Saturday, 10 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Demi

Today Demi Moore is 50 years old, and as a fitting tribute to mark the occasion, I have compiled fifty facts about her life from the biography I wrote about her, which for this blog post, I have expanded to the present day in celebration of Demi's 50th! Some of the facts I list below are taken from my book, and some aren't. To find out more about Demi's amazing story up to when my book was originally published in September 2000, my biography of her is now available as an eBook and a POD paperback...

♥ Demi Moore was born Demetria Gene Guynes, (Demi for short and pronounced Dem-ee) on 11 November 1962 in Roswell, New Mexico. She was named after a hair wash product her mother spotted in a magazine.

♥ By the time she was fourteen, Demi, a self-described trailer park kid, had moved at least thirty times. 

♥ Her supposedly teenage parents, Danny and Virginia Guynes, divorced the following year. 

♥ Soon after the separation and Danny commits suicide, Demi discovers the true identity of her real father by accident. 

♥ She moves to Los Angeles with her mother, where she eventually drops out of Fairfax High School when she is sixteen years old. 

♥ She works as a bill collector, then as a pin-up girl who poses naked for the men's magazine Oui, and takes up an interest in acting after reading scripts with her neighbour,an aspiring actress named Nastassja Kinski. 

♥ In 1980, When Demi is eighteen, she marries rocker Freddy Moore, whose last name she adopts as her own. 

♥ Their marriage lasts for four years, but ends amicably, during which time she lands the role of reporter Jackie Templeton in the American daytime soap, General Hospital

♥ Two years later she appears topless in her first major motion picture, Blame It on Rio. Over the next 12 years, she will appear topless on screen five more times and appear nude on two Vanity Fair covers. 

♥ From her first salaries from television and film, Demi starts partying with drugs and alcohol until director Joel Schumacher fires her from the set of St. Elmo's Fire when she turns up high and tells her she has one week to clean up her act, which she does. 

♥ The movie helps launch Demi and her boyfriend Emilio Estevez into Brat Pack fame along with Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Andrew McCarthy. 

♥ In 1985, Demi and Estevez decide to marry, but two years later, they call off their on-again, off-again engagement. He says he was deeply in love with her and she says he was definitely her first love. 

♥ Soon after the break-up with Estevez, Demi meets Moonlighting star Bruce Willis at a screening of Stakeout, featuring her former fiancĂ©, Estevez. Willis is a legendary drinker and carouser, but Demi takes a chance because, she said at the time, he was just so ready to embrace and give her love. 

♥ Following up on the diamond friendship ring Willis gave Demi ten days earlier, the two get hitched in a suite at the Golden Nugget hotel with a few guests. A big, black-tie celebration follows in Los Angeles a month later. 

♥ Demi gives birth to her first daughter, Rumer Willis, named after British writer Rumer Godden. She and Willis love being parents. 

♥ The couple continue to expand their family, with Scout LaRue on July 20, 1991, and Tallulah Belle on Feb 3, 1994. 

♥ Demi takes on the challenge of designing her own outfit for the Oscars, a black split-front gown over biker shorts and a bustier, land her on a few worst-dressed lists that year. 

♥ Starring with Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg, Demi gains wide attention as a grieving wife in the movie Ghost. It is a blockbuster at the box office and establishes Demi as a bankable A-list star. 

♥ In what becomes the cover shot seen round the world, Demi poses nude and seven months pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair. She also appeared again on the August 1992 cover, this time wearing nothing more than body pain. 

♥ Demi co-stars in a number of blockbusters, including A Few Good Men, The Juror and Disclosure, but the film that becomes a huge talking point is when she co-stars with Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal. She plays a wife who accepts one million dollars to sleep with another man, played by Robert Redford. Demi and director Adrian Lyne famously clash on set over the interpretation of Demi's role. 

♥ She makes her first of three appearances in People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful issue. 

♥ Cornering the Hollywood market on sex, power and money, Demi, now 32, becomes the highest-paid actress ever when she nabs a reported $12.5 million for 1996's Striptease, in which she plays stripper Erin Grant, who fights to regain custody of her daughter. 

♥ After the opening of the first Planet Hollywood in Orange County, California, three years earlier, the restaurant finally opens a location in its namesake town of Hollywood. Shareholders Willis, Demi, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger host a truckload of stars at the grand opening. Beset by financial problems, the branch closes unceremoniously in January 2000. 

♥ After settling into their new part-time residence in Hailey, Idaho, Demi and Willis invest $8 million restoring the area. Demi sports a nearly bald head for the movie G.I. Jane, prompting The New York Times to declare her new hairdo the moment a well-known exhibitionist gave new meaning to taking it all off. The film is a disappointment at the box office, but Demi's buff body and cropped style grab headlines. 

♥ After eleven years of marriage, Demi and Willis announce their separation. 

♥ Following the death of her mother from cancer, and fighting a lawsuit against her former nanny, Demi spends a few post-marriage years living a low-key life with her girls, but keeps her hand in film as the boss of Moving Pictures company. She strikes gold producing the Austin Powers movies. 

♥ After spending nearly four years with martial arts instructor Oliver Whitcomb, Demi makes a splash at an MTV Movie Awards after-party with Ashton Kutcher, they were all over each other, say observers.

♥ After years away from the big screen, Demi takes on the role of Madison Lee, the Angel gone bad in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. She didn't say yes right away, however. Producer and co-star Drew Barrymore wrote the part for her and wouldn't accept no for an answer. 

♥ Kutcher and Demi wed in a private Kabbalah ceremony at their Beverly Hills, California, home, joined by ex-husband Willis and 100 close friends and relatives. 

♥ Estevez directs and co-stars with Demi in Bobby, a drama set against the backdrop of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. 

♥ Demi poses for her first family portrait for Harper's Bazaar magazine with daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah. 

♥ Before their fifth wedding anniversary, Demi and Kutcher present a united front as a tabloid claim the actor had an affair. Calling the cheating account defamation of character, the couple appear inseparable, with Kutcher joining his wife on the set of her film, The Reasonable Bunch

♥ After reports of marital discord surface, Demi finally sets the record straight, announcing her decision to end her six-year marriage to Ashton Kutcher. 

♥ Demi seeks treatment for exhaustion after an emergency call is placed from her home. 

♥ Today Demi turns 50!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Winona Ryder Interview Q&A Part II

This is the second part of my July 2011 post in which I talked about how I prepare answers to the questions I end up filming for an interview. Part one of this post, dealt with some of the questions I was asked to answer and talk about during my interview about Winona Ryder for The Real Winona Ryder for Channel 4 in 2003. Below are some more of the answers I prepared prior to filming. Sadly I don’t have the pre-filming transcript as it was just a casual conversation with the director, but what follows below is what we talked about, both on and off camera. Although there was a lot more footage shot than ended up in the final programme, this excerpt from my own personal shooting script, will give you an idea of what we filmed...

Comment on Winona’s early interest in movies and literature, the fact that she used to watch films being projected at home and loved Salinger and Little Women. Who were some of the movie stars who inspired her?

To books remain especially close to Winona’s heart. One, which she read when she was twelve years old was Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of a fatherless family struggling to maintain its equilibrium throughout the harsh years of the Civil War. It really made a strong impression on her, as for her; it was probably one of the only books that explored women’s adolescence. In a lot of those kind of books either you were a girl or a woman. You were never in between. The other book that is special to Winona in J D Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, a novel that assumed an almost sacramental significance to her parents generation and still resonates with readers today. Mark Chapman, the murderer of Beatle John Lennon was carrying a copy when he was arrested. Less fatefully, it was also Michael Horowitz’s own favourite book. When he was at high school he told Winona, there was a point when he would speak only in quotations from the novel. Winona read it for the first time when she was eight and didn’t get it. Four years later, she tried again, and this time it clicked. It’s her bible and still is to this day, she has read it, apparently, about fifty times.

She balanced her literary diet with movies. Or rather her mother Cindy Palmer did. In those days before video recorders liberated viewers from the tyranny of television programming schedules, Cindy, would allow her to stay home from school if there was a good one on. By the time Winona was seven, a virtual history of classic Hollywood had passed before her eyes. There’s probably isn’t a movie she hasn’t seen. One of her favourites is Greer Garson’s Random Harvest released in 1942 and was in fact one of the last American movies to be shot before World War II. Equally influential albeit for different reasons was actress June Allyson. As a child Winona was very self conscious about her front teeth which overlapped slightly. Then she saw Allyson in an old movie on TV and because they had both had the same overlapping teeth and that she though Allyson looked so beautiful, any thoughts of Winona having it corrected left her head, although I believe she has since had it fixed.

Much of Winona’s love for the movies probably came from when Cindy obtained a portable generator and gerry-rigged a movie theatre in an old barn, treating her family and neighbours to regular screenings of the films she herself loved. Admission tot he theatre was free, although guests were always encouraged to bring a donation of some sort: money, food, or whatever else they had on hand. Cindy often encouraged the children to express themselves in the same way as their idols who gazed down from the screen.

Talk about the family’s move to Petaluma and how it proved a culture shock for Winona.

Although moving to Petaluma was a favourable return to the modern day comforts of electricity, running water and heating, for Winona there were several aspects that were not so pleasing. The frequent reports of missing children and disappearances would literally haunt Winona long after their coverage had disappeared from the front pages. Probably the one that stuck in everybody’s mind, especially Winona’s, at that time, was seven year old Steven Stayner who was literally snatched off the street just a few miles form Elk in December 1972 and held captive for the remainder of his childhood. But kidnapping wasn’t her only fear. When Winona was 13 she asked her parent to construct bars on her window because a serial killer was rumoured to be on the lose in Northern California, close to Petaluma and she really did fear that she may be the next victim of the Green River Killer who had already left his imprint of terror in the Pacific Northwest. She also difficulty fitting in at school. In the second grade, for instance, she favoured baggy dresses worn over her pants, topped off with long, dirty blond hair. And for another she wore nothing but vintage boys suits. To the normal kids and even to some more rigid teachers, she was an outcast and her family were freaks. She found very little common ground on which she could relate to her schoolmates. The books she read were light years ahead of those doing the playground or being recommended in class. Even today, Winona habitually stuns passing journalists with her arcane literary references, and one can only imagine the effect those same references must have had on the kids whose idea of sophistication seldom went beyond the latest Stephen King.

Her musical tastes, too, followed her father’s and that was another no-no at school. In the early 1980s punk rock was not exactly embraced by the musical mainstream. It was wild, weird, anti-social and the people who liked it weren’t much better, so when they found out that she liked punk rock and went to punk rock concerts she was a prime candidate for outcasting. So with that in mind perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she should be picked on, but what she didn't expect was to get beaten up on the third day in the seventh grade at Kenilworth Junior High -–although what happened would alter the course of her schooling - and her career - forever.

She was in the hallway between classes when a group of her fellow students pounced. They hit her in the stomach, and banged her head into a locker for which she had six stitches. And from that she decided she wasn’t going back. She had now had enough and grown tired of being the quiet girl at the back of the class, the one who would look up from her studies and found virtually every other girl inn the classroom staring at her, quite successfully trying to unsettle her. She was tired of being the one who dreaded the hail of Cheetos that the cheerleader clique would inevitably greet her with every time she passed them in the hall. Outraged by the attack on their daughter, Winona’s parents agreed that she would continue her education at home.

Outraged by the attack, Michael and Cindy agreed. But they were equally outraged by the school itself. It seemed rather than discipline the bullies for their violent behaviour, the school chose to implicate Winona in their stead. Even more strange, as far as Winona was concerned, was the fact that ‘I'm this twelve year old, and Petaluma Kenilworth Junior High School, tells me to leave because I was a distraction. I'm sorry that gay bashing was such a distraction for them. I didn't want to go back anyway. I was too scared.'

Kenilworth itself however could not uncover any record of the incident, or indeed of Winona being asked to leave. That’s not to suggest that it didn’t occur, or that Winona’s recollection of events isn’t accurate. Far from it. What is questionable however is whether the principal at the time had simply overlooked recording the details. Whatever the reasons, today the school is disheartened to discover that Winona’s time at Kenilworth was so traumatic, and more importantly, that no explanation can be offered for the absence of school records relating to the attack on her. During an investigation into the story Winona had told Life magazine for a December 1994 feature, Dr Kim Jamieson, the deputy superintendent for the Petaluma School District, could find no evidence, nor could he persuade Michael and Cindy to talk about it. And although the school considered it no more than just colourful copy, he did however corroborate that any such abusive behaviour of students today would simply be targeted as unacceptable by Kenilworth or for that matter, any other junior high in California.

And of course, there was the story that Winona told herself of stealing a comic book turned into an equal nightmare. She was immediately put under citizen's arrest, handcuffed, and hurled into the back of a police car. Then when the police took her home, her parents tried to beat them up. To me it sounded like the perfect childhood, especially when it turns out that your parents beat up the cops when you get arrested for shoplifting!

Tell us about some of the reasons and causes that were blamed for Winona abandoning The Godfather Part III after collapsing in her hotel room in Rome.

When Winona dropped out of The Godfather III due to being physically exhausted and sick, there were of course the usual rumours of this and that on why she had left the movie, you know, she was pregnant, she had overdosed, it was drugs, it was Johnny Depp, and other such like disasters. I remember some even suggested that she was jilting the movie so she could join Johnny Depp on the set of his next movie Edward Scissorhands, despite the fact that she had already agreed to appear in the movie long before Johnny had been cast in the title role. Yes, there was a conflict in shooting schedules but that was a bridge she was going to cross when she came to it. And she probably became equally sick of having to defend herself on why she had to leave the movie. The truth was she was physically sick, and it was very disappointing her and to everyone attached to the film, and to most movie goers, because she was ideal for the role she was cast as Al Pacino’s daughter Mary. And it just seemed that the press and the media and some of the industry itself were out to make her painfully aware of what she had just left. That she had just thrown away the opportunity to star in a true American classic, that she might as well give up acting there and then, because her career to some of her critics was all but over and that she going to get sued, etc, etc, but of course, none of that happened, because the reason that she gave for quitting the movie was totally genuine, and while the cameras were rolling in Rome, she of course was at home in Petaluma in bed recovering.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Do You Have A Favourite Dalek?

With the Daleks returning to our television screens this coming Saturday in the new series of Doctor Who in an episode titled Asylum of the Daleks, which is to feature every single Dalek that has ever appeared in Doctor Who from 1963 to the present, it promises to be one hell of an episode. But what was it about the Daleks that made them such an instant smash in the first place that the BBC kept bringing them back? Why were they so scary? And why, when they first appeared on TV all those years ago, did thousands of kids, of which I was one, hide behind their parents sofa, peeping nervously out from behind the arm-rest, to make sure it was safe to continue watching?  And why was it, when I did a photo shoot with a Dalek for the jacket of my David Tennant biography, did I feel like I was meeting a celebrity? 

It’s hard to describe why the Daleks were so terrifying. They were just metal boxes spinning round threatening to ‘exterminate’ people. But somehow it worked. Somehow they managed to impregnate the national consciousness and became the most terrifying symbol of destruction. Maybe it was the weird staccato voice. Maybe it was a fear of the Nazis on which they were apparently based. But whatever the reason, they were frightening enough to give most children nightmares in the 1960s.

To many, though, yes, it was their chilling speech - and their design. It seems quite remarkable today to think that if it wasn't for a combination of budget restraints and inspiration, the original Daleks, created by Terry Nation, and designed by BBC designer, Ray Cusick, they may never have seen the light of day. And even more remarkable is that if Cusick hadn't had come up the now familiar pepper-pot shape design, the ball-covered skirt, domed head and infamous sink plunger, the Daleks may not have been such a huge hit. In fact, it is a testament to Cusick's design that every time they return, they immediately captivate a whole new generation of fans.

When Doctor Who was once again broadcast in 2005, many fans hoped the Daleks would return to the programme. After much negotiation between the BBC and the Nation estate, which at one point appeared to completely break down, an agreement was reached. Written by Rob Shearman, ‘Dalek’, the sixth episode of Series One, was shown on BBC1 on 30 April 2005. The new Dalek exhibited new features, including a swivelling mid-section that allowed it a 360-degree field of fire and a force field with the ability to disintegrate bullets before they struck it. As well as being able to fly, it could also regenerate itself by means of absorbing electrical power and the DNA of a Time Traveller. The ‘plunger’ manipulator arm could now crush a man’s skull, in addition to the technology interfacing abilities shown by earlier models. When the Dalek fired in a wet, metal room, its laser conducted like electricity. The Doctor described it as a ‘genius’, able to calculate a thousand billion lock combinations in a single second and to download the entire contents of the Internet. A more sophisticated model of the Dalek mutant was also featured.

It seems everyone has a favourite type of Dalek, colour and design. What was yours?

Monday, 6 August 2012

In Search of Becoming an Actor

I was reminded last week of the time when I wanted to become an actor. Like so many others at the time, I thought the best way into the industry was by trying to get some work as a film extra. I had already looked into getting into drama school or joining a repertory company, but both were pretty prohibitive. Both the drama school and repertory company options presented financial hiccups. Neither I nor my parents had the finance to make it happen. And as my parents considered it the kind of career that was precarious to say the least, where you would spend more time out of work than in, I suppose the repertory company seemed the most ideal out of the two. But in the 1960s, local repertory companies would take young hopefuls on as stage hands, and if you were very lucky, you may end up with a walk-on part, but it was an almost impossible way to live unless you had some savings or came from a wealthy family. I think the going rate at that time was £5 salary per week and out of that you had to find your own digs, in the same town where the rep company was based, so it was pretty much of a no-no.

Then I came upon the idea of perhaps trying to get a job working as an extra in films. I seem to remember that some studios hired people for crowd scenes, so I did some research, wrote a few letters asking to be seen, and made some phone calls, and ended up getting an appointment with the casting director at MGM in Borehamwood. But even then, it was not that simple. All the casting director told me was that it was pretty much impossible to do anything without an agent and without an Equity card. Equity is the actor’s union and back then you had to be a member even to be picked to do crowd scenes in a film or television drama. The casting director knew such an agent who may be able to help, so from MGM I was sent back down into the West End of London where I would meet with the recommended agent and reiterated with her what I wanted to do. The agent told me the first thing I had to do was to get some casting photos done. It just so happened that I knew this photographic studio in Brighton, close to where I had an office job at the time, and so I booked a photo shoot. I don't think I could afford many prints, but I remember doing a whole session of photos with the photographer, who also owned the studio. We did a range of different scenarios in different outfits, from portrait to character shots. I remember it was quite a poky little studio but well equipped to get some professional looking pictures done. We got some good results, for what the London agent had requested. I sent off what I could afford at the time, but never heard and never got a call even to attend a casting audition, not even as an extra.

Many years later I joined an amateur drama group. I was cast in about nine plays in all. The rehearsals were about three months for each play, two or three nights per week, and then the run of the production was usually nine days long, opening on a Friday night and running through to the Saturday of the following week. It was hard work, and I don't think until then, I realised how gruelling it was to be an actor, but it was always good fun though and was a great taster for anyone who was thinking of becoming an actor. But by the time I joined the drama group I wasn't looking at it as a profession, just purely a hobby. When I was thinking of it as a career, I wasn't really interested in stage acting, I just wanted to act in films or television and that was one of the reasons I went off to MGM Studios in Borehamwood. That and thinking I may get onto see some the stages where films like Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra had been filmed, but I didn't. I got nowhere near the actual studios where they were filming. I got as far as the admin offices and that was it!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Demi 50

In the run up to Demi Moore turning 50 in November this year, I have now uploaded to MediaFire, a PDF of the notorious picture spreads she did for Oui Magazine in 1981 before she was a star, when she was just 18 years old and looking for ways to further her acting career. The PDF features all 16 shots that were used in the original magazine, all of which are very Playboy, provocative and feature Demi naked. The full story of the photo sessions are featured in my biography of Demi, which is now available for 99p at Amazon UK and $1.54 at Amazon US for a limited period only. 

You can download the Oui Magazine Spreads PDF here

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Free Stones

To mark the 50th anniversary of when the Rolling Stones played their first live gig at the Marquee Club in London in 1962, I have uploaded a free chapter from the ebook edition of my book on the Stones, which you will be able to download from the link below for an indefinite period. The book was the first illustrated biography I wrote. Published by Castle Communication and distributed by Penguin Books in 1995, under the title of  Jump Up: The Rise of The Rolling Stones, it was an oversized coffee-table softback, which is no longer available in print. It was re-released last year as an eBook, under license, by Andrews UK. The free chapter also includes Amazon and iTunes buy links for those interested in downloading the entire book. This download also includes a special photo section of six iconic images of the Stones from their early years, which is not available in the eBook.

You can download the free chapter here

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Noni Before The Star

While I was in Petaluma ten years ago this month, exploring the places I had written about in my biography of Winona Ryder, I met with Abby Minot, the photo stylist behind John Marriott's "Noni" before the star photographs. I met Abby at McNears next to the Mystic Theatre in the centre of town on a hot summer afternoon in April 2002. She kindly gave me a couple of litho prints that she and John had used in the 80s to promote their work. One  featured Winona (which I have included in this post), and the other, Winona's sister, Sunyata. 

Below is a transcript of a sound recording Abby made for me, three years before I met her, for a book project I was developing with John about the photos. It is her fascinating and detailed story of how she came across Winona and Sunyata, almost by accident, and became involved with styling over 50 images of both girls between 1984 and 1987.

It must have been about 1984. I was visiting my cousin in Los Angeles, her name is Julia Peppard, I was having lunch with Julia and we were joined by a friend of hers whose name is Victoria Daly, and Victoria said, “Oh! I just picked up my pictures of my god daughter, isn’t she cute, she wants to be an actress, she just loves to dress up, here is a picture of her and her sister dressing up.” So there was a bunch of snapshots of Winona (Noni for short) and Sunyata Horowitz. Sunyata is her sister who I guess maybe two or three years older, and at the time that those pictures were taken, Noni was probably thirteen, Sunyata about fifteen. Anyway, you could see that they were both clearly photogenic, and I at the time, was just starting my styling business.

I actually had started being a stylist around the later part of 1982 and I had done a lot of test shots with John Marriott. He was basically starting his photography business shortly before that. I met John in June of 1983 and when I did he had just put up the walls of his studio. Anyway, I knew John and I were always looking for something to take pictures of, to build our work, and these two girls looked really charming so we said, great. They lived up near us. I was living in I guess Oakland or Berkley at the time, and they were from Petaluma, so I got their name and number, and ended up calling them when I got home to find out if they were serious about having their pictures taken, so it turned out that they were.

I had it on my list of things to do before we actually connected with the Horowitzes about setting up a time to take photos of the girls. It took a couple of months before we connected. And I talked to Noni’s mother, Cindy on the phone, introduced myself, and this and that, and I think she probably met John earlier on at a meeting when I wasn’t there, just to check him out, to make sure that he wasn’t some kind of sleaze ball. I guess it always a little bit suspect. There are frequently creeps posing as photographers. I have no idea if Cindy had that concern, but I’m pretty sure she met John before I actually met Noni and Sunyata.

What happened was that we set up a weekend to take a bunch of photographs. The first weekend that we did, we had a bunch of different shots. We had Noni in what I refer to as the attic shot. She’s curled up in a big chair reading a book and surrounded by a lot of stuff that looks like it’s her own private little corner in an attic, and there were tons of props, most of them were mine, some of them were John’s. So we did that shot which was a major set up shot, it was a lot of moving a lot of stuff around. I remember that my truck was pretty darn full with stuff for that shot.

We did another shot that was a valentine shot which I got a swing for and a kind of frilly dress and a valentine and it was Noni on a swing, and then one of Sunyata in a teddy. It was some kind of sexy lingerie thing. She was on a floor that had squares of linoleum on it, and another shot of Sunyata in a lounge chair. Yes, she was in a bathing suit, I remember because I went shopping – did I go shopping with her? I think I did, because she and I were close to the same size, and I remember thinking, getting her measurements and I tried it on and I thought oh yeah, if it fits me, it’ll fit her. Anyway, so those were the four shots we did – we did them on the weekend of June 30 of 1984.

At the time it seemed like Sunyata was fifteen, Noni was thirteen and there’s a lot of difference between being a thirteen year old girl and a fifteen year old girl. Sunyata was really quite a young woman, and Noni was still more of a little girl, and that was how she appeared, that was her look, and that was how John conceived of the casting of what he was going to do with these two kids in the shots. So Sunyata kind of got all the sexy stuff, and Noni kind of got the innocent stuff. It wasn’t until after I worked with her more that I realised “Oh! God!” She is way too hip and grown up to be doing these shots, like a little girl on a swing with a valentine, and there was another shot we did when we did a second weekend there was a shot of Noni as Peter Pan.

The first weekend when we worked with her I didn’t really know her, hadn’t been around her and so it didn’t seem weird, but the second weekend I thought, “Oh God, we’re making Noni into Peter Pan, I’m sure she hates this,” because she was really a hip kid, she was like into all the latest music. There was a second weekend where we spent the entire weekend doing shots again, and that was on the weekend of March 9th and 10th of 1985, so it was about nine months after the first round, and at that time we did Noni as Peter Pan, and then Noni with the wrestler, where she’s in the dress made out of plastic bubble wrap. We did Sunyata in a neon green lace body suit, and Sunyata in a 1940s ship’s waiting room. Anyway, by the second weekend we worked with Noni, I was really aware that she was way too hip with what we were doing with her, making her into Peter Pan, and making her into whatever. The other one was – the one with the wrestler. The bubble wrap and the wrestler was better.

I made a spandex mask and tights for the wrestler that were half one colour, like there was a centre seam so the guys leg was one colour and one leg was the other colour, and then on his head it was the same thing, half of his face in each colour, and then the bubble wrap dress that I made for Noni, I just threw a bunch of stuff in I had, you know plastic bags, and bubble wrap, and yards of plastic, and different colours of scraps of spandex – for that one, I just threw a bunch of stuff together and then just cut and wrapped her into the costume right there on the spot, I didn’t really go in there with a plan, I just had a bunch of stuff to play with and winged it. I remember one of those shots kind of looking at this wrestler guy like ‘Oh! Spare me!’ which kind of copy essences of how she was throughout that shoot.

She was like way more hip than what we were casting her as. The ironic thing is that we had seen Sunyata as this girl who… Sunyata, well actually both had absolutely gorgeous skin, but John said ‘Oh! God! Sunyata would be great in a beauty shot, she’s got the most beautiful skin.’ Well, Noni had the most beautiful skin as well, but she was so much younger or that she just seemed younger that we didn’t cast her into those sorts of things.

I think we did another thing with her later. I remember seeing her at John’s studio after that time and thinking this kid is off and running, or maybe it was the second round of shots that we did where Cindy and Michael, Noni’s parents were there and they were talking about how, now that she had an agent in LA and she was up for this picture, I think she was about to do Lucas, or she was maybe going to get cast in Lucas, and … Oh, I think the second time she had dyed her hair black too, because that was a real change, but she turned the corner from being a kid to being a young woman, and all of a sudden I just realised that this kid is going places.

She had tremendous support from her family. Cindy and Michael were pretty broke. I had a note around the time I was talking to her parents and making the arrangements for the photographs, the agreement between them and John, I believe, was that they were going to pay for film, and I have a note that they paid 86 dollars and 25 cents per girl for the film. I know John covered all the cost for all the rentals, and all the stuff that I had to get – all the costumes, props rental and stuff. I, of course, put all my time into everything for free. And for me, it was just an opportunity to get a whole bunch of shots done and a whole bunch of stuff into my book. I was saying about her parents, that they were so supportive of her.

They came across as being hippies, but not spaced out hippies. They were, I would describe them more as conscious hippies. They were really interested in making sure that their kids got what they wanted to get. In other words they really supported their kids. They thought, well, Noni wants this, and we’re just going to do everything we can to make it possible for her, and she had been studying acting at ACT, and they had taken her to the rock concert where she had met Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. They were so there for her in a way that it’s very unusual to see parents so there for their kids.

I think in all the time that I have been a stylist, which, you know, God, it’s been eons, whatever, 99 minus 82, whatever that adds up to, seventeen years? In all the years I’ve been a stylist, I can maybe think of one other kid that I had that feeling about her parents, that her parents were just completely there for her. They were going to drive Noni here, they were going to take her to LA, they were going to find her an agent. They were just really going to make it happen for her. It wasn’t in a pushy way, and it wasn’t because they wanted to be famous, it was my perception that they were responding to her intensity about wanting to pursue this, and it was really pretty impressive.

It was really enviable to think that someone’s parents were so, so there for them. The last time I saw Noni, I thought, and I didn’t even know that she had become Winona Ryder. I don’t even know when I found that out. John told me a year later or something. But I remember when she left, I said, “Well, Noni, when you’re famous, if you need a costume designer, give me a call, you know,” at the same moment I was thinking, why would she ever call a person to be a costume designer when she’s famous, someone who made her look like Peter Pan, and like a little girl on a swing when she was even more mature than that at 13. She just had a presence, and a reality and a focus about her. She was a kid but she wasn’t a kid. She had a very very big vision for a kid. I think of most 13 year olds as being concerned like who’s popular at school, and what they’re wearing, or just kind of little petty stuff, and Noni just had this thing, she just wanted to study acting, and wanted to be in a bigger arena, and I don’t know if she saw herself that way, or that she sees she was that way now, but I saw it in her.

They talk about Clara Bow as being the it girl, that there was some kind of charisma about her, that just people saw her and like she was it. Well, Noni was like that, she was it, and after being exposed to both of the girls, I think the last time I saw Cindy I asked her how Sunyata was doing and she said, Sunyata was more interested in being behind the camera, and maybe being a stylist or doing something that wasn’t in front of the camera, and after getting to know the girls, it was interesting because Noni was so present in there and so obviously going places, and Sunyata was definitely like you know stepping back into the shadows, and that was the opposite of I guess how John and I saw them when we first met them, getting to know them was the opposite of the first impression you would have had about them.

You asked me about memories of an entire shoot from when you and John set up the studio, doing the styling of the shoot, wardrobe etc, through to Winona arriving at the studio through the shoots to when you finished and anything else I can think off, blah blah.

She was there the whole day as I recall. I don’t think John and I had any set up time much because… I guess John did set building like that Peter Pan shot, I think he built the rooftop thing and set up lights and stuff the day before, but we pretty much… yeah, I don’t think we did a whole lot of set up, I mean the big set building stuff you do ahead of time, but mostly they were just kind of there, hanging out as we were going between shots, like when Sunyata was being shot, Noni was kind of hanging out and watching, and when Noni was being shot, Sunyata was kind of hanging out and watching.

I think I told you that thing about the second weekend when John provided food for the whole weekend, I think it was bagels all weekend, and I ate nothing but bagels for two days, and didn’t eat another bagel for five years. I mean that kind of anecdote kind of belongs nowhere, but it’s weird the stuff you remember. That was something that really stuck with me. And yeah, you know, there were just kind of like hanging out, and a lot of times on a shoot, I’m real busy, I’m like getting somebody ready or fixing this or setting up that, or breaking down this, or repackaging that, or organising things.

I tend to be fairly frantic on a shoot and not too hangy-outy about stuff. I remember more at least dressing stuff with Sunyata because Sunyata had on like these kind of, well, when she had on a lace body suit, I was helping her get dressed and that kind of stuff, but that’s a little more intimate than dressing someone in a Peter Pan outfit. Yeah, we were all just kind of there, and it’s pretty busy on a shoot like that when you’re trying to do four shots in a day or two big shots in a day, it’s pretty busy.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Winona Country Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago this month I boarded a plane from Heathrow to San Francisco to explore some of the places I had written about in my biography of Winona Ryder, to discover if the real life locations that I had described in my book came close to what I had written. Obviously Petaluma was going to prove to be the one that really put that to the test, as the town, about 35 miles north of San Francisco, played one of the biggest supporting roles in the book, simply because it was where Winona had spent most of her formative years growing up, attending school and making her first movies during her summer holidays. The idea of this blog post is to recount my trip and take a look back at some of the places I visited, the people I met and to focus on what really happened to a commemoration idea for Winona’s connection to the town.

Once over the Golden Gate Bridge, Petaluma was about an hour’s journey from San Francisco Airport, although on the day I arrived, there had been an accident on Highway 101, so the detoured route took a little longer. I knew though when I had arrived in Petaluma as the airport transporter bus pulled into its final stop by Kenilworth Junior High, the school that was notorious for where Winona was beaten up by a group of fellow students.

The entire trip was made possible by two sets of friends, who offered to share putting up with me and show me around all the places I wanted to see. Chris Samson, then the managing editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier, who was such a huge contributor to my research for the book, really co-ordinated the whole thing and the accommodation that I would share with him and his late wife Edy, and with their friends Peter and Patty Zimmerman. It meant I got to stay on both the East and West sides of town, as well as being very well looked after and catered for. The odd thing is that I had only met Patty about a month before my departure when she visited her mother in the village next to mine in the UK. Even though I’d had dozens of international phone conversations with Chris, I had never met him or Edy or Peter, so it was as much a gamble for them as for me to have someone they had never met (me) as a house guest. It was incredibly kind for them to take the risk that we would all get along for the duration of my stay. Luckily we did, and we all remain good friends to this day.

I must mention Edy here as she played a major role during my stay. She was a very active member of the Petaluma community, mostly with public access television as a producer of programmes and host of a community affairs shows, in which she very much enjoyed giving exposure to artists such as painters, musicians and writers, including myself, for which the obvious connection to Petaluma was Winona. Edy had also met and filmed Winona during the searches for kidnapped child Polly Klaas in 1993. On my last day in Petaluma, Edy had fallen ill with crippling stomach cramps and pains, but by the evening seemed fine again. A few months after I returned home to England, Edy had fallen ill again, and for the next year was in and out of hospital, which very sadly ended in May 2003, when she died of cancer. She was two years younger than me and was a wonderfully spirited, joyful and loving woman. She was also the best guide anyone could possibly ask for to tour around Winona’s Petaluma, and in fact, Winona and Johnny’s Petaluma. Edy showed me all the places they used to hang out together, like the second hand clothes store they shopped at on Kentucky Street, which I think is a coffee place now, and the place they were thinking of buying up and turning into a hotel.

One of the first places I visited was the Polly Klaas Foundation where Winona lent her support to the search for Polly in October 1993, and where I would meet Polly’s mother, Eve Nichol, who had come to town to coffee with me at Halle’s. I also met with Abby Minot at McNears, next door to the Mystic Theatre, where some scenes for American Graffiti had been filmed in 1973, and where on one occasion during my stay, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell had been spotted. Abby though was a photo stylist who worked alongside San Francisco photographer John Marriott. Between them they were responsible for taking the very first studio shots of Winona and her sister Sunyata between 1984 and 1987. I also went to the house where Winona grew up, spent time at Kenilworth Junior High where Winona was notoriously gay bashed for looking like a boy in 7th Grade, and Petaluma Junior High, which she also attended. I also visited Dillon Beach where Winona says she almost drowned when she was just 12 years old, and we went sight seeing at Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed.

Apart from meeting Eve and Abby, I also met Mary Frazier and her daughter Jenny. Mary had been my contact at the Polly Klaas Foundation when I was writing the book, and had checked all that I had written for accuracy. Her daughter Jenny used to hang out with Winona’s younger brother and decided to join us for lunch. There were so many Petalumans I was introduced to that had a connection to Winona, one way or another. One was the actress who played the lead Heather in the stage version of Winona’s 1988 film Heathers, that was staged at the Phoenix Theatre, which was another place I visited during my first weekend. It was a sort of popular hangout for teens who I was told either had nowhere else to go or didn’t want to go home to abusive and absent parents, or just wanted a comfortable place at which they could spend time away from the watchful eyes of the police.

I also did the tourist bit in San Francisco, travelled by ferry from Larkspur past San Quentin, and visited some more Winona sights, including Haight-Ashbury, where she had spent another part of her childhood attending Yen School, and where her mother would later run a free clinic for those suffering with AIDS. I also took in Mount Sutro, Coit Tower, Pier 39, North Beach and even hopped aboard a moving cable car.

Back in Petaluma, I found the comic book store where Winona was reported to have stolen a comic from, hung out in the Apple Box at the Great Petaluma Mill, appeared on Edy’s Talk of the Town show with jazz singer Carla Normand and artist Douglass Truth, got asked for autographs at Kenilworth, was chatted up by a beauty from Memphis who we thought was on the run from her husband, went to a bunker party where I did an acoustic version of Elvis’s Suspicious Minds with Chris Samson and Chip McAuley, and dropped into the Chateau Souverain Winery in Alexander Valley. I also visited many of the Polly memorials at Petaluma Junior High, and took a trip to Cloverdale to see the Children’s Tree that had been planted in Polly’s memory, not far from where she was found two months after she had been kidnapped from her home. The tree was surrounded by stones with the names of missing children, and one in particular, which I wrote about in my book, was for a boy called Steven Stayner, who had been in captivity for eight years, and when he finally escaped and walked into a police station, he coudn’t even remember his own name. We also took a trip to Elk on the very picturesque Mendocino Coast where we met and lunched with a fabulous couple whose son had been good friends with Winona during the years she spent being raised on a nearby commune. We also visited Ukiah on the way back from Elk where we came across, quite by accident, the cinema where Winona says she went to see the first Alien film in 1979 when she was just eight years old.

In between the Cloverdale and Elk trip, I headed off to Hollywood to stay with Chris’s late brother, Rich for three days, not including the two days of there and back travelling. I went from Oakland on Amtrak which, with a train to coach change, got me to Union Station in Los Angeles at around nine in the evening. It was here that I met Rich for the journey, by road, in his beautiful Gran Tarino, to his home on Hampton Avenue in West Hollywood.

Again, I visited most of the places that I had mentioned in my book and some that I hadn’t. One of the first stops was to the E! Entertainment Network to reacquaint myself with the crew I first met and worked with when I was filming the Winona Ryder E! True Hollywood Story in London. Other places that Rich chaperoned me to included Universal Studios, City Walk, Fred Segal, Winona’s favourite clothing store and eatery, the Chateau Marmont where she consummated her relationship with Johnny Depp about six months after they had clapped eyes on each other at the premiere of Winona’s Great Balls of Fire, and where, some time later, Kylie Minogue and Oliver Martinez would do much the same. We also took in another of Winona and Johnny’s haunts, Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, as well as Book Soup on Sunset Strip, where Winona usually buys most of her books from, and Saks Fifth Avenue, where Winona had been arrested for allegedly shoplifting in December 2001, just five months before I got there. It was interesting to hear from Hollywood insiders how the store had become a tourist attraction of sorts since Winona had been arrested, with tourists asking the inevitable questions such as "Where was Winona Ryder standing when she was arrested?" We were joined on some of our sightseeing by Jake Davis, a writer in Hollywood, whom I had met briefly in Petaluma, and who, in an amazing coincidence, walked into the Petaluma Argus-Courier a few days before I headed south, looking for background info for a story on Winona’s Petaluma.

We also went to Johnny Depp’s Viper Room, a trip round the Hollywood homes of the stars, Sunset Strip Tattoo where Johnny famously had his "Winona Forever" tattoo done, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Santa Monica, and I even got to go to a party in the Hollywood Hills on my last evening before heading back to Petaluma for another week prior to returning home to England.

It was in those last few days in Petaluma that I hooked up again with Chip McAuley, then a reporter for the Petaluma Argus-Courier, to discuss the idea of dedicating some kind of Petaluma commemoration to Winona, which was to include either a proclamation from the City of Petaluma, a commemorative plaque, or a film festival named after her. We had lots of ideas, but the most popular it seemed was to include a dedication plaque to Winona in the foyer at the then under-renovation Polly Hannah Klass Performing Arts Centre. We also kicked around some other ideas such as renaming one of the streets "Winona Ryder Alley" in the Jack Kerouac tradition, or "Winona Ryder Boulevard", but none came to fruition. Despite the favourable support the project gathered in the months after my visit, including interest from US Weekly, all the ideas where abandoned when Winona’s publicist rejected all that was proposed. And without Winona’s blessing, there seemed to be little point. It was a shame but we put a lot of it down to Winona’s bitter-sweet relationship with the town, which had basically stemmed from her adolescent traumas at school.

And that was my sabbatical tour of Winona country ten years ago, when I went to play and to retrace some of the locales where Winona made her magic and what I wrote about in my book, which to this day remains my favourite book out of all the books I have written during the last 20 years. Thanks to everyone who made my trip so much fun. The whole thing was a really wonderful way for me to find out and discover if I had got my descriptions of things accurate and correct and whether it was anything like I had imagined. I think it was, but with a few surprises!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Bourne Free Revisited

I recently found a copy of this magazine I was featured in eleven years ago today. Bourne Free was a freebie magazine that was distributed throughout Sussex - and was even available at places like Tescos, Asdas and Sainsburys. It was more like picking up a copy of Vogue than a giveaway magazine as it had the same sort of glossiness, binding and features! The April 2001 issue was the one for which I did an exclusive interview and a photo shoot at a local art house cinema! It was a very exciting project for me at the time, and produced one of my favourite author photos, which to this day remains very Hollywood and iconic looking!

Everyone at some point in their life has talked about their battle against the system, the struggle to realise ambitions in an unforgiving society. Anyone with a creative bone in their body will know exactly what I am talking about, and will easily be able to relate to the travails of this month’s interviewee, biographer Nigel Goodall.

For despite a ten year writing career which as included music biographies of such alumni as Cliff Richard, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Queen, and more latterly, unauthorised biographies of Winona Ryder (for whom he retains a deep seated sense of admiration), Johnny Depp and Demi Moore, Nigel is scarcely living the life that many might reasonably assume.

Not that I needed to be told but, Nigel, a former graphic designer, is quick to point out the perils of a career in writing. ‘It’s a very frustrating profession and it can be a very lonely one because once you write a biography about someone they become your life for six months to a year. I remember when I was talking to the literary editor of the Daily Mail about doing a serialisation of Winona and being told basically that my book was too nice. She also reiterated that publishing was a totally miserable profession. You work twice as hard for half the money.’

That may be the case but his unceasing dedication to his profession has had many happy moments. The highlights of his career have been his nomination for The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non- Fiction two years ago with the Winona Ryder biography (Anthony Beevor won the prize with Stalingrad) and the contribution of his Johnny and Winona Page to the Johnny Depp website for which he won critical acclaim. He also takes a great deal of pride in receiving praise for helping to raise public awareness of the American Indian College Fund for whom Winona Ryder herself is a representative on the Board of Trustees.

It’s now I realise that here is a man who is clearly driven by a passion to write, regardless of his humble existence and his continued battle of wits with publishers. A great example of this comes in the shape of a libel report, Nigel received from lawyers acting on behalf of Blake Publishing prior to the publication of the Winona biography – as he recalls with some amusement. ‘In a story she told to a journalist, Winona said that, as a child, she had been arrested for allegedly stealing a comic from a shop. She was put under citizen’s arrest because she was basically one of the hippy kids on the block. She was handcuffed, thrown into the back of a police car and taken home to her parents who tried to beat up the cops. Unfortunately we had to drop this from the text, because the libel reading actually said: "It is illegal to beat up the cops."

‘Simarly following the emotional time towards the end of her relationship with Johnny Depp Winona was quoted as saying: "I tried be an alcoholic for two weeks." On this occasion the libel reading came back saying that the statement was defamatory to alcoholics!’

This must prove immensely frustrating I put to him, the continued drain of effectively seeing the most interesting snippets of information being left on the dressing room floor. ‘Without a doubt, but it’s not worth trying to argue with publishers. They are the people with the power. I think it’s a great shame though because I try to avoid writing what I would call a book with the sleaze factor. My books tend to be far more affectionate.

‘It always amazes me that some of the books which are serialised and sensationalised like Andrew Morton’s Posh & Becks get away with so much which, although I am sure he has done his research, and that what he says is accurate, still leads me to feel that if I had done the same, the publisher would say: "Nigel, you have to cut that out."’

Ironically almost, it was the sleaze factor of journalism which denied Nigel the opportunity of making his biography of Johnny Depp authorised. ‘We were very close to getting the co-operation of Johnny Depp or so I was told. His publicist asked us to hold off for a year and we agreed to do that, but then he got arrested in London for the legendary incident where, having been harassed by the paparazzi, he chased them down Mayfair with a large plank of wood.’

Marvellous stuff, unless of course, you were intending to write a biography on the accused and could well have done with his trust in the media. Nevertheless, Nigel, despite countless rebuffs, remains remarkably upbeat about the future and still pledges to keep writing. ‘Being asked to be the subject for a main feature in your magazine, as well as being invited to introduce Winona’s Girl, Interrupted at the Hailsham Pavilion last year, shows that, my work has been appreciated. I heard that 85% of people in employment hate their jobs. What sort of situation must that be? I am one of the lucky few who love the job that I do. The money side of things is a problem in that I have very little of it, but writing is what drives me.’

I asked Nigel for his advice to wannabe writers contemplating entering this potentail minefield as a career. ‘Don’t let your talent go to waste, and if you feel you’re creative enough to make it work for you as a living just do it.’ It is very difficult, to describe with words alone just how it feels when you find that passion for something but when it happens, you do everything within your powers to keep the dream alive. Nigel Goodall would appear to be a long way from relinquihsing the drive for his passion just yet.

Interview by Chris Gibbs. Photography by Guy Buckland.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A singer Elvis would have told us to listen to!

If you go onto YouTube and search for Angelo Di Crescenzo, you will find over 60 videos of this exciting new artist covering some of the best known rock ‘n’ roll classics from Elvis to Gene Vincent! Angelo, who hails from Abruzzo in Italy, with an uncanny resemblance and sound to a young Shakin’ Stevens, has gone back to recording exactly the same way as Elvis recorded at Sun, with a back to basics style that created the definitive sound for 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an exciting energy that takes in a whole load of genres from country, blues and rockabilly to pop and do-wop, the very roots of rock ‘n’ roll. As Angelo told me when I talked with him about his influences, he simply adores the songs recorded at Sun Records. ‘I really consider Sam Phillips a genius, an innovator. He wasn’t seeking perfection, but to communicate emotions, and put soul into every track, so I learned a lot from him and how he was the first to use the delay effect in voices and instruments! It is something that was later used in all the 50s rock 'n' roll records, so in a way it became the standard, the way to do things, but only because Sam started it.’

In 2012, though, it is a most courageous step to launch oneself with such a back to basics approach, but how good it sounds. Listening to his version of Elvis’s She’s Not You played on acoustic guitar, with a new Jailhouse Rock influenced ending gives the song a completely new feeling. It is marvellous listening and can only be a timely reminder, after all these years, how Elvis could have sounded without all the strings and overdubs. ‘That’s not really a true recording,’ laughs Angelo. ‘It’s just a live video recording. The quality isn’t so good, I didn’t use microphones, only a video camera. But I’m very glad I did it because it seems to have become one of my most popular covers. And I had never planned to end the song like that. It was just improvised! You can do that when you are just fooling around.’

Beyond Elvis, of course, there is Angelo’s own compositions. And if you want to hear one that will have you playing it over and over, then check out his Today I Feel Like A Train video. How simply inspiring it is to hear someone play Gretsch guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, percussions, the lot. It’s pure rockabilly magic. And one has to wonder what influenced him to write such a song with such an offbeat title. ‘I was really inspired by the beauty of the weekend, you know, today I feel like a train, I feel like escaping. At the time, I did that, because I had a job that I hated. And it made me feel bad that I had no other opportunities. So every weekend I could finally pull the plug, and spend time doing something that made me feel good which was music. It really was something I did almost instinctively, without the slightest effort, just like the old blues singers from Memphis used to do. Then I shot a pretty insane video, but originally, it wasn't a funny song!’

His first album, a sixteen track demo is quite remarkable listening. Best described as some of the best songs to come out of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, it is the sort of material that leaves you wondering how a young 20-something year old got so influenced by the likes of artists that were miles away from the Italian music scene and usually only appreciated by those of us over forty! Despite coming from the same hometown as Madonna, Dean Martin and Perry Como, and not being able to find a band passionate enough about rock ‘n’ roll, for Angelo, it all started with Happy Days. ‘As a child I loved it so much that I began to really get into the whole 50s thing. Fonzie was always mentioning Elvis Presley. And not having heard Elvis at that point in my life, I remember thinking "who is this Elvis?" So I found some of his songs, and from the moment I heard him, I was hooked on rock 'n' roll! Although there were many other artists who made an impact on my musical choices, Elvis was the first, but all the artists I have covered on the album have all played a huge part.’

Equally astonishing is the influence of the guitar. ‘Yeah, I love Duane Eddy’s guitar! Eddie Cochran, he had a very heavy and scratchy sound! Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, they are some of my favorite guitarists.’ Among those he has chosen to pay homage to on the album include most of the above, plus Shadows guitarist Hank Marvin.

What is most amazing is that Angelo’s two self-composed songs fit in so well with the rest of the set that it’s easy to forget they were not original hits from the period the rest of the album covers. If it’s possible to write, perform and record brand new songs and make them sound like they literally come from another era of music and feel as familiar as the rest of the other hits of the day, then surely he has just pulled off something quite unique and rare. The album which is now available for free download is the result of a young, fresh and exciting new artist whose passion for his music comes though, loud and clear on every track.

'A singer Elvis would have told us to listen to' - Andilon Lensen

The album and artist are being promoted by producer, Andilon Lensen, herself a life-long fan of Elvis, Timi Yuro, and the kind of music that Angelo is recording, performing and composing. She represented the Dutch Song Festival and the following year the International Song Festival in Bratislava in 1986, where her artist Michelle and Andilon’s song, Looking Through The Window won the most promising artist and song of all 21 Eastern and Western countries. Andilon also has her own publishing company, producing, recording, arranging and mostly finalizing the mixes for CD/DVD releases; both individually and in collaboration with other composers, lyricists, artists and producers. She currently runs one of the most successful Elvis website-shops in Europe, a website dedicated to the late Timi Yuro, is an exclusive partner in the distribution of Rare Rockin’ Records, and recently launched her own music label Stage Act Music for CD/DVD releases.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Review By An Erotic Writer!

I have just read the piece in The Independent on erotic writer, Lexie Bay, whom I met through Facebook, and later in real life, at one of my 20th anniversary talks that she came along to. Perhaps what people don't know from reading The Independent piece is that she writes in other genres, not just erotica. Before I knew she was coming to see me talk at a writers group evening, I read her first published story in Uniform Behaviour, and was immediately struck by her amazing style of writing. I recently read her latest  in Immoral Views, called Inside Looking Out. Again I was immediately drawn to her writing, only this time, I was hooked from the first paragraph!

In celebration of the fabulous article and picture of her in The Independent, and to illustrate her diversity, I thought I would share the review she wrote of one of my talks last year...     

I was lucky enough to be invited to the September meeting of the New Eastbourne Writers by their guest speaker, celebrity biographer Nigel Goodall. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard Nigel talk so I was very excited to go along and listen to some more of his stories, and see if I could pick up some more advice about how to help my own writing career, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Nigel began the evening with an overview of how he got to where he is now, and how during a break from his “day job” as a graphic designer, he got an unexpected opportunity to write a Cliff Richard book that he only ever thought of as a one-off, and never the springboard for a career in writing. He told us how he came to write a few more pop music books to pay the rent during a lull in his graphic design career and ended up writing biographies about some of the biggest names in showbusiness.

It was fascinating to hear about the pitfalls and the intricacies of the publishing business and how his first serious biography about Winona Ryder took over two years to reach the bookshelves. Nigel described how he overcame the problems and disappointments of the original publisher of his book going into liquidation just two weeks before the book was due to be published!

Nigel had so many funny stories about his different books, such as how he had to pad out his Fearne Cotton biography with stories about other celebrities as the word count was about 10,000 words short of publishing requirements; and how his book on David Tennant received literally terrible reviews everywhere, was boycotted by the Doctor Who Fan Club and even had a scathing blog dedicated to the book and himself! But receiving bad reviews, Nigel said, is not the end of the world. Tennant was the prize example. The book recouped its money in two months, never had any returns, completely sold out and became a bestseller. "And all that without one decent review!" Nigel also had some other amazing insights to share about approaching some of his biography subjects via their agents, and the frustrating routine of having potential interviewees change their mind after being warned off by the celebrity or their reps.

Something that interested me was the part of his talk about ebooks, and how it has affected the publishing industry. For instance, there are many digital distributors and publishers that will now take your book and convert it into all formats from the Kindle to the iPad - and make it available on sites like Amazon, iBooks, WHSmith and Waterstones. Some, like Andrews UK who have converted some of Nigel's bestsellers into ebooks, will even design a cover for you. The only drawback in the print vs digital war is that an author will have to self-publicise and self-market his/her own work, unlike print publishing where all the marketing and pr is part and parcel of a publishing deal. As Nigel explained, ebook publishing has its advantages and disadvantages. The joy of ebook self-publishing, he explained, is the freedom you have with writing your story. No deadlines, no editors screaming at you and no extra hidden costs deducted from royalties.

But overall, as Nigel pointed out, during his 90 minute talk, there has never been a better time for new unpublished writers, who perhaps dream of becoming the next JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. Suddenly writers are not faced with rejection letters if self publishing on Amazon. But its also changed for readers too. With so many now using Amazon’s self publishing platform, without the need for a publisher or distributor, there will obviously be some titles with sub-standard writing, editing and poor story-telling. He had some really useful advice for the group about how to go about getting published and how to market yourself using social networks like Facebook and Twitter, as well as giving details about his website.

Some key advice which I took on board was to know your audience. Know who you are aiming your stories at and to make sure you cater for the right market. And if you want to get into print, research the publishers so that you know you are submitting your story to the right publisher. No point in sending a romantic novel to a publisher of sci-fi fiction. What was really interesting about Nigel’s talk was that he made the impossible sound possible. He had, he said, travelled the world, appeared on TV in different countries and had his stories of the famous published the world over in different languages and formats.

Nigel concluded his talk by saying he literally has had been very lucky and had thoroughly enjoyed every moment of what he called a fantastic trip, doing and achieving things he never thought were feasible, and visited places he never dreamed of visiting. He encouraged everyone at the talk to follow their heart and passion, that if you think you have a story to tell, then you should write it down and turn it into a book. Today it is a lot easier to get published than it was when he started twenty years ago. And you never know where it will lead, which is something I can definitely agree with as I am sure most other members of N.E.W can!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tin Pan Alley

Denmark Street, aka Tin Pan Alley, was an amazing place to be part of when I worked there for Leeds Music as a packer in 1966. It was my second job since leaving school. I had been working at ATV over at Marble Arch, in Cumberland Place for about a year, but soon after joining ATV as a post boy, I came to realise that the idea of ending up as trainee cameraman at Elstree Studios, which I thought would be a good career, was more or less an impossibility, unless you worked at the studios as a clapper boy or something similar.

Most of the trainee jobs were snapped up by those already working over at the studios. It was near-on impossible to get a job at Elstree as that was what everyone in the post room were all striving for. One of the problems was that all the studio jobs, trainee or otherwise, were always sent around to the other television and film companies, so as a post boy, you didn’t stand much of a chance of even getting an interview. It was pretty much a closed shop. And then when you turned 18, if you were still a post boy, you would have got kicked out.

Most of my friends from school had gone to college after school to train in technical drawing or something of that nature, but I was always smitten about working in either the film, television or music industries, so the best way in was via ATV as a post boy. I landed the job at Leeds Music in Denmark Street through an employment agency. In those days, you could walk into an agency and pick up a job or get an interview for a job inside of a week. There were a lot of jobs up for grabs back then in the entertainment industry for office workers, and for some reason I decided to go for Leeds Music and got the job.

My main duties included packing sheet music and delivering them around the sheet music distributors and stockists, collecting and delivering mail to the internal offices, like the professional department, which Don Agness was head of, and was in charge of all things to do with song publishing. There were a couple of song pluggers in his department. One was Stuart Levington, who was the plugger for pop, and a much older guy named Sammy Marks, who was "old-school" TPA, and looked after the classical side. There was also a copyright department, run by Robert Lamont (who I ended up working with as a copyright assistant), and of course, on the second floor was Cyril Simons, who was the managing director, and appeared to always have the pop stars of the day in his office. Petula Clarke, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink (then Gerry Dorsey) were frequent visitors. I remember the day that Tom, who had just released Green, Green Grass of Home, came rushing through the swing doors of one of the offices, where company secretary Madge Young, in charge of contracts, was situated - and knocked my post tray flying, and then helped me pick up the post that he had just sent flying onto the floor! I remember telling my friends back home about it that evening, and no one believed me!

When we moved over to new offices in Piccadilly, next to the Universal building, near Green Park, just around the corner from the Playboy Club and RCA Records, a lot of other music publishers were moving out of Denmark Street as well. I remember Gordon Mills, Tom Jones’s manager, had an office at Piccadilly. He invited me up one lunchtime to take a listen to Tom’s then forthcoming new album. When I finished listening, he took it off the turntable, put into an inner paper sleeve, and then into plain white card sleeve and handed it to me to take home. He was a great guy. It was a white label acetate, and the album was Tom Jones Live At Talk of The Town, and was still some weeks away from being released.

It was while I was at the Piccadilly offices that I joined the copyright department, and also learnt  how to cut acetate discs. They were basically records that were cut for demo or evaluation purposes. I think I had it in my mind to become a disc cutter ever since I was shown how it was done at Regent Sound Studios, which was opposite Leeds Music and already famous as the studio where the Rolling Stones made their first album. I must have ran over there at least half a dozen times a day with tapes that had to be cut onto disc for the professional department. I guess most of them were demos of unpublished songs that were required for an artist to consider for possible recording. I remember too how huge the sheet music sales were in those days, much bigger than records, which I never kind of understood. One of the biggest sheet music sellers for Leeds must have been This Is My Song which Petula Clarke had recorded for album use only but then when Pye Records released it as a single, and it ended up at number one, we were inundated with orders for the sheet music.

Over the years, many people have asked me what it was like to work in Tin Pan Alley, was it exciting, was it cool, and how many pop stars did I meet? Well, it was exciting yes, there was a great buzz about working there because it was unlike working anywhere else. None of us who were there at the time had any idea we were working in what would later become an iconic place and time in the history of popular music. The day normally kicked off about 10am in Julie's Cafe next door to Leeds, with a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee. After that, the day pretty much consisted of packing orders of sheet music ready for delivery to the distributors and stockist in the area which I delivered on a two-wheel trolley.

Lunch hours were usually spent at the Gioconda Cafe in Denmark Street or at the Wimpy Bar in St. Martin's Lane, and at other times browsing through the record department at Francis, Day & Hunter, opposite the Astoria Cinema in Charing Cross Road. They probably carried the biggest stock of vinyl in London at that time. Not only that, but they also had listening booths where one could ask for record to be played without any intention to purchase until the staff got irritated and chucked you out. It seemed as if the entire shop floor had been taken up by racks of record sleeves on one side of the ground floor, and sheet music on the other. The albums covered every genre of records imaginable from original soundtracks and cast albums of films and musicals to the latest pop, blues and jazz releases. It was the sort of place you could get hooked on the smell of the vinyl and clarifoil laminate of the record sleeves.

Walking through the centre of Soho in the middle of the afternoon was quite an experience. The strip joints were then thriving, and I can still hear the bouncers outside each of the clubs inviting me in to watch the girls get naked! Most of the stockists and distributors I had to deliver the sheet music to were on the other side of Soho, and so the only way to get to them was through the heart of Soho, and in those days every other doorway was a strip joint with these intimidating characters outside shouting all sorts of things to lure us in for half an hour of girls getting their kits off.