Vangelis created the score for the film Chariots of Fire, including the main theme: that breezy, triumphant melody that chimed with the emotional tale of two British athletes competing in the Paris Olympics. The 1981 movie won four Oscars, including one for Best Picture and one for Best Original Screenplay. It was also at Nemo that Vangelis wrote the soundtrack for Blade Runner, in which a 21st-century bounty hunter patrols the streets of 21st-century Los Angeles to find and “kill” renegade androids. The composer’s haunting electronica worked perfectly with the noirish future portrayed in the 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece, based on the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though this time the music missed out on an Oscar. The award-winning score that year was John Williams’ music for another sci-fi film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Vangelis was subsequently much in demand as a film-scorer, with big directors banging at his door, but he was also a stubborn maverick and restless spirit who cared more about his art than the rewards it might bring. “I’ve always been anti-success,” he told an interviewer in 1985. “When I’m successful in one field, I don’t stay with that, because I don’t want to become a prisoner of any label, any image.” In the same interview, he proclaimed: “I don’t want to become a factory of film music.” Nemo Studios was said to be named after the mysterious mariner in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. But it’s worth remembering where Verne found the name: it means “nobody” in Latin, which suited the limelight-shunning nature of the composer from Greece. As well as writing scores for films, documentaries and ballets, Vangelis worked on his own records at Nemo. He collaborated here with Jon Anderson of Yes to record “Jon and Vangelis” albums such as Short Stories and The Friends of Mr Cairo, which yielded the hit single ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ and the song ‘State of Independence’ – later an anthemic Quincy Jones-produced hit for Donna Summer.
    Music for me is life. I stay in my studio until 10 or 11 at night and I record every day
    Vangelis kept himself fiercely busy during his time at Marble Arch, surrounded by a phenomenal battery of synthesisers, percussion instruments and recording gear. He would come here in the mornings from his flat in Queen’s Gate, South Kensington, cutting through Hyde Park on his way to Marble Arch. “Music for me is life,” he told an interviewer. “I stay in my studio until 10 or 11 at night and I record every day.” Coincidentally, the Marble Arch area had long been a hotspot for recording. Pye Studios, on the corner of Great Cumberland Place and Bryanston Street, was used from the 1960s by artists including The Who, the Kinks, Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick and a pre-fame David Bowie. The nearby Philips Studio in Stanhope Place was the creative workplace of Dusty Springfield, the Walker Brothers, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, ELO and Wizzard, and was bought in the 1980s by Paul Weller. But Vangelis’ tenure of the Hampden Gurney school building lasted little more than a decade. When its lease came up for renewal in 1987, he packed up his synthesisers and left. Despite its significant role in the history of film music, the building was left to crumble and was eventually demolished. Vangelis himself passed away in May 2022 at the age of 79. Vangelis is known to have retained an affection for his time in London. When he set up home in Paris, an old street sign became one of his treasured ornaments. The name on it was “Hampden Gurney Street”. Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world. © 2020 Tony Barrell  
  • BEATLES HISTORY UNEARTHED

    A beautiful new book reveals the Beatles photo archives of Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson, Michael Ward and Derek Bayes. It was a dream project to work on, says the author Tony Barrell
    DECEMBER 2020
    I was excited to be asked to write the text for Beatlemania: Four Photographers on the Fab Four, a stunning book that compiles nearly 200 important images from the Beatles’ early career. Having written about them many times, I knew that despite the billions of words lavished on them over the best part of six decades, there are still – astonishingly – new things to discover. For instance, while researching Michael Ward’s historic assignment to photograph them in Liverpool, I unexpectedly found the quotation that evidently triggered the Jelly Baby phenomenon. The Beatles’ early UK concerts saw fans hurling dozens of these child-shaped chunks of confectionery from the audience, and it all began with a casual quip from John Lennon on February 19, 1963, the day Ward took them on a tour of their home city. “Someone sent me a load of Jelly Babies today. But he ate them all,” said John, pointing at George Harrison. After the quotation was printed a few months later in Honey, a British magazine for hip young women, fusillades of sweets were the result. It was also a revelation to see Ward’s photograph of the foursome walking over a zebra crossing, foreshadowing the iconic Abbey Road cover shot six-and-a-half years later.
    Derek Bayes’ shots of the band romping through Mayfair in 1965 have never been published before
    It was a treat to study Terry O’Neill’s extensive Fab Four archive, which begins with them recording ‘She Loves You’ – their first million-selling single – and portrays them as they temporarily become mainstream entertainers, having a crack at Shakespeare and “flying” above the London Palladium stage à la Peter Pan. It’s obvious that the band warmed to Terry – they had an immediate respect for people with skill, charm and humour – and the consummate celebrity photographer would continue to work with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr after the breakup. One can only marvel at the access the Beatles gave to the brilliant Norman Parkinson, who photographed them as they recorded at EMI Studios in Abbey Road. They’re working on their second album, a difficult moment in most bands’ careers, but it’s a measure of their burgeoning confidence that they allow “Parks” to take so many action shots of the creative process. It’s always a joy and a privilege to see photographs that have never been published before, such as Derek Bayes’ set of the band romping through London as they make the film Help! in 1965 (see picture above). Thank heavens for a quick-thinking professional with a great camera. It’s a springtime Sunday in Mayfair and the band look happy and relaxed (a heap of weed was smoked during the making of that movie, and they were topping the charts with ‘Ticket to Ride’ at the time). We’re reminded, as if we need to be, just how naturally stylish and charismatic the Beatles were. Not only did they sound amazing and have an immense and evolving talent for songwriting, but they had the visual element sewn up too without really trying. That’s why, half a century after they called it a day as a band, millions of fans across the world will be overjoyed to see this book. © 2020 Tony BarrellAs rich in detail and insight as it is in imagery and iconography, Beatlemania is simply a must-have for any dedicated maniac”  – Far Out magazine Beatlemania: Four Photographers on the Fab Four is published by the renowned ACC Art Books. It is available HERE, HERE, and from other good bookshops.   
  • WHERE’S NEXT?

    Pete Townshend has sold up and moved out of the Wick, his famous house in Richmond. So is this the end of the Georgian property’s dazzling rock’n’roll story?
    ROCK HOMES, OCTOBER 2021
    Pete Townshend surprised neighbours, fans and estate agents in 2021 when he announced he was moving out of the Wick, his famous house in Richmond-upon-Thames. It took just weeks for him to find a buyer (identity as yet unknown), who somehow paid the asking price of around £15 million for the Georgian mansion. The Who guitarist and songwriter gave his followers on Instagram an update in October. “It’s been a wrench,” admitted Townshend, who had lived in the house for nearly 26 years since buying it from his fellow guitarist Ronnie Wood for £2 million in 1996. “Moving house is never any fun…” One of the things Townshend will miss about the Wick is the prospect from the windows. It has magnificent views of the River Thames; he could stand at the back of that house and see for miles and miles and miles and miles… oh yea-eahh. He has also left behind the basement studio he had inherited from Wood (which he had actually helped Ronnie to build back in the 1970s). It is a studio that has seen many a starry jam session. Wood bought the building in 1972 when he was still a member of the Faces, and George Harrison enjoyed impromptu performances here with members of Monty Python.
    Keith Richards once camped out for several months in a house in the property’s terraced gardens
    Another session at the Wick in 1974 produced the first recording of the song ‘It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll’, which subsequently became a hit for Wood’s future band, the Rolling Stones. The original tape featured a supergroup comprising Wood on guitar, Kenney Jones of the Faces on drums, and both Mick Jagger and David Bowie on vocals. As if the mansion’s rock’n’roll credentials weren’t impressive enough, Keith Richards once camped out for several months in a house in the property’s terraced gardens, to avoid the police attention he was receiving at his own home in Chelsea. Now Grade I listed and boasting its own Wikipedia page, the Wick was designed when George III was still on the throne in 1775, the year that the painter JMW Turner and the novelist Jane Austen were born. Before it was Ronnie Wood’s home, the house was owned by the actor Sir John Mills and his wife. The sound of the wind whipping around the old building, high on Richmond Hill, is said to have inspired Lady Mills – Mary Hayley Bell – to write the book Whistle Down the Wind, later adapted into a film and a musical. The Mills family did eventually produce their own rock’n’roller – Crispian Mills, son of Hayley Mills and frontman of the psychedelic band Kula Shaker, which scored some success in the late 1990s, just after Pete Townshend took possession of the Wick. When he left the house in 2021, Townshend reportedly decamped to somewhere in “the English countryside” – where he should still have enough space to play electric guitars with a windmilling motion of his right arm, and perhaps even smash a few up. Meanwhile, the Wick seems to be putting its wild musical past behind it – more’s the pity. © 2021 Tony Barrell Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.
  • THE BIRTH OF ROXY MUSIC

    Phil Manzanera remembers how he joined the 1970s’ most exciting art-rock band. Interview by Tony Barrell
    THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2005
    In 1971 I was in the band Quiet Sun, with the bass player Bill MacCormick. Then Bill went and joined the band Matching Mole, and I said: “What am I going to do now?” He said: “What about that band Roxy? I’ve seen an ad in Melody Maker saying they’re looking for a guitarist.” So I rang them up and I went over to this working man’s cottage in Battersea. And in this terribly tiny room there was Bryan Ferry, Eno, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson and the bass player Graham Simpson. And someone said: “Okay, let’s have a jam.” In Quiet Sun I’d been playing this complicated music with funny time signatures, but this was just two chords. I thought: “This is weird.” I had a terrible cold and I was sneezing the whole time. They played me some demo recordings of their songs, which were brilliant. So I said goodbye — and I failed the audition. And they found a guitarist called Davy O’List, who had been in the Nice and was famous. I thought: “What a shame — it’s such a great band.” Apparently, the guitar I took to the audition was the wrong guitar. They said that if I joined Roxy, I had to get a Fender Stratocaster. But I’d been conned by some shop in Tottenham Court Road – I’d gone in to buy a guitar and come out with a Gibson 335, a big semiacoustic. Anyway, after that failed audition I kept bumping into Eno and Andy at concerts, and we became sort of friends. One day, Roxy were auditioning for the management company EG, in a bingo hall in Clapham, and I was in the audience. And suddenly the drummer Paul Thompson and Davy O’List have a punch-up on stage, fists flying. They play their numbers, and at the end of the audition Mark Fenwick of EG says: “Get rid of the guitarist.” I thought nothing of it.
    I was in this boring job, getting Melody Maker every week and thinking, bloody hell, what am I going to do?
    At that time, I had the only job I’ve ever had, as a temp: this travel company, Clarksons, had lost a million quid, and they hired a bunch of temps to work out where all the money had gone. Everyone there was making paper planes out of the invoices. I was in this boring job, getting Melody Maker every week and thinking: “Bloody hell, what am I going to do?” And the phone went and it was Bryan: “Phil, do you fancy coming down and mixing the sound?” I said: “But I’ve never done that.” He said: “Don’t worry, Eno’ll show you how to do it.” Because at that point, Eno was mixing the sound off stage. The night before I went over, I thought: “You know what? I’m going to learn their numbers, just in case I get a chance.” They’d done a session on John Peel’s show and I had it on tape. So I turn up at this derelict house in Notting Hill, and they’re pulling the banisters to bits to make a fire. And they say: “Davy hasn’t turned up. Do you want to have a go?” I said: “How do the numbers go? Just show me once… One, two, three, four, boomf!” I played them immaculately and they were: “F***ing hell, this guy’s brilliant.” Then they said: “Would you like to join?” And they had a recording contract. I was just 21 and the others were all quite a bit older — they had cars and bank accounts. I went home to my mum, this little lady from Colombia, and I said: “You know all that education I’ve just had, A-levels and all that? Forget it — I’m joining a rock’n’roll band!” I went out and bought a white Fender Strat – but first I had to go with my mum to the bank to borrow £100 so I could afford to pay for it. It was a lot of money in those days.
    I had to share a room with Eno quite a lot on tour. He was very good with the ladies… I’ll say no more!
    I knew Roxy were special. A lot of their friends were involved — like the designer Antony Price — and it was like the next generation of happening people: photographers, painters, designers. We’d wear very theatrical, futuristic stage gear, but we never told each other what we were going to wear. At the beginning of a tour, we’d just turn up: “You put your clothes on first.” “No, you put yours on.” Then someone would come out and you’d go: “Wow! Where’d you get that from?” Touring cost us a fortune. We always wanted a proper show, with our own lights, and we couldn’t resist staying in the nicest hotels. But we were just a bunch of guys on 15 quid a week, and we were in debt for donkey’s years. And they didn’t get us in America. We’d start the set by swaying to electronic music, and the Americans would throw water bombs at us. We weren’t really a band in the sense that the Beatles were: a bunch of people who grew up together. It was more like a collective. We didn’t hang out together the whole time. But I did have to share a room with Eno quite a lot on tour. He was very good with the ladies — I’ll say no more! It was very frustrating. And there was a lot of backgammon. I have this Super 8 film of Bryan and Andy having a frantic game at some airport, and the tour manager’s saying: “Get on the f***ing plane!” The game would be continued on board, and it would have to be stopped in the interests of a good band relationship. Roxy’s always been a complex thing. There’s a strange dynamic, and the music comes from this interaction. It doesn’t work as a normal business model — I think we can only do five-year stints and then we self-destruct. Hang on — we re-formed in 2001… Oops! We’ve only got one more year.  © 2014 Tony Barrell Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.  
  • THE CAPED CROSS-AIDER

    Batman is advising British children on road safety – but where, exactly? Tony Barrell investigates
    APRIL 2020
    This wonderful photograph shows the actor Adam West playing Batman in the 1960s, and helping a group of children cross the road. You won’t see anything like this nowadays. As soon as I saw the photo, I wanted to know the location. There are two British cars and a Volkswagen Beetle in the picture, and there is a distinct London feel about the buildings. It turns out that West was paying a promotional visit to Britain and making a short road-safety film for British audiences, which surfaced again recently and can be watched on YouTube. A comment there suggested that the location was Kennington in south London, so I looked for clues in the film to confirm that. Towards the end, Batman is standing in this street (pictured right) and there is a distinctive building in the background: a large house with a stepped gable. If I were Batman, I’d go straight to the big computer in the Batcave, feed it with the words “Kennington” and “stepped gable” and see what popped out. I’m not Batman, so I fed them to a modern search engine, and found an estate agent describing properties recently for sale in Kennington, including “a five-bedroom red-brick house with a stepped gable in Denny Crescent”. Typing “stepped gable” together with “Denny Crescent” produced some interesting results, including a picture of a house on Pinterest (see below) that is a dead ringer for the one behind Batman. It has a sign for Denny Crescent on its wall, and I believe the same sign can be seen faintly in the film. There are a few very similar houses with stepped gables in this area, but I think this is the only one with a street sign on the right-hand side of its façade. I thought it likely that the road-crossing shot was taken nearby, and that Denny Crescent was a strong contender for the thoroughfare seen behind Batman and the kids, which has a distinct curve. Looking at the crescent now, there’s a very good match for the sash windows, doors and railings in the picture. It’s evident that the Caped Crusader and his young pals are standing on the D-shaped plot of land between Denny Crescent and Denny Road (see map below), and it’s Denny Road that they are about to cross. The date of the photograph is said to be Friday, May 12, 1967, between the broadcasts of series 2 and 3 of Batman in the USA. Adam West was 38 years old. The second series had recently finished on UK television (though many repeats would follow later). We were approaching the Summer of Love, and that same day saw the release of the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced, as well as the first broadcast of the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by a pirate radio station, Radio London, nearly three weeks before the record was released. The Beatles had already moved on to new material: on that Friday, further north in Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, they were recording the rather slight McCartney tune ‘All Together Now’, which would appear in the Yellow Submarine film. That evening, Pink Floyd would entertain an audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with the world’s first ever “surround sound” concert, using a quadrophonic speaker system. May 12 was a pleasant spring day, with temperatures of 17 to 19C. Harold Wilson was Britain’s prime minister, and the day before Batman’s London romp, the UK and Ireland had submitted their official applications for membership of the Common Market, otherwise known as the European Economic Community. That alone makes it sound like a very distant age now. © 2020 Tony Barrell The Batman road-safety film can be seen HERE. Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.  
  • AIRWAVES OF JOY

    Stars like Cliff Richard were raised on the rock’n’roll they heard on Radio Luxembourg. But little did they know that many of the station’s shows were recorded in London
    MAY 2020
    Mention the words “Radio Luxembourg” to music fans of a certain age, and a golden mist of nostalgia will descend. Countless British teenagers received their first taste of rock’n’roll from tuning in late at night to this faraway wireless station, situated in one of the smallest and least familiar nations of the world. What most of those listeners didn’t know, tucked up in bed with their earpieces relaying sounds from the country tucked between France, Germany and Belgium, was that many of the shows they listened to were recorded here in London. From 1952, Radio Luxembourg had studios and offices at 38 Hertford Street in Mayfair, and it was in this unremarkable-looking building (pictured left) that presenters would record entire shows. The tapes would then be flown to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where they were played over the airwaves for nocturnal British listeners to pick up. This absurd procedure was a way of circumventing the British law prohibiting advertising on the radio, and breaking the monopoly that the BBC used to have on UK radio broadcasting.
    Radio Luxembourg plugged all kinds of products, from shampoo to cigarettes
    Luxembourg was a commercial station, subjecting its listeners to paid-for advertisements between the music and chat. Not only were there plugs for all kinds of products, from shampoo to cigarettes, but record labels would pay to have their discs played on Luxembourg – something that was anathema to Auntie Beeb. And such was the station’s hunger for cash that the DJs often played little more than half of each record. But a minute or less was all it took for the teenagers of London, Basingstoke or Stockton-on-Tees to become hooked on the latest disc by Elvis Presley, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. In an age before portable cassette recorders and Spotify, they would tune to 208 on the medium-wave band and lie in wait for Luxembourg, “the Station of the Stars”, to give their favourite songs another play. This wasn’t a high-fidelity experience: notoriously, the signal would often fade out and there would be strange whooshing and phasing noises to put up with. Presenters who came to the London studios to record their shows included some big names of the future – Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, Brian Matthew, David Jacobs and Jimmy Young. And among the crowd of young men was a rare female disc jockey, the fabulously well-spoken Muriel Young, who also did duty as an agony aunt, answering questions from young listeners about dating, make-up and hairstyles. In the early 1970s the DJ John Peel made his own rock-music programmes for Luxembourg, which were recorded at the same London studios. Not all of Luxembourg’s shows were taped in Hertford Street: programmes sponsored by EMI would be recorded at the company’s own London HQ in Manchester Square. In March 1964 the Rolling Stones went to Regent Sound Studios to record a long session for the station. And from the 1960s the station employed DJs who would broadcast live from studios in Luxembourg as well.
    Cliff Richard didn’t know that Luxembourg was a country. He thought it was a couple of rooms with DJs
    Thousands of listeners had found Luxembourg on a map, but others were in blissful ignorance, imagining it was just a fancy name for a radio station. The young Harry Webb, who would become Cliff Richard, was one of the latter group. “When I was a kid at school, I did not have any idea that Luxembourg was a little country,” he once admitted. “It wasn’t until much, much later… I mean, I think I’d probably started making records when I suddenly realised that Luxembourg was not just a radio station… it’s a place! I just thought it was a couple of rooms with DJs in it.” Cliff had first heard Elvis Presley’s 1956 single ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ blaring out of a car window in the Hertfordshire village of Waltham Cross. Keen to hear it again, he listened attentively to Radio Luxembourg. “And it wasn’t very long before I heard the record, and his name, Elvis Presley. And thought, what a funny name. Elvis was an alien name to all of us. But that was it: I was hooked, instantly.” By 1959, Cliff Richard was recording his own live performances for Luxembourg in Hertford Street.
    A pre-teenage Bryan Ferry won a Bill Haley competition on Radio Luxembourg
    Many other young people with musical futures were transfixed by the music on Radio Luxembourg. The teenage John Lennon listened in at night in his Aunt Mimi’s house in Liverpool. Down in Surrey, the guitarist Jeff Beck tuned in to hear the latest rock’n’roll, Motown and Stax releases. Robert Plant, later the singer in Led Zeppelin, was entranced by records such as ‘I Like It Like That’ by the New Orleans R&B singer Chris Kenner. As a boy, the producer Alan Parsons built his own radio set so he could listen to Luxembourg. The station often ran quizzes and gave out prizes, and in 1957 a pre-teenage Bryan Ferry won a competition and received a free LP, plus front-row tickets for an inspirational show in Sunderland by Bill Haley and His Comets. After Ferry formed Roxy Music in the early 1970s, the band would be thrilled to hear their early recordings played by Kid Jensen on Luxembourg. It was on Luxembourg that Ian Astbury, who later fronted the Cult, heard the music of the Doors for the first time. Decades later, in 2002, Astbury would step into Jim Morrison’s shoes and perform in a Doors revival band with two members of the original group. It wasn’t just the music on Luxembourg that impacted pop culture. One advertiser on the station was Horace Batchelor, who claimed to have a successful system for winning the football pools. During his oft-repeated ads he would give his post-office-box address, meticulously spelling out the name of a suburb of Bristol, Keynsham (pronounced Cane-sham). The commercials quickly became a target for parody, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band took Keynsham for the name of one of their albums in 1969.
    David Bowie came here to record demos for Ziggy Stardust
    Radio Luxembourg had sidelines including a successful magazine, Fab 208, and its own disco nights in London. And the station’s Mayfair studios could be hired privately by people wanting to make recordings cheaply, on equipment that was far from state-of-the-art. David Bowie came here in 1971 to make basic demos of tracks that later appeared on his breakthrough album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The Hertford Street version of the song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ features Bowie singing to his own roughly strummed, slightly out-of-tune 12-string guitar. During the same period, Bowie’s short-lived band Arnold Corns recorded their flop single ‘Moonage Daydream’ at Luxembourg Studios, along with its B-side, ‘Hang onto Yourself’. Both songs would also appear on the Ziggy Stardust album, recorded much more impressively at Trident Studios in St Anne’s Court, Soho. The Monty Python team came to Luxembourg Studios in October 1972 to record their third album, Monty Python’s Previous Record, which included Eric Idle’s hilarious critique of Australian wines, the ‘Fish Licence’ sketch and their philosophical single ‘Eric the Half-a-Bee’, co-written by Idle and John Cleese. Part of their subsequent LP, The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief, was also taped here. Radio Luxembourg made its final broadcast in 1991. It was a happy accident of history that it became such an effective vehicle for promoting the pop-music industry. It hadn’t seen rock’n’roll coming, and most rock’n’rollers were initially unaware of the station’s existence. It began transmitting on long wave in 1933, and when the Grand Duchy was occupied by Germany in World War II it was seized by Adolf Hitler’s minions and used to transmit fascist propaganda – most notoriously the traitorous rants of Lord Haw-Haw, alias William Joyce. If the Nazis had won the war, not only might rock’n’roll never have happened, but Radio Luxembourg might not have been available to boost its popularity across the world. © 2020 Tony Barrell Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.  
  • NIGHTMARE BELIEVERS

    In 1967 a crowd of distraught Monkees fans demonstrated in London, trying to stop Davy Jones from being forced to fight in Vietnam
    JULY 2018
    In the spring of 1967, the Monkees’ considerable army of fans received appalling news. Davy Jones, frequently voted the most popular member of the band, had been selected to put his life on the line for the USA. He was being called up to fight in the Vietnam War. The fans’ horror was mixed with confusion and disbelief. “But he’s British!” people exclaimed. “He’s not American: he was born in Manchester.” Indeed, Jones was so British that he had even played Ena Sharples’ grandson in Coronation Street before becoming the only “limey” in the manufactured ’60s band. The news was splashed across the front page of the March 11 edition of Melody Maker, which reported that the 21-year-old star had received his draft papers and was just three weeks away from a US Army medical examination. The paper explained that although he was still a British citizen, he was eligible to fight because he lived and worked in America. The Monkees’ London publicist, David Cardwell, told the paper: “Obviously, Davy doesn’t want to go, but he certainly won’t kick if he is called up. He has no plans to appeal against it, as far as we know.” Monkeemaniacs weren’t simply concerned that this could be the end of the group as a recording and performing unit. The Vietnam War had already killed thousands of US soldiers, and Jones was now at risk of becoming another casualty. Monkees Monthly magazine offered hope, reporting that two of his bandmates, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork, had previously been rejected for military service. Dolenz’s eyesight hadn’t been good enough, and Tork had “struck an understanding with the draft board: ‘They thought I was crazy too!’” But the American magazine Teen Life heightened fans’ fears by revealing that Jones had been classified 1A by his local draft board in California, “the most draft-eligible classification there is”. British fans refused to sit back and leave their hero’s fate in the hands of the American military bureaucrats. They started a petition, collecting 2,000 signatures from people opposing Jones’ recruitment – no mean feat in the days before the internet and social media. Linda Hards, a Monkees enthusiast in Twickenham, rallied fellow female fans for a protest march in central London, and on Wednesday, April 5, crowds of girls congregated at Marble Arch. Normally they would have been at school, but this was the second week of their Easter holiday. The girls set off down Park Lane, chanting and singing and carrying home-made banners with messages such as “Leave Davy Jones Alone”, “Don’t Take Davy Away From Us” and “If Davy Goes We Go Too”. After skirting the eastern edge of Hyde Park, they turned left towards their destination, the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, where Linda handed over the petition and a letter addressed to President LB Johnson. It was a good-natured and well-behaved demonstration, smaller and less angry than later London protests against the Vietnam War in 1967 and ’68. Whether the girls’ resourceful action had a bearing on the draft board’s decision is unknown, but Jones was spared. It has been claimed that he was exempted because he had his father to support back in England, but he later admitted that he took steps to become physically ineligible. “I found out that being as short as I am, five-foot-four, you had to weigh over 104lb. So I went down from my nine stone to 99lb.” At the medical he was stripped naked and prodded, and when he stood on the scales “this big guy said to me, ‘Boy, you’re a 99lb weakling.’” Life returned to normal for the Monkees, if playing in a fanatically adored ’60s band with their own TV comedy series could ever be considered normal. They played three sold-out concerts at Wembley Empire Pool that summer, and went on to have hits with ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ as Davy Jones enjoyed eating proper meals again. Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world. © 2018 Tony Barrell    
  • GUYS AND DOLLS

    In March 1966, the Beatles posed happily with dismembered toys and chunks of raw meat. Why did they make the “butcher cover”?
    THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2016
    On March 25, 1966, the Beatles arrived at a photographic studio in Chelsea, west London, to have some pictures taken. Ever since the explosion of Beatlemania a few years before, John, Paul, George and Ringo had been photographed thousands of times, so this would have seemed like business as usual; just another day. When they woke up that morning – after attending the premiere of the film Alfie together the night before – they could hardly have expected this to become the most notorious photoshoot they ever did. The 26-year-old photographer Robert Whitaker had hired the studio that day – on the spacious second floor of a mansion block at 1 The Vale, just off the fashionable King’s Road. He had brought along some props to make things interesting, including some white butchers’ coats, birdcages, children’s dolls, and some bloody raw meat. Some conventional portraits were taken, but things took a surreal turn when the Beatles donned the white coats and interacted with the meat and the dismantled dolls.
    What on earth was this? What the hell did they think they were doing, circulating this disgusting picture?
    Several weeks later, when Capitol Records prepared to release a “new” Beatles album in America, Yesterday and Today, the company inexplicably passed over the ordinary photographs and chose one of these meat-and-dolls shots for the front of the sleeve. But after it sent out thousands of copies to record-dealers, radio stations, newspapers and magazines, Capitol started receiving some very negative feedback indeed. What on earth was this? What the hell did they think they were doing, circulating this disgusting, sickening picture? Butcher cover1 Capitol switched swiftly into damage-limitation mode, asking for the recall of the albums. A statement from the company president, Alan W Livingston, explained: “The original cover, created in England, was intended as ‘pop art’ satire. However, a sampling of public opinion in the United States indicates that the cover design is subject to misinterpretation. For this reason, and to avoid any possible controversy or undeserved harm to the Beatles’ image or reputation, Capitol has chosen to withdraw the LP and substitute a more generally acceptable design.” The new design featured an inoffensive Whitaker shot of the Beatles, dressed in everyday casual gear, with a packing trunk. After the panic, Capitol relaxed when it found it had a hit on its hands: Yesterday and Today went to the top of the US album charts, dislodging Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night album.
    One theory is that the Beatles posed for the shot as a protest against the way Capitol was butchering the band’s output
    Livingston was dead right when he said the original cover was “subject to misinterpretation”. Ever since the scandal, people have offered a variety of decodings of the infamous “butcher cover”. One popular theory is that the Beatles posed for the shot as a protest against the way Capitol was butchering the band’s output, disrespectfully reassembling tracks, singles and B-sides on “special” American albums. Yesterday and Today was a case in point: it mixed up hits like ‘Day Tripper’ with Rubber Soul tracks like ‘Nowhere Man’ and a sprinkling of songs from the forthcoming Revolver album. Another interpretation explains the image as the Beatles’ protest at the ongoing Vietnam war. But when I met Bob Whitaker in 2008 to interview him for The Sunday Times, he set the record straight, saying that the whole artistic concept of the shoot was his own. “People can say what they like about butchering albums, and Vietnam and the rest of it,” he said. “It’s absolute bullshit. It was entirely my idea. I had this dream one night about the Beatles being ripped to bits by all these young girls when they came out of a stadium. And then I thought about Moses coming down from Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments. He came upon people worshipping a golden calf, and people were worshipping the Beatles like gods.”
    He photographed the Beatles holding an umbilical string of sausages that linked them with a long-haired female model
    If Whitaker had had his way, the album cover would have been a more elaborate art work, perhaps a triptych. On the same day, he took photographs of band members with their heads in birdcages, and snapped the Beatles holding an umbilical string of sausages that linked them with a long-haired female model, a “woman giving birth to the concept of the Beatles”. The Beatles themselves were apparently unaware of Whitaker’s concept. At a press conference in Los Angeles in 1966,  when he was asked whose idea the shoot was, Lennon replied: “The photographer’s who took it.” Asked what it was “supposed to mean”, he said: “We never asked him, you know.” Nevertheless, Lennon saw the session as an opportunity to skewer the Beatles’ public image as lovable moptops. “Because, like the naughty boy I am,” he explained on another occasion, “I wanted to break the Beatles’ image then… I don’t like being locked into one game all the time… there we were, supposed to be sort of angels. I wanted to show that we were aware of life, and I really was pushing for that album cover.” George Harrison had a much lower opinion of the photoshoot. Many years later, he said he thought the concept “was gross, and I also thought it was stupid. Sometimes we all did stupid things thinking it was cool and hip when it was naïve and dumb; and that was one of them.”
    Japanese purists objected to the fact that the band would be playing Tokyo’s Budokan, a venue designed for martial arts
    Three months after Bob Whitaker shot that cover, he joined the Beatles on their 1966 world tour, taking some wonderful (and much more conventional) photographs of the boys in Japan and the Philippines. But at times, he must have wondered if his nightmare about the Beatles’ dismemberment was about to come true. Japanese purists objected to the fact that the band would be playing Tokyo’s Budokan, a venue specifically designed for martial arts. There were death threats and the authorities stepped up security, which made the band virtual prisoners in their suite at the Tokyo Hilton. (The list of artists who have played this “sacred” hall since then, without so much as a karate chop, includes Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Beyoncé.) At one point, the ever-restless John Lennon escaped from the hotel for a spot of sightseeing. “He snuck out using my name,” said Whitaker, “on the basis, I think, that all white people probably looked the same to the Japanese. He got away with it for a while, but then somebody recognised him and he was dragged back to the hotel.” Things turned much uglier in the Philippines. After the Beatles landed in Manila on July 3, 1966, the band members were separated from their confused entourage and whisked off to a yacht owned by a Filipino big shot, Don Manolo Elizalde. And at some point, it seems the Beatles’ retinue received an invitation for the band to join Imelda Marcos for a morning reception at Malacanang Palace. The request may have been politely declined, and the Beatles weren’t even informed of it, but the shoe-collecting first lady was certainly expecting them. “They weren’t allowed off that yacht until about 4am, so do you really think they’re going to rush off to have breakfast with Mrs Marcos?” said Whitaker, doing an impression of a big Beatle yawn. In Manila the band rehearsed glumly in cramped, stifling conditions, and then played for tens of thousands of fans with sweat trickling down their faces. “It was very, very humid, and they were nothing like as happy as they were in Japan. But they performed brilliantly there.”
    There was complete silence in the first-class cabin. We didn’t know whether we were all going to be slung into prison
    When they awoke on July 5, they discovered the Filipino media had made the group public enemies No 1, 2, 3 and 4 for “snubbing” Imelda Marcos. Getting out became the priority. “At the airport we were all jostled, shoved, pushed, and it was ‘Carry your own bags – there’s no porters for you!’ It upset the Beatles a great deal,” said Whitaker. “When we were on the plane waiting to take off, there was complete silence in the first-class cabin. We didn’t know whether we were all going to be dragged off and slung into prison. When the engines started up and we were finally in the air, there was such elation among all of us to get out of that f***-hole.” After Manila, Bob Whitaker worked on the legendary Oz magazine, took hundreds of pictures of Salvador Dali and the band Cream, and photographed Mick Jagger in Australia, on the set of the 1970 film Ned Kelly. Sadly, Bob died in 2011, at the age of 71. But his stunning photographs of the Beatles continue to appear in exhibitions and do the rounds on social media, and original butcher covers change hands for small fortunes. Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world. Tony Barrell’s other book, The Beatles on the Roof, is out now in the UK. You can read about it here, and buy it here. © 2016 Tony Barrell
  • DID ELVIS VISIT LONDON?

    Did the singer Tommy Steele give Elvis Presley a secret tour of the UK capital in 1958? Tony Barrell investigates
    APRIL 2021
    It was once a universally accepted fact that Elvis Presley never set foot in London, England. Indeed, it was said that he only ever had the briefest glimpse of Britain, when he stopped at what is now Glasgow Prestwick Airport in 1960 during a flight from Germany to the USA (apparently the plane needed to refuel). But back in the Noughties an intriguing story leaked out of the showbiz vaults. One day in 1958, the story goes, he travelled to London for a single day and was shown round the city by Tommy Steele, the British rock’n’roller who was then regarded as his chirpy cockney equivalent. The theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, who has staged many musicals (including This Is Elvis) and knows Tommy Steele well, told the story to the broadcaster Ken Bruce on the Radio 2 show Tracks of My Years towards the end of April 2008. According to Kenwright, it all began with an unexpected telephone call from Elvis to the gobsmacked Tommy, who had never spoken to the King of Rock’n’Roll before. Elvis fancied a day out in London, and please would Tommy be his guide? Journalists who caught the radio show flicked through Tommy’s 2006 autobiography, Bermondsey Boy, to find a mention of the Elvis visit. The book jumps from Christmas 1957 to the summer of 1958, and the story isn’t in there. So they started badgering Tommy, then 71 years old, for confirmation and more details. The singer eventually sent a note to the Daily Mail, explaining: “What actually happened many years ago is something secret and memorable. It was an event shared by two young men sharing the same love of their music and the same thrill of achieving something unimaginable. I swore never to divulge publicly what took place and I regret that it has found some way of ‘getting into the light’.” They really were young men: Elvis was 23 and Tommy 21. Tommy had already enjoyed a long string of British hits, including ‘Rock with the Caveman’ and the chart-topper ‘Singing the Blues’. Elvis’s recent smash hits had included ‘Jailhouse Rock’. It’s easy to imagine the pair having a rock’n’roll sing-song together. Tommy didn’t say why he promised Elvis to keep the visit hush-hush for ever, but perhaps Elvis’s trip was unauthorised, or he imagined there would be an outcry from his British fans if it became public. He had come all the way to London without letting his admirers know. If only he had made his travel plans public, they could have come to see him, chatted to him, bothered him for autographs and maybe even obtained a kiss or a handshake. Maybe it was easier to spare his legions of fans the sickening feeling of disappointment. The promise to Elvis evidently extended beyond his death, and Tommy’s 2008 note to the press had an interesting ending. “I can only hope he can forgive me,” he wrote. At that point, Elvis had officially been dead for more than 30 years. Does this mean that Tommy is a religious man who firmly believes in the afterlife? Less plausibly, was Elvis secretly still alive?
    Suspicious minds have disputed the story that he came to London
    Neither Bill Kenwright nor Tommy Steele has specified exactly when Elvis came over to London. The year 1958 was a busy one for the hip-swivelling rocker. He had received his draft notice from the US Army the previous December, and some recording sessions were hastily arranged in Hollywood before he was inducted into the military on March 24. He was subsequently stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, and from September he was occupied with army duties in West Germany. Suspicious minds have disputed the story that he came to London. Shortly after the Radio 2 show, two of his associates, Lamar Fike and Marty Lacker – members of the famous “Memphis Mafia” who worked closely with the singer – announced that it was nonsense. “My apologies to Tommy, but it did not happen,” said Fike to the BBC. After Elvis travelled to Germany, Fike was “with him the whole time… He was confined to base.” But that doesn’t fully account for January or February of that year. Elvis could conceivably have voyaged to England on one of the days when he wasn’t recording (assuming that he could momentarily escape his Mafia). Nor does it account for the 23 days of March before Elvis slipped into his uniform. The English weather in the first two months of 1958 wasn’t conducive to sightseeing: much of January was cold, wet and windy, and February brought heavy snow. But March saw the days warming up in the southeast of England, reaching the upper fifties (Fahrenheit) – reasonable weather for a stroll around Hyde Park or the Tower of London. June is also a strong possibility. Elvis had two weeks’ furlough from the army then, and returned to his Graceland home and completed a quick recording session in Nashville. He may have had a spare day or two to travel to sunny London before resuming his army duties. Of course, Tommy or Bill may have the year wrong. What if Elvis came over to London in 1959? He was based in Germany then, and he is known to have visited Paris twice in that year (and once again in 1960). The French capital is little more than 200 miles from London.
    For all we know, Elvis may have sampled some vinegary jellied eels and warm brown ale
    Fans of Elvis have told me that they don’t believe the story. In that case, they must believe either that Tommy Steele is a liar, or that he was somehow fooled into thinking that it happened – both of which are unlikely. I believe Tommy: I think he is an honest man, not known for elaborate hallucinations, and I accept the story that he welcomed Elvis to London. Among the sights the King saw were the Houses of Parliament, the River Thames and Buckingham Palace, along with plenty of stiff-backed English policemen and gleaming red telephone boxes. For all we know, he may have sampled some vinegary jellied eels and warm brown ale while Tommy regaled him with cockney rhyming slang. London is a wonderful city, and Elvis would only have been the richer for the experience. © 2021 Tony Barrell Tony Barrell’s acclaimed new book, Beatlemania, is available across the world.    

0 comments found

Comments for: Test Page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.