Glam and the Gender Revolution
Incident in Bar Castilla
In the summer of 1972, I finally quit Pangbourne in consequence of a decision made between my father and those in authority over me at college, who presumably believed what would have been my final two years would yield little in terms of academic achievement, given my record so far.
Thence, I was subsequently involved in the intensive program of academic, artistic, sporting and semi- professional activities outlined in my previous autobiographical work.
When I left that summer, I'd not changed for years and was still a hippie at heart despite the military-style haircut I so detested and resented. I was resolutely masculine in my tastes, despising softness and effeminacy in the standard male adolescent manner, although machismo for my generation took the form of flowing locks worn with heavy beards and moustaches, rather than the crew cuts and jutting chins of yore.
However, a change came over me in the summer of '72, which may have been caused to some degree by the prevailing zeitgeist, but which I can nonetheless trace back to a single defining incident.
This took place in a bar in the little former fishing town of Santiago de la Ribera in the province of Murcia, Spain, close by the Mar Menor, where I'd been vacationing with my parents and brother since the late 1960s, and which I'd like now to recount.
There was a young La Riberan I'd idolised for several years. He incarnated a
kind of old-school Iberian macho cool, and was fair as I recall, rather than swarthy as might be expected, and quite stocky, with muscular arms; and if he'd worn a medallion and identity bracelet, he'd have been typical of his kind. That's how I recall him...
What I'm certain of though is that by the summer of '72, he'd let his hair grow collar length as was the fashion of the day, and taken to sporting colourful jumbo-collared shirts which he elected not to tuck into his trousers. The style of these shirts meant that his long hair would occasionally get caught between neck and collar which necessitated his flicking it out with an elegant sweep of his hand, before coquettishly tossing his head. This he did one evening in full view of Castilla's clientele.
While these gestures seemed perfectly in keeping with his swaggering machismo as I saw it, there was another of Castilla's patrons that evening who was far less convinced than I, and he duly muttered his misgivings in my ear. Rather than putting me off, these whispered words of censure had the effect of making him even more fascinating than ever; and I came to covet the notoriety that had suddenly been afforded him.
Furthermore, this incident may have marked the beginning of the end of my identification with undiluted masculinity...whether of the movie star of the Steve McQueen kind, or any number of hirsute Rock stars with their shirts slashed to the navel. At the same time, a fascination with a far more androgynous brand of male sexuality was born within me.
This was enhanced by a performance by former Bubblegum band the Sweet of their startling new single, "Blockbuster" which I witnessed on a long forgotten TV Pop programme called “Lift off with Ayesha” in about December of ’72. And while the Sweet had once incarnated everything I loathed about commercial Pop music, watching them prance around in high heels and make up like a quartet of amphetamine-crazed transvestites, I had what was little short of an epiphany. Andwhat the effect this spectacle had on my nascent sexual identity I can only imagine.
However, the influence of the Sweet was destined to be minimal in my life in comparison to that of David Bowie, whose sphinx-like charisma was so potent that even the most unreconstructed of English macho men were moved to admire him, even while they loathed the Sweet.
My whole persona seemed to soften once I'd turned 17 in October 1972, as maturity brought me a physiognomy I'd not expected, and yet, while I was more than pleased with this development, my interest in the opposite sex was as strong as any other male in late adolescence. In fact, if an attractive female happened to speak to me in a public place, I'd be all but incapable of sound...while in serious danger of falling in love on the spot.
Speaking of which… on the way back from Spain on the ship HMS Patricia in the summer of '72, I fell in love at first sight with a fellow passenger…a young Spanish girl I saw several times about the ship but never actually spoke to. I subsequently became obsessed by her, even to the point of roaming the streets of London for several days in succession once I’d returned to the UK in the vain hope of somehow meeting with her.
To reflect back on those few days is to be furnished with a single distant vision of a seventeen year old, sauntering late one afternoon in the receding sun, his quest in tatters, yet, who is suddenly drawn to a girlish voice floating downwards from an apartment of a lofty dwelling in the heart of the ancient city of his birth, inciting him to ponder…”could that be she?”
Such was the quixotic condition of my soul in those days…and what an isolated existence I led…not so much in ’72, but all throughout the following year of ’73.
When I wasn't pursuing the academic and sporting programme that had been specially prepared for me by my father, I sequestered myself in my parents' house.
There, I fantasised about the kind of fame enjoyed on one hand by Glam stars such as Bowie and Marc Bolan, and on the other, by a new breed of teen idol whose impossibly angelic faces graced the covers of teen magazines all over the world. I wanted to be like them…like David, Donny and Michael…and be chased wherever I went by hordes of lovelorn teenyboppers crying out my name between heaving chesty sobs, and to have simple heartfelt love rhymes featured in “Jackie” magazine.
I was supposed to be studying, and study I certainly did, but I also spent untold hours in idle contemplation of the life of a teen idol, which I wanted for myself as soon as possible despite a serious dearth of discernible talent.
Glam and the Gender Revolution
Late in that same summer, I signed up for five years service with the London Division of the Royal Naval Reserve, based at HMS President on the Embankment of the Thames.
Within a short time of doing so, I discovered that I was viewed by several of the older seamen as some kind of shipboard pretty boy, and at first, I was flattered rather than insulted. For the truth is that, at college I’d been seen as an unkempt lout suffering from a serious head twitch and my hygiene was so minimal at one point that my feet looked as if they’d been lovingly coated with black matt paint. So it may have been a refreshing change for me to be considered beautiful.
To a degree then, it was a case of an ugly duckling suddenly finding themselves to be a swan, and enjoying the resultant attention...or notoriety. And it was a development that just happened to coincide with the rise of Glam, a heterogeneous mix of Pop and Rock allied to an outrageous androgynous image.
Glam had begun to infiltrate the British charts as early as ‘71, while making little impact on the US, despite the fact that many of its pioneers were American, and its true roots were to be found in the Blues and early Rock and Roll, more of which later.
It had been carried into the mainstream by one Marc Bolan, born Mark Feld in 1947 in working class East London to a Jewish couple, Simeon and Phyllis Feld.
Bolan had been featured in 1962 in a magazine called “Town”, as one of the Faces, or leading Mods of Stamford Hill to the north east of the city, although by then he'd moved with his family to a council house in Summerstown near the pleasant and affluent suburb of Wimbledon.
He went on to achieve major success as one half of the acoustic duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the other being multi-instrumentalist Steve Peregrin Took who, like Bolan, was a leading figure of London’s Hippie Underground centred on Ladbroke Grove. In 1970, though, Took was replaced by percussionist Mickey Finn, who shared Bolan’s love of old-time Rock and Roll.
Soon afterwards, Bolan shortened the name of the band to T.Rex, and they had their first top 5 hit in the shape of “Ride a White Swan”. By the time of their first number one the following year, T. Rex were a four-piece band, and Bolan was the biggest British teen sensation since Beatlemania. The Bolan phenomenon was dubbed T Rextasy by the British press, while all throughout the land, the bedroom walls of teenage girls were adorned with Bolan’s fascinating fallen angel’s face.
However, for the true roots of Glam one must return to the very earliest days of Rock and Roll, and specifically to a certain Rhythm and Blues shouter by the name of Little Richard.
As a boy, Richard had attended the New Hope Baptist Church in his native Macon, Georgia, and sang Gospel songs with his family as The Penniman Singers, his favourite singers being Gospel legends Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He joined Sister Rosetta onstage in Macon at the age of 13, in 1945 after she heard him singing before the concert. What's more, he had serious ambitions of becoming a preacher.
By 1951, however, the world had begun to beckon, and he won a talent contest in Atlanta that led to a recording contract with RCA Victor, but the four records he subsequently released all flopped. Around about the same time, he came under the sway of an outrageous Rhythm and Blues musician by the name of Esquerita, who shaped his unique piano style.
Esquerita is also believed to have influenced his increasingly flamboyant image, although self-styled King of the Blues Billy Wright, who piled his pomaded hair high on his head and wore eye liner and face powder, was also an influence in this respect.
Real success came for Richard in 1955 with “Tutti Frutti”, which has been cited as the true starting point for the Rock and Roll revolution; but within two years, he'd quit the business and returned to his faith.
Few Rock stars have been as vocal in their condemnation of Rock and Roll as he has been. He has been quoted as saying that “Rock and Roll is driving people from Christ”, and that he himself “was directed and commanded by
another power” at the height of his fame, which he has identified as “a power of darkness”. This was a startling admission from one of the most beloved pioneers of the rebel music of Rock and Roll.
Yet, in his wake, extreme androgyny went on to become one of its major features, and among those acts and artists who took up its mantle were the the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Syd Barrett, Jim Morrison, and Alice Cooper.
They were among the foremost pioneers of what became known as Glam Rock…which swept a host of gifted young musicians who'd been striving for major success for aeons to fresh levels of stardom, artists such as David Bowie and Elton John, and Rod “The Mod” Stewart.
For all three had been previously involved with Progressive or Album Rock, and first appeared on record as part of the British Blues Boom…Bowie and Stewart in ’64, and John in ’65. And despite being idolised at the height of Glam, they continued to be admired as much as artists as glittering Pop dandies, and as a result, they became major names in America where they maintain their legendary status to this day.
In fact, thanks in some measure to their efforts, Pop underwent something of a rehabilitation in Britain from about 1971 or '72, with its leading stars
strutting around on TV in stack-heeled boots, while assailing the Pop charts with intelligent and imaginative singles.
For my part, though, I remained indurate, viewing their effeminate antics with all the horror of a typical macho adolescent male, but that was soon to change.
The Ultimate Exoneration of Prog
Effectively there were two major strands of Glam in its hay day of 1971-‘74, one being allied to a serious, nay consciously artistic tradition, the other, to the more commercial end of Rock…Pop in other words. And among those acts and artists affiliated to the former were David Bowie, Roxy Music and the Alex Harvey Band, while those who were more Pop-inclined included T.Rex, the Sweet, Gary Glitter, Slade and Wizzard
Stateside Glam had pioneered by Alice Cooper, and went on to include Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Jobriath and Brett Smiley, as well as Aerosmith and Kiss, who were briefly touched by it, as was genius singer-songwriter, Todd Rundgren, a serious candidate for the most gifted Rock artist of all time.
Also among those who leaped on the Glam Rock bandwagon was the band that effectively invented the genre, the Rolling Stones, although they didn’t adopt its more flagrant trappings in around 1972, the year they released the album which is widely considered to be their masterpiece, "Exile on Main Street".
Initial sessions took place in the basement of the Villa Nellcôte, a 19th century mansion on the waterfront of Villefranche-sur-Mer in France's Cote d'Azur, which had been leased to Keith Richards in the summer of '71. However, several tracks had already been recorded at Mick Jagger’s country estate, as well as at West London's legendary Olympic Studios.
Originally a theatre, then a film studio, Olympic was converted into a recording studio by the architect Robertson Grant, while his son Keith Grant – a very close friend of Pat Halling’s - completed the acoustics in tandem with Russel Pettinger. It went on to become the virtual nerve centre of the British Rock movement.
Much has been written of the "Exile" sessions, which saw various icons of the counterculture passing through Nellcôte as if to lay blessings on the decadent antics taking place therein, which stand today as the very quintessence of the benighted Rock and Roll lifestyle. While less than a decade had passed since Rock’s true inception at the hands of the clean-cut Beatles, Western society had already been altered almost beyond recognition within that short space of time.
Yet, responsibility for this transformation can't in all good conscience be laid exclusively at the feet of Rock, given that tendencies inimical to the West’s moral fabric can be traced at least as far back as the Enlightenment of the 16th and 17th Centuries. So, how had society come to be so successfully and swiftly revolutionised by Rock?
Part of the answer lies in its sheer popularity, itself arguably born of its extraordinary eclecticism. Yet, in purely artistic terms, its decline was so rapid that by ‘72, it was already wholly jaded as an art form, even though it remained creatively vibrant for a further decade and a half…but little more, despite sporadic flashes of the old genius.
It’s as if it carried within it the seeds of its own destruction as a result of its reluctance to embrace progression, and persisting returns to the simple rhythms whence it sprang, and worship of those who’ve refused to transcend these. Many would cite the Rolling Stones as foremost amongst these, and yet this has not always been true, far from it. For all throughout the ‘60s, thanks to the extraordinary musical versatility of founder member Brian Jones, they were foremost among those who sowed the seeds of the Progressive movement to come.
However, once Jones was no longer able to significantly contribute to their music, the Stones made a conscious effort to return to their roots in the Blues, and this process reached an apogee in the shape of “Exile on Main Street” in 1972.
In that selfsame year, Pat Halling was involved with an album that was greeted with little of the ballyhoo of “Exile”. This being “Slides”, by the great Irish actor Richard Harris, who’d launched a Pop career on the back of Jimmy Webb’s 7 minute Pop tour de force, “MacArthur Park”.
However, as the ‘70s progressed, Pat became involved with several far more successful projects on the fringes of Glam, more of which later.
By ’74, Glam had almost entirely shed its revolutionary trappings, having entered the mainstream as pure Pop, even if an avant garde form continued to exist throughout that year, although no longer as Glam per se.
It did so in the shape of a nostalgic love affair with Europe’s immediate past shared by acts and artists as diverse as old hands David Bowie and Roxy Music, and newcomers Sparks and Cockney Rebel, who were lavished with critical praise in that year in some quarters of the British press.
In terms of both their music and image, Roxy were especially indebted to the decadent café and cabaret culture of pre-Rock Europe, when Modernism was at its point of maximum intensity. At the same time, the persona Bowie adopted in 1976, and which he enigmatically termed “The Thin White Duke” was effectively the apotheosis of this romantic Europhilia. But little of this was in evidence in the happy world of Pop, barring the occasional appearance on Top of the Pops of one or the other of these phenomena.
In Britain and Europe, pure Pop continued to mine the Glam Rock craze, propelling a multitude of entertainers into the charts in the process, while in the US, Glam remained a minority interest; and would do until the ‘80s. Then, it entered the mainstream courtesy of Glam Metal, a largely LA based movement which fostered such internationally successful acts as Van Halen, Jon Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses.
One of these entertainers was David Essex, a startlingly beautiful young cockney Londoner whose dark wavy hair and brilliant long-lashed blue eyes
betrayed his Irish Traveller roots.
An actor as well as a singer, Essex became a major star and teen idol in 1973 thanks to a self-penned song, “Rock On”, produced by American Jeff Wayne. It became a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic, due in no small part to its distinctive string arrangement featuring Pat Halling as concertmaster.
Its follow-up, “Stardust” also from ’74, was the title of the hit movie of the same name, in which Essex plays a young Londoner who achieves his dreams of superstardom, only to end up living as a drug-addicted recluse in a vast castle in Spain.
Pat also worked with his close friend and colleague Mickey Most at the height of Glam, at a time Most was enjoying the second phase of his glittering Pop career.
As previously stated, he’d been briefly involved with the burgeoning Rock movement Rock in the shape of the Jeff Beck Group, which had been formed in early 1967. In time though, Most bequeathed the Jeff Beck Group to his business partner, Peter Grant, and under Grant’s management, they went on to enormous success in the US. And by so doing, they anticipated the mega-glory of another Grant-managed band led by a one-time member of the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, a band second only to the Rolling Stones in terms of legendary darkness and mystery, if you’ll excuse the leitmotiv.
While Grant went on to take the US by storm with Led Zep, Mickie set about turning RAK, which they’d formed together in 1969, into one the key Pop record labels of the '70s and home to several classic Glam, Pop and Teenybop acts.
These included multicultural Disco-Poppers Hot Chocolate which had been formed as early as 1969, and former Detroit native Suzi Quatro, both of whom Pat worked with on several occasions with Mickie at the helm, as well as Mud, Arrows, Kenny, Smokie and Racey. Quatro benefited from the brilliance of songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for the Sweet, Mud, Arrows, Smokie and Racey, and for a time was one of the few female stars of the Glam-Glitter genre.
But Pat’s work in the mid 1970s was by no means restricted to the purest pure Pop, far from it.
There was a major movie project in the shape of “The Day of the Jackal”, directed by the great Fred Zinnemann, whom I have always admired enormously.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him by Pat, probably in the year “Jackal” was produced, 1973. He was the second of two legends of the cinema I met around about that time through Pat, the first having been Sir Charles Chaplin, and they were both quite delectably charming to me.
Pat was the concertmaster, serving under the Frenchman Georges Delerue- whom I also met – who both composed and conducted the music.
In terms of recorded music, Pat became caught up in the final stages of the Prog Rock boom when he served as leader for Jethro Tull, one of the most purely artistic bands of the genre which yet achieved both commercial and critical success on both sides of the Atlantic. In doing so, he worked both with
singer, flautist and composer Ian Anderson, and conductor, arranger and musician David Palmer, who together formed the genius behind Tull’s greatest works.
The first of these, “War Child” from ’74, serves to perfectly illustrate the tragic condition of Rock as an art form on several levels. By fusing elements of Classical, Folk and Rock it created a music that was so extraordinarily exalted as to amount to high art. At the same time, its lyrics inclined to a certain darkness, as Rock has characteristically done since its inception around ‘65, befitting its status as an intellectual, as opposed to a populist, art form.
And Prog Rock has rarely reached such artistically elevated levels as those attained by Tull in its hay day; although the same could be said of several other acts and artists of the era. Among these, the Mothers of Invention, who effectively birthed the genre would have to be included, as well as Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Gentle Giant.
The Prog Rock boom was at its height from about 1969 to ‘75, at which point it started to suffer at the hands of those music critics who unjustly savaged the genre, although it has since been partially rehabilitated.
During this period, Pat played on several albums which while not successful in the mould of best sellers by the leading Prog Rock players, have nonetheless received fresh critical acclaim through the internet.
They included “Definitely What” by Brian Auger from ‘68, “Cosmic Wheels” by Donovan from ‘73, “Beginnings” by Steve Howe from ‘75, "Octoberon" by Barclay James Harvest from ‘76, and “Perilous Journey” by Gordon Giltrap from ‘77.
By the mid 1970s, Prog set about returning to the Underground, where it set about influencing acts and artists within such diverse genres as Glam Rock, Post-Punk and New Wave, while Alt Rock, which has flourished since the early ‘90s, has yielded several neo-Progressive waves.
As things stand, several of the most successful bands in the world, including Radiohead, Coldplay and Muse, could be said to be Progressive to some degree or another, while its arch-enemy Punk languishes on the sidelines as little more than a fashion concept.
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To Chrissy: Thanks so much for your comment, Chrissy, and great to see you back at one of my articles. I'll correct those two errors; thanks for pointing them out. I'm glad you enjoyed this tale. I'm not sure what happened to the Spanish Girl; man, I was hit hard. Thanks again Chrissy.