Steve Jones is wearing nothing more than a skimpy towel and a few soapsuds when he opens the door.
‘All right Baz. Just ’avin’ a baff. I’m going out later so to save time I fort we’d do the interview while I’m ’avin me baff. Don’t worry,’ he laughs, ‘the baff’s full of fuckin’ bubbles. You can’t see nuffink.’
No one is innocent − not even plebian pistolero Steve 'Calorie Counter' Jones.
It appears this young blade, often spotted arm in arm with Paul Cook doing the Continental at London's fashionable tête-à-tête nite spots, has rather a dark past.
In fact, Steve has had no less than thirteen brushes with the Old Bill for burglary, shop breaking and ... peeping tomfoolery!
He admits his criminal adolescence while soaking away the day's cares and night's traumas in a bubble bath at his rock-star pad in the Waste End.
‘I was eighteen when I got done for being a peeping Tom. I wouldn't mind but I was only trying to break into this house without realising there was some bird changing next door.
‘She thought I was looking at her tits and rang the police. I was nicked and got fined fifty quid.’
Steve was a member of that exclusive members-only club when he first joined the Pistols − the Order of Probationees. No subscription required, merely an unfortunate tendency to get caught a lot and an uncontrollable urge to drive around in stolen Rolls-Royces.
‘I was in Northolt one night − not that night − when I downed a couple of mandies and nicked a Rolls,’ recalls Steve, while gazing lovingly at the rubber duck floating merrily on his bubbly tum.
‘I was skidding all over the place − but I pulled a darlin' bird.’
But, Steve, I mean, didn't you have any, well, qualms about stealing other people's property?
‘Nah. Anyway, I never used to break into council houses − just places where it was obvious the owners had plenty of dough. I did a year in approved school once for taking and driving away.’
Why did you do all this?
‘Boredom, I guess, I dunno. I never knew me ol' man. He was a boxer who ran off before I was born. Then this geezer moved in with me mum. He never liked me so he refused to let me have a key for the front door. He used to lock me out of the house when I came home late from the boozer. He made life a misery for me. One night it all came to a head.
‘I came home late as usual and he just wouldn't let me in. I began to bang on the door and swear and he finally came out. Before I could say anything he went for me. We started fighting and Mum came rushing out, screaming and crying.
‘I left home that night and never returned.’
Steve didn’t see his mum again for years.
‘She was working in a hairdresser’s and I happened to be passing. "Doing all right for your-self then son?" she asked. But I don't think she cares much either way. Maybe she feels a bit proud of me now − but she should have felt like that ages ago.’
He's covered from head to toe in soap – not a commodity you would usually associate with those grubby, gruesome Sex Pistols. But then Steve ain't a Pistol any more, and neither is his flat mate Paul Cook, the blonde rapscallion skinsmaaan who has just joined us in the mirrored bathroom.
These two guys, the quiet ones in the Rotten camp, have undergone a unique change over recent months. The chintzy ragamuffin chicanery − it was considered both unethical and unprofessional for either of them to be seen out at one point − has vanished, making way for a softer, boy-next-door image.
They got fun, they got videos, they got sixty pounds a week, they got their own hit records. And they got each other. You mean they're… no. Strictly hetero. Metro heteros enjoying their reputations.
‘When we’re seen in nightclubs,’ says Paul, ‘everyone immediately says, "Oh, yeah, street credibility slashed." But we ain’t got no money. Sure, we’ve got a video, a hi-fi and a flat, but no hard cash. We ain’t even got bank accounts. We’re just two healthy young fellers trying to enjoy ourselves. What’s wrong with that?’
‘Right,’ splashes Steve. ‘Why should I sit at home every night crying my heart out? I wanna enjoy meself.’
Unfortunately, ahem, Steve does tend to overdo it a bit. ‘I seem to get VD every week. But it ain't nothing to be embarrassed about. I can't help it if I like screwing. I’ve never been in love. Hold it. If being in love means you want to keep seeing the same bird all the time then, yeah, I think I might be at the moment. But generally women are all right when you’re pissed.
‘Don't get me wrong, I like women's company, but I'd rather be with blokes. They've got a better sense of humour. You can't have much of a laugh with birds − and you couldn't nick cars with them around!’
I guess you couldn't describe him as a Casanova − more a legova. But he's happy. And he's more than happy that the Pistol pressures on him and Paul have vanished.
‘I just woke up one morning and felt so free after I finally realised that the Sex Pistols were no more.’
‘But,’ interrupts a slightly melancholic Paul, ‘it's sad when you look back on the whole thing. The scene seems to have gone back to where it used to be. There's nothing, nothing. People won't let us die. Why can't they realise that the Pistols simply don't exist anymore.’
‘There will always be a Sex Pistols,’ says Steve, defiantly. ‘I don't want it to die because the kids don't want it to die. We started so much.’
‘I'll never regret anything,’ says Paul. ‘There was no other way things could have gone. Everything just happened so quickly. The whole episode has made me more wary of people. I'll never trust a soul again as long as I live. I may have been naïve once − not anymore.’
Do they still see Rotten? ‘We've seen him once since we came back from the States,’ says Steve. ‘I ain't got any grudges against him. I hope his new band works out − but he's gonna face a lot of problems. Still, our record company seem to think a lot more of him than us.’
So let's just leave Jones & Cook Ltd. with the shaky finances and the flaky scruples in that soapy bathroom in that smart flat in that grubby block in that side street they call home. No one could argue that they've earned the right to indulge themselves.
The Sex Pistols may be the ex-Pistols but the malady lingers on.
Dina is visiting Cyprus. The switchboard girl at Record Mirror is an incurable romantic and when Dina rings from a phone box near her mum’s house − her family still don’t know about me – she takes the number, rings it back, puts me through and we talk for half an hour. Wonder if anyone ever checks the phone bills? There is a limit to the number of Cypriot bands in the UK charts, i.e. none, so a phone interview a day to an unspecified Cyprus number should ring a few bells.
Dina’s away for three months. It’s the first time she’s gone back since becoming a refugee after Turkish troops rampaged through her village in 1974. Why do I keep getting the feeling she’s not coming back?
As I’m living at home, I’m sticking away over a hundred quid a week! The only bills I get have pictures of the Queen on them, exchanged for travellers’ cheques at Heathrow while I’m waiting for flights to New York and any place else where a big band could get it on in front of twenty thousand hot dogs with mustard on the side.
I’m a PR’s dream. Get me an interview and I’ll hit you with my rhythm stick – the triumvirate of Record Mirror, Daily Record and Evening News, plus the odd My Guy, Smash Hits, Revue (the new Reveille) and another monthly retainer from Jam, a Japanese version of Rolling Stone, in return for being their UK correspondent. I’m a one-hit wonder, spreading my interviews like NSU. The days of writing in different styles at Marlborough Street magistrates’ court are finally paying off.
After the wine and the crème brûlée come offers of flights to five-star hotels in far-flung cities to see rock legends play and talk to them about life, the universe and everything for an hour or so in a room with a view.
It’s the stuff of dreams and I’m turning Japanese.
I really think so …
Next – Flat caps and Joan Armatrading
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Sunday, 27 October 2013
Boogie Oogie Oogie
As part of a Record Mirror disco special, Tim Lott, who works at the paper, and I are to go to the Hammersmith Palais on a Friday night, try and pull two girls, take them to a flash members-only club in the West End and record their reaction.
It’s quite an evening.
We’re standing at the bar down the Palais admiring each other's creases, when I see her.
You know that feeling you get when you see someone in a dancehall? Someone who stands out from the rest of the girls as they twirl in the gloom. Like it's Christmas, y'know, and you're about to unwrap the flashiest package.
I say to Tim, who’s looking pretty sharp in his off-white linen suit, ’Ere, Tim, what d'you reckon of her, then?’
I point. He looks. He sips his lager. I wait. ‘She's …’ he sips his drink again, ‘… not bad.’ Tim's seal of approval is all I need.
'Fancy her mate?’
‘Her mate?’ He sips. ‘Yeah, all right.’
Now, walking up to a girl to ask for a dance is one of the most frightening things known to man, like going over the trenches into no man’s land. But somehow with this one I think my chances are good. And I guess I've always had that extra spark of originality in chatting up technique. My opening line was guaranteed to destroy.
‘Heaven must be missing an angel.’
She glances around, looks me up and down and turns back to face her friend. ‘Push off,’ she says through the back of her head.
‘Do you wanna dance?''
‘Look, stop beating about the bush. Can I dance with you?’
‘Please? I ain’t too proud to beg.’ I touch her hand.
‘Don't manhandle me. Stay there and we'll dance.’
It was ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’. My favourite. I danced.
‘What's your name?’
‘Where do you live, Mary?’
‘How long have you been coming down here?''
‘What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?’
I discovered a long time ago that people like nothing more than to be asked about their lives and there is no better chat-up technique.
‘I’m interested. Is that so bad. I mean, I really…?’
‘About five years.’
I’ve been coming here for five years.’
‘It's just what you make of it. People take you for what you are down here. You don't have to try and be anyone else in a place
like the Palais. It's simply up to you whether or not you want to enjoy yourself.’
She’s blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful. Her smile is Colgate fresh and full of promise.
‘If you ever see a bloke you fancy, Mary, would you ask him to dance?’
‘I've never asked a guy to dance and I don't intend doing so. It's a man's duty to ask for a dance.’
I ask her if she wants to come with me up west to the Embassy Club − home of stars and stargazers and members only. I tell her it’s for a feature in Record Mirror but she doesn’t believe a word.
‘No, thanks. I'm very happy here, thank you. I know that if I went to a place like that I might enjoy it and get a taste for the high life.’
‘But, Mary, it's really difficult to get in for the likes of . . .’
That stops her in her tracks.
‘What do you mean by that?’ she snaps. ‘I'm not good enough for it, eh? Well, I wouldn't go with you if you were the last man here. Go away and find somebody else.’
Her friend, Sue, clocks what’s happening and leaves Tim midway through a particularly tricky oogie.
We walk dejectedly back to the bar. On my third pint I look around at the other girls but none of them holds a candle to Mary. I think it’s when the big band start playing, 'If I can't have you I don't want nobody baby' that I decide to act. It’s now or never.
She’s sitting alone at one of those intimate circular chatting-up tables, handbag at her side like an obedient dog.
‘Look, Mary, I'm sorry about earlier. Why don't you come down the Embassy and we can compare it to the Palais? Just for a laugh. Drinks are on me.’
I kneel by the chair. She flashes one of her smiles and something breaks. It’s the comb in my back pocket.
‘I wouldn’t expect anything else. Oh, all right.’ So Tim and I leave with the girls and head for town.
The cavernous dancehall with its big band sound, rococo interior, dicky-bow bouncers and two-tone-six-pint-too-pissed-to-care customers is a dodo waiting to happen. It belongs to a bygone age of air raids, seamed stockings, American GIs and Joe Loss. The only reason they continue is because the alternative − the disco – is too pricey and too fast for the dancehall diehards of 1978, older but none the wiser.
You can get to dance with a girl with relative ease in the vastness of a dancehall without fear of recrimination if you fail. Discos are still too tight to mention for many, predominantly working-class, punters, but as music gets sleeker and more sensual it will demand a more appropriate environment and the Palais, the Locarno and the Lyceum will crash and burn.
The Embassy is too pricey and too fast and too full of sleek, sensual people. It's not open to the public and a fairly hefty membership fee combined with a long waiting list makes it Fort Knox cool. The drinks are nearly four times the Palais price and there’s not a pint in sight. The canned music is loud, incessant and accompanied by a Charlie
Atlas go-go dancer. There's a light show, including lasers, flash enough to make any rock band cry into their coke (and consequently ruin it) and the barmen walk around in football shorts and nothing else.
‘Well, Mary, what do you think?
‘I don't like it. The people are too old.''
‘But there's a lot who are younger than us.’
‘I mean old in mentality.’
We get some drinks and sit down. Mary looks a little overawed by the whole thing. Clearly she’s not enjoying herself.
‘I can't relax because I get the impression the people here demand that you be like them. It all seems so false. People down the Palais are just being themselves but these people come across like they're trying hard to be somebody else.
‘I don't think it's a matter of money. Maybe everyone here is just chasing a rich reputation. I mean, there's no way I would’ve got in on my own tonight and I don't think that's fair.’
She sips her scotch on the rocks like it’s cat’s piss.
‘But I do like…’
To be beside the seaside?
‘…the style of some of the people. The guys are really nice-looking but a lot are very effeminate. Going with someone like that would turn me off men for life.’
‘It's not! People have told me that before and it's definitely not true. There's not a straight person here except me and my friend. The rest look like a bunch of dropouts to me.’
She takes another sip. The conversation turns to music. She says she doesn’t listen to any and would never dream of buying a music paper. The only time she hears new songs is when she goes to the Palais.
But she can’t forget my earlier remark.
‘Look, the people here have their own little world, I have mine. I think they try a bit harder than me to be something but that's up to them. It doesn't worry me. I'd never come here again. It's just not my scene.’
At that moment Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook come and sit with us. Mary and Sue jump up when a camera flash explodes.
‘If you dare print any pictures of us with those animals I'll sue,’ shrieks Mary.
‘You fuckin’ ol’ cow,’ says Steve. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are − Elizabeth Taylor or sumfin’? You fuckin’ tarts make me sick, you're so fuckin’ snobby.''
Mary is shocked. ‘I don't expect men to swear in my company. It's not right.’
‘Why don't you go and fuck yourself, then?’ replies Steve, master of the witty retort.
‘I want to go,’ says Mary. I’d promised her a lift, and fortunately a record-company PR girl has agreed to drive her home.
Steve follows us outside and the two continue to argue.
Mary and her friend sit in the back of the car with Steve, who decides to tag along. I’ve a strong suspicion he rather likes the look of the PR.
‘What do you do?’ Steve asks Mary as we take the long lonely road to Northolt.
‘I'm about to start work in an airport.’
‘That's right, a fuckin’ air hostess − every little working class girl's dream, to be a fuckin’ air hostess.’
‘I'm going to be a secretary.’
‘Fuckin’ secretaries are just as fuckin’ bad.’
It continues like that for much of the journey with Mary giving as good as she gets and by the time we arrive at her house, she’s started to find the curly-haired ex-Pistol rather intriguing..
‘Goodnight, Steve,’ she says, as she gets out of the car.
‘Fuck off,’ says Steve. And with that my little Mary walks off into that warm Northolt night.
On the ride back to town Steve agrees to an interview and invites me round to his flat in Marylebone a few days later.
Next – Steve Jones takes a bath while I watch (honest)
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Thursday, 24 October 2013
The Evening News asks me to do restaurant reviews. Unbelievable. And what a scam.
I dine out with a mate or Dina and after I pay the bill I ask to see the manager and explain that I’m reviewing the restaurant and how I really enjoyed the food – which I invariably do. Who wouldn’t? Then I claim the whole bill on expenses.
A week or two after a glowing review appears in the paper, I wander on back to the restaurant, with a guest, where a beaming manager greets me and says the review has done wonders for his business and insists my money is no good. I eat out two, three nights a week for absolutely nothing.
Plus, since grabbing the gigs on Record Mirror, the Record and the News, I get taken out to lunch twice a week by sexy record company PRs hungry for column inches who seduce me with wine and crème brulee.
And then one of them asks if I want to interview Iggy Pop.
I take the tube down to RCA’s luxury West End offices but claim for a cab. It’s hard to be a saint in the city. I’m a little nervous. I’d heard some very heavy things about Iggy Pop and his hatred of journalists.
He turns out to be a pussycat.
My last glimpse of him was brief. Shelter out of the midnight rain in the Music Machine. Iggy on stage beating his hairless chest with chimp hands. He was wearing a leotard and fishnet stockings like the ones kept in the back of a housewife’s wardrobe and brought out on special occasions, in the dark.
Pop of the Iggy kind turns you on like that, in the fishnet-stockings dark.
He vanished after the Music Machine show. ‘I'd just had enough. After every gig I need to get away − it's a psychological trick. I use the simplicity of distance, in miles, to enable me to gain a perspective of where I've just been. Then I can sit back and evaluate in a totally clinical way.’
Iggy the ego hero is sitting opposite me. It’s just the two of us. I’ve got an hour. He’s limiting himself to just two interviews. After that he loses patience.
He looks as healthy as a visiting tennis player, but his virginal white is marred by the odd pubic black poking through the racket. His hair is Sassoon-slick, his dress despicably tasteful.
So where's the demon?
And where's the diesel powered snake body?
Or so it seems. He’s just so friendly. The drug-ravaged piss-artist that I’d been told so much about turns out to be little more than a lovable rogue with a neat line in vilification and Detroit demagoguery.
Snap, crackle, POP! ‘This is a real dirty business – a filthy business. I hate it. It’s a big industry built on precarious foundations. So I try and keep myself apart from it as much as I can. I give everything I’ve got on stage and steer clear of the industry after that.
‘I’m afraid I’m a member of that terribly unfashionable school which adheres to the rule of giving people entertainment. My life revolves around my work. I’m not a very interesting international playboy.’
He’s got a perpetual grin that erupts into a full scale smile every so often. For a moment, a very strange moment, I think I’m talking to a member of Blue Oyster Cult or maybe even an Eagle. Imagine!
I pull myself together by asking about his relationship with Laughing Boy Bowie.
‘Things I read about him and me bear so little resemblance to what actually goes on. It’s so predictable. I value everything we’ve done together. And there are things between us that will come to light in time. Projects we’re working on now are years ahead of this era.
‘I seem to have found myself in a position where I’m always ahead of the next man. Everything I do is interpreted later. That’s why there’s so much press about me. People are unable to understand where I’m at so they all become interested in are my attendant features – like vomiting a lot.’
Pretty understandable if you ask me.
‘I’m often regarded as a boil, y’know. A big boil that has to be lanced.’
But don’t you like to be thought of in that way? Don’t you capitalise on it, huh?
‘Sure I capitalise on it. Instead of ignoring it, I embrace it, accept it, and it brings me more fame and fortune. And the more fame and fortune I get, the more it enables me to play my music.’
Simple. But what about that music? That sonic boom that freezes your brain, know what I mean?
‘My music is like a high-pitched dog whistle. You either hear it or not. To me it’s soothing. I need volume to drown out the rest of existence. It has this soporific effect, weakening almost, on me. But at the same time its sheer buoyancy keeps me afloat.’
Would you like to die on stage? Y’know – Iggy goes Pop in public?
‘I get very scared about death – but I guess I wouldn’t mind dying that way. It’s bound to happen anyway. There are a lot of guys out there that hate me. One of them is gonna get up one night and – BANG! – shoot the fuck outta me.’
That put the wind up him.
How do you live up to the undoubted richness of your character?
‘Oh, I occasionally go into bars and jerk off over women’s legs.’
That put the wind up me.
You really done that?
Nah, really Iggy’s a mummy’s boy at heart. ‘My parents are pretty important to me. They have a great deal to do with whatever position I’ve attained now. They’re the best.
‘A lot of guys in rock don’t talk much about their folks. That’s ‘cos they’re now fighting the battles they should’ve fought when they were seven. Y’know, they say now, “Hey Mum, I don’t wanna eat my eggyweggy,” when they should’ve said it years ago.
‘Me, I always told my mum if I didn’t want my eggyweggy. Sure my parents are shocked by some of my actions. They always wanted me to be in reasonably one piece. Still, better shocked by me than strangers, eh?’
Hands up all those who knew there was an Iggy Junior. Eric’s his name. Eric Pop born out of wedlock eight or nine years ago, Iggy’s not absolutely sure about the time.
‘He’s in California at the moment riding horses all day. I don’t see much of him. I provide but that’s all. I guess looking after him financially is my way of doing something worthwhile.’
What about Eric’s mum?
‘I don’t see much of her either. That’s the way I like it. I move around a lot. I don’t like the same surroundings.’
Say Iggy, didn’t you once describe yourself as the King of Failures?
‘That’s apropos. I’d just been reading Cocteau when I said that.’
‘See, all the successes I know are really boring little cheeses. Once those guys are exposed to that dirty thing called the public they become ignorant and inhuman.’
And what was that stockings and leotard get up for the Music Machine show all about?
‘I don’t like to disappoint my fans. Besides, I looked really beautiful in that outfit. I mean that. I’m their superman and before I walked out on stage that night, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, Wow Iggy, you’re pretty good looking. You know something? I think I’m the greatest.’
I think I’m the greatest when, after the interview, the PR invites me into RCA’s record library. ‘Help yourself. I’ve got to dash. ‘Bye.’ Help yourself? Well, sugar pie honey bunch, I can’t help myself. I take as many albums as I can possibly carry, including the entire Bowie back catalogue, three Kinks, a couple of Jefferson Airplane, an Elvis greatest hits, a brace of Don McLean, several Nilssons, a ZZ Top and a Fats Waller. There must be 40 albums in my arms as I struggle through the reception, smile and push open the door into the street with my foot.
Needless to say, I get a cab back to the office.
Next – Pulling down the Palais starring Steve Jones.
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Sunday, 20 October 2013
Cruella, meet Willie
Dina is terrified at the
prospect of me returning to the lonesome road. She wants a man with a stable
career and I don’t know where the fuck I’m going but I know I wanna go there. I
explain to her that I’m back doing what I really want and appeal to her Greek
nature by boasting that I’m getting paid five times more. That seems to appease
her, for now.
The fact is, music writers
are like footballers − we’ve only got short careers. None of us knows where
we’ll be ten years from now and none of us really cares. Life’s just too good.
I’m easing back into the
flow and slide on down into Mink DeVille territory where all the Pachookas are
chewing Bazookas in the shadows tonight...
Willy's with them, his skyscraper quiff bending in the breeze, his willowy
frame winding down the alleyways, like a cartoon cat on a Spanish stroll.
Hey Willy, Willy DeVille.
‘Yeah, what is it, man?’
‘Hell, man, you don't know what a
Pachooka is? Wow. A Pachooka is a guy who only cares about looking sharp, real
sharp, on the streets. It's a style, man. A real style.’
He falls back into the black-leather
sofa at his London record company clutching the remnants of a badly rolled
is he stoned, man. I mean, really stoned. Eight hours of solid interviews,
eight hours of tinny lager, eight hours of pushing broom. Yeah, Willy DeVille's
back after nine months of anonymity, holed up in a New York recording studio
and hanging out with those Pachookas.
In this state he's no fun guy. He's
bored with the questioning, bored with honeydew hacks shipping the same
expressions, bored with the whole record company rumba. What he wants is sleep,
man. What he wants is food, man. What he wants is for me to get the fuck out
that little room in his Soho-based record company where the smoke hangs like
But I ain't going. I’m a freelance now.
I get paid by the word and I’m hungry for them. Okay, Willy, let's talk about clothes. Now, you're a real tasty dude, huh?
‘Y'know ...’ pause to pour a drink, get rid of the joint, ruffle his barnet
and light a cigarette ‘... most
people when they walk on stage dress up like hippies. They don't look cool and
one thing you gotta be up there is cool. I mean real cool.
‘Y’know sumthin? I like to look cool on
stage. I like to look like I'm going to a dance and at that dance I'm gonna
jive with my chick. You don't ever want to look like a hippie at a dance.
‘There ain't no way I'm gonna look
uncool in front of 6000 people man. No way.’
He looks down, almost dejectedly, at his
feet. ‘So, anyway I can, I've got to look cool. Really cool. Real cool.’
Now, I don't know about you, but I get
the distinct impression that Willy likes to look cool.
‘I've got some hot shantung suits,
y'know Chinese silk, in black, canary yellow and peacock green. Real classy.
They cost around five hundred dollars each.’
He takes a long hard look at me.
like to get jazzed when I sing. I'm escaping from everyday life and I ain't
afraid to say it. I take all those people sitting out there. I take them all.
man − I heal them!’
Ever been to a rock concert, Willy?
‘I swear on my mother's grave, I've
never been to one in my life. They're for hippies and I don't hang around with
hippies. I don't want people saying, “Hey, look, there's Willy DeVille hanging
out with hippies.” Hippies are lambs man. Lambs.’
‘Listen, man, I left school when I was
fourteen. I had no education but I know I've got the power to do whatever I
want. See, some people are leaders and some people are followers − lambs.
Whatever you believe is real, so what you have to say to yourself is, ‘I wish I
wish I wish so bad,’ and if you wish hard enough you'll get it.’
So you wished, Willy?
but I wished for the wrong shit. I'm telling you, man, if I'd have been smart
and made the right decisions I could have gotten out of this whole thing and
got into something much bigger.
‘So I'm left with the lambs − and I love
cos they're so easily misdirected. But I’d do it differently if I could go
through it all again.
‘I'd be governor of Louisiana.’
A photographer laughs somewhere in the
(Willy continued to release albums − the
last in 2008 was Pistola. He also
wrote for movies and in 1987 he got an Oscar nomination for his song ‘Storybook
Love’, the theme to the film The Princess
Bride, which he performed at the ceremony that year − not, however, while wearing a shantung suit.
He died of cancer in 2009 aged just 58).
Next episode – Iggy Pop
© Barry Cain 2013
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Free as a bird
June 1978-February 1979
Independent PR is hard work with no expenses.
The hours are anywhere towards the latter end of 10 a.m.− 6 a.m. because you have to be about, to be part of the scene. You also have to constantly convince people to have confidence in you. Tricky when you’ve got no confidence in yourself.
As a music journalist I only had to do that once, maybe twice, a week in a one-to-one interview. But an independent music publicist has to deal with a lot of shit from a lot of people and deal with it swiftly and competently. That’s hard. You have to be made of the right stuff and, frankly, I’m not.
I want to be a journalist again.
Each morning I wake up from a dreamless sleep in a dreamless world stripped of all desire. This is no way to live. So I resign.
A week later the phone rings and I’m trying to focus on the sound, y’know, scheme it’s a dream. But it’s for real. The clock says 11:10 and it’s light outside so I figure it must be a.m., unless I’m still in Iceland.
I’m home alone, both the parents are at work, so I get out of bed and limp to the phone in the hallway. My ankle still aches.
‘Hello Barry, it’s Alf.’ Alf Martin is the editor of Record Mirror. ‘Fancy doing some stuff for us?’
‘Absolutely,’ I say the next morning in his office, face to face. He offers me a fifty quid a week retainer.
Yeah, I can be a freelance writer. I can do that.
Next day. ‘Barry, Roz here.’ Ros Russell is the deputy editor of Record Mirror. ‘The Daily Record in Glasgow is looking for a pop writer and I’ve recommended you. They want a piece on Bob Dylan and include something on his love life.’
I didn’t know he had one.
‘Dylan’s doing a UK tour shortly so I suggest you write something and get it over to the Daily Mirror pretty damn quick.’ The Mirror is the Record’s sister paper and drop-off point for London-based hard copy and photos heading north.
I know absolutely nothing about Bob’s bedroom antics but cobble together a few old press cuttings and pump up the volume a little. My very first piece of tabloid freelance journalism and amazingly I get the gig. Freelance. The Daily Record is the second biggest selling paper in Britain after the Mirror, and here I am with my own twice-weekly column. Pop is hot stuff and getting hotter. In a perverse way, punk has made the music scene more glamorous, more exciting and, shit, am I excited! I get another hundred quid a week for keeping it that way.
‘Is that Barry?’
‘Yes.’ Don’t recognise the voice. One p.m. That’s fine.
‘Hi, it’s John Blake here, from AdLib on the London Evening News.’ A soft-lights, sweet-music voice.
‘I wondered if you wanted to fill in for someone next week.’ AdLib is a nightly entertainment/gossip column heavily slanted towards music.
‘Absolutely,’ I say, the next morning in his office, face to face, in Fleet Street. A hundred quid for a week’s work plus expenses – and, boy, what expenses. That’ll do nicely.
I start to write gossip on a regular basis for the Evening News, no by-line but the drinks are free. Every Saturday there are AdLib specials across the centrespread and I tentatively mention an idea for a feature – the re-emergence of the skinhead.
Two days later I’m in a pub in Canning Town, interviewing ten-year-down-the-line skinheads braced and booted and hot to talk.
Light and bitter was the drink, the complexion and the attitude of that unique sixties animal − the skinhead. He appeared quite suddenly on the street − a mod derivative but more violent and classier than the marauding Margate model. The hobnail hobo was the personification of working-class youth with time on its hands. A youth that could no more identify with flower power than the House of Lords.
The bootloose and fancy-free summer of ‘68 was the skinhead sartorial peak. Daylight hours required spotless Ben Shermans (tapered naturally), clip-on braces, Levi’s or Sta-Prest that wavered nervously a clear two inches above the demon black Dr Martens, which seemed to pulsate with a life of their own.
The night demanded an infinitely more elegant approach. The Mecca machos pulled during dream-time wearing two-tone mohair suits (all made to measure, off-the-peg whistles had the perpetual piss taken out of them), scrupulously polished brogues, college ties and the customary Sherman.
I, for my sins, was one − or more accurately, an unsuccessful one. I never possessed as much bottle as my mates, my braces used to fly up my back every five minutes, which was distinctly uncool, and I couldn't afford Dr Martens because I was the only skin on the block who still went to school after sixteen.
But that whole era was doomed.
Sheepskins and Crombies shot up in price. Flared bottom strides became fashionable because music dictated it and somehow they just didn't go with boots. 'Django’s Theme' and Desmond Dekker didn’t seem to matter much anymore.
But this time the circumstances are a little different. Most of the skinheads you see today are ex-punks disenchanted with the middle-class infiltration of that particular cult.
The spokesmen are Gary Dickie, a twenty-year - old labourer who became a skinhead to avoid authority, and his mate Vince Riordan, a nineteen year-old roadie for a rock band (and later bassist with Cockney Rejects), who wanted to identify with something.
Both are dressed like their ghostly sixties ancestors − with the addition of two-tone Slazenger jackets which weren't around then.
‘We get most of our clothes from Oxfam shops and stalls down Brick Lane market,’ says Vince. ‘I bought a pair of loafers the other day for three quid. I reckon you can look like a skin for twenty-five.’
The compulsory crop is now 70p. ‘It's merely a question of telling the barber whether you want a number one, two, three or four cut. Number one is the shortest − the Kojak cut,’ says Vince. Gary maintains the new breed of skinhead is not as violent as his sixties predecessor.
‘We're just working-class geezers looking for a good time. But I guess we’ve got something to prove − we're not scum. People think ’cos you come from the East End you're a gangster. Birds won't let you take them home from a dance when you tell them where you live, so that limits your choice ’cos there ain't many skinhead birds around and the soulies just don't wanna know.’
Skin girls are recognisable by their gypsy-cut hairstyles and monkey boots or astronauts.
Vince says his parents prefer him being a skinhead to a punk. ‘They even give me money to buy clothes now ’cos they realise it's a lot smarter.’
‘People think we're either National Front or Marxists,’ says Gary, ‘and that's shit. I'm fed up with being asked if I was involved in that racist riot down Brick Lane the other day. I just don't want to know about any of that crap. I don't get taxed any lower for being a skinhead, do I?’
Jimmy Pursey, darling of the skin world, has been accused of spearheading the crop-top revival and of being responsible for perpetuating rock-gig violence.
‘Sham 69 were the first band to really appeal to the skins,’ says Vince. ‘I suppose it's the equivalent of going to a football match when you see them play. As for the violence, you can get that anywhere. Like we said before, we go for a good time and nothing more.’
Jimmy himself seems to be feeling the strain. ‘The reason I welcome all the skinheads to our gigs is because I preach peace not violence. If they didn't have me telling them how stupid it is to be violent then, well . . . But I'm alone and it's about time somebody gave me some help.
‘They're a nice bunch of geezers though. Most of them had never been to a rock gig in their life until Sham came along. But I want to make it absolutely clear − Sham 69 is a punk band, not a skinhead one.’
Vince and Gary have both been in trouble with the police, mainly after football-terrace rucks.
‘At one time the police picked on you for being a punk − now it's for being a skinhead,’ says Vince, who once had five jobs in five months. ‘I just couldn't take authority on any level − I still can't. I don't ever want to work for anyone. I guess that's why I became a skinhead.
‘The future looks pretty bleak. I can see us all ending up as suedeheads wearing suits and going to discos. Not much look forward to when you're 25 is it?’
The following Saturday I pick up the Evening News in my local newsagent and open it in the shop. There, under the headline ‘Skinheads Rule OK’, is my name, which I quickly point out to Steve, the owner’s son. He’s a printer at night and a black-cab driver by day and earns a fortune. He also doesn’t sleep much.
‘Great,’ he says, wide-eyed and couldn’t really care-legless.
So, later that week I’m sitting at my Fleet Street desk when suddenly a photographer pops up, takes my picture and voila! it appears beside my name in the following Saturday’s column.
I buy the paper in the same shop and open it up like a woman’s legs.
‘Great,’ says Steve, bleary-eyed and couldn’t give a toss.
I’m in seventh heaven. I look mean, moody, magnificent ... and bearded. Well, you can’t have everything.
© Barry Cain 2013