David Bowie: Finding Fame

For DAVID BOWIE, the ’60s were a searching period of knock-backs and artistic U-turns.

His early work has rarely been shown the love it deserves. This all looks set to change in 2019.

The Radio Times has a sharp 1968 Bowie as its cover star this week (nice cover, guys. Seen that somewhere before….). A new limited 7” box set of previously unreleased late ’60s demos entitled Spying Through A Keyhole is due for release in April – but first, BBC Two will air the much-anticipated David Bowie – Finding Fame next Saturday. The conclusion of film-maker Francis Whately’s acclaimed trilogy of documentary films on Bowie, it focuses on his early years. Shindig! has been lucky enough to watch a preview copy. MARTIN RUDDOCK digs everything


It’s only February, but when those inevitable end of year ‘Best Of 2019’ clip shows roll around – it’ll be a crime if they don’t include longtime David Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar dissecting his old bosses infamous 1967 novelty single ‘The Laughing Gnome’. Alomar, the man who lit up Bowie’s soul and Berlin eras with understated funk is an unlikely cheerleader for the much-maligned ‘Gnome’ – but watching him gleefully run through it with guitar in hand makes for excellent telly.

 The ‘Gnome’ sequence of Francis Whately’s new film on Bowie’s formative era Finding Fame is just one of many highlights. Cleverly cutting the song to clips of Anthony Newley from The Strange World Of Gurney Slade, Whately gives it the sort of insights that would generally be glossed over by many critics in favour of the umpteenth deep dive into ‘Heroes’. And it’s great fun. Alomar points out the unlikely similarities to the Velvets ‘Waiting For The Man’, while slowed down out-takes of the infamous sped-up gnome speech include an unmistakeable bark of “FARK ORF!” from Bowie.

This is basically Bowie’s origin story, how he pulled at all manner of threads until his songwriting cohered. As with his previous Bowie films, Whateley leaves the talking heads to do the heavy lifting and really delivers with his choices. Friends and collaborators Tony Visconti, Rick Wakeman, Woody Woodmansey and Geoff McCormack offer plenty of interview candy for Bowie fans. There’s also Dana Gillespie, John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (who also appeared on BBC One’s The One Show to plug the film this week), and members of The Lower Third and Riot Squad. Wakeman pulls those icy ‘Space Oddity’ chords out on a mellotron, while mid-60s producer Tony Hatch endearingly plonks through a snatch of ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ on piano. A clearly unwell, but still acerbic Lindsay Kemp also appears in his final TV interview. In a major coup for Whateley there are the first ever onscreen interviews with Bowie’s cousin Kristina Amadeus, and most strikingly former lover and muse Hermione Farthingale. Both are good value, but Farthingale’s tender but candid recollections of her year with Bowie give what’s perhaps a better account of the artist as a young man than any amount of hoary old stories about Bowie’s Tony Newley obsession or Tony Visconti’s cape.

Image result for David Bowie 1967

Of course the real voice of the film is Bowie himself. Almost always off-screen, his own running commentary (drawn from innumerable interviews) is wry, funny and often very touching. Skipping back and forward in time, Whateley also draws out how much of Bowie’s early music is informed by his relationship with his cold mother and loving, but distant father. The wealth of material the Bowie Estate has allowed for use is also quite something. Nuggets include the ’65 Lower Third demo ‘That’s A Promise’, a solo ‘Conversation Piece’ and the early version of ‘Space Oddity’ with Hutch soon to feature on Spying Through A Keyhole. There’s also a tantalising snippet of ‘The Supermen’ live with the Hype in those glam-superhero costumes, but frustratingly it’s all but obscured by voiceovers.

Finding Fame isn’t quite perfect. There’s a lot of voices to fit in here, and Whately does well to give as much airtime as he does to so many – but it is a shame that the significant role played by ’60s manager-mentor Ken Pitt in Bowie’s development is largely overlooked. Then again, with so many facets to try and cover – as Bowie himself found in the ’60s you can’t please everyone.

Image result for David Bowie 1966

At the time of writing, the “Holy Grail” discovery of Bowie and the Spiders’ legendary long-lost performance of ‘Starman’ on Lift-Off With Ayeshea isn’t included in the preview copy we were very kindly allowed to view by the BBC. Whateley is apparently still waiting to see if the ancient tape is salvageable. Hopefully it will make it into the final film, but this is still essential viewing for Bowie fans. Also, where else can you see Carlos Alomar happily strumming through ‘The Laughing Gnome’?

 If you’re a fan of David Bowie’s ’60s work, you might also enjoy Shindig! Issue 78, which is available here 

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Roll Up! Rock ’n’ Roll Circuses And Kaleidoscopic Carnivals

’Twas, most famously, a company of Stones and some special friends back in late 1968 (as unravelled in Shindig! issue #87). But the ’60s and early ’70s knew plenty of charismatic ringmasters and decidedly groovy clowns. Some of them are back in town –CAMILLA AISA sees if they can still work their magic


The United States of America – ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’

The United States Of America album cover

Our way in to the kaleidoscopic ’60s circus tent couldn’t have a different soundtrack. So here’s one of the finest and trippiest psychedelic songs of all times to welcome us all. It’s 1968 and it’s finally time for the world to understand what the psychedelic experience tastes like. Impossible to describe, isn’t it? Then let’s turn to a powerful, comprehensive metaphor: the circus. Ringmasters of rock, acrobats dancing over electric strings, freaks of all kinds. C’mon, the cost of one admission is your mind.

July – ‘My Clown’

July album cover

Sweet memories, sure, but a nonfading sense of sorrow as well. There’s no need to reiterate that circuses are not as cheerful as they pretend to be. And there’s definitely no need to get into the whole inner melancholy of clowns. Let’s just consider this: visionary music of the ’60s (and beyond) was able to take some often problematic imagery and turn it into the most incisive – and mostly lighthearted – symbol for its chaotic, proudly bizarre nature. Hey, even clowns can grow into captivating figures. July’s masterful 1968 single to the rescue.

Strawberry Alarm Clock – ‘Paxton’s Back Street Carnival’

Incense And Peppermints album cover

Ladies and gents, here come the jugglers. The Strawberry Alarm Clock lads, in all their 1967 incense & peppermints-flavoured splendour. Watch them throw some serious garage sparks in the air and then magically retrieve drops of Summer Of Love. Go on and take a ride in the land that is high…

Tucker Zimmerman – ‘Upsidedown Circus World’

Ten Songs album cover

And now for the escapologist act… Mr. Tucker Zimmerman freeing his gorgeous Ten Songs – so unjustly overlooked at the time of release – from a fate of obscurity with a little help from… David Bowie, no less! “I always found this album of stern, angry compositions enthralling,” the former Davy Jones revealed almost 40 years after Zimmerman’s debut LP had come out. In fact,Ten Songs by Tucker Zimmerman was one of the 25 titles Bowie included in his list of all-time favourite albums, among the likes of Mingus, James Brown and Stravinsky. “Look him up,” he recommended. Well, what are you waiting for?  Read more Roll Up! Rock ’n’ Roll Circuses And Kaleidoscopic Carnivals

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Shindig! Broadcast #59

JON ‘MOJO’ MILLS and THOMAS PATTERSON return to Soho Radio for their monthly show and look back at the best releases of 2018


Tracklist

David Lindup ‘The Zodiac’
The Action ‘Shadows And Reflections’       
Honeybus ‘She Said Yes’
Fickle Pickle ‘California Calling’
The Beatles ‘Circles’
Keith Mansfield ‘Funky Fanfare’
Michael Rault ‘I’ll Be There’             
GospelbeacH ‘Freeway To The Canyon’
Mapache ‘Katie Dear’
Bobbie Gentry ‘Sweete Peony‘
The Beatles ‘Not Guilty’
Gene Clark ‘Past My Door’
Popera Cosmic ‘Poursuite’
The Pretty Things ‘Mr. Evasion’
Oh Sees ‘Enrique El Corbrador’ 
Thee Hypnotics ‘(Let It) Come Down Heavy‘
The Steve Miller Band ‘My Dark Hour’ 
Bob Seger & The Last Heard ‘Persecution Smith’
Gwenno ‘Daromres y’n Howl’ 
The Soundcarriers ‘Waves’ 
Serge Gainsbourg & Michel Colombier  ‘Requiem Pour Un Con’ 
Calibro 35 (feat. Serena Altavilla) ‘Stingray’     
Eartha Kitt ‘Paint Me Black Angels’ 
The Loons ‘Blue Ether’ 
Gloria ‘Dancehall N°3’
Triangle ‘Litanies‘
Craig Smith ‘Now’s The Time’
Alan Klein  ‘Age of Corruption’     
Ralph McTell  ‘Pick Up A Gun’       
David Axelrod ‘The Mental Traveler’     
Zuider Zee ‘Might Be I’m Losing My Mind‘
The Lemon Twigs ‘The Lesson’
White Denim ‘Good News’

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Shindig! Broadcast #58 – The Xmas Day Show

Jon, Paul and Thomas drink Port, squabble and play a selection of seasonal tunes


Tracklist

Xmas Message into Rotary Connection ‘Christmas Love’
Donnie Hathaway ‘This Christmas’
The Flirtations ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again’
Count Sidney & His Dukes ‘Soul Christmas’
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings ‘Funky Little Drummer Boy’
Jimmy Reed ‘Christmas Present Blues’
The Band ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’
Big Star ‘Jesus Christ’
The Beach Boys ‘Morning Christmas’
Wild Billy Childish & The Musicians Of The British Empire ‘Ho Ho!’
Bob Seger & The Last Heard ‘Sock It To Me Santa’
The 3rd Power ‘Snow’
Homer & Jethro ‘Santa Claus, The Original Hippie’
The Annie Rocket Band ‘A Little Smile On Christmas Morning’
Green Seagull ‘First Snow Of Winter’
Saturday’s Children ‘Christmas Sounds’
The Asylum Choir ‘Icicle Star Tree’
The Free Design ‘Close Your Mouth It’s Christmas’
Saturday’s Children ‘Deck Five’
Francoise Hardy ‘Fleur de Lune’
The Sha La Das ‘Sha La Da La La (It’s Christmas time)’
Khruangbin ‘Christmas Time Is Here’
She & Him ‘The Coldest Night Of The Year’
Whyte Horses ‘Next Year Will Be Mine’
Jan & Lorraine ‘Snow Roses’
Mandy Morton ‘Ghost Of Christmas Past’
Lalo Schifrin ‘Joy To The World’
Rosko ‘Ou Est Pere Noel?’ 
Andy Pickett ‘Who Knows The Snow’
The Bangles ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’
Fleet Foxes ‘White Winter Hymnal’
Horslips ‘Drive The Cold Winter Away’
Mike Oldfield ‘Dulce Jubilo’

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