David Bowie: Extracts from his first TV drama ‘The Looking Glass Murders’

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When his debut album flopped in 1967, David Bowie thought his pop career was over. The years of practice and ambition had sadly delivered nothing but the indifference of the public (who preferred The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s) and the bewilderment of critics, who could not quite understand this young singer (who sounded like Anthony Newley) and delivered such diverse and original songs. Bowie had discovered the width of his talent, but not its depth. Understandably, disheartened, Bowie considered packing it all in and becoming a Buddhist monk at the Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, but fate played a hand and he soon found himself under the influence of a charismatic fan - the brilliant dancer, performer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp.

Kemp loved Bowie’s first album, and used one its tracks “When I Live My Dream” for one of his shows. Kemp offered Bowie a new career - as dancer, actor and member of Kemp’s dance troupe

On 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders at the New Theater in Oxford. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and co-starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempts to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968….
 

 
More on Bowie & Kemp in ‘The Looking Glass Murders’, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Lindsay Kemp’s ‘Flowers’: A legendary dance production inspired by Jean Genet’s novel

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Jean Genet wrote Our Lady of the Flowers while in prison in 1942. It was published anonymously the following year, and sold around 30 copies. It wasn’t until after the Allied Forces liberated France in 1944 that the bulk of the copies were bound and sold.

Due to its sexual content Our Lady of the Flowers was sold as high class erotica, but Genet never intended it as such. It would take until the book had been revised and reprinted by Gallimard in 1951 that Our Lady of the Flowers received the critical accolades it richly deserved - even if Jean-Paul Sartre described it as “the epic of masturbation.”

It was an over-the-wall conversation with a neighbor that led Lindsay Kemp to create and produce his now legendary dance production of Flowers in 1974. As Lindsay recounted to Dangerous Minds last year:

‘I’d just rented a little cottage, a country retreat, in Hungerford in Berkshire, and my next door neighbor - it was one Sunday morning and we were listening to Round the Horne, we all did on those Sunday mornings - and my neighbor across the fence leaned over and said.

“Oh hi, I think this book might interest you.”

And it was Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. And I began to read it, and as soon as I began to read it I could already see it on the stage, and I could see myself as Divine, the central character. And two weeks later, we opened it.

Only someone of Kemp’s incredible talents and vision could have produced Flowers, and the production put Kemp and his dance company literally “on the map.” Since then, Kemp and Co. have performed Flowers all across the world to incredible acclaim.

In 1982, a video was made of the Lindsay Kemp Dance Company performing Flowers at the Teatro Parioli, Roma. It is rarely been seen since, and the video is a incredible treat for anyone interested in dance, performance and theater.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Lindsay Kemp is on the ‘phone: Scenes from his life from Genet to Bowie

 

Lindsay Kemp: Seldom seen interview about his production of ‘Salome’ from 1977

 

David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp’s rarely seen production ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’ from 1968


 
With thanks to Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Lindsay Kemp: Seldom seen interview about his production of ‘Salome’, from 1977

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With his face smeared with red ochre, that came off the lavatory walls, Lindsay Kemp made his debut dancing Salome as a pupil at an all boy’s boarding school in the north of England. Kemp had always wanted to dance the Seven Veils, ever since he had seen Rita Hayworth seduce on the cinema screen. That night Kemp was wrapped in toilet paper, and made his entrance from a cupboard in the dormitory. Bicycle lamps illuminated his performance, as he danced to the sound of a mouth organ.

This is Lindsay Kemp recalling his first performance in a TV interview. Kemp talks about his performnace, and how he takes everything that is inside and releases it, so that the audience can believe all that he performs is true.

This is a rare and incredible piece of archive, showing Kemp and his brilliant fellow dancers (including The Great Orlando) preparing and performing an extract from Salome, in 1977. In the interview, Kemp goes on to mention how a production of Turquoise Pantomime, caused offense to the Matrons of Galashiels, that led to a bun fight, and the headline “Blue Show Offends Matrons”. Kemp finishes flirtatiously telling the interviewer how some people think he’s impure, because he opens his mouth. Wonderful!
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Lindsay Kemp is on the ‘phone: Scenes from his life, from Genet to Bowie


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Lindsay Kemp is on the phone: Scenes from his life from Genet to Bowie

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Opening Scene:

Curtain up on a starry night. Comets fire across the sky. Center stage, one star shines more brightly than the rest, its spotlight points towards a globe of the earth, as it spins form a thread. Glitter falls, as a white screen rises, the lights glow brighter filling the stage.

Blackout.

Single spot tight on a woman’s face

We are unsure if she is in pain or ecstasy. No movement until, at last, she exhales, then pants quickly, rhythmically. Her face glistens. The spot widens, revealing 2 nurses, dressed in starched whites, symmetrically dabbing her face.

The woman is Mrs. Kemp, and she is about to give birth. 3 mid-wives are guided by house lights through the audience to her bedside. Each carries a different gift: towels, a basin of hot water, and swaddling.

It’s May 3rd 1938, and Lindsay Kemp is about to be born.

Blackout.

Though this maybe a fiction, it is all too believable, for nothing is unbelievable when it comes to Lindsay Kemp.

Lindsay Kemp has agreed to give a telephone interview. He is to be called at his home in Italy, by Paul Gallagher from Dangerous Minds, who is based in Scotland. We never hear the interviewer’s questions, only Kemp’s answers and see his facial expressions as he listens to questions.

Photographs of Kemp’s career appear on screens. We hear a recording of his voice.

Lindsay Kemp:

I began dancing the same as everybody does, at birth. The only difference was, unlike many other people, I never stopped. In other words, you know, I love movement. Movement gave me such a great pleasure, such a great joy.

Dance is really my life. I’ve always said for me ‘Dance is Life, Dance is Living, Dance is Life and Life is Dance’. I’ve never really differentiated between the two of them. It’s always been a way of life, a kind of celebration of living.

Kemp is an exquisite dancer, a fantastic artist, and a brilliant visual poet. No hyperbole can truly capture the scale of his talents.

In the 1960s and 1970s, his dance group revolutionized theater with its productions of Jean Genet’s The Maids, Flowers and Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

He shocked critics by working with non-dancers. At the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh, he often cast his productions by picking-up good-looking, young men in Princes Street Gardens - good looks, an open mind and passion for life were more important than learned techniques, or a classical training. His most famous collaborator was the blind dancer, Jack Birkett, aka The Great Orlando – perhaps now best known for his role as Borgia Ginz in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee.

Kemp was the catalyst who inspired David Bowie towards cabaret and Ziggy Stardust. He taught him mime, and directed and performed in Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from mars. He also taught Kate Bush, and choreographed her shows.

As an actor, he gave outrageous and scene-stealing performances in Jarman’s Sebastiane, Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man.

“I’ve never really differentiated between dance and mime and acting and singing. I’ve always loved all aspects of performing, though I still can’t play the trumpet, but I’d like too. Well, it’s never too late to learn.”

He has performed across the world, from department stores in Bradford, through the Edinburgh Festival, the streets and cafes of Italy, to London’s West End and Broadway.

Kemp is a poetic story-teller, and his performances engage and seduce as much as the words that spill from tell such incredible tales. His voice moves from Dame Edith Evans (“A handbag!”) to a lover sharing intimacies under the covers.

A house in Livorno. A desk with a telephone. A chaise longue. A deck chair and assorted items close at hand. Posters and photographs of Kemp in various productions are back-projected onto gauze screens.

Kemp makes his entrance via a trap door.

The phone rings once. Kemp looks at it.

Rings twice. Kemp considers it.

Rings three times. He answers it.

Lindsay Kemp is on the ‘phone.

Lindsay Kemp:

Hello. (Pause.) Where are you in Scotland?

(Longer Pause.)

My grandparents are from Glasgow. I always pretend to be Scottish because I was born accidentally in Liverpool when my Mother was saying bye-bye to my Father, who was a sailor, and he was off to sea from Liverpool’s port, you see.

(Longer Pause.)

Well, I don’t quite know where that came from, unless I said it one drunken night, maybe when I chose to be more romantic than Birkenhead, where I was in fact born. I was born in Birkenhead on May the 3rd, 1938, but my family hailed form Scotland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and for many years I lived in Edinburgh, when I returned there for the first performance of Flowers, that show that put me on the map, you know.
 
Lindsay Kemp> debuts his new production Histoire du Soldat (‘A Soldier’s Tale’) by Stravinsky on 5th May, in Bari, Italy. You can buy tickets for the World Premiere here.

Lindsay Kemp – The Last Dance is a film currently being made by Producer / Director Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky – check here for more information.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Lindsay Kemp and David Bowie’s rarely seen production ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’ from 1968


 
The full interview with Lindsay Kemp, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Straight out of Bromley: Simon Barker’s photographs of Punk in the U.K. 1976-77

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Punk may be long dead, but the interest in its music, ideas and artifacts continues. Over at the Independent, writer Michael Bracewell introduces a selection of photographs by Simon Barker, a former member of the legendary Bromley Contingent, the group of original Punks that included Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, Jordan, Bertie “Berlin” Marshall, Tracie O’Keefe, and Billy Idol. Barker was a participant and witness to some of the key events during the 14 months, in 1976 and 1977, when Punk changed everything - as Bracewell explains:

[Barker’s] photographs share with Nan Goldin’s early studies of the New York and Boston sub-cultures of the 1970s, a profound and joyously audacious sense of youth going out on its own into new freedoms and new possibilities.

In this, Barker’s photographs from this period capture a moment when the tipping point between innocence and experience has yet to be reached. The model and sub-cultural celebrity Jordan, for example, is photographed as a self-created work of art – her features resembling a Picasso mask, her clothes more post-war English county librarian. The provocation of her image remains untamed and unassimilated, nearly 40 years later; and within her surrealist pose there is the triumph of art made in the medium of sub-cultural lifestyle.

Barker/Six was a member of the so-called ‘Bromley Contingent’ of very early followers of The Sex Pistols and the retail and fashion work of McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Other members would include the musicians Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin, and the writer Bertie Marshall, then known as ‘Berlin’ in homage to the perceived glamour and decadence of the Weimar republic. Originating from suburbia, but all determined to leave its security as soon as possible, the Bromley Contingent became the British sub-cultural equivalent, in many ways, of Andy Warhol’s notorious ‘superstars’ – volatile, at times self-destructive or cruelly elitist, but dedicated to a creed of self-reinvention and personal creativity.

It is this creed, as opposed to the swiftly commercialised music of punk, that Barker’s photographs from the period anatomise so well. At once intimate and forensic, austere and camp, documentary and touchingly elegiac, these photographs capture a milieu experiencing a heroic sense of being outsiders – a condition that has always been the privilege of youth, and which has long claimed many victims in its enticing contract with the thrill of taking an oppositional stance.

Read the whole article and see more of Simon’s photographs here.

Simon Barker’s book Punk’s Dead is available here.
 
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Poly Styrene
 
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The Banshees: Steven Severin, Kenny Morris and John McKay
 
With thanks to Derek Dunbar
 
More punk memories after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp’s rarely seen production ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’, 1968

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In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempt to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.

Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:

“The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”


Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t to release a record for another two years.

During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:

“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.

“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”

The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV, came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did, even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.

The cast:

David Bowie as Cloud
Lindsay Kemp as Pierrot
Jack Birkett as Harlequin
Annie Stainer as Columbine
Michael Garret as Piano Player

It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theater in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today…
 

 
Previously on DM

Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance


David Bowie comes to life in ‘The Image’


 
Parts 2-5 of Bowie and Kemp’s ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance

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Director Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky is currently finishing a documentary on mime and dance legend Lindsay Kemp, which is due for release this summer. Called Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance, the film has had exclusive access to Kemp’s personal archive and offers unique and highly personal insight into the life and art of the reclusive genius.

Lindsay Kemp, who claims he began life in his mother’s lipstick and shoes, was born in South Shields, England in 1938, and has been a major figure in dance, mime and theatre for over forty years, during which time he starred, choreographed and produced some of the greatest dance productions ever seen. He famously taught David Bowie mime, and collaborated with Kate Bush. As actor he has appeared in Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and Jubilee; and in Ken Russell’s The Devils and Savage Messiah, he also gave a memorable performance performance in the original version of The Wicker Man. Now Pinto-Duschinsky has filmed Kemp on a tour in Italy, Japan and the UK.

The world’s most famous mime, believing himself to be Queen Elizabeth I travels to Japan to face his own mortality.

What happens when genius is most active in advanced years?

Does an artist’s greatest work hover achingly close to the restraints of their own body?

A unique and captivating feature-length documentary, Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance is the powerful story of the world’s greatest theatre performer facing his own mortality at 70. The film grew from a childhood meeting between the director of the film and Lindsay Kemp. This turn of fate brought about a friendship that was to take the director on a three year journey to Japan, Italy and the UK to film Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance.

In contrast to this work and its core meanings, the director has been given access to Lindsay’s personal archive which contains very rare footage spanning his lifetime from his relationship with David Bowie to his work with Kate Bush. His seminal work Flowers, of which no other copy exists, is contained in this archive.

Deeply comical, provocative and emotional, Lindsay’s world onstage and offstage are one seamless act. With his cast of international performers, some of whom are ex-lovers, the score of Carlos Miranda is enhanced by a script in six different languages. Woven into the film are interviews with artists with whom Lindsay has worked. Lindsay comes across as a perfectionist and a seismic personality.

 

 
Previously on DM

Amazing Home Movie Footage of The Ballet Russes in Australia


 
With thanks to Steven Severin
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion