BP Fallon’s music career started at the Beatles’ Apple Records, which led to publicity work for T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin, managing Ian Dury, and finally his own music, most recently with BP & the Bandits. BP recounts a few of his many adventures with the Beatles, Zeppelin and more.
In 1969, Irish journalist BP Fallon paved his own destiny by interviewing John Lennon at an antiwar protest in Amsterdam called the Bed-In. John and Yoko had been fighting for peace by letting journalists film and interview them in that space where dreams are made. John Lennon took quite a shining to BP, or Bernard (as his mother and Jimmy Page call him). Soon thereafter, he was working for the Beatles’ record company, Apple.
These days BP wears a black bowler hat over a trim cut with nicely fitted suits, but back in 1970, his look was a different story. You can see his long, layered hair hiding under a floppy hat and shaggy fur vest, as he mimes playing bass on “Instant Karma” on Top of the Pops with John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band.
An illustrious career followed, built around the music he loved. The sweet-natured dreamer with a twinkle in his eye moved around the rock ‘n’ roll scene of London, eventually becoming the publicist of 1970s glam bands T. Rex and Thin Lizzy. In Led Zeppelin’s most successful and rowdy years, Fallon was by their side, keeping them grounded, even if that just meant keeping whole fish from being delivered by room service…
As the punks invaded the charts, he took hold of the “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” singer Ian Dury and led his career forward by becoming his manager—fending off the spit flying through the air—all in the name of his passion. He is currently the singer for his latest project BP & the Bandits. BP also happens to be an unmatchable storyteller.
Recently, I ran into BP at Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday party in Dublin. The city is currently displaying a painting of BP’s face on the side of a large building in the trendy Temple Bar district. At the after party of Shane’s tribute gig, I found BP sitting next to his old friend Sinead O’Connor, now known as Magda Davitt. I embraced him and asked if he thought she would allow a photograph. “I’m not sure. You should ask her,” he advised. “Just don’t take a secret shot.” He’s the ever-polite gentleman, although you might guess otherwise by the foxy, nubile chaperones he often keeps close by. Before I knew it, BP was up on stage serenading Mr. MacGowan and friends. You would probably have to stay up for a week straight to hear all of BP’s adventures. Luckily, I was able to catch him and he opened up about a few.
BP Fallon: This is how it goes. Eleven-year-old Irish schoolboy at prep school in England hears this record on the radio. 1958, my Damascus moment – (sings) “Ballads an’ calypsos ain’t got nothin’ on, real country music that just drives along, a-honey move it!” (laughing). And there’s this guitar riff drawing me in like a magnet and suddenly my life is changed. Bam! I’ve fallen in love with this new-fangled thing called rock’n’roll. It has only been going for a few years, well, for the white folk anyway, black people have been rocking forever. The record was ‘Move It’ by this new singer Cliff Richard who nowadays is a harmless mums and dads entertainer – but then Cliff was vulgar and funky and raw and the music paper the New Musical Express said he was obscene, that he shouldn’t be on TV with young people seeing this animalistic behaviour. Perfect. On Cliff’s first LP, he did ‘My Babe’. So I’m wondering [at age 11], where did he get that song from? Oh, from Ricky Nelson. So that turned me on to James Burton, who played that amazing guitar with Ricky. Where did Ricky get the song? Little Walter. Wow, that label that Little Walters is on, Chess Records, that’s amazing. So suddenly I’m into Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy [Williamson] and of course Chuck [Berry] and Bo [Diddley]… And then I hear Hank [Williams] and suddenly I’m checking out these white guys too, Elvis of course and onwards…
So I was this 11-year-old kid who had fallen in love with rock ’n’ roll and all I wanted to do in life was to get involved with this rock ‘n’ roll thing, somehow.
PKM: You could say you had your ear on the pulse of the rock ’n’ roll scene as a teenager on. Heading over to the Cavern Club in Liverpool from Dublin to see The Beatles as a teen is impressive as they were quite underground then. How would you describe that experience?
BP Fallon: Well, they were getting famous, these Fabs. I said to this girl at The Cavern, “You must be thrilled for them” and she said, “They’re not going to be ours anymore, they’ll probably move to London. We like The Hideaways now”. I never dreamed that one day The Beatles would be my bosses, that I’d be working for them.
PKM: Did you hang out with them then?
BP Fallon: You’d see Ringo in the dressing-room at The Cavern at Gerry & The Pacemakers lunch-time gigs, or bump into Paul at NEMS, which was Brian Epstein’s [record] shop near Matthew Street where The Cavern was. These were guys in a band. I was a schoolboy, getting their autographs on my Cavern Club membership card, them and Jerry Lee Lewis. This, I ‘spose, was my first whizz of live rock’n’roll, running from club to club in Liverpool – ‘Oh, The Big Three are playing at The Iron Door’ or seeing The Beatles at The Cavern and the next night seeing them doing two sets in a ballroom and the next night seeing them in Blackpool at The Opera House. You knew something new and super-vibey was happening in the groovy world of pop ’n’ roll, it was beyond exhilarating.
PKM: What was the most definitive piece of knowledge that you learned from your time around John Lennon?
BP Fallon: That truth isn’t always reality. And that’s more so now than ever before, living in a society where how things are perceived has become the sole measuring-stick, rather than what they actually are. John had a suss bullshit detector most of the time and he said what he thought, most of the time. Like all the furor about John saying, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” or whatever… you see the film of him groveling to American interviewers, saying “What I meant was blah blah blah” when really he’s thinking “Why don’t you just fuck off and get yourselves a brain?!”.
PKM: You played on the song ‘Instant Karma’ on Top Of The Pops. Were you already playing music with bands at the point or was that your first experience?
BP Fallon: Ah, ‘Instant Karma’ with our friend John Lennon and his fab combo The Plastic Ono Band… John went on the radio and said “BP Fallon playing bass is concept art”. We were in the dressing room at the BBC and the call came for John Lennon and the band to go into the studio to do their bit. There was John and Yoko and Klaus Voorman the bass player and Alan White the drummer and The Beatles’ tour manager Mal Evans – lovely man – and Richard DiLello, the officially-titled ‘House Hippie’ from Apple, Richard was taking pix. And John kinda leans over me where I’m sitting and he says, “Are you getting up?” like, y’know, some drunk guy in Liverpool asking a biddy to dance. “Are you getting up? The Plastic Ono Band is everyone” John is saying. So you grab a tambourine and bang it enthusiastically in his left ear as he’s singing the live vocal to the ‘Instant Karma’ track. Then you get to thinking that it was probably a nightmare for John Lennon to be singing with this lunatic banging away in his ear, fueled more by the joy of life than by any specific rhythmic meter. So the next time we film the song, I borrow a bass guitar. “Well we all shine on” indeed. Can I play bass guitar? No. It’s just another slice of benign madness from the rock ‘n’ roll motherlode.
PKM: What was your job at Apple Records?
BP Fallon: The Beatles Press Officer Derek Taylor would very kindly think of things for me to do, like going to hang out with Billy Preston or James Taylor in order to write their bios for Apple Records. Billy had an amazing story, playing with Ray Charles as a child prodigy and The Fabs had met him in Hamburg when he was playing with Little Richard, wild scenes. James Taylor was a recovering junkie from New York who Peter Asher had found. Derek was a beautiful man; unwittingly he taught me a lot about media, just watching him deal. Another job I had at Apple was testing Paul McCartney’s grass.
PKM: Tell me about your craziest moment with Led Zeppelin.
BP Fallon: Possibly being in a Lear jet with Bonzo flying it.
PKM: Your most beautiful moment with them?
BP Fallon: Many, many beautiful moments, night after night at their gigs when the band would go somewhere where they’d never gone before, maybe starting from some interplay between Bonzo and Jimmy that goes past Mars and beyond, Jonesy locking it all together and Robert wailing.
PKM: Do you actually think Marc Bolan predicted his own death in his lyrics?
BP Fallon: Here are some Marc lyrics: “Tyrannosaurus Rex, the eater of cars” from ‘Suneye’ from the album T.Rex (1970), “Hubcap diamond star halo” from ‘Get It On’ (1971), “Summer is heaven in’77” from ‘Celebrate Summer’, released in 1977 shortly before Marc died. So – it’s written.
PKM: You started a music journalism career pretty young and coined the term T.Rextasy which is very fitting for T.Rex. Did you feel writing came naturally? Were you a voracious reader or was it just from being drawn to the music?
BP Fallon: Music is the fuel to my boogaloo. I was asked to write because as a 17-year-old schoolboy in Dublin, I was on TV every week, talking about music. So initially I was asked to write because of my profile. The word ‘T.Rextasy’ came to me when I was working with T.Rex, being mental guru. We needed the magic word, like ‘Beatlemania’ is perfect because it tells you exactly what’s happening. ‘T.Rextasy’ told the story in one word, they were the biggest thing to happen in British pop’n’roll since The Beatles.
PKM: I love your spoken word style song/tribute to your friend Henry McCullough that came out on Record Store Day with Noel Gallagher on guitar. Are you mainly a singer these days or do you play any other instruments in your music?
BP Fallon: Yes, vocals – although on the next record I do twang guitar on one cut and I play Hammond and Vox Continental organs but it’s all one-finger stuff.
PKM: If you could play music with anyone living or dead, who would you choose?
BP Fallon: Henry McCullough and Hank Williams and Ronnie Drew. I was going to say Johnny Thunders but I play harmonica and sing on ‘The Wizard’ – yes, the Marc Bolan song – on Johnny’s So Alone album, with Phil Lynott playing bass on the track. I played tambourine on Steve Marriott’s version of ‘To Ramona’, the Dylan song. I wrote ‘21st Century Stance’ with Marc Bolan and sing on it, click my fingers. It’s uncredited on the record but fuck it. So there are a few dead folk, bless them, with whom I’ve banged a gong or whatever.
Live people? A lot of them are on my next album – the next album has me dueting with Patty Griffin and with Linda Gail Lewis – Jerry Lee’s sister who also plays pumpin’ piano. I’m so honoured to have these incredible artists singing my songs, singing with me. There’s buzz guitar and backing vocals by Carley Wolf of the psychotic Austin duo The Ghost Wolves and backing vocals by Linda Gail’s daughter, Annie Marie Lewis.
The brilliant Aaron Lee Tasjan is all over the record – guitars, organ, a duet with me on ‘Miracle A Day’ which has gotten this incredible mix by David Holmes hot off his production of Noel Gallagher’s No 1 UK album.
Other guitarists are Josh McClorey from The Strypes, the king of Tex-Mex Joe King Carrasco and Danny B Harvey who had a band with Lemmy, all mega twangers. John Sheahan from the iconic Irish ballad group The Dubliners – he is the last living member of the group – John plays fiddle, as does Steve Wickham from The Waterboys and Mickey Raphael from Willie Nelson’s band plays harmonica. The rhythm section is often the classic Blondie ‘Parallel Lines’ team of Clem Burke on drums and Nigel Harrison on bass. So the record is kickin’, with some of my rock ‘n’ roll faves playing on it.
PKM: You DJ’d on a U2 tour and wrote a book about it. You have also DJ’d for The Kills and My Bloody Valentine and started the infamous ‘Death Disco’ party. What bands/ genres do you like to spin the most?
BP Fallon: Yes, I was on The Zoo TV tour, which tied in with U2’s Achtung Baby album. Amazing tour, very futurist. My official title was ‘Guru, Viber & DJ’, that’s what it said on my laminate. I’d play CDs from a mirror-covered Trabant, that was my DJ booth. It’s hanging in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame now.
I loved DJing with The Kills and My Bloody Valentine – two of my fave combos. What do I spin? Well, I very rarely DJ now but whatever comes into my head, whether it’s The Chemical Brothers or The Chambers Brothers or Elvis rockabilly or The Jackson 5 or a cut-up of Kendrick Lamar and James Brown.
PKM: You performed ‘Vicious’ at a Lou Reed tribute concert. Do you think Lou was a kind soul who pretended to be an asshole in public as a game or defense?
BP Fallon: Yes, I sang ‘Vicious’ at the Lou Reed tribute concert in Austin, backed by my friends from Ireland, The Strypes. There were all these totally brilliant musicians in the house band, world-class, some of whom had kindly played with me before, like Lenny Kaye and Clem Burke. And they’re going “You don’t want us to back you, huh?” y’know, teasing, cos I’m wanting these young Irish kids to back me. Clem’s going “But I even got a cowbell when I heard you were doing ‘Vicious’” – so he came on with The Strypes and I and banged his cowbell with élan. I only met Lou Reed a few times, like when the Velvets reformed and played with U2. He never gave me any aggravation. Although some of his guitars were the ugliest I’ve seen.
PKM: Is music a religion to you?
BP Fallon: All religions are like music and just like a song they need a hook. I don’t like every tune. I don’t like every religion. But mostly they teach the same thing which in essence is do what you want but don’t hurt anybody, which is fine by me. Yes, do what you want and don’t hurt anybody. Amen.
A documentary is being filmed on BP Fallon. Among those speaking in it are Debbie Harry, Clem Burke, Sir Bob Geldof, The Strypes, the punk poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke, rock ‘n’ roll photographer Bob Gruen and Michael D. Higgins, The President Of Ireland.
MORE FROM PKM:
SHANE MACGOWAN’S 60TH BIRTHDAY – A MAN YOU DON’T MEET EVERYDAY
MARC BOLAN: A DANDY IN THE UNDERWORLD
FROM IGGY TO LENNON: BOB GRUEN’S LIFE WITH THE BAND!
INTERVIEW WITH BLONDIE DRUMMER CLEM BURKE! (Part 1)