I hope you don't mind me calling you 'friends' but the warmth of your feedback here is similar to that I only ever receive from friends. Remarks such as, "The greatest Top Of The Pops recovery of all time for me" by Mike Morton made my day. And I feel humbled that this superb forum has increased from 5 to 13 pages just because of an old tape which I have guarded carefully for close on four decades.
Let me first say that this "The Jean Genie" recording has never been "lost" – I have always known that I have it. It's just that I didn't know no one else had it until now.
Mark Adams of www.DavidBowie.com
has made some brilliant composites of some of the screen grabs which I took off the tape and sent to him. Do you like my Telefex Fisheye 3 (Johnnie Stewart certainly did). Two of them have been reproduced here on the forum, but not the first one, where you can see a minuscule me on the extreme bottom left of the shot. Don't worry – you wouldn't recognise me now. Mind you, when I played the DVD to a friend the other day he spotted me immediately.
Gary Critcher or Rich Cornock, did you eMail "The One Show"? I did (via their form eMail online) and to be doubly sure I also eMailed "The Chris Evans Breakfast Show" at BBC Radio 2. I received an eMail from Chris' Executive Producer, Helen Thomas, to say she'd forwarded it to "The One Show". I thought that even a "ten second clip" (Mike Morton) might be a good plug for Sunday Night at the NFT and any future airing. So, from "The One Show"? Zilch! Neil Barker – did you hear anything from Mark Radcliffe?
Before this posting, I thought that I would make sure of a few things. The first thing I have to confess is that my memory is not as good as I thought. Thanks to my former BBC colleague, Bernard Newnham, who has sources I could only dream about, we have discovered from the Top of the Pops (TOTP) contract that this was in fact recorded on 3 January 1973 in studio TC8 at the BBC Television Centre. (I thought it was 4 January 1973 in TC4).
For a long time, the Musician's Union insisted that sound on TOTP was performed live, not to pre-recorded tracks or records. Johnnie Pearson, who died earlier this year (see obit link ^ below), conducted an orchestra of experienced session musicians in the studio. BBC studio Sound Supervisors (often incorrectly referred to as 'Sound Engineers') mixed the whole thing live. They were often denigrated, grossly unfairly, by record companies who wanted their artistes to mime to the actual tracks they had recorded in the record studios. But the BBC guys were immensely experienced. I recall one record manager, during the shooting of another music video, saying that he actually preferred the sound the BBC Sound Supervisor got on TOTP to the studio mix on his record.
^ Johnny Pearson obituary: www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/johnny-pearson-composer-pianist-and-arranger-who-worked-on-lsquotop-of-the-popsrsquo-during-three-decades-2249980.html)
Last night, three friends and I watched the "The Jean Genie" recording about five times. We compared it with the sound on the "Best of Bowie" DVD and the CD track. (Unlike Mick Rock's DVD music video, there is no problem with lip synch on the 1973 TOTP recording – it's a live performance with live sound.) One of my friends is a real Bowie fan and remarked about the freshness of the live sound quality, albeit in mono of course. That would have been music to the ears of the genius BBC Sound Supervisor who mixed this recording, Richard (Dickie) Chamberlain. Sadly, he died at his own hands just a few years ago, apparently a lonely man. I knew him well and how I wish I could have related this story about one of his many masterpieces to him. He was one of the loveliest men you could hope to meet. And he was a real genius – able to get outstanding quality from a live performance.
Over the past few days I have spoken to three current BBC producers: Richard Marson of "Tales of Television Centre" (the man who first reacted to the news of my tape), Mark Cooper of "TOTP2" and James Hale, who is producing a special Bowie documentary you will all want to see, for transmission in June 2012. All three men are dedicated in their individual and special ways. I feel our heritage is safe with them. Mark Cooper does have a copy of my recording and would love to show it but he respects my previous agreement with Richard Marson and confirms that it will NOT be shown in the 21 December 2011 show. On Monday 12 December he is recording Christmas TOTP in TC4 at the Television Centre and has invited me along to watch. For me this will be an amazing nostalgic experience – my first TOTP for 35 years.
When "Tales of Television Centre" airs (no date fixed yet) Richard Marson intends to show my story and just a clip in the programme but to make the whole video available on the Red Button in its original 4:3 aspect ratio format, without voice over or caption superimposition.
A few answers to your specific questions:
J J Dean said, "I have the original audio recording that's now posted on Youtube. It cuts off at 4.18, and I recall it being about 4.30 in length. I sent it to a guy in London in 2002 and the doctored version appeared soon after in an attempt to bring the song to a conclusion. It didnt work did it!"
"My" recording runs 4m 33s – plus another few seconds to include David Bowie saying "Thanks". By comparison, the CD version (and Mick Rock's video from 1972) runs 4m 03s. (Longer and thus better value than your 7-inch, hey Tim Brown?)
Ron Mould asked, "Do you keep records of your archived material?" Yes and no. I have all my diaries since I started at the BBC in 1961 and most of the invoices for jobs I have retrieved and bound. I have lots of videotapes which are not listed, though most are labelled (if the labels haven't dried out and come off). I have a database of my work as Director of Photography after I left the BBC, from 25 April 1978, including music videos for Kate Bush, Brian Ferry, Marshall Haine (remember them "Dancing in the City"?), Suzi Quatro, Paul McCartney & Wings, George Harrison, Blondie, David Essex, Boomtown Rats, Foreigner, Cliff Richard, Elton John, Elkie Brooks … and many others, including three more for, guess who … David Bowie ("Boys Keep Swinging", "D.J." and "Look Back In Anger"). Those three were all recorded over one weekend in April 1979 at Ewart & Co's Studios in Wandsworth. My enduring memory is what a gentleman David was. He also wanted me to light his party, but it never happened. Most of these I have on either 1-inch C-format or Sony U-Matic.
Mark Wardle asked, "I wonder if John is still in touch with his colleagues from that period? if he was allowed to take copies of his work there may be more out there." Well I doubt that any of my colleagues were bold enough to ask for recordings. After all, 2-inch Quadruplex VTRs were huge beasts which needed special engineering skills to drive. I was always a maverick. For example, I put a small camera in a microphone boom and recorded it for a Royal Television Society lecture in 1975. It was the forerunner of the ubiquitous 'Jimmy Jib' and all the other cranes which swing over scenes today. The whole crew stayed behind in the dinner break to help shoot it but I was told off for using BBC facilities without permission by our ludicrous technical operations management. (You can see this experiment here: www.epi-centre.com/john/BoomCam.mov)
This is nothing to do with music videos but is mentioned to give you all an idea of what else I did. I also have a spoof weather forecast done for me by Jack Scott. Neither has ever been broadcast but might be in "Tales of Television Centre".
Mike Morton says, "Now if only we could find an isolated tape containing all three takes of 'The Jean Genie'. I can dream!" Now you're getting greedy, Mike. Or, as my daughter would say, "In your dreams." But who knows? Sometimes it's good to dream.
Mike Morton's quotation from the 'Any Day Now' book by Kevin Cann is particularly interesting, especially the statement, "He cranked it up as far as it would go and blew the television engineer's ears away. Typical Mick [Ronson]." So now I know who I should've sued for my loss of hearing. (BBC safety people sometimes used to come round with a decibel-ometer and get them to turn down the volume. And that was before Health & Safety at Work. They also warned us that the thumping bass could fry our hearts.) Kevin Cann is mostly right, except that I received the following from Colin Blades, "You mentioned the comment about Mick's volume. I remember Will Pallin telling me that because Ronno (Mick's nickname) insisted on playing so loud live they actually re-wired his amp. Ronno thought he was at '10' when in actual fact the amp was only at half volume." I can tell you that, whatever the setting, it not have fazed Sound Supervisor Dickie Chamberlain.
That deep mine of information Colin Blades also tells me that "the band backing David Bowie on "The Jean Genie" – 'The Spiders From Mars' – are Mick Ronson - Guitar, Trevor Bolder - Bass, Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey - Drums and the newly recruited American jazz painist, Mike Garson (who worked with David on his last studio album, 'Reality' in 2003) on piano."
Colin also says, "Mick, Trevor and Woody all hail from Hull, (David himself being 'half Yorkshire-man') these guys we're all blues players, jeans and t-shirts, so it was quite a job to get them to dress up – however once they realised the amount of female attention this gained them, they happily – and quickly – slipped into character. Davids costume was created by designer/tailor and close friend of his, Freddie Burretti. Mick Ronson sadly passed away in 1993 from liver cancer. After his time with David, Mick went on to play with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ian Hunter, Van Morrison, T Bone Burnett and many many others. He was a classically trained pianist and violinist, and produced many bands, his last being Morrissey's critically acclaimed album 'Your Arsenal' (1992)."
It was also pointed out to me that "The Jean Genie" riff is very similar to that in The Yardbirds version of (Bo Diddleys) "I'm a man". Have a listen to youtu.be/BF2FWhq2haQ
and you'll be amazed how DB got away with it.
Rich Cornock asked for a few details about my other tapes. "With all the talk of other tapes that you have in your archive I wonder if you could give a few details about these. Do you have any idea what might be recorded on these? (presumably stuff you worked on). Also what format are they? Are they domestic video recordings you made from the tv or 2 inch tapes like the one that the Bowie clip is on?" Well I have a pretty good idea of what is on most of them. For example I have Sony U-Matic cassettes of all the "Spitting Image" shows I was Director of Photography on, and also a lot of Channel 4 productions. Most of the music videos I did I have on 1-inch C-format but I also have more 2-inch, a load of U-Matic and some domestic VHS. I even have some early Sony Rover Half-inch monochrome recordings. The Akai quarter inch colour recordings I thankfully dubbed to U-Matic.
The best news of all, for me, is that Chris Perry is coming to my store on Sunday 18 December to sort through the tapes with me. You see, also on the Bowie tape are two clips from John Junkin's afternoon show for women, which I believe was only shown in the Southern Television area and has been wiped. The BBC were not interested in this but with Chris it can be saved. Sony U-Matic tapes were £17.50 each and what I would do is, for example, record TOTP in case there was some good use of my Telefex equipment. If there was, I would park the tape after the number in question and then use the tape to record something else from there on.
At this point I have a confession to make. I am guilty of wiping things myself. For example, Kate Bush did one tour. Granada recorded it at the Apollo Ardwick Green Manchester but the pictures were bad because the lighting was 'art' done for the stage and the flat blue and mauve washes were awful on television. So I was asked to re-shoot it at the Hammersmith Apollo – the kind of job I hated because it meant I had to work with stage people who didn't want their concept interfering with. I was sent a U-Matic of the Granada version to have a look at. The pictures were bad. But it did mean I got a free cassette – I used it to record other things. I told this story to someone recently and he phoned me the next day to ask if I still had the cassette. "No," I said, "it was dire. I re-used it." "It's not wanted for the pictures," he said, "people want it for the sound track." Darn it, I never thought of that. Missing, definitely wiped. And by me. But maybe there are other copies around?
After Chris has transferred the tapes he will give them to me on a hard drive and I will catalogue them. Hopefully my memory will then be jogged sufficiently, along with a little help from my old diaries and paperwork. I am really looking forward to meeting and working with Chris. And maybe doing a session for him next yeaqr if there's enough of interest.
I apologise that this is so long, and off-topic at times, but I wanted you to be the first to get the facts and the background. If you've read this far, thank you for your interest and patience. I am looking forward to meeting some of you at the BFI's annual "Missing Believed Wiped" event at the National Film Theatre on Sunday 11 December 2011.