Album Review of:
‘WHAT MEMORIES WE MAKE:
THE COMPLETE MAINMAN RECORDINGS 1971-1974’
by DANA GILLESPIE
(CHERRY RED RECORDS/ MAINMAN)
For the ‘John Peel’ BBC-radio show dated 3 June 1971, listeners hear David Bowie introducing ‘a friend of mine who lives in London. She’s a very very very very very very excellent songwriter and she hasn’t been recorded as yet with her own compositions. And needless to say tonight is no exception, she’s doing one of my things that I wrote for her. This is Miss Dana Gillespie…’ With Mick ‘Ronno’ Ronson’s stinging guitar she proceeds to do “Andy Warhol”. When Bowie made his first big Ziggy breakthrough he opened the door for a retinue of reprobates, he took both Lou Reed and Iggy Pop up out of cult obscurity, rescued ailing Mott The Hoople from an impending split, and even put a suitably remade gender-fluid Lulu back into the Top Ten with “The Man Who Sold The World”. But arguably it was Dana Gillespie who pushed that entire decadent androgyny thing better and best, through her Tony Defries MainMan hook-up, a period exhaustively documented on this lavish 2CD digipack.
But she already had an impressive track record, with a teenage discography that takes in Donovan and Jimmy Page patronage. Born 30 March 1949 to aristocratic parents, she was a precocious part of the mid-sixties Folk circuit, recording a 1965 single “Thank You Boy” written by the John Carter-Ken Lewis Ivy League duo, and produced by Jimmy Page (Pye 7N15962, the B-side “You’re A Heartbreak Man” is her own song). In the same way that Paul McCartney mentored Mary Hopkin, or the Stones projected Marianne Faithful, she was very much part of the sixties scene. But despite what Bowie claims, the B-side of her “Donna Donna” c/w “It’s No Use Saying If” (Pye 7N15872) is her own song, and her debut album lifts its title ‘Foolish Seasons’ (1968, London PS540) from one of her two compositions, the other being “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”. The Wayne Bickerton production benefits from Manfred’s Mike Vickers direction, and among Richard Farina’s “Hard Lovin’ Loser” she does an up-tempo Beat-group version of Donovan’s “You Just Gotta Know My Mind”, a Folk-psych song he wrote for her which was A-side of her November 1968 single (Decca F 12847). Elsewhere she effectively covers the Hollies “Pay You Back With Interest” (March 1967, Pye 7N 17280) which runs from soft opening through a girl-group harmony build, closing with horns. In a hotly contested sales-battle it lost out to sibling duo Paul & Barry Ryan, but was collected onto the 2008 CD reissue of her 1969 ‘Box Of Surprises’ (DK5012), which is a trippier album with compelling twists and turns provided by Savoy Brown’s back-up, running fuzzy guitar and oboe over romping post-folk rhythms.
But she had other calls on her time. She was in Hammer’s ‘The Lost Continent’ (1968) walking across seaweed ocean aided by buoyancy balloons! And her voluptuous curves, in decorous boudoir-ready basque lingerie, saw her doing photo-shoots for Men’s soft-core magazines, ‘Parade’, the US ‘After Dark’ and a 1974 interview feature in ‘Penthouse’ (vol.8 no.12). A spread of Gered Mankowitz photos recapture the allure and body-confidence of these sessions. This was before Bowie gifted her “Andy Warhol” prior to his own ‘Honky Dory’ version. It’s here in original demo form, then with Spiders From Mars back-up, and finally as the finished album-track. It wasn’t a song she had a particular affection for. She was certainly no admirer of Warhol’s art. And while it’s not representative of her style, she carries it off well. With its Bowie imprimatur it just might have become her Golden Ticket to the wider audience she deserved. Yet the release schedule was askew, and the window was missed.
Significantly, Bowie was not yet what he would later become. He was still the cult John Peel-approved singer-songwriter struggling to make his mark. There are stories that she’d known Bowie since her schoolgirl moonlighting at Yardbird gigs at the ‘Marquee’, and that he taught her guitar chords. In essence, they were promoting each other. Whether driving a broader cultural shift, or just shrewdly playing catch-up with one. Yet most everything else here, across two CDs of a generous 1hr 17-minutes each, is her own, five cuts from the 500-only limited edition 1970 ‘BOWPROMO1’ LP cut at Trident Studios – ‘MAKE WAY FOR THE NEW ROCK AND ROLLERS’ it boasts, alongside two full albums, which show here as strong and inventive in her own right. Plus a sprinkling of alternative takes, demos and previously-unissued lost singles.
The slinkily sapphic ‘Weren’t Born A Man’ (March 1974, RCA APL 1-0354) opens with “Mother, Don’t Be Frightened”, the ornate and decorous harpsichord breaking into little jazzy runs around String Quartet embellishments as she attempts to soothe her Mother’s understandable concerns about taking herself over the limit, letting her feelings go, letting go of innocence to embrace the seedy world of sex, drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Written after taking LSD, her voice lifts from classical purity into sometimes Kate Bush vocal breaks. Two versions of “Never Knew” contrast the song’s clear-voiced interpretive strengths and tempo-shifts over simple piano backing, with the more arranged outtake. Then the sweet charming Pop of “Lavender Hill”, with its more guitar-fronted Mick Ronson-arranged alternate-take. “Stardom Road” is a 7:24-minute two-part industry-warping epic dissecting the bitter heartbreak myths of fame, the ‘managers and producers and all the queens you need… and they’re all spaced out on speed.’ The moody arrangement builds from starkness through rich shivering dizzy strings into the harder more zinging reprise. With the ‘lost and betrayed’, hangers-on and juicers, sundry fixers and lickspittles, stardom is not always a prize to be chased. It’s not actually her song – written by Terry Stamp of Third World War, but if she was not already as jaded as the lyric implies, maybe her experience with MainMan would do the trick?
“What Memories We Make” has acoustic Floydian moments and the poetic intensity of ‘the sunset was still like the Red Sea is… the sun bounced on the surface like tiny yellow fountains’ in an idyll of lost lover, Michael. Snapped back into focus by the punching horns and soul-girl chorus of “Dizzy Heights” – ‘he’s a carnival queen, do you know what I mean, have you seen him?’ “Backed A Loser” scores power-chords that strongly echo Marc Bolan’s “Children Of The Revolution” with beguiling circling strings, Dana’s voice effortlessly riding its contours. “All Cut Up On You” takes the track from her side of the ‘BOWPROMO1’ sampler and adds funk chakka-chakka guitar, while closer “All Gone” shows remarkably mature reflections of growing, learning and loss.
The musician’s role-call is impressive, with Rosetta Hightower’s back-up voice, Terry Cox (drums), Bobby Keyes (sax), Rick Wakeman (piano from the ‘Honky Dory’ sessions), Pat Donaldson (bass) and Frank Ricotti (percussion). The teasing slow-crawl sinuous gender-games of “Weren’t Born A Man” itself – ‘you love like a woman, but you walk like a sailor’ has a louche saxophone-break on the album version, but is also spun off into the more raunchy upfront Rock guise she assumes as Libido, a rare one-off March 1973 single for the Mooncrest label in a duo format with guitarist Mick Liber. Both of them pleasingly annihilate and liquidise notions of fixed gender identity into a pleasing blur. There’s also “Eternal Showman” which has a stage-Musical quality, questioning the meaning of freedom in ways that Dana would usefully employ in her role as Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.
Next, ‘Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle’ (November 1974, RCA APL 1-0682) is less varied, more focused around strutting guitar interplay, cranking up the barrelhouse down-and-dirty Blues. Less decorous, more comfortable in the strengths of her own skin. With a stronger production input – no Bowie or Ronson, just the counterbalance of John Porter, this is likely a truer expression of what she wants, moving into the Maggie Bell, Vinegar Joe or Chicken Shack zone. Although the title track might reflect what Dana perceives as her own sidelining in the wake of Bowie’s stratospheric ascent, it’s not her own song, but a Blues by Alabama-born John Henry ‘Perry’ Bradford, previously done by Bessie Smith. Yet Dana dominates every aspect of the songs, from the Steve Cropper-style Stax guitar of “Really Love The Man”, which breaks into an unexpected ragtime Dixieland jazz break, to the Delaney-and-Bonnie groove of “Wanderlust”. Written by Johanna and John Hill (of US band Orleans) it catches the prowling ‘there’s a hunter in my blood’ restlessness of the outtake “Man Size Job”. She’s a woman of voracious energies and appetites, so – with sensual electric piano matched to her husky vocals, ‘get out of the way and let a boy do a man-size job.’
The sleeve-art colourisation gives her the passing resemblance to a Warhol silk-screen, and again there’s a stellar line-up around Simon Phillips tight sharp drums, sometime Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Weston, Roxy Music’s Eddie Jobson (violin synth), Micky Gallagher (piano), and Rabbit Bundrick’s keyboard on “Pack Your Bags” and “Getting Through To Me”. There’s also Mel Collins smoky sax on kinky standout “No Tail To Wag” where she’s the ‘fist in a velvet glove’ in a place where ‘there were mirrors on the ceiling’ but no pink champagne on ice! It’s a ribald Forty Shades scenario where ‘you dressed me up just for a joke, and ripped it off in a single stroke.’ There’s a third shot at “Never Knew”, then the shimmering slide and clouting drums of “Get My Rocks Off”, a Shel Silverstein song previously recorded by Dr Hook. It’s worth quoting the lyrics at length – ‘some men need some killer weed, some men need cocaine, some men need some cactus juice to purify the brain, some men need two women, some need alcohol, everybody needs a little something, but lord, I need it all,’ because she can be heard enthusing ‘that sounds sweet’ into the fade. And it’s sweet indeed.
The third MainMan album never happened, but there are five previously-unissued Demos here recorded in October 1974 in its anticipation. Her reading of the 1926 Mamie Smith “Goin’ Crazy With The Blues” retains but updates its jazzy vaudeville-Creole feel. The others, her own songs, are strong on the muscular visceral Blues, a busy funk setting for the sensual invitation of “Stoke The Engine” – ‘c’mon and give me all you’ve got’, the slow piano-and-clarinet “Say Goodnight To The Night”, the hard gut-Rock of “Do The Spin” – ‘it feels so good it must be a sin’, and the teasing innuendo of “Gone At The Game” – ‘UGH! Are you thinking of me when you play upon your piccolo?’ The word ‘raunch’ was devised for this heavy shot of Brit-Blues.
By 1977 Dana could be seen as cave-girl Ajor in ‘The People That Time Forgot’, a Doug McClure movie-version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Other TV and movie roles followed, as a series of more Blues-orientated albums – including her Mojo Blues Band, gained her new levels of respect. Of course – as David Wells informed notes tell, the MainMan period all ended in litigation, but what memories they made…!