Thursday, October 27, 2005

Extract 2. from The Wordman

James Titch. A small, stooped, carrot-topped little man with a big idea of himself. An idea so big, in fact, it kept his face a permanent beetroot colour, as though slowly crushing all the capillaries.

James was a singer/songwriter with the tiny handicap of having absolutely nothing to say. So I said it for him. His tunes were largely incoherent snatches of melody lazily pasted together. In fact, they complemented him perfectly – small creatures with big ideas of themselves. Maybe that’s why he struck a note with some. To be honest, I could never see the appeal, and I worked around him as much as with him struggling to piece together something plausible and engaging from the tuneless morass.

I stuck to my guns on the James Titch assignment, because I saw the potential, not of James Titch, but of the job itself. I think for the first time in my short life I suffered a surge of ambition, and I’m glad that I did. Until the very day he died, my father loved doing jigsaw puzzles, and maybe I inherited that from him. Piecing something together from the shards.

That James Titch imploded within days of the record’s release is about the only thing people remember about him, therefore I won’t trawl through the sordid facts again. Needless to say, it was an unpleasant assignment and one few people would have taken, but maybe the Fab Four recognised me as a fellow hard-nosed bastard and reckoned my lap was as good a place as any to dump last week’s baby. They were renowned for picking things up and then just as quickly putting them down again, and James Titch was just another toady they were desperate to get rid of.

His whole short, pathetic life, James Titch’s one and only dream was to have people adulate him. He had no great love or flair for music, but it was the meal ticket of the time, and as the album slowly came together I could tell he was having second thoughts about the whole thing. But by then, of course, it was too late. The tragedy of James Titch was that he couldn’t really stand being stared at. He was a remarkably unattractive man (perhaps the only remarkable thing about him) who could neither walk the walk or talk the talk. In fact, he moved just as clumsily as his songs, without rhythm or any sense that he knew where he was going. But he was not an easy man to like, let alone pity.

By then, as most of us know or perhaps even remember, “happenings” had become de rigeur. No-one who wanted to be anyone in London at the time could hope to get anywhere without having a happening. This was partly due to the disparate nature of the scene by then, and the consequent need of people to draw attention to themselves through any and all means possible. Ego, though, was becoming endemic. People despised themselves as a collective, but nothing seemed more important or immediate than each other’s inner workings.

It is probably no coincidence that 1969 proved to be the apotheosis of not only the avant-garde, but of the band that had embraced it so wholeheartedly in Hamburg almost a decade earlier, and that had by now raised the individual to a whole new pinnacle of success and significance. James Titch may not have known much, but he knew he had to have a happening.

It was held at a new club just off the Grays Inn Road called the Angelsea. The whole London scene had got pretty dark by then, dense and unyielding, subterranean and gothic, and the Angelsea captured the mood perfectly. It was owned and operated by a chatty pasty-faced Welshman of indeterminate age called simply Iain. He had some tenuous and widely broadcast connection to the musician John Cale. And he had a habit of regaling everyone he met with stories of his latest piercings, by which I mean literal piercings, someone sticking needles through his rolls of abdominal lard, large 6 inch needles that made a clang when you dropped them on the floor.

Iain, as was his wont, set the tone for the evening by barging across the room making wild flourishing gestures with his hands and effecting a parting of the sea between himself and me.

“Adrian Strachan!” he bellowed. “Adrian bloody Strachan.”

I should probably point out that we barely knew each other, in fact we had only met once before in Nigel’s office and neither took much of a shine to the other. I noticed a lot of people stopped talking and turned to look at me with that vague sense of wry amusement as though I were a burning effigy. A couple of girls even fell in behind Iain as he shouldered his way towards me like they were queuing up for ice cream.

I didn’t intentionally set out to steal the show. I was just the wordman, after all. The silent partner. James Titch was already in the building somewhere, but no-one was quite sure where. His stage consisted of a foot-high trellised wedge squeezed into the farthest, dingiest corner, and there was no PA, no sound guy, just a Fender amp, a guitar, a stool, and a microphone gaffer-taped to a battered old stand. James Titch was already a dog ear in the annals of rock n’ roll before he’d even sung a note.

I suppose in hindsight my behaviour that night was a little less than honourable, but my story was interesting to the type of celebrity junkie the London clubs have always attracted (although these days they’re usually left stranded the other side of the silk rope). I had just enough trouble about me, so that I didn’t have to do anything. One of these days I’ll come up with the formula, that certain ratio that lights up a woman’s face. All I know from experience is that it exists and that night I had it.

Nigel was another story altogether. He had too much trouble. He hadn’t even been invited to the party that night, but he turned up anyway looking as sick and forlorn as I’d ever seen him. After half-an-hour of being shunned at the bar and booed by most of the guests, he left, once again with that odd look of relish on his face as though he couldn’t get enough of those turds in the mail.

Note: Although still living under a cloud after Nicola Fielding's tragic death, Adrian Strachan has become something of a cause celebre in the fickle London scene. He has picked up a job as lyricist for an ill-starred singer James Titch, who manages to sell alot of albums despite, or perhaps because of, his much-publicised implosion.

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