INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Guardian FEBRUARY 22, 2008 - by Dave Simpson
IN PRAISE OF POP'S PEACOCKS
From Eno to Bowie, pop music has a noble tradition of musicians strutting their stuff in barmy outfits. What's your favourite?
When I was very small, Top Of The Pops wasn't just a chance to hear the latest pop hits but was a visual feast - a weekly parade of stars in increasingly preposterous outfits. Roy Wood's Wizzard musicians donned gorilla suits for Top Of The Pops while their leader donned red hair, a big beard and giant stars scrawled across his face. Slade's "Super Yob" Dave Hill wore a succession of wonderfully daft costumes including one that was described by bandmate Jim Lea as looking like a "metal nun". Routinely, we would gather around the television to cheer, while parents were generally so appalled at what was on the screen they would consider phoning the police.
Until this week, I thought those days were gone for good, but no, on Sunday night at Leeds Cockpit I enjoyed a rare sighting of a pop pantomime loon. His name - or at least his stage name - is Red Dog Consuela. The keyboardist in bonkers electro-guitar band Late Of The Pier plays a synthesizer on a silver box mounted on an ironing board, performing ballet twirls while wearing a billowing-sleeved silver outfit that makes him look like a cross between pre-outrage Gary Glitter and an oven-ready turkey.
There will surely be some who consider De Consuela to be a living embodiment of the need for National Service. But for me, Red Dog Consuela is a prince among men, an artist who is not afraid to walk tall - in platform shoes, if need be - and hold his pampered, ridiculously soft rock coiffured head high in the face of ridicule: a peacock of pop.
Pop music has a noble tradition of producing peacocks - easily lampooned, ludicrously outfitted characters who wade nobly into the fields of mad styling so the rest of us can have a thrill and a bloody good laugh. Almost as pop began, exhibitionist nutters like Screaming Lord Sutch and Little Richard were cavorting in public in various combinations of glitter and sequins, leopard skin jumpsuits and tottering on high heels.
But everything went really peacocky in the glam mad 1970s. De Consuela's role model is clearly Roxy Music's Brian Eno. The entire Roxy lineup was hardly visually sedate, but Eno went beyond the call of decency by standing beside his VCS3 synthesizer, decked out in blue eye shadow, stack heels, diamante studded dog collars, leopard skin feminine clothing and, not least, feathers that did actually originate from a peacock.
Everyone thinks of David Bowie as the king of all things visual, but compared to some the Thin White Duke was actually quite tame. Yes, he wore a dress on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World album (virtually an arrestable offence in 1971). Yes, he revealed genitalia bulges (subsequently hurriedly airbrushed out) in a catsuit on Diamond Dogs, generally looked like an alien and was even singing perched atop a giant spider at the age of forty. But he wasn't Peter Gabriel of Genesis, who dressed as a giant flower and once went onstage "wearing" a papier mache city.
When I was growing up, even the most mainstream stars routinely looked like something from last Christmas's pantomime season. Elton - a man who still occasionally flies the peacock flag, dressing up as King Louis XIV to ceremonially bond with the relatively restrained David Furnish - wore giant spectacles and three-foot-high boots. Abba looked like they'd been blasted from an Oxfam outfitters on Mars. Even during punk - an individualist movement that ironically spawned an identikit sea of leather jackets - there were pantomime loons such as Boomtown Rats' Johnny Fingers (pyjamas worn all hours) and Captain Sensible (bobbly jumpers that looked like they were made from bathmats, when he wore anything at all). New Romantic threw up Boy George and Steve Strange, who together looked like a cosmetic animal experiment gone wrong. They looked ridiculous. I loved them.
I miss those days, when pop was a competition to see who could sound best and look the most daft. For at least twenty years, give or take the odd Andy Bell in a tutu, Flowered Up's Barry Mooncult dressed as a daisy or Daft Punk in a spacesuit, it's been mostly T-shirts and jeans or identical record company stylist-provided "cool looks". Don't get me wrong, some of my favourite bands wear nondescript clothing, and the music should come first (I also really wouldn't want to see Nick Cave in a tutu, or The Fall's Mark E Smith in lurex). But where's the sense of individualism, or fun?
This is why De Consuela is arguably one of the most important figures to hit pop since Eno - or at least Mud's Rob Davis, (now a top songwriter but once a proud wearer of trousers so wide they resembled a dress. A genuine character, De Consuela looks like he has rejected all hope of styling in favour of the difficult option of spray painting his pyjamas and adopting a haircut that would have been deemed inadvisable after 1975. In the coming months, he will be lampooned, booed, perhaps pelted with urine and almost certainly beaten with a wet fish, but for me - and I hope, many others that will follow his lead - he will be a hero and will hopefully inspire new generations to don their Auntie Elda's curtains and boogie. Red Dog Consuela, pop peacock, I salute you.