Thursday, 8 September 2011

Remembering 9/11

Three months before 9/11, I had taken my first trip to New York. I was there to film an interview for a Headliners & Legends show on Demi Moore that was to be premiered on the MSNBC giant screen in the middle of Times Square that August. As my trip was only a flying visit of two days, and wanting to squeeze in as much sightseeing as I could on the day off I had been given by the production company, I decided the best way to take in some of the the sights would be on one of the hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tours. The two-hour Downtown Loop sightseeing trip was the perfect way to see some of the oldest and some of the newest neighbourhoods in Manhattan as it it included stops at Greenwich Village, Empire State Building, Union Square, Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, East Village, Rockefeller Center and the World Trade Centre site. Due to time restrictions, and because I wanted to discover other locations not on the bus tour, like Planet Hollywood, Central Park, New York Library and Grand Central Station, I only hopped off at the smoking stops, where we had enough time to take pictures. Probably one of the most awesome sights of the tour were the Twin Towers.

To see them in real life was a truly magnificent sight, and I feel lucky that I did get to see them in all their splendour before I watched the shocking events of 9/11 destroy them, just three months after I had looked up at them in total awe. To watch them fall to the ground like a deck of cards on live television in  the UK, while people were still inside, was so very heartbreaking.

Like almost everyone, I can vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when the news broke, much the same as when the news broke of Kennedy’s assassination, Elvis’s untimely death and the fatal accident that killed Diana. If you lived in the UK, the first reports of what seemed like a tragic plane accident had begun at around 2pm, British time. In New York, of course, it was already the height of the morning rush hour. I had just finished eating my lunch and was about to go back to my home office, when after the lunchtime edition of Neighbours had finished, we were given a Newsflash that went directly for a live report from New York. When the first live pictures were seen, of smoke bellowing out the north tower, it was incomprehensible to think that a plane had just crashed into it. What a terrible accident.

But then, while I was watching, another plane in the distance, started its descent and turned to head straight for the other tower. It kept turning and kept coming, seemingly picking up speed, and then horror of horrors, it slammed into the other tower with such force, it looked it was going to slice through the tower and come out the other side. As we all now know, when it hit the tower, it exploded into a huge fireball and sent debris flying to the ground. Most of us froze in disbelief, probably unable to move or say anything. The pictures we were watching on our televisions was like watching a scene from a disaster movie, and to think they were happening for real was just totally unbelievable.

Both towers now had huge dark black holes in their sides, where the planes had ploughed into them, with fire and smoke bellowing out. I can’t remember how long after the planes had hit that people could be seen jumping out from just below where the planes had hit, but it seemed only a short while after. Still dealing with the initial shock of two planes crashing into the towers, we now dealt with another sight that none of us ever expected to see, people jumping from a literally unsurvivable height, to escape the fumes and the heat of the disaster. I can still hear the commentator screaming in disbelief. It was truly an awful sight that none of us will ever forget.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cliff Sessions - 20 Years Old Today!


Ever since my book on Cliff Richard’s recording sessions was written with my Cliff cohort Peter Lewry and published 20 years ago, we have, between us, often been bombarded with questions about how the book came about, how we went about writing and researching it, and most of all, how did we encourage Cliff and EMI Records to co-operate and participate in the book’s preparation. As it is the 20th anniversary of its publication today, I thought it would be fitting to write a post on the story behind the book, to celebrate what Peter and me are still very proud of to this day... and how it led us to become recognised as the Cliff catalogue experts by EMI and also to the publication of another two books on Cliff in 1993 and 1996.

For the purpose of writing this piece, Peter and me have spent the last few weeks looking back at the project so that we could write an article as accurate as possible on the sequence of events that led up to publication from the moment we thought up the idea, which was really inspired by a booklet that Peter had produced for his sister, on Cliff’s recordings. He showed me the finished booklet he had made one evening in December 1989, when we had got together for a few Christmas drinks. That’s really when we came up with the idea to turn Peter’s booklet into a fully fledged book on Cliff’s recording sessions. Or at least we were going to try.

It soon became very clear to both of us, that if we were gonna get a publisher attached, then we would need to obtain the co-operation of Cliff, EMI, Abbey Road and other studios Cliff had recorded at, and to talk with as many of the key personnel that played an important role in Cliff’s recording history! We remember Cliff’s manager in charge of public relations at that time, Bill Latham, asking us how on earth we were going to achieve such a task, as something so complicated as writing a book on Cliff’s recording sessions, and looking back on it, we probably wondered much the same.

At that time, we were both very inexperienced about publishing and researching and writing as we had never done it before apart from a few articles we had written for fan magazines of other artists. We were pretty naive I guess on how we would get access to the informaion we needed, and for a very short time, I can recall how we must of thought of doing the book without any involvment from Cliff or EMI, but that thinking quickly changed!

Our initial idea was to give our book on Cliff’s sessions the same treatment as Mark Lewisohn had given to The Beatles. But as one reviewer pointed out, we had one major drawback, we couldn’t listen to any of the session tapes, so rather than attempt a session by session account of Cliff’s development in the studio, we decided to divide it into 12 stages, wrote an introduction to each era and then presented all the hard information of each session, like where, when and how and who was there and what resulted, and then added a fascinating array of illustrative material throughout to give what we hoped would be an accurate perspective on Cliff’s recordings over the years.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Premise for Dannii

When I was preparing the proposal for my biography of Dannii Minogue for which she was going to participate in and co-operate with, as long as it remained unauthorised, long before Dannii decided to write her own book, I included my researcher Natasha Duckworth's research note, which I have reproduced below. It emphasised the premise for the book, and was just part of the fabulous work Natasha did for the proposal, which also included an amazing interview and chapter plan...

When the public think of Dannii Minogue, the 3 things they are most interested in are: (1) her huge resurgence in profile in the past 3 years from X Factor and Australia's Got Talent, (2) her "sex symbol" status - the photo shoots she's done, men she's dated, raunchy headlines etc, and the truth behind all of that, and (3) her life in Kylie's shadow as far as her pop career is concerned, and her true feelings on that .... perhaps if put in that order, with equal emphasis on each, this book will be received well by critics and public alike as being upfront, realistic, and focusing on Dannii's successes as much as her failures, which of course, we all like to read, especially when the celebrity is shown to have flaws as well as being human.

Even if there are those who would find Dannii's pop career the least interesting part of her story, l still think that most would still want to read this biography, mostly to get the dirt on her relationships. At the end of the day, many more people would buy it if it mentioned Kylie, because it is unlikely if anyone would buy a book solely for a telling about Dannii's music, end of. But, then again, with Dannii's planned return to music, if the book's publication is timed alongside the release of her new album, we couldn't ask for better timing to recount her previous career in pop music, and as it has never been written about before, the book would surely act as a definitive account of what really happened in that period in her life.

Although my researcher has prepared a chapter plan, I am also tempted, as she suggests, to actually put the book into 3 sections as I describe above, rather than a simple chronology. In the Dannii vs. Kylie section, we have collected a wealth of documentary material of things that happened. For example, back in 1990, Kylie released Shocked and Dannii released Success at the same time. Smash Hits gave it a double review, highlighting all the good points about Shocked and the bad points about Success – and since that time they never released singles at the same time (under Dannii's contract), so there was a huge positive press for Dannii in 1997 when she got her first top 5 hit at the time Kylie had her first song missing the top 20 – It was the time when Kylie wanted to be taken seriously, died her hair and looked like a prostitute and stopped selling records, while Dannii spotted the hole in the market, dyed her hair blonde, appeared naked in Playboy, and had the chart success.

Many blame Heat magazine for having such a huge influence on what people think and believe about celebrities. If we want to turn this book on Dannii into something quite special, we should really include how the obsession with celebrities has grown and how it has been 100% perpetuated by the magazine.

Before Heat, no one really cared, as illustrated mostly by Jade Goody. She was the most unpopular housemate back in BB3, but because her eviction coincided with the first year of Heat magazine (back in the days when sales were really slow to get off the ground), all they had do was print pictures of her and interview her (because they didn't have the reputation to get anyone else), so they turned her into a star and she turned them into the biggest magazine in the UK. The Cheryl Cole comparison to Dannii is all because of Heat. They go on about her outshining Dannii every day but everyone I speak to thinks Dannii is the more interesting judge, and yet it is Cheryl, we are told, that the country seems to have fallen in love with.

I also think it would be a very good idea for this book to examine the attitude of Kylie fans to Dannii, and whether Kylie's popularity actually hindered Dannii as opposed to helping her. There was such hatred simply because she was Kylie's sister, and that she threatened Kylie's status, yet on the other hand, for years, Dannii's only online promotion was through the Kylie Sayhey website.

I would also want to comment in my writing, how Kylie's press assassination in the 80s lead to her being a closed book in her interviews and coming across as very dull most of the time, but Dannii's edgier music/image (coupled with her never being over popular and hence never subject to tall poppy syndrome) has afforded her a freedom to express her views and be more open (perhaps even having more control over her music in later years). She was known for her outspokenness along with her outrageous antics, hence why the X Factor role is very appropriate and a natural outlet for her personality – something that the book should capitalise on throughout.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Winona Ryder Interview Q&A

I often get asked questions about Winona Ryder, because of my book. Below is taken from some of the Q&A that I prepared for the filming of The Real Winona Ryder for Channel 4 in 2003. I always find it strange filming an interview. For some reason, the pre-filming conversation I have with the interviewer, while the camera crew and sound guys set up, always seems much more relaxed and natural when compared to when I get to talk in front of the camera! The questions were sent to me several days before the shoot. And the answers, which I scribbled prior to heading off to the location, which on this occasion was a screening theatre in London, was my script, if you like, what I used as a general guide to what I was going to talk about on camera...

Tell us about the Timothy Leary connection. Who was he, and what was his connection with Winona?

Timothy Leary was the key figure in the 1960s counterculture movement and would probably be best described as a social renegade before it was fashionable to be one. He was kicked out of the West Point Military Academy and also dismissed from Harvard University for experimenting with hallucinating drugs on his students, and that of course, won him both notoriety and jail time. It was that whole “turn on, tune in and drop out” thing that made Leary a controversial figure some years before the entire world felt the need to go to San Francisco and put flowers in its hair. The connection with Winona and Timothy Leary was that he was her godfather, and that came about three months after Winona was born when her father Michael Horowitz, who by then was working both as a bookseller of counterculture literature and also as Leary’s archivist. The story is that while Michael and Leary were skiing in Switzerland, Michael pulled out a photograph of Winona when she was a day old and asked Leary to be her godafther. Winona still has the photograph and whenever she shows it to a journalist, she’ll take it out of its frame, flip it over, and proudly show off Tim’s inscription welcoming a newborn Buddha to planet Earth. Undoubtedly her relationship with Leary was a very special one, and if its true that we all have one major influence in our lives, you know, that special person who inspires us more than any other, is our mentor and guide, or whatever, then that’s what I believe Timothy Leary was to Winona. You could say that Leary’s death had the same affect and impact on Winona as much as Brian Epstein’s death had on the Beatles. And I think that is evident when you compare Winona’s career, public image and private life since Leary’s death to Epstein’s death bringing changes in how the Beatles lost their direction and as we know eventually split up.

Talk about his death and how WR spoke at the memorial service.

Timothy Leary became ill with prostate cancer Winona put her career on hold to care for him during the final weeks of his life and moved into his home to do exactly that. We have to remember that their relationship did have a very special bond. But was much more conservative than I think people would imagine. Time and time again, journalists would make her out to be a flower child of hippie parents and Leary, of course, being tagged as the LSD guru. But they were very close. Winona has described him as the most gentle, funny, kind and wonderful man that she has ever known. They would do most things together, like going to the Dodger games, tucking her up in bed when she was younger and reading her stories, and generally took great care of her, like an uncle would. I don’t think it was this big party thing. If anything he was very protective of her. She spoke at his funeral and read from the eulogy she had prepared, which basically told the story of how he became her godfather, and why he meant so much to her, and also talked about how she felt alienated through her first throes of adolescence and for her, talking to Leary was the light at the end of her tunnel. Certainly it had nothing to do with drugs, but it was about getting high on conversation and getting by and making her believe that she could do anything she wanted. The funeral ceremony took place in a battered airport hangar in Santa Monica, and lasted two hours with a video tribute set to Beatles music, and another in words by the noted spiritual leader Ram Dass, and of course Winona’s own eulogy and she also quoted F Scott Fitzgerald, the library of which, interestingly enough is now owned by Winona’s father.

Describe Elk, the countryside up there and the commune.

Elk is situated on the Mendocino coast in Northern California, a few miles from Greenwood, and for anybody who’s been there, will know, it is incredibly picturesque, has a very Edenic setting and is often regarded as the place to go for self- healing simply because of this incredible tranquil quality that it has. If you asked a local how they would describe it, they would probably describe it as the heart of Redwood country, which is to say, it would be the equivalent of what we here in Britain think as a forest or a very well covered woodland. According to Timothy Leary, it was one of the most successful up-scale hippie communes in the country. The commune was about 380 acres of this beautiful land, and was then located right next door to an Indian reservation and was managed in those days by a co-operative of eight families, and to this day, the total population of Elk is what it was then, 250 people. It had no running water, no electricity and no heating except for a stove. So it really was a back-to-basics lifestyle. And living in such an environment, especially for Winona, would of course, force her to use her imagination much more than perhaps children who lived in a city with electricity, running water and all those sorts of modern day amenities. So she would read books, invent her own games, do lots of storytelling and also, most importantly, would put on these little theatre shows - and if you think about that, then its very simple to understand how acting become second nature to her. Much of her playtime would have been spent in making the unbelievable believable, and what is acting, but doing exactly that. So think of it in those terms, it’s really no surprise that she was going to be very good at it when she did it for real in front of a camera.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Meeting Kylie in 2002

I never expected to meet Kylie. And never on the same day that my unauthorised biography of her was published. I just thought the chances of meeting her then or at anytime were pretty slim. And I really have Neil Rees to thank for making it possible.

Looking back on that evening now, I have to say it was one of the best nights of my professional life. Ever since Neil and I had met up in the early afternoon, I think we were both feeling slightly anxious whether Neil’s attempts to arrange for us to go backstage after the show and meet with Kylie would come off or not. We both hoped it would of course, but you can never tell how these sorts of things are going to work out.

Even if we’d had passes, there could still be any dozen of last minute hitches that could throw everything into disarray. In fact, we didn’t really know if we were going to get backstage until about halfway through the show when Neil got a text message on his mobile that instructed us to go to stage left after the concert. It was there that we were confronted by an NEC security guard who didn’t believe a word we were saying until Kylie’s manager Terry Blamey turned up to escort us backstage. I do wonder to this day, if Will Baker had anything to do with making sure it happened for us. He was in London working on the DVD documentary, and had in fact, just finished calling Neil on his mobile minutes before Neil and I met up in the hotel car park. It was either him, or as Will would say, ‘the divine and lovely Allison MacGregor from TBM’ with whom Neil had been in constant touch with throughout the day. Think I should explain here that there was an obvious highly valued opinion from Kylie and Terry for Neil’s Kylie expertise and for all the fine work he has done in supporting her through the years with the running of his Limbo website, and it’s because of that - by going with Neil to the concert (the last incidentally of the Birmingham shows) - that my chances of meeting Kylie was much higher.

Today when people ask me what was it like to meet Kylie Minogue, what was she like, and what was your impression, I always remember Elvis Presley at a press conference in 1972 saying that the image is one thing and the human being is another, and how hard it was to live up to an image. I think you can always be disappointed when you meet the image in real life. Most people who had met Kylie before told me to be prepared for how tiny she is – and she is. But meeting her was such a thrill, especially on the day Naked was published and I can honestly say that all my expectations were exceeded.

You have to remember that she had just finished a very physical two hour concert and I was quite prepared for her to be exhausted and for the meeting to last only a few minutes, like a quick hello. Neither were we sure that we would be able to sit and talk to her for any length of time because we thought there would be at least another dozen people or so wishing to do the same, or in the room with us at the same time. You can imagine it, can’t you, everyone firing questions at her, and frightening her off. But as soon as she walked into the dressing room that only we had been shown into - to wait for her to come along from wherever she was, she was fantastic. She was so unpretentious that it was just so refreshing to meet someone in show business that wasn’t over the top, and had, I thought, a very humble attitude. She’d changed out of her stage costume, obviously showered, had her hair tied back in a pony tail, and was wearing blue jeans and a pink jumper and looked more energetic than I or Neil most probably did. Something I did notice was how crystal clear her blue eyes were, more so than in any photograph I had seen of her, before or since. She seemed to be very concerned that we had enjoyed the show. And she was very easy to talk to for what seemed like a good thirty minutes or so. I know this sounds a bit of a cliché, but without stage make-up, and what she was wearing, she really did look like the girl-next-door. Quite plain, but very pretty. And certainly not like the icon we had just watched go through her paces.

For the life of me, I can’t remember every little detail of what we talked about, apart from one moment when I was talking about Locomotion, saying I was old enough to remember the original, and how her version of it was currently the most played track on my CD player, simply because I had, a few days earlier, picked up a cheap copy of the Mushroom25 issue of her Greatest Hits album. And I do remember her joking about it, about being relegated to the bargain basement. It was a bit like when you’re being interviewed for TV, if you don’t do it regularly, you come out with all sorts of crap, and immediately after I’d said about picking the CD up for £5.99, I wish I hadn’t!

One thing I do remember quite clearly though, before we were taken into the dressing room, we were sitting on some packing boxes (all marked with just the word ‘Kylie’) in another part of the backstage area, while crew and some folk from Parlophone were hanging round chatting, we hurriedly and nervously downed the bottles of ‘Kylie’ Evian water that we had been given thinking what we would say to her, and what do we do if the conversation dries up. Well, we needn’t have worried. The conversation flowed quite naturally between the four of us. Terry, who is just as delightful in person as his client, was also there joining in the conversation with us. I suppose it would best be described as a conversation you would have with a friend who you hadn’t seen for ages and were now catching up with all the latest gossip. Writing my book before meeting her, I hadn’t realised just how happy a pop star she really is, you know, she always has a smile, and a look of ‘isn’t this fun’, a kind of wink in her eye, and that’s exactly how she is. It was just one of the most refreshing meets I’ve had backstage, and totally relaxed and informal.