Fame, Part 6

Infamy!, Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

The surface of Mars, Death Valley in California and the ice fields of the north and south poles are all notoriously hostile to human existence. They are environments where life, if it exists at all, hangs by a slender thread. They are however fertile Gardens of Eden compared to the sterile malevolence of the recording studio. They are veritable Disney-lands, crammed with fun and excitement when compared to the stultifying tedium of taping a radio session or television performance.
Yup, talking about hitting the airwaves on national radio, appearing on one of British TV’s premier music programs….and loathing every minute of it (well maybe not every minute!).

What an ungrateful sonofabitch you must think I am. Stay with me though and let me explain why.

If you have stamina and a decent memory, you may recall that I previously penned a piece on the disappointing aspects of fame, concentrating on The Flowers’ ‘big gig’ in London supporting Simple Minds, that and an underwhelming curry experience in Barnsley.
The point of that article and this, its successor is to reflect on the fact that the moments you imagine will be great, those supposed ‘big breaks’ are invariably dull at best.

It has been said that one should never meet one’s heroes…the same I fear holds true when it comes to encounters with ‘fame’. I repeat my declaration in Part One that I was never actually famous. Probably never even close in truth, yet I’ve been fortunate(?) enough to experience some of the things ‘famous people’ encounter and cope with daily. I fear their lives must be a bit of a drag because I found it all horribly mundane, and when it wasn’t mundane it was invariably terrifying, with the end results more often than not, mortifying.

The Studio:
Radio Sessions for the BBC
Kid Jenson 1982, John Peel 1983.

Since I’m writing for a predominantly US readership maybe I ought to give a little background about who we were recording for, and why it seemed such a big deal at the time.

I assume most of you have heard of the BBC. It’s the UK’s national broadcasting service and attempts to cater for all tastes, cultures, ages and inclinations. In its attempt to please most of the people most of the time it invariably irritates the majority of folk the majority of the time.

The last statement, on reflection is probably a tad unfair. I wouldn’t challenge the fact that the Beeb (as it’s alternately known) has broadcast world class drama, its news reporting is respected around the world and its light entertainment section has laid the benchmark for classic comedy, both on the radio and on television. In so many ways its work is unparalleled…the only problem it’s had is ‘getting down with the kids.

Despite predictable criticism from the political right that it has a left-wing bias, the BBC has endeavored to be scrupulously even-handed but in so doing has remained unremittingly conservative (with a small ‘c’ that is). Attempts to connect with the ‘youth’ market have for the most part been lame at best and at worst, hilariously inept. Want a couple of examples?

When Dexy’s Midnight Runners appeared on BBC TV”s flagship chart show Top Of The Pops performing ‘Jackie Wilson Says’, so out of touch were the program’s producers, that pictures of the Scottish darts player Jocky Wilson accompanied the band’s performance…..yup really. Or when Elvis Costello was on singing ‘Every Day I Write The Book’ he was accompanied by three of the show’s resident ‘dancers’, each holding up an over sized tome emblazoned with the words ‘The Book’ on the cover…..oh dear.

So safe, so hopelessly out of touch was the Beeb that it became known as Auntie Beeb. There was however a couple of notable exceptions to the safe, smarmy, shiny faced presenters of the networks output. One was Kid Jenson, the other was John Peel.

Let’s get the worst one out f the way first…the truly awful, “mesmerizingly” bad, humiliating and shameful Kid Jenson session.
Canadian Kid Jenson hosted an early evening ‘rock show’ that whilst never as experimental or democratic or dangerous as Peel’s did have the kudos of a much more widely known presenter and a far more prime-time slot…and a bigger audience. The show was far more mainstream than Peel’s and tended to focus on new wave/modern bands who had either ‘made it’ or were about to.

To be invited to record a session for the show was kinda tacit acknowledgment that your band was about to ‘make it’…..yeah right, I can feel the shame of it all as I sit here writing some 30 years later…oh the horror of it!

A little while after The Flowers’ ‘big gig’ supporting Simple Minds, the band split up. The ‘creative’ element, ie Hilary the singer and Simon the drummer (who was also a classically trained pianist) ditched the rest of the band in favor of a new project ‘Heartbeat’ which they reckoned would be a sure-fire success. They did after all still have the interest of the record companies from the recently defunct Flowers and in Bob Last they had an ‘inside track’ in the business, someone who could open doors that would otherwise have remained firmly shut.
To my considerable surprise Hilary asked me to be part of the new endeavor. Many nights were spent round Bob & Hilary’s flat in the weeks and months that followed. Hilary fancied herself as a kind of ‘feminist Dolly Parton with a Marxist twist’ kinda gal and wrote occasionally clever lyrics. She had a vision of how songs might sound but not the musical nous to express it. This is where Simon and I came in. Hilary would ineptly tinkle out a few notes on the piano, invariably some jazzy piece of crap and sing her new lyrics , then rely on Simon & I to make a song out of it. I can honestly say we did our best but for a girl who supposedly hated musicians and wanted to create modern relevant pop…boy she couldn’t write a pop tune if her life depended on it, and depended on us ‘musicians’ totally. It was, therefore a trifle galling when I saw that all the new songs we were creating (and by we I mean Simon and I) were being credited to Hilary Morrison…(to be continued…)