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.