As Lazarus prepares to open in Amsterdam, a glimpse at one of David Bowie’s most fascinating, incendiary and final creations. The enigmatic Valentine swooped in an unassuming fashion before seizing a supernatural life of his own and linking the reality with fiction…. (contains some spoilers for the musical Lazarus)
Valentine’s Day is Perennial…
DAVID BOWIE’S LAZARUS RETREATED FROM LONDON IN JANUARY 2017, CLOSING THE CURTAIN ON THE SECOND MAJOR LEG OF HIS FINAL WORK. Following popular runs on both sides of the Atlantic, the musical is shortly heading to Amsterdam, proving unlikely to disappear as the anniversary of Bowie’s death reaches its fourth year. It could never really disappear. For one, its interwoven into the final months of its enigmatic creator, whose final public appearance was at its Off-Broadway premiere in December 2015. That Bowie died just two days after the release of his 25th album, Blackstar, was only matched in horrific coincidence by the Lazarus cast recording being scheduled for the day the news broke.
Of course it’s much more complicated than that.
When the cast recording surfaced in October 2016, it laid a further – you can never say final – strand of Bowie’s final interwoven works. Attached to it were three final Bowie songs, themselves first heard and duly replicated in the cast recording. There was some closure to hearing those definitive Bowie versions. They added to the leitmotif of both album and musical and, despite sessions for Blackstar and rehearsals for Lazarus taking place in close proximity, give credence to the idea that Lazarus is his final work. Seen as such, it’s a fine monument to the young Bowie who once thought he might write musicals for a living, or the rising star of the early 1970s who thought he’d try his hands at adapting George Orwell’s 1984 for the stage.
But of course, it’s also much more complicated than that.
Blackstar’s title track bid a farewell, and set a possible fate, for David Bowie’s earliest meaningful creation when it emerged before the musical’s premiere. That was the doomed Major Tom, who in turn inspired and haunted Bowie’s work for four decades, whether suffering a mysterious mishap in space, inspiring a rhyming mantra or inspiring an alien cult. By the time of Blackstar’s release, Tom’s fate was overshadowed by that of his creator. The eerie video of Lazarus, also the opening song of the eponymous musical, saw Bowie retreat into a wardrobe decked in diagonal stripes that recalled a promo shot of Station to Station that had his Thin White Duke drawing the Tree of Life of Kabbalah in a white box room.
While the work of both studio, musical and associated sessions worked towards a crowning work for the artist, the white box room of Lazarus was stolen by one of his far more recent creations. One that was neither Thin White Duke nor Major Tom.
Three years ago, Jokerside opened its account with a look back at Chris Moyles’ final show on Radio 1. So, in the month of that third anniversary it’s very good of Chris Moyles to stage a much-hyped come-back on the retooled, regenerated and surely soon to be revived Radio X (formerly, XFM).
And he’s brought friends. Jokerside listened to his comeback show…
LOOKING BACK THREE YEARS… JOKERSIDE’S OPENING GAMBIT, A REVIEW OF CHRIS MOYLES LAST STEPS FROM BROADCASTING HOUSE, WAS A BLOODY MORBID AFFAIR. AWASH WITH TALK OF EPOCHS, ERAS AND AONS ENDING. Without so much as a Sic transit gloria mundi – although no one could have heard it over the wails of the gremlin scribes being crushed underfoot. “That’s no way to start a blog….” Splat. Well, now the next generation, a forgiving bunch, sit in polite applause. And it’s not simply that the intervening content has taken all their ire. No. A new era has begun. On 21st September, two days before autumn, pips rang out at 6.30 am on a new radio station with a familiar voice.
“I’m glad the stars have aligned…”
Three years ago there was the quandary, subsequently proved to affect a large Moyles diaspora. On Radio 1, the belligerent Breakfast experiment saw the station target the younger market with masochistic downsizing to the no-gimmick Nick Grimshaw show. Even the show’s name was diminished. The idea of hanging on to Radio 1, so at least a few songs in the charts would stick in the head, was soon untenable. It was a change less admirable than the inarguable logic and commitment behind its change. And that’s from someone who previously abandoned the show during Sara Cox’s ill-advised reign. Grimshaw simply wasn’t boisterous enough, none of that balance of seat of the pants, intuitive and delicately planned broadcasting.
At the end, Moyles himself had knowingly pushed listeners onto BBC 6Music. Aside from that there was the rising trajectory of Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2, with his increasingly dazzling work ethic and fine-tunery now surely keeping him at full stretch. The Today Programme and FiveLive were serious options, but missing some notes. Away from the state broadcaster, the Global channels were an option, although Classic FM and Heart were again not boisterous enough. There was more hanging on this than I thought.
Perhaps like Johnny Vaughan, now lodged in the drive time slot after Moyles, it was a safe bet that the former Saviour of Radio 1 wouldn’t return to the early shift after his record breaking stint and dignified withdrawal. But so he has. There’s still something to say. And as undeniably one of the most gifted radio raconteurs of his generation, I’m glad the stars have aligned on what’s now called Radio X to make that happen.
“Britain’s newest fun time radio station”
In short, since 2012, that heady year of the Olympics, Britain hasn’t changed too much. Sure, the Tories have a majority and now nobody knows the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but the most devastating thing to happen in UK politics since the coalition of 2010 (bar Tony Benn passing on) was the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, cemented a week before Moyles’ return. Even Bond, who’s last Albion-centric excursion helped solidify 2012 as one of the UK’s best years is returning within six weeks of Moyles’ debut. And just as the self-styled saviour, occasional enfant terrible of the airwaves left at the Queen’s Jubilee, so he returns just as Her Majesty’s taken the record for the longest reign. Back then Doctor Who was about to lose a companion, same now. The more things change, the more they stay the same – as I used to say in an old job of mine. But while the world seems to have shuffled during Moyles’ exile, the DJ is fond of saying that he’s a changed man. Though not too changed… Continue reading “Chris Moyles Returns Stage Right in 2015: ‘Gonna be here every morning on Radio X – until they fire us’”
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A first Jokerside post to break the rule… Radio may not be discussed here much, but this time it’s personal. I’m in a quandary: unless my wine taste radically falls in line with Scott Mills, and that probably wouldn’t buy me much time, Radio 1 is now off limits. Now I just don’t know where to take my morning ‘non-visual speak time/hit snooze button time’. Yep, Chris Moyles has emphatically left the building and crossed the road…
TIME TO TOUGHEN UP. Eras are forever ending. It’s time’s fault. Stupidly, religiously and unrelentingly travelling forward. In some parts of the universe there must be eras ending every micro-second. On this small planet we now generally count them best according to knowledge: cultural and technological. While some people may strictly measure only the most significant eras, a few hundred epochs of ice or dinosaurs, others may choose monarchs, stamps or nationalised rail networks.
Nowadays, in these ever more ‘connected’ and fast moving times, it can be easier to adopt eras that are, well, fittingly shorter. Small, generationally defining time periods are now used to measure the most important things that have ever existed in the world – that would be: music, TV and film (imagine that brewing X-Factor: The Movie epoch…). Basically, it’s those sound waves that have been broadcast for a hundred years to those small pockets of the universe where any casual listeners may properly describe Tony Blackburn’s broadcasting career as an Eon. Whatever your view of an era – personal, peer or galactic – one thing is for certain: they end.
And so yesterday morning, not less than three years after Sir Terry Wogan stepped from his TOG tower in Broadcasting House, Chris Moyles ended his tenure as BBC Radio 1’s longest running breakfast show host.
I’ve listened to Moyles since his arrival on Radio 1 and I can measure parts of my life against his BBC career: A-levels to his Saturday show, sorting stock in HMV to his afternoon show and then, well, my post-education career slumming as he landed his dream job. But that isn’t very significant. I can equally measure my biography against Red Dwarf, Eastenders and even non-BBC brands, but it’s certainly more than I can do with Eamonn Holmes.
Having read the first of Moyles’ biographies, I’ve always liked his rather healthy career ethic: if you’re good the money will just follow. I also liked the way he built and rebuilt teams at different points like Nick Fury. I oddly liked his non-fussy, and not very specific music knowledge. I liked his constant attempts to translate onto the small screen, his most successful being a pub quiz. But most of all I liked him because occasionally, not everyday but occasionally, he made me burst into uncontrollable hysterical laughter. Especially over the last eight years, that is no mean feat in the morning. I’ve even seen him make sworn Moyles-haters laugh. His conversion rate was quite impressive when given the chance. His is a cleverly sculpted mix of hard preparation, everyman and baiter. A powerful bit of broadcasting that the BBC couldn’t ignore.
I also like arrogance as a rule. It may be rather un-British, but particularly when it’s proved right. He was the self-proclaimed saviour of Radio 1. And he delivered: He came in amid superhero posters and supposedly a few sharp words to the departing Sara Cox and… Increased and stabilised listener figures.
…That extraordinary mid-90s period when the radio was all
Kula Shaker, Space and Divine Comedy with ne’er a hip, a hop nor an R nor a B in sight…
I’d been through a few of Radio 1’s morning roster since the 90s. The underrated Kevin Greening, Zoe Ball… Before them, Steve Wright when I’d gained my first FM radio. I stuck with him through to Chris Evans in that extraordinary mid-90s period when the radio was all Kula Shaker, Space and Divine Comedy with ne’er a hip, a hop nor an R nor a B in sight. That was reserved for the lunchtime, when Lisa I’Anson provided my pre-GCSEs soundtrack. Thanks Manumission.
During the growing hip-hop revolution, I’d been forced to take prolonged breaks. Following Mark and Lard’s sublime but ill-thought through tenure, Sara Cox’s rather torrid breakfast reign had coincided with a slight political twinge and the Today Show had been dutifully programmed in. Until my hi-fi was nicked as I recall. That’ll teach me. During most of this time, I had listened to various Moyles’ shows as he toured the day schedules. I’d chatted amiably with friends about him and not really grasped the strangely impassioned arguments of the Moyles-haters. Late teen Moyles haters were and are as random as university Telegraph sales figures. But despite being an enthusiastic listener, Moyles’ wasn’t really my favourite show.
In February 2001, Simon Mayo departed Radio 1 and I dutifully I wrote a glowing requiem for a student rag (read: an incredibly brilliant and successful paper I’m immensely proud of). Mayo represented the real passing of the old guard on the station and it showed in his consummate broadcasting. Really, it hit me like a bolt. I’d spent many mornings hung-over, draped close to a radio, while his mid-morning show was on. I knew it emphatically, each feature and every nuance of his rather dry delivery. In hindsight, his show may have been elevated by Jo Whiley’s show following his. Thanks again Manumission.
Radio shows are perhaps the easiest of things to review. Repeated features and quirks that evolve over time or ‘definitely work’ or ‘definitely don’t work’. Add them all together and you have a biography for any show, reflecting its whole tenure or just a specific day, while analysing the presenter in a large wireless spotlight. That’s what I did with Mayo then, and yesterday the media paid no small attention to Moyles’ last show themselves. Articles ranged from celebratory to the mildly career-obituarial via run-downs of Moyles’ top controversies and even weight-loss. The Telegraph were particularly unimpressed. It was a rather subdued show, but after weeks of build-up, what did they expect but a few hours of ‘goodbye’.
In some ways 2006 looks like a career peak!
A quick glance at these articles ‘see also’ lists told its own story. January 2006: ‘Mighty Mouth’; May 2006: ‘No Show Leaves listeners Guessing’; June 2006: ‘Watchdog warns Radio 1 DJ over four letter words’. In some ways, 2006 looks like a career peak! Certainly Moyles was at the top of his game in the mornings, but he had been in the afternoons and weekends before that. Despite those headlines, the show had mellowed considerably since he arrived on the station. For one, I fully believe as a consummate professional radio presenter he was horrified when swear words fell through the system. There would always be the odd anti-BBC rant, the abuse of a BBC colleague – marginally incorrect, but compared to the late 90s when he had a reputation to bring to the public broadcaster, his outbursts were lighter and in-team arguments far shorter and softer. Of course yesterday, critics of the Moyles ‘cult’ were addressed briefly, but overall it was a gentle farewell. More gentle than most of those critcs would have expected I imagine, listening for the first time in years.
Arrogant, bigot, talentless, gob-shite… All words easy to level at a broadcaster. Certainly there was controversy, some of it easy to understand. But that’s not something that should necessarily have raised eyebrows when Moyles was appointed to Breakfast. It’s certainly no bad thing for the target demographic to hear something challenging or controversial. In many ways, they are the least impressionable listeners – and since the 1960s, I can think of a fair few pop or rock songs that have done worse. While I may have been a good age to follow the innuendo and dark humour into career, I doubt there were sixth-form classes filled with Moyles copy-cats.
I can’t think what those teenagers – or perhaps their younger siblings, recently weaned from Radio 2 in the car – thought of Chris Moyles on Radio 1 in recent times. It’s probably a fair distance from what an early teens me thought of Steve Wright, but not that far… Change is important, and in a station like Radio 1, with one of the most stringent demographic targets in the BBC, even more so. It can’t be doubted that a tremendous amount of work went into Moyles’ shows. Richard Curtis mentioned the ‘silences’ in that last show. Add to that the ever-late news, the poor timing, the half hours without music. These things are no less difficult to consistently ‘perform’ than Les Dawson’s piano technique (a target reference there, less removed from Moyles as he is from his lowest target demographic). I never heard a ‘bad’ show.
Still he lead a flagship BBC show while others fell around him…
While Moyles is Radio 1’s longest-running breakfast DJ by some distance, and its most controversial, it’s notable that his final years coincided with one of the Corporation’s most tumultuous periods. Budget cuts, competition downgrading, demise (refitting) of the Roadshows, text message restrictions, salary cuts, the rise of 1Xtra or resurrection of 6music – all these no doubt shaped the Radio 1 breakfast show from what it may have been. But still he lead a flagship BBC show while others fell around him. A ‘desperation for popularity’ is, you might think, a prerequisite for someone helming the most important radio show in the country.
Moyle’s off air Radio 1 career has been dwelt on as much as his thousands of hours on-air. A turbulent arrival, the unfortunate spat with John Peel… With his obvious peer friendships, but some deliberate perverseness for good measure, there was never a sense that Moyles ever sat with any particular generation in the classic Radio 1 sense. In fact, his persona required it. He was hardly the successor to DLT, wasn’t party to the bland Colin and Edith intake, nor bundled in with extraordinary, and short-lived, Wes or JK and Joel periods. But notwithstanding, he was certainly part of a team – from his ‘posse’ to the Radio 1 family. Often, even in an increasingly commercialised world, BBC values can still shine through. Perhaps that’s part of Moyles’ self-declared ‘institutionalisation’, part of this broadcaster 15 times longer than any other. When Kevin Greening died, Moyles’ tribute to a former colleague was heartfelt, and yesterday the next generation were effusive of Moyles. Of Greg James and his successor Nick Grimshaw, Moyles appears as universally scornful and generous as he was to many of his predecessors. While he may be divisive, his achievements, the ‘tough act to follow’, are not in doubt. That ‘victory’ he mentioned yesterday works on many levels. Of his many enemies over the years, they generally fall into two camps: now friends or long fallen from the dial.
There is a neat bookending to the end of Moyles’ career. Aside from the ironic Cox after-show, I recall a random monster night on BBC 2, almost certainly late last century. This not only marked a crucial development in my appreciation of Godzilla, Japanese analogy and smashing up towns, but also the first time I’d seen Moyles on TV. It can’t have been long after the infamous Sky magazine splashes. Also present were Paul Ross, Bill Bailey and Phil Jupitus: it was a heavyweight panel for a heavyweight subject. Those present were certainly guarded at the new Radio 1 upstart’s presence and I can’t remember that he said much. Jupitus would soon be launching the inaugural 6music breakfast show and in course, 15 or so years later Moyles recommended listeners to Shaun Keaveny show, Jupitus’ successor. 6music listeners, often with a choice music snobbishness I quite appreciate, flew to Twitter to point out that Moyles had clearly never listened to Keaveny’s show. Moyles had admitted as much – not unexpectedly considering his working day – but you can’t think that he didn’t know what he was doing. Moyles’ listeners will likely split between 1, 2, 6 and some commercial stations. Things come around.
The final show had to end with a musical number, of course. Moyles is as defined by his colourful jingles as the royalties he legendarily earned from them. Stepping from Broadcasting House and crossing the road was profound. It’s also a rather emphatic gesture. Any past-tense here is because the BBC door appears shut. That said, I came to praise Moyles, certainly not to bury him. Next stop of course is an arena tour and musically sentencing the Messiah to crucifixion.
Judging by BBC’s approach to Grimshaw, Moyles may be the last classic Radio 1 DJ. It’s a loose club, but his subversion and homage has been format-changingly successful. Grimshaw seems an astute choice, but I’ve no time here to talk about him any more than the other significant contributors to the Chris Moyles Show – and that’s not in anyway to their detriment; there’s just one name above the bar.
Re-reading that Mayo piece after a decade, its clear time has changed and so have I. Thank Manumission! I’ve drifted in and out of Moyles’ tenure, through Woof Woof Beards and Car Park Catchphrases and am unable to point fingers specifically in the way I could with Mayo. Time and life have caught up I guess. But to the end, his show still made me laugh. What the hell is going to do that now?