30 June 2006

Cuddly Toys - Madman


Cuddly Toys - Madman cover

Madman was one of two songs written by David Bowie and Marc Bolan in September 1977.

Marc had been the acoustic elfin kid, the glam rock pioneer and prime star, then gone through a mid 70s cocaine fuelled two-parts-glam-one-part-soul period (which everyone slags off but I really like).

Then he moved back to London, got into punk, went teetotal and was getting it together.

It's hard to explain just how much punk was hated by the establishment. Even within the music press, it was decried as just noise and not proper music, as encouraging violence and glorifying squalor. But Bolan saw in it the same vigorous youth energy he'd always loved in early rock n roll. He wrote articles defending it, praising punk bands for 'holding a mirror up to society'. He got The Damned in as the support on his 1977 tour.

He was given a TV show, presenting and playing two or three songs and introducing other bands. There was some cack that the Industry paid to be on - Bay City Fuckin Rollers in 1977, for fuck's sake - but he also got on The Jam, The Damned and Generation X.

His own band was still a load of sessionists in overalls, but as the Marc show's punky versions of his old hits demonstrated, he was ready to head out into something with more balls.

For the last show, his old mate from way back came over to play a new song. Bowie and Bolan had been friends in the early 70s. Their shared producer, Tony Visconti, recalls the two of them having long conversations about the importance of retaining artistic control and not letting managment dictate your career. When Bowie's band The Hype played their only gig in 1970, Bolan was the only audience member who'd got into their spirit of outrageous costumes and came along dressed as a gladiator.

They played on a couple of tracks together that year; the single Oh Baby, credited to Dib Cochran and The Earwigs, and Bowie's original single of The Prettiest Star (might put either or both up here if anyone wants 'em).

Then Bolan became a huge star while Bowie released a rapid succession of great records that nobody bought. Hunky Dory, with Changes as the flagship 45, and it utterly stiffed! What the fuck else was anybody buying that justifies that?

When he demoed his next album, the song that went on to be Lady Stardust was called Song For Marc.

As Bowie's star ascended far higher, Bolan went a long way down the avenue of peculiar concept album titles. Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow; or A Creamed Cage in August. I shit you not. Great album, mind.

But by 77 both of them had been through weird times and were getting it back together. Bowie had gone to Berlin and abandoned any attempts at commercialism whilst being monstrously prolific. That year he'd already put out Low and co-written and played on Iggy Pop's The Idiot and Lust For Life. He'd just finished Heroes when Marc talked him into coming on the Marc show.

On 9th September they recorded it. Bowie did Heroes, and he and Marc were going to do two numbers they'd just written together, Sitting Next To You and Madman. Both are exactly the kind of wired, simplistic and compelling artrock that you'd expect 1977 Bolan and Bowie to come up with of the top of their heads, loose yet anguished.

Filming of the show had over-run, and they were only half a minute into the first song when Marc fell off the stage and technicians on a work-to-rule overtime ban stopped filming. Bastards.

On 15th September Marc had a night out in London with friends and his partner, Gloria Jones. In the early hours of the 16th, their car failed to make a corner and hit a tree on Barnes Common, killing Marc instantly. He was two weeks short of his 30th birthday.

By strange coincidence, not only did Bowie appear on Marc's show only to have the presenter die before it was broadcast, but the same thing happened that year with his appearance on the Bing Crosby Christmas special.

It's said that Marc had given a tape of Madman to some fans. Whatever, the song first saw the light of day as this Cuddly Toys single in 1980.

The band on the back are wearing glittery clothes - waaaaay out of date for 1980 - and the personnel are listed as Sean Purcell, Tony Baggett, Faebhean Kwest, Billy Surgeoner and Paddy. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that, ahem, Faebhean was the singer.

According to the practically definitive Illustrated David Bowie Discography (who've taken their astonishing downloads section down, grumble grumble), Madman was written by Bolan, Bowie and Steve Harley.

The originals of Madman and Sitting Next To You have appeared on numerous shitty bootlegs over the years, but in 1995 all takes of them were released in decent audio quality on a bootleg CD called Marc Bolan With David Bowie And Other Friends (Bolan Collectors Series MBCS102). There's also The Last Sessions, which does the same job.

I'd give my nads for a copy of either disc.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

16 June 2006

Frazier Chorus - Anarchy In The UK


Frazier Chorus - Anarchy In The UK cover

I know nothing of this band other than this one single.

The A-side is Sloppy Heart, a piece of 80s slow sterile breathy overprecious cack, po-faced style over substance, self-conscious and empty, like someone's surgically removed the sliver of soul from Dream Academy.

Just look at them ferchrissakes! That peroxide ponytail, you bunch of mega-eighties ponces!

The B-side has much the same delicate faux-luscious arrangement and style, but it's Anarchy In The UK. It's utterly hilarious, especially the plinky bell sound the keyboard uses for playing the guitar solo.

Just like the delight of finding a drunken version of King Of The Road on the B-side of REM's So. Central Rain, so this cracks the mask of the A-side which (I'm guessing) is more typical of Frazier Chorus' output.

They keep it up right to the end, and it's all the funnier for not having any clumsy humour introduced.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

05 June 2006

Pete Townshend & John Williams - Won't Get Fooled Again


The Secret Policeman's Ball was a comedy/music fundraiser for Amnesty International. The four shows at Her Majesty's Theatre, London ran on consecutive days from 27th-30th June 1979. Two live albums came out from the gigs, one comedy one music.

Performers included Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and most of the Monty Python team for the comics, and Pete Townshend, Tom Robinson, Neil Innes and John Williams in the muso corner.

Incidentally, that's the British classical guitarist and then Sky member John Williams, not the guy who does the music for all the Spielberg movies.

One of these days I'll sort out doing a Glad To Be Gay month, putting up the dozen or so released versions of Tom Robinson's masterpiece (the Secret Policeman version is particuarly good, the first updated lyric and delivered with more venom than on any other).

But for now, Pete Townshend's startling acoustic Won't Get Fooled Again. It's credited to the unlikely combo of Townshend and Williams, but you have to strain to hear anything that could be the latter fret-fingerer.

Not that it matters. The real glory is hearing Townshend's masterful riffing unaccompanied. For all his electric powerchordery, it's that clipped staccato approach, that tight twitchy tension that grips you so hard.

These are tight, mean hard riffs right in your face. The sparse setting makes them all the more powerful in the same way that a psychotic killer creeping up behind you and whispering in your ear is much scarier than seeing them come screaming from 800 metres away.

I'm this far in and I haven't even mentioned that this is one of his greatest lyrics; whilst not shying away from the late 60s revolutionary fervour, he points to the way all changes of leadership are just a switch of the brand name on your shackles.

A couple of years back there was a documentary on Jagger's latest tedious solo effort, and it showed Townshend recording a guest guitar spot. On the album it's buried politely in the mix, but on the TV show it had Pete in the studio, greying and a tad rotund, yet as soon as his guitar was on it was a loud, violent ak-ak-ak-ak of power and control that blew your head off. This track has much the same effect.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!. Leave a note with your email address in the comments if you want me to send it to you. I've also encoded Pinball wizard and Drowned from the same album, if you want either of those too just say]