Ok this blog has been a while in gestation (ok 9 months) but you could say I’ve been a bit busy but more of that later.

Mercury Prize 2016 Logo

Mercury prize logo

The devil in Mr Jones
It was in the early hours of a cold January 16 when the demise of David Bowie flashed across my FB BBC Brasil. I had to blink twice to make sure I had translated the Portuguese correctly, but a few Google searches confirmed the BBC Brasil posting. I was shocked… but not surprised. Shocked in that Bowie had just released his superb new album ( up for a Mercury Sept 15th) Darkstar, but not surprised in that he had major health issues since 2004 with the paparazzi revealing the reclusive Bowie as increasingly frail.
Weird n silly
An ubermeister pop stylist Bowie created an androgynous look to go with his highly original folky (Beckenham arts Lab) sound, probably culminating in his most iconic creation Ziggy Stardust. A rather shy man-chile, he oozed artistry and commercially aligned this to a continual re-invention in both his appearance and music and a characteristic reluctance to bow to commercial pressures. He lit up the Seventies after the Summer of love when the hippies had crashed & burnt. After several years of twisting on the wind (we won’t mention the Laughing Gnome debacle), he found a powerful sound engine for his songs, orchestrated by Mick Ronson & Tony Visconti.The relationship with Ronson was particularly up and close, as the Bewlay brothers; it was sadly never to be recaptured either in or out of the studio!
Abruptly he killed off Ziggy at his zenith (a Rock n Roll Suicide) in that memorable Hammersmith Odeon show much to the chagrin of his loyal but obviously increasingly burdensome Spiders.
Ch Ch Changes
This lead indirectly to Diamond Dogs one of his worse albums (yes I bought it) and a somewhat more fruitful flirtation with American Soul music, an early love of Davy Jones’ growing up inna multi cultural Brixton. Young Americans was again a complete surprise culminating in a strange appearance on Soul Train. This was not totally commercially unprecedented as Stevie Wonder had released his ground breaking Soul trilogy (Music on my Mind, Talking Book, & Inner visions) to great commercial & artistic acclaim. Indeed the Bee Gees were hot on Bowie’s Damascus like conversion heels, releasing Main Course in 1975 … soul Music (aka Disco) was huge culminating in SNF in 1977!
Bleeding edge
Throughout his career, Bowie always liked to be right on the prevailing artistic curve,if not ahead of it.
His American Sejour was book ended by Station to Station, which reverted to an expansive industrialised rock sound, but still contained his trademark gems such as TVC15 and his James Brown inspired masterpiece Golden Years. Despite being an adroit rhythm guitarist himself, Bowie’s sound was moulded around his songs by the contrasting styles of Carlos Alomar (to power into his hardy perennial) and Earl Slick, embarrassingly simultaneously hired to do the heavy lifting. This was the last Bowie album I invested in, as returning to Europe to solve his spiralling coke habit, he took a sharp right turn into a Kraftwerk inspired, heavily synthesized sound. With Brian Eno at the controls, Bowie produced (IMHO) music that was far less melodically interesting, but anomalously produced the song that would become his anthem … Heroes. Bowie too arty to be ever a mass-market or industry behemoth (he’s probably received more gongs posthumously) produced a series of, by comparison mediocre albums; until finally bowing to commercial pressure, he connived with the Chic riffmeister turned hitmeister producer, Niles Rodgers to produce his greatest commercial success, Let’s Dance.
Ray gone
The interesting thing about this period, was that amongst the list of brilliant guitarists Bowie had periodically employed since Mick Ronson, lay a short-lived liaison with virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughn; neither would describe their collaboration as a musical high point, with Vaughn allegedly jumping ship pre-European tour over a money contretemps; Bowie had a reputation of being as careful with his money, as he was with his music!
After Let’s Dance, commercially, normal service was resumed. Clearly looking for inspiration, he formed his first band since the Spiders, Tin Machine. The band produced some mechanical heavy rock for which they were sand blasted in a hail of Press skepticism; despite Bowie’s best efforts, the Press determined that Tin Machine was simply a thinly disguised Emperor’s new clothes Bowie project.
Character forming
Indeed despite Bowie’s Beckenham Art School pretensions, he was a classically post-modern artist, following in the traditions of Picasso, Andy Warhol, Mohammed Ali and perhaps David Brent ?
One of the paradoxes of David (Bowie) was, early on he desperately sought out publicity by being outrageous, but as fame & aging (not to mention cigarettes & drugs) took their tolls he became dysfunctionally private. In a sense did we ever really know Davy Jones? (Although his songs were intensely personal he often deployed B movie nom de plume characters; Mjr. Tom, Ziggy, Gouster, Starman, Thin White Duke, Jerome Thomas, hello Spaceboy,)… Probably not!
Canned Laughter
After two ditch water dull Tinny (or is it Trinny) albums, Bowie reverted to type losing interest and rebooting his solo career with the somewhat anaemic Black noise white tie. A series of yearly albums followed including dalliances with passing genres such as drum & bass and even reggae?, as the now middle-aged Bowie desperately tried to rekindle the songwriting of his youth; sadly he never quite managed it, until, with the Grim Reaper a knocking at his door he came up with Blackstar, a somewhat dark Miles Davisy jazz album, from the journeyman saxophone player.
Legacy dear buoy
An artisan singer, fashioning a workmanlike voice, Bowie’s uncompromising exploration of the musical landscape was rarely matched, or bettered visually (he considered himself to be a redundant painter). He certainly painted the musical landscape of the early Seventies, writing some classic melodies often with opaquely memorable lyrics, and unusual chord sequences. Bowie was at his best when pushing his envelope; where his emotively fragile vocals enter late into a track it is almost a lightning rod signal, as to whether the track is going to be up to much.
Latter Bowie often added his lyrics after the backing track, but for me the significant songs are where his vocals are up front, full of uncluttered angst, and early in the mix. He had a more than decent range of vocal styles; from folky ingenue delivery often a magnificent counterpoint to his awkward melodies and lavish productions (e.g. Life on Mars), to genuine Marvin class soul when inspired. When he went Show Tune singer e.g. the Anthony Newley/Lionel Bart affectations fumbling in that lower register, he is rarely as engaging, and is often rendered into Musical Hall self-parody.
Often financially frugal (or careless) and dysfunctional with his collaborators, he equally sustained many Managerial burns … he suffered from the industry endemic management deficit disorder, yet incredibly managed to sustain a high profile 50 year career.
In contrast, a fan, artistically he was disproportionately generous, offering songs and production skills to Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Lulu, and Iggy to name a few. He handed many musicians (eg. Luther Vandross) their fifteen seconds (o Fame). But fifteen seconds was all it often was. Carlos Alomar, Tony Visconti, and Mick Garson notwithstanding, these bookings rarely survived the initial engagement.
Like most, riddled with artistic insecurity, he must have floundered under the pressure of consistently delivering to the commercial claustrophobic calendar of Album, singles, Videos, and Tour. However over a fifty year career, a true artists’ artist, he transitioned into a consummate professional (… Music & Film was all he ever wanted to do bar paint).
Thus he has surely etched for himself a place in that Pantheon of great Musicians/Artists, as a truly unique Artist and Musician; probably also the self-acclaimed Prettiest star that lit up all our lives for many years. RIP Mr. Jones; notwithstanding he wasn’t one for gongs (apparently turning down a knighthood); that Mercury would be a fitting and long overdue Industry epitaph of the Starman of Brixton. We are sorely missing our Chameleon, Corinthian and Caricature, but his music lives … a simply remarkable, yet very fallible man! Siyonara Mr. Lawrence!


Letter to hermione (1968) Maria Schneider Net Aid (1999) Lady Stardust Demo All the young dudes The end (2006) Interview (2012) Mary Finnigan Verse n Chapter? Hermione Frankel Love you till Tuesday This is not America
Golden Year; Hunky Dory Five Years mor; Francis Whately
Rebel Rebel

My David Bowie Top 1014

Letter to Hermione (1968) : just a beautiful bitter sweet love song …a good start from Mr.Jones.

Space Oddity (1969) – not bad recovery after the Laughing gnome cul de sac for Mjr. Tom de Tom tom tom … reprised several times, but never bettered .

‘Life On Mars?’ (1971): Classic Bowie; wordy, quirky, opaque, yet epic & climatic; magnificent!

‘Kooks’ (1971) : slow burner (moh dan 5 yeahs),leaped when I discovered the context: his newborn son Duncan nĂ© Zowie.

Five Years‘ (1972) : as great an opening track as has been … suspend yo disbelief & chords ta go!

Moonage Daydream Moon‘ (1972) a bluesy/folk rocker that just builds & builds into that apocalyptic Ronson solo!

Lady Stardust (1972) : I said that Bowie was a parodic show tune singer … this is the exception: easily out Webbers Lloyd Webber.

‘Drive-In Saturday’ (1973). : simply Bowie … no one can compete (even Van da Man)!

The Jean Genie‘ (1973) : huge riff just bites n never lets go!

All the young dudes’ (1974) – a throw away that slowly unfolds into quintessential gem.

Right (1975) : Soul never got better … Luther Vandross controlled call & response, over that seductive Alomar lick.

tvc15 (1976) piano-driven (Garson) heavy layered slab of funk.

Golden Years” (1976) seamless piece of James Brown/Soul Train funk; again Alomar & Slick dispute who laid down the sinuous opening lick.

Breaking Glass‘ Low (1977) – does what it says on the lid … heavily mashed up Kraftwerk Kraut funk, laid down by Dennis Davis & George Murray ridden engine: unique & compelling. (Power Station (some like it hot) was a poor reprise of this sound circa 1985)