I saw Gary Glitter in concert while I was university. He was then undergoing one of his many astute comebacks, cashing in on the fact that the punk generation looked up to glam rock and, in particular, correctly regarded Glitter's first hit, Rock'n'Roll, as being a fine piece of noise. His show was energetic and entertaining. A pal of mine had to build a ramp out into the crowd for his Leader of the Gang routine. When the portly Glitter stomped out onto it during the soundcheck it collapsed under his weight. By showtime it'd been reinforced but I still hoped, as I stood front of stage, that it'd give way during his bravura performance.
The Brit Glam Rock stars were, in general, an appalling lot. The best of them, like Bowie, Rod Stewart, or Elton John, were, at best, b-division talents. Most held far-right political views and showbiz attitudes which ensured that they got nowhere during the 60s, when they were all active if unsuccessful, By the early 70s there was a brief gap in the market and England was deluged with every rock'n'roll hooker and loser known to man. It was not the time of the disagreeable horrible Elton or the fraudulent false Bowie or the disagreeable horrible Rod - it was the time of dross like the Bay City Rollers, Alvin Stardust, Mud, and Gary Glitter.
When I saw him in the early 80s Glitter had crawled back into public consciousness, something of a novelty act and something of a curiosity, an utterly devoid of talent pop pantomime act. His Glitter sound was the creation of Mike Leander, a music biz insider who'd been involved in some of the most interesting music and noise created during the 60s. Leander did the string arrangement on She's Leaving Home by the Beatles and worked intimately with Andrew Loog Oldham on releases by the Stones - not to mention the occasionally superb catalogue of the esteemed Immediate label.
I met Leander shortly before he died in the 90s, backstage at a Marianne Faithfull show at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire. Also there was PP Arnold, who's Immediate hit, The First Cut is the Deepest, was one of Leander's many achievements. Leander was a likable music biz hack of the old school, a roguish refugee from 60s swinging Soho. He was trying to persuade Faithfull to do a spoken word album with him. I think he wanted her to read the work of Dylan Thomas.
Back in 1991 I got to meet Glitter. He was making yet another of his astute comebacks, this one fuelled by the fact that, I think, British Rail has signed him up to front a huge poster campaign for the Young Person's Railcard. He was bigger right then that he'd been at any time since the early 70s. His face stared down on one from every Tube platform. He was never off the chat show couches. His son, a successful studio engineer, seemed to have worked with every up and coming London indie band that one came across. Every Christmas Glitter stuffed the Brixton Academy and similar sized venues in far flung provincial hellholes like Dublin and Cardiff. If things had kept going his way, he'd now be one of those Old Guy acts (like Johnny Cash and Shirley Bassey) that show up at Glastonbury to provide a little postmodern wry entertainment.
He brought out an autobiography, Leader, which provided a good excuse to appear on the chat shows all over again. It was while promoting this effort that I met and interviewed him.
It was arranged by his publisher's publicist that we'd meet in the Groucho Club, Soho's famous private club for those involved in media and the arts. The Groucho has its critics and, certainly, it's mainly a watering hole for television shits and advertising shits, as opposed to being an artist's refuge. Nevertheless it's a discreet, unflappable, and hospitable sort of a place that I visit once in a blue moon in the pursuit of my ends.
I was a front line literary journalist for quite some time and interviewed a wide range of writers and celebrities in that context. I have always said that Bill Wyman of the Stones - who started mimicking, in a racist manner, my Irish accent - was the most unpleasant person I ever interviewed. Gary Glitter was certainly the second most unpleasant.
The publishers had stipulated that this was a strictly no-photographer encounter. My article was to run with a studio shot furnished by Glitter. Nevertheless Gary, when he walked somewhat truculently into the cramped room set aside for our meeting, was in full mid-period Glitter regalia, complete with bouffant wig and a couple of pounds of Rimmel on his face.
He was utterly charmless, grumpy, worn-out, and discourteous. I got the same answers out of him that I'd been hearing on the chat shows for the last few years. After maybe fifteen minutes I knew I had enough for the 600 word piece I was due to write for an Irish Sunday paper and also knew that he was deeply unlikely to say anything of interest. I was asking him questions about music and, it was clear, his interest in music was finite. Perhaps I was naive. I think I expected him to be a bit of a character or a personality. He was just a grouchy middle aged hack boring me stiff.
Then there came a knock on the door and, before either of us could say a thing, it burst open to reveal a besuited middle aged guy who'd heard that Gary was in the building and he just had to drop in and say hello. At the sight of this guy Glitter genuinely cheered up, pressed the flamboyant button, and became the life and soul of the party.
I assumed this intruder, about the same age as Glitter, was another veteran of the late 60s/early 70s Soho music scene. They seemed to have everything in common and to have 3000 things to talk about. It was arranged that Gary would join our interloper at the bar when I finished with him.
Me and Glitter kept talking for ten more minutes, most of this talk being very animated and interesting. Glitter's face was almost flushed as he explained excitedly that the guy was in charge of the British Rail account at one of the big advertising agencies and that it was he who'd given Glitter the hugely lucrative Young Persons Railcard gig.
I didn't detain him any longer; he had more profitable fish to fry.
When I saw him on the TV all of last week, the latest celebrity paedophile, as grouchy as I remember him and as ungracious, I just smiled a little.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.