Remembering Judy Garland
"Ditch the rainbow song!" - Anon., Hollywood, 1939
September 29, 2004
 
I'll never forget Judy Garland - or Judy Galand, as she was briefly known. I don't know where the idea of dropping the R came from, it was just one of those sudden inspirations. Judy wasn't keen, and we went back to 'Garland' before long. I think it increased her appeal in some quarters, mind you.

After my experience with Judy I forgot my theory of the 'superfluous R' for several years. I think what reminded me of it was the way that young Eric Crapton's fortunes picked up when he changed his name. That wasn't one of my ideas - I never actually worked with Eric. As I said to him when he approached me once, a high-powered fusion of psychedelia, free jazz and swamp blues is all very well in theory, but it's never going to play in Hoylake. It was kindly meant; I hope he took it to heart.

Anyway, young Eric's unorthodox approach to his superfluous R got me thinking, and I began to apply my method once again. I think the results speak for themselves. Just look at dear old Diana Drors. (That wasn't her original name, of course - she'd begun life as a Fruck.) Losing the R worked well for String, too, and it did wonders for Reg (nice chap, Reg; plays guitar with the U2).

Then, of course, there's Michael Stripe. Michael's home town of Athens is a hotbed of musical activity, as we know, particularly in the area of tribute acts. Michael actually got his start thanks to his mother Shirley. She had the bright idea of putting together a Partridge Family tribute, revolving around Michael and his irritating little red-haired brother Jackie; both the boys would play guitar and sing, while she played keyboards and beamed. And of course the Stripe Family, unlike the Partridges, were in fact a family, give or take some distant cousins on drums, tambourine and bouzouki.

Everything was going well until Georgia and Basil Strype appeared on the scene. Rudi and Trudi Strype, to give them their real names, had a nightclub soul act; Trudi's repertoire included songs made famous by Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell, while Rudi specialised very much in Marvin Gaye. For Michael, the problems began when Trudi and Rudi adopted a new musical direction: going out as Georgia and Basil, they rapidly became the region's foremost Peaches and Herb tribute act.

Georgia and Basil's success spelt trouble for Shirley, Michael and irritating little Jackie. The Stripe Family were frequently confused with the duo, who were still using 'Strype' as their surname. Usually Shirley managed to sort out the misunderstanding before things went too far, but inevitably mistakes were made. Let's face it, if you're expecting to hear "Reunited" with your mezes (not to mention Peaches and Herb's other hits) you won't want to listen to "I think I love you" - or, indeed, the Partridge Family's other hits. There were some ugly scenes. It was hard on little Jackie; it was even harder on Michael, who was expected to rally round and support his little brother, red-haired and irritating though he was.

Things came to a head when Rudi Strype waded in. Bit of a hothead, was Rudi - didn't like to be beaten, couldn't take failure. Anyway, he decided that the Stripe Family were deliberately sabotaging his business; apparently he took Michael on one side and told him that the next plate to be smashed in that town would be broken over his head. It all got too much for Michael, and he resolved to jump ship and join an Electric Light Orchestra tribute act, Renaissance Electric Music.

It was round about this time that Michael approached me. I was too busy to take him on at the time, although I did give him that tip about the superfluous R. I heard him out, too; I think he was looking for someone to confide in as much as a high-powered and well-connected music business insider. He felt guilty to be leaving his family in the lurch, but he knew deep down that his career had to come first. "Leaving the Stripe Family is the end of the world as I know it," he mused. "And yet, I feel fine." I broke in at this stage and told him I had to go; I had Lester Bangs on the other line, wanting to discuss some harebrained scheme for getting Leonard Bernstein involved in a musical based on the lives of Leonid Brezhnev and Lenny Bruce. Never came to anything, needless to say.

Leaving the family - and losing the R - did Michael nothing but good, of course. As for the Stripe Family, they soldiered on without him. Around this time Jackie had a growth spurt, started dying his hair and became slightly less irritating, which let Shirley promote him to the lead spot. She left the band herself soon afterwards. The late nights and the retsina had taken their toll, but I think the conflict with Georgia and Basil Strype was the last straw. Shirley was reduced to defining the band by their appearance - by their ethnicity, even: "No, no, no," she'd sigh, "we're the white Stripes." After she left, I believe little Jackie tried to keep the band going without a keyboard player; indeed, by that stage there was nobody else left in the band but his cousin Margaret. Strange boy - I wonder what became of him.


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August 16, 2004
 
I'll never forget Judy Garland: there was someone who truly bestrode the world of light entertainment like a colossus. A bloated and wobbly colossus in later years, admittedly, but a colossus for all that.


But then, there were giants in those days. I've got particularly fond memories of the Merseybeat scene: Billy and his Dakotas, Freddy and his Dreamers, Ken and his Diddymen... I was lucky enough to rub shoulders with the biggest group of them all, although this was before those four lovable mop-heads hit the big time. People have called me the fifth Beatle, but I can't really claim that title; in my time the boys were still trading as the Quarry Men. The sixth Quarry Man, that was me.


And yes, there were five of them in those days: John, Paul, George, Ringo and Stan. Ringo McGonagall played drums, of course, and his brother Stan - what did Stan do? Well, what didn't he do? At this distance I'm not sure either way, to be honest, but it seemed to work at the time. Hamburg changed everything, though. When they got the offer Stan dug his heels in and said he wasn't going - didn't want anything to do with 'the Germans', apparently - and then Ringo walked out in solidarity.


Well, as the Quarry Men they'd had quite a set worked out, with a few standards and some of their own material: "PS I love you", "Tomorrow never knows", "We are the Quarry Men (Hey Hey)"... Working without a drummer, and without Stan, that all had to change. Initially the boys attempted a radical new direction, abandoning regular rhythms altogether in favour of a prototypical ambient sound. They even took a new name, 'the Beatless'. After a while they bowed down to convention and got a new drummer, but the name more or less stuck. Terrible scenes, there were, when they wheeled out the Best chap on drums. I can still hear the fans chanting 'We want Ringo!'


But Ringo was back in Liverpool, as indeed he is to this day. Once the boys had changed their name, the way was clear for him and Stan to revive the Quarry Men moniker. And they've kept it going to this day, with the addition of various new members on keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and vocals. They're actually working separately now, sad to say; Stan's relocated to Manchester, and Ringo's outfit goes out as The Scouse Quarry Men. He and Stan don't speak. There were never any hard feelings between Stan and the boys who went to Hamburg, though; he would often say that he was their biggest fan.


When you keep a band going for forty years, you can imagine that quite a lot of young musicians pass through the ranks. And so it was with Stan McGonagall and his Quarry Men: apparently the lineup of the Hollies, the Chameleons and the Happy Mondays consists very largely of former Quarry Men. Not to mention the Smiths. As it happens, I broached this very topic with Morrissey the other day. He's living in Los Angeles these days, is old Morrie. In a tree. Well, not in a tree, that would be ridiculous - it's more of a treehouse. Lovely place - all mod cons, central heating, Vimto on tap. I was shown around the place by Morrie's majordomo, local chap named Hector. At least, I think he was the majordomo - he said something to the effect that it was actually his house, but I didn't like to pry.


They made me feel very much at home, anyway - Hector shakes a mean Vimtini, let me tell you. Perhaps it was the drink talking, but at one point I asked old Morrie what had gone wrong - why wasn't he the big star he used to be? He wasn't best pleased, I can tell you. He glared at me, brandished an old Smiths 12" and said, with great aplomb, "Sir Frederick, I'm still big - it's just the records that have got small."


I apologised, of course, and Morrie was soon his old charming self again. Apparently the restricted dimensions of CD packaging are a genuine concern for him. His last album, for instance - Morrie and his old bandmates have never really got on, as you know, and the title of the album was meant to be one last dig at their journeyman background: "You are the Quarry Men". When the roughs came back, the desingers had chopped off the last word so as to fit it all in. Morrie was distraught, as you can imagine. He dashed off a quick number to serve as the title track -


"You are the quarry
Just a great big hole in the ground
You make no sound
Just an unattractive hole in the ground
Oho, oho..."


Someone at the record company didn't like it, though, and the song never saw the light of day. I believe it's going to be on his forthcoming collection of B-sides and rarities, "These are the Songs you Never Deserved to Hear (Hey Hey)". It's something to look forward to.


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July 06, 2004
 
I'll never forget Judy Garland. Few singers have ever presented such a complex, even contradictory image. I never knew whether she was going to be a hard-bitten hound dog or a friendly, approachable teddy-bear. One minute she'd look at you with the suspicious mind of a jailhouse rocker in blue suede shoes; the next, she would be every inch a laughing gnome.

As I think of Judy, one other name comes insistently to mind: I'm thinking, of course, of David Bow. I should say that the stage name was my idea. David's real name, David Jones, gave him nothing but trouble: some people confused him with Davey Jones of the Monkees, others assumed he must be Welsh. The crowning humiliation was when he was booked on the same bill with a Welsh Monkees tribute band, the Myncis, all four of whom were in fact called David Jones. Something had to give. I thought 'Bow' would be particularly appropriate in the light of David's fascination with the work of Anthony Newley and all things Cockney: it would suggest that he too hailed from within the sound of Bow Bells.

Alas, my belief that David's name had kept his audience from appreciating the quality of his work proved ill-founded. It turned out that his audience was well aware of the quality of his work, which in all honesty was minimal. "The Laughing Gnome", "Love You Till Tuesday", "Whoops Cor Blimey Stone The Crows (What A Palaver)" - all these songs languished in obscurity for some years. "Whoops", in particular, has never been recorded at all, as far as I'm aware. I have tried to place it with a number of people - Denis Waterman; Frank Bruno; Morrissey - but, sadly, nobody wants to know. What a palaver, indeed.

The 'Bow' name didn't work, anyway. And it's my belief that geographical stage names are rarely appropriate in show business. Take Scott Walker - nobody took the slightest notice of him when he was going out as Little Scottie Winchester. Although, now I think of it, that's not entirely true. There is that odd story of Scottie's chance meeting with a mysterious stranger - a meeting in which his stage name played an important part. For years, Scottie refused to say who he'd met that day on the south coast, referring to her only as 'that fascinating creature'. I can now reveal that this 'creature' went on to play the bass guitar with the Talking Heads.

What's more, she acquired her own stage name that day. As a stranger to these parts, she misunderstood Scottie's name, you see; she thought he was simply claiming that he lived in Winchester and was a Scot (or perhaps a Scottie). Naturally she followed suit, becoming 'Martian Weymouth'. A slip of the pen in the registrar's office turned 'Martian' to 'Martina', and the rest is history. Tina's had her critics; it's been suggested that the down-and-dirty funk basslines of the Talking Heads' later work are beyond the capabilities of a white female human musician. It's a tremendously unfair criticism, I've often felt.

At this time, Scottie's own career was approaching its first great turning-point. His New Vaudeville Band were about to release "Winchester Cathedral", Scott's signature tune and a homage to his home town. The record was to open with jocular whistling and some oompah clarinet, after which Scott came in:

Winchester Cathedral
So grey and so old
Out there in your graveyard
My baby lies cold


The rest of the Vaudevillers felt that this wasn't quite the thing, you know, and it wasn't long before Scott left the band and, indeed, left Winchester. The next time he surfaced he'd teamed up with another two singers, the brothers Mario and Luigi Walker. And so the Super Walker Brothers were born - but that's another story for another day.

'David Bow' didn't last, either. I remember David was pacing up and down my office one day, raging at the relative - and indeed absolute - failure of his work to date. Eventually I blurted out, "Maybe you just need to do something a bit less 'David Bow'-y." Now David, as you know, has one ear permanently bigger than the other - an unfortunate result of a childhood boxing accident - and it so happened that he had his bad ear towards me at that moment. "That's it!" he cried. "I'll change my sound and call myself David Bowie!" Which, of course, he did, with a bit of help from the likes of young Frankie Fellini.

I never saw him much after that. But I'm not bitter. He left me with some fond memories; he also left me with the publishing rights to "Whoops", which I think is going to be very big one of these days. In fact I'm expecting a call back from Scottie as I write. It's about time someone did him a good turn.

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April 27, 2004
 
I'll never forget Judy Garland. She had a childlike quality, never more pronounced than in her early films. Watching Judy in the Wizard of Oz, you felt that this was someone who, in a real sense, had not yet fully entered upon her twenties. It's a rare quality in actors, and particularly remarkable in one so young.

It was a quality she shared, like so much else, with Jimmy Gumdrop. Yes, it's an unlikely surname, and there were those who were convinced that Jimmy, like Judy herself, had been born a Gumm - or perhaps in his case a Dropp, you could argue it either way. It wasn't true; I worked with Jimmy for many years, and I can assure you that he objected strenuously if any aspersions were cast on his ancestral handle. He came from a long line of Gumdrops, you know the sort of thing - there were Gumdrops on the Mayflower, and so forth. He even had family in the old country, although Jimmy's relations with them were strained; they didn't approve of his lifestyle, you know. Damn them, I remember Jimmy fairly yelling at me across the dressing-room one night - damn those goody-goody Gumdrops!

You don't much hear the name of Gumdrop these days, and for that I must take some of the blame. It was I, you understand, who introduced Jimmy to the works of A. A. Milne. They were a revelation to Jimmy: he'd never read anything like it before in his life. In fact, Jimmy hadn't read anything at all in his life: his father, you see, was a strict disciplinarian of somewhat old-fashioned views, and he thought that a conventional school education would give Jimmy 'ideas'. I was never really sure whether the old man had a particular type of idea in mind, or simply objected to rational thought in any form.

In any case, being stranded on an iceberg and brought up by seals left Jimmy with very few ideas of any kind. When I introduced him to the Hundred-Acre Wood and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the effect was electric. Several of his most famous songs actually date from that encounter, at least in their original form. You'll know "The Crystal Butterdish", of course:

Before you spread my bread with marmalade
I'd like to ask the dairymaid
If there's some butter for my bread
That's what I said - just for my bread

Jimmy was particularly fascinated with the name "A. A. Milne". After he'd had a few slices he used to refer to him as "Ma Alien" - loved his anagrams, did Jimmy - or "Hey Hey, Milne!". He actually started to write a song around that second phrase, but he didn't get very far before he was stuck for a rhyme.

Hey, hey, Milne!
Let's open up your kiln!
Let's break up all your pottery!

That was pretty much it. A few days later I came up with 'lottery', but Jimmy said the moment had gone.

By then, though, he wasn't plain old Jimmy Gumdrop any more. You see, Jimmy was obsessed with that poem about the little boy whose mother goes down to the end of the town - I think it reminded him of an occasion in his childhood, when a seal he was particularly fond of disappeared for several days. (He never did find out where she'd been. Taciturn creatures, your seals.) Eventually he prevailed upon the guitarist and the drummer - Robbie thingummy and Sly whatsit, you know - to change their names to 'Wetherby' and 'George Dupree'; he, of course, was James James Morrison Morrison, or "Mr Mojo Marjoram Resin Session". (I'd rather not talk about Jimmy's marjoram resin sessions.)

The problem came with the other chap, Manzanilla, Manzanera - Ray Manzarek, that's the fellow. Around this time young Ray was going by 'Raimondo'. It was another of Jimmy's anagrams that did it - 'Raimondo Manzarek' is a near-perfect anagram of 'Mr Amazonian Dork'. I never knew what it meant myself, but I gathered that this was very much the positive sense of the word 'dork'. Hard to imagine now. Actually it was quite hard to imagine then, but one did one's best. In any case, little Ray wouldn't go along with the whole Milne-related naming scheme; he and one of the other chaps could have split 'George' and 'Dupree' between them, but no. So for a while the posters said something along the lines of


TONIGHT
AT THE
WHISKEY-A-GO-GO
JAMES JAMES
MORRISON
MORRISON
WETHERBY
GEORGE DUPREE
FEATURING
THE ELITE ORGAN STYLINGS OF
RAY
'RAIMONDO'
MANZAREK
$1/50c BEFORE 10
DOORS 7:30



Around that time Jimmy had been unlucky enough to secure the services of one of the hot new names in poster design - Hashbash and his Coat Coloured Brown, or Nigel Brown as we knew him back in Guildford. If you've seen any of Nigel's work from the period, you can imagine what he could do with that much text. The repro technology of the time didn't help, although to be honest that fauve-on-ganache colour scheme is difficult to bring off even now. The end result was that nobody could read a damn thing, frankly. The proprietor of the Whiskey - Mr Gogo, I suppose he was, we were never close - well, he was furious. He sent some people round with strips of paper to stick on to the posters, to make sure the essential information got across. "BAND AT THE WHISKEY $1 DOORS 7:30"

We all know what happened next. The show was a huge success, and the name stuck. Later, of course, the One-Dollar Doors became the plain old Doors, and James James Morrison Morrison became plain old James Morrison, or "Mr Major Noises". But that's another story for another day.

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May 28, 2003
 
I'll never forget Judy Garland. So few artistes have the compassion that she so often showed. That poor man, I remember she said to me once - he's been cleaning all those windows and now he's leaning on a lamp post at the corner of the street, doesn't he ever get to sit down? She actually sought out George Formby and sent him a note, with a signed photograph and a rather nice armchair. I don't know what became of it, though, I never actually worked with George.

Our paths did cross once, now I think of it, over a matter of pastiche and travesty rights. Remember young Alfie Gainsborough? Much the finest ex-Services George Formby impressionist of his day, on the Wirral circuit at least. To begin with he didn't have the clothes for the part, you see, and after a time we made a feature of it - we got him billed as 'Khaki' Gainsborough. Worked like a charm - they loved him in Heswall, I can tell you. (Well, they clapped.)

Anyway, Alfie lugged his ukulele up and down the A540 for a couple of years, but after a while he decided to look further afield. So we relaunched him in France. He had to make a few changes, obviously: the uke had to go, for a start. The songs got a lot slower, and of course their lyrics had to be translated into French, pretty much in their entirety. Even then, they didn't really take to him. Eventually I realised the name was giving us problems: we'd changed everything else, but Alfie was still going out with an English name. So out went 'Khaki' Gainsborough and in came 'Serge' Gainsbourg.

The rest of course is history: where Heswall led, the Left Bank could only follow. As time went by Alfie had more and more difficulties adapting the old George Formby material; he often told me he was working on a new version of 'the window song', but nothing ever came of it. That said, one of Alfie's biggest hits was adapted from an old Formby number, albeit one that George's people would never let him release - it was called "When I'm Between Your Kidneys". Racy little number, as I recall.

That was with the Birkin girl, of course. Lovely girl - daughter of a judge, I believe. She'd known Alfie back home, you see, and quite by chance she ran into him in Paris one day. She was quite taken aback by his appearance, apparently, and she blurted out, "Qu'est-ce que c'est donc de quoi il s'agit dans l'ensemble, Alfie?" She was concerned that he'd become a little too French, you see; she wanted him to lose the strings of onions, you know, and the stripey jumper, and the red wine and the Gauloises and the womanising. I suppose one out of five isn't too bad.

Marvellous career, he had, Alfie - influential in all sorts of ways. Take young Whitney Houston - she'd never have had that big hit of hers if not for Alfie. She actually jotted down the first draft straight after their meeting; it was originally called "I Will Always Love You (If You'll Get This Ghastly Frenchman Out Of My Face)". But do you know, 'the window song' evaded Alfie to the last. In the end he handed it over to an old Forces friend who'd also set up on the Continent - Jack 'Clanger' Bell (or 'Clanger' Brel as he preferred to be known by that time). Old Clanger turned it round in no time:

Les oiseaux noirs du désespoir
Ne chantent pas seulement pour toi -
Ils chantent doucement pour moi,
Quand je lave les fenêtres!


"The black birds of despair sing sweetly for me, when I'm cleaning windows" - rather nice in its way. They wouldn't have it in Hoylake, mind you. Funny thing, years later little Dirk McCartney got hold of that song and tried to translate it back into English. Missed the whole point, though - lost the windows for one thing. No professionalism, these youngsters.

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I'll never forget Judy Garland. Judy was unlike any other actor I've ever known. As I remember, she was particularly unlike Samuel L. Jackson - 'Klaxon' Jackson, as I called him. But that's another story.

Dear Samuel had his wilderness years, of course. When I first knew him he actually lived in the wilderness - one used to see him walking down roughly-beaten country tracks, wearing an ill-fitting hat and talking to himself. He never strayed off the beaten track, though, even then. Pulp Friction changed everything. And yes, that was the title; people say now it was that film Samuel did with the boy Tarantino that changed everything, but I know better. In my business, you see quite a few instructional films from industrial liquidiser and blender firms, but that one really stood out. "Gahooga!" When I heard that, I knew I had to work with this man. Ultimately it was the boy Tarantino who reaped the reward, but one doesn't like to bear grudges; I feel he's suffered enough.

Dear Quentin's a great personal friend and a longstanding client. I remember one Friday afternoon; he'd come round for his regular foot massage, and we started talking about film plots. What I'd like to see, I said, would be a film told mainly in flashback, framed with sequences in which an undercover cop is bleeding to death following a failed robbery. The role should be taken by a British actor, I said - Simon Russell Beale, say, or Simon Callow, or perhaps Simon Cadell; I felt that the part called for a Simon. Now, I'm not claiming any great originality for this suggestion; indeed, Reservoir Dogs was out at the time, so I dare say the idea had occurred to Quentin himself at some stage. But I like to think I played some small part in helping the boy towards a glittering career. We'll just have to wait and see.

Anyway, I signed Samuel on the strength of the blender film, and I started pitching a little idea of mine. 'Klaxon' Jackson was the name of the film and the name of the character; you'd see him trawling the streets of San Francisco in an ill-fitting wig, looking to settle some scores with a rogue trichologist. "Gahooga!" That was his catchphrase, you see. This was just after that Pacino film with all the hoo-hah, Whiff of a Lady or whatever it was, so I felt the public was ready. I even had a theme song:

"Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about?"
"'Klaxon' Jackson!"
"Gahooga!"

It could have turned Samuel's career around. The poster was going to say:

'KLAXON' JACKSON
Starring Samuel "'Klaxon' Jackson" Jackson as "'Klaxon' '"Klaxon" Jackson' Jackson"

The movie spent three years in Punctuation Hell, and by the time it was greenlighted we'd all moved on. I've still got the blender film somewhere. I'll never forget it - after Samuel delivers his last line, he smiles, then turns and takes a sip of a freshly-made wheatgrass and aubergine smoothie. Then he says it: "Gahooga!"

Dear Samuel, I hope he's well; the last time I saw him he was walking down a country track in an ill-fitting hat, muttering something about a pig. The man's a true professional, though. That wig he wore in the boy Tarantino's film? He wore that thing from the beginning of the shoot to the end, in every single shot in which he appeared - even if he didn't have any lines. They don't teach you that in drama school.

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"Ditch the rainbow song!"

The words were mine, all those many years ago; those sad, misguided words were mine. Fortunately for all concerned, my advice was ignored, as it would be so often in the future. But that's another story for another day.

Of course, dear Judy didn't ditch 'the rainbow song'; indeed, it would be associated with her name for many years to come. It affords me a crumb of solace to note that the song was heavily edited before recording, eliminating most if not all of the elements to which I had objected. Even the title had to change - "Have yourself a merry little rainbow", what sense does that make? None! None, I say!

These, then, are my memories of a life in the green room; a life which I can truly say has been lived among the stars; a life that's full, in which I've travelled each and every byway. But more, much more than this.

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