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Ronnie Golden performs short excerpt from his solo show First A Fender at Field Of Stars, crnr Ave A/2nd St NYC
Ronnie Golden's journey has been a long and fascinating one.
From opening shows for Tom Jones, Scott Walker and Engelbert Humperdinck as a teenaged guitarist, he worked with David Bowie in his Beckenham Arts Lab days then went on to form cult late 70s renegades Fabulous Poodles whose album Mirror Stars outsold both The Clash and The Jam in America in the early 80's.
Within a few short weeks of that band's demise he was doing stand-up at London's Boulevard Theatre alongside Comic Strip regulars Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, a nascent French and Saunders and Alexei Sayle and performing a legendary Buddy Holly in the first series of BBC 2's The Young Ones. He remains the only original member from The Comic Strip team to still be actively working on today's comedy circuit. There were several guest spots and cameos: he played Tracey Ullman's son inC4's first Friday Night Live then performed with Mac McDonald in Saturday Live and was a detective and then a doo-wop singer in a couple of Lenny Henry Shows. His voice, regularly heard on Spitting Image was featured on the No.1 single The Chicken Song/We're Scared Of Bob.
Radio jingle writing won him an award for most interesting use of music in Independent Radio Awards in the early 90s for 60sec acapella song for Ariel Automatic and his harmonica could be heard on TV's Finger of Fudge commercial(!!)
He's played an MI6 agent in the 1986 movie The Fourth Protocol (with Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine,) a heroin addict in C4's How Much Is Too Much? won awards for composing advertising jingles, and is a much sought after voiceover artist.
Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen, a two-man piece Ronnie performed with Arthur, won considerable plaudits on the Edinburgh Fringe 2000 and went on to the Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End and then onto Montreal Comedy Festival.
His 6 piece R&B/Soul outfit Ronnie and the Rex still perform their Club Senseless nights in N. London and the West End and, over the past five years, have recorded four series of Radio 4's The Right Time for which Ronnie wrote songs and sketches.
A selection of some of his best compositions for the band is available on cd Return of the Fabulous Poodle (Turns)
Eight nights of solo music gigs in New Orleans back in April 2003 led to him writing an article about these shows as well as reviewing the Jazz Heritage Festival for July issue of Word magazine.
He performed standup in Brit.Com at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in July 2003 as well as a reprise of the Leonard Cohen show with Arthur.
A winning combination with comedy legend Barry Cryer has yielded several successful Edinburgh Festival shows and a live cd: Rock 'N' Droll on Laughing Stock Recs. They regularly perform their 2 hour show in theatres across the UK.
At 2004 Edinburgh Festival he played a drug-addled, alcoholic, self-destructive blues singer Prince Royale in ‘noir' boogie woogie / blues musical The City Club which became a small budget Hollywood movie entitled Dark Streets. He collaborated on the score for this with composer / musician James Compton.
He appeared in Radio 4 sitcom Ed Reardon's Week and recently on the panel show Act Your Age and has guested in several series Radio 2 music / comedy show Jammin' .
Ronnie has just returned from a series of shows at the Edinburgh Festival . First A Fender, his first ever solo show, is an autobiographical guitar lesson and he hopes to tour the UK with it.
New Zealand-born composer Mark Hardy invited Ronnie to contribute vocals to his songcycle Listen To Me which was released late 2010.
The City Club, blues/boogie musical, is opening for off-Broadway previews at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, New York at the end of March 2012. Alongside a whole bunch of songs he's written for the project he has two great new numbers Copacetic! and Why Did It Have To Be You? the big soul ballad which closes Act One.
He continues to write and tour with Barry Cryer.
Ronnie Golden's Career (verb)
Early 1950s: Nothing.
Mid 1950s: Discover I'm good at something. Running. Fast.
Early 1960s: Getting faster. North Middlesex Grammar Schools 100 yds champion. 10.9secs.
Early 1960s: At 13 years of age I acquire a taste for the theatrical life with a finely-tuned performance as moustachioed detective in Uvedale House play "The Crimson Coconut". I go on to appear in several Enfield Grammar School plays including Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" as a vicious corporal and Aristophanes' "The Frogs" as Gatekeeper of Hell. A pattern develops.
Mid 1960s: Discover I'm good at something else. The guitar. Little realise the lifelong obsession it will become.
Late 1960s: First professional paid work as teenage guitarist backing girl group The Chantelles touring theatres opening for Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink and Scott Walker at seaside resorts around the UK.
Early 1970s: Succession of menial jobs working in newspaper company despatching advertising blocks followed by Tate Gallery Publications Dept.
Final 'proper' job as labourer at British Museum. Sacked for insubordination April 1975, the same week that my first single is released by Private Stock Recs - "Chicago Boxcar (Boston Back)" credited to a (pre-Fabulous) Poodles. That's 35yrs of getting away with it.
Mid 1970s: Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter with cult New Wave quartet Fabulous Poodles touring Holland, Belgium, Germany and the UK. Film TV shows in Cologne and Paris.
Late 1970s: Sign to Pye Records, home of Max Bygraves, Des O'Connor and Petula Clark. We know our place.
Lots of telly: Revolver (hosted by Peter Cook) and two Old Grey Whistle Test. Bob Harris hates us. Result.
Sign to Epic Records in The States and tour album "Mirror Stars" nationwide 'til it goes Top 40 and outsells The Jam and The Clash over there.
Early 1980s: Disband early 80s and start performing on burgeoning 'alternative' comedy circuit alongside Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, French & Saunders, Alexei Sayle etc and perform legendary "Buddy Holly" in BBC2's The Young Ones.
Form acapella comedy combo The Dialtones and appear with them in BBC2's Stomping On The Cat and Channel 4's Interference.
Four series of ITV's groundbreaking satirical puppet show Spitting Image follow (including -shhhhhh! - appearing on No1 single "The Chicken Song").Two guest spots in Lenny Henry Show two Friday Night Live.
Early 1990s:Grudgingly tour UK for solid month of shows with American Pieman Don McClean and work Comedy Club in Lygon Street, Melbourne, plus some telly with Ray Martin Show in Sydney. Back to UK for lucrative voiceover work and win award for 'Most Interesting Use of Music' in Radio Commercial Awards.
2001: with Arthur Smith put show together "Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen" for Edinburgh Festival which went on to West End success at Ambassadors Theatre followed by two performances at Montreal Comedy Festival 2002.
2002: starts writing and performing with Brit comedy legend Barry Cryer and has played every Edinburgh Festival with him since then and they still continue to tour UK theatres. Records Rock Of Ages with Barry for Radio 4 and releases cd Rock 'n' Droll(Laughing Stock).
Looking to take his 'guitar lesson/autobiography' solo show First A Fender to art centres and small theatres around the UK. Also thinking about writing a Fabulous Poodles stage musical called Mirror Star. Any offers from potential co-writers who have active experience in live theatre will be carefully considered.
If you would like to contact this man, please press the contact button. He needs it.
Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden
Barry has garnered a healthy respect for his legendary status as a comedy writer: Morecombe & Wise, Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, Kenny Everett, Bob Hope and Jack Benny being a mere handful of names who've profited from his fecund pen.
He started out as a working comic back in the 1950s performing at the West End's celebrated Windmill Theatre alongside fresh-faced hopefuls like Danny LaRue, Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth and even today, in his late 70s, he continues to travel the length and breadth of the UK performing solo shows and touring a live version of “I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue,” the jewel in Radio 4's comedy crown, and still getting guffaws after FORTY years!
His rock 'n' roll credentials are in place by having a 1958 number one hit record in Finland(!) with a cover of Sheb Wooley's sci-fi rockabilly novelty “Purple People Eater”.
Under his real name Tony De Meur, Ronnie was lead singer / guitarist / songwriter with seminal cult rock band Fabulous Poodles who achieved a degree of fame and notoriety in The States resulting in them outselling both The Jam and The Clash over there back in the late 70s.
The self-styled 'Swiss Army Knife of Entertainment' has since carved several careers for himself writing his standup routines and songs for his 6-piece band Ronnie & The Rex.
As an actor he's been featured in various BBC TV shows such as The Young Ones and several Lenny Henry Shows and he played an MI6 agent in The Fourth Protocol (alongside Michael Caine).
As a songwriter he was longlisted for an Oscar for his composition “Too Much Juice” recorded by Chaka Khan for soundtrack of noir movie 'Dark Streets' in 2009's Academy Awards.
BARRY CRYER & RONNIE GOLDEN
Their two hour live show feature's Barry's formidable collection of one-liners and tall tales alongside Ronnie's amazingly versatile musicianship and awesome array of musical impressions: everyone from Dylan to Springsteen via Jagger and Richards and Bowie.
Their comic songs take in the unlikeliest themes – voluntary euthanasia, mobile phone frustrations, free bus passes, gay interior designers in the Wild West, alien lifeforms and.....John Prescott!
Barry and Ronnie met through the superannuated speed dating group 'Carbon Dating' and thanks to Barry's failed pension scheme and the repossession of Ronnie's amplifiers they hit the road with their first two man show “Unplugged”.
After three years of performing their own solo shows they will be working together again in the 2012 Edinburgh Festival with a brand new show.
“Two of comedy's most fabled masters” (Festival Times)“
"Cryer's unfailing ability to deliver material and make it sound fresh time and time again” (The Guardian)
“Golden is an excellent musical mimic who can slip, like a golden-larynxed chameleon, into any style he chooses” (Daily Mail)
“Scabrous schoolboy humour delivered by men who should know better in a manner which indicates that they do but could not give a monkey's” (Thom Dibden / The Stage)
It's 1987 and I'm missing making a din; the kind of racket that can only be made by grown men with instruments and loud amplifiers.
Fortunately, my friend Justin has asked me to get together a combo to play at his leaving bash before he embarks for America's West Coast and a new life.
Whilst slumming at the Hackney Empire one Sunday night I bump into Harvey Brough, mainman with Harvey & The Wallbangers, and tell him I need to get hold of a bass player for Justin's do and he points me to former Wallbanger Richard Allen who lives right round the corner. I locate the flat and knock on the door which is eventually opened by the petite Rebeckah, Richard's wife. She shows me into the living room where I quietly sit till Richard surfaces. At this point something strangely prescient occurs: his cat suddenly starts pawing at a pile of 45rpm singles and pulls away the front one to reveal “When The Summer's Thru,” the first release by Fabulous Poodles! I had no idea he'd been a fan of my old band so it seemed only right to get him on board for the bash.
I asked Bryn, the Fab Poos' dynamite sticksman to get on the traps and hired James Compton's lightning boogie woogie fingers on keys. I'd recorded an album with guitarist Snowy White a couple of years before and worked with Loose Tubes 'loose cannon' trombonist Ashley Slater (who later went on to have a few hits with Norman Cook-produced funksters Freakpower). He was up for it and brought along a sax player.
It all went well enough for me to repeat the experience a year later at my 40th birthday bash. This led to an invite to play “Late & Live” at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh for the Festival that August which went on to many more invites for what would become “LATER & LATER & LIVE!” We eventually drew the veil over this gig in the late 90s due to age constraints and terminal liver damage!
Ronnie Golden sings "Drinking At Home" in New York City
Following a two year residency of “Club Sandwich” at London's celebrated Comedy Store, Ronnie & The Rex started “Club Senseless” at the King's Head in Crouch End, North London, where, to this day, we continue to play our star-studded combination of standup comedy, impro music and full on 60s Soul.
We were the house band on four series of BBC Radio 4's “The Right Time” and performed at Paul Merton's wedding to Caroline Quentin and Lee Evans' 25th wedding anniversary amongst various sizeable corporate functions.
Our only cd - “Return Of The Fabulous Poodle” - was released in 2001.
A selection of songs from the past to the present, soon to be expanded on.
You'll work out how to use it...
Fabulous Poodles His Masters Choice (Sequel) 1996
I put this compilation together for Bob Fisher, label manager at Sequel.
I selected all titles, mastered them (with Bryn Burrows) and wrote liner notes as well as coming up with sleeve design.
Not generally available, alas, and going for an eye-watering $200 on eBay!
Hope to have some Fab Poos John Peel sessions up on here shortly.
Mirror Star – DeMeur/Parsons
Recorded in '78 and first performed live on “Revolver” (presented by a somewhat crapulent Peter Cook) and Fab Poos first proper inroad into the US music scene. A guide to global rock stardom with the aid of a tennis racket and bedroom mirror.
Workshy – DeMeur/Parsons
Produced by John Entwistle who played 8-string bass on it. Has an early-Faces feel and went down great live.
Bionic Man – DeMeur/Parsons
Nicked guitar refrain from George Harrison (“I Want To Tell You”).
Always steal from the best.
Suicide Bridge – DeMeur/Parsons
One of my favourite John Parsons lyrics written in matter-of-fact local newspaper style about the Archway Road Bridge where many a lonely soul had plummeted to their sad fate. A minor key verse with surprising major key 'doo wop' style chorus: “Don't jump. Don't jump. Life ain't so bad...”
Pink City Twist / Vampire Rock – (1) DeMeur/Valentino/Burrows/Robertson
Originally wrote Vampire Rock and had Pink City guitar riff running through it but Muff Winwood, rightly, suggested they should be two separate tracks. The instrumental is my celebration of the great 'Twist' guitar records of the early 1960s.
Ronnie & The Rex Return Of The Fabulous Poodle (Turns) 2001
5 Minutes – DeMeur
I wrote this for '1960s' themed programme in BBC Radio 2 series “The Hot Club”.
A gentle pastiche of Wilson Pickett's “In The Midnight Hour” which goes like the clappers.
Too Late To Be Lovers (Too Soon To Be Friends) – DeMeur/Meuross
A lyrical idea that had been germinating in my head for a while and finally finished with the very welcome assistance of noted songwriter Reg Meuross.
About that awkward and painful period between realising that there's no future in your relationship but you've not yet reached that point of friendship. One of my best songs, I think.
Let's Have Sex (I'll Love Ya Later) - DeMeur/Dowie
Horny fun song inspired by telephone conversation with my pal Ivor Dembina.
Good grinding riff and daft words.
Drinking At Home – DeMeur
Written nearly thirty years ago(!) in a pool of alcohol, class 'A's and the despair that follows, what seems at the time to be, a total loss of everything good in your life.
I still managed to get a couple of gags in it, though, and it's become a top Rex request over the years. Domestic Alcoholism Rules!
Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Wrong Woman – DeMeur/Dowie
Perched upon my mate Bob's toilet seat in Dallas I was reading interview with genius singer and songwriter Randy Newman who, when asked about his first marriage, answered “wrong time, wrong place, wrong person”. I felt that 'woman' worked better in a song which so succinctly sums up the minefield that has been my lovelife.
Great lowdown New Orleans-y feel with Richard (Allen)'s first recorded outing on tuba.
Listen To Me – Mark Hardy2010
Composer Mark Hardy approached me in the Yorkshire Grey and, out of the blue asked me did I sing and was I familiar with the work of jazz singer Ian Shaw? He'd (Mark) invited him to sing on his song cycle/jazz opera “Listen To Me” and hadn't been much impressed with the results so would I give the piece a hearing and see if I wanted to get involved.
I gave it a good listen, liked it but thought it all way beyond my abilities but Mark kept on at me and I'm glad he did. Two of the results are here....
Boredom – Mark Hardy
'Tom Waits-y' vibe to the ponderously slow double bass groove pitched right at the bottom end of my vocal range but works surprisingly well nonetheless.
Suicide Note – Mark Hardy
Another funereally-slow song where the title speaks for itself.
Not ideal for knees ups or hen parties but possibly the best vocal I have recorded to date.
Between Piety & Desire
Five solo acoustic songs (out of eight) recorded in Piety St Studios in New Orleans, all titles one-off takes recorded absolutely live.
Baby Please Don't Go - Big Joe Williams
I nicked this stripped down arrangement from version by Louisiana harmonica legend Whispering Smith and I'm blowing a 'C' harp.
Between Piety and Desire - De Meur
Inspired by staying in my mate John Swenson's 'humpback shotgun' wooden house in the Ninth Ward which was directly between the streets named Desire and Piety. The ink was drying on the paper as I sang the lyrics about the timeless Southern struggle between spirituality and the pleasures of the flesh.
House Of The Rising Sun - Trad
After years of finding this tune to be a bit of a hackneyed joke I've come round to seeing it as a truly great folk song and I hope that my version brings some freshness to a much overworked piece.
Rewind - De Meur/Parsons
Written with John Parsons back in '74(!) A song I've always loved (but never knew what to do with) and I feel my chords and melody play well with the reflective lyrics.
River's Invitation - Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield, from Webster, Loisiana, has written some of my alltime favourite blues songs. This one contains the three essential ingredients which make a classic blues: Water, Sex & Death.
The City Club
Just three titles of mine which will be included in the Off Broadway musical previewing April 3rd 2012 at Minetta Street Theatre, Greenwich Village.
Can't Get Off This Train - Compton/De Meur
Demo recorded 'round at James Compton's and originally written for Dark Streets movie. A fairly straightforward 12 bar blues with vocal and harp from me.
Dark Streets - Compton/De Meur
Original demo also recorded at James's gaff and put down in ten minutes flat fresh after we'd finished writing it. Fast work - the way I like it.
Too Much Juice - De Meur
Knocked this song up in less than an hour in my living room expecting it to be given the elbow but, to my surprise, everyone loved it! Thrilling, lusty vocal from the incomparable Chaka Khan.
Writings and Travelogues
Atlanta Travelogue- Originally published in The News of the World Sunday Magazine
There’s more on offer in Atlanta this summer than just fun and games at the Olympics…Tony DeMeur samples some of the non-contact sports at the city’s sexy nightspots.
So what, you may ask, have I done to warrant a punishment like this? To be forced to watch this brazen display of pulsating naked flesh, all performed solely for me and only inches away from my cripplingly embarrassed face.
I force my gaze away in search of something more familiar and comforting, but instead I’m greeted by the vision of 14 perfectly-formed bodies all dancing slowly and deliberately in a vast circle. Almost all of them are completely naked, apart from a single garter which resembles a bulging wallet packed with $10 bills (about £7.50) that have been placed there by appreciative males.
I’m in downtown Atlanta, U.S. of A., sampling some of the alternative nightlife that will be on offer to the hordes of overseas visitors converging for the Olympic Games. And, as this city is famous for its table-dancing striptease joints, I find myself inside one of the more celebrated – The Cheetah Boutique.
The Deejay’s gruff ‘Wolfman’ – like bark announces fresh blood to the stripping circle and Russian Olga and the raven-haired, long-limbed Priscilla take the main stage between the two massive Greek God statues. The girls grind away nonchalantly while LL Cool J emits his smoky rap over the sexy-smooth funk. Even the buzz saw grunge that follows fails to disturb their matter-of-fact moves and I wonder if even The Birdie Song would make a bean’s worth of difference to their indifferent gyrations.
Cheekily, the next song is called Lay Your Hands On Me, but this practice is strictly out of bounds in this club. You can ogle as much as you like but don’t ever touch – this isn’t Las Vegas, you know. There , authentic lap dancing is a contact sport where naked lovelies do their bumps and grinds in the laps of the paying customers. But here in Atlanta it’s illegal.
Should you let loose an over-excited lunge, you’d feel the very physical presence of Guy, the muscular minder and girls’ silent protector, who likes to keep an eye on the customers’ every move. There is no after-show hanky-panky – the girls are sent straight home when they’ve done their stint.
Bill Hagood, the owner, opened his club 17 years ago and he’s pretty much retained the original look and atmosphere to this day. All animal print, chrome and black – a bit like Stringfellows but distinctly more over the top.
Away from the main room with its throbbing disco beat, there are quieter places - The Boardroom for “power undressers”, The Jailhouse, where handcuffs and a little light-hearted discipline are in order and the Shower Room, where 30 or so men watch as two girls cover each other in chocolate sauce and cream. There’s audience participation as they’re asked to chuck sponges at the girls, in the hope that they’ll stick to their ample curves.
In the VIP Room, Alison and Nicola are table-dancing , removing their micro-clothing while thrusting to the beat of the Cheetah groove. I sit with a smile frozen on my face, mouthing the odd compliment like: “That’s a strange place to have a mole” or “So where do you keep your sandwiches then?”
When Alicia has dressed again she sits down beside me and reveals that her breasts are not her only large assets. By day, the 21-year-old is a student paediatric doctor. Her earnings from table-dancing which can be $1000 a night – support her through college. “I’ve been doing this for three years,” she says. “The first couple of times were embarrassing but you get used to it. It’s very good money.” Although she gets very mixed reactions from her family, her boyfriend doesn’t mind but then “he’s a stripper, too. His job is much worse – he does hen parties and the women are much more outrageous than any of the men here.”
Makes me wonder what the two of them talk about when they get home: “What kind of day have you had, dear?” “Oh, you know, nothin’ special. Stripped off, oiled me pecs, danced about a bit.” “Me, too. Fancy getting dressed and going to bed?”
Alicia is one of the few girls in the club who hasn’t invested in silicone. “These breasts are all my own,” she says proudly. “Lots of the older girls have had implants, but I’d hate to.”
Over the next month, visitors from all corners of the globe are expected to pile into the Cheetah, flashing their wads of cash. And was Alicia looking forward to the Olympics? You bet your sweet bippy. “I’m hoping there’ll be a big rise in my bank balance,” she smiles enthusiastically.
So what of the customer? Jim Bowling is one of the Cheetah’s most loyal clients. He’s visited the club two or three times a week for the past eight years. He claims: “These girls are bright and attractive and they make very stimulating conversation.”
Jim usually goes to the main room and watches the table-dancing. But Dwight, another regular, prefers the more hands-on approach. In The Jailhouse he’s trussed up in a dog collar and led around on all fours by the knickerless Nicola. I try to get him to talk but he just barks. Persuasive Nicola beckons me to join in and before I know it, I’m handcuffed and spread-eagled on the Punishment Wall.
The trouble with punishment is that it hurts! Several lashes later and I’m permitted my freedom, so I’m off into the heat of the Atlanta night to see what other ‘games’ are on offer. Tom, the photographer, suggests The Gold Club which sounded suitably Olympic but has nothing to do with medals. In fact, it’s decidedly down-market. The neon hubbub inside is halted temporarily by the arrival onto the cramped stage of a sorry quintet of fat boys, and in no time, a bevy of butt-naked beauties begin their humiliation of the over-burgered dupes.
At a nearby table, a John Candy lookalike hoists his t-shirt to reveal a stomach that resembles an over-inflated beach ball, raises his thumbs to his mates and leers: “Look guys! Embarrassed? Me? Nah!” But his mates’ reaction is somewhat muted – they’re all sitting in a circle tied to their chairs while the Bosoms From Hell go in for the kill.
GOTHIC SIN BIN
But silicone suffocation isn’t for me, so I move on to a sex spot that caters for more diverse tastes. The Chamber is an S & M club housed in a black barn, with several metal cages hanging from the vaulted ceiling. Behind the bars, human string beans with powder-white bodies and soot-black hair twitch to the rhythm. Mon Cherie, the proprietress, is less than athletic in black leather and studs, as she shows us round her Gothic sin bin.
Everywhere people are cracking whips of fire, and dangling above me is a woman suspended upside down from her ankles by metal chains, while a motorised grinding device crashes into her chastity belt, shooting sparks up to the ceiling. In the bondage room partners lash each other in turn, while a group in the peepshow area takes in some Victorian sadism.
Tonight is a quiet night for the S & M crowd, but they promise that things will really hot up soon when the 15-piece bondage band, The Impotent Sea Snakes, is at full volume. I’m tiring of my tour, though, and realise I’m not up to the Olympian task of coping with any more sex shows. I simply crave a quiet bar where the women keep their clothes on and I can sup a half-decent pint.
I find it. The Prince of Wales. It’s one of Atlanta’s two English pubs - the other is The Rose and Crown – and as I sink my lips into the foamy head of a Fuller’s London Pride, I cast my mind back over the whole bizarre night and I laugh myself silly.
The City Slicker: Arizona- Originally published in Maxim Magazine
Tenderfoot my arse. Every bit of me is tender, from my saddle-sore backside to the knee I’ve crushed against the gatepost leaving the paddock. And for this I have to get up at 4am and act like I’m having fun. Right now I’d gladly swap this parched, dry and dusty Arizona prairie for home on the range back in Tottenham (although red lizard skin boots, Stetson and Trigger might look a bit daft on the High Street).
But it’s just a temporary gripe. I might be more Charles Hawtrey in Carry on Cowboy than Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, but to be honest pardner, being in the deepest, wildest West is bloody marvellous.
And let’s face it, I’m not alone in feeling a tad out of place at The Horseshoe Ranch on Bloody Basin Road, Arizona (we might not be the real McCoy but, hey, you can’t argue with the name). With me on this first morning’s cattle drive are Doug, Debbie and their son Joshua. Doug’s an ex-social worker and church minister in Seattle, a city more famous for Kurt Cobain than cowboys. The trip to the working ranch, owned by retired engineer Dick Wilcox, is their present to Josh for his 12th birthday: “We didn’t just want to take him to a movie, we wanted to make our own movie.”
Only time will tell if this piece of escapist cinema turns out to be a comedy or a tragedy.
Right now the villain of the piece is Shorty, my horse. That’s Western humour for you – a horse called Rowdy would be a quiet beast, and Shorty, well, he ain’t. Mounting him is like slinging your leg over the Empire State, except that keeps still. No sooner have I stuffed a boot in his stirrups than Shorty decides he’s off home – and he doesn’t mean Tottenham.
Mike, a Wild Bill Hickock lookalike, and one of the three wranglers keeping a professional eye on us four saddle virgins, soon brings my charge into line. Even more reassuring, though, is that another one of the wranglers is called Jesus (if Shorty’s antics require divine intervention at least I can holler out for instant help). The third pro is 21-year-old Chris, an excellent horseman who addresses everyone as either “Sir” or “Ma’am”. Respect, that’s what me and my aching arse need.
Seven hours later – after directing around 60 head of cattle to a water hole – we dismount, groaning quietly, to inspect strained thighs and sore bums. All this, we’re now told, is a mere warm-up for the big cattle drive the next day. We are to collect strays and take them to the main 350-head herd, before driving them 12 miles across wild terrain back to the Horseshoe. There, they’ll be in grazing heaven until sold for slaughter.
Could this be enough to turn you into a breast-beating vegetarian? Well not quite. All that hard work and Western air means later this evening, massive charcoal-covered ribs are devoured noisily. Between chews, Mike regales us with tales of previous holiday guests who castrated a bunch of bulls and roasted their ‘prairie oysters’ for supper. I suddenly come over all nostalgic for the local KFC.
Next morning, we throw back mugs of pure caffeine and prepare for a long hard day in the saddle. Six new guests had arrived late the previous night: Irl and Gail Rosner and their four pals. It’s getting more like City Slickers with every twirl of my lasso. One of the new guys – a surgeon with a constantly harassed expression – has his mobile phone glued to his ear. “One of my patients,” he explains, “isn’t doing so well. I wish I hadn’t called, I’ll only worry now and spoil my trip.”
We’re joined by serious-looking dudes led by the charismatic Dean Cameron – former owner of The Horseshoe – with sidekicks Bob and Jeffrey. There’s a touch of Steve McQueen about Dean: narrow ice-blue eues, quietly dignified. As the sun begins to warm the land, we set off for the day’s doggie chasing. And today is going to be a good day, because joining our party is Charlotte, Dick’s 24-year-old daughter, a wrangler par excellence and Calamity Jane to my Desperate Dan. At dawn I’m already impressed with her rising trot, but by the afternoon, when she’s killed a four-foot rattlesnake with a rock and held it high for my camera, I’m totally rapt.
“You’re too close! You’ll scare ’em!” yells Bob, as we approach the collective posteriors of several hundred heifers. No allowances are made for we amateurs. I lead Shorty further out, and Jeffrey offers me a chew. Expecting something minty and refreshing, I’m horrified as he produces a small plug of sooty-looking black substance. In Tottenham this would merit a stop ‘n’ search from the local rozzers. But this is more potent than any street-dealin’ drug. It’s chewing tobacco. It would be impolite to refuse, so I take a pinch, squeeze it into a messy wad, and pack it between my lower lip and gum . The sensation is like inhaling a complete pack of 20 Capstan Full-Strength in one go. My brain leaps into overdrive while my belly badly wants to bale out. Jeffery laughs and urges me not to swallow. As if I would.
“You’ll git sick,” he informs me. “Jest spit it.” A thin stream of inky-black sputum emanates from his mouth in demonstration. When he’s not looking I remove the sodden lump, but still pretend it’s there by throwing him “Mmmm-lovely” looks.
Bob gallops up and introduces me to his dog, Ringer – half mongrel, half coyote: “Dog part’s real good at rounding up the runaways, but the Coyote part wants to eat ‘em.” Bob – who resembles Kenny Rogers – implores me not to write about his ‘cussing’, which is strange since everything that comes out of his mouth is pure Western innocence. He even winces occasionally at some of my colloquialisms. “Easy boy,” says his expression, “there’s lay-deez present!”
Get him on to citified pretend-cowboys – fake spurs and neckerchiefs – and Bob smiles and shakes his head. “Next time you see one of those guys with a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate,” he wryly remarks, “just tell him it’s a tombstone for a dead dick.” Dean trots over and directs us to leave the herd and move nearer the ranch. At times, I’m riding perilously across streams, rocks and boulders at 45-degree angles, until we reach the ridge of a massive hill. Any pain is suppressed by the glory of the views and the success at rounding up these errant cows.
I feel I’ve shed my city skin, swapped the closed-in complexity of London for a vast panoramic freedom. In fact, we’ve all done more than that – we’ve dipped a soft city toe into dirt-kicking, macho existence. It feels reeeeal good.
It’s so simple for Christ’s sake. A horse, a hat, a pair of boots a few plaid shirts, and that’s it. A pick-up could carry your whole life and leave enough space for a small cocktail cabinet.
But maybe I’m so taken because I’m just a temporary visitor. Long term, I suspect it’s not a career prospect for yours truly. I might envy the cowboy’s terrain – their vast skies and long-limbed cacti – but it’s lowly paid and utterly solitary.
At the end of the ride, we’re positioned at the vita; points to prevent the cows filtering off. Finally we head them all into the corral, bristling with pride at Bob yells the magic words: “Good work, cowboys!”
Way Out West- Originally published in The Mail on Sunday
All this is definitely not me. No way. Where I come from, the sky is small, grim and grey – nothing like the super-economy-size, bluer-than-blue affair that they have here. And I usually consider leather stirrups and cracking bullwhips to be strictly the province of Cabinet Ministers.
So what in tarnation is a bloke whose idea of breakfast TV is Pebble Mill at One doing tucking into a T-bone at a time when I would normally be tucked up in my pyjamas?
What I am doing is spending four bizarrely glorious days at the Lazy K Bar – just a few miles out of Tucson, Arizona – and dang my hide if it ain’t a sight more purdy than Tottenham, my usual territory
It's the lure of the Old West, the rolling tumbleweed, the smell of old leather, the feel of rope biting into your hand. It's where men are men - and, for the short time they are here, women are too.
It's a dude ranch - and, incredibly, it's a package holiday.
It soon becomes evident, however, that this is no fly-by-night affair, thrown together to cash in on the success of Billy Crystal's movie, City Slickers.
The Lazy K Bar first opened its swing doors to guests back in 1936 and now, celebrating its 60th year, it's still doing great business.
It has just 23 rooms, giving it an altogether cosier feel than other, much bigger ranches.
Yousleep in single-storey outhouses, redeemed inside by many of the accoutrements of a decent hotel; you eat in a spacious diner and you help yourself to drinks in the bar. Among the outdoor activities on offer are lassoing, hay rides, trap-shooting (clay pigeons), hiking, biking, picnic rides and line dancing.
But this is a ranch and it is mainly about horses - and, indeed, riding horseback is really the only way to take in the spectacle of the awesome terrain.
The good news is that both the experienced and the inexperienced can get a ride. Even if, like me, you are a 'greenhorn' they'll find a horse to suit - though Western riding is very different from British 'posting' style. For a start, you sit full in the saddle, which can wear out your thighs. And the horse's patience. So a video is available to those who need help to adjust.
Not that any amount of teaching prepares you for all eventualities. After a couple of hours of trying to steer my wilful across a massive sheer escarpment, I hear that familiar sound I'd heard in a thousand cowboy flicks... the clicking of the rattlesnake.
Our trusty scout informs me not to 'rile'im'. That he's more scared of me than I am of him. Maybe he is, but I'm not ready to test the theory - and give the snake the widest of wide berths.
After the long haul back to base, we are all more than ready to tuck into fresh salads with melon, catfish, and Ma's all-American apple pie.
I had wondered who my fellow travellers would be. Kindred spirits, home on the range, had seemed unlikely. But as it turned out, they were there. It quickly became apparent that it is not essential to be part of a couple to enjoy the place. I met many single people, some middle-aged and many of them women, who seemed to be having a ball.
Obviously there were couples too, and I started chatting to a pair from San Diego. Mike is a bright and Hollywood-handsome ex-polo player now running his own sports clothing business; Alison, his wife, is a stunningly beautiful public relations manager.
After the meal, during our 'happy hour' conflab, it transpires that Mike is the proud possessor of the first album of a band that I was in many moons past - The Fabulous Poodles. I glow a little as we manfully bond on the patio, exchanging dubious jokes and howling into the night like two flea-bitten hyenas.
Next morning, over a perfectly prepared Denver omelette (everything in it and lots of eggs), Mike says he is driving to Tombstone for the 'Wyatt Earp Days' weekend and invites me along for the ride.
It's only an hour away - and how could I miss seeing 'The Town Too Tough To Die'?
Tombstone is the most renowned of Arizona's old mining camps, though now more like a down-at-heel, low-rent Disneyland. Locals dress up in a poor polyester approximation of the 'bad 'ol days' and weave up and down the High Street, while life-size plastic effigies of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp slouch in seats to a bland voice-over emitting their story.
Not so much the 'OK Corrall' as the 'Sort-of-all-right-if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing Corral'.
After paying our respects to whatever is buried under the stones on Boot Hill, we gratefully returned to the Lazy K Bar for titanic T-bones, grilled in the open air by the pool.
Mike, Alison and I then adjourned to the bar for belated aperitifs and continue the process outside on the patio to the strains of a local country singer.
With great sincerity he lassos the 'bleeding heart' songs of Don Williams and Willie Nelson, plugs 'em full of holes, then leaves them for the buzzards.
I then put the fear of the Lord into him by offering my Frank Ifield impersonation on harmonica - before we all realise the beers and copious single malts have wreaked havoc enough, and make falteringly for our beds.
At 7.30 am over wood-smoked ham and hash browns, I'm feeling a little smug. Mike is just feeling terrible. 'Amateur', I cannot stop myself from thinking. Where hedonism is concerned, you have to put the hours in.
After another arduous horse-ride, around the remains of an old film studio responsible for celluloid landmarks like Bonanza, Cheyenne and Bronco, I try trap shooting. Great fun made all the greater when I nearly shoot the launcher of the targets.
And thus I come to throw myself into my last activity - the evening hayride. This, to put it accurately, is a hay-filled cart filled with people-old-enough-to-know-better being smashed around in ungainly fashion while the horses pretend not to know where they're going. Like London cabs really.
Back at the ranch I bid farewell to new chums and helpful staff and prepare for my impossibly early alarm.
I know that across those vast skies the proud towers of Broadwater await my return.
As I take a last look at the panoramic sky, Dorothy's words in the Wizard of Oz, or something like them come to mind, 'I don't think we're in Tottenham now, Toto'.
100% Proof Kentucky- Originally published in The Mail on Sunday
You wake, temples pounding, the taste of stale whisky on your lips and the first sight that greets your blood-streaked eyes is thick black bars on the windows, and you wonder what kind of godless state you’ve got yourself into this time. Fear not. The state is Kentucky and in all probability you’ll be wallowing in the Spartan splendour of the Colonial Room in The Jailer’s Arms, Bardstown.
Originally it was The Nelson County Jail, temporary home to many a grizzled old varmint – including Jesse and the James Gang – but now it functions as a bed & breakfast. But, this being America, those words ‘bed’ and ‘breakfast’ take on a whole different dimension. Unlike Mrs Hargreaves’s in Morecombe, you’ll find the ‘County Jail’ t-shirts, Christmas cards and postcards, barbecue sauces; you can even buy a fridge magnet of your room. All this for only 40 dollars a night.
Bardstown is pretty, clean and thoroughly Southern with its picket fences and the imposing red courthouse set slap-bang in the middle of the town square, still flying ‘Old Glory’ in a Merle Haggard kind of way.
This is the home of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival and it’s time to explore this brown nectar. America, overly-sensitive to the fact that it doesn’t have a history that goes back much farther than last Wednesday-fortnight, tends to over-achieve in the naming stakes – hence the ‘Ancient Age’ distillery on the Kentucky River, Frankfort.
Their Blanton single barrel is 102 proof and the Gold Label sells for a wallet-wincing $60; it’s particularly in demand in Japan where they are prepared to pay 6500 yen for the pleasure of brandishing this alcoholic status symbol.
Heaven Hill is the last surviving family business in Kentucky whisky. Vice President Max Shapira, sports the horn-rims of Phil Silvers and, in his charcoal three-piece, looks sharp as a mosquito’s toenail. He takes us through all the stages in distillation: 80 per cent corn, 10 per cent rye and 10 per cent barley malt form what’s called a “beer”, which ferments in vast wooden vats and is then distilled in copper colander towers until the “white dog” is formed – a clear, almost tasteless spirit of brain-rotting strength. This is then poured into white oak barrels which have been fired, and the one-eighth-of-an-inch charcoal is what gives the finished Bourbon its characterful colour and flavour. Ah.
At last it’s time for a tasting. From a light four-year-old Heaven Hill through an eight-year Evan Williams to the 18 year-old Elijah Craig, named after the Reverend Elijah Craig, who is credited with being the father of Bourbon. In 1789, the year that Mr and Mrs Washington hung up their his ‘n’ hers towels in the White House bathroom, he set up a little corn whisky distillery in Bourbon county. A fire broke out in the open-rick barrelhouse, and the frugal Baptist used these charred containers to historic effect. Thanks, Rev.
This tasting is common courtesy in Nelson County, but bizarrely enough, 70 per cent of Kentucky is made up of dry counties, so you have to travel outside before you can wet your whistle. All this dates back to Prohibition, a concept of such mind-boggling madness that it’s hard to believe its reverberations are still being felt 60 years on.
Although the banning of alcohol had been going on for some years, state by state, it wasn’t until 1920 that it reached its nadir nationwide. The wild-eyed battleaxe-wielding maiden aunt of sobriety, Carrie Nation, had had her way and won her hard-fought battle against “distilled death and liquid damnation”.
By the time Franklin D Roosevelt had repealed the law, it was too late for a lot of the whisky companies. Thirteen years of dilapidation of materials, warehouses and all the machinery of the trade had taken its toll and it’s only in very recent years that Bourbon has regained its respect and self-esteem. Before prohibition, most distilleries were to be found in North Carolina, but now it was Kentucky’s turn.
It’s a warm, late September evening and an invitation has arrived to attend a cook-out and tasting at the home of Booker Noe, Bardstown’s Buddha of Bourbon, and grandson of Jim Beam. It is a house you could not easily miss.
A huge, white mansion with pillars in the porch and the obligatory flags at half-mast. A pretty and accommodating Kathleen takes us proudly through several very fine, small batch Bourbons, courtesy of the Jim Beam organisation. Basil Hayden’s first: a light-bodied, smooth eight-year-old and, at 80 proof, a pussycat in such wayward company. Baker’s is aged seven years and hand-bottled at 107 proof, using a 60 year-old yeast process, making for a mellow, ruminative tipple, preferably taken with a splash of spring water. Anything called Knob Creek might bring out the gigglesome schoolboy in this Englishman but, snickers abated, this one proved to be more mature than the drinker. A darker, sweeter, 100 proof nine-year-old that hangs mustily around the back of the nostrils – fine, but no match for the crowning glory of the tasting: Booker’s.
Emeritus Booker Noe is a huge man in his mid-sixties, cast in the mould of Tennessee William’s Big Daddy or, indeed, ol’ Colonel Harland Sanders himself, and his Bourbon is straight from the barrel, 127 proof and eight years old, uncut and unfiltered, and definitely not the whiskey to gulp back. Dilution is essential. At 50 bucks a throw, this is not the brew for Bowery bums. But, hey, we have to pay for our pleasures. and Booker’s is surely the finest sourmash you ever will taste.
The Southern Breakfast is a wonder to behold: wild mushroom omelette, fried potatoes, rocket salad, strawberries, honeydew melon and a petunia – and all on the same plate! Suitably stuffed, the road to Nashville awaits and the tasting of Tennessee whiskies.
The Opryland is more a city than a hotel, with 5000 rooms and a new wing under construction for an extra 1500. The ease with which you can get utterly and completely lost is apparent as bemused residents, pouring over their hotel maps, bump into each other in desperate attempts at finding the lobby. The first thought upon entry to the immense atrium is that this place loves water – hell, it’s darn near drowning in the stuff. There’s a river that weaves around the inside of the place and in the Cascade Conservatory and you can experience The Dancing Waters, who sound like a ballroom dancing duo from Auckland but are, in fact, powerful jets that shoot up through the floor and which, with the aid of computer technology, are illuminated by a barrage of lighting effects.
And just as you’re thinking “yeah, well so what” this lone moustachioed figure appears on a balcony pounding pompous arpeggios on a baby grand while a massive scarlet spout shoots a hundred feet into the air and you find yourself thinking that the Opryland is the Kitsch Kapital of the World.
It’s seven o’clock and the telephone’s mugging my dream. “Hi, this Porter Wagoner with your early morning wake-up call. Y’all have a nice day.” Shucks, I’m humbled. An icon of Country Music has got up especially to awaken lil’ ol’ limey, tea-bag me. But, wait: “hi, this is Porter Wagoner etc.” Damn. A tape.
It’s an hour and quarter to Lynchburg, home to – no, silly, not David or, indeed, Kenny but – the Jack Daniels distillery. The wryly laid-back Carl is our tour guide, a walking sandwichboard of sew-on patches, buttons and homespun philosophies. Outrageously, the world’s best-known sourmash whisky is housed in a pretty hollow in a county that’s been ‘dry’ for 86 years. One Friday per month the staff get given a free bottle; they call it ‘Good Friday’. Followed by ‘Bad Saturday’, I’ll warrant.
The principal difference between Tennessee whisky and its Kentucky cousin is the filtering process at the final stage. Bourbon doesn’t see the need for this purification, whereas JD and other like George Dickel, another exceptional single-barrel, are filtered twice through sugar maple charcoal, As Carl leads the way through the powerfully pungent smell of the ‘beer’ fermenting he makes a useful suggestion: “Walk slow an’ breathe deep – sometimes I do the tour all by m’sel’”.
The story of Jack Daniels, the man, has an almost biblical resonance. He was the young apprentice to Dan Caul, a Lutherian preacher who started making whisky in 1866 but, deciding that he’d prefer to follow the Path of the Lord, he sold his still to Jack for $25, who moved it five miles over the hill near to the creek. The story goes that some years later a somewhat inebriated Mr Daniels decided to do his accounts in the early hours of the morning, couldn’t call the safe combination to mind and, in a blind rage, kicked the safe door. Two weeks later he was dead from a blood clot.
Even after seven days, soaked Bourbon and its history, this seems like a suitably contemporary parable for us all. Here endeth the lesson.
Click the titles to read the articles...then scroll down to cheer yourelf up
1. GLOOMY SUNDAY by Mel Torme
“Little white flowers will never awaken you, not
where the black coach of sorrow has taken you.”
Classic piece of aural doom ‘n’ gloom from the man
hailed as “The Velvet Fog” (or as The Guardian called him:“The Velvet
FROG.”) Beautifully, longingly exquisite evocation of the need to depart
this joyless life and join your deceased love in eternal bliss. Recorded by
many - amongst them Billie Holiday – but the end was always changed to
“and-then-I-woke-up-and-you-were-there” cop-out scenario so try and seek out
Mel for the best and bleakest denouement. Banned for several decades because
twenty-five vulnerable British souls took it all a little too close to heart
and jumped. Lightweights.
(Tall buildings and hard pavements)
2. SOMBRE DIMANCHE by Damia
Same ditty in original French by doomed chanteuse
with Russian choir in tow from 1936. Makes the Torme version look like
“Shaduppa You Face.” Une belle tristesse.
(Same method as above)
3. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? By Peggy Lee
The ultimate funeral song, written by Jerry Lieber
and Mike Stoller, for anyone who knows that “My Way” is a crap way of
looking back on your life: “Regrets? I’ve had a few...” I love Peggy Lee. I
read that she took a whole year before recording this because she knew
immediately that here was a very special piece of writing and she needed to
feel ready before committing it to vinyl so that she could totally inhabit
Darius, read it and weep.
(Pneumonia brought on by rainy perambulations in the
4. RIVER’S INVITATION by Percy Mayfield
Possesses the big three ingredients for any
self-respecting wrist-slasher: water, sex and death. The greatest thing to
come out of Webster, Louisiana and one of the most discriminating and
emotionally-intelligent singer/writers who ever worked in the Blues idiom.
You don’ agree wit me ‘n’ you can hit the road, Jack, and doncha come back
(Death by drowning, of course)
5. THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY by Chet Baker
From ’57 session not released until a year or two ago
and recorded with just nylon-strung acoustic guitar and double bass.
“I heard the song of the spheres like a minor lament
in my ears” I misheard as “like a miner lamenting my years.”
(Chet chose the high window method)
6. THE HOUSE IS HAUNTED (BY THE ECHO OF YOUR LAST
by Mel Torme
One more from the sublime Marty Paitch-arranged
“Torme” album. A song I sing to myself more than is probably healthy. Title
says it all.
(Absynth makes the heart beat slower)
7. I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU by Billie Holiday
The only song I’ve found with Sinatra credited as
co-writer. His version from late 50s is terrific as is Ketty Lester’s on
b-side of seminal “Love Letters” 45, but Ms. Holiday’s death rattle croak
from her later period is the most likely to have you running for the open
8.FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT by Jennifer Warnes
Originally, of course, sung by composer ‘Larfin’
Lenny’ Cohen and, following my involvement with Arthur Smith’s wonderful
interpretation, probably my favourite in the Cohen canon but this profits
from a clear and perfectly-rounded vocal performance.
(Heroin OD, maybe.)
9. GOODBYE by Frank Sinatra
From his best bleeding-heart ballads album “Frank
Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely.” Twenty years ago I would iron gallons of
salty tears into unsuspecting shirts while this elegy to Ava Gardner
commandeered my turntable.
(Starvation through glorious self-disgust)
10. THE MAN WHO CAN’T LOVE ANYMORE by Me
Yes. Shameless self-promotion but…. fuck me it’s
good. An honest-as-possible overview of midlife inability to commit and
acceptance that maybe – just maybe – ‘love’ is a finite concept.
(Alcohol overkill leading to total renal collapse)
HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM by Max
From the “Discolongamax” album from ’79. Need I say
(Suffocating on your own vomit)
We were not always thoroughbreds. Pedigrees take time.
Fabulous Poodles started out as just plain old Poodles when we recorded our first '45 on the Private Stock label in 1975. The 'A'side was a mandolin/ukulele-driven thing called Chicago Boxcar (Boston Back) the first song I'd written with John Parsons about a 1950s haircut.
Even after a glowing review in Sounds music weekly, written by John Peel, it sank like a brick and so we set about the business of developing our crackerjack live show.
We shamelessly courted notoriety and outrage by performing eccentric, sometimes offensive acts occasioning, at various times, the use of an outsize razor blade, an inflatable woman, a ketchup bottle, smoke bombs, electric exploding ukuleles, ringing celebrity telephones, whilst pianomeister Bob Suffolk would auction poodle print wallpaper to the bewildered crowd...Hey, ROCK 'N' ROLL!
Soon we were touring a relentless route around every toilet in Britain and then, with spirited support from ace agent Dave Woods, the conveniences of Holland, Germany and Belgium beckoned seductively.
Thanks in no small part to the support of the esteemed deejay John Peel, for whom we recorded numerous Radio One sessions, and to the finely-tuned ears of A&R man Brian Justice, we eventually secured a contract with PYE Records in 1977.
Yes. The same barrier-smashing label that thrusted onto the world such 'rock luminaries' as Benny Hill, Vince Hill, Petula Clark and Max Bygraves had finally decided that the time was right to move in on the New Wave so they signed us up alongside bands like Cyanide and Dead Fingers Talk who promptly vanished in a puff of smoke. Alas we were a band impossible to categorise, and therefore to market, so our eponymously-titled first album (produced by John Entwistle) garnered good reviews but did not zoom to the toppermost of the poppermost.
Our second vinyl venture was eventually titled, after hours of self-mutilating anguish, “Unsuitable” and unsuitable it surely proved to be because rarified radio rotation resulted in reduced returns. This probably did not overly concern good old PYE – after all they had DiscolongaMax!
Around this time, early '78, we were offered management by Brian Lane and Sun Artists, who promptly got us signed to Epic/CBS in The States. We were soon to become beguiled by the limousine lifestyle and a three month tour of the US followed and we found ourselves playing huge cow palaces opening for '50s parodists Sha Na Na, supporting The Ramones and J. Geils band in large theatres whilst headlining our own club dates. At the same time our album Mirror Stars was, as they say, 'all over the radio'. Amerika – Kapital of Kitsch – was clutching our fluffy pompoms to its soft, white bosom.
Although the Fab Poos possessed none of the Bolshiness of The Boomtown Rats or the studied urban angst of The Clash, we found a strong following there particularly in The South.
We plied our wares with humour and fast-depleting energy, and then returned to London to write and record our third (and final) album Think Pink.
The instamatic shots on the cover were provided by Mary Ann Morgenthaler, a frizzy-haired, motor-mouthed Southern kook we had met in Atlanta. She had an obsession photographing rock stars, political figures, janitors, shriners – anyone deemed interesting to her skewed vision, all wearing the same pair of 1950s pink spectacle frames. As I had already been sporting my own cerise and luminous green specs for a couple of years, this seemed a marriage made in purgatory.
NB: it's Mary Ann's voice on Pink City Twist intoning: “Think Pink, Think Pink, Goddamn,Think Pink! “
Meanwhile, back in Blighty some creative demi-god at PYE had decided that it would be a great idea to print up a couple of thousand Think Pink sleeves FOUR times the regular size, so not only would they not fit in record store racks but they wouldn't even fit under the largest human armpit. At last we were making our foray into the rapidly-growing orangutan market!
Such an ill-thought-through gimmick seemed to me hysterically funny but it was the promotional swan song for us as it summed up all the wrong-thinking and inadequacy of a big corporate company desperately trying to get on our wavelength and be groovy.
Ronnie Golden sings 'Suicide Bridge' live in NYC 2012
After recording our final demos where for the first time we came close to our live sound, a single called Stomping With The Cat was released. Escaped through the catflap morelike. With no promotional guarantees, management support or financial input, we decided to call it a day at the fag end of 1980.
For five years we had slept, travelled, played, fought and farted together and now the Fabulous Poodle Parlour was shutting up shop for good. Four kennels, four vacancies.
It's hard to believe that thirty years have passed so effortlessly since the divorce.
John Parsons moved to Norfolk and paints, sculpts and writes haiku poems.
Bobby continues to make music with his band Los Pistoleros and in 2011 released a new album, Pat-A-Cake, Pat-A-Cake.
Richie has been playing traditional Irish music with Ron Kavana and played bass guitar with great live R&B band from Boston, Mass, Barrence Whitfield & The Savages.
Bryn had a brief spell with 1980s 'squiggle' band Freur and Underworld, played drums with my 6-piece mutant Soul band Ronnie & The Rex, and now writes and records his own music in his home studio at Whitstable, Kent, and plays with local band The New White Trash.
I have become 21st Century survivor, renaissance man and Swiss Army Knife of Entertainment, Ronnie Golden: singer, musician, jingle composer, voiceover merchant and general standup chameleon.
It's nice to think that even after thirty years the influence of Fabulous Poodles is still felt and people continue to remember us with great affection. Please feel free to enjoy the wonderful animations of Stephen Nolen's Brickfilms and live footage of the band on this site. That was then. This is now. We're history.
Toodle pip. Or should that be Poodle tip?
Taking my new soubriquet 'Ronnie Golden' with me after the demise of Fabulous Poodles I ventured into the brand new world of 'alternative' comedy working alongside Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall & Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer & Peter Richardson, a nascent French & Saunders, a fresh-faced Ben Elton and a not-so-fresh-faced Arnold Brown in The Comic Strip which took over the tiny Boulevard Theatre in Soho.
I wore my gold lame jacket and sang a handful of novelty songs and generally humorous ditties I'd written during my time with the band and fleshed out the act with ever-growing comedic intros. One was about British 1950s bombshell Diana Dors, plus the mawkish ballad “Pinball Pinup,” a country song about a pathetic guy in love with the illustration of a woman on a pinball machine and a rockabilly tune concerning the death of a kitten caused by the Dr Marten boot of my then girlfriend and titled “Stomping On The Cat”.
When I first met Mark Lamarr he told me the record of this song was very collectable amongst hard core rockabillies!
I earned ten pounds a night at The Comic Strip to which I added a further fifteen quid by performing at the original Comedy Store housed in a strip joint in Meard Street (which was affectionately known as “Tart's Alley” due to hookers who brazenly invited passing men into their grubby little rooms). Both audience and comedians would have to take the lift – which could only handle the weight of four people at any one time - up to the club. Having arrived in the reception area it was a common sight to be greeted by several completely naked women dragging their discarded dresses with them to the cupboard that doubled as a dressing room.
The general standard of the comics' material was fairly dire with the occasional diamond shining out of the shit: the mischievous Arnold Brown, the lugubrious Norman Lovett, The Oblivion Boys being very silly and a very young Paul Merton,then called by his real name 'Paul Martin' (who performed a highly-surreal seven minute routine wearing his pyjamas) all consistently made me laugh.
But this was early '81 and they had a large gong which would be banged by the MC/ringmaster Alexei who'd only hit it when the crowd were drowning out the act with their bloodthirsty baying.
Blimey, I thought punk rock was a scary prospect but it's got nothing on this comedy lark! I saw one comedian jump off stage and nut this drunken punter whose nose split and 'claret' was all over the place! It was all new and you felt you were making it up as you went along.
I remember Rik (Mayall) phoning me up one Sunday morning asking me out for a drink and chat at the King's Head theatre pub in Islington and offering me the chance to play Buddy Holly in his forthcoming new BBC TV series The Young Ones and Channel 4 were lining up a couple of shows featuring new untried comics which was named after my song “Stomping On The Cat”.
Suddenly people started seeing a future for this new comedy and a circuit started to develop in the back rooms of pubs, church halls, fringe theatres and anywhere they'd have us.
I formed a, largely, acapella harmony singing group The Dialtones with Mac McDonald (who did this very funny routine as a cheesy American bread salesman) and the unpredictable physical/visual performance artist Andrew Bailey (who played a hilarious mute Russian clown called Podomovski) and we put together a two and a half hour show where we performed solo spots followed by the singing at the end of the show. We specialised in 60s girl group songs like The Shangri Las' “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” sung in our own most individual style and, as my alter ego 'Plastico Flamingo' I invented 'doowop-era' with an insane 'operatic' version of The Angels' “My Boyfriend's Back”
At the same time I continued to do standup all across the country and at the new Jongleurs Club in Battersea.
In the mid-80s I got booed off by two thousand people at Cliffs Pavilion in Southend once while opening for singing group The Flying Pickets. It was my first show in two months following a bicycle accident and I drank brandy on the way to the gig to calm my nerves and must've overdone it a little but, hey, I made the front page of the Southend Evening Echo! “Filthy Comic Booed Off” the headline screamed.
More TV cameos ensued plus several BBC radio series: Cabaret Upstairs and two series of The Hot Club (with Arthur Smith and Josie Lawrence) on Radio Two along with four series of Radio 4's The Right Time with my 6-piece band Ronnie & The Rex.
As a solo comedian/musician I've since worked in New York, Dallas, New Orleans, Melbourne Comedy Festival, Brisbane, Amsterdam and Switzerland and all points west as well as decades of Edinburgh Festivals.
Barry Cryer and I will be performing a new show during the first week of the Edinburgh Festival August 2012.
A PLANK SPANKER'S GUIDE TO GOLDEN GUITARS.........
A personal journey taking in stolen ukuleles, Texan handmade thrift store relics and beaten up Fenders so precious they now lead pampered lives in temperature-controlled suites in gated communities. This is the six string history of an addiction forged in wood and steel where the strong don't fret and the only bar they frequent is the whammy bar.
Hagstrom 1962 Swedish-made blue glitter body w/ simulated white mother-of-pearl neck and fingerboard purchased in 1966 for twenty quid and hidden under my bed so my mother wouldn't know I'd bought it in my, then, penurious state.
A & L Parlour guitar Canadian eco friendly Arts & Lutherie brought out this ¾ size guitar a few years back. It is based on early 1900s $10 mail order model as used by such Blues luminaries as Robert Johnson. Ideal if you want a cutting bluesy edge.
Made up of five separate woods (including cherry and rosewood) all supplied by trees grown in A & L's forest.
MERICA Dobro copy Made in Taiwan - a wood laminate version of the National Steel beloved of Mark Knopfler and countless Nashville sessioneers. I played this with a slide on Ronnie & The Rex's “Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Wrong Woman”.
EPIPHONE Les Paul Gold glitter top this is the economy version of the classic Gibson axe beloved of Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton (before he fell for the single coil charms of the Stratocaster). A generous gift from comedian chum Bob Mills on my 50th birthday which reduced me to tears on the removal of golden gift wrapping. Now THAT's a mate.
YAMAHA CJ 818 Based on Gibson J20 as played back in the 1950s by acts like The Everly Bros; an attractive 'figure 8' design with a widescreen sound with good bottom end response. Purchased following theft of 180 model stolen from van at Glasgow flea market in 1977. A van based pattern of stringed instrument theft had begun...
FENDER Telecaster Blond 1974 model rewired in 1990 for increased bottom end response whilst retaining top end bridge pickup 'cut'.
DANELECTRO Dano 63 Pro Royal Blue & White. Two lipstick pickups. Intonation dubious. Remake of 1963 'out there' model. Ideal for Bo Diddley fantasists! Fablon finish. No natural materials were used in its construction.
FENDER Stratocaster 1964 sunburst model purchased in Manny's legendary New York music store following theft of cherished blond unmarked '59 model from the back of van in Howard Johnson carpark, Boston, Mass. Salty tears were unashamedly shed.
The van/guitar theft pattern was by now clearly established.
MARK 11 Mini guitar containing small speaker which looks handmade and achieves a 'Muddy Waters'-like distorted sound. Bought in Dallas thrift store for me by old chum Bob Suffolk.
FLYING V Ukulele A gift from Justin Tunstall, a bright pink mini travesty of original Gibson variety. Looks funny, sounds like shit.
TELECASTER Ukulele The blond baby bastard son of my '74 guitar version.
Traditional 'Vintage' Ukulele Lent to me by Kevin Williamson for one off Radio 2 live recording and never returned. Been seven years now and he still doesn't know where I keep it. Named, most tastelessly, “Maddie” after never-found British abductee Maddie McCann.