I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.
His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.
John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.
But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe.
He is a man of many hats.
Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:
“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”
Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative.
We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:
“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”
Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”
Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…
DOWIE: This book my first prose work.
FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.
DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.
FLEMING: So why now?
DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.
DOWIE: Is that the word?
FLEMING: I dunno.
DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.
FLEMING: How has the book done?
DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.
FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?
DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.
FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?
DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.
FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?
DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.
FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.
DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.
FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…
DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.
FLEMING: To distract them?
DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.
“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”
“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”
It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.
FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?
DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.
FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…
DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.
FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.
DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.
FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)
DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.
FLEMING: A great name, though.
DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.
FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.
DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.
DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.
FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?
DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.
FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.
DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.
FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.
DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.
FLEMING: I don’t know that one.
DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”
FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?
DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.
FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?
DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.
FLEMING: On stage, though?
DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.
FLEMING: I think that might just be you.
DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.
FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?
DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.
FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?
DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.
FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?
DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.
FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?
DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.
FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?
DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.
FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?
DOWIE: Depends how long I live.
FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.
DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!