Friday, August 9, 2019

David Bowie Cries For No-One

One of the strange things I discovered when I began trawling YouTube and other video-hosting platforms for musical curiosities was the predeliction of musicians, particularly singers, to jump each other's trains. In the quarter of a century that I spent going to see live bands, anywhere from the back rooms of pubs to the Hammersmith Odeon, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times someone brought on a "special guest" that no-one was expecting.

In fact, discounting the occasions when the headline band brought on someone from the support band, like the time John Otway made the mistake of inviting The Flies to join him for an encore (as I remember they peppered him with projectiles from pea shooters although that might just be wishful thinking....), I can only recall seeing one significant guest appearance.

That was the one and only time I saw Mott the Hoople, on the tour immediately after guitarist and songwriter Mick Ralphs had left. His replacement, Luthor Grosvenor (aka Ariel Bender), late of dull rockers Spooky Tooth, wasn't up to much in my opinion. Judging by the rapturous respnse of the audience when Ian Hunter brought Ralphs out for the encore, that was the general assessment of Bender's "talent".

In retrospect, that particular moment was extraordinarily similar to the scene near the end of This is Spinal Tap, where Nigel Tufnel, having left the band in a fit of pique, gets the nod from David St. Hubbins to rejoin mid-song in front of a delighted Japanese crowd. Sadly, Mick Ralphs didn't rejoin Mott, going on instead to even greater fame and fortune with dire AOR plodders Bad Company, who were managed by Peter Grant, on whom Spinal Tap's cricket-bat wielding Ian Faith is partially based. Incestuous or what?

What I then deemed to be exceptional, and which probably was fairly unusual, has now become not just commonplace but virtually required. Every day when I read the Latest News from Pitchfork there'll be a clip of someone I've never heard of  "bringing out" someone else I've never heard of.

Digging back through the archives, there are countless gems to be found, although for some reason I don't seem to have downloaded many of them. Of the ones I have, a disproportionate number feature David Bowie. He crops up with everyone from Lou Reed (many times) to Tina Turner (in a hideous reggaefied version of Tonight, which I'll spare you. I certainly never want to hear it again).

Let's have this crunching version of Fashion with Damon Albarn instead, from some French TV show, in front of the traditional zombie audience.

Bowie can uplift just about any show although he never upstages the host. I don't have a huge amount of time for Pink Floyd post Wish You Were Here, but Dave Gilmour bringing out a rather pudgy Bowie to front Arnold Layne is a joy. Shame the sound's so muted but you can't have everything.

It's not possible to have too much Bowie but you have to stop somewhere. Here he is with Robert Smith for a killer take on The Last Thing You Should Do followed by an ethereally beautiful Quicksand.

Some of the collaborations and guest spots almost beggar belief, not just in how inappropriate the match-up sounds on paper but how successful it is in practice. Nu metal pioneers Korn are a long, long way out of my comfort zone but their version of Inbetween Days with Robert Smith is a doom-laden triumph.

Other combos seem so obvious the universe just demands they have to have happened. Damon Albarn dueting Waterloo Sunset with Ray Davies, for example.

Then there are the edge cases, where the band whose gig it is bring on someone to perform while the singer goes off for a towel-down and a glass of milk. Or something. Brett from Suede rarely breaks a sweat but he seems quite keen to hand over the stage to Siouxsie Sioux, who performs an austere version of Lou Reed's existentially bleak "Caroline Says II".

The very first band I was ever in did a version of that song, although only in rehearsal. We never played it live, which is probably a blessing, at least for the audience. I had a recording of it, taken during one of our first rehearsals, when not one of the four of us had a clue how to play the instrument we'd chosen. I really should try and find that tape. And destroy it.

You don't always get to play what you want with who you'd like. Sometimes a star finds themself watching another, greater star and no-one asks them up so they just do it where they stand. That's Halsey, watching Lana del Rey at The Outside Lands Festival in 2016. Someone filmed her because of course they did. If this doesn't make you feel all warm and at peace with the world then I'm sorry but it does it for me every time.

Enough of that. Collaborations lead on to cover versions. I freakin' love covers. And that's probably where we're going next time.


  1. Thanks for posting the cover of in-between days! I hadn't heard that one before. Good stuff.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide