Tag Archives: Clifford Slapper

From Berlin: “the surreal, strange and amazing and weird and wonderful…”

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself in a mirror

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself reflected in a mirror in 2014

A week ago, I blogged about Polly Trope, who was organising a book fair in a bar in Berlin, which included the idea of a Literophone – a small furry booth where guests could call up writers and get words read to them down the phone.

I was supposed to be on the end of a phone in London yesterday, ready to read out a blog to unsuspecting German lovers of words. But I got tickets for a play in London’s West End instead. My Facebook Friends may have read my sort-of review of Mr Foote’s Other Leg.

So, this afternoon, I Skyped Polly Trope to find out how the Berlin event had gone yesterday.

“Really well,” Polly told me. “Everyone had a good time. About a hundred people came. It was more a social affair than a book fair – networking. We had two rooms: one for chatting and drinking and one for doing readings.”

“How did the Literophone go?” I asked.

“Really well. I think for both the people phoning and the people reading it was a very strange experience. A certain kind of person was interested in phoning.”

“What type of person?”

Polly Trope on a special horse near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

Polly Trope near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

“People who have a love for the surreal, the strange and amazing and weird and wonderful. Not everyone is into that. Some people phoned all the poets and all the flash fiction writers.”

“What,” I asked, “was surreal, strange and amazing – the readings or the fluffy booth itself?”

“I think it was the fact the readings were on the phone and you could not know in advance what you were going to get and you weren’t sure how to react. People came out saying: Ooh! that was really weird and intense.”

“In the tiny little fluffy booth?” I asked.


“What was the highlight for you outside in the bar itself?”

“Jonathan Lyon’s reading.”

(Jonathan Lyon has been described as a fur-donning Adonis writing a novel via Instagram about his drug habits while at Oxford.)

“Why?” I asked.

“I just think he’s a wonderful writer. He read a piece about kind-of-like-a horror film taking place within his own skull and he climbs into his skull and finds another skull and then there’s a little door and slides down and it just gets really intricate.”

“It sounds,” I said, “ideal for a bar where everyone is drinking.”

“Yes. The bar is named after the dog.”

“The dog?” I asked.

“The bar is called the Posh Teckel.”

“Teckel?” I asked.

“I think it’s a word to say dachshund. They have a dog called Ella in the bar.”

“Stuffed?” I asked.

“No. Alive.”

“Sausages are usually stuffed,” I said.

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

“As soon as I made the fluffy booth,” Polly told me, “Ella went into it, thinking Ooh! this is nice and fluffy. I’m going in.”

“Ella is the dog?” I asked,.

“Yes. She left when people started to come in, “said Polly. “She doesn’t like crowds.”

“Are you going to do it again?” I asked.

“Yeah. We’re hoping next time we can get someone to sponsor us. It would be nice to have funding.”

“It is always nice to have funding,” I said, “… or so people tell me.”

“I don’t know when the next one will be,” Polly told me, “but the Literophone is possibly going to be happening in London as a little Christmas celebration. I’m quite keen to do the experience again for more people in more places.”

“Anything else you want to say?” I asked. “Do you want to sing?”

“I can’t sing,” said Polly.

“You can,” I told her. “I’ve heard you sing. You did a black and white music video.”

“You liked that?”

“It was like Berlin between the Wars,” I said, “which is rather worrying as it means there’s another war coming along.”

“Yeah,” said Polly, “but it was filmed in Florida.”

“You can still be German there,” I said. “Just because you are in Florida doesn’t mean you have to be a cartoon mouse. You can still be German.”

“I just took some video by the pool,” Polly told me. “At a really creepy motel. I liked the fact it was creepy.”

“Why was it creepy?” I asked. “Did it feel like Psycho?”

“No. It was a bit like a set of council blocks and, in the middle, was a swimming pool which never had anyone in it. So I swam in it.”

Polly’s song is still on YouTube:

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Filed under Books, Literature

Clifford Slapper and Bowie’s Piano Man

Clifford Slapper (right) with Bob Slayer yesterday

Clifford Slapper (right) at the party with Bob Slayer yesterday

Yesterday, I went to writer Polly Trope’s birthday party in Soho. Last April, I blogged about her ‘autobio-novel’ Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway.

Musician Clifford Slapper was also at her party yesterday. He, too, has written a book, published today. It is a biography – Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson.

“Have you ever worked with Bowie?” I asked.

“On Ricky Gervais’ comedy series Extras,” replied Clifford. “David Bowie had a cameo in one episode. I was David Bowie’s hands for the day – playing the piano you hear on the show. There was another piano hidden off camera which I was playing and Bowie had to sing and pretend to play. That was very exciting, because I’d been such a fan of Bowie’s for years and we had to spend a day of rehearsals together, just the two of us, and then the following day filming. He was very unassuming, really easy to work with.

Clifford Slapper with David Bowie (Photograph by Ray Burmiston)

Clifford Slapper (left) chats with David Bowie (Photograph by Ray Burmiston)

“A couple of years later, I met Mike Garson in Los Angeles. We were speaking about David Bowie and how he loves English comedy and Mike said: A couple of years ago, there was this really funny British comedy and David was playing the piano. I spoke to him and slightly teased him and said Your playing’s come on quite well – because Mike knew David played the piano but not like that.

“David had immediately laughed and told Mike: No, no no. That was some guy from England. And I was able to sit there quietly, then tell Mike: I was that guy. He and I partly bonded over that and we were swapping stories about the ups and downs of being a musician. And I said to him: Look, there are dozens of biographies of Bowie. Has anyone ever written your life story? That was five years ago and now the book’s out.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you, a musician, think you could write a biography?”

“I have written a lot of political feature articles,” Clifford told me, “for a Socialist magazine, the Socialist Standard.”

“Why a book about Mike Garson?” I asked.

“In the late 1960s,” Clifford told me, “he was a New York avant-garde jazz musician playing tiny gigs in smoky basements. He was married with a baby and struggling to make ends meet. He came home to his wife one night in the autumn of 1972 with $5 – that was his pay – and said: I can’t go on. I can’t feed three of us. 

David Bowie in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love

David Bowie in 1967, still an unknown performer

“The next day, he got three surprise calls, all offering him larger music jobs. Two were for Big Band jazz stuff, going on the road. The third one was from Tony Defries, David Bowie’s manager. The album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars was out, Bowie had been touring Britain as Ziggy Stardust and captured people’s imagination but was not particularly known in the US: they were about to do their first US tour.

“Tony Defries told Mike: David Bowie wants to add an avant-garde ingredient to his music and you’ve been recommended. Would you come on tour with us around America? And Mike’s reply was: David Who?

“But, a week or two later, there he was on the road playing rock concerts to thousands of people. He was catapulted from dozens to thousands. He was in his late twenties, but was actually the old man of the band because the rest of the band were in their early twenties.

Mike Garson in 2006 (Photograh by Alex Boyd)

Mike Garson, 2006 (Photo by Alex Boyd)

“He toured the world with Bowie 1972-1974 and was featured on several of the key albums of that period. Then there was a very long hiatus until the late 1980s and then he got the call again at the outset of the 1990s and again recorded and toured with Bowie right into the 2000s. Last time they played together was 2006.”

“I’m not a musician,” I told Clifford, “why should I be interested?”

“Human interest,” replied Clifford. “And because we’ve approached his life thematically. It’s not a dry, chronological account. We examine the themes that emerge from his life. We have a chapter on addiction – of all kinds. Not because Mike has suffered from addiction but, ironically, because he has not. Almost everyone else in those circles has.”

“So he can give an objective view?” I said.

“Exactly,” laughed Clifford. “He’s one of the few people who did the big rock tours of the 1970s who can remember anything about them.”

“Musicians, actors, comedians,” I said. “Performers in general seem to have addictive personalities.”

“I think,” said Clifford, “that it’s to do with the approval, the validation. From the first time you perform and get that applause – sometimes as a child – it becomes part of your identity – This is my brother: he plays the piano. I think something happens psychologically where, if you’re not careful, that can become a source of validation. Applause. It’s like something digging into you. Something starts to be missing, you’re less self-sufficient in feeling good if it’s not there and you start to become dependant on outside factors for that feeling of approval and satisfaction.


The addictive roar of the greasepaint; the smell of the crowd

“What happens with a lot of musicians, particularly in the rock scene where the social environment has got that decadent element to it, is you come off the stage, you’ve had the applause, it might be a while before your next show, so you get fidgety and, in the absence of huge applause, you will perhaps try to get drunk or drugged instead to get to that feeling where it doesn’t matter.

“It doesn’t necessarily make for the nicest people. If I sit here and say: Oh, I love it when people scream for more, most ordinary people would say: Oh, that’s not the kind of person I want to be friends with: someone who loves it when people scream their name. That is what it boils down to.”

“It must have been interesting,” I said, “for one pianist to write about another pianist.”

Clifford Slapper book - Bowie’s Piano Man

The book grew out of a pianists’ dialogue

“The book grew out of a dialogue,” explained Clifford. “The starting point was this dialogue between us. I went back to LA three or four times and recorded conversations. I had about 25 hours solid.”

“And you are a pianist too,” I prompted.

“When I was six or seven,” Clifford told me, “my parents bought me a toy piano which rapidly became my favourite toy. So then they sent me to piano lessons with a little old lady called Miss Silley – Beryl Silley. I remember her having a huge photograph of Margaret Thatcher in the hallway.

“Around the age of ten, I started to get a little interested in pop music. My grandmother bought me a cassette tape of Elton John’s Honky Château album and that opened my eyes to the fact that playing piano was not just about playing Chopin or Beethoven to Miss Silley every week.

“What really made a difference to me, though, was David Bowie hitting the scene in about 1972/1973. I bought his album Aladdin Sane in 1973 and was completely hypnotised by the whole album. It has loads of wild, eccentric, crazy piano on it – unpredictable cadences and dis-chords. And, that, of course, was Mike Garson.

Clifford on the set of Ricky Gervais' TV show Derek (Photo by Ray Burmiston

Clifford Slapper on the set of Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek (Photograph by Ray Burmiston)

“I was hooked by Bowie – his voice and persona – and Mike Garson was the piano man on the albums and my own piano-playing became very tied-up with this, because I realised piano could be exciting and quite cool, because everybody at school was talking about this album. So you can imagine how I was very excited to work with David Bowie many years later and to meet Mike Garson.”

“So when,” I asked, “is your own autobiography coming out?”

“I’ve started work on it,” Clifford told me. “And I’ve got another rough structure for a book on addiction.”

There is a YouTube clip of Clifford Slapper accompanying singer Lisa Stansfield in 2010.

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Filed under Books, Music, Performance

Bad memories of Bowie and the 1960s

Paul Gannon at Fubar Radio this afternoon

Fubar Radio today – Paul Gannon raising Comic Relief money

This blog is being posted very late today because, basically, I slept all morning. Pure laziness. Then I went to a 27-hour Comic Relief live podcast being run at Fubar Radio by Geekatorium podcaster Paul Gannon. There was a smell in the studio of stale Red Bull intermingled with under-arm deodorant.

I was not there for 27 hours. The live show had started at 8.00pm last night and ends at 11.00pm tonight. I was there for about an hour.

But still, as a result of all that, today’s blog is an irrelevant, partially-mistaken memory.

I have a terrible memory. I always have.

Sometimes people think I have an excellent memory. But that is because I write appointments and events in a diary.

If I remember to.

I am the perfect audience for comedians. I hear jokes, like them and, five minutes after leaving the venue, I have forgotten them.

I am usually the oldest person in a comedy club.

It stands to reason.

Though I think reason is much over-rated.

I was saying to someone last night that, inside, no matter how old they are, everyone feels they are around 26 years old.

But, even when I really was around 26 years old, I had the memory of a 126-year-old. And what follows happened well before I was 26.

David Bowie in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love

David Bowie in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love

When I talked to musician Clifford Slapper recently for an upcoming blog, I mentioned I had never seen David Bowie perform music live, but I had seen him perform live as a mime artist under the name Davy (or it might have been David) Jones at, I thought, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. David Jones was, I said, supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex, the (much better) hippie precursor to rock/pop band T-Rex.

That was all I remembered – and part of that was wrong.

Today, Clifford told me he had managed to piece together the actual facts.

The gig I remembered apparently took place on 3rd June 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

I should have known this, because I actually mentioned it in a blog in 2011, which I had forgotten.

David Jones did indeed support Tyrannosaurus Rex on a bill which also included Roy Harper and Stefan Grossman, both of whom deserve to be, but are not, widely remembered. Ha! I say remembered. They are still around.

David Bowie - so unimportant he was not billed

I remember David Bowie being introduced as David Jones – yet ‘David Bowie’ is clearly billed as such  in this ad for the gig

“He did a 12-minute mime performance,” Clifford tried to remind me of David Jones/David Bowie. “His mime piece was called Yet-San And The Eagle with a backing track made by Bowie and Tony Visconti.”

I had mentioned to Clifford that Tony Visconti had turned up at a rather odd series of weekly philosophy lectures which I attended around that time. All I remember is that he wore a black velvet jacket and had a very attractive girlfriend.

I remember nothing about the David Jones mime at the Tyrannosaurus Rex gig. I had gone along to see Tyrannosaurus Rex. And I tend to go along with the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s opinion of mime as a tragic waste of time.

“The backing track to the mime piece,” Clifford reminded me, “aimed to sound Tibetan but used a Moroccan stringed instrument from Portobello Road and sound effects with saucepans rather than cymbals. The compere was BBC’s John Peel.”

I remember none of this.

Tyrannosaurus Rex’s album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in their Hair, But Now they’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows

Tyrannosaurus Rex: My people were fair and had sky in their hair… But now they’re content to wear stars on their brows

Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex,” Clifford tells me, “was fiercely competitive and allowed Bowie on the bill only on condition that he mimed but did not sing. The piece was about the invasion of Tibet by China and some Maoists had got wind of it and turned up to heckle the mime. One voice shouted out Stop the propaganda!”

I remember none of this.

“Bolan,” Clifford tells me, “was delighted by the heckle, but Bowie later said: I was trembling with anger and went home sulking.”

All I remember is seeing David Bowie perform as David Jones or maybe Davy Jones.

David Bowie has gone through Ch-ch-ch-changes

David Bowie has gone through Ch-ch-ch-changes

This happened on 3rd June 1968.

I guess I knew David Jones was also David Bowie, because Bowie had apparently released his single The Laughing Gnome (under his David Bowie name) in April 1967.

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the single was not a success. I rather remember it being quite widely played and thought I remembered it being a success.

But history is whatever is written down and read, not the possibly faulty memories of those who were actually there.

I feel I have turned into a cliché character. I was there, but clearly I cannot remember the 1960s.

And I did not take drugs. Fuck knows what the people who were drugged out of their skulls don’t remember.


Filed under 1960s, Music