Dusty (John Martyn)

 

In 1978 I managed to wangle an invite to the Nationwide Rock & Pop Awards which were named after the long-running BBC TV evening news magazine and were forerunner to The Brits. The invite hadn’t been sent to direct to me but to my senior producer David Winter, but he thought that I and ultimately the department, would derive more benefit from my attendance than his. Tickets were like gold dust, even for people who worked for the BBC, so I felt pretty fortunate to be attending the do at London’s prestigious Café Royal.

 

When we arrived at the venue, which is situated at the bottom of Regent’s Street, our black London Taxi dropped us off at the red carpet which had been laid at The Café’s entrance and which was sectioned off with silk-roped crowd barriers designed to keep the smelly hordes away from the blue-blood celebrities like me!!!. Seriously there were a lot of fans there hoping for a glimpse of their idol(s) or at the very worst a Radio 1 DJ and I’m not sure most of them were very impressed to only be ‘glimpsing’ the likes of me, although I was asked for my autograph by at least two people who didn’t know me from Adam, but hoped that I might be someone famous (bad luck!)

 

 

When we arrived at the large restaurant we were shown to specific tables, where I think some effort had been made to mix bona-fide pop-stars with equal measures of media presenters, media hacks and music business bigwigs and notsobigwigs. Being pretty new to all this sort of thing none of the names at my table meant anything to me, apart from that of Gerry Rafferty who had recently topped the chart with Baker Street which featured the epic sax-playing of Raphael Ravenscroft, son of obscure British Mystic Trevor Ravenscroft and author of Spear of Destiny a very dark book exploring the myth and legend of the spear of Longinus and it’s place in the lore of the Third Reich. I think Radio 1 DJ Gary Davies may have been at the table too but I honestly can’t remember. I was a longstanding fan of Gerry and had records by him in my collection dating back to the sixties, when he played solo and in The Humblebums with comedian but then singer-songwriter Billy Connolly. The Humblebums made a single Shoeshine Boy which became a cult classic, but made little impression on the charts. Gerry’s next group Stealer’s Wheel, who’s bass player De Lisle Harper I had first met in the early seventies when he played with Graham Bond, fared rather better and produced the perennial classic ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ which has featured on the soundtrack of several well-known films. Baker Street was Gerry Rafferty’s big break as a solo artiste and although he followed it with a couple of minor hits, it remains the song for which he is best remembered, although many people would suggest that Raphael’s sax-playing is far more memorable than Gerry’s singing!

 

 

Being a bit of a fan then, I tried to engage Gerry in conversation, but this didn’t prove easy. To be honest it was like trying to get blood from the proverbial stone and after several stilted attempts, I gave up and joined in the general banter which was going on around the table. Although I can’t remember who else was there they must have been reasonably accomplished bon viveurs as I don’t remember there being any deafening silences. When the meal had concluded the waiters brought out the brandy and cigars. Being new to the lifestyle of the idle rich I thought I would celebrate with a Romeo Y Juliet corona, as touted by all self-respecting entrepreneurs, media personalities and impresarios. The waiter came over and opened the humidor so that I could choose one. I was relatively new to the art of smoking fine cigars but being  a willing student of the ‘good life’ I had read up on it a good deal and knew all about clipping them and making sure you lit them with a taper, which was held below but not onto the cigar itself. Picking up my chosen corona I gave it a subtle pinch and discovered it to be very dry. I tried another, then another and found they were all the same. I pointed this out to the waiter who argued most indignantly that the cigars were fine and had been kept in a humidor at the correct temperature, with all the age old guidelines for correct cigar storage having been observed. I removed the lid from the tank in the humidor and surprise, surprise, it was bone-dry. I was more than surprised to discover that a revered establishment like the Café Royal didn’t seem to know one of the fundamental principles of  a seasoned art. I passed on their stale offerings, preferring instead to light up one of my good old Everyman’s Henri Wintermann’s Café Crème, at least knowing it would be reasonably moist, having only been purchased that morning. So much for the good life!. Still there was always the brandy, which was my very favourite Martell five star cognac. Whilst I was swilling this around in a rather ostentatious balloon, I sensed a body hovering to my right. I turned to find a rather animated Dusty Springfield trying to attract my attention.

 

 

Dusty was back in this country after a lengthy sojourn in the USA and I had recently caught her shows at London’s Drury Lane Theatre. The first night had presented me with a bit of a dilemma as Kate Bush was appearing at Hammersmith Odeon on the same night. Kate had proven herself to be the brightest young talent to emerge for many a year and this was, I believe, her first major live appearance in the UK. Something told me though that Dusty, of whom I’d been a big fan for many a year, might well just deliver something very special, as this was her first UK live date for a long long time. After much deliberation I plumped for Dusty as I believed the chances to see Kate Bush in the future would be a lot more numerous. I was not disappointed and the show Dusty put on was fantastic. Yes it was real showbiz, rather than credible rock, but I’ve never minded that when the artiste in question is so good at what they do. Dusty was charming, personable and obviously extremely happy to be performing in front of a house full to the rafters with her adoring British public. Her singing was better than ever and she was called back for about five encores by an audience which simply didn’t want to let her go. My then girlfriend Annabel loved the show even though she was only seventeen and was only around four or five years old when Dusty was at the peak of her popularity.

 

When I got into the office the next day I rang Bix Palmer, one of the promotions men at Phonogram, Dusty’s record company and asked if I could get tickets to the other two shows at Drury Lane. He told me it may prove difficult as the dates had sold out and all press tickets had been allocated, but he’d see what he could do. Bix turned up trumps but with hindsight I bet there was a pair of very disgruntled Phongram minor execs who didn’t get to go to the ball! I met Bix a few days after the third date and thanked him for the tickets, still singing Dusty’s praises. He told me he’d been there and thought she was great too but that she had been a nightmare to work with from their point of view, in that she didn’t seem to acknowledge that she wasn’t the big star she had once been and had run up some eyebrow raising bills on her expense account. He also told me that whilst the shows in London had been a major success in terms of attendance and critical acclaim, the story had been very different in the provinces, where all but her show in Manchester had had to be cancelled as a result of poor ticket sales. Phonogram were not confident that they could get Dusty back anywhere near where she had been in terms of popularity and were extremely worried that even if they did, they probably couldn’t afford her lifestyle.

 

Anyway back to the Café Royal, where Dusty was still trying to attract my attention, although I hadn’t a clue why. Maybe she’s spotted me in the audience at Drury Lane and wanted to personally award me with a gold star for attending three nights on the trot!. Hedging all bets I responded with a polite “Hello”

 

“Hiya” was the response and then in a hybrid, mid-Atlantic accent she proceeded to tell me that it was years since we’d last seen each other. I responded in the only way I could by looking completely bemused. She then told me that it must have been at least ten years since we’d last seen each other and that as far as she remembered that was when we had both appeared on the same US TV show. I felt my bemused look turning into one of complete mystification as I turned and said that I couldn’t ever remember meeting her. She hinted jokingly that maybe by memory had been fogged by a combination of recreational herbs and pharmaceuticals but assured me that we had met on many occasions previous to that. She then told me that she had even recorded one of my songs; surely I hadn’t forgotten that!

 

I asked Dusty whom she thought I was and she replied confidently

 

“Oh stop being silly I know you are Donovan!”

 

I discretely informed her that it was definitely a case of mistaken ID and although she looked a bit confused, she embarrassedly accepted her mistake. I told her whom I really was and explained what I did and said that it would be nice to get together at some point for an interview to which she readily agreed. I also told her that I was a fan and that I had witnessed all three nights at Drury Lane, expressing my great admiration for her performance. She seemed genuinely moved and gave me a luvvy kiss before returning to her table. I immediately retired to the lavatory, plonked myself in front of the mirror and examined my Donovan credentials. I realised Dusty had a point, same shaped nose, same colour eyes, similar ‘soft’ appearance and before going radically short I had had brown shoulder length hair, which fell in natural ringlet curls. Shame he wasn’t current or else I could have put myself up as a lookalike.

 

‘Der Doppleganger’ syndrome was to revisit me on several ensuing occasions, most enduring of which was my likeness to ‘Not the Nine O’clock News’ member Gryff Rhys Jones, who even managed to fool my own sister! Other dead ringers were ex-Nottingham Forest winger John Robertson and more recently and far more worryingly Jeremy Clarkson!

 

I was always a fan of Dusty but have become an even bigger fan as I’ve grown older and I would now say, without hesitation, that she is the best ever English female popular singer. (I claim her as English even though I know she’s really South African). She eventually made a much deserved return to the charts, in collaboration with Pet Shop Boys with songs like Nothing Has Been Proved and In Private, before dying far too early.

 

 

 

 

‘Dusty’ is taken from John Martyn’s second Island album, The Tumbler. I have been a fan of John’s since the very early days and whilst he has always been extremely well regarded by his professional peers, he was criminally neglected by the record buying public. Even those who rated him highly seem only to have listened to Solid Air but for me he made several records which were at least as good, if not better, including Tuesday’s Child, Grace and Danger and One World. The Annabel mentioned in the story above lived in a flat with her parents on the edge of Hampstead Heath, in North London. When said parents retired to their country seat in Surrey at the weekends, I would take up temporary residence, fleeing the coup around Sunday teatime having destroyed all the ‘evidence’ of my occupation. The two records we played most there, were Spirits Having Flown by The Bee Gees and One World. Certain Surprise was the track from the latter which we both favoured. I love it to this day and it brings back many happy memories of more innocent days. After a lifetime bedevilled by an excess of alcohol and other things it was then with a Certain Surprise, that John Martyn departed this life aged sixty on 29/01/09, the day upon which I wrote the above.

 

Gone but never forgotten.

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One Response to “Dusty (John Martyn)”

  1. Very good, well written piece. You shameless name dropper (only joking).
    I hope all is well.
    Give us a call.
    Peter

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