Review: Vince Cosmos – Glam Rock Detective / Author: Paul Magrs / Publisher: Bafflegab Productions / Release Date: February 1st
You may remember early in 2012, Starburst Magazine was given an exclusive preview of the latest Iris Wildthyme short story by Paul Magrs, Hang Onto Yourself, which featured not only the first lady of time travelling double-decker buses herself, but also introduced the character Vince Cosmos and his entourage. Hang Onto Yourself was set in 1979, with Mr. Cosmos on the verge of a life-changing decision.
Rewind seven years to 1972, and we find Vince at the height of his glam rocking fame, and apparently alien-detecting in his spare time. He’s a bit of a conundrum, old Mr. Cosmos, if truth be told; claiming to be from the planet Venus, his songs tell stories of life in outer space and his private life is no less peculiar. Is he a self-involved narcissistic fantasist, or the salvation of the human race? Or maybe a bit of both?
Before we get onto other things, we’d like to share a couple of interviews we uncovered during our research for this review.
THE B.O. BANK HOLIDAY SPECIAL!
The Bryan Only Vince Cosmos TV Interview
BBC 2, August Bank Holiday Monday, 1972.
BO: And that was Vince Cosmos, darling of the air waves and currently rocking his way through the concert halls of the land, with his brand new hit single, ‘Nefarious.’
BO: Come along and sit down here, Vincent. You don’t mind me using your full name, do you?
VINCE: Uh, you can call me anything you like, Bryan. It’s an honour to be on your show again.
BO: That was a tremendous reception for your new recording.
VINCE: Yeah, uh, it sure was, Bryan. But Vince Cosmos fans are the best, you know. Whichever new musical direction I go in – they’re sure to follow. They’re, you know, loyal as can be. They dig me, and uh – all my musical peregrinations.
BO: That’s quite an ensemble you’re sporting this evening.
VINCE: I like to glam up for my fans. I scrub up all right, don’t I? Do you think?
BO: I think that means the young ladies and gentlemen of the audience approve. I think you look rather like an Eighteenth century dandy, crossed with something from outer space.
VINCE: Ta very much.
BO: The show’s proving rather noisy tonight. You’ve attracted a slightly different, more boisterous audience to the one I usually get, I must say.
VINCE: Quite a hip crowd you’ve got in tonight, Bryan.
BO: We do our best, Vince. Now, I wonder if you’d all like to see a clip of Vincent Cosmos’s first appearance on the The Bryan Only Show, back in 1968?
BO: We’ve been into the archive and unearthed a smashing little bit of telecine of you before you were the space invader we know and love today…
BO: Hello there, young man. And you’re a protest singer too, are you?
VINCE: I am indeed, Mr. Only. My name is Aloysius Elven Wishbone and my first record is released today!
BO: What’s its name?
VINCE: It’s called ‘Pixies All Around Me’.
BO: Smashing! I see you’ve brought your guitar with you, Aloysius. Would you like to treat us to a song?
VINCE: Uh… that was a long time ago.
BO: Was ‘Pixies All Around Me’ a very big hit for you?
VINCE: Not really. I wish you’d talked to my management before showing that… It was back when I was… uh, messing around with the idea of doing like a concept album based around J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. But they wouldn’t let me have the, you know, rights and stuff… so it just became this kind of, uh, novelty song about a bunch of pixies.
OB: I hear your old record company is going to release it again, cashing in on the current vogue for your good self?
VINCE: That’s just a pathetic rumour. No, that song has been expunged from my back catalogue, Bryan.
OB: Pity, I found it rather catchy…
VINCE: I’m in a different place these days, Bryan. I don’t do that pixie stuff no more.
TIMOTHY BOLD INTERVIEWS VINCE COSMOS
Radio One’s ‘Listen to the Stars!’ August 22nd, 1972
TIMMY: Is that your real hair colour? Blue?
VINCE: Uh, yes. Well, no. It was blond for a while, and then silver. And it went kind of crispy. So I went back to my natural blue, y’know? It seemed kind of simpler.
TIMMY: What can you tell us about your new album, 'Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective'?
VINCE: It’s been riding high in the charts for a little while now. I still like some of it, the non-singles, mostly. The less commercial tracks, really. You see, the thing is, as a creative artist you move on, you know? And already I’m thinking about – not just the next concept album I’m working on, but the one after that and the project that will come after that. I’m envisioning a sequence of six albums, I’m thinking, yeah. And some time in around 1980 I’ll probably stop recording for a while and move into films.
TIMMY: You split opinion down the middle, don't you? Some people love you, some hate you.
VINCE: I dunno, Timmy. I don’t know if anyone hates me. It’s best to keep outta the way of that kind of karma, you know? I tend to stick to the positive vibrations and zone out on all the love. You should try it.
TIMMY: What kind of fan mail do you get?
VINCE: I don’t have the time to read every last piece of fan mail any more. If I sat down and replied to everything everyone wants to know – and gave away all my time like that – there’d be like, you know, no more time for me to record and sing and write my new material. So, in the past few months I’ve like, hired a new personal assistant to help me out with that jazz. Everyone who’s written in to me can expect to be hearing from her pretty soon. She’s a terrific girl. From Scotland or Sunderland or something. But, yeah, apparently some of these letters are quite racy.
TIMMY: You've also had a couple of assassination attempts on your life. What happened?
VINCE: Got shot in the head after a gig at Hammersmith. Nearly got exploded at the Royal Variety. Yeah, it can be pretty hairy in the spotlight. But, you know. You gotta take it. You put yourself out there. You’re gonna get noticed. There are a lot of freaks out there, as well as good guys. Freaks with ray guns, some of them.
TIMMY: Your lyrics are all about aliens, and space, and cosmic gods - how do you think up such far out ideas?
VINCE: That’s because it’s all true, Timmy. I don’t have to make anything up. You just gotta keep your head tuned in to what the cosmos is saying and what’s coming down through the ether. And then you’ll see that every word of it is true, you know.
TIMMY: Do you really believe in aliens?
VINCE: Just think about it for a second. Can we really be alone in this universe? Can this little world be all there is? I’ve been out there, Timmy. You’ve got to believe me. I’ve seen some very funny looking fellas out there in space. Aliens, Timmy. The universe is bleeding full of 'em.
TIMMY: You're heading back out on tour. How did you dream up your latest stage incarnation?
VINCE: I had some help from my people. But mostly it’s just me. And my inspiration. Next spring I’m aiming for a kind of Space Safari look, with lots of animal print and you know, like sci-fi accessories. All my band will be dressed up as big cats.
TIMMY: Do you ever get tired of being outrageous?
VINCE: Sometimes I like to kick back and just relax, you know? I do ordinary things when I’m in my own time. I like to … uh, relax. I take a lot of baths. I don’t like swimming or sunbathing much. I have things read to me. I used to climb trees and stuff. And skiing. I learned to ski last winter, and I mastered the art, but I didn’t like it much. I paint and make collages out of old stuff. I do a lot of that.
TIMMY: Do you ever picture yourself at 60?
VINCE: I just can’t see it, somehow, Timmy. I just can’t see that far ahead. That seems really space age to me, that’s the twenty first century, innit? I’ve got a lot of transitions to get through before then. The whole human race has got a lot to get through a lot of transitions before then!
TIMMY: Thanks, Vince. Do you want to introduce your new single?
VINCE: Uh, sure. This is me. Uh, singing. And it’s my new song, which I sat up all night writing. And it’s about feeling a bit paranoid because the world is run by super-powered aliens who can control people’s minds and stuff. It’s called ‘Nefarious’ and it’s available right now to download.
VINCE: Buy, Timmy. Sorry, buy in a high street shop. Here it is!
Our story begins with the character of Poppy Munday, leaving her life in Sunderland behind and heading down to the capital in search of something more glamorous. She doesn’t find it. Instead, after she’s moved in with her old friend Trish, upstairs from the friendly and understanding landlady Gilda Fairbanks and downstairs from the sinister Mr. Glister, Poppy finds herself in a bit of a funk, spending wasted days idling around the flat, listening to her Vince Cosmos LPs and avoiding looking for a job.
Lauren Kellegher makes for a fantastic Poppy Munday; with her gentle North East accent and unassuming manner, she soon draws us into what otherwise might seem a rather low-key first half of the story. Katy Manning provides the balance as Gilda Fairbanks; rather than vamping it up, Manning instead makes Fairbanks the kind of landlady we perhaps all wish we might have had, slightly dotty but warmhearted and always on the lookout for poor Poppy. A larger-than-life character maybe, but a very endearing one all the same.
Things soon perk up, however, and before Poppy knows it, she’s up to her ears in assassination attempts, aliens and imposters – and a new job.
Truth be told, this first instalment in the Vince Cosmos saga is rather a simple tale, with most of the twists and turns along the way coming as little surprise to the listener. And that’s just as it should be, because this story is here to introduce us to the set-up and the characters, and it does so in exemplary and entertaining fashion, the languid opening half proving an engaging and involving listen. Magrs deploys a seasoned writer’s trick by establishing the idea of Vince Cosmos long before we get to meet the character himself, so instead we get to spend time with Poppy, her flatmate Trisha and the wonderful Katy Manning. Meanwhile, the sinister Mr. Glister comes and goes (Alex Lowe catches the character perfectly), and there’s even a cameo from an unexpected alt-personality that probably would have been excised from the recording had it been made a few months later. Oh, and then there’s the music; the evocation of early 1970s glam rock is spot-on, leavin you minded of Velvet Goldmine.
All roads lead to Cosmos, though, and it’s just before the halfway mark that Vince properly makes his entrance. Enigmatic, ambiguous and narcissistic, and yet talented, charismatic, compelling and ultimately endearing, Vince Cosmos is a dream of a role: the Glam Rock Superstar from Space. And once you hear Julian Rhind-Tutt in the part, you cannot imagine him having been played by anyone else.
Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective is a little contrived on occasion, but that’s entirely forgiveable; this first story exists primarily to set up the format, but it’s barrels of fun and leaves you desperate to spend more time in its company; job done. One suggestion, though: don’t download, buy the CD. The care and attention applied stretches across the entire production, even as far as the sleeve the discs are presented in. And believe me, it’s worth the extra pennies.
(With thanks to Paul Magrs)