With the recent, unexpected release of a much talked about new single from rock legend David Bowie, it is with wonderfully auspicious timing that Doctor Who audio and print scribe Paul Magrs launches his new creation upon the audio adventure world.
In 1972, it was Bowie who famously glammed up and adopted the space-age persona of Ziggy Stardust, a messianic space-rock figure whose music stylishly summed up the imminent apocalypse with songs about make-up, ray-guns and life on Mars, whilst avoiding the tinselly, pot-bellied depths inhabited by such competitors as Gary Glitter, Slade, or The Sweet. He was a bit like Doctor Who, but in pop music, and the rest were just Tomorrow People (a series allegedly inspired by a Bowie song). But that was in our world…
In Paul Magrs’ version of 1972, it’s another glam rocker whose fuchsia-slashed cheekbones have stolen the hearts of teenage fans across the land, and his name is Vince Cosmos. Vince – who may or not hail from Venus – is a Ziggy Stardust/Doctor Who hybrid who, assisted by his new young friend Poppy Munday and mysterious space dwarf Mr Glister, takes a somewhat Tomorrow People-style turn at defending the Earth from hidden Martian invaders. Like other examples of Magrs’ work (Brenda and Effie, Iris Wildthyme), these events take place on an Earth where HG Wells’ War of the Worlds actually happened, but now it’s 1972 and the second Martian apocalypse is due in 7 years’ time – unless Vince can prevent it. Is there a little green grocer from Mars’ politician daughter waiting in the wings, one wonders?
Vince Cosmos comes from Bafflegab (purveyors of The Scarifyers and formerly known as Cosmic Hobo). Fans of Magrs’ Doctor Who audios will enjoy its idiosyncratic blend of the mundane and familiar with the fantastic and absurd. Magrs’ take on magic realism thinks nothing of giving us a Doctor Who/assistant set-up that plays out to some heavily disguised events from Bowie’s career, whilst set in the milieu of an ITV sit-com like George and Mildred. Imagine Roald Dahl writing an episode of Budgie or the third instalment of those David Essex ‘rock star’ movies. As ever, there are wonderfully strong female roles and the star of the piece is Lauren Kellegher as Poppy. She is joined by Doctor Who’s own Jo Grant (and Iris Wildthyme), Katy Manning, who gives Yootha Joyce a run for her money as landlady Gilda. Sadly, actors David Benson and Alix Lowe are perhaps a little indistinguishable and interchangeable until three quarters of the way in.
Bowie fans will enjoy spotting the name of Cosmos’ manager and revel in the ‘assassination’ sequence at Hammersmith Odeon, but the character of Vince himself (who you’ll wish was being played by David Tennant and not Julian Rhind-Tutt) is intentionally, but also off-puttingly worthy and pretentious – a bit of an unlikeable knob, in fact. He gradually comes to convince the listener he’s more probably modelled on Marc Bolan; glittering, fey pixie and also-ran Bowie competitor. Bolan was painfully and embarrassingly self-aware throughout his career in a way that Bowie wasn’t (quite so much), and this seems to be Vince’s Achilles heel too. Certainly, Paul Morris’ integral lyrics seem to channel Bolan the more you listen to them. Musically, however, Edwin Sykes does a great spin on ‘The Jean Genie’; his theme tune however is less Bowie and more Black Beauty, but still very evocative of its time.
This is lovely stuff, though and, what’s more, great fun. Magrs’ eye for detail (particularly in textile terms) means we never lose sight of where we are in history, and his dialogue (notably his penchant for the colloquial) sparkles throughout. The album title Galactic Cinders is especially amusing.
Released on February 1st, Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective can be pre-ordered now from Amazon for £10.79.