My very close encounter with David Bowie
BLOG NO.10 – IF YOU LIKE TO READ PART 2 FIRST, CLICK HERE
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First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….
In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 3 of those encounters….
David Bowie borrowed a book from me and I never got it back! – Before getting to the book bit, I should explain how I came to have the close encounter. The first part isn’t as weird as some of the past encounters I’ve related as I happened to be working on the film David was starring in: Labyrinth. (Yes, I could even call him David!) I was there as a puppeteer and physical performer – mainly co-operating the character, Hoggle’s animatronic face (pictured above and below), but also hand-puppeteer of various goblins, and physical performer of the Brick Keeper (top image), a Riding Goblin (pictured below) and a Junk Man. It was yet another dream come true for me, for although I’d worked with Jim Henson on The Dark Crystal, that was only a brief project for me, whereas Labyrinth would take up 11 months of my life, making this close encounter a prolonged one. My wife, Fiona, had also been chosen to puppeteer on the film, but, because she was heavily pregnant with our first son Ben, she ended up being Jennifer Connolly’s stand-in for rehearsals. In fact, in the ‘making of’ video you see Fi more times than you see me!
David Bowie was another one of my ‘heroes’ – no pun intended – and his 1971 work, Hunky Dory, was my very first ‘contemporary’ album – Beethoven’s 1812 Overture been my very first – and still one of my all-time favourites. Tracks like Changes and Is There Life On Mars? are simply classics. So, to end up working with two heroes – Jim Henson being the other – was just a-maz-ing! (In fact, I was working with many other puppeteering heroes of mine from The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street.)
Labyrinth would be my fourth film, having done The Dark Crystal, Greystoke and Return To Oz before it, but I still thought they weren’t going to last and I’d be going back to theatre. In fact, before my retirement three and a half years ago, I only went back to theatre once, to do Winnie The Witch at the Birmingham Rep; not counting my work on Walking With Dinosaurs, 2013/14, which was performed at large arenas around the world. I’d gained confidence in puppeteering for film – especially animatronic puppets – from performing Billina the talking chicken on Return To Oz, which helped me immensely with what I had to do on Labyrinth.
We all not only got to work with this music legend, but got to sing along with a song he had written for the film: Magic Dance. Having said that, after you’ve had to perform a puppet through a hole in the wall in a very awkward position singing this song umpteen times, the novelty began to ware off! (The baby in the film was Toby Froud, who’d become a performer and puppeteer himself, and I would use him in 2007 when I devised the opening of the Brit Awards by The Scissor Sisters. I’ll cover this story in another Part.)
Anyhoo…David Bowie was an avid reader, and he was always interested in any book you might be delving into. Fiona was also an avid reader, and she probably had more contact on that front with him than I did. However, at the time I was into Taoism, and I happened to be reading a book called The Tao of Pooh; a lighthearted book explaining Taoism through Winnie-the-Pooh. So, there I was reading this small paperback, when David (did I say we could call him David?) came up and questioned me about it. After I explained what it was about, he then asked if he could borrow it after I was finished it? I was hardly likely to say no, and so I did exactly that. It was only after we’d finished filming that I realised that he never returned it! Not that I cared, as it left me with a fantastic tale to tell! If you’re up there reading this David, thanks for the story, but more-so, thanks for the decades of entertainment, from music to film.
It wouldn’t be until 2014 that I would get another copy of The Tao of Pooh from fellow puppeteer and friend, Andrew Spooner, when we were working on the very last tv project I would ever do: The Furchester Hotel. Thanks again, Andrew.
I thought, at the time, that this encounter couldn’t be topped, but the next one I’ll tell you about came damn close!
Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,
PART 4 WILL BE ABOUT MY TIME ON THE LEGENDARY MUSICAL LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. BEFORE THAT, BLOG NO.11 WILL COVER THE NEXT FOUR TRACKS OF MY ‘ALBUM’ ABOUT THE 19TH CENTURY, AND BLOG NO.12 IS A DEEPER EXPLANATION OF WHY I ENDED UP WRITING 66 FOLK TRACKS.