Research conducted by my friend Fawn Hall in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles has revealed that I lived at 8812 Rangely Avenue when I worked as Melody Maker’s American Editor in LA between September and December 1973, following a month at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Being of a sweet and generous disposition, Fawn has sent me a few photographs of the building, though it took us a few weeks to locate it but because she lives nearby and walks her small dog around the neighbourhood on a daily basis it wasn’t too onerous a task to take pictures of several buildings on the south side of Rangely until she came up with the right one, as identified by yours truly.
The building was divided into four apartments and I occupied the one on the top right, sublet from the singer Phil Ochs through his brother Michael who at that time was the publicist for Buddah Records. Michael, of course, would go on to launch the photo agency Michael Ochs Archives which is now owned by Getty Images.
The side view. The flight of steps led up to my kitchen. The window at the top right was my bedroom. 

Fawn is the widow of my old friend Danny Sugerman, the writer who worked for The Doors for much of his life, eventually becoming the nearest thing they had to a manager in the years following the death of Jim Morrison in Paris in 1971. In 1988 Omnibus Press published his book The Doors – The Illustrated History, a collection of photographs and press reports about the group but Danny is probably best known for having co-authorised with Jerry Hopkins No One Here Gets Out Alive, the best-selling biography of Morrison that was published in 1980 and did much to resuscitate the fortunes of the Doors thereafter. Danny also wrote a balls-to-the-wall memoir called Wonderland Avenue: Tales Of Glamour And Excess (1989) that Fawn tells me has been optioned for a film treatment, to be produced by the noted director David Fincher (Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo etc).

I had a few intemperate adventures with Danny when I lived in LA, and the last time I saw him was in 1994 when I was sent there to ease the transfer of the Doors printed sheet music rights in the direction of Music Sales, which I somehow accomplished over lunch at the swanky Four Seasons hotel where I stayed for three nights, sleeping in a bed that could comfortably accommodate four persons of average size. Danny had married Fawn in 1991 but, sadly, he died from lung cancer in 2005, leaving her to manage his literary estate which she does with due diligence, as lawyers put it.
          So my thanks to Fawn – she can be seen in the middle photo, reflected in the glass door of the building – for sending me these pictures from Rangely Avenue, which remind me of a particularly eventful period of my time on Melody Maker, all of which seems slightly surreal to me nowadays. I write about my time in the apartment on Rangely Avenue in these posts on Just Backdated here:
and here:



My days as a commuter will draw to an end early next year, but in the meantime I’m still clamping on the headset as the 0894 pulls out of Guildford heading north east towards London. First up today is The Beach Boys and ‘Our Sweet Love’, a pleasant if unremarkable track from Sunflower which found its way on to my iPod via Summer Love Songs, a 2009 compilation of 20 of the BB’s more tender moments, newly remixed, that I can recommend for anyone seeking to successfully woo their partner on the beach in a warm resort where the sea laps the sand.
          Next up is ‘Hong Kong Garden’ by Siouxsie & her Banshees, their very worthy debut hit from 1978, from a comp I picked up in the supermarket called Up Yours Punk’s Not Dead. Steve Severin plays a furiously strummed guitar over Chinese style percussion and more than a hint of the mysterious Orient while Siouxsie sings of Chicken Chow Mein and Chop Suey, evidently about a Chinese takeaway of the same name but there’s a deeper comment in there somewhere about the Chinese race. I haven’t heard this in ages but I’m glad I did again.
          Siouxsie is followed by Abba singing ‘The Way Old Friends’, their Old Lang Syne pastiche that was used to close concerts late in their career. Led by Benny on accordion and Frida taking the lion’s share of the vocals, this the sort of stirring singalong anthem that patriotic crowds sing when someone has won an Olympic gold medal. This version is taken from the fairly recent Live At Wembley album, reviewed elsewhere on Just Backdated, and not the more widely known live recording on More Abba Gold. Serious lighters in the air stuff.
          The wide variety of music on my iPod is no better illustrated by the fact that this is followed by ‘Fever’, the old Peggy Lee song, here given a reggae treatment by Junior Byles, very laid back indeed, and then one of my much-loved more recent discoveries, Tama Impala, with ‘Yes I’m Changing’ from their Currents album, released in July this year and a fixture in my car ever since. For this album Kevin Parker has largely abandoned his dreamy guitars for equally dreamy synthesisers, but not so on this lovely track which, as with much of TA’s music, puts me in mind of Lennon, or more precisely what Lennon might have got up to had not fate dealt him the worst card imaginable. Actually this reminds me a bit of ‘#9 Dream’, sumptuous, melodic, Spectoresque, with a swirling backdrop that would have been both unavailable and unthinkable in Lennon’s time.
          And now it’s a touch of jazz, ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’ by Oscar Peterson & his Trio from his 1963 album Night Train, a record that Chris Welch recommended to me many years ago when I felt like I wanted to learn more about jazz and needed a bit of guidance. He certainly did me a favour as this album is perfect if you like tricky piano jazz, ideal for a late evening.
          Oscar is followed by folksy singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, ‘The Story’ from her debut album Steady On from 1989, a favourite of Mrs C, and then by JS Bach’s ‘Prelude In C Major’, one of those harpsichord pieces that you expect to hear in the background to historical plays based on the works of Hilary Mantel. No lesser authority than Jack Bruce once said that Bach was the master of the bass line, and this piece, a stream of arpeggios grounded by a descending left hand pivot, explains what he was getting at. Very medieval. Of the 16,000+ songs of the iPod these days less than 1% are classical but it makes a change.
          From Germany long ago to what sounds like Africa, Deborah Harry with ‘Calmarie’ from Def Dum And Blonde, her third solo album released in 1989, on which she adopted ‘Deborah’ as opposed to ‘Debbie’ for her professional purposes. More like Blondie than her other solo efforts, this song is actually a sort of tone poem with indecipherable lyrics, very chilled out and very listenable.
          Next up are R.E.M., always a favourite of mine, with ‘All The Way To Reno’ from 2001’s Reveal album though this version comes from Unplugged 1991/2001. It was at this point in R.E.M.’s career than guitars fell out of favour, not a move I welcomed but this still sounds lovely, as does almost all of this Unplugged CD, another one I reviewed elsewhere on JB.
          Keyboards seem to dominate the ride this morning, for next we have Scott Joplin – ‘New Rag’ from an album called, surprisingly enough, The Entertainer. Very enjoyable as the train rattles along, even if most of these rags sound remarkably similar.
          Finally, we have Kraftwerk and ‘Man Machine’ from Minimum-Maximum, their 2005 live album which I always though was a bit odd because, as David Buckley pointed out in his KW book Publikation, “although the authenticity of having a ‘best of’ of live performances masquerading as one show might be said to have been compromised (performances in Warsaw, Moscow, Berlin, London, Budapest, Tallinn, Riga, Tokyo, and San Francisco formed the composted aural whole), what cannot be levelled as a piece of criticism is that the music itself isn’t played. It just isn’t played with instruments.”
          Nevertheless, the sound of Kraftwerk’s machine music seems somehow appropriate as I approach the towering arch of Waterloo and pull up alongside these great machines called trains that carry us hither and thither. 



To the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone for the Who Literary Event where six authors, myself included, have been invited to talk about the group and their books.
Unbeknowst to me until I got there the event had been brought forward by an hour so I missed Ben Marshall whose Official History I felt obliged to censure here on Just Backdated a few weeks ago. Had I known that Ben had only two months in which to write it I would have been more understanding towards the book and, also, laid the blame at the publishers for allowing him so little time to complete a project that they obviously wanted to publish in the optimum time slot leading up to Christmas. In my view Ben ought to have been given at least a year to write a book such as this.
Two months! Hold that thought while I digress a little. Tony Fletcher approached me in 1994 with his proposal for Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon, which Omnibus Press published in 1998 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the great drummer’s death, and delivered the draft manuscript 12 months before we published the book. Irish Jack and Joe McMichael had spent a decade compiling The Who Concert File before they brought the fruits of their research to me to publish. I took Dave Marsh to the Oldfield, the now demolished pub in Greenford where Keith first stepped up to the Who drum stool, a good 18 months before I first opened the pages of Before I Get Old. I have no doubt that Matt Kent and Andy Neill spent half a lifetime compiling material for Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, and we all know that Pete was posting extracts from Who I Am on his website several years before the book’s eventual publication in 2012. All of which puts things into perspective and perhaps explains why the Official History suffered in the way it did, and having now met Ben I am sympathetic towards the predicament in which he found himself. I blame the publishers, the same publishers who incidentally have behaved less than honourably with regards to Matt and Andy’s book.
When I arrived at the Cockpit Mark Blake was talking about his book Pretend You’re In A War, which I enjoyed immensely while on holiday in Spain a few years ago and wrote about here. Mark’s diligence included tracing school friends of the three eldest members of The Who – Roger, Pete and John – who of course all went to Acton County Grammar. At least one he traced refused to speak to him, an altercation with Roger evidently still festering almost 60 years later. “I think Rog bopped him one,” said Mark, prompting a bloke in the audience to observe that Roger couldn’t smash the skin off a rice pudding. Well, he felled Pete during those rehearsals for the Quadrophenia tour didn’t he?
Mark was followed by Dougal Butler and Tony Fletcher but if I’d been organising the event I’d have put them on separately. Time restraints probably meant they had to be interviewed together and, inevitably, Dougal got the lion’s share of the time, and he spoke both amusingly and movingly of the years he spent with Keith. As ever I was left in no doubt that Moon was a troubled soul, enormously gifted yet somehow unable to believe that the world wouldn’t love him unless he was constantly performing. His lack of faith in his own talents was as sad as the manner of his accidental death, as Tony pointed out. On a lighter note Dougal had us all in stitches with stories of encounters with Steve McQueen at Trancas, the house where in 1976 Keith lived amongst millionaires by the beach north of Santa Monica. Keeping those two apart required all Dougal’s diplomatic skills.
I bemoaned the fate of the UK’s weekly music press and told a few Who stories, some of which can be found here on Just Backdated, and the afternoon concluded with Richard Barnes and anecdotes of college life with art student Townshend and their time together in the Ealing flat where their American pal Tom Wright had left behind the fabulous collection of blues records that became the basis of The Detours’ stage set. Barney’s lifelong friendship with Pete has no doubt endured because to him Pete is still that same ex-flatmate and not a great rock star to whom he might otherwise genuflect. I can’t help but think that all rock stars need a friend like Barney, a friend who knew them before the crowds began to cheer and the gold records piled up in the attic, a friend who’d still be their friend even if no one else knew their name. Dougal did his best, of course, but perhaps if Keith had somehow maintained a friendship from before fame beckoned the story that Who biographers like us have told might have turned out differently. 

Tony F, Dougal & CC

Finally, my thanks to Stuart Deabill for organising this event and inviting me to attend and speak, and to Simon Wells for interviewing me about my adventures with The Who, not really an onerous task as I do tend to bang on a bit...


ROCK’N’ROLL HALL OF FAME – 31st Annual Nominees

Returning to my office desk this morning after a few days at home recovering from a nasty cold, my eyes fell upon a large envelope containing the ballot form for the inductees for the 31st Annual Rock And Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, a ritual I have been performing since the eighties and which I have written about before on Just Backdated, so I won’t bore you with any background details.
         As usual there are 15 names on the list, of which I can choose five for nomination. They are The Cars, Cheap Trick, Chic, Chicago, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, The JBs, Chaka Khan, Los Lobos, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, The Smiths, The Spinners and Yes. Some of these have been nominated before but failed to be inducted and once again my pleas that Richard Thompson be among the names has been ignored. I’ll keep banging on about Thompson’s merits to the anonymous board who choose the nominees until I get fed up of listening to ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, ie until I croak.
         In the past the R&RHoF has been criticised for its American bias and, in particular, an antipathy towards British prog and HM/hard rock, but the inclusion of both Deep Purple and Yes seems to imply that they’ve heeded the grumblings from this side of the pond. Either that or they’re running out of names.
         So who to vote for? Last year I mistakenly believed that The Smiths would be a shoo-in but they didn’t make it. So they’re a definite. I wrote a book about Deep Purple and even though I sort of ‘grew out’ of that kind of music in my late twenties I feel a sense of loyalty towards a group with whom I was once quite friendly, so they’re my second choice. Much the same thing applies to Yes, with whom I also had an acquaintance in my youth, and right now I’m in discussion with Steve Howe for his autobiography. I’m also pally with his daughter-in-law Zoë Howe who has written some great books for Omnibus Press, so I’m going to give in to nepotism and add them to my choices. I suppose I’m also being patriotic, selecting the only three British nominees, but that wasn’t the intention. More interestingly, it occurs to me that in all three cases there will be issues with regard to which members of these groups will line up on the podium should they win. Morrissey can’t stand Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, Ritchie Blackmore seems always to be at loggerheads with someone or other in Deep Purple and there have been so many members of Yes over the years that they could probably make up a rugby side.
         It now becomes tricky. The music of several of those that remain has given me pleasure over the years, some more than others. The Los Lobos album By The Light Of The Moon was once a big favourite of mine and still gets an airing at least once a year. Chic made disco respectable and who can doubt Nile Rodgers credentials? Chaka Khan is ‘Every Woman’ and not a girl I’d mess with. The JBs were tighter than the flap on Rod Stewart’s wallet and, because they are no longer in the first flush of youth, deserve to get in. Steve Miller is the joker in the pack and seems to have had a good influence on Paul McCartney. Trent Reznor plays it like he means it, and The Spinners sang some good tunes. As for the rest, well, The Cars passed me by somehow, I thought Chicago’s first album was ok but thereafter they became as dull as dishwater, Janet Jackson has plenty more years to get in and try as I might I’m not into rap.
         Which leaves Cheap Trick whose Live At The Budokan album was never far away from my turntable at the end of the seventies, and even now brings a smile to my face whenever one of its tracks crops on of the iPod (especially ‘No Surrender’). Many years ago I saw them at Hammersmith when the venue there was called the Odeon and before the show I’d been invited into the backstage bar for a beer or two but then got hopelessly lost in a maze of corridors on my way to the auditorium. Thinking it might lead there I went through a door blindly and found myself in an anteroom where the four members of Cheap Trick, whom I had never met, were in a pre-concert huddle, no doubt psyching themselves up for the gig. They all looked up and stared at the intruder. “Er, have a good show, lads,” I spluttered. “Thanks,” they said, in unison. So they get my vote for not telling to get the fuck out of there.
         Which makes four. So who gets my final vote? I’m undecided. So, as I did last year, I’m appealing to Just Backdated readers to add their fourpenneth. All opinions considered.


PARIS - RIP Guillaume Decherf

Guillaume Decherf

This weekend I had planned to post reports from the Louder Than Words festival in Manchester in which I took part, but somehow that all seemed a bit trivial compared to the awful events in Paris so I never got around to it. The horror was intensified for me by the fact that a rock concert at the Bataclan was targeted, and that this attack – where 89 people died – was the bloodiest of the four atrocities carried out on Friday night. It later transpired that among the victims was a music writer called Guillaume Decherf, there to review the band playing, The Eagles of Death Metal, whose most recent album he had just reviewed for the French magazine Zipper Down. Since 2008 Guillaume had written for the magazine Les Inrockuptibles with which I am familiar.
         Of course I did not know Guillaume but I can feel a real sense of loss because he and I clearly chose the same way of life, albeit it 25 years apart. According to reports I read on the Internet, Guillame and a friend had made a dash for the exit of the music hall when the shooting started. “When he [the friend] turned around, Guillaume was not with him so he basically walked around looking… and couldn’t find him,” another friend Talia Soghomonian told the BBC.
“His wife later reported Guillaume was missing… and the police said you will just have to wait until we are able to find everybody. Earlier she got confirmation that his body had been found at the morgue.”
Another report said that Guillame was “43 going on 23”, and was married with two young daughters who kept asking where their daddy was. “His passion was music and writing and he lived off that,” said Ms Soghomonian. Which just about sums me up really, expect that I’m 68 going on 28. The difference is that I’m still alive.
         My heart goes out to all those who are bereaved by this senseless, pointless, murderous attack on innocent people enjoying a Friday evening at the end of the week, and in particular to Guillame’s family, and to the families of two other music industry professionals killed in this attack: Thomas Ayad, an international product manager for Mercury Records, and Nick Alexander, a Briton who was selling merchandise at the Bataclan.
         These three tragically unlucky victims, all part of the same industry in which I have now worked for 45 years, ought to be back at their place of business this morning; Guillame putting the finishing touches to his review, Thomas working on a marketing campaign for some new Mercury signing and Nick reordering new stocks of merchandise from t-shirt manufacturers.
         I’m so lucky to be sat at home typing this.


LOUDER THAN WORDS - Opening address

This was my opening address at the Louder That Words Festival last night.

For the second year running Omnibus Press is pleased and proud to be involved with Louder Than Words. Although our logo appears all over the programme and everywhere, this is a bit misleading as we don’t actually do very much apart from have a few meetings with Jill and nod in agreement at her suggestions. All the hard work is done by Jill, John Robb and Simon Morrison, so thanks to them for putting it all together and to Emily Marsden for recruiting the volunteer team.
          Last year Omnibus came on board a bit late so none of us were able to take much part in the panels but this year my colleague David Barraclough is holding a series of what we’ve called publishing surgeries where he will advise would-be authors on whether or not their proposals are any good or not, and prescribe appropriate drugs on the NHS. Meanwhile, I’m involved with three events tomorrow, all of which are advertised in the programme if you want to be elsewhere at the time.
          For all of us in the profession of music writing, young or old, 2015 will go down as the year in which the last of our weekly music papers left standing, NME, went free. I don’t know about anybody else but whenever I’m handed a free newspaper or magazine at railway stations I tend to assume it’s probably rubbish, so for someone like me, who learned his trade in an era when the five music papers in the UK sold over half a million copies between them every week, this is nothing short of tragic.
          And that vibrant, incredibly successful culture of weekly rock papers that existed in my days on Melody Maker was something uniquely British too. It didn’t happen in America – Rolling Stone was fortnightly – or anywhere else where rock music was alive and well. Now this uniquely British phenomenon has simply disappeared, gone completely, killed off by the internet.
          I’m sad about this not just because these were MUSIC weeklies. I’m sad because of the opportunities lost for aspiring music writers like I was when I was 22. This wonderful UK music press offered openings for writers to hone their skills. I know the world thought we were all a bunch of drunken liggers and layabouts who snorted cocaine with rock stars but we actually had to work bloody hard on these weeklies. We had to do our interviews and transcribe them and write them up and hand our copy over to the subs very quickly. We had to review concerts – sometimes more than one a night – and write them up quickly. We had albums galore to listen to and write about. As MM’s news editor I had four or five pages to fill every Monday for three straight years. As MM’s US Editor nights and days and weekends all blurred together into one seven-day time period in which I had to get a fat bundle of typed A4 sheets and photos off by courier to London every Thursday afternoon.
          All this taught us skills and disciplines that I don’t think you can learn anywhere else these days, not on weeklies like NME, MM, Sounds, Disc and Record Mirror anyway. Working on these great magazines gave young writers the chance to write what they wanted, develop a style and learn their craft. And now it’s gone – and it’s fucking heartbreaking. Speaking for myself, the seven years I spent on the staff of Melody Maker were quite simply the best years of my life, filled with encounters that seem scarcely credible in 2015. I made many friends that are still friends, some here this weekend, some I get together with now and then to reminisce about old times like old soldiers. Of course there was a friendly, occasionally hostile, rivalry between pack leaders NME and Melody Maker in those days but I for one was heartbroken when I was handed my free NME last month, and I’ve no doubt a few of these friends I’m taking about were too.
          But enough of all this teary nostalgia. We’re here to have a great weekend of talk about what my dear departed old friend Derek Taylor, one of the great writers and certainly the greatest PR man who ever lived, called the industry of human happiness. I hope everybody has a great weekend, discovers something new and takes away some fond memories and maybe even a new book from Louder Than Words 2015.



On Friday, two days from now, your man from Just Backdated is heading off to the Palace Hotel in Manchester to take part in Louder Than Words, the music writers’ festival where we all get together to talk about our profession in panel type discussions that last from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. We also hang out in the bar a lot at night and argue amongst ourselves, tell lurid tales about the worst interviews we ever did and, well those of us a bit long in the tooth, bemoan how much better it was ‘in our day’. 
              LTW is in its third year now and for the second year running Omnibus Press, of which I am the senior editor, is a sponsor of the event. Last year we came on board a bit late which meant we had a fairly low profile but this year that has changed. I’m on the welcoming committee, which means I’ll address the gathering on Friday night, and I’ve been roped in to take part in three events on the Saturday.
              The first, on Saturday morning at 10.15, is entitled Watch The Small Print: Libel, Copyright & Legalities. Associate Carol Isherwood, of national law firm Shoosmiths, and yours truly will be discussing legal matters relating to music, rock books and publishing in general. Carol specialises in intellectual property law including copyright and contract issues, representing artists in both contentious and non-contentious matters including infringement cases, and while my legal training extends no further than a two-day course at the Publishing Training Centre in Clapham I have spent half a lifetime fending off complaints great and small.
              Advertised as a light-hearted, anecdote-fuelled session with a serious underpinning, it has the potential to be as dry as a Sauvignon Blanc but rest assured that if pressed I will liven things up by revealing the names of those acts who have attempted to sue Omnibus Press over the years and why, and how we ducked and dived our way out of potential trouble.
              On Saturday afternoon at 3.30 I’m on safer ground, taking part in a discussion entitled The Who At 50 with Mark Blake, author of Pretend You’re In A War (see Just Backdated review: http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/pretend-youre-in-war-who-sixties-by.html), Tony Fletcher, author of our great Keith Moon biography Dear Boy, and Ian Snowball, who’s just compiled a tribute book to Moonie that Omnibus will be publishing next year. We tried to get the Rt. Hon. Peter Townshend of Richmond-upon-Thames to join us but he declined owing to prior commitments, sending us his best wishes in the process. This was a shame but then again I might have been obliged to explain to him why I was disappointed with his own book, not to mention The Who's Official History. It does seem like a good opportunity to tell a few Keith Moon stories though.
              Finally, at 7.15, I’m part of Juke Box Fury, ace record label man and now the world’s coolest librarian Richard Boon’s panel where writers play and discuss the tunes that inspired their careers. Then they vote hit or miss, and discuss music writing in general. I’m on the panel alongside Mick Middles, who co-wrote our biography of Ian Curtis, Riot Grrrl pioneer Karen Ablaze and Daniel Rachel, author of Noises: Conversations with Great British Songwriters.
              Richard asked me what song I’d choose and to tell him why I chose it, but I won’t give the game away by naming it here and instead offer a potted version of how I responded to his request about why: it’s the summer of 1969, I’m 22 years of age, at a crossroads having worked for five years as newspaper reporter but growing a bit disillusioned, love rock’n’roll, love The Who, buy and love Tommy, see Who (for first time) at Plumpton Festival in August, mind blown, decide to answer ad for job on Melody Maker, interview involves long discussion on Who, job given to Richard Williams, my mum dies in November after long illness, depressed, listen to Tommy a lot over Christmas and New Year, see Who again (at Dunstable) the following March with girl I want to get friendly with, her mind’s blown by Who so getting friendly happens after show, a week later MM editor Ray Coleman calls, there’s another vacancy, still interested? Been writing about rock’n’roll (and The Who) ever since.
              Other Omnibus Press writers taking part include Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson, Richard Balls, Daryl Easlea, Zoe Howe, Spencer Leigh, Joel McIver and Simon Wells. Zoe, married to drummer Dylan Howe who now plays with The Blockheads, will be talking to Jemima Dury about her dad. Musicians taking part include Keith Levine of PiL, Steve Ignorant of Crass, our good friend Rick Buckler, Pauline Black of The Selector and CP Lee, doyen of Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias. Once again the festival will climax on Sunday afternoon with the presentation of the Wilko Johnson Young Writers Award for music writers under 25. Supported by Bloomsbury Press and the website Rock’s Backpages, the finalists and winners deemed to have produced the most aspiring and inspiring music writing will receive their prizes from David Ward of Bloomsbury and my pal Barney Hoskyns, the man behind RBP.
              A full programme of events can be found here: http://louderthanwordsfest.com/programme-of-events/
              A splendid time is guaranteed for all, and daily reports from the event will appear on Just Backdated if the laptop behaves itself.


ELVIS AND JOANNA – And Priscilla And A Few More

The reddish hair tint aside, at the age of 70 Priscilla Presley is starting to look like she did when she was 14, the age at which she captivated GI Elvis, ten years her senior, in Germany. This was evident last week when I watched her being interviewed on TV by Jonathan Ross, after which Elvis Costello snatched up the Gibson J200 acoustic guitar that once belonged to Elvis that Priscilla had brought along and gave us a verse or two of ‘Alison’, rounded off by a short coda from ‘Suspicious Minds’. Priscilla looked bit surprised, as if the Elvis she didn’t marry might make off with it, and was clearly unsettled by Ross’ rather spontaneous wit after the more deferential approach of American chat show hosts.
         Her similarity to her 14-year-old self was even more obvious last night during an ITV programme called Elvis And Me, hosted by Joanna Lumley who was filmed interviewing Priscilla in London, Memphis and Tupelo, and included scenes which were intercut with images of her as a teenager alongside her soldier boyfriend. Partly this was to do with make-up, caked on now just as it was 56 years ago, but it was also because these days Priscilla is desperately trying to look younger than her years whereas in 1959 she was desperately trying to look older than she was. Somewhere in between they might meet and look identical but I have always thought that when Priscilla adopted the more natural look that conflicted with Elvis’ rather outdated penchant for cheesecake beauty queens with beehives, she was a truly beautiful woman.
         Joanna Lumley’s rather gushing style has irritated me in the past but I was pleasantly entertained by Elvis And Me and prepared to overlook the inevitable dollops of saccharine that she and Priscilla brought to the show. It opened with scenes from Abbey Road studios where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was putting the finishing touches to backing tracks that would be overdubbed – or is it underdubbed – with Elvis’ existing vocals on a slew of songs, mostly ballads, for his If I Can Dream: Elvis With The RPO album, specifically ‘American Trilogy’ which turns out to be one of Priscilla’s favourites. This shameless plug for the album was probably the price that the producers of Elvis And Me had to pay for Priscilla’s co-operation but I was a bit surprised to learn that it was her who drew Elvis’ attention to ‘American Trilogy’, an arrangement of three existing songs first recorded in 1971 by country singer Mickey Newbury, which Elvis incorporated into his concerts the following year. I always thought Elvis believed his women should keep their opinions to themselves, especially as regards his business, and stay in the kitchen.
         Then it was off to Memphis for a tour of Graceland and Tupelo where the tiny shack in which Elvis was born has been turned into a shrine. Joanna made it clear that, sensibly, she fancied the young Elvis much more than the white jump-suited Vegas Elvis, and informed us that she had adopted Elvis’ sneer for the lopsided smile used by Patsy Stone, her character in Absolutely Fabulous.
         Clearly an enthusiastic fan, she was welcomed courteously into Graceland by Priscilla who seems now to have been anointed the Presley widow, though this isn’t strictly the case as they were divorced at the time of Elvis’ death, and therefore hostess of the iconic house correctly described as ‘the second most famous home in the USA’. No one’s going to question these assumptions, least of all Joanna as she was shown around a bedroom, the lounge with its grand piano that Elvis would play late into the night when he suffered from insomnia, the dining room where large meals were consumed and two ‘playrooms’, one with three big TV screens set into the wall, and where the bars served only milk and soft drinks because Elvis wasn’t a boozer. You probably don’t need me to tell you that the décor throughout is a bit like those palaces occupied by middle-eastern dictators whose courtiers value their lives too much to suggest that perhaps the colour scheme might just be a tad on the extravagant side.
         From Memphis Joanna went to Tupelo to sit on the porch outside his birthplace, inside which no cameras are allowed, to talk to one of Elvis’ childhood friends and to visit the chapel where he prayed and sang. Then it was back to Memphis for a visit to the Sun Studios where old pal George Klein reminisced, thence to a diner where Joanna chatted with Dixie Locke, Elvis’ first girlfriend who vouchsafed that he was a good kisser, and finally to Lanksy Brothers clothing store where Elvis bought his gear and where utterly fantastic western clothes, many of them modelled on the outfits that Elvis wore in the fifties, can still be bought. Joanna tried some on and very fetching she looked too, and I’m kicking myself that when I was in Memphis in 1977 I didn’t kit myself out there as well.
         Joanna’s final interview was with Jerry Schilling, long serving member of Elvis’ entourage, who tried to be discreet about Elvis’ relationship with Colonel Tom Parker but failed and it was here that a bit of grit entered the picture. Diplomatically prefacing her inquiries with the words ‘Some people say that…’ she gently led Schilling on to admit that Elvis and Parker had rowed about performing in the UK, the arguments usually ending with the Colonel spitting at Elvis: “Well you go on then, do it yourself.” Parker, of course, knew that Elvis was no more capable of organising a European concert tour that he was of arranging a trip to the local shops.
         Elvis And Me concluded on a sad note, unavoidable really. “Touring killed his marriage and that killed him,” said Schilling. “He died from a heart attack brought on by food and drug abuse,” said Joanna more accurately a few minutes later. “He sold a billion records but died with only five million dollars in the bank. He’d given it all away.”
         As ‘authorised’ Elvis documentaries go, this was an hour well spent.

(The photo was taken by Jaimie Gramston)