Toying Around With An Icon

You can often find secrets as to the direction of an artist’s next album within their current release.  In October 1999, Bowie released the much undervalued and often overlooked “Hours…..” LP.  In one particular review at the time of release, inspired British journalist, Steve Pafford gave the album a right and proper slating.  I was furious with the man when I first read the review.  Deep down, I still remain a tad disjointed over his comments relating to the album.  I still love him regardless.  The album itself was a reflective look back over the life of a then 52 year old Bowie.  During the small tour that was scheduled to promote “Hours….”, Bowie pulled out a long lost treasure (????) from his archive in the aptly named, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” to perform on the mini tour.  If you ever needed a hint as to his next musical direction, it was right there in that song, slapping you in the face.  At the time of the “Hours….” mini tour, his wife, Iman was also knocked up with their first child, Lexi.

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Fast forward to July 2000.  Hot on the heels of an impressive performance at Glastonbury, some New York fan shows and a wonderful session at the BBC, we find Bowie in the studio laying his recent reflections down in an honest and reflective album covering songs from his past.  We’re not just talking about his recent past here.  For these reflections, we have to head back to the mid 60’s.  Bowie booked time in Sear Sound Studios as well as Looking Glass Studios in New York City to begin sessions on what was to become “Toy”, his soon to be shelved album.  By August, and with the birth of his daughter, Bowie took some time off be a father.  It would not be until January 2001 before he headed back to the studio to complete the Toy session.  By this stage, we had only had a small studio sample of “Afraid” via Bowie.Net during November of 2000.  Little did we know, he was recording a lot of songs!  And joining him in the sessions were a grand cast that included no less than eleven other including producer, Tony Visconti.  The full cast was as follows.  Mark Plati, Earl Slick, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson, Sterling Campbell, Lisa Germano, Gerry Leonard, Courig Vu,Holly Palmer, Emm Gryner and Visconti perched behind the desk.

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On the plus side, in September 2000, we saw a long awaited release of the Bowie at the Beeb sessions.  Early editions came with a bonus CD of the concert performed on June 27 in London’s BBC studios.  Bowie at the Beeb was a strong performer, peaking at number 7 on the U.K charts.

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During the month of February 2001, Bowie appeared at The Tibet House Benefit concert to perform “Silly Boy Blue”. first released on his 1967 debut LP, David Bowie which came out on the Deram label and bombed without a trace.  At this stage, “Toy” was expected around March yet EMI decided that their scheduling line up meant the release would be put back to July and then, by October, EMI decided they wanted an album of new material.  Obviously the executives wanted a more commercially driven release instead of a hotch potch of reflective clangers from a middle aged muso they thought was past his best.  How wrong were they?  The project that appeared to be one of those never to see the light of day albums was now doomed however, Bowie had other ideas and, with the release of “Heathen” in June 2002 came an opportunity to let some of the “Toy” gems out of the bag.  “Afriad” and “Uncle Floyd” made the “Heathen” album proper with the latter now referred to as “Slip Away”.  A small selection also found their way onto various B-Side releases before “Your Turn To Drive” and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” were included on the tasteful “Nothing Has Changed” compilation of 2014.

After the release of “Heathen”, we were left to ponder what might have been with the now obsolete “Toy” album.  A few years later however, 2008 to be exact, I would be enlightened by the whereabouts of those songs from the “Toy” sessions in the form of a surprising coincidence.

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Talking to a friend who had their own band in the USA one evening, the conversation took a turn out of the blue when I was told about the content on Mark Plati’s laptop.  Plati was producing my friends band at the time and decided to give them a listen to some songs from the “Toy” sessions.  He played a number of songs to the group and from their recollections, a selection of demo recordings was offered as well as finished studio numbers.  Around eight tracks were played in all.  The surprise for me was that a demo of “The Laughing Gnome” was aired on top of “Uncle Floyd” and “The London Boys”.  I distinctly remember thinking at the time how disappointing it was not to have these songs out in the market place as official material.  The demo of “The Laughing Gnome” took me by surprise as I knew Bowie had a distinct dislike for the song but from the information collected via my American friend, it was done more or less as a tongue in cheek effort that was destined to never make it past the demo stage.  All in all, some 25 songs were either demoed or recorded with full arrangements during the “Toy” sessions and we’ve since seen almost all of those released through official and not so official means.

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Of course, by now we know that an alternative version of “Toy” appeared out of the blue in 2011.  With no new album since 2003, this was a revelation for fans as we threw ourselves head long into the theories as to how this album of sorts made its way out into the general population?  I’d been told during a visit to Europe sometime around the middle of 2010 that “Toy” was in the hands of a few collectors but I honestly didn’t think much of it as I didn’t know the full scale of exactly what was on it or how legitimate my sources were.  The question that sat perched in the front of my thoughts was how on earth did it get out?  And who let it out?  The early word was that it came via Mark Plati’s laptop being stolen.  My initial objection to this was if that was indeed the case, why had such a small selection of songs made it out and why were there no demos or alternative versions as discussed many times by fans over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, I was well chuffed to have the songs on my hi fi at long last but i’m the kind of guy who likes to ponder the finer details.  And ponder I did.

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Early in the peace, a theory was subscribed to on some forums that Bowie himself had allowed the album out.  It wouldn’t surprise me because we all know how tight the man was with his material following the end of his RCA contract in 1981.  The other question to think about was exactly what else was locked away in those vaults from these sessions?  Here’s a list of the known recordings with the exception of “Miss America High”, a song we know Gail Ann Dorsey spoke of as being her favorite from the “Toy” sessions.  “Pictures of Lily”, also recorded during these sessions ended up finding its way onto a tribute album to The Who.

London Boys

Liza Jane

I Dig Everything

Can’t Help Thinking About Me

You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving

Baby Loves That Way

Conversation Piece 

Let Me Sleep Beside You

Silly Boy Blue

In The Heat Of The Morning

Karma Man

Secret 1 (which became Shadow Man)

Afraid

Uncle Floyd

Hole In The Ground

Wood Jackson

Toy (which became Your Turn To Drive)

All up, we have 19 songs which leaves a half dozen or so unaccounted for.  And we may never know which songs they indeed were.  Perhaps somewhere in the world, there are a small pocket of collectors who sit on these unreleased tracks?  We’ve seen it before where unreleased material has been passed around a select few, some of which has finally seen the light of day like the 1. Outside material.  God only knows whatever else lies in wait but it will indeed be a fine guessing game until that day arrives when it all sees the light of day.

 

 

 

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