The back-to-front rock star: BP Fallon reflects on his extraordinary career in music.

DJ, musician, and all-round rock’n’roll star, BP Fallon has worked with Led Zeppelin, shared a stage with John Lennon, and now fronts his own band. But before he gets down to writing his memoirs, the Dubliner has another chapter to live, he tells Katie Byrne.


“I give thanks that I’m still alive because a lot of crazy stuff went on. I mean crazy”
Photo by and ©Patrick Bolger

With his trademark bowler hat and black Converse shoes, BP Fallon looks every inch the rockstar as he poses for photographs in Dublin’s Freemasons’ Hall.

As someone who has been in front – and behind – the camera for the better part of his life, he doesn’t need much direction.

The all-round music man is back in his hometown to take part in Hennessy Sound Lounge, an ‘autobiographical journey through sound’ that will see him sharing music, musings and cognac with a small group of guests.

It all sounds very cosy but Fallon admits that he finds the prospect a little daunting. “I’ve DJed to 80,000 people with U2 and I’m more comfortable with that,” he says. “It’s easier than talking to 12 people.”


BP DJing in 1965

Bernard Patrick Fallon – or ‘Beep’ as he is known in the music industry – is talking about U2’s Zoo TV tour in the early ’90s. As the warm-up DJ, he played records from inside a futuristic mirror-covered Trabant which now resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And this is just one of his stories…

Fallon’s extraordinary career has given him an Access All Areas pass to just about every corner of rock ‘n’ roll culture. He shared a stage with John Lennon and partied on Led Zeppelin’s private jetliner ‘Starship’. He worked with Marc Bolan, Phil Lynott and Joe Cocker and got immortalised in a street art mural by Maser.

He agrees that it’s probably time to start thinking about his memoirs when we repair to Buswell’s Hotel, but he has another chapter to live. He’s now in a band, BP Fallon & The Bandits, and they’re only getting warmed up…

Fallon was born in Dublin but moved to Germany when he was three. His father, Colonel John Fallon of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, was posted to the British Army of the Rhine and, a few years later, young Fallon was sent off to a Yorkshire boarding school run by Benedictine nuns (monks, actually – The Cosmic Editor).

He didn’t enjoy Ampleforth College. “We were taught more or less to be the same as everyone else,” he recalls. “And if you’re not the same you’re an aggravation to the teachers. But those people who are not the same are often the magic ones…”

He didn’t connect with his fellow students but it didn’t matter: he had his beloved rock ‘n’ roll music, and it would soon serve him well.


Photo by and ©Patrick Bolger

Fallon was a 17-year-old student in St Conleth’s College, Dublin, when he got a Saturday job as a panellist on RTÉ’s Pickin’ the Pops in 1964. “We’d listen to records and say if they were going to be a hit or a miss,” he explains.

But the young rocker didn’t exactly fit in there, either. “I was the freak,” he deadpans. “I had long hair and that caused a furore because it was considered foreign. The Irish Catholic had a front page editorial saying that RTÉ was not set up to mirror the worst of English pop culture.

“Then Gay Byrne had me on The Late Late Show to be objectively probed,” he laughs. “There was an actor there who was very facetious with me. He called me ‘Sonny’ so I called him ‘Daddy’ and the audience roared with laughter.”

Byrne wrote about the experience a few days later in his Evening Herald column. “I know it sounds patronising but he wrote how intelligent he thought I was and how he’d never met a nicer person and all that. So I became famous very quickly in Ireland because television was new for everybody and RTÉ was comparatively new.”

How did his St Conleth’s classmates feel about his new-found success? “They didn’t like me,” he says at once. He stops for a moment to consider this before offering up a neater conclusion: “F*** ’em.”

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the young Fallon and William Miller in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film, Almost Famous.

William got a $35 assignment to review a 1973 Black Sabbath concert; Fallon was earning £15 for every half-hour Pickin’ the Pops segment – more than some Irish people were earning a week.

But he had itchy feet. The King’s Road and Carnaby Street were in full swing and Grafton Street didn’t have quite the same appeal. “I wanted to go to where the fountain was,” he remembers, and, in 1969 he finally made the move.

His first job was driving a bread van. The depot was just off Wardour Street, where the infamous Marquee Club was. This meant he could see Jimi Hendrix play and then pack up the van and drive around London afterwards.

“I was really concerned that people from Ireland would see me and think, ‘Oh God, is that what’s happened to him?'” he laughs.

The depot were happy with him – even when he crashed the van on the first day – but the young rocker was already thinking towards his next gig.

He noticed that rock stars like Jimi Hendrix were buying Crimean War-era Royal Hussars jackets from antique shops on the Portobello Road. It’s illegal for people who are not serving in the military to wear uniforms so he pitched the story to Newsweek and filed a report on the fashion trend from the gritty frontlines of rock’n’roll.

The piece gave him some gravitas in the industry, which he used to full avail when he secured an interview with John Lennon at the ‘bed-in’ in Amsterdam. The piece appeared in Melody Maker and a byline in one of the most respected music magazines of its time gave him another string to his bow.

The Lennon interview also introduced him to The Beatles’ press officer and close friend Derek Taylor who, “out of goodness and kindness”, gave the enthusiastic young Irishman a job as a general assistant at Apple Records. As a schoolboy, Fallon used to hide on the Dublin to Liverpool boat to go and see his heroes play at The Cavern Club. Now they were his bosses.

Fallon’s tasks varied. One day he would be asked to write a bio on Billy Preston, the next he would be asked to perform quality control on The Beatles’ marijuana, the next he would be asked to pick up an instrument and perform ‘Instant Karma!’ with Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band on Top of the Pops. Yoko Ono can be seen crocheting while blindfolded in the video, while the young Dubliner is centre stage, miming the bass guitar. Lennon later described the motley crew’s antics as “concept art”.


Marc Bolan & BP Fallon in 1971 by and ©Barry Wentzell

Things got even wilder in the ’70s. Glam rock was exploding and, after learning from the best in the business, Fallon was ready to add ‘music publicist’ to his rapidly expanding CV.

He was in the middle of the action for the rise of T.Rex, even coining the term ‘T.Rextasy’ as a parallel to ‘Beatlemania’. The following year he was flying high with Led Zeppelin on the ‘Starship’ private jet.

He worked with some of the most influential rock artists of all time and he began to notice that some of these stars were burning bright before they even picked up an instrument.

“Phil Lynott was a star – not because he was famous – but because some people are just stars,” he says. “He would walk down Grafton Street and he was cool. He was exotic and he was erotic. The guys wished they were as cool as him and the girls wanted to f*** him.”

He tells another story about the day Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding and drummers Viv Prince and Mitch Mitchell silenced an entire TV studio with their combined charisma.

“The whole place just went quiet and they hadn’t done anything. Jimi was radiating, you know? And Marc Bolan, God bless him, was on the same show – as a side act – and you could see the two of them palpably vibing. It was incredible. They were in contact, you know?”

Does he think musicians can be prophets? “I do – but they can also be pumped-up idiots, too. The Beatles are to blame for that, and acid. Before that, you’d ask a guy in a band what was his favourite colour or who was his favourite movie star and then suddenly, after acid and The Beatles, all of these people were suddenly gurus.

“Eric Burdon, singer of The Animals – a hard-drinking guy from Newcastle – was suddenly Guru Eric, talking about cosmic things. They were treated like that and, after a while, when you’re treated like that, you act like that, too.”

After a long and storied career as a music publicist, Fallon returned to Irish broadcasting in the ’80s. He won a Jacob’s Award for his RTÉ 2fm show, The BP Fallon Orchestra. Then he set up Death Disco, an international club night that saw him sharing the decks with everyone from The Kills to Kate Moss.

Things were ticking along nicely – and he was even thinking about getting around to his memoirs – when a chance encounter in a New York nightclub changed everything.

Jack White of The White Stripes approached him and asked if he’d like to come to his Third Man studio in Nashville to record an album. Fallon’s answer was an immediate and emphatic yes.

“Unlike a lot of rock ‘n’ roll stuff, it wasn’t just verbal,” he says. “A plane ticket arrived and I went down there.”

The recording experience was “better than an orgasm”. “I was in heaven and something happened – I was higher than I’ve ever been before.”

The session culminated in a three-sided vinyl release, Fame #9, which includes a spoken word track called ‘I Believe In Elvis Presley’. (a rock’n’roll song, actually, with Mr White on guitar, while Fame #9 is spoken word – The Vinyl Editor). But Fallon was far from finished.

Seizing the momentum, he called up three musicians that he admired – guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan, who has played with the New York Dolls, and the Blondie rhythm section of Nigel Harrison (bass) and Clem Burke (drums) – and asked if they’d like to be in his band. They all said yes and, without much ado, BP Fallon & The Bandits was born. “I’m doing it all back-to-front,” he smiles

The ease with which Fallon assembled his dream team would suggest that he has some very influential people on speed dial but, more than that, it shows that he has a canny knack for being in the right place at the right time.

So, is he lucky, smart or both? Or, more specifically, can we engineer the fortuitous encounters we have, or are some people just born under a lucky star?

“I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never thought about it because I think about it all the time,” he admits. “It’s to do with not being afraid of the moment. I can walk in any door and if they don’t want me there I’ll leave and I’ll apologise for being discourteous.

“But I do think you can create your own luck. I think you can give things a nudge if you’re not too scared of following your instincts and seizing the moment.”

Fallon also saw the dark side of rock ‘n’ roll during his time as a music publicist. “Phil Lynott – God bless him – wanted to be the rock ‘n’ roll guy all the time,” he says. “But you can’t do it all the time. It kills you.

He gave up drinking “a long, long time ago” and he doesn’t really do relationships, either. “No one with any sanity would put up with me for more than 37 hours,” he says, “but they will have an incredible 37 hours.”

He still smokes marijuana, though – freely and frequently – and he would like to see it legalised in Ireland. “It’s just a crime that this plant of medicinal value is not put to use.”

These days he divides his time between Dublin, Austin and New York. Ireland is for friends and family, Austin is for music, and New York is for mischief. The States also has Whole Foods, which is where he does most of his shopping.

The man who was once at the helm of glam rock is now a healthy eater who avoids foods with added sugars and sweeteners. “People argue that I’m too thin,” he says, “I turn sideways and I’m absent! But I take up less space and I can go places other people wouldn’t fit…”

BP Fallon - The Irish Independent

Written by Katie Byrne – Photography by Patrick Bolger

 

Hennessy Sound Lounge

Hennessy Sound Lounge

BP Fallon is one of seven music collectors speaking at the Hennessy Sound Lounge running in Hen’s Teeth, Fade Street, Dublin 2 from July 19-28.

He appears on Friday July 27th at 6.30 and 8.30pm, talking about/playing eight records that coloured his life, to an audience of 12 people.

Tickets cost €8 (plus booking fee). See Eventbrite for more details.

NEWS FLASH:
Tickets for BP’s Hennessy Sound Lounge appearances are SOLD OUT.

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Memories are made of this…

The wonderful tribute to BP Fallon on the Miriam O’Callaghan programme on RTE Radio 1 with special guest Robert Plant talking about his friend.

BP recalls his childhood and bumpy schooldays, hiding on the Dublin to Liverpool boat to go see The Beatles at The Cavern, this schoolboy appearing every Saturday on the Telefis Eireann pop television show ‘Pickin’ The Pops’. He flashes back to when he appeared – twice – on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with John Lennon. He talks very very fondly of Marc Bolan, remembers Henry McCullough, discusses making his first record with Jack White, talks about his friend David Holmes – plus much much more.

LISTEN HERE

 

Talking about Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant says “In the middle of all the pressure it was pretty tough and the great thing about Bernard, Beep, coming on board with us is that he helped dilute a lot of the intensities that were thrust upon us… in the middle of it all Beep was a settling factor. We had years of fun in the smallest and shortest time…

“Beep was there with great ideas, good suggestions, pointing this way and that way… there was a point of conjecture and discussion that wouldn’t have been there otherwise… He was an extension of the adventure and the lifestyle of the band itself…

“Beep is a good friend, I’m very pleased to be paying for this call myself!”.

And Mirian O’Callaghan asks Robert twice about Led Zeppelin getting back together again – to a hilarious response.

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The Lobsters – BP Fallon & Robert Plant – plus bassist Andy Sylvester sing backing vocals with Melvin’s Marauders in The Queen’s Head pub in Stourbridge near Kidderminster, May 17th 1979

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Marc Bolan & BP Fallon, London 1971. Photography by Barrie Wentzel

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BP Fallon & Miriam O’Callaghan

With thanks to Miriam and to Conor Kavanagh, producer of The Miriam O’Callaghan Show.

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Robert Plant in the film ‘Doreen: The Movie. “Good afternoon, madame. I just happen to have outside a truck with half a load of Tarmacadam….”

Robert Plant makes a cameo appearance as a door-to-door traveling salesman in the upcoming UK comedy film ‘Doreen: The Movie’.

The former Led Zeppelin singer plays an aged gentlemen who knocks on doors selling his services as a home handyman and offers Doreen’s friend Doris “a little bitumen slapped up your alley…

“A small amount of Tarmac for your drive?” (Tarmacadam is a brand name road-surfacing material and bitumen is another name for asphalt).

Doreen relays the obvious question of whether Plant will be doing the work for free, to which he replies “I’m quite solvent at the moment but I could do with a little bit, a pinch here and there for some apple juice.”

When he’s told to bugger off he pushes through the mail slot his card ‘PLANT HIRE Your “Driveway to Heaven” Black Dog Tarmac Ltd Call Robert on 07428’

Robert shuffles away, muttering “There must be an easier way to make ends meet”.

While Robert is attempting to sell his services to Doris at the door, inside the house Doreen is seen reading ‘JB’s: The Story Of Dudley’s Live Music Venue’ unwittingly opened at Robert’s introduction in the book.

Based on the life of the Birmingham Mail columnist, the movie stars Gill Jordan as Doreen.

‘Doreen The Movie’ will premiere in October in the UK.

Every card tells a story...
PLANT HIRE Your “Driveway To Heaven” Black Dog Tarmac Ltd Call Robert on 07428…

Every book tells a story...
An open page shows Robert’s introduction in the book ‘JB’s : The Story Of Dudley’s Live Music Venue’ by Geoff Tristram

Two Dodgy Geezers
Says Robert “Bernard, I wonder what happened to Monty The Python…” Says BP “Well, it’s a change from the one-eyed trouser snake…”
Photography by Logan Plant

🙂

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BP Fallon & Jimmy Page NYC Nov 2014. Photography by & © Bob Gruen

Celebrated rock’n’roll photographer Bob Gruen is always in the right place at the right time.

Jimmy Page was doing a public interview with John Varvatos at the John Varvatos store which is on the site of CBGBs on New York’s Bowery.

Bob Gruen snapped Jimmy and former Led Zeppelin publicist BP Fallon hanging out backstage.

Says Bob: “There are three rules to being a good photographer ~ and the first one is ‘Always carry a camera'”.

Page & Fallon first met in 1966 at MGM’s Elstree Studios outside London when they were both in the “Swinging Sixties” Antonioni film ‘Blow Up’ ~ Jimmy was a Yardbird and BP was an extra in The Yardbirds famous club scene where Jimmy’s fellow-guitarist Jeff Beck smashes his guitar ~ view here:

The Yardbirds ~ with guitarists Jeff Back & Jimmy Page ~ in ‘Blow Up’

Led by remaining Yardbird Jimmy Page, The New Yardbirds were completed by Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham before this stunning new band formed by Jimmy was named Led Zeppelin. BP Fallon became their publicist.

Bob Gruen first came into the Led Zeppelin picture when he photographed the band on tour in America in 1973.

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Jimmy Page & BP Fallon eight miles high on Led Zeppelin’s private jetliner ‘Starship’ 1973. Photography by & © Bob Gruen

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That timeless iconographic image ~ Led Zeppelin and their plane ‘Starship’ 1973 by & © Bob Gruen

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The little old lady & Gyl Owen-Corrigan & Robert Plant & BP Fallon in the lobby of The Drake Hotel New York July 24th 1973 by & © Bob Gruen

To mark the triumphant remastered re-release of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums with added tracks – Led Zeppelin I, II and III are in the British Top 10 – we present this unseen photograph by Bob Gruen taken in the lobby of The Drake Hotel in New York. BP Fallon takes up the story:

“I was at Bob Gruen’s incredible ‘Rock Seen’ photo exhibition in New York this April and as part of his exhibition Bob was displaying blown-up contact sheets from which the photographs came. There was the contact sheet that had Bob’s famous shot of Zeppelin standing by their airplane ‘Starship’ and as I looked at this dark little image on the contact sheet I said ‘Look, there’s me!’

“It was Led Zeppelin on tour in 1973 and we were gathered in the lobby of The Drake Hotel in New York waiting for the limos to take us to the plane to fly us to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. And this rich old dear who lived at The Drake was berating Robert and grabbing his hair – ‘Why d’you have to have your hair long like that? Why can’t you look like a real man?’ Robert was very sweet to her, all peace and love”.

Commented Bob Gruen to BP nearly 41 years later: “You have a pretty good memory to remember what she was saying.”

So for your added delectation we’re showing Zeppelin’s ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ video which flashes on this Drake lobby scene – plus some freezeframes from the video that capture this Old Money New York Lady Vs Led Zeppelin scenario.

And yes, The Drake Hotel is where over $200,000 of Led Zeppelin’s money went missing a few days later – but that’s another story.

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Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues freezeframes


Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues (Official Video)

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Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues freezeframe

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Jimmy Page & BP Fallon on Led Zeppelin’s plane Starship
by & © Bob Gruen


Robert Johnson – Traveling Riverside Blues (speed corrected, as it really sounded))

And if you’ve got 73 minutes, this is a wild and mysterious tale:

The Crossroads Legend – Search For Robert Johnson – full movie 1.13

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That brilliant iconographic image ~ Led Zeppelin and their private plane Starship by & © Bob Gruen

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