Friday, May 27, 2016
Rambling With Rhodes (and Robb)
John Robb, the interviewer, sat in a chair on the stage and then up popped Bernie, in black beret and an electric blue suit.
He didn't want to sit down; instead he leaned against the lectern, all the better to regale us with stories interspersed with the occasional short film. "This is a Hundred Club moment", he quipped, "A thousand people will say they were here".
The humour came thick and fast; his sons were in the audience, and he complained about buying a computer for one of them for his fourteenth birthday. "I got a pencil, and was told what Leonardo did with one".
Bernie showed us a film of 1940s London, and talked about the Russian Jewish Ghetto in Stepney. His mother had been a tailor, making suits for Cary Grant for a pittance, and he hung around with 'aunties' who were actually hookers who serviced African American soldiers. He was fortunate to have a bad education, because a good education meant long words, long words meant money, and if you had money you got mugged.
Later, he hung out in a flat where Marc Bolan would strum a single chord for half an hour. "We used to say, for f*ck's sake CHANGE CHORDS".
He told us about his friend who made winkle pickers out of compressed cardboard that you couldn't wear in the rain.
Bernie and Malcolm McLaren used to talk for four hours in the Compendium Bookshop café in Camden. "What did you talk about?", enquired John Robb. "I don't know- I can't remember", was the reply.
Although he appeared to be rambling, Bernie was in full control of the show. He described Steve Jones and Paul Cook stealing David Bowie's back line and storing it in McLaren and Westwood's shop, and eventually persuading them to form a band which Malcolm had hoped to front on his return from New York, where he was following the New York Dolls and writing letters home on brown paper bags. But, he said, Malcolm and he were different: Malcolm liked bad behaviour, whereas he himself was more concerned with making social and cultural change that was serious.
He had a downer on the BBC, who he regarded as corrupt (ahem, they may be but the alternatives are trillions of times worse); and an even bigger downer on music journalists.
Stories flowed and the audience was rapt. The little films showed all sorts of things: Vic Godard, The Clash, New York, and we heard about the passport strike that meant that British bands couldn't get to New York to play, and the young black musicians he was interested in, who had never played live before and didn't know what a sound check was, were given the support slot. That was Grandmaster Flash's first gig.
After two hours and a discreet signal from the organisers, John interjected. "Bernie, I think we've run out of time".
"I haven't finished yet", said Bernie. Nor had the audience, who laughed and sat back for more.
It was an unexpectedly entertaining evening, with plenty of gossip and more stories that I could possibly do justice to. I even bought a signed poster at the end.