Right, I had a cracking time last night. Went to the Barbican in London to see a couple of tv plays from the 70s.
Glitter starred Toyah Wilcox and Phil Daniels. Toyah looked very young, unsurprisingly, and had no lisp whatsoever. Strange little tale about a couple of kids breaking into a TV studio so they could pretend to perform on Top of the Pops. Turned out it was all in their imagination. They are found by a “cool” Noel Edmonds, looking frighteningly skinny. They accuse him of believing he is Jesus at one point. It all breaks down and gets a bit trippy after a while, and turns out to be all in young Toyah’s mind. What of course is lovely is that both Toyah and Phil Daniels did get to have chart topping records one way or another.
Jumping Bean Bag was a cautionary tale about the dangers of becoming too overtly sexual as a pop star. It started Dennis Lawson (the scottish x-wing fighter pilot) and David Dixon (Ford Prefect from the tv version of Hitchhikers) as members of a well-spoken glam rock band called Slag Bag. I think it had its tongue firmly in cheek (I don’t care if it was the 70s, nobody can say lines like “I don’t think this room can take the power of 5000 first-time orgasms”). Things take a turn for the worst when a fan dies at one of their concerts, overpowered by her orgasm. Stunning. What was also strange was that all the music was written for the show specially. Dennis Lawson was the drummer, and did a strange drum solo whilst singing that I can only say was rap. In 1975. Possibly the first recorded instance of rap music. Very odd.
However, the highlight of the evening was a short clip from the Russell Harty show, in I believe 1974. Harty introduced a new star, Brett Smiley, who performed his new track “Space Ace”. Resplendant in a shocking pink suit, Smiley appeared to be stoned out of his very young mind, and also unaware that when singing live, you had to hold the mic fairly near to your mouth. At least within a good couple of feet, to be safe. Whilst watching it your expectations changed very quickly from wondering if you were seeing some lost genius, to wondering if a huge crook was going to come into shot from the side to pull him off.
Harty then interviewed Smiley and his manager, former Rolling Stones svengali Andrew Loog Oldham. Who appeared equally bombed. I think Harty had been taken aback by quite how bad the performance was, and to his credit, unlike today when PR means he would never have had any guests above the quality of Su Pollard ever again, he started to give Oldham quite a hard time about, well, exactly what he was thinking hoping he could make this boy a star. He didn’t really have an answer.
If they had dubbed him, not let him speak to Harty, and made him stand still, he could have been a star. So near, and yet, so far! I still need to find out more about him though. What I have got thus far is that he recorded an album, Breathlessly Brett, which was lost for decades, and only released a year or two ago. There is also a book about him written by a woman that saw this aformentioned performance, and fell in love with him on the spot: Prettiest Star: Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? by Nina Antonia. Going to have to get hold of both myself.
Few links of note about him:
Good quick biog from his current record company
An interview with Brett from 2003
An interview with Phil King about Junkshop Glam. He talks about Brett Smiley during this