Thursday, 28 April 2016

BRIAN AUGER: CD & DVD



Album Review of: 
‘LOOKING IN THE EYE OF THE WORLD’ 
‘LIVE AT THE BAKED POTATO’ (2-CD) &; 
‘LIVE AT THE BAKED POTATO’ (DVD) 
by  BRIAN AUGER’S 
OBLIVION EXPRESS 
(SPV 306052, SPV 306062, & SPV 306067-DVD)


The Baked Potato is a select diner in ‘the heart of Hollywood’ where the walls are overlaid with music-posters, where slim waitresses with burger ‘n’ fries slip between tables, and there’s a Jack Daniels Old Time logo over the door. The big guy in the red shirt behind rippling banks of keyboards is Brian Auger, giant of the Hammond organ sub-genre that began with Jimmy Smith. Live, they do Eddie Harris’ aptly frisky “Freedom Jazz Dance”, its three title-elements a perfect description of what they do. A mix of new and remade Auger, with tinkling electric piano on sophisticated “Homeward”, an acid-jazz “Ghost Town” evolving, rolling and flowing with biological logic, and a punching solo and unison horn-section standing in for an absent Freddie Hubbard on “Freddie’s Flight”.


On CD-only the cool Buddhist vibe of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” gets Auger lyrics. In all three formats they do a sinuous reading of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”, first done with Julie Driscoll on ‘Open’ (1967), now infused with John Coltrane quotes and interpreted through daughter Savannah Grace’s jazz-literate voice and supple-dancing. She gives Marvin Gaye’s “Troubleman” a Sade treatment, then a smoothly flowing lounge-core “Light My Fire” – restyled from 1969’s ‘Street Noise’. The family connection is backed up by drummer Karma Auger, with only the ‘flashing fingers’ of bassist Derek Frank sharing different genes, muscular or funk-supple as required. To paraphrase their once-hit, ‘this band’s on fire’. For completists the CD comes helpfully numbered ‘18’ in the on-going Brian Auger reissue programme. Collect them all

BRIAN AUGER
Brian played harpsichord on the
Yardbirds hit “For Your Love”

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 No.14
(Mar/Apr) (UK – March 2009)


Cult Science Fiction: Barrington J Bayley



BARRINGTON J BAYLEY: 
 TWO NOVELS BY… 

as originally reviewed by 
 ANDREW DARLINGTON 

 ‘THE GRAND WHEEL’ 
 by BARRINGTON J BAYLEY 
(DAW Books, USA August 1977 
Fontana UK 1979, 80p, ISBN 0-00-6148638, 160pp) 

 Barrington J. Bayley (9 April 1937 – 14 October 2008)



Through every dribble of Abstract Expressionist paint and every unplanned sound-combination set up by a Cage or a Stockhausen the West has gradually, grudgingly, come to terms with the basic assumptions of Arbitrary Selection. Has come to accept that – from the initial biological lottery of one-in-120 million possible sperm connections – randomness, to a far greater degree than rational minds like to admit, is a factor in determining lives and cultures.

Barrington J Bayley once wrote a short story called “The Ship That Sailed The Ocean Of Space” (‘Science Fiction Adventures’ no.26, May 1962). The title, quite literally, describing a ‘ship’ existing in some other unexplained dimension – only its keel extending down into the unfathomable abyss of what we understand as our universe. Randomness, argues Bayley’s novel, works in a similar way. That which is known, understandable and predictable sailing like a wafer-thin ship on the vastness of non-causation and irrationality – ‘the gulf of pure randomness that underlies all of existence.’ It may be possible to harness arbitrary factors through the ‘I-Ching’, the Tarot, Kabala, or the roulette table, but it’s another matter entirely to understand or give meaning to its essential vagaries.

This typically intriguing hypothesis is used to underpin ‘The Grand Wheel’, a slim novel in which Bayley’s ideas are conveyed rapidly through a compulsive plot-mix of action. Cheyne Scarne is a gambler down on his luck, washed up on Io, moon of Jupiter. He becomes an agent, addicted to a personalised narcotic to ensure his loyalty, and finds himself caught up in three major areas of conflict. There’s a split dividing the human-colonised worlds between the inflexible ‘Legitimacy’ and the Mafioso ‘Grand Wheel’, the Legitimacy’s war against the conquering alien Hadranics, and the Grand Wheel’s attempts to enter a Galactic gaming syndicate by gambling off half the human race. Developments – and outcomes, are unpredictable.

Some of the outlined plot elements may sound familiar – Philip K Dick’s ‘The Game-Players Of Titan’ (1963) previously used the cosmic gamble angle, but such superficial similarities seldom survive Bayley’s rigorous exploration of his themes, taking the logistics of galactic wagers into areas that Dick’s protagonists would hardly recognise. A mathematical formula defining luck, for example, is limited by laws of conservation! (as in Bayley’s ‘PF Woods’ story “Reactionary”, in ‘New Worlds’ no.149, April 1965).

Although it sometimes seems that the principles of arbitrary selection govern book-buying habits, the positive reception given to Bayley’s ‘Soul Of The Robot’ (1974) and ‘The Garments Of Caean’ (1976) would seem to indicate the favourable exercise of conscious choice. Readers who enjoyed those novels will know that Barrington J Bayley is probably the most stimulating writer currently working in the Science Fiction genre. Luck doesn’t figure in that particular equation.




 ‘THE FALL OF CHRONOPOLIS’ 
 by BARRINGTON J BAYLEY 
 (DAW Books, USA June 1974 Allison and Busby, 
UK 1979, £4.95, ISBN 0-85031-2353, 175pp) 


Both Isaac Asimov’s ‘The End Of Eternity’ (1955) and Poul Anderson’s ‘The Corridors Of Time’ (1966) feature rival factions of time-tripping antagonists redrawing past and future history in mutual attempts at grand-slamming each other. All good knockabout entertainment guaranteed to last a train journey without intruding too much into the reader’s thought-processes. With this novel, Bayley’s second foray into the mires of temporal conundrum, he kicks the ideas-quotient into metaphysical overdrive. Unlike Anderson or Asimov who skim or politely ignore the paradoxes inherent in time-travel, Bayley delights in its potential complexity, piling concept on concept into a staggering theoretical pyramid which views time, like recording tape, regularly overdubbed, looped, spliced, phased, edited, or wiped clean.

There is, for example, a man who abducts a future self for a homosexual relationship, dreading the moment when inevitably the incident must be repeated, and a ‘third self’ will re-enact the capture – with unique inferences of jealousy or troilism! While the old chestnut of a man travelling back in time to shoot a former self in a bizarrely convoluted suicide, is complicated by the motive of nullifying the invention of time-travel itself. These are concepts shot full of contradictions, as symmetrically absurd as the Zen Koan. The nearest parallel that comes to mind is Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, October 1958) in which the protagonist backtracks in time to massacre the major figures of history, and yet finds history unchanged, posing the residual question of whether individuals shape events or events produce individuals.

For Bayley, neither answer is sufficient. Real-time events occur in random sequence, snaring and discarding individuals without rational motive or reason. And there’s no escape from its illogic, for consciousness is constantly recycled through the same life-time, an idea Bayley first propounded in a short story in my own ‘Ludd’s Mill’ arts magazine.


So, to specifics, although it’s difficult to know where – or when, to start. ‘Time is composed of a wave structure’ writes Bayley, ‘the nodes of the wave travel at intervals of approximately one-hundred-and-seventy years.’ The empire of Chronopolis spans seven such nodes which form ‘the seven continents or provinces of the empire, while the intervening periods comprise a series of hinterlands.’ The nodes are connected by regular commercial time-liners and by mercantile exchange. Prior to the empire lies the ‘stop barrier’ predating the evolution of technology, which futurewards lies the enemy Hegemonics who raid the empire, disrupting its history. Vast timeships of both empires patrol the Strat – the temporal substratum of potential unrealised time, like warring spaceships in some garish Space Opera. Bayley not only formulating the principles of the time-drives powering such craft – accelerating pi-mesons faster than light, but also outlining the effects of ‘speed’ through time in the physical altering of proportions.

Captain Mond Aton of the Time Fleet is trapped into a rapid burst of events, falsely convicted of cowardice, propelled into the far future on a retaliatory raid against the Hegemonics, then into the past to the very invention of time-travel itself, and finally unprotected into the insane vortex of the Strat. While there’s a web of secondary characters and subplots going on around him – the difficulties encountered by a Detective Agency searching for the stolen body of a princess, with the shifting contrails of time ensuring that clues are consistently occluded or rendered non-existent, the Byzantine complexity of the incestuously time-interbred Ixian royal family – rulers of the Chronotic Empire, the religion based around San Hevatar – the alleged discoverer of time-travel, and a Cthulhu lookalike called Hulmu – a six-dimensional multi-tentacled nasty sunk in the depths of the Strat, attempting the destabilise reality through a subculture of sadistic disciples.

Barrington J Bayley treats Science Fiction as a conceptual game. To the reader who merely wants good knockabout entertainment it may appear that Bayley occasionally gets bored with the tedious necessity of plot continuity, and therefore hurries passages – to more speedily reach the next unfolding section of ideas – although this trait is perhaps less apparent here than in some of his earlier, transitional tales. And if the Nietzschean climax of personal energy-play seems something of a cop-out, it could just be that expectations were accelerated unnaturally high by the mind-stretching proportions of the novel’s mid-section.

A previous ‘Vector’ review – by Brian Stableford, proclaimed the appearance of Bayley’s work through Allison and Busby ‘a publishing event of major importance.’ I’m not about to disagree.









See also…
‘BARRINGTON J BAYLEY: 
KNIGHT WITHOUT LIMITS’ 
by Andrew Darlington, originally in ‘Arena no.10’ (1980)
now: http://oivas.com/bjb/bjb-es3.html


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Poem: A PROBABILITY MODEL FOR RARE EVENTS



A PROBABILITY MODEL 
FOR RARE EVENTS/ 
ATTEMPTED CANNIBALISM 


tasting 
the dry flake 
of deadness chafed 
from your nipple, 
your cells on my tongue 

lapping 
the sweat 
pearling your armpit 

licking 
saliva from 
your tongue 
other moistures 

eating 
particles of 
skin pared from 
your cuticles 

digesting 
you inside me 

teeth 
bruise you, 
indent patterns, 
aching 
to draw blood 

I WANT MORE… 


Artwork: Treated by Pris Campbell

Published in:
‘STINK no.2’ (UK – July 1984)
‘TEMPUS FUGIT no.8’ (Belgium – December 1988)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Autobiography: 'THE CONFESSIONS OF IKE TURNER'



IKE TURNER: 
‘WHAT’S LOVE GOT 
TO DO WITH IT…?’ 

 Book Review of: 
‘TAKIN’ BACK MY NAME: 
 THE CONFESSIONS OF IKE TURNER’ 
by IKE TURNER (with NIGEL CAWTHORNE) 
(Virgin Books, 1999 - £16.99 - ISBN 1-85227-850-1) 

 Izear Luster ‘Ike’ Turner Jr, 
5 November 1931 – 12 December 2007 


Music industry rumours that Ike Turner was about to cover Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” are probably apocryphal. Largely because I just started them. Stories of him hanging out around the ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ (1993) movie-set signing autographs and grabbing some peripheral celebrity – even from a totally one-sided biopic that vilifies him, are more grounded in reality.

This book-review was originally slated to be an interview. Ike Turner was due to fly into the UK for a tie-in book-promo schedule, complete with my own eagerly anticipated face-to-face. After all, this was the man who cut what respected authorities consider to be the first ever Rock ‘n’ Roll record – “Rocket 88” in March 1951. Little Richard cheerfully admits stealing the piano intro for “Good Golly Miss Molly” from “Rocket 88” – ‘the exact same, ain’t nothing been changed’. Ike then went on to fire Jimi Hendrix for messing up the band’s sound-balance with his effect-pedals, he cut chart R&B hits which crossed-over to white audiences, co-produced the quintessential 1960’s black-Pop ‘River Deep Mountain High’ (1966) album with Phil Spector... then got himself demonised as serial adulterer, drug addict and wife-beater in Tina’s Feminist Survival-through-Strength bible ‘I, Tina’ (1986).

Now ‘I want the record to be put straight’ protests Ike, ‘the real story has never been told…’ So there’s much potential here, but he starts out the Book-promotion tour with a Breakfast-TV slot where the talking heads begin poking Research-Dept questions at him about smacking Bitches. Predictably he throws a wobbler. Blows all further media assignations – self included, and hops the next plane home. Similar scenes kill the launch of his most recent solo album (‘Without Love… I Have Nothing’, C-Ya Records, 1997), when his notoriously short fuse similarly aborts promotion. Which is tough.

I had my questions ready – ‘was creating this book a personally difficult project, re-living painful memories?’ ‘In Brian Gibson’s slanted 1993 movie what did Larry Fishburne and Angela Bassett’s version of the Ike & Tina story get right, and what did they get wrong?’ ‘In the book you talk of the separation between black and white music in 1950’s America. Yet weren’t there valuable connections too? Elvis was just one of many white kids tuning into black radio stations. He lived in a one-room shack. Carl Perkins came from the only white family in a share-cropping town. Even the Everly Brothers learned guitar from a black blues man. In what way was their white-trash poverty different from yours?’ And, more daring ‘did they treat you as a celebrity when you were in prison?’


The questions stay unanswered, or find partial resolution in his book. For Ike Turner deserves, at the very least, recognition for his ground-breaking musical achievements. His Kings of Rhythm were touring and recording successfully long before late-comer Annie Mae Bullock appears. He had other protégés too, the Ikettes – for example, who scored a respectable run of delicious chart hits under his auspices, while Betty (“Shoop Shoop”) Everett and Fontella (“Rescue Me”) Bass both sang with Turner bands too. And even earlier than that – between 1951 and 1959, he A&R’d black or ‘Race’ artists from the same Memphis Sun studios that Sam Philips prospected white talent, playing as often-uncredited sideman for the likes of BB King, Johnny Ace, Elmore James, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy.

In fact, it was on his way to the Memphis Recording Service when a tyre blow-out provided on-route writing time, which resulted in “Rocket 88”. It debuted on Dewey Phillips ‘Red Hot & Blue’ radio-show on W-HBQ, and – leased to Chess records as a big 78rpm single, it charted. By 12 June 1951 it was no.1 on the R&B and the jukebox charts. Three years later Dewey would break another local artist’s debut hit, Elvis’ “That’s Alright Mama”! So there’s some legitimate bragging to do, but you sense there’s insecurity and the genuine need for emotional and ego-reassurance too.

Ike was born on 5 November 1931, literally on the wrong side of the tracks, on the black side of strictly segregated Clarksdale, Mississippi, deep in the Delta cotton belt. He was raised by his Mother, Beatrice Cushenberry, his early life shaped by strong and respected female figures. And sociologically – in a Southland where they still chained blacks to pick-ups and dragged them to death, a five-year-old Ike was traumatically witness to a Redneck lynch-mob smashing into his home, hauling his father away for an unprovoked beating – ‘he had holes in his stomach where he’d been kicked’. The white hospital turned him away, and he subsequently died from the long-term effects of the wounds. Later, thinking he’d murdered his stepfather, young Ike ran away to big-city racially segregated Memphis, where he lived out of trashcans while sleeping in alleys. This is not to excuse his later misogynist violence. But perhaps it goes some way to explaining it.


Always sexually precocious, it was a Miss Boozie Owens who provided Ike’s initiation into rota-rooting before he’d even hit first grade. ‘Sex’ he explains, ‘that’s the dog in a man,’ and he was always voraciously drawn to what he terms ‘the cat’. He was not yet twelve years old when middle-aged Miss Reeny became his third sexual partner! In such an erotically-charged atmosphere he was soon sharing girlfriends with pal Ernest, who’s Daddy played ragtime piano and was a ‘real whoring man’. When Ike heard Pinetop Perkins play boogie-woogie on his way home from school, ‘it put a burn in my mind,’ and the connection was obvious. Musicians attract sex.

Ike would go on to have numerous wives – eight or nine he says. Ghost-writer Nigel Cawthorne puts the figure closer to ten, maybe twelve. But he was never, they both agree, legally married to Tina. Meanwhile, Momma B had ambitions for her small-town fatherless black boy, with an eye to every hustle, and already, while still at school he’d graduated to DJ-ing at W-ROX. The school band called itself the Dukes of Swing, so Ike went one better, his own band became the Kings of Rhythm, and he was soon playing twelve-hour sets backing-up legendary Blues star Robert Nighthawk at local roadside joints. Playing West Memphis clubs a young Elvis came around to watch, and learn. Then, while writing, playing sessions and producing, Ike contributed piano to BB King’s first hit “Three O’ Clock Blues”, talent-scouted and produced Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s debut studio-sessions, and worked on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ At Midnight” – all for one-off no-royalty fees!

It was during a band residency in East St Louis that he ‘became real, real whorish’, with corrupt cop harassment, knife-fights, shoot-outs, and a roadie who got castrated and bled to death. But it was here that Ike met drummer Eugene Washington’s girl Alline Bullock, and her sister ‘Little Annie Mae’, who was destined to become ‘Tina Turner’. ‘Tina’ got pregnant by the tenor saxist Raymond Hill, and Ike wrote “A Fool In Love”. He originally intended it for vocalist Art Lassiter who ‘sounded like the Ink Spots,’ but when Art ran out owing Ike $80, Tina stepped in. Ike claims to have never been a natural performer, ‘I built my career on standing in the background’ he protests. ‘I am an organiser. I ain’t no goddamn artist.’ Even “Rocket 88” – a celebration of a convertible Oldsmobile coupè, had been credited to ‘Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats’. But ‘I wasn’t going to have people running off with my shit again…!’ And, learning from that name-theft, he deliberately issued “A Fool In Love” under his own name – allowing space for alternate ‘Tina’s as required, and patented it so that if Hill ran off with ‘Little Annie’ he could find himself another Tina, ‘and keep on going’. No such problem arose.


“A Fool In Love”, issued on Sue records, was an instant hit, reaching no.2 on the R&B chart and no.27 on the Pop chart in August 1960. He then set about remoulding ‘Tina’ to become the raw visual focus of the band, modelling her style on movie jungle-girl Nyoka, and the Ikettes on the short-skirt majorettes who’d excited his prurient interest in Clarksdale parades. Inevitably, Ike and Tina became an item. For songwriting purposes, ‘Tina was my Little Richard’ – and for sex, Tina made ‘my dick as hard as Chinese arithmetic.’ How could they fail?

Soon there were more R&B hits, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (no.14 for Sue, 1961) and “Poor Fool” (no.38 for Sue, 1962) for Tina, and “I’m Blue” (no.19 for Atco, 1962) and “Peach
es ‘n’ Cream” for the Ikettes (no.36 for Modern, 1965), but no significant cross-over sales into the white demographic until Ike bribed DJ’s on K-FWB and K-RLA, white stations boasting twice the watt-output of their nearest black rival stations. They also got to play Jack Good’s ‘Shindig’ TV show where, due to the swaggering thrust of Tina and the Ikettes choreography, they were advised never to ‘bump to the front… it was considered vulgar.’ Nevertheless, their increasingly sexualised burlesque provoked network protests, and there was no return booking.

The primitive up-front theatrics of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue ‘invented’ strobe and fire-extinguisher ‘dry ice’, while their screaming was wilder and the Ikettes dynamic boogaloos more uninhibited than any other outfit on the touring circuit. Even Tina’s subsequent solo career was based around what he termed ‘the wedding’ stage-routine he designed to gain sympathetic acceptance from female audiences. But oddly it was ‘England that woke America up to the Blues.’ The Turner Revue toured with the Rolling Stones – at the Stones invitation, playing the Albert Hall and even the infamous Altamont festival with them. With ‘people like Janis (Joplin), the Rolling Stones, Clapton, and other groups, things changed. You had a younger generation that was not hooked on race.’


The association with Phil Spector propelled the cavernous reverberating “River Deep Mountain High” into the European chart, but it was their throw-away cover of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” that finally gave the Turners their breakthrough American hit (no.4 for Liberty in 1971). A track that even mistakenly includes Ike’s voice prompting Tina, which was meant to be erased! But with success, fame – and occasional infamy, came coke. Initially it was a ‘false energy’ performance aid, something to help him stay awake and enable extended creative sessions at his own custom-built high-tech ‘Bolic’ studios. Then cocaine became an essential part of touring, hidden in the back of speakers, in wah-wah pedals, and even in the false heels of his platform shoes. The studio, which was ‘like something out of a James Bond movie,’ had its own ‘orgy quarters’, and ‘sometimes I would be sitting mixing at the board and two girls would be under the console sucking my dick.’

Not surprisingly, his relationship with Tina was in trouble. ‘She was attractive, but not really sensuous in bed… to be honest, I felt that having sex with her was almost a duty.’ Were there beatings? Yes. But it was cocaine, and Ike’s sexually voracious promiscuity that Tina couldn’t take. For years EMI’s Ronald Bell toured Europe holding Tina’s gown as she came offstage but – Cawthorne adds, ‘despite the recent repeated allegations that Ike beat Tina, Bell says, he never saw a mark on her.’ And the final physical spat – in a limo on their way to dates in Dallas, was – according to Ike, deliberately provoked by her to supply the pretext for a split on the eve of signing a five-year record deal. Whatever the motives, the rift proved to be a major tipping point, and ‘my life ain’t been right since then.’

His career had concentrated on assembling the Revue around Tina, not around himself, ‘so I wasted my whole life building something, and then it got taken away from me.’ Without its visual focus the Revue was ‘a car with no motor.’ Ike was stranded in a mess of sixties sexual liberation, left in the slipstream as Tina became an icon for seventies Feminism. As he relates here, ‘while I was hitting rock-bottom, Tina was becoming a star.’ He was reduced to stealing silverware from hotels, while there were legal threats and counter-threats, but he insists that ‘the movie confrontation at her comeback concert where I’m supposed to have threatened her with a gun – that never happened. I never went there.’

Throughout these years Ike Turner was living in a coke-blur, he developed a nasal coke-hole he could ‘put a pen through.’ ‘I don’t give a damn who you are’ he protests, ‘cocaine is stronger than you.’ It took a two-year two-month incarceration in California Men’s Colony in St Luis Obispo – as convict No.E48678, to get him off dependency, ‘the greatest thing that ever happened to me.’

Nowadays – of course, there are no real stories. Only news management, spin and media manipulation. And sure, the cheap Bitch-Smacking jibes come easy. But one thing’s for sure, Ike Turner was no Mike Tyson. He’s more spinned-against that spun. And he has a real story to tell. ‘Takin’ Back My Name’ is that story, ‘the real truth from the horse’s mouth.’ As the title says, it’s both an exercise in redressing the balance, and in damage limitation. It shares its dedication to his mother’s memory, with one to Tina. Perhaps it’s a generous act of conciliation or, more cynically, a marketing strategy. For the dust-jacket is split equally between them both. Ike, and Tina. At first, it was always Annie, or ‘Little Annie’. Until – after their separation, he calls her Tina. He was still musing about the possibilities of a one-off reunion tour, while pointing out ‘she says she don’t like the image I portrayed on her. But what is she doing now? When you look at it, she’s doing the same damn thing.’ And she is. She is.

 Much Expanded from a version published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL no.34 Spring 2000’ (UK - June 2000)


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

'BUCK ROGERS: IN THE TWENTY-FIFTH CENTURY


BUCK ROGERS: 
IN THE TWENTY-FIFTH CENTURY…


 As far as comic-strip retronauts go, ‘Buck Rogers’ was 
there at the first lift-off, and he continues as one of the 
great pantheon of twentieth-century heroes, still 
making waves in the twenty-first century, 
and – just possibly, the twenty-fifth too… 


 ‘BUCK ROGERS: SCIENCE-FICTION’S 
MOST EXCITING ADVENTURER!’ 

Consider this. It was a frame from a ‘Buck Rogers’ newspaper-strip that gave ‘ET’ the idea of ‘phoning home!’ Then, when ‘Star Wars’ was re-released for cinema-screenings in 1977, George Lucas specifically selected Chuck Jones’ 1953 Loony Tunes spoof ‘Duck Dodgers In The Twenty-Fourth-&-A-Half Century’ to precede the main feature. In these two ways, both Lucas, and Steven Spielberg were slyly acknowledging their debt to the same legendary 1930’s action hero. A bonus link is perhaps provided by the amazing Mel Blanc, who not only voiced ‘Duck Dodgers’, but also voices Twiki, the irritating robot in the 1980’s TV-series ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’.


Buck Rogers was the world’s first SF picture-strip, but – unlike his great rival Flash Gordon who was created specifically to be a Sunday newspaper serial, Buck was derived from a genuine science fiction source. It was a story published in Hugo Gernsback’s ‘Amazing Stories’ magazine as early as 1928 that provided his inspiration. Buck was the first. Buck preceded Flash, and indeed provided the template for his exploits. Buck crossed the ‘final frontier’ thirty-five years before Captain Kirk began ‘boldly going’. It was Buck who first took all those geekish SF cult ideas of spaceships, alien worlds, radar-controlled robots, futuristic domed cities, sky-cycles and ionizing disintegrator rays, and spread them to every American home through the viral infiltration of the newspaper funny-pages. His name was immediately adopted as a shorthand for SF itself, sucked into the vocabulary as an all-purpose adjective for weirdness. To comic-book historian Mike Benton, Buck and Flash would, ‘for good or bad, indelibly define and associate science fiction in the public’s mind with the world of the cartoons and comics,’ adding that it’s also tempting to see them as ‘the sole progenitors of all the science fiction comics to come.’

Way back then, at the very birth of the genre, it was assumed that an unsophisticated readership would be insufficiently familiar with the concept of future-time, so a present-day everyman had to be introduced into the story to function as the reader’s proxy-eyeballs. HG Wells set the precedent with his time-traveller journeying through the centuries so that a man of his own late-Victorian time could arrive at the year 802,701AD and look at its strangeness through contemporary eyes. He could ask questions on the reader’s behalf, about what had happened to the world he knew, how this future-time had become so different. Wells would repeat the plot-device with ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ (1910), an idea several degrees closer to the contribution made by Buck Rogers. But it was not necessarily a new idea even when Wells used it.

Washington Irving’s 1819 tale ‘Rip Van Winkle’ precedes it, the man who falls asleep in the cave to wake up decades later to find the world he knew unrecognisably changed. As a vehicle for satire, social commentary, and humour, it is a theme rich with possibilities. As a science fiction gimmick, it is one open to endless reinvention and reinterpretation. In the original text-version of the Buck Rogers story USAF airplane lieutenant Anthony Rogers is surveying the lower levels of an abandoned Pittsburgh mineshaft when he’s overcome by a ‘peculiar gas which defied chemical analysis’ – like Rip Van Winkle, he falls asleep in a ‘cave’, until a shift in the strata admits fresh air, and he awakes – five centuries later into a war-devastated gadget-filled future.


In the 1939 Buster Crabbe movie-serial Buck wakes after his five-hundred year sleep to find that the Zuggs from Saturn have invaded Earth. In the Gil Gerard TV-series Buck would be reinvented as a 1987 NAASA deep-space-probe astronaut cryogenically-frozen when his ship loses control, only to be thawed-out and reawakened into yet another future. The minutia are not particularly important. They can be revisioned as required. What matters is the essential presence of a contemporary figure, a male action hero, cast into another time…

‘BUCK IS A ONE-MAN ARMY OF GREASED LIGHTNING’ 
(cover-blurb of ‘FAMOUS FUNNIES FEATURING 
BUCK ROGERS no.209’ December 1953) 

Philip Francis Nowlan started out as a bored financial writer for the ‘Philadelphia Retail Ledger’. But he’d picked up some newsstand copies of the garish new Hugo Gernsback pulp magazine, and responded to an editorial appeal for material from new and original writers. His story – ‘Armageddon 2419’, with illustrations by Frank R Paul, duly appeared in the issue of ‘Amazing Stories’ dated August 1928, the same issue that coincidentally included the first instalment of EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s wide-screen ‘Skylark Of Space’ serial. Nowlan saw his story as text-fiction, he never envisaged that his future would lie in the realms of comic-strips. But a copy of the magazine happened to come to the attention of the head of the syndicated National Newspaper Service, a businessman called John Flint Dille in Chicago. 

Just as ‘Sun’ label-boss Sam Phillips had the vague precognition that he could make a million-dollars by finding a white man who could sing like a negro – some time before he encountered Elvis Presley, Dille had prior intimations that some kind of futuristic fantasy-strip might prove popular with his readership. A step or several beyond Winsor McCay’s popular ‘Little Nemo’ strip. Reading Nowlan’s fanciful tale – and its sequel ‘The Airlords Of Han’ (1929), he knew he’d discovered his ‘Elvis’. He recognised in the story’s strong simplicity a potential for a vigorous afterlife. Negotiations followed – Dille only insisted on name-switching Nowlan’s ‘Tony Rogers’ to the more cowboy-themed ‘Buck Rogers’. Once agreed he recruited staff-artist Dick Calkins whose credentials were that he’d used his Army Air Corps World War I flying experience to originate a modest aviation strip called ‘Sky Roads’. Working from Nowlan’s script-adaptation, while drawing on the visual hints provided by Frank R Paul’s vivid spot-art, the first panels of ‘Buck Rogers In The Year 2429AD’ appeared in 7 January 1929 – bizarrely, the same day that the ‘Tarzan’ strip was launched.

As far as comic-strip retronauts go, Buck was there at the genre’s first lift-off. To Ray Bradbury, ‘the first Buck Rogers comic strip I saw in 1929 changed my life forever, because he was going into the future and I wanted to go there… when Buck Rogers came along, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen – I went absolutely crazy. I lived hysterically waiting for that hour when Buck Rogers came into the house.’ Dick Calkins art could be naïve – even crude in its execution, and never as lavish as Alex Raymond’s would be for ‘Flash Gordon’. It could be wooden, cluttered and two-dimensional, but it was quirky, full of character and action too. What his cranky snub-nosed rocketships lacked in sophistication they compensated for in vibrant energy, with their conning-tower blisters and submarine-fins blasting through planet-strewn space.


Plot-pacing came at light-speed, even though EC’s Will Gaines dismissed it derisively as ‘Cowboys-and-Indians-in-spaceships’. Within the frames of that single launch instalment Buck discovers he has awakened into a new war in which hordes of ‘half-breed Red Mongol’ invaders have devastated and overrun America. As SF veteran Frederik Pohl points out ‘‘Han’ was not some planet far off in space. It was simply Japan. At least, it was the super-scientific and enlarged Japan the authors expected in the twenty-fifth century, by which time they supposed it would have conquered the world.’ Buck joins patriotic guerrillas hiding out in the forests. And meets Wilma Deering – ‘a pal, not a sweetheart’, and in a cycle of exploits involving rocket-backpacks, hostile Automatons, antigravity belts, and disintegrator zap-guns they eventually triumph over the Asiatics.

Anticipating the Wall Street Crash by nine months, the escapist action doubtlessly benefited from the worsening economic straits of the Depression Years, by providing escapism. Eventually the strip was reaching a massive readership, syndicated through nearly 400-newspapers. The daily strip was complemented by a Sunday spin-off strip drawn by Russ Keaton, then by Rick Yager, and then by kiddy-time radio serials, leading the duo into further adventures on other worlds, Saturn, Venus, on the Martian ‘Island Of Doom’, or on Vulcan where Buck and Buddy Deering (Wilma’s brother) face Mekkanos made of Impervium. Dr Huer appears as Buck’s ‘Zarkov’, a scientist who devises useful gadgets, such as the ‘electro-hypno mentalphone’ for scanning the minds of villains to learn their dastardly plans. And there are new evil arch-enemies such as the villainous Killer Kane and his sidekick Ardala Valmar.


In the same year that Martians were raining atomic bombs on Earth cities – six years before Hiroshima, the Buck Rogers saga was adapted into a 1939 Universal movie-serial, with back-to-brunette Buster Crabbe – direct from playing both ‘Tarzan’, and ‘Flash Gordon’, in the title role. Buck travels to Saturn to face the Zuggs – and their ally Killer Kane, on their home world, while avoiding the usual hazards of crashing spaceships, ray-guns, ‘Radio-controlled Television-eyed Robots’, and mind-control devices. Although laughably crude by current standards, it was visually extravagant by comparison with the TV series that ran through the early fifties, subject to the restrictions imposed on small-screen productions at the time – shot live on a cramped interior set.

The first TV episode pits Buck against a couple of ‘Tigermen’ from Mercury who arrive on Earth intent on stealing the planet’s water. Meanwhile, once the highly lucrative ‘Buck Rogers’ industry acquired its enthusiastic following – branching out into everything from ‘The Buck Rogers Pop-Up Book: A Dangerous Mission’, to replica toy rayguns, it appears that Philip Nowlan was largely content to drop his more literary aspirations, and remain exclusively active within the comics field. Perhaps that was not always true. It seems he’d begun what was intended to be a new text-series for ‘Astounding SF’ in 1940, the year he died. But Buck Rogers outlived him, in the hands of new creative combinations.


‘BUCK ROGERS: AWAKENING…’ 

Buck Rogers was a cultural continuity for many decades. But there were spikes. Murphy Anderson, who illustrated the daily strip through 1958, recalls to Mike Benton that with the launch of Sputnik, and the real-world inauguration of the space-age, ‘Buck Rogers suddenly became hot again. The syndicate salesman sold the strip to every paper he called on during a trip back from Texas.’ Then, some time later, the spectacular supernova that was the ‘Star Wars’ cinema blockbuster seriously rebooted the bankable stock of SF, in its new Sci-Fi guise. It re-Generated the moribund ‘Star Trek’ franchise, and when network TV business-suits began casting around for further tie-in projects, surely Buck Rogers must have seemed too obvious to miss. After all, the three linked ‘Star Wars’ trilogies were George Lucas’ conscious attempt at recreating all the details of the adolescent thrills he’d experienced watching Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon movie-serials as a kid. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are the heroes of his own six-part movie-serial, compensating with bigger budgets and advanced CGI-effects for the intervening escalation of expectation.

To emphasise this cross-media link, a 71-year-old Buster Crabbe was induced out of retirement to make a guest appearance – as ‘Brigadier Gordon’, in the first episode-proper of ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’, the TV series that producer Glen A Larson powered into the early months of the 1980’s. Some comic-book purists may disapprove, for Gil Gerard plays a fun tongue-in-cheek Buck Rogers wearing his blaster in a rakishly low-slung Han Solo holster-style, but there are as many continuities are there are dislocations. The series did not take itself too seriously, setting its controls firmly at slick escapist entertainment, redesigning futuristic femme Wilma Deering into a feisty sex-weapon in the ratings war, poured into skinny-fit jumpsuits one size too small. But then again, despite the limitations of Dick Calkins’ artwork, and the prevailing moral climate of the time, the abbreviated costumes worn by Alura ‘Princess of Mars’ had proved pretty wild for 1934! 


Tough, bright and resourceful girl-companions, and intergalactic cyber-princesses in skimpy attire, have always been part of the strip-format. There may well have been a TV-episode called ‘Planet Of The Slave Girls’, but back in the thirties Buck had already faced Grallo of Mars slave-running the Great Giants Of Venus to sell to the Tigermen. Now, instead of invading Mongols this Buck Rogers finds himself caught up in an interplanetary conflict – his ship ‘Ranger 3’ is retrieved by the Draconians, who are nevertheless led by a new incarnation of his old adversary Princess Ardala, with Kane as her human adviser. Doctor Huer was also retained, at least for the duration of the first season, even though he found himself teamed with the unfortunate cute-bot Twiki, perhaps intended as a sop for those who’d enjoyed the equally irritating contribution made by droids C3PO and R2D2 to George Lucas’ saga.

In new escapades with seductive episode-titles such as ‘Unchained Woman’, ‘Planet Of The Amazon Women’ and ‘Flight Of The War Witch’ Buck faces new threats in the form of the Vorvon – a galactic soul-stealer, the Omni Guard – three treacherous women who become omnipotent when they link hands, and then he pilots his ship The Searcher through a black hole into a counter-universe in which he’s coerced into an alliance with Ardala against an even more deadly dictator called Zarina. The feature-length pilot-episode was even cut loose for audiences for full cinema-release, and – to Frederik Pohl, ‘what is most wrong with ‘Buck Rogers’ as a movie is that it wasn’t made to be one. It was made to be a TV series. Stringing together bits and pieces into a theatre film was a good money idea – it is supposed to have grossed over $25-million, on an investment most of which was already written off against production costs for the television series – but it is a shabby film. The special effects designed to look good on a twenty-one-inch screen look tacky in a movie theatre’ (‘Science Fiction Studies In Film’, Ace, 1981). Yet when the ITV series was scheduled in direct opposition to the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’, it briefly notched up higher viewing figures.

Renewed together for new generations in the 1980’s, the two space-heroes Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon had already defined what the SF strip could be, and refined the visual language it would use. Democratised through repetition, followed by countless imitators, it was they who had provided the models for a process of replication that virtually created the cultural artefact we recognise as the comic-book, even as the genre invented itself through the 1930’s. Junk culture, of course. The kind of trash-fiction that parents derided as an early example of dumbing-down. ‘Why can’t you read a proper book…?’ they implore – too late, for the battle was already lost. The addiction had already taken hold. And it would only become more voracious.


The underlying creep of ideas implied that the future would be different from the present. Just as the past was different from today. With the added impetus provided by technology. As the century gathered momentum, so did the technological uptake. As never before, the idea of the future as a different place took hold. Of course, it wouldn’t exactly resemble Buck Rogers – but who could say with any degree of certainty? It just might. Naturally, parents couldn’t be expected to understand its lure – they won’t be there. It’s the kids who read the strip who were destined to inhabit those future decades, it was their tomorrows. Each tantalising frame was a message from the world they’d eventually live in.


BUCK ROGERS: 
STORY BY STORY… 

PICTURE-STRIP: 

Daily strip 7 January 1929. Script: Philip Francis Nowlan. Art: Dick Calkins (he lived 1895-1962) Sundays 1930. Script: Philip Francis Nowlan: Art Russ Keaton (then Rick Yager 1932-1958, Murphy Anderson (he illustrated ‘Star Pirate’ for ‘Planet Comics’ 1944-1947, then the daily ‘Buck Rogers’ 1947-1949, before moving on the DC Comics. He returned to Buck in 1958), Gene Tuska 1959-1967. After Nowlan’s death John F Dille and others wrote scripts) 1967 - series ends, but continues intermittently as reprints


COMICBOOKS: 

‘FAMOUS FUNNIES FEATURING BUCK ROGERS’ (John S Dille, Co/ Eastern Color Printing). 10-cent anthology-format editions reprinting newspaper strips, featuring ‘Buck Rogers’ from issue no.3 (dated October 1934) with art by Dick Calkins (from 1932), Frank Frazetta (from 1953) etc alongside other strips such as ‘Joe Palooka’. ‘Buck Rogers’ newspaper strips were also reprinted in the ‘Big Little Books’

‘BUCK ROGERS’ (Eastern Color Printing Company/ Famous Funnies) Winter 1940-September 1943 (six issues) After a successful six-year run in ‘Famous Funnies’, Buck was awarded his own comic book in 1940. Issues no.1-5 reprint Sunday pages by Rick Yager. Issue no.6 reprints daily strips by Dick Calkins as well as an original 2-page story. The stories roughly parallel the Buck Rogers reprints in ‘Famous Funnies no.3-79


‘BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY’ (Toby Press) January 1951-May 1951, 10-cent issues misleadingly numbered from no.100, reprints the ‘Modar Of Saturn’ daily newspaper strips drawn by Murphy Anderson. Robert Barton – a writer of radio adventure serials, scripts the story. It also features original stories – in no.101 Buck travels back to the twentieth-century to prevent an Austrian communist revolution

‘BUCK ROGERS’ (Gold Key) October 1964. Buck fights ‘The Space Slavers’ in this one-off original full-length comic-book story

‘THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY’ hardback edition edited by Robert C Dille


‘BUCK ROGERS’ (Gold Key) July 1979-May 1982, based on the characters and concepts in the 1979-1981 movie/TV-series ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’. The movie – which was a theatrical release of the pilot for the television series, was adapted in nos 2-4 (the cover on no.2 announces ‘Blast Off With BUCK, In Part One Of The Movie Adaptation!0. Writers include Paul S Newman and BS Watson. Artists include Frank Bolle (nos 2-4), Al McWilliams (nos 5-11), and Mike Roy

‘BUCK ROGERS’ (TSR Inc) 1991, three issue revival created by Flint Dille – grandson of original syndicator John Flint Dille, a return to the distinct ‘Buck Rogers look’ with Wilma, Killer Kane and ‘space slut’ Ardala, but updated ‘in a plausible future’. Each issue tied into a game-module and Buck Rogers role-playing SF computer game

UK PUBLICATIONS:

First UK ‘Buck Rogers’ serialisation was in ‘EVERYBODY’S’ magazine

‘BUSTER’ (23 December 1961-8 September 1962) Buck Rogers serial with art by Murphy Anderson ‘LOOK-IN’ (1981-1982) picture-strip linked to TV series, with art by John Burns (there’s also a tie-in ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century Annual 1981’)

TEXT-TALES: 

‘AMAZING STORIES’ (August 1928) original text publication of ‘Armageddon 2419’. Reprinted in the ‘Amazing Stories’ 1961 35th Anniversary Issue

‘ARMAGEDDON 2419’ by Philip Francis Nowlan (US, 1962) paperback combination of his original ‘Anthony Rogers’ story plus its sequel ‘The Airlords Of Han’

‘BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY’ by Addison E Steele (Sphere Books, 1979) Based on TV-series

‘BUCK ROGERS 2: THAT MAN ON BETA’ by Addison E Steele (Sphere Books, 1979)

RADIO: 

‘BUCK ROGERS’ HOUR’ (from 7 November 1932)

MOVIE SERIAL:


‘BUCK ROGERS’ (1939, Universal) Twelve-part serial Director: Ford Beebe & Saul A Goodkind. Script: Norman S Hall & Ray Trampe. Starring Buster Crabbe (as Buck Rogers), Constance Moore (as Wilma), C Montague Shaw, Jack Moran, Henry Brandon. In the UK Grampian ITV screened the serial in 1967, and BBC re-screened it in 1982 (in opposition to some ITV regions scheduling of the Gil Gerard series!)


MOVIE: 

‘BUCK ROGERS’ (1979, Universal) 89-minutes. Executive producer: Glen A Larson. Producer: Richard Caffey. Director: Daniel Haller. Script: Glen A Larson & Leslie Stevens. Art Director: Paul Peters. Editor: John J Dumas. Special Effects: Bud Ewing. Music: Stu Philips. An edited version of the TV pilot, the cast is the same as below, Gil Gerard, Pamela Hensley, Erin Gray, Henry Silva, Tim O’Connor. Joseph Wiseman, Felix Silla and Mel Blanc

TV SERIES: 

‘BUCK ROGERS’ (1950) ABC-TV 25-minute black-&-white episodes. Producer & Director: Babette Henry. Writer: Gene Wyckoff. With Ken Dibbs, Lou Prentis, Harry Kingston, Harry Sothern, etc

‘BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY’ (A Glen A Larson Production) Exec Producers: Glen A Larson, and John Mantley (Season 2). 34 sixty-minute colour episodes, plus pilot (‘Awakening’ 120-mins). US premiere: 20 September 1979. UK premiere: 30 August 1980 through to mid-1981. With Gil Gerard (as Captain Buck Rogers), Erin Gray (as Colonel Wilma Deering), Tim O’Connor (in Season 1 only, as Dr Huer), Thom Christopher (Hawk), Wilfred Hyde-White (Dr Goodfellow), Jay Garner (Adm Asimov), Pamela Hensley (Princess Ardala), Michael Ansara (Kane), Eric Server (Dr Theopolis, computer in Season 1), with Felix Silla as Twiki, Mel Blanc as voice of Twiki, and Jeff David as Voice Of Crichton. Guest stars include Buster Crabbe, Roddy McDowall, Frank Gorshin, Ray Walston & Cesar Romero. In the UK episodes were rerun on BBC2 in 1989 and again in 1994.

COMPUTER GAME: 

‘BUCK ROGERS: COUNTDOWN TO DOOMSDAY’ (Strategic Simulations, 1990) role-playing game

with acknowledgements to ‘THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION COMICS’ by Mike Benton (Taylor Publishing Company, 1992)


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Music: HELEN SHAPIRO



HELEN SHAPIRO: 
 TOPS WITH HELEN!

 ‘Gonna be my own adviser, 
‘cos my mind’s my own’ 
not only a Helen Shapiro hit single in 1961
– but a feminist teenage manifesto too



‘Gonna have my fun’ asserts Helen Shapiro, ‘so if I feel like running wild, please don’t treat me like a child.’ Hardly startling to hear that now. In 1961, “Don’t Treat Me Like A Child” was a revelation. The earth moved. New forbidden freedoms beckon. This is the advance tremor of the whole Sixties Youthquake to come.

On black-and-white TV, Helen wears the regulation flared skirt, her dark hair piled into the regulation bouffant beehive. But if she occasionally appears stiff and a little formal onscreen, when she sings ‘it’s often said that youngsters should be seen and not be heard, but I want you to realize, that’s quite absurd, don’t wanna be so meek and mild’, her poise only serves to underline her conviction. Articulate and well-reasoned, her argument for self-determination precedes Cliff Richard’s more generationally anthemic declaration “The Young Ones” by six months, yet there’s also something of the Who’s “My Generation” in there too, and every subsequent appeal to declarations of youth independence, clear down to the Spice Girls ‘Girl Power’ sloganeering. But did anyone phrase it better than ‘gonna be my own adviser, ‘cause my mind’s my own, then I will be much the wiser, my own point of view has got to be known’? I doubt it.

I was thirteen. I was at school too. I watched her performing her hit on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. Never alluringly sexy in the way that Ronnie Spector, PP Arnold or Marianne Faithful were, Helen was more the sensible level-headed girl you could take home to meet your Mother. But there’s subtle gender-subversion in each groove of that 45prm single.


Helen Kate Shapiro was born 28 September 1946, the granddaughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, in Bethnal Green, part of London’s East End. Brother Ronnie fed in a strong Jazz bias, cousin Susan (Singer) also sang, and Marc Feld – the later Marc Bolan, was a school-friend who ‘lived down the road’ and fooled around on guitar. She did talent shows, and by age thirteen Helen was a pupil at Clapton Girls School, while her father raised the 25-shilling fee necessary for her to moonlight as a protégé at the Baker Street ‘School Of Modern Pop Singing’, the Fame Academy of its day. Alma Cogan was a previous beneficiary of its renowned voice coach Maurice Burman, who also functioned as Helen’s manager, until his death, when his wife Jean assumed the role.

It was here that a talent-scouting John Schroeder overheard her timbre-rich singing, mid-lesson during a visit. He was so impressed he arranged some trial recordings for her. EMI’s label manager Norrie Paramor had guided its Columbia subsidiary to dominance by first taking a chance on recording Cliff Richard & The Drifters. Schroeder was assistant to Paramor – who at first refused to believe that the rich bluesy voice he heard doing “Birth Of The Blues” on the demo belonged to a fourteen-year-old. Again, Paramor took a chance, and signed her up to Columbia’s A&R department.


“Please Don’t Treat Me Like A Child” was the direct result. Calculatedly, and perhaps even cynically written by two male twenty-six year-olds – Schroeder himself with lyricist Mike Hawker, it was in every sense a Feminist generational anthem. Although artfully slanted to Helen’s exact requirements – ‘just because I’m in my teens, and I still go to school,’ if they were the ventriloquists, Helen interprets the song with precocious self-confidence, clarity of phrasing, and a degree of mature soulfulness that leaves no doubt of her authenticity. Initially a ‘sleeper’, it only took an exposure slot on ABC-TV’s ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ to focus attention. It enters the chart at no.38, 23 March 1961, climbed to no.28 the following week… and by 11 May it was peaking at no.3. Overnight she was leading a double-life, a national celebrity, and the schoolgirl with the grown-up voice, a star on TV, while still sitting behind a school-desk.

Pop loves duality – for every Elvis a Cliff, for every Beatles a Stones, for every Oasis a Blur, and there was an attempt to build Susan Maughan into a rival-Helen Shapiro. Susan was bright and bubbly, although her biggest, and only significant hit – “Bobby’s Girl”, a no.3 in October 1962, was not only a straight cover of Marcie Blane’s American hit, but was thematically woeful. Where Helen snaps down ‘don’t think that I dream childish dreams, I’m nobody’s fool’ – for Susan ‘when people ask of me, what would you like to be, now that you’re not a kid anymore-ore’ the most important thing to me-ee, she answers right away, is to be the simpering thankful grateful arm-candy for hunky Bobby. Hardly a suitably aspirational ambition for a role model!

Susan continued as a presence, and features opposite Joe Brown in the movie ‘What A Crazy World’ (1963), she even scored a minor chart entry with a pointed “Hand A Handkerchief To Helen” – no.41 in February 1963, but it was Helen Shapiro who easily carried off the ‘New Musical Express’ Poll Award as ‘Top UK Female Singer’ both in 1961 and 1962. Cousin Susan Singer also generates press with her own 1962 single “Gee, It’s Great To Be Young” c/w “Hello First Love” (Oriole), but Helen remains unique.


Before Helen, there had been Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark who – as Helen later told ‘Mojo’ magazine, ‘were great, but they were more showbiz.’ Helen was different. She was one of us. With her presence firmly established, her next two singles each sell progressively better than the one before. “You Don’t Know”, a wistfully dark heartbreak ballad of unrequited love, again written by Schroeder and Hawker, and produced by Norrie Paramour at the Abbey Road Studios with a nine-piece Martin Slavin band-arrangement, was no.1 for three weeks from 10 August 1961. By topping the charts with a quarter-million sales of her second single – at just fourteen years and 316 days old, she not only became the youngest girl, but the youngest British artist to score a no.1. But not the youngest person. American Frankie Lymon had been a year younger when he did that in 1956 with “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”.

While the decade around her was already shifting into new configurations, three days after “You Don’t Know” peaked – in a move apparently unconnected to the record’s success, the East Germans began building the Berlin Wall.


The same writer-producer team was responsible for the up-beat third single – “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”, with Helen’s throaty black-velvet tones winning out over squeakily-chirping female back-up singers. ‘I didn’t like it then’ she told journalist Norman Jopling (‘Record Mirror’ 24 December 1966), ‘and I still don’t’, but it was a second no.1, again holding the top slot for three weeks, from 19 October 1961, with UK sales of half-a-million – the same week that birth control pills became available through the NHS. Soon she was back on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ (30 December) too, alongside ‘America’s King Of Twist’ Chubby Checker, Billy Fury, with Cliff Richard & the Shadows.

Two more hits followed in 1962, taking her total UK sales to well over a million. By her fifteenth birthday she’d made over a dozen radio and TV appearances, topped the bill on ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium’, and featured in a Rank Films ‘Look At Life’ docu-film featurette, as well as starring in the film ‘It’s Trad Dad’ (March 1962). She left school at the end of the Christmas term 1961 to commence film-work. The first movie to be directed by a young Richard Lester, for horror-studio Amicus Productions, it remains a curious period piece. It has a flimsy plot involving disapproving adults attempting to ban the local coffee-bar jukebox, and devious council officials conniving to frustrate a support-concert for the ‘kids’, all of which is simply an excuse to string together disparate hits by John Leyton and jazzers Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Chris Barber with token American artists designed to add US-appeal – Del Shannon, Gene Vincent and Gary US Bonds joining Twist-King Chubby Checker for a series of cameos (the film was retitled ‘Ring-A-Ding Rhythm’ for the USA). The nominal stars who agitate protests with radio DJ David Jacobs, ‘Helen and Craig’, are the thinly-disguised Shapiro and clean-cut Craig Douglas who had a string of inoffensive cover versions of American hits. Yet the film was successful, making impressive profits for Max Rosenberg & Milton Subotsky, its notorious exploitational producers.


The film’s premiere coincided with another significant first, the release of Helen’s debut album, ‘Tops With Me’, which seems to consist of a poorly thought-out hodge-podge of whatever songs happen to be lying around at the time, Connie Francis’ “Lipstick On Your Collar”, Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” and Neil Sedaka’s “Little Devil”. Yet it, too, sells impressively, reaches no.2, spawns two spin-off EPs, and remained on the album chart for half a year. Helen would go one to record more – and better, albums. But none would sell so well.

Subsequent singles, “Tell Me What He Said”, a gossipy teen-beat American song written by Jeff Barry, with Helen quizzing friends about the actions of her ex-guy, and the touchingly slow “Little Miss Lonely” hit no.2 and no.8 respectively. The ‘Daily Mail Book Of Golden Discs’ says that ‘for a young singer she has dynamic drive and an inherent rhythmic sense with confidence, assurance and personality quite outstanding for her age.’ While her mentor – Norrie Paramor was satirically attacked by David Frost in a lengthy ‘That Was The Week That Was’ sketch for putting his own ‘ordinary’ compositions on ‘B’-sides by Helen – as well as Shane Fenton, and for writing Helen’s first non-Top Ten single ‘A’-side in late 1962 (“Let’s Talk About Love”).

If it was a mini-golden age of British Pop, it was also cosily insular and self-contained. With Norrie Paramor at the helm, the distinctive green Columbia label now had the triumvirate of Top Male singer in Cliff Richard, Top Group in the Shadows, and Top Female singer in Helen Shapiro. But although there were sales across Europe, and in English-speaking markets such as South Africa and Australia, none of the three names meant a light on the sprawling American music scene. The domestic record industry, with distribution controlled by a cartel of companies, also functioned in perfect symbiosis with a monolithic media. A Pop record featured on BBC’s ‘Juke Box Jury’ or ITV’s ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ got national viewer exposure, because they were the only two channels to watch. While, unless you could tune in to ‘Radio Luxembourg’s’ crackly evening reception, the BBC ‘Light Programme’ was the only radio place to hear Pop music, and then only rarely, on Brian Matthew’s ‘Saturday Club’ or on a request programme. While the music press and the fan magazines overflowing the newsagent counter colluded in promoting photogenic teen-stars. There was even a 1962 Annual-style ‘Helen Shapiro’s Own Book For Girls’.


The thumbnail narrative is that, after her span of hits, Helen was swept aside when this cosy consensus was blown apart by the Beatles-led Beat-Boom that first transfigured UK Pop in 1963, then went global in 1964. And although it’s true that Helen never fitted comfortably into the mini-skirt moppet Swingin’ Sixties pantheon of Cilla, Lulu, Sandie and Dusty, that interpretation is only partially true. The myth is irresistible because, at the beginning at 1963, she headlined a nationwide tour on which the nascent Beatles were the main support act, but that was already six months after her fifth and final top ten hit. Her hit-making days were already in decline when she began the tour at the Gaumont Cinema in Bradford on Saturday 2 February. On a six-act bill headed by Helen, the Beatles were openers. Their four-song set included “Please Please Me” – already on its way into the Top 3, as she was doing her current single “Queen For Tonight”, which barely scraped the Top 40.

Travelling in unceasingly cold weather Helen was forced to miss dates in Taunton and York due to flu. While the Beatles crowd into her dressing room to watch their latest ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ appearance because – as headliner, hers is the only dressing room equipped with a TV! Ever-alert to the possibility of promoting their own song-writing, John & Paul offer her “Misery” from the debut album they were still in the process of recording. She – or her management on her behalf, turned the song down, only for it to be snapped up by Kenny Lynch, who was also on the bill. It became his next single, and the Beatles first cover. By the final date – in Hanley on Sunday 3 March fan-hysteria had elevated the Beatles up the bill to closing the first half.


Few artists could have coped with the impact of that tour, least of all a teenage girl suddenly faced with the headline ‘Is Helen Shapiro A Has-Been At Sixteen’. For her Pop career never fully recovered. And how strange is that? To go from being taxi’d to school to avoid fans mobbing the playground gates. From having press photographers scale school drainpipes in attempts to obtain sneak through-the-window shots of her at her classroom desk. To being chaperoned on tours due to her under-age status. To missing out on normal teenage dating because every-day boys were in awe of her stardom. Then – just as abruptly, to be ruthlessly elbowed aside by rapidly-shifting trends. Faced with the same bewildering career switch-around, Frankie Lymon, who’d preceded Helen to the no.1 slot, died a junkie in his twenties. Yet for Helen there were no Britney-style dramatics or highly-publicised breakdowns. 

There’s a video of Britney Spears lip-synching to a rigidly-disciplined highly-choreographed hit dance-routine. In the closing seconds she flashes the briefest of brittle smiles at the camera, less a smile of pleasure or satisfaction, and more a grimace of sheer relief that she’s got through the arduous shoot without messing up. To me, it betrays the human vulnerable pressures such young stars are subject to. It’s to her credit that Helen rode those seismic changes with dignity and grace. And went on to other things.

Having early shown a bias for ‘quality’ material, she moved her career solidly in other directions. She continued to appear in cabaret, to issue records for Pye, Magnet, Arista and DJM, while working and recording with jazzer Humphrey Lyttleton (between1984 and 2001). She remained very much in demand as an actress and singer. Then, in Autumn 2002 she did what was announced as her ‘Farewell Tour’, teaming up with ‘Special Guest’ Craig Douglas – her movie co-star from ‘It’s Trad Dad’, to perform her roster of Pop hits for the last time. On Sunday 3 November she played the intimate stage of the Leeds ‘City Varieties’ doing the ‘whoop-bah-oh-yeah-yeah’ of “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”, “Tell Me What He Said” and the smoky-slow drama of “You Don’t Know”. It’s a lifetime since she first hit with “Don’t Treat Me A Child”, but when she sings ‘gonna be my own adviser, ‘cos my mind’s my own’ tonight, you still catch something of the advance tremor of that Sixties Youthquake.


HELEN’S HITS 

23 March 1961 – “Don’t Treat Me Like a Child” c/w “When I’m With You” (Columbia DB 4589) no.3 on charts for twenty weeks. ‘B’-side writer credits to Burman-Schroeder-Hawker

29 June 1961 – “You Don’t Know” c/w “Marvellous Lie” (Columbia DB 4670) no.1, on charts 23-weeks. ‘B’-side written by Norrie Paramor with Bunny Lewis

28 September 1961 – “Walkin’ Back To Happiness” c/w “Kiss ‘n’ Run” (Columbia DB 4715) no.1, on charts for 19-weeks. Spends a single week on the US Hot Hundred, at no.100. Vocal backing by the Mike Sammes Singers. ‘B’-side by Paramor/ Lewis December

1961 – ‘HELEN’ EP (Columbia SEG 8128) with Martin Slavin and his Orchestra, interpretation of standards, ‘Goody Goody’ which receives airplay, with ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’, ‘After You’ve Gone’ and ‘The Birth Of The Blues’ which she’d sung as part of her original audition demo

December 1961 – ‘HELEN’S HIT PARADE’ EP (Columbia SEG 8136) collects ‘Don’t Treat Me Like A Child’, ‘You Don’t Know’, ‘Walkin’ Back To Happiness’ and ‘When I’m With You’

15 February 1962 – “Tell Me What He Said” c/w “I Apologise” (Columbia DB 4782) no.2, on charts 15-weeks. ‘A’-side written by Jeff Barry


10 March 1962 – ‘TOPS WITH ME’ (Columbia 33SX 1397) LP, reaches no.2, on LP chart for 25-weeks. Sleeve-notes by ‘NME’s Maurice Kinn. With side one: ‘Little Devil’, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (the Shirelles version on the chart the week ‘Don’t Treat Me Like Child’ debuts), ‘Because They’re Young’, ‘The Day The Rains Came’, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ (the Elvis version on the chart the week ‘Don’t Treat Me Like Child’ debuts), ‘Teenager In Love’, and side two: ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’, ‘Beyond The Sea’, ‘Sweet Nothins’’, ‘You Mean Ev’rything To Me’, ‘I Love You’, ‘You Got What It Takes’. First four tracks issued as EP ‘Tops With Me’ (SEG 8229), and second four as EP ‘Tops With Me no.2’ (SEG8243, 1963)

3 May 1962 – “Let’s Talk About Love” c/w “Sometime Yesterday” (Columbia DB 4824) no.23, on charts seven weeks. ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ featured in her film ‘It’s Trad Dad’ alongside ‘Ring-A-Ding’, a duet with co-star Craig Douglas


12 July 1962 – “Little Miss Lonely” c/w “I Don’t Care” (Columbia DB 4869) no.8, on charts 11 weeks. Return to Schroeder/ Hawker material

18 October 1962 – “Keep Away From Other Girls” c/w “Cry My Heart Out” (Columbia DB 4908) no.40, on charts six weeks. ‘A’-side is a Bacharach/ Hilliard song covered from the US Babs Tino version. Helen sings ‘B’-side (by Newell-Paramor) in cameo appearance in the Billy Fury film ‘Play It Cool’

7 February 1963 – “Queen For Tonight” c/w “Daddy Couldn’t Get Me One Of Those” (Columbia DB 4966) no.33, on charts five weeks

April 1963 – ‘HELEN’S SIXTEEN’ LP (Columbia 33SX 1494), title refers to both her age, and the number of LP tracks. With Martin Slavin And His Orchestra. Side one: ‘Tearaway Johnny’, ‘Without Your Love’, ‘Walking In My Dreams’, ‘Who Is She’, ‘I Want To Be Happy’, ‘Time And Time Again’, ‘Aren’t You The Lucky One’, ‘Every One But The Right One’. Side two: ‘It’s Alright With Me’, ‘Lookin’ For My Heart’, ‘Basin Street Blues’, ‘You Must Be Reading My Mind’, ‘Till I Hear The Truth From You’, ‘Sensational’, ‘Easy Come Easy Go’, ‘I Believe In Love’

25 April 1963 – “Woe Is Me” c/w “I Walked Right In” (Columbia DB 7026) no.35, on charts six weeks. Recorded in Nashville

January 1963 – “Not Responsible” c/w “No Trespassing” (Columbia DB 7072) no chart position. Also recorded in Nashville

23 October 1963 – “Look Who It Is” c/w “I Walked Right In” (Columbia DB 7130) no.47, on charts 3 weeks. Introduced by DJ Keith Fordyce, Helen lip-synchs the song on ‘Ready Steady Go’, singing one verse apiece to Beatles John, Ringo and George, each of them shown from behind, turning as Helen reaches them

October 1963 – ‘HELEN IN NASHVILLE’ LP (Columbia 33SX 1561) with Grady Martin and the Jordanaires. Side one: ‘Not Responsible’, ‘I Cried Myself To Sleep Last Night’, ‘Young Stranger’, ‘Here Today Gone Tomorrow’, ‘It’s My Party’ (Helen cuts the original version of this song, intended for single release until the Lesley Gore version appears), ‘No Trespassing’. Side two: ‘I’m Tickled Pink’, ‘I Walked Right In’, ‘Sweeter Than Sweet’, ‘You’d Think He Didn’t Know Me’, ‘When You Hurt Me, I Cried’, ‘Woe Is Me’

23 January 1964 – “Fever” c/w “Ole Father Time” (Columbia DB 7190) no.38, on charts for four weeks. Revival of Peggy Lee hit

1964 – “Look Over Your Shoulder” c/w “You Won’t Come Home” (Columbia DB 7266)

1964 – “Shop Around” c/w “He Knows How To Love Me” (Columbia DB 7340) cover of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles hit

1964 – “I Wish I’d Never Loved You” c/w “I Was Only Kidding” (Columbia DB 7395)

1965 – “Tomorrow Is Another Day” c/w “It’s So Funny I Could Cry” (Columbia DB 7517)


December 1966 – “In My Calendar” c/w “Empty House” (Columbia DB 8073), ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘best in a long-while, this, with Helen on a minute-kick, controlled number, very strong on lyrics, melodic and professional’

March 1967 – “Make Me Belong To You” c/w “The Way Of The World” (Columbia DB 8148) ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘wondrously big-voiced and swinging performance which really does deserve to do well.’ ‘NME’ agrees with ‘what does this lass have to do to get a hit?’ ‘B’-side is self-penned bossa-nova


March 1969 – “Today Has Been Cancelled” c/w “Face The Music” (Pye 7N17714), rejoining John Schroeder at new label, ‘NME’ says ‘poor old Helen Shapiro always seems to be on a hiding to nothing! A happy-go-lucky rhythmic ballad with a sparkling Latin beat… a bright blues-chaser’

February 1970 – “Take Down A Note, Miss Smith” c/w “Couldn’t You See” (Pye 7N17893) ‘NME’ says ‘Helen keeps trying, bless her heart… a lively finger-popper with a brassy backing and a hint of a Latin flavour. Plus a sing-along la-la chorus. Come on you dee-jays, give her a break!’

September 1974 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF HELEN SHAPIRO’ LP (EMI SCX 6565) ‘NME’s Pete Erskine praises ‘an album that, by rights, should be prescribed, with natural orange juice and penicillin on the National Health… she howls like a waste-disposal unit on ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ and hums like a top on ‘Basin Street Blues’ One of many hits compilations

August 1977 – “Can’t Break The Habit” c/w “For All The Wrong Reasons” (Arista 131), a Russ Ballard song, ‘NME’ says ‘remember how deep her voice was? Well, it’s even deeper now’

March 1978 – “Every Little Bit Hurts” c/w “Touchin’ Wood” (Arista 178) ‘NME’ snipes ‘undistinguished version of the Brenda Holloway chestnut from 1963s favourite schoolgirl when the beehive barnet was all the go’

September 1991 – ‘HUMPH & HELEN: I CAN’T GET STARTED’ LP (Calligraph CLG CD 025), billed as Helen Shapiro & Humphrey Lyttelton, following an earlier collaboration of ‘Echoes Of The Duke’, with ‘After You’ve Gone’, ‘The Music Goes Round And Round’ and ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’

July 1998 – ‘SWING, SWING TOGETHER… AGAIN’ LP (Calligraph CLG CD034), another collaboration with Humphrey Lyttelton, ‘Observer’ critic Dave Gelly commends ‘fifteen tracks cover everything from gospel to the Ink Spots’ and urges ‘listen out particularly for a gorgeous version of Duke Ellington’s ballad ‘All Too Soon’’ as Helen’s ‘singing blossoms in the environment of a good swing band’