ackstage, The Leader is putting on his make-up with the help of a young assistant. He’s studying his foundation-covered mug in a mirror framed, in true tacky showbiz fashion, by a line of lightbulbs. What a sight he is: arched eyebrows Angela Rippon would die for, hair a glorious crowning quiff and a pair of tight pants pinching less than half-an-inch either side of a bare, muscular torso and chest.
The Leader claims he’s 47. Even if it’s true, he’s in good shape.
A pile of letters lie to one side, addressed to ‘The Leader’. One is marked ‘For the Personal Attention ofthe Only True Leader’. Charities plead with him to open shops, theatre companies crawl to him — could he please appear in their videos?
The fan mail is a long way from the mind of a man who has been a professional teenager practically since rock and roll began. A Slice OfSaturday Night, the 605 musical touring the country, calls upon The Leader to act as well as sing in the role of greasy club manager Rubber Legs De Vine. He confesses to having a terrible memory for lines, which he runs through with his make-up guy, who doubles as understudy.
That’s a tall order. How can you understudy Gary Glitter? He was running free on the streets of South London when he was fifteen. It wasn’t long before he cut his first single, under the name of Paul Russell, in 1960. He was one ofthe editors, with pop icon Cathy McGowan, of the television show Ready Steady Go in the 605. Then the failed pop star tried and failed several times more. Paul Russell bacame Paul Raven, Paul Monday and — perish the thought — Rubber Bucket.
But it was The Leader, GG, who carved Glittermania, his own hurricane of ham, out of Glamrock and the cross-dressing early 705. And then went down the toilet, bankrupt in the 70s and alcoholic in the 80s.
In 1991, The Leader is fit, solvent Buddhist and on the wagon. And popular again. Last Christmas he played thirty shows to 120,000 people, including a sellout fortnight at ' Wembley Arena, in the Gang Show, which owes as much to Dame Edna as to James Brown.
Gary Glitter has a few tales to tell, but to get to them you might have to wade through the showbiz spiel he spins in aid of his new show. ‘Let me tell you something,’ he says. ‘I decided my audience was getting too big for its boots. Doing the Gang Show at Wembley might all go to their heads. I said “Find me something to do that will stretch me. I want to play to all the little towns. I never get a chance to do that. Something that’s not Gary Glitter. . ‘
Suddenly he twigs that this is not an interview for Hello! magazine. It’s as though a lightbulb has switched on above his quiff.
‘Look, from 1972 to ’76 I had interviews like this twenty-four hours a day and I was doing shows all the time. I just wanted a weekend off. It was like I’d won the pools— all the time.’
So where did it start, the madness that put GG firmly in the eye of a youth culture hurricane that caused hod carriers and truck drivers to make ready with the eye shadow, lurex tank tops and platform shoes before
The Leader of the Gang is back, fronting the musical A Slice Of Saturday Night on a big national tour. In search of the secret of eternal youth, Andy Spinoza snuck into GARY GLITTER’s dressing room and found out the truth behind the man, the myth and the music.
lumbering offto do battle at football grounds? The answer is in Germany, where he came into contact with primeval devil’s music in the shape of Little Richard, who in the early 70s could still remind a lost rock and roll soul — Gary was doing R & B cabaret — what it was all about.
‘I was supporting Little Richard in Berlin,’ he remembers. ‘There I was, watching him from the wings, and I thought, what am I messing about with all this for? Rock and roll was my love. I came back to England that weekend.’ Sacked by the band which he later reformed as the Glitter Band — ‘I was too sexy onstage for them,’ he claims — Gary was at a loose end, but his persistence was eventually repaid.
One day in 1971, Elton John cancelled a studio session, and Gary and producer Mike Leander nipped in. They sat there. wondering what the hell to do. ‘Mike said, “Just do what you do best.” ’
A profound moment in pop history
“ At the
height at the Glittermania thing, the girls and the boys would walk into the dressing room and
followed. ‘I picked up the Melody Maker and said, “Let’s find a title.” There it was: “Rock and Roll”. These big signs were hitting me. “Rock and Roll Part One” was about how we saw it — rock and roll, that is. I sang, I talked over his drumbeat. Just like they’re doing it today.’
The result was pop’s first rap hit, a great steaming slice of British urban jungle rhythm, with Gary putting all those German nights impersonating James Brown to hypnotic use. The tribal call-and-response vocals and the irresistible terrace stomp orchestrated the bizarre spirit of those bootboys-in-make-up days. It also won the Ivor Novello award for songwriting.
More hits followed: twelve top ten singles and three top ten LPs, including the million-selling single ‘I Love You Love’. Gary Glitter was public property. ‘At the height ofthe Glittermania thing,’ he recalls, very matter-of—factly, ‘the girls and the boys would walk into the dressing room and just faint.’
Good times followed chart success, and bankruptcy brought about by good-time excess followed. In the 805 the college circuit saved his financial life; it was coolly kitsch for undergrads to re-live their pubescence, chanting along to Gaz’s nostalgia trip. But drink, drugs and financial worries took him to an all-time low in 1986. In that sorry year, he reached the very bottom of his crazy life: bloated, blacked-out, fucked-up, out for the count on his living-room floor.
‘I had my third drink-driving offence in ten years and I could have gone to prison. My girlfriend left me. I was drinking a lot. I was taking speed, taking cocaine sometimes, to support my love of a drink. It hit me like a bolt from the blue, and I didn’t get up from the floor for two whole weeks.’
It seemed that rock and roll had claimed another casualty. But he eventually picked himselfand his life back off the ﬂoor, went road-running daily, gave up the bottle . . . and — aptly enough — started chanting. But this was no tribal soccer warsong to pump your fist to. This was Buddhism.
‘The chant is Nan Myhoha Rega Kyo. It’s no big deal. It helps me get rid ofstress.
Most people have a pint of beer. I can’t do that. I started having a chant in the morning,’ he explains.
‘This is a very good thing to do. It reveals the potential in myself. I’m now beginning to live and that’s something, for me who’s done this and done that. My rock and roll now is on the stage and not off. I’m the boss now. ' You’ll either believe me or you won’t, but I ten minutes’ chanting a day saved my life.’ ( Gary Glitter appears in A Slice 0f Saturday
Night at Glasgow Pavilion, Mon 27May—Sat IJune; and Edinburgh Playhouse, Mon 3—Sat8June.
See Competitions page for ticket offer. J
The List 17—30 May 1991 13