Since the age of fourteen I was an avid reader of both ‘Record Mirror’ and ‘Melody Maker’ music papers. Both were still large format and published weekly in newsprint, unlike the glossy magazines they later became. I was a big admirer of Blondie, Donna Summer, Kate Bush, Soft Cell, Human League, Giorgio Moroder . . . Some of the biggest stars of the era. The list goes on, I was a BIG pop fan and loved the electro sounds of those artists, particularly Summer and Moroder.
I continued buying them when I left school, following the charts and the new releases each week as if I was still fourteen and hanging out in the bike sheds at school. Many a lunchtime was spent with Lisa Diwell and Marie Draper excitedly awaiting to hear who had gone into the top five, or whether or not a song had remained at number one. By the time I was seventeen and reading them on the train into work it dawned on me that a lot of the information was either wrong or badly researched. I read many an article, comment or review of something Blondie or Donna Summer were doing that needed rectifying, so I began to offer my writing and research services. They were remarkably open to my suggestion, which consisted merely of telephoning or writing to the various record companies and gathering the information directly from their marketing departments. I thought ‘I can do this, this is a piece of piss’. I was eager, maybe a little pushy, but it’s most likely why it worked. Never before had I acknowledged such drive in myself. All of this was of course done whilst I was still at work in the bank, either typing up the many letters using their fabulous new IBM Golfball typewriters or using their state of the art switchboard to make the many international calls. I must have rung up quite a bill, but as we were continually calling New York and Los Angeles on genuine bank business it would have been impossible to decipher who had made any extra calls, at least back in those days. I even stayed on in work after 5pm to call Los Angeles, and for which they paid me overtime!! I was in contact with Casablanca Records, Warner Brothers, EMI, Polygram and in London, Chrysalis Records . . . Gathering all the information needed to put articles together ranging from short thirty word ‘new release’ announcements to full page colour spreads on particular artists. Many were printed, and for many I was paid very decent money . . all whilst being paid at work. I had no idea that I was ‘moonlighting’ – I had never heard of it. I loved having some real job satisfaction though sadly not from my actual employers. If they had found out I surely would have been sacked, but they didn’t and it lasted for quite some time, several years in fact. Week by week there was something in ‘Record Mirror’ which I had written, and I was in my element. I received cheques for amounts ranging from £15 to £300 depending on the size of the article. With hindsight I should have left the bank and concentrated on the writing, yet the fear instilled in me by my parents of losing my ‘real’ job loomed ever close.
Chatting to the lovely Damaris at Donna Summer’s offices on Vine Street was always a complete joy. We spoke several times a week and struck up quite a friendship. Not only did it give me access to what was going on in Donna’s career, but also many others who were friends of Donna, namely Deniece Williams, James Ingram, Stephanie Mills and various other U.S. soul stars of the era who attended the regular weekly Bible studies she held at 1224 North Vine Street, overseen by her father Andrew Gaines. My sister Karen and I went to a few of these, feeling great to be included yet awkward surrounded by such religious fanatics. ‘God has brought you here’ said Donna’s father, as he clutched onto both our hands tightly as if he was in a trance. All the while i’m thinking ‘No he didn’t, it was Pan Am’. He was a kind man but equally imposing, a towering giant of a man who clearly had control over his large family. He looked after the building (an old disused theatre in the heart of Hollywood) and kept a watchful eye over his daughters and grandchildren. Over the years Damaris and I met up many times and she also came to stay with my parents in Rainham. She invited me over to California every time we spoke ‘You’ve got to come here, you’d love it, and Donna wants to meet you’. I’m thinking ‘Yeah right, I bet you haven’t even told her about me’. It turned out that Damaris was Donna’s sister-in-law, and they were really close. And Miss Summer did indeed know who I was and eventually met me and granted me the opportunity to do a full on interview with her for ‘Record Mirror’, which ended up in the July 9th 1983 issue in full colour, and with a name credit. I was a happy boy, and Donna Summer was an honest, funny and very lovely lady. In London a few years later I would be in a room with both my Mum and Donna Summer, which to this day remains totally surreal.
I will never forget the looks on people’s faces when I came back from my lone trip to the states that summer, armed with a fantastic collection of photographs I still cherish, and within days of arriving back my interview was right there, in print and on all the magazine stands up and down the country. Halcyon days, for sure.