Saturday, September 09, 2006
Canning Town Boy Made Good
For those of you that don't know London too well, Canning Town is one of the poorer/harder parts of the East End of London being situated on the edge of London's once thriving docks. My father was born and raised there, he got out, though my grandfather, a provincial seafarer who came to the big smoke during the depression to find work and spent the rest of his life as a docker, didn't. I have fond memories of him as often I would stop off and have a pint with him as I headed off to the Bridgehouse, a popular East London venue in the 70's, to catch a gig, he was always asking me what I was doing in that "old knocking shop" as apparently the Bridgehouse was an once a brothel, hardly surprising really what with all those sailors passing through.
my roots are obviously not today's subject, it is David Essex. I know, me as well sometimes I wonder exactly how my brain functions, still maybe David is up for a critical re-appraisal ! I often heard people say when I was at school that there were three ways of escaping the East End 1) become a gangster, 2) become a footballer, 3) become a pop star, well David had tried the first having been part of the West Ham Junior team before Turning his hand to music. He was one of the many artists that went to make up the soundtrack to my teen years as provided by wonderful radio one, Essex was maybe more what my sister and her friends would listen to as I was more into Glam and Glitter than teenie pop stars. What I do recognise today is that many of his songs have passed the test of time and as such are still floating around in my head, occasionally coming to the surface for no known reason.
In the mid sixties he was a drummer for local R'n'B groups playing much the same circuit as the Small Faces, by the end of the decade he had been signed by Decca as a solo artist but failed to chart. His big break came in 1971 when he was chosen to play the lead role in the London stage musical Godspell, which placed him firmly in the critical limelight. It Wasn't until 1974 when he starred in the film That'll Be The Day that his became known to the wider public. He was author of the moody song 'Rock On' from the soundtrack that became his first UK hit and sole chart success in the USA. There was a follow up film in 1975 Stardust, two films that come highly recommended portraying life on the edges in 60's/70's England that owe much to the Ken Loach school of film making. The album that sent him to the top of the teen charts, and gave him a place in many a young girls heart was also released in 1975, 'All The Fun Of The Fair' which needlessly to say featured some of his biggest hit singles, 'Hold Me Close' highlighting his cheeky East End drawl, a song that would have been equally well suited to the vocal talents of the then ascending Rod Stewart. Despite the tag of being a teenie bop artist he was much more of a complete performer as can be heard on 'Rolling Stone' which features on the same album, a song that pays homage to the Temptations amongst others. His career as a top recording artist slowed down by the late 70's due in part to his predominately young female audience growing up and changing their allegiances and also the wipe the slate clean attitude after the big punk bang. He returned to theatre work and has released the occasional album, this autumn he heads out on a lenthy UK tour. Today the wavy long locks of his youth are long gone giving way to grey cropped hair as he resembles a mixture of David Soul and Malcolm McDowell.
I'm obviously not the only person to recognise his talents as bootleg/mashup wizard Go Home Productions put together 'Essex Dove' which uses David's vocals from 'Rock On' over the Doves 'Firesuite' to very good effect.