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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…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment