Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Post Bowie Vacuum Finally Begins to Fill

Of course, the first thing you'd expect here would be a nice picture of The Dame.

I don't think you need to see another one, do you? You've already got your own best image of him in your head.

Like almost everyone who has already written things far better than I ever could, I never met David Bowie. And yet... and yet. He was personally important in ways which I  - and the rest of the world - are only now really realising.

I missed the one opportunity of meeting him when I was working at RCA/BMG and he signed to us for the Earthling album. He came into the building at Putney Bridge and by all accounts hung out for a bit and was very friendly. I was out that day; probably in a studio pretending to be important or maybe sitting in traffic on the M56 in an attempt to find a group in Manchester. I have no idea. I just remember that "guess who you missed meeting?" crowing on my return. Ah well.

Anyway, since I last wrote this on my return from all those US and Canadian record shops, where have I been? What have I been doing?

Well, for starters, although it seems like a lifetime ago, there was this:

Yes, that's me, gesticulating wildly whilst doing a lecture. I was explaining What's the Point of A&R?  to a hall of students studying Popular Music. Who would've thought that would be a course? It is, though. I wonder if I'd gone on it, I would have ended up signing more successful bands?

I also wrote a text version of it a couple of weeks ago for Music Business Worldwide and was astonished how many friends and colleagues got back to me agreeing with my 3 Commandments of A&R. After all, it's been a very long time since I actually did the job. It appears, however, despite massively decreased sales, that not much has changed about the actual job. And its necessity.

Then Christmas happened, Lemmy died, then Bowie and it we were suddenly beached into a whole new year where everything seemed different.

Since then, my bearings have been steadied by a number of things. Firstly, the new Mystery Jets album Curve Of The Earth. A friend of mine gave me an advance copy of it before Christmas and I've been living with it since then. To be perfectly honest, I don't often get excited about new records: last year I enjoyed Courtney Barnett, Ezra Furman and Slaves but I'm not sure I'll be continuing to listen to them much this year. This new Mystery Jets elpee is staying with me; it's about as good as it gets: opaque intriguing lyrics, brilliantly sung by a singer who's really got the chops and most important - the thing that gets underestimated or simply taken for granted - great soaring tunes that twist in unexpected yet entirely satisfying ways. These are songs that somehow always existed yet here they are for the first time! Listen to Bombay Blues if you don't believe me. If you want a glib, quick reference it's The Shins meets Arctic Monkeys. I've read a couple of miserly reviews in The Guardian and Mojo already. Ignore them, go and listen to it, then tell me I'm wrong if you must. I met two of them a few days ago for the podcast and they as good company as their music.

Another surprise and bearings-steadier in the post Bowie vacuum was discovering that Micky Gegus, co-founder and guitarist of West Ham hard case punks Cockney Rejects is a total gent.

I interviewed him ahead of a screening of Richard England's wonderful film about the band, East End Babylon and I suspect like a lot of people, I hadn't really properly listened to the Cockney Rejects during their heyday. They were too firmly aligned with football,which I have never been interested in, and the songs I heard on the radio (I've Forever Blowing Bubbles and Greatest Cockney Rip Off) seemed too lumpen and dull to warrant investigation of any album. Now giving their tunes a bit of time (in both senses: distance from the release date as well as my own listening time), whilst they're never going to compete with, say, The Clash or The Jam,  I was overwhelmed by their musicality and freshness. Tracks like East End or Oi Oi Oi are genuinely great. They were so young at the time too. And who can argue with a band who spent their advance on fireworks and treats from the school tuckshop?

I'm wasn't going to go about rock deaths today but after losing two originals like Lemmy and Bowie within weeks, I fear, we're going to have to start getting used to losing old friends over the next few years. Rock's first great wave are now that age: getting ready to leave the planet,  It's the pitiful cry of a 50 something white westerner but we're not going to see their like again; once they're gone, will we be charting the fascinating courses taken by Bieber, Swift and Kanye? Well, I'm sure some people will be, but not me.

Just before he died, Lemmy made an advertisement for a well know brand of Finnish milk. If you haven't seen it, have a look; it's the only advert I've ever seen where the product is actively spurned by the person promoting it. Anyway, it provided me with the inspiration to write a column for BBC Radio 4's Front Row about how products use wild men of rock to promote their stuff.

And if you like the sound of my voice banging on, try this one I did on charity shops being the new record shops - it was broadcast just tonight (Thursday 28th January) but I recorded it before Christmas as a timeless piece they could use to fill space. They added it so last minute that I don't even get billed on the website - it's about 20 minutes into the show.

A lovely thing appeared online towards the end of last week which for me, put an end to the unexpected period of Bowie mourning. It was the release of a bit of studio japery by the Bo-man recorded during the Langer & Winstanley sessions for Absolute Beginners. In it he impersonates Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Anthony Newley and several others. It's both funny and also touching; a snapshot of the great man taking a break at work. I love the fact that he was capable of being a highbrow bonafide artist whilst simultaneously being a South East London piss taker. OK, so there are far less Laughing Gnomes than Beauty And The Beasts (and a good thing too) but there is also a catalogue of evidence, which points to Bowie being able to laugh at himself and others. To be perfectly honest, when I hear a band like, say, this week, Savages, talk earnestly about their art, I just want to reach for the eject button. When Ricky Gervais suggested Bowie finally got a proper job as he turned 60, the Dame apparently replied he had one and it was 'Rock God'. This is the man who talked in the unique scatalogical manner of Derek to Brian Eno's Clive whilst the two of them recorded Heroes and Low.

And of course his last TV appearance on Extras. Is it too much to ask for Little Fat Man to be released as a charity record?