Tuesday, May 11, 2010

GARY GLITTER: Come Join His Gang (Yeah)!

Text by Mary Anne Cassata, 1985
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos, 2010
Live photos © Robert Barry Francos
© FFanzeen
Record images and videos from the Internet

The following article, written by Mary Anne Cassata, originally appeared in FFanzeen #13, from 1985.

Thanks to Mary Anne Cassata, I had the chance to catch not only Gary and his enormous toup play at NYC’s Limelight, which she mentions below, but I also had the opportunity to attend the press conference earlier, where
FFanzeenphotographer extraordinaire Cathy Miller took a photo of him holding up one of our logo t-shirts (and another of me standing with Gary).

Yes, I know all about his disturbing sexual - ah - reputation, both in the UK and abroad, but this article was from way before any of that was known, and besides, this is a discussion about his musical legacy, not his jail-worthiness (rightful in my opinion). That being said, it is hard to read this interview today in hindsight without seeing irony in nearly every paragraph and many song or album titles.

Glitter’s music is especially catchy, which is why his “Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two)” is
still used at nearly every sport event, even after all that has come to light. Joan Jett had covered a number of his songs, as well. It’s nearly impossible not to chant along with his boom-pa-TOOM, boom-pa-TOOM (etc.) rhythm that is as identifiable to him as that chukka-chukka is to Bo Diddley, or the I-IV-V to Chuck Berry (the true king of rock’n’roll).

The show at the Limelight (which started as a church, which became the Studio 54 wannabe Limelight, then became known as the Avalon, and is currently a shopping mall called the Limelight Market [thank you, Wikipedia]) was a blast, and it was obvious that Glitter was having fun as well, both of which fed each other into a love-fest of chants, sing-alongs, and joyous mayhem. Odds are he will never tour again (again, rightfully so), therefore I am happy to have had the chance to have had the experience when I did, free and clear of any guilt-by-association. Thanks, Mary Anne. – RBF, 2010

Who ever said old rock heroes just fade away? This may be true for some but not so for British phenomenon Gary Glitter. In the early ‘70s, he was acknowledged for inventing the flamboyant Glitter Rock era in America, and Glam Rock in England. Gary sold over 18 million records and had a total of 11 top-10 British chart singles between 1971 and 1975. With the release of his first Stateside hit single, “Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two),” Gary instantly became recognized as a rock legend.

With more than a decade behind him, the founding father of Glam Rock has returned in triumph, and is performing for American audiences for the first time. In support of the concert tour, Epic Records in America has released a “greatest hits” package album, appropriately entitled, The Leader. In a recent New York appearance at the Limelight, Gary thoroughly delighted an enthusiastic crowd with old favorites, like “I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll),” “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah?),” and “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am).” Not all of Gary’s song titles have parentheses.

Some of Glitter’s contenders, David Bowie, Marc Bolan of T-Rex, and in America, Alice Cooper, to name a few, helped preserve the musical movement that remained till its demise in mid-1975. Although many rock critics at the time, and the late Marc Bolan himself, had proclaimed that “Glitter Rock is dead,” Gary viewed these opinions in a different way: “Either you are into Glitter Rock or you are not,” he said, relaxing in his New York hotel suite. “I have always had my own audience. Mostly, I get a lot of skinheads and punks at my shows. You just can not say I have one kind of audience.” Although Gary says he feels like “a man out of time,” his music sure doesn’t qualify as a blast from the past.

“David Bowie said to me,” Glitter states rather casually, “’It’s strange. Some years you are really big in America and not so in Europe. Then there are other years when you are big in Europe and no so in the States.’ For me, I guess it’s like a time warp everywhere. But now I think the time is right for me in the USA.” It does seem pretty favorable for Gary, who has always attained a faithful following in the States. As he opens the show to “Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two),” the audience cheers wildly to the first sight of Glitter, who ascends down a flight of stairs to the center of the stage.

The audience has always played an important part in a Glitter performance. If his new show is any indication that Gary is determined to conquer America, then perhaps it could very well happen. Fans still come dressed to his shows in versions of re-vamped glittered remnants and six-inch heels. “They are my people, and I love them,” Gary says with a satisfied smile. “When I play, the crowd sings along in a loud voice. The audience is very special to me. When I sing, ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me,’ a sea of hands goes up. The whole place goes up. From where I stand on stage, everybody is clapping. I don’t think there are any language barriers in rock and roll. I get calls all the time from people in the States who want to come over and see my shows. It’s really a great feeling to be wanted.”

There is no doubt that Gary certainly has been a major influence on many of today’s artists, some of which include Joan Jett, Shrapnel, and Rock Goddess. These and many others have included Glitter’s songs in their repertoire.

After the successful New York appearance, Gary sat backstage awaiting the party to be given in his honor. “I really think New York is buzzing now,” he says, having a taste of wine. “This is really the best time for me. You just can’t be a rock singer and not play in the States. It has been a dream for me because I have always loved America. It’s the home of rock and roll.” So far, no performer has challenged to match the veteran performer’s distinct showmanship on stage. Instead, today’s musicians, like Adam Ant, Phil Oakly of Human League, Dig Wayne of the JoBoxers, and even Boy George, would rather regard Glitter a genius.

Nearly 10 years ago, Gary made his American television debut on The Wolfman Jack Show, in New York City. It was his 30th birthday at the time, and Gary felt a little lonely and homesick for London. “I just finished up the show and went back to my hotel,” he recalled. “I think it was the (St.) Regis Hotel [2 East 55 St. – RBF, 2010] then. I really felt pretty sad that night. I went to my room and opened the door and, to my surprise, inside were Rod Stewart, Maggie Bell, and Led Zeppelin! I couldn’t believe my eyes. What a surprise, and I was so tired that night, too. I just wanted to go to bed and sleep.”

Born with the customary name of Paul Gadd, in Bradbury Oxfordshire, Gary spent much of his childhood living in an orphanage. As a young boy, he had expressed a strong interest in rock and roll music, and formed his first band at 13 years old. Changing his name to Paul Raven, he performed for many years on the grueling British pub circuit. Under the name of Raven, he had a minor hit in London, which he considered to be “simply dreadful.” During his formative years, Gary cited Elvis Presley as an essential role model. “Elvis was my guiding light, my hero for all time,” he says. “The Elvis Presley book of pop star was my bible, so to speak.” Several more name changes ensured before finally settling on Gary Glitter.

The veteran entertainer has been delighting crowds for almost 30 years now. He started out by playing rhythm and blues, before eventually crossing over to rock and roll in the late ‘60s. At one point in his career he moved to Germany and lived there for 5 years, playing intimate clubs. At 40 years of age, Glitter doesn’t mind if people can see a “few lines on my face,” or the slow decline of his early ‘70s heydays. He agrees that starting from the bottom up again is the only way to achieve recognition once more.

“Performing is my best medium. I love it and couldn’t do anything else,” he explains very solemnly, as though he were giving a testimonial. “The only way for me to do these clubs so the people who still want to see me can. Whatever the street level is, I what I want to do. I can build it from there. I really believe the best way for me to do this is from the beginning. I think this is the right and only way for me.”

Although Gary has attained a following in the States, his greatest strength lies as a major attraction in Europe. The question that seems to come up more than often these days is, if Glitter is so popular in America, why didn’t he come here sooner? “I honestly didn’t think the time was right for me,” he replied a little uneasily, “but I think now is good for me. It took me such a long time to convince the media and public that I am something different. When I did ‘Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two),’ I was with a small record company. After they released two more singles of mine, the company was bought out by Columbia, which eventually became Arista. I just happened to get lost somewhere in the shuffle.”

It was the latter part of the ‘70s when Gary’s musical vision began to wither. At that point, he became saddled with legal problems, as well as his marriage coming to an abrupt end. The distraught performer went into a semi-retirement to rethink his goals for the future, before deciding to hit the concert trail again. “I didn’t go straight back into television and big concert halls,’ he explained. “I went out and played all the universities and small clubs. That is what builds up an audience. I think this is more of an honest way, and I feel very good about it, too.”

Earlier this year, he almost considered being an opening act for a popular British group, but declined the offer because he felt it wouldn’t be a wise career move. “I had to say no because the band was playing big stadiums and all, and had a lot of success. I just didn’t feel it was right for me. I need my own audience and I need them to feel a part of my show.” Although Gary’s music is widely known in America, he is not so as a performer. Witnessing Gary in concert is certainly a visual feat to behold. Besides elaborate outfits and dynamic stage sets – and above all glamour – Glitter gives an unforgettable show.

Some of the main elements of the early glitter sound consisted of dual drummers and live handclaps. Gary co-wrote most of his songs with partner Mike Leander. Although the duo has kept in touch over the years, it is only recently that they are working together again. With his new songs, Glitter hopes to recapture some of the glory of his heyday. “Dance Me Up” is his first American single, which is supported by a video. Radio airplay is scarce for the song at this time, but a new studio album is in progress [Boys Will Be Boys – RBF, 2010].

“What I am trying to do with my music now is very much as it was in the past,” Gary explained. “I have always been very drum-oriented. The sounds we were making then were way ahead of their time, musically. They have handclaps now on every song you hear. Now they use electronic handclaps. When we did it, we stood in the studio for three hours, just clapping.” Glitter favors simple pop lyrics over the more meaningful ones, because there is a certain humor to it. “My lyrics are always about the same sort of theme. They are a little bit naughty-but-nice, I would say. I don’t like heavy-handed songs at all.”

He leans back in his easy chair and stares inattentively for a moment. Reminiscing about the old days is always a welcomed topic of conversation for Glitter. “The ‘70s were a very exciting time for me,” he recalled. “Some of those people are still around, you know. Do you know if Marc Bolan were still here, he would be big today? We used to ring each other up and say not to release our songs at the same time so we could both be at number one. It is always nice to have a number one record. We were true fans of each other, too. Marc is certainly missed by all.”

In America, some people refer to Alice Cooper as “the Granddaddy of Punk,” while British fans call Gary “Glam Daddy,” or “Gazza.” Of course, Glitter finds this category amusing, even if it seems somewhat out of context. “Sometimes they call me the Godfather of Punk, too. Isn't that funny?” Gary laughs. “I think it is really funny. It is also flattering, too. I may not be as young as I look, but I feel great. You know, Slade is having a very big success now. Do you know why?” he asks rather casually, “Because they are a live band. I am too. We are not video-oriented bands at all. We get off our asses and tour. Keith Moon told me once, ‘There is always someone somewhere that wants to see you perform.’ He was right.”

While Gary quietly contemplates the future, he strongly feels that he won’t be a forgotten hero in the pages of rock history. “I don’t think there is any age to rock and roll,” he sums up the interview. “Like everybody else, I am in search of the American Dream. I am now ready for it. I really haven’t been given the chance for the kids in America to see what I do. I just want the kids to know I am real.” The 40-year-0ld rock legend paused as though he were expecting a response before adding, “Well, we all need a little Glitter in our lives, right? Everyone.”

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