Artists-On-Albums: AOA#11 (Pinkie’s Alex Sharkey on Hunky Dory)

Alex Sharkey (Brighter, Pinkie) on…

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory (RCA Records, 1971)

David Bowie - Hunky Dory

It is easy for teenage boys to feel isolated, even more so when they live in forlorn English seaside towns and especially when find themselves, somehow, stuck in the chorus of an amateur production of My Fair Lady alongside middle-aged wannabes, brimming with artistic temperament.

The first opportunity to obtain identity, purpose or kindred spirit will always have a lasting legacy, and for me, this ‘opportunity’ was David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

It was the mid-1980s – at least 10 years after Hunky Dory’s original release – and David Bowie was not particularly fashionable in the UK at this time.  My elder sister had become a Bowie follower and the strange looks, noises and lyrics immediately appealed to my non-conformist nature.

One day I heard the orchestral soundscape of “Life on Mars” drift from my sister’s bedroom.  On investigation I discovered it was from the Hunky Dory album, the full copy of which my sister didn’t own.

As luck would have it, my friend from school (Snatty) said I could borrow his brother’s copy (it was definitely an older brothers/sisters thing) and tape it.  He brought the album to school, and we both gazed at the front cover. “I don’t know who the girl on the front cover is,” he said.

I taped a copy on my parents hi-fi (or ‘music centre’ as we grandly called it) and began listening to it from start to finish, again and again, on my small mono Philips tape recorder.  The quality must have been awful, but that didn’t matter, from the first piano chords of “Changes” to the final psychedelic strums of “The Bewlay Brothers”, the simplicity of the arrangements transcends all mediums and can cut through even the hiss and fluff of cheap C90 cassettes.

At this time the upright piano was my principal companion, unusual when most of my contemporaries would be kicking a ball about, or possibly learning the guitar.  And to hear music in which the piano was the lead instrument, drifting in and out of the arrangements, was an epiphany.

But it wasn’t just the free reign of Rick Wakeman creating the exquisite piano arrangements that were so pivotal for me.  Each lyrical idea painted a picture in my head and pulled me into the narrative.  To this day, I can’t look at an open fire without thinking “Put another log on the fire for me, I’ll make you breakfast and coffee.” – not particularly profound, I know, but all the same, I can’t forget it.

Bowie had developed a technique for writing lines of lyrics, throwing them in a hat, and picking them out, one by one, to make a song.  I’m not sure if he’d developed this by the time he’d recorded Hunky Dory, but the strength of each line, at least for me, was so strong, it wouldn’t have mattered what order they came in. “And the workers have struck for fame, ‘cause Lennon’s on sale again.”  Of course, by then, I knew Lennon, sadly, would never be ‘on sale’ again.

Melodically the songs were so sing-able; this was stuff you could whistle.  It was OK to be cool and write songs your grandma could tap her feet to.

And the significance of My Fair Lady, you are probably wondering?  To relieve the boredom of sitting in the dressing room between scenes, I brought in my trusty tape recorder and would sit staring at its rotating spindles while Hunky Dory crackled from its small tinny speaker.  Rather than earn me a reprimand as I would have expected, it transpired some of the older dancing girls were Bowie fans too.  I remember the glamorous teenagers (who would normally be way out of my league) sitting in my dressing room, smiling and nodding along with me, that “Mickey Mouse had grown up a cow.”  For the first time, but not the last, music had found me friends; I was now in a gang, and I liked it.

Notes on the artist:

Alex Sharkey

Alex Sharkey was a member of the influential shoe-gazing power trio Brighter in the 1990s, who released material on the seminal Sarah Records.  Subsequent to this he was co-writer and multi-instrumentalist with Shinkansen Records electro-popsters Fosca. More recently he has released material as Pinkie (a one-man collaboration consisting of acoustic arrangements and sweet melodies reminiscent of the Brighter albums). Alex is particularly popular in Peru.  The forthcoming Pinkie album Dreams. They’d Be There Too is to be released by Planting Seeds Records this year.  Alex’s side project Angel Dynamite, a dance/pop/indie cross-over, will also be releasing an EP on Planting Seeds Records shortly.

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