Remembering Judy Garland
"Ditch the rainbow song!" - Anon., Hollywood, 1939
July 06, 2004
I'll never forget Judy Garland. Few singers have ever presented such a complex, even contradictory image. I never knew whether she was going to be a hard-bitten hound dog or a friendly, approachable teddy-bear. One minute she'd look at you with the suspicious mind of a jailhouse rocker in blue suede shoes; the next, she would be every inch a laughing gnome.
As I think of Judy, one other name comes insistently to mind: I'm thinking, of course, of David Bow. I should say that the stage name was my idea. David's real name, David Jones, gave him nothing but trouble: some people confused him with Davey Jones of the Monkees, others assumed he must be Welsh. The crowning humiliation was when he was booked on the same bill with a Welsh Monkees tribute band, the Myncis, all four of whom were in fact called David Jones. Something had to give. I thought 'Bow' would be particularly appropriate in the light of David's fascination with the work of Anthony Newley and all things Cockney: it would suggest that he too hailed from within the sound of Bow Bells.
Alas, my belief that David's name had kept his audience from appreciating the quality of his work proved ill-founded. It turned out that his audience was well aware of the quality of his work, which in all honesty was minimal. "The Laughing Gnome", "Love You Till Tuesday", "Whoops Cor Blimey Stone The Crows (What A Palaver)" - all these songs languished in obscurity for some years. "Whoops", in particular, has never been recorded at all, as far as I'm aware. I have tried to place it with a number of people - Denis Waterman; Frank Bruno; Morrissey - but, sadly, nobody wants to know. What a palaver, indeed.
The 'Bow' name didn't work, anyway. And it's my belief that geographical stage names are rarely appropriate in show business. Take Scott Walker - nobody took the slightest notice of him when he was going out as Little Scottie Winchester. Although, now I think of it, that's not entirely true. There is that odd story of Scottie's chance meeting with a mysterious stranger - a meeting in which his stage name played an important part. For years, Scottie refused to say who he'd met that day on the south coast, referring to her only as 'that fascinating creature'. I can now reveal that this 'creature' went on to play the bass guitar with the Talking Heads.
What's more, she acquired her own stage name that day. As a stranger to these parts, she misunderstood Scottie's name, you see; she thought he was simply claiming that he lived in Winchester and was a Scot (or perhaps a Scottie). Naturally she followed suit, becoming 'Martian Weymouth'. A slip of the pen in the registrar's office turned 'Martian' to 'Martina', and the rest is history. Tina's had her critics; it's been suggested that the down-and-dirty funk basslines of the Talking Heads' later work are beyond the capabilities of a white female human musician. It's a tremendously unfair criticism, I've often felt.
At this time, Scottie's own career was approaching its first great turning-point. His New Vaudeville Band were about to release "Winchester Cathedral", Scott's signature tune and a homage to his home town. The record was to open with jocular whistling and some oompah clarinet, after which Scott came in:
So grey and so old
Out there in your graveyard
My baby lies cold
The rest of the Vaudevillers felt that this wasn't quite the thing, you know, and it wasn't long before Scott left the band and, indeed, left Winchester. The next time he surfaced he'd teamed up with another two singers, the brothers Mario and Luigi Walker. And so the Super Walker Brothers were born - but that's another story for another day.
'David Bow' didn't last, either. I remember David was pacing up and down my office one day, raging at the relative - and indeed absolute - failure of his work to date. Eventually I blurted out, "Maybe you just need to do something a bit less 'David Bow'-y." Now David, as you know, has one ear permanently bigger than the other - an unfortunate result of a childhood boxing accident - and it so happened that he had his bad ear towards me at that moment. "That's it!" he cried. "I'll change my sound and call myself David Bowie!" Which, of course, he did, with a bit of help from the likes of young Frankie Fellini.
I never saw him much after that. But I'm not bitter. He left me with some fond memories; he also left me with the publishing rights to "Whoops", which I think is going to be very big one of these days. In fact I'm expecting a call back from Scottie as I write. It's about time someone did him a good turn.