As you know, singer, artist, bricklayer, architect, chef, writer and producer Jackson Paul died yesterday, aged 73.
The first time I heard anything by Jackson Paul was at a Gordon Road disco around 1978. I hated Gordon Road discos because of that whole ‘last dance’ thing. ‘Nights In White Satin’, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, ‘Always And Forever’, Lionel Bloody Richie: some slick, slight, soft, saccharine piece of sticky crap that you were supposed to slow-dance to. With a girl. Except girls never asked me. And I could never risk the walk of shame back to my mates having asked one and been turned down. So, instead, I’d stand around desperately waiting for the bloody thing to end, glancing furtively at all the hands-on-her-arse, hard-on’d blokes who were good-looking enough/confident enough to be touching an actual girl.
This one night, though, this one night the last record was, for some reason, ‘In The Sky’, that masterful, wry, deceptive piece of slow-burn jazz-punk that so artfully combines Mahler’s 5th with Lonnie Donegan’s ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ and which Paul later claimed to have written in ten minutes in the back of a cab en route to his dealer in Notting Hill. Those first few iconic xylophone notes came in and, suddenly, all my shame, all my fear, all my desires dissolved. I stood, paralysed, in that Enfield scout hut: and my life changed. This thing was huge, magnificent, monumental. From Robert Wyatt’s jittering drums to Jah Wobble’s kick-in-the-balls bass, from Paul’s own slicing, Wilkoesque guitar to Les McKeown’s howling, diabolic backing vocals, every part of it formed a whole that was richly, savagely, exquisitely more: more than music, more than art, more than life itself… I never looked back.
Those next few years, as Jackson dominated both the charts and the tabloids, I was obsessed. I saw him at the infamous Clissold Park Rock Against The Running Dogs Of Imperialism (Sponsored By Strongbow) festival, at Ludlow Castle when he accidentally maimed a lone Scots piper, at the Red Lion in Woking, at the Queens in Crouch End. I saw him headlining the Way, Way Out Stage at Glastonbury twice, the second time the one in ’84 when he attacked Dr John with Joan Baez’s handbag. I bought every album, official and bootleg, he made. I once even chucked a girl because she said she hated his dub version of ‘Two Little Boys’ and preferred Level 42’s cover instead.
But nothing lasts forever. We all know what happened, of course: after the superstardom, the Oscars, the Nobel Prize, came the go-kart accident, the marriage to Chrissie Hynde, the tour with Nickleback, the declaration of support for the Lib Dems, the descent into 7-Up addiction, Strictly and the identity parade on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. He would never make anything as groundbreaking or passionate or vital as ‘In The Sky‘ again. But, for those few years in the ’70s and ’80s, Jackson Paul was music. Without him, our culture would have been a colder, harsher place. Without him, I know I’d be a totally different person. It’s so hard to imagine a world without Jackson Paul. So tonight I think we should all raise a small glass of his favourite Harvey’s Bristol Cream in his honour.