A Dash of Stardust
Emma Ronicle talks to the 70s Glam Rock Star, Alvin Stardust about X-Factor, the Childcatcher and the Biscuit Factory Boy.
We enter the busy assembly hall to see a man gesticulating wildly. He is encouraging a group of excitable children to ‘rock out’, playing air guitar. This man is mean and moody glam-rock idol Alvin Stardust. The aging rocker I was expecting turned out to have more energy than the primary school children he was rehearsing with, and his gloomy persona of the past four decades had dissipated, leaving the man beneath; an instantly likeable, genuinely decent guy.
Currently, Stardust is performing his nationwide tour, which visited York recently. Along with his band, Alvin is accompanied on stage by a local primary school choir, in the form of Knavesmire Primary in York. Today was their first rehearsal with Stardust.
His rapport with the children is instantly visible and, as we sit down to begin the interview, it becomes obvious that the first question, enquiring about his relationship with his own five children, is unnecessary. “I’m a proud dad, I really am,” he beams when asked about one of his sons, Adam, who has won a MOBO for his album Circles and is now producing drum’n’bass in New York. He then enthusiastically recites a long list of the achievements of his other children, who include a BBC television producer and director working on ‘Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow’ (until it was taken off air for being too outrageous); a headmaster of a grammar school and the boss of a graphic-design company. It appeared that only his six year old daughter Millie had yet to experience great professional success.
When asked if Millie liked his music, Alvin chuckled. “She loves music, yes, but she hasn’t really heard a lot of mine. She’s never seen me in concert.” Millie had, however, seen Alvin in numerous stage roles, and spent a month watching the daily matinee performances of Stardust as the Childcatcher in the West End adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
It seems Millie isn’t the only one with a busy schedule; Alvin admitted to being “a bit tired” before the interview and as he reels off his diary for the next couple of days, his fatigue becomes understandable. After driving up from Brighton, his home town, to rehearse with the children in York today, he plans to visit Lincoln for two radio interviews this evening, before moving on Coventry to complete five more interviews and later perform in Solihull. Not bad for a sixty-five year old!
When asked how he managed to summon the energy for all this, he replies: “I love it. I love being at home chilling out with my family when I don’t have any gigs, but then suddenly it’s all go again, and you just have to find that switch, flick it and suddenly everything is in gear and you’re off.”
Stardust began his pop career with a handful of hits in the ’60s performing as Shane Fenton, before glamming-up his name in the ’70s and subsequently reaping the benefits of such a decision. He had seven top ten chart entries, including hits such as ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo’ and ‘Jealous Minds’, and famously performed with a black leather glove and a diamond ring. He has now outgrown this fetish and when I interviewed him, to my disappointment, his hands were gloveless.
This pop career for which he is so renowned amounts to a small proportion of his CV, which is littered with numerous achievements. He has worked in West End theatre, in hits shows including Godspell, Phantom of the Opera and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He spent a year acting in Hollyoaks; a role which, so he tells me, the production company begs him to return to on a yearly basis.
It’s been decades since Alvin began his career, and the music industry has seen many radical changes in that time. Alvin tells me that the main change is not in the music, or even the musicians; it’s all down to the accountants who now “have too much to say.” “The music business,” he tells me, is “more centred around money and figures, instead of the artistic content.”
“Producers used to used to find a band and say ‘I really like this style, I’m gonna go for this.’ Now people simply think ‘they’re a bit like that band that’s just been in the charts, let’s jump on that bandwagon; that will be profitable’ It used to be all artistic people that made the decisions, it’s not anymore”
But despite this resentment, he admits a sneaking admiration for many contemporary artists, including David Gray, Greenday and Snow Patrol; and proves his musical diversity by telling me the last album he bought was a jazz record by Diana Krall. His musical idols, however? “Buddy Holly, and Elvis.”
He may disapprove of the more economically-oriented music industry we see today, but he does confess to watching X-Factor, despite disliking “the way the young ones are used by programs like that. But, having said that, it’s a great platform for them. How else could they be seen by such a huge audience? Every teenager you meet these days says they’re auditioning on X-Factor. If it was around when I was a teenager I suppose I’d have gone on. I’ve no idea what I’d have sung; I have so many heroes that my audition would probably have gone on for days!”
I ask what his advice would be to any aspiring young pop star wannabes out there, and he says two things: “Have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously,” and “what goes around comes around.” He leans in close to me with a cheeky grin. “We were about to perform at a big awards ceremony and we weren’t doing interviews. My record company at the time had insisted on my maintaining a particular ‘mean and moody’ persona, and had taken to announcing me as a recluse.”
Alvin continues, in a soothing yet theatrical voice: “I’m in my dressing room, one of the bouncers comes in and tells me a young man’s stood outside; he runs the radio station in a biscuit factory; he’s asking for an interview. In spite of my management’s instructions, I invited him in for an interview.”
Ten years later, in 1981, Stardust released a single, ‘Pretend’, which eventually became a very successful hit song, but at the time they were struggling with a lack of radio plays. In the midst of this, Capital Radio suddenly began to play it every two hours, for no apparent reason.
Stardust was then asked to visit the radio station for an interview, where he profusely thanked the DJ for his support. The DJ smiled at him, in a way I imagine similar to the manner in which Alvin is nostalgically smiling as he recalls this story. “He said to me, ‘well you know what they say; what goes around comes around.’ I looked at him, confused. ‘I’m the program planner for Capital Radio, and I chose your record to be played. You won’t remember me.’ As he was talking, it suddenly came back to me. He was the biscuit factory boy!”
Despite his insanely hectic schedule, Stardust found time to talk to me, pose for my photos and even ask me how my university course was going. His story of the biscuit factory boy goes to show that a bit of decency really can get you far, and Alvin Stardust, himself, is a great testament to this.