Friday, July 22, 2011

5 Minutes With Kevin Cann

Kevin Cann and the wonderful Mick Ronson 1991.

I'll let Kevin Cann tell you a little bit about himself:

"I was born in Hackney, London in 1959 and we moved to Hemel Hempstead when I was two. I moved to Watford when I was 16, where I went to art school and where I first met Brian Eno. Brian visited Watford Art School in late 75 to do some trial recordings – though we were expecting him to give a lecture - and our class spent the day with him and Peter Schmidt recording vocal experiments. These recordings turned out to be try-out ideas for Music For Airports, which became one of my favourite albums (so I recorded with Brian before David did!).
I ran my own design studio for many years before I finally went solo, concentrating on marketing, book design and also technical (manual) writing for a few years with Sean Mayes. We also wrote a biography about Kate Bush during this time.
I also helped set up All Saints Records in the early 90s and have generally worked in LP and CD design and on associated research projects for over 20 years. I now live by the sea and it’s fab."

David getting ready for a show in the summer of 72. credit: Byron Newman

Q1. What was the first record you bought and what effect did it have on you?

KC: I think it was actually a trade with a school friend for the Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP. It was sometime in 1970 because ‘let It Be’ was in the charts at the time. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see the original Magical Mystery Tour TV broadcast though. But the EP was a real eye-opener, particularly ‘I Am The Walrus’ of course. The piano fade on the title track always gets to me, and ‘Your Mother Should Know’ is great. In fact the whole EP is still brilliant, so many different ideas mixed together. I liked the booklet and graphics too.

Promo Card - Decca Records promotional postcard, 1966. Any Day Now memorabilia.

Q2. Where did the idea for your book 'Any Day Now' originate from?

KC: I have always been fascinated with dates and timelines. I particularly like the juxtaposition of events in history; and luckily that works quite successfully in music biography too. Where possible it’s nice to remind people of the cultural landscape surrounding the time you are writing about, and in this case the records, books, films and musical events that were happening at similar times, that somehow impacted on David’s own work.

Sadly you can only take that style so far, but a chronology is not only a great way to accurately take someone through a detailed biography (and David’s doesn’t come much more detailed) it also allows a certain degree of creative flexibility. You can, I believe, handle a wider range of material in a sometimes unpredictable, but still coherent order.
My timeline interests also stem from a broader appreciation of history. I just love the juxtaposition of historical events of all kinds. Straying a bit here I know, but the comparison of say, 1880’s Victorian Britain with 1880’s America has fascinated me for years.

Gallery shot - Any Day Now Proud Gallery London Exhibition, December 2010.

KC: I love the idea of Oscar Wilde, for example, used to the finer life of literary Dublin, Oxford and London, visiting America for a whole year in 1882. He travelled across a country that was still – away from the main cities - in its earliest forms (he hated the muddy streets), and along the way met a real broad cross-section of Americans who were forging a new country.
Wilde missed the gunfight at the OK Corral and Billy The Kidd’s death by a couple of months, and Jesse James was shot and killed a couple of months after he arrived.
These things rarely, if ever, get mentioned when Wilde’s visit is researched, as they aren’t a direct part of his history. But they are still significant concurrent, cultural events. It’s only when you examine timelines like this that an often strange blurring of historical information becomes more apparent.
Talking of Oscar Wilde, I’m sure that David was very well aware of Wilde’s famous arrival in America in 1882, the stir that his clothes caused and his widely reported remark; “I have nothing to declare but my genius”. When David rolled up at Washington‘s Dulles Airport in 1971, wearing his bright blue Universal Witness coat, I’ve no doubt he knew he was making a similar statement.

Over the years I worked on Any Day Now whenever I had a chance. It was one of those fascinating projects you can enjoyably research for years if you let it. I realised that the main bulk of it was in place about three or four years ago and pretty much concentrated on getting it to page from then on. Publication was delayed for nearly a year because we simply had too much information to edit down, and that was pretty tough going. The book could easily have been three times the size. As I said, David’s life and career is very detailed. It’s just one of the many reasons he is such an interesting person to write about.

Q3. Did you hear the online version of the unrealized Bowie album 'Toy' and if so, what did you think about the re-worked versions of old material?

KC: I haven’t heard the album as David intended it. I’ve just heard random tracks. It was a shame that it wasn’t released officially as I think it needs packaging and notes from David. I’m not sure I’ve heard all of it but the tracks I have heard are very good. But for me, it’s the same with David’s work as it is with that of any other artist; I rarely, if ever prefer a re-recorded song from the same performer.
But to take Toy as a whole, as it was originally intended, I think it had merit, particularly as it was recorded with Tony Visconti. The first two songs the pair worked on in 1967 were ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’ and ‘Karma Man’. Two fantastic songs with excellent production, which both men at the time evidently believed were just crude, throwaway “pop rubbish”!

It would be great if he did release Toy properly, and even better if he did all the artwork and sleeve notes himself (he’s a dab hand with Photoshop and page make-up software). I would probably be able to appreciate it better that way and then perhaps the songs would take on a new life.

Q4. Do you think that distribution via the online media means that print is a dying format for media?

KC; It’s a challenge of course, but it will be hard to replace the joy of reading a real book. It’s a form of communication that has been around almost as long as man has been able to write. I believe the oldest known book is about 2,500 years old and the pages are made of gold. Now that’s what I call a quality limited edition publication!
Even with the most amazing advances in technology, I have no doubt that real books will be published for many decades to come.
But there is undoubtedly an interesting future for ebooks, and one of the great things is that it also gives many more people the opportunity to get their work out there.

Q5. Give us a really off the wall Bowie anecdote/story.

KC: Apparently, when David was about 9 years old, he cut out a coupon from a newspaper that was offering a free booklet about joining the army, and he sent it to the Ministry of Defense. Not that he was interested in joining the services, but evidently he went through a fad of sending off coupons at random, which of course isn’t particularly unusual for kids to do.
After receiving his army booklet, to his and his parent’s surprise, a few weeks later he was sent an invitation to have a medical and join the Territorial Army. His father recounted the anecdote during a speech at a Dr Barnardo’s conference, where he mentioned his young son’s humorous experience, and then proffered the idea of using coupons as a good way to promote the charity.

The Any Day Now Facebook page:

The Any Day Now web site about the regular and limited edition book:

An Any Day Now video:

Magical Mystery Tour -Intro to the Magical Mystery Tour film.

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