Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Was and When

What do aristocratic, buxom folk and blues singer Dana Gillespie and petite, working class soul and pop singer Lulu have in common? Too slow - the answer is Mr. David Bowie, who provided both songs and snogs for both during his long and varied songwriting and snogging history.

Gillespie has had an eclectic career, flitting between song, stage and screen with the haphazard elan of someone that doesn’t have to try too hard. Her eclectic CV includes a couple of decent folk pop LP’s, a lesser-known Hammer film (‘The Lost Continent’), an Amicus Bank Holiday TV favourite (‘The People That Time Forgot’) and playing Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Bowie and Dana had been childhood sweethearts (if you can imagine the young, ambitious, shark-like Bowie having time for such a thing), and had later performed together on the folk circuit. When Bowie shot to superstardom in 1972 , both parties were happy to promote the connection, which culminated in Dana’s cover of 'Andy Warhol' on her ‘Weren’t Born A Man’ LP (which pushed it’s point home with a cover picture of Gillespie in full Amsterdam shop window attire). I’m not massively fond of the original, but here she dispenses with the ‘weird’ introduction and awful false laugh of Bowie’s version and presents an unsensational, but pleasant reading of this unsensational but pleasant song. Dana continues to sing and act when she feels like it, cropping up in Actor’s Graveyard ‘The Bill’ once in a while.

Lulu met Bowie at a pivotal time in her career, just as she was about to stop being a singer that also acted and did TV and become a celebrity catalogue model that sang a bit. By 1973, she hadn’t had a Top 5 hit in five years and, although she would shortly perform the theme song for ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, her cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ would be her last major solo hit for another two decades.

Bowie produced, played and sang on the record, and the non-Lulu musical results are pretty good. The light bossa nova feel of the original is tweaked into lurching glam rock by the addition of Bowie’s honking sax, an insistent guitar part and some excellent bongo work. Dave pops up in the background as well, crooning in a low register, his plain but expressive vocal battling against squeaky weak-link Lulu, a pony who does her one trick, sucking the drama out of the lyric in a miasma of melisma.

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