Ziggy Stardust was a rock and roll fantasy created by David Bowie.
Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a bloke from Isleworth called Maurice.
Maurice Brian Holden was born at 30 Twickenham Road, Isleworth on the 14th July 1939 to Herbert Holden, a furniture salesman and his wife Catherine. He was the youngest of 5 children. When Maurice was 11 years old the Holden family emigrated to the US on the SS Mauretania, arriving in New York on 13 November 1950. The ship’s cargo manifest shows that apart from their hopes and dreams all they carried with them were 5 pieces of luggage. The family settled at 4506 Roosevelt Avenue, Merchantville, New Jersey where Herbert, the furniture salesman and former postman found a job in a coalmine.
In 1958 when Brian was 18 years old his sister Sheila moved to Los Angeles and took a job as a cashier at Musso and Franks Restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. It was there that she met and fell in love with Joe Barbera, half of the famous Hanna-Barbera animation team and creator of cartoon classics like the Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear. When Sheila and Joe married the rest of the Holden family moved west from New Jersey to join them. Maurice from Isleworth became a pupil at Hollywood High School.
Like most teenagers of the time Brian was a confirmed rock ‘n’ roll fan and had ambitions to become a rock star himself. He realised that his best chance of making it was back in Britain where the competition was less hot. One story goes that he heard a record by Tommy Steele, the UK’s biggest rock star at the time, and said
“If that passes as rock ‘n’ roll I can’t miss!”
Bankrolled by his sister’s new found wealth and his own greasy good looks Maurice Brian Holden set off back to London and the “2 I’s” coffee bar on Old Compton Street in Soho where most of Britain’s emerging rock ‘n’ roll singers and musicians hung out. There he formed a band called The Playboys. All Maurice needed now was a new name. For all his good looks and gen-u-ine American accent ‘Maurice’ did sound a bit too… well, Isleworth! Looking at a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes he noticed the company’s motto, “In hoc Vinces” and inspired by this decided to call himself Vince Taylor – borrowing the ‘Taylor’ bit from his favourite film star Robert Taylor. He was all set. He had the band, he had the name, he had the good looks – all that was missing was a hit song.
His first record on Parlophone, “Right Behind you Baby” in 1958 went nowhere – and to be honest the newly named Vince may have had everything else he needed but he was sorely lacking in the voice department. His second record, “Brand New Cadillac” released in 1959 was different. Offered a new and exciting rock sound it is a seminal British rock ‘n’ roll classic. Like “Move It” released by Cliff Richard in the same year it demonstrated that British rockers had finally found a voice and a style of their own. Written by Vince and featuring a eerie guitar riff from guitarist Joe Moretti, “Brand New Cadillac” was mean, magnificent and moody and ideally suited Vince Taylor’s dark good looks and authentic All-American teeth. Vince was so convinced that he was on the way to rock stardom that when they got to the guitar solo in the record he shouted out “Hang it on, Scottie” the name of Elvis’s guitarist – even though his own guitar player was called Joe! Unfortunately “Brand New Cadillac” died in the charts – and now it is only remembered for the wishy-washy 1979 cover version by the Clash.
Disappointed by his lack of success in Britain and already displaying the unpredictable behaviour and volcanic temper that was to dog him for the rest of his days in 1960 Vince moved to France where the “ye-ye” crowd really went for his old style rock ‘n’ roll. They called him ‘Le Diable Noir’ – the Black Devil.
Decked out in black leathers, chains, kohl eye make-up and his hair greased up into a high pompadour he was immediately signed to the French Barclay label, who put him to work recording covers of Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Elvis classics. In 1962 he headlined a bizarre show called Twist Appeal – L’Erotisme Au Xxe Siecle (Eroticism In The 20th Century) in which he performed between displays of erotic dance. Sadly this bizarre spectacle represented the pinnacle of his career as a rock ‘n’ roll icon. Fuelled by alcohol and drugs Vince’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. In April 1965 he opened for the Rolling Stones at Paris’ Olympia, and then returned to London where at a party with Bob Dylan he tried LSD for the first time. In his current state of mind it was absolutely the very last thing that he needed. When he returned to Paris he was filthy, unshaven and out of his head. Clutching a bottle of Mateus wine he insisted his name was Mateus, the son of God. Persuading his audience to follow him, Vince paraded across Paris preaching all the way. That was the beginning of the end for Maurice from Isleworth. There were comeback attempts in ‘67, ‘72, ‘74 and ‘75, but they all failed. In between he run around with Brigitte Bardot and meet David Bowie who was inspired by him to create his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, the “leper Messiah” swallowed up by the excesses of rock stardom.
“Vince Taylor was the inspiration for Ziggy. Vince Taylor was a rock n roll star from the Sixties who was slowly going crazy… He always stayed in my mind as an example of what can happen in rock ‘n’ roll… it seemed very appealing: Oh, I’d love to end up like that, totally nuts.”
David Bowie (1976)
In the early 80’s Vince became increasingly paranoid, telling people that the Duke of Windsor was out to kill him. Although he still recorded and appeared at occasional gigs Vince Taylor was done. After a spell in a mental hospital he finally moved to Switzerland where on August 7, 1991 he died from lung cancer – a long, long way from Isleworth.
Although Vince is long gone his weirdness continues. He still writes an occasional blog! His last entry at the end of 2008 reads… “HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009! BRIGITTE BARDOT LOOKS LIKE A DOG, BUT I STILL LOOK GOOD!”
Now, that’s what I call rock ‘n’ roll!
– from Martyn Day