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Bowie and Bolan Get It On

Chris Welch | Melody Maker | 17 September 1977

Chris Welch reports from Manchester on David Bowie's appearance on Marc Bolan's television show

 

"Oh that's really Polaroid! You've gotta keep the ending!"

David Bowie rocked with laughter and Marc Bolan wiped away the tears that had threatened to turn his finest hour into a nightmare. The great day when David and Marc were reunited for a TV show will pass into the history books as one of the funniest episodes never filmed.

Perhaps one should say never video-taped for the last show in the series Marc put together by Granada TV turned out to be a drama of such pathos and uproar that it made Coronation Street seem dull, if that's at all possible.

There were tears, outbursts of swearing, bitter rows and the breaking of light bulbs when everything seemed to go wrong when David joined his old chum for rehearsals and recording at Granada's Manchester studios last Wednesday.

The clash between old wave and new wave was further heightened by the power of trade unions and the congenital inability of rock people to get it together in anything lik a normal, orderly fashion. It was ten breaks and split-second timing versus artistic temperament and inexperience.

I thought it funny but I'm sure producer Muriel Young didn't, nor did the manager of Generation X who turned up three hours late without any equipment, nor Barrie Masters and his famous Rods who never got to appear on the show after waiting around for two days.

In the event, by the miracle of editing and technical wizardry, the show will go out complete with the Rods, and David making a rare British television appearance on all ITV regions on Wednesday, September 28 at 4:20 pm. But it would have been more exciting if they had videoed the dramas taking place in and around the studio.

Marc was in his element as a television star and part-time artistic director. As one studio boss was forced to ejaculate when Marc was bellowing instructions: "I don't know why I'm the floor manager" Said Marc: "When you've got your name up in lights, you've gotta take responsibilities".

The show was born out of Marc's dream to be a media man, dating back to when he once did some interviews for London television. Here he could invite his favourite guest artists, do a bit of chat and generally camp it up in time-honoured Bolan fashion.

As a cross between Judy Garland and Louis B. Mayer he was brilliant. But one of the lads in the heavy rock combos booked for the show stopped me dead in the gents by demanding: "Is he queer?" "Nah, course not. Straight as a die, our old Marc" I protested.

A few minutes later Marc sailed past us in the corridor calling out coyly: "What shall I wear? I know, the green dress with black suspenders." In fact he turned up wearing a leopard-skin creation that even a leopard might have baulked at.

The whole day was worthy of being turned into one of those probing documentaries where people bare their souls and the holes in their socks before cameras so discreet that nobody seems aware of their presence.

It was just like the World About Us. The cast of characters included Marc's PR Keith Altham, recently recovered from a nervous collapse that he threatened would be brought on again if Barbara De Witt said another word: Barbara De Witt, David's American PR lady who wanted to know what Keith Altham was doing bringing so many press in her artist's wake; Bob Hart of the Sun, anxious to see Keith Altham, buying him a drink ("You're the only publicist I can't afford to have lunch with"), Jeff Dexter, Sixties hippie deejay, and now partner with Tony Howard in Marc's management, the said Mr Howard resplendent in genuine 1968 teddy boy jacket, and Eric Hall the man from EMI.

The whole party descended by train upon Manchester and spent the day being hustled out of the studio by David's bodyguard, a charmingly polite gentleman who kept appearing in front of us saying: "You'll have to leave – now". I half-expected to meet him at the front gate when I got home that night, holding up both hands to bar any further progress.

The main targets of his life's work (sending people in the opposite direction from whence they came) were Marc Bolan's manager, his press officer, and various friends hoping to see David after his absence from the scene for many years.

"Ain't it strange what some people will do" was the rather apt song being dance to by Heart Throb, the show's troupe of girl dancers who had chosen to wear plastic see-through bowler-hats for their routine.

On came the Rods – Barrie Masters in jeans and shirt – miming to their backing track on "Do Anything That You Wanna Do." "It's a bit Mick Mouse, this show," he said as he came off the rostrum, indicating that he and the boys had been hanging around in the studio all day waiting to do their bit.

Generation X arrived red of hair and pink of cheeks, somewhat breathless from a disastrous day spent on the M1. A broken-down van, no equipment available – the bad news experienced by many a group.

But it didn't stop them adopting the aggressive attitude expected of a new wave combo. As offers were being made to lend them equipment they discussed jokingly, whether or not to smash up Marc's guitar, "What will it cost us – 400 quid?"

Eventually guitars were lent, including Rod Paul Gray's bass (he told me that if the X-men smashed up his bass guitar, he would smash them up).

Miraculously, amplifiers and instruments were procured and Generation X stormed into their big number "Your Generation" and Billy Idol their pretty lead singer looking aggressively angelic. In fact they played so well I found myself clapping their performance, lone applause that must have sounded almost insulting in the silence of the studio as the echoes died rapidly away.

But Generation X discomfort was not over. They had to play a number at least five more times, constantly being stopped by the technicians, something all musicians detest.

Marc had to keep repeating the same introduction "This is Generation X. They have a new singer Billy Idol who is supposed to be as pretty as me. I ain't so sure. Check it out." Eventually he stumbled over the words by the sixth attempt. "Me brain weren't connected to me leg" he explained with a grin.

Meanwhile more rows were breaking out between Generation X's manager and producer Muriel. As Stewart bellowed abuse across the studio floor, Muriel, a very ladylike professional, simply walked away.

"It's appalling" said Stewart "Now they are only going to show half the song or pull it out. We'll do Top of The Pops instead. Let's go!" He made a move for the exits, but the band stayed on and later Granada confirmed that X would be in the show.

While the September 28 show was still being recorded the day's edition was going out featuring Marc singing "Let's Dance" the old Chris Montez hit which sounded pretty good given the Bolan treatment as well as his new single "Celebrate Summer."

Now it was time for the studio to be cleared while Marc and David rehearsed their big number. Momentarily eluding the bodyguard I managed to hide behind a piece of scenery as Boland and Bowie joined forces with Herbie Flowers, Dino Dines and Tony Newman. It sounded like a bit of a shambles to the uninitiated.

In fact the song was only just put together in time and remained untitled, a bit of casual rock jamming. But it was fun to see them together and they sounded pretty funky with Marc blazing enthusiastically on lead guitar.

And to complete the atmosphere of revivalism, Marc launched himself into "Deborah" a new version, which had to be cut when the backing track seemed to go out of sequence. "I don't mind lip-synching but when it's the WRONG verse… " complained Marc tartly. Suddenly there came a bellowed announcement "Will anybody not on the show please leave the studio!" Once more we were herded outside. "Oh why did we come?" said the Rods, also hustled away.

But a kindly floor manager keeping remarkably cool, swiftly let the entourage back in again to witness the final historic chapter. David readied himself for his solo number "Heroes" from the album. With his jeans carefully rolled up to reveal lace-up boots he stood cooly before the microphone, careless of the chatter of the studio.

Ignoring some impudent feedback he began singing, slowly and lowly at first with a deep voice that always comes as a surprise from one of such slim build. There were pregnant pauses between bars and then suddenly he bellowed forth "I will be king and you will be queen… we can be heroes just for one day, we can be heroes!" it was a remarkable performance even in a cold TV studio.

Now it was Marc's big moment when he was to join David for the taping of their hastily sketched-out number. While David had his face made up, Marc called anxiously to the floor manager: " Do you want me front or back?" "Just tough your toes, Marc, " called out one of the Rods waiting to do their number on the opposite rostrum.

The mighty duo began their number and, said Billy Idol approvingly from the sidelines: "It's got that disco beat all right" "What an old pooftah" grumbled a roadie uncharitably.

Suddenly there was competition on stage as the number ground to a halt. "We're getting electric shocks up here" shrieked Marc pointing towards the microphones. Nobody moved. Time was ticking dangerously away. At 7 pm the union would pull the plugs out and head for home and beauty sleep.

Attempts were being made by the production team to stop the band. "We're rehearsing actually" said Marc somewhat put out.

David stood quietly to one side smiling and unperturbed but suddenly he frowned. "That wasn't the actual take, was it?" he asked as the truth began to dawn "What do you mean, not really? Either it was or it wasn't:" "1-2-3-4!" and Tony Newman uncertainly set the drums rolling once more. At this point Marc fell off the stage with excitement. "A wooden box for Marc please" said David "Look we've got to do that again, it wasn't finished". But the studio man was calling "Let's have the Rods please. The Rods obediently scrambled onto their rostrum to start recording and David and Marc instantly started jamming. At 7 pm precisely all the lights went out and the technicians disappeared. "You've got a black-out mate!" called a voice from the floor.

A furious row broke out between the Rods and the producer when it was realised there was no time for the group to do their number. "This is really unfair" said Barrie Masters. "We've been waiting here all day to go on, and we came up from London yesterday to do the show. That's two days wasted."

The Rods stormed off to their dressing room where a certain amount of swearing went on. Bolan was allegedly locked in his dressing room in tears and Bowie languidly viewed the results of the day's work on the video tape machine. All was smiles when it was realised they had something of a classic in the can, even it if was a shambles.

If there was any acrimony it evaporated later. On the train going back to London, David sat next to Barrie and the rest of the Rods shared beer, wine and chicken legs. "I want to do a tour of Britain in the New Year" he said "Starting in Glasgow and working my way down. I really want to play again. Today was great fun."

David also said that he had recorded a Christmas show with Bing Crosby of all people, and had also been recording album tracks with Marc.

But it was good to see him back again, and perhaps next time we see him he'll be hero not just for a day but a whole tour.


1974  1975  1976  1977  1978  1979  1980 

DAVID LIVE  |  YOUNG AMERICANS  |  STATION TO STATION  |  LOW  |  HEROES  |  LODGER  |  SCARY MONSTERS

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