John Lennon, Bilko, 1980, Clem Burke, Woody Allen, Comedy & New York

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There are days when circumstance, fate, coincidence seem to all converge with weird crossovers and connections. It’s national hug a drummer day. Yesterday would’ve been John Lennon’s 75th birthday and all my thoughts seem to be on New York.

I love New York…Always have. When I was 21, I did New York and America on a budget. I took the overnight bus to London, a courier flight to New York, then did Greyhound journeys by night to cut down on hotel costs.

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I had a pen, a notebook and a Walkman. I was  on the road, living  the dream. New York. Wow. I was Mailer and Kerouac. I was trying to find myself as an intrepid writer and I did. There I was, sitting right there, trying to sleep on a frozen, air conditioned bus.

New York was expensive so I moved on, I got to Elvis’s house, then Nashville, as far as Bloomington, Indiana, don’t ask me why, it’s the spirit of the road, you go where you go and don’t ask questions.

Growing up I always loved comedy, New York was always the centre of my spiritual universe. From an early age my mum always said I should look up her family,  the Hoolahans, as her Uncle, Uncle Ambrose Hoolahan moved there. I’m sure, like most of his generation, he encountered social and economic hardship but I always thought it sounded idyllic.


What about the home of all those wonderful Bilko recordings? The Biograph Studios in New York. I was addicted to Bilko and loved it when Steve Davis or Hurricane Higgins blasted an opponent in the snooker. That meant a fellow Bilko fan at BBC2 had a trusty show ready to take us through to close down.  I could never track Biograph down and when I asked, I was informed the Biograph Studios had been destroyed in a fire in 1980.

Watching on that black and white portable as a 12-year-old, I loved and understood the tight script, the complex storylines and rapid-fire dialogue. Later this comedic sensibility would evolve into Seinfeld, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon,  Larry David and  Woody Allen.

When I got older and into music, New York became the focus. As a drummer, I loved Blondie’s Clem Burke. When I heard he wasn’t good enough to drum for the Ramones, I checked them out, the CBGB scene, Television, Sonic Youth. Did you know Hilly Kristal who opened CBGB’s didn’t want to encapsulate post-punk and the new wave scene? He was into Country, Bluegrass and Blues, thus CBGB’s. New York City’s tentacles are gripped around my soul.


New York definitely is a state of mind. That’s why when I go for a walk to buy a paper, I’m in the East Village. I hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and that gloriously breathtaking opening scene of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. That’s the hold New York has on you.

On a second visit I went to the Carnegie Deli, home of the opening scene of Broadway Danny Rose, sadly it was a bit too commercial and I was disappointed it wasn’t in a cinematic, moody, black and white. Then there was the jukebox in the White Horse, Chumley’s in the village (now closed) the atmosphere in Dempsey’s bar.

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We all have books we dip in and out of all the time. Mine’s is ‘Fierce Pajamas’ an anthology of Humour writing from the New Yorker. Now Bilko and the Ramones are joined with the work of Updike, Brickman, Thurber, Perelman and again, Woody Allen keeping it all alive.

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There’s also a massive contradiction. It’s where my greatest hero John Lennon was murdered. Not only was he a massive musical influence but an idea I had in which John Lennon survived his shooting, become a successful artist, formed a supergroup with Neil Young, produced The Ramones lived life to the full, left Yoko, became something of a society master shagger and reformed The Beatles for Live Aid. He then formed and ran DGC, signed Sonic Youth and produced Nirvana. Nothing came of it but the idea changed my path.

Maybe New York’s a metaphor ( and yes it’s a clumsy one but give me a break)  for forgiveness. Maybe it’s because I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one.

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