Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Four). “Hats Off, Hats Off to Mars, Let’s Align Our Footsteps with the Stars”.

Glam rock was the era in which music openly acknowledged its superficiality.  Originating in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s and characterised by artists wearing outrageous clothes, makeup and hairstyles.  Platform-soled boots and glitter were commonplace and the flamboyant costumes and visual styles of glam performers were often camp or androgynous.  Artists such as Marc Bolan and T-Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music and Gary Glitter enjoyed extraordinary success.  However, for every one of these artists there were scores of glam divas waiting in the wings.

Take for example, Jobriath, the first openly gay rock star, who released two wonderfully camp and epic albums in the early 1970s, Jobriath (1973) and Creatures of the Street (1974) before the few members of the public who had been turned onto him turned against him.  He lived out the rest of his days in the Chelsea Hotel, where he became one of the first rock casualties of the AIDs virus in 1983.

Whilst Jobriath briefly managed to release his music, the subject of today’s Song of the Day was dealt a more cruel fate.  That subject is Brett Smiley, who to all intents and purposes had the makings of a successful glam rock superstar.  Young, blonde, beautiful and androgynous, Smiley began his career as a child actor, playing Oliver on Broadway before being discovered by Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham at the age of 16 in 1972.  Two years later, he was given a $200,000 recording deal and recorded the album Breathlessly Brett.  The album was produced by Oldham and featured Steve Marriott on guitar.  The first single from the album was the glam-stomping rock thrash out, Va Va Va Voom.

Va Va Va Voom was filled with all the elements that should have made it a glam classic, including wonderfully noisy guitars and a masterful sax line as worthy as those found in Bowie songs such as Suffragette City (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972).

The Bowie influence is also prevalent on Va Va Va Voom’s B-side, Space Ace.

Space was a regular theme in glam rock music, think T-Rex songs such as Spaceball Ricochet …

… and Ballrooms of Mars (both from The Slider, 1972) …

… and of course, probably the main source of inspiration here, Bowie’s most famous character creation, Ziggy Stardust.

The sound on Space Ace is suitably cinematic, fitting for the era in which it was born, whilst the lyrics, sung in Smiley’s distinctive and breathy voice, spiral like a freefall through outer space.

Around the time of the single’s release, Smiley appeared on the Russell Harty Plus TV programme, where he was interviewed alongside Andrew Loog Oldham and gave a startlingly over the top performance of Space Ace.

Unfortunately for a single that by all rights should have become a classic, it bombed and the album was shelved.  Smiley all but disappeared, save for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980), as well as starring roles in a few ill-advised pornographic movies, and wasn’t heard from again until 2003 when RPM Records acquired the master tapes for the Breathlessly Brett album.  In the intervening 29 years, Smiley had been wallowing in a gargantuan drug addiction somewhere on skid row.  In 2005, Smiley was the subject of Nina Antonia’s book The Prettiest Star:  Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley.  Now free of his drug addiction, Smiley is back recording and performing, mainly around New York City.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Four). “ … And the Filth Get Promoted but They’re still Doing Time for Being Irish in the Wrong Place and At the Wrong Time”.

The Birmingham Six were six men (Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker) who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the Birmingham pub bombings.  Their convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14th March 1991.  The six men were later awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The story of the Birmingham Six began on the 21st November 1974, when two bombs exploded in two separate Birmingham pubs; the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda at 8.25pm and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street, at 8.27pm.  21 people were killed (ten at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town) and 182 people were injured, making the attacks collectively the most injurious and serious attacks in Great Britain since World War II.  A third device was placed outside a bank in Hagley Road but failed to detonate.

Six men were arrested, five of whom were Belfast-born Roman Catholics, whilst John Walker was born in Derry.  All six had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s.  Five of the men (Hill, Hunter, McIlkenny, Power and Walker) had left the city early on the evening of the 21st November from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions.  They were travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, an IRA member who had accidentally killed himself whilst planting a bomb in Coventry.  Hill also intended to see an aunt in Belfast who was ill and not expected to live.  Callaghan saw them off at the station.

Upon reaching Heysham, they and others were subject to a Special Branch stop and Search.  The men did not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, something which was later held against them.  Whilst the search was in progress, the police were informed of the Birmingham bombings.  The men agreed to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of the 22nd November, after the forensic tests had taken place and the men had been questioned at the hands of the Morecambe Police, the men were transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit.  William Power alleged that he was assaulted by members of Birmingham Criminal Investigation Department.  Also on the 22nd November, Callaghan was brought into custody.

Whilst the men were in the custody of the West midlands Police, they were deprived of food and sleep and were sometimes interrogated for up to 12 hours without a break.  Threats were also made against the men and they endured beatings ranging from punches, dogs being let within a foot of them and being made the subjects of a mock execution.  Billy Power confessed whilst in Morecambe and Hugh Callaghan, John Walker and Richard McIlkenny confessed at Queens Road in Aston with Paddy Hill and Gerry Hunter not signing any documents.

On the 12th May 1975, the six men were charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.  Three other men, James Kelly, Michael Murray and Michael Sheehan, were charged with conspiracy and Kelly and Sheehan also faced charges of unlawful possession of explosives.

The trial of the Birmingham Six started on the 9th June 1975 at Lancaster Crown Court before Justice Bridge and a jury.  After legal arguments, the statements made in November, the unreliability of which was subsequently established, were deemed admissible as evidence.   Thomas Watt provided circumstantial evidence about John Walker’s association with Provisional IRA members.

Forensic scientist Dr Frank Skuse used positive Greiss test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives, whilst Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all tested negative.  GCMS tests at a later date were negative for Power and contradicted the initial results for Hill.  Skuse’s claim that he was 99% certain that Power and Hill had explosives traces on their hands was opposed by defence expert Dr Hugh Kenneth Black of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives, Home Office.  Skuse’s evidence was clearly preferred by Bridge.  The jury found the six men guilty of murder.  On the 15th August 1975, the Birmingham Six were sentenced to 21 life sentences each.

On the 28th November 1974, the men appeared in court for a second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison, Birmingham.  Each of the men showed bruising and other signs of ill-treatment.  Fourteen prison officers were charged with assult in June 1975, but all were acquitted at a trial presided over by Mr Justice Swanwick.  In 1977, the six men brought a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police.  This claim was struck out on the 17th January by the Court of Appeal, constituted by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, Goff LJ and Sir George Baker, under the principle of estoppel.

During proceedings, prison officers and police were blamed for the beatings.  A prisoner released from prison two weeks after the Birmingham Six started their sentence testified to the beatings the six men had received.

In March 1976, their first application for leave to appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by Lord Widgery CJ.  In 1985, Granada TV broadcast the first of several World in Action programmes casting doubt on the men’s convictions.  In 1986, Journalist Chris Mullin, who investigated the case for World in Action, also published the book Error of Judgement: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings, which set out a detailed case supporting the men’s claims that they were innocent.  In the book, Mullin claimed to have met some of those who were actually responsible for the bombings.

The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd MP, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.  In January 1988, following a six week hearing (at that point in time the longest appeal hearing ever held), the convictions were ruled to be safe and satisfactory.  The Court of Appeal, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane dismissed the appeals.  Over the next three years, newspaper articles, television documentaries and books all presented new evidence questioning the safety of the convictions, whilst campaign groups were formed in Britain, Ireland, Europe and the US calling for the men’s release.

In 1991, their second full appeal took place.  Hunter was represented by Lord Gifford QC, whilst others were represented by human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce.  New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence was presented.  Additionally, the condemnation with regards to the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence caused the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals.  The Court of Appeal, constituted by Lord Justices Lloyd, Mustill and Farquharson , stated of the forensic evidence that “Dr Skuse’s conclusion was wrong, and demonstrably wrong, judged even by the state of forensic science in 1974.

The success of the appeals, as well as other miscarriages of justice, caused the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991.  The commission reported in 1993 and led to the Criminal Act 1995 which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997.  Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers were charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but were never prosecuted.  Richard McIlkenny died of cancer in Dublin on the 21st May 2006.

Shane MacGowan and Terry Woods, songwriters with the Irish folk / punk band The Pogues,  wrote the song Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six based on the plight of the Birmingham Six and included it on the band’s 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.  The song is split into two parts, the first of which, Streets of Sorrow, written and sung by Woods, describes the emotions felt on the streets of Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles.  The song is told from the perspective of somebody leaving Northern Ireland because of the increasing levels of violence and conflict.  The narrator states that he will never return “to feel more sorrow, nor to see more young men slain”.

The second part of the song, Birmingham Six, written and sung by MacGowan, is a demonstration of support to the Birmingham Six (as well as to the Guildford Four, who were similarly victims of a miscarriage of justice, having been accused of the Guildford Pub Bombings).  The song tells of how the confessions of the six men had been extracted by torture at the hands of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, claiming “There were six men in Birmingham, In Guildford there’s four, That were picked up and tortured, And framed by the law, And the filth got promotion, But they’re still doing time, For being Irish in the wrong place, And at the wrong time”.  Whilst this was later proven to be the case, at the time that the song was written, the people mentioned in the song were still convicted and still in prison.

Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six was highly controversial.  When the band performed the song on Channel 4’s Friday Night Live on the 15th April 1988, the programme cut to a commercial break before the end of the song.  The song was quickly banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) under the same laws which were responsible for a ban on the broadcasting of direct interviews with members of Sinn Fein and other groups, as they worried that it might have invited support for a terrorist organisation such as the IRA.  After the Birmingham Six had their convictions overturned in 1991, the ban on the song was lifted.

Interviews with the Birmingham Six can be seen on this ITV documentary, World in Action Special: The Birmingham Six – Their Own Story, transmitted on the 18th March 1991:

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Five): “Lord Lucan is Missing”

Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, more commonly known as Lord Lucan was a British peer suspected of murder, who disappeared without a trace on the 8th November 1974.  Lucan was born into an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family in Marylebone.  His great-great-grandfather was the 3rd Earl of Lucan, who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade.  He attended Eton and later served with the Coldstream Guards in West Germany between 1953 and 1955.  He developed a taste for gambling and, skilled at backgammon and bridge, became an early member of the Clermont Club.  Despite the fact his losses often exceeded his winnings, he left his job at a London-based merchant bank and became a professional gambler.  He was known by the title Lord Bingham between April 1949 and January 1964, when his father died and he became the 7th Earl of Lucan.

Lucan was a highly charismatic man who was once even considered for the role of James Bond.  He had expensive tastes, with his hobbies including power boats and driving his Aston Martin.  In 1963, he married Veronica Duncan, with whom he had three children.  When the marriage collapsed in late 1972, he moved out of the family home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street, in London’s Belgravia, to a property nearby.  A bitter battle for custody of his children ensued and Lucan lost.  He began to spy on his wife and record their telephone conversations, apparently obsessed with regaining custody of their children.  This fixation, combined with his gambling losses, had a dramatic effect on his life and personal finances.

The murder of Sandra Rivett, the children’s nanny took place on the evening of 7th November 1974.  On Thursday nights, Rivett usually went out with her boyfriend, John Hawkins but had tragically decided to change her night off and had seen him the previous day.  Rivett and Hawkins spoke on the telephone at about 8pm.  At about 8.55pm, she put the Lucans’ youngest child to bed and asked Lady Lucan if she would like a cup of tea.  She headed downstairs to the basement kitchen to make the cup of tea.  As she entered the room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe.  Her body was then placed in a canvas mail sack.  Upon wondering what had delayed Rivett, Lady Lucan walked down the stairs into the basement kitchen and was also attacked.  She later identified Lord Lucan as her assailant.

When questioned by the police, Lady Lucan said that as she screamed for her life, her attacker had told her to “shut up”.  At this moment, said Lady Lucan, she recognised her husband’s voice.  The two had continued to fight.  In an attempt to get Lord Lucan to loosen his grip, she bit his fingers.  He threw her down on the carpet.  She managed to turn around and squeeze his testicles, causing him to give up the fight.  Lady Lucan asked where Sandra Rivett was.  Lord Lucan was evasive but eventually admitted to having killed her.  Lady Lucan told him that she could help him escape on the provision that he remained at the house for a few days to allow her injuries to heal.  Lucan walked upstairs and sent his daughter to bed before going into one of the bedrooms.  Lady Lucan followed him into the bedroom, placing towels down on the bed to avoid staining the bedding, on the instruction of Lord Lucan.  Lucan asked her if she had any barbiturates and went into the bathroom to get a wet towel, supposedly to clean Lady Lucan’s face.  Realising that her husband would not be able to hear her from the bathroom, she made her escape, running outside to a nearby public house, the Plumber’s Arms.

As the police began their murder investigation, Lucan telephoned his mother, asking her to collect the children, and then drove a borrowed Ford Corsair to the home of friend Susan Maxwell-Scott in Uckfield, East Sussex.  Hours later, he left the property and was never seen again.   The Ford Corsair was later found abandoned in Newhaven.  The interior of the car was stained with blood and its boot contained a piece of bandaged lead pipe similar to the one found at the crime scene.  A few days later, a warrant for Lucan’s arrest was issued and in his absence, the inquest into Rivett’s death named him as her murderer.  With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1977, the inquest into Rivett’s death marked the last occasion in Britain on which a coroner’s court was allowed to make such a determination.  The whereabouts of Lord Lucan and whether he is dead or alive remains a fascinating mystery for the British public.  Since the murder of Sandra Rivett, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of Lucan all over the world, although none have been substantiated.  Despite a police investigation and huge press interest, Lucan has never been found and has now been presumed dead.

In 1978, Brighton punk band The Dodgems released the single Lord Lucan is Missing on the appropriately titled Criminal Records.  Interestingly, the song was produced by Jonathan King, the self-confessed vile pervert who 22 years later would become as infamous as Lord Lucan when he was convicted of a string of sexual offences against young boys since the early 70s.  Originally part of the Vaultage 78 compilation album, Lord Lucan is Missing was championed by John Peel, who invited the band to record a session for his Radio 1 show.  The session became a Peel favourite and was repeated several times before the show ended with Peel’s death in 2004.  The Peel session helped the song to become an iconic song of the punk era.

The song takes its title from newspaper headlines at the time of Lord Lucan’s disappearance, hence the opening line of the song, “It seems like years ago that the headlines read, ‘Lord Lucan is Missing’”.  The song makes several references to Lord Lucan’s interests and ponders upon his potential whereabouts, with lines including “Is he in the Clermont Club or in the South of France, Playing on a roulette wheel in another game of chance, I don’t know …”

The Love of Richard Nixon: An Historical Drama in Twenty Songs. Richard Nixon Announces The Release of Edited Transcripts of White House Tape Recordings Relating to the Watergate Scandal. This Day in History, 29/04/1974. / Richard Nixon Takes The Rap For The Watergate Scandal, 30/04/1973.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’

(from the album Lifeblood, 2004).

2.  Stevie Wonder ‘He’s Misstra Know-it-all’

(from the album Innervisions, 1973).

3.  Randy Newman ‘Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)’

(from the album Good Old Boys, 1974).

4.  The Undisputed Truth ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’

(from the album The Undisputed Truth, 1971).

5.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ‘Ohio’

(single A-side, 1970).

6.  Phil Ochs ‘How High’s The Watergate’

(from the album Live 1974, 1974).

7.  Neil Young ‘Campaigner’

(from the album Decade, 1977).

8.  Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

(from the album Second Helping, 1974).

9.  Frank Zappa ‘Son of Orange County / More Trouble Every Day’

(from the album Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974).

10. Elton John ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’

(from the album The Captain & The Kid, 2006).

11.  Curtis Mayfield ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’

(from the album Curtis, 1970).

12. David Bowie ‘Young Americans’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

13.  John Lennon ‘Gimme Some Truth’

(from the album Imagine, 1971).

14.  Gil Scott Heron / Brian Jackson ‘H²Ogate Blues’

(from the album Winter in America, 1974).

15.  Bill Horwitz ‘If I Had A Friend Like Rosemary Woods’

(from the album Lies Lies Lies, 1975).

16.  Robyn Hitchcock ‘1974’

(from the album A Star For Bram, 2000).

17.  James Taylor ‘Let It All Fall Down’

(from the album Walking Man, 1974).

18.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

19. Pink Floyd ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’

(from the album The Final Cut, 1983).

20.  Mono Puff ‘Nixon’s The One’

(from the album Unsupervised, 1996).