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David Bowie’s Cracked Actor and the time I corrected him on national telly

It was 20 years ago today: Dame David of Bowie gets shown up on national television, by yours truly… before my balls dropped. Well, I was only 12. Altogether now: dom, dom, dom, dom!

This was the first series of the Jack Docherty Show the brand new Channel 5’s flagship TV chat show. I guess I didn’t show much sense of doubt in who daring to defy the Dame and correct his musical knowledge of his own flaming songbook. Pah, pop stars.

I remember the production showered me with dozens of tickets to dish out to readers of my DB magazine, Crankin’ Out, but more memorable was going for more than a few beers after the taping with Carlton Sandercock from the low budget label Trident Music International.

Carlton (or Sandycock to mail-in members of the Bowie entourage) offered some slightly disturbing revelations about Bowie’s back catalogue machinations with EMI. And guess what, everything he told me came true. I subsequently detailed some of the conversations in a Record Collector cover feature in 2008, but to sum it up lyrically, forget that he’d turned 50, ‘cos he just got paid (BIG time), and effectively sold them illusions for a sack full of checks. Fancy that!

The cleanest star they ever had. Only joking

The Trident mainman also let slip he was behind a new bootleg CD of The Gouster’s coveted 1974 ‘soul’ show at the Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles, which he’d titled A Portrait In Flesh. Coincidentally, Bowie’s current label Parlophone are set to issue the very same BBC tapes Cracked Actor, recorded on 16-track tape by the Wally Heider Mobile, a famed unit used for many of the classic live recordings of the era.

Those multi-tracks were used for the release., now remixed – and probably truncated, if previous live albums are anything to go by – by Tony Visconti, as the maddeningly limited edition Cracked Actor album in five days time for Record Store Day 2017, though a full official release can’t be far behind.

The timing is utterly bizarre, coming just months after a supposedly comprehensive box set (Who Can I Be Now? 1974-1976) dropped. The collection, the second in a series, attempts to round up all the Bowie albums and singles originally recorded and released in the titular era. But as it included a live set (Live Nassau Coliseum ’76) and a remix (a slightly unnecessary Harry Maslin retooling of Station To Station) that weren’t actually made available until 2010, it more than begs the question why couldn’t Cracked Actor have been issued first, and then incorporated in the box? Bowie Inc really do extract the urine.

Stiff on his legend then. Again.

Steve Pafford

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