“Apparently, Faye Dunaway had her favourite dog made into a pair of boots when it died. Well, that’s nothing to Jacks — she had her second husband made into a small cagoule when he died.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. A cagoule? Whoever heard of such a thing? It was small waisted evening jacket with Chanel buttons. As in life he was a tight fit that never suited me very well.”
— Absolutely Fabulous, Happy New Year, 1995
Because it happens to be my birthday, here’s a little known piece of spiv triv.
Go on, indulge me for a minute.
Back in the late 1990s, when I was still firmly a London resident and had to work to feed a rather expensive designer clothes habit, I had started to frequent a trio of designer resale stores in the West End:
These are second-hand boutiques that specialise in top name brands, where you can not only snaffle pre-owned premium label togs at a fraction of the original price but also use their service to consign gently worn high-end vintage and designer items, on a 50/50% sale-or-return commission basis.
One day I discovered purely buy chance The Dresser in Porchester Place, a lovely little Edwardian housed emporium just off Edgware Road and spitting distance from the Connaught Square terraced property where then then Prime Minister Tony Blair would set up home after he left Downing Street.
One of my last television jobs before I left Britain was a day on an episode of New Tricks, filmed four doors from his.
Owned by ex-music business PR turned stylist, Sally Ormsby, The Dresser had built a loyal clientele of fashionistas including magazine editors, stylists and even some celebrities, who lapped up labels all in great condition and selling at a fraction of their original costs, including Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier and Prada, even if the occasional fashion victim probably looked like they’d be better off in Gucci.
“Lacroix, sweetie” ring any bells?
At some point in 1999, I spied a green cagoule I rather fancied.
I know, it sounds kinda gross. I hadn’t even worn such a fashion faux-pas since school, and even then it would have been more my parents’ idea than mine.
But this wasn’t any old cagoule — this was a slim fit bottle green number by Stüssy, the American apparel company owned by Frank Sinatra Jr. so beloved of surfers, skateboarders and hip-hoppers. To my delight it fitted like a glove.
And it had one famous musician former owner.
“Oh, I probably shouldn’t mention who this came from,” conspired Sally. “But it was part of a batch that was recently brought in, to help raise funds for a particular charity.
“It’s OK, you can tell me,” said I. I’m going to buy it anyway.”
As I handed over my eighty-five of your English pounds I was utterly convinced she was going to give me a two-word response: Chris Lowe.
Although I knew the Pet Shop Boys keyboard wizard was shorter than me by a good three inches, but in the music industry the Sandgrownian was easily the most well-known lover of all things Stüssy, from shorts and T-shirts to his signature hoodies, baseball caps and sunglasses. It had to be him.
“Eric Clapton,” came the reply.
You could have blown me down with a feather. Or should that be lay down, Sally?
I almost choked on my own saliva.
“Eric Clapton wore this?”
“He’s a bit of a clothes aficionado, yes, Sally confirmed. “But he’s got involved in setting up a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Antigua and decided to streamline his wardrobe and sell off some of it.
I couldn’t imagine old Slowhand himself, then a not so fresh 54, parading in such urban streetwear. Even more surprising was he and I appeared to be the same build, and, as I later discovered when I looked him up online, exactly the same height: 5 ft 9 ½ inches — David Bowie was of identical stature, which was and is the bog-standard average for an Englishman.
I freely confess that I knew virtually zilch about Eric Clapton, other than a tiny handful of songs I’ve never owned and witnessing him live at a benefit concert. Me being me, I once visited the most famous address in Miami — 461 Ocean Boulevard — without ever having listened to the album of the same name.
But of course, you’d have to have had your head under a mountain if you hadn’t heard that many did and still do regard Eric Clapton as the god of guitar.
Guitars, oh I remember them.
A blues rocker by choice, in the 1960s Clapton vacillated his restless riffing via a succession of short-lived stints in bands. He brought passion and a sense of fashion to The Yardbirds and John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers before becoming one third of Cream and one quarter of Blind Faith, the former regarded as the world’s first supergroup, it says here.
Top track lists are awash with odes to love and power and revolution stuff (and heroin too — whatever floats your boat). Yet Cream’s I Feel Free is not exactly Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone even if David Bowie dared to cover both old chestnuts three decades later.
The so-called rock classics almost feel mythical in their power, or that’s what you’re supposed to think. Still, even the most hardened anti-rock purist couldn’t deny Slowhand is a great guitarist. It’s just that, like my fellow Bowie book author David Buckley, I find 99% of guitar solos utterly interminable. Almost as reprehensible as racists in fact.
Many years ago, before I knew about Enoch Powell, I had already formed opinions about Eric Clapton based on my parents’ record collection. He came across as the non-thinking man’s David Gilmour. Or Jimi Hendrix without colour. After all, this is the man who gave birth to a song called Bell-Bottom Blues and put JJ Cale to sleep with Cocaine, however brilliantly ironic that sounds.
What these old rockers lacked in looks they made up for in testosterone and extremely misogynist, sexist behaviour, surrounded by a host of belching ballads.
And don’t get me started on that hideous fire-breathing dragon Layla.
I loathe Layla, cloddish production and all.
Trading as Derek and the Dominos, the way it announces itself with that over-played 7-note signature riff just screams pomposity and self-importance. I detested the song when it was included on a telly advertised album my parents bought — the soundtrack to the 1974 David Essex film Stardust (“When the drugs had killed the man…”) — and I detested it even more when it was a hit second time around just before I entered my teens.
Hoary old tripe from another era, I thought at the time. The most interesting thing about the track is the rumour it contains subliminal messages if spun incorrectly, probably voiced by Paul McCartney after he died.
It’s true anyway. If you play Layla backwards, you can actually hear “Eric Clapton is an overrated, insufferable racist rapist. PS get vaccinated.”
The best quote about him I can recall being from Culture Club drummer Jon Moss in an interview with Smash Hits, circa 1985. From memory:
“If I see Eric Clapton in someone’s record collection I have to walk out.”
A bore but not completely useless though, unlike Liam Gallagher.
In fact, after he quit the drugs and drink, I do like to think Clapton worked hard — very, very hard — to become a better person.
I recall enduring, sorry I mean watching his guest spot with Dire Straits at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert from the stands of the old Wembley Stadium, and Clapton actually blushing when he realised the cheers from the audience weren’t for Mark ‘Horrible Headband’ Knopfler but for Slowhand himself, because the side-stage video screens had just shown him in close-up.
Perhaps it was time to forget the hate in ’88.
Amazingly, that same year synth-pop duo actually wanted Clapton to provide a guitar solo on a track originally intended for their third album Introspective. It eventually appeared as the B-side of Heart and was called I Get Excited (You Get Excited You) but minus Eric, who “very politely declined”. Stephen Lipson plays the solo instead.
Five years later, Clapton did say yes to Kate Bush for a track on her seventh album The Red Shoes. Never in the top tier of Bush creations anyway, And So In Love stops in place so he can play a rather boring solo, it must be said.
A few days ago, something strange came over me, and I found myself going down a Clapton rabbit hole on YouTube. Watching him come to terms with the death of his infant son less than a year after Conor’s tragic fall from a New York tower block in an interview with the BBC’s Sue Lawley was moving, to say the least. He came across as very much an open book and I I admired his frankness and eloquence. He answers Lawley’s questions with depth, honesty and a complete lack of self-pity.
Not to mention a perceptible lack of anger at the adults in the apartment that fateful day, because how the repair man and nanny were not prosecuted for failing in a duty of care is beyond me.
And admission time, but the sentimental side of me has always thought the new song he premiered during the programme rather beautifully done.
Listening like a shoegaze diary entry Tears In Heaven is very lovely, but it’s not a masterpiece. It’s better than that; it’s achingly honest. As unapologetically mawkish as it is heartfelt.
Thirty years on, I think many iGen artists are too proud to talk about love and loss in the context of modern technology. Snapchat and Zoomable house parties don’t exactly scream emotion, but this is the world we live in.
Even I, with my black, shrivelled heart, recognise the sweet idiot longing Clapton describes, and life would be a lot less rich without it.
As a result of the YT bonanza, I decided to stream a Clapton box set called Forever Man. And then suddenly I had memories I didn’t realise I had: how I actually quite liked the title track and Behind The Mask in the mid ’80s, the latter intriguingly a rare hit co-written by Michael Jackson and whose own version — a Thriller leftover, no less — would remain locked away until after his death in 2009, an hour before I turned 40.
Talking of birthdays, when Over The Rainbow suddenly popped up, I was genuinely thrilled, delighted and more than a little surprised that Clapton had covered the standard made famous by Judy Garland.
That he must have known what a gay anthem it evolved into says a lot about the better man Clapton has become. It’s in the way that you use it, right?
As the song was playing I looked up at the date on the MacBook Pro I’m using to pen this article and it screamed out June 22, the anniversary of Garland’s death.
It just had to be.
Dear ‘Dorothy’ — forever the chutzpah-fuelled heroine of the Wizard Of Oz — checked out in sad circumstances in Belgravia, a ten minute drive through the heart of London to Charing Cross, where four days later I just happened to be born. But enough about me, even if it is my birthday today.
Here’s to love, loss and laughter then, however daft.
Damn, I wish I still had that cagoule.
Steve Pafford, Generation X (born 1965–1980)