Why musicians are developing second careers
The Arctic Monkeys are opening a pub. But then, rock stars have always wanted a second job. By Ladonna Hall and Luke Wallis
Friday 12 September 2008
Next weekend, Sheffield will welcome a new addition to its buzzing nightlife scene. The Bowery promises "live acoustic sessions with national and international guests" and a designer boutique on the first floor. But it's not these features that will see punters queuing round the block – it's the chance to bump into one of their musical heroes. For The Bowery is the latest Arctic Monkeys spin-off, a place where the boys plan to "relax and jam with their friends" on the rare occasions they find themselves back in their home town. While lead singer Alex Turner gained a Mercury prize nomination for The Last Shadow Puppets, the Monkeys' drummer, Matt Helders, has chosen to invest in a pub with the band's former bassist, Andy Nicholson.
Musicians have long looked for outlets into which they can pour their excess creativity and cash. Nor is a lack of expertise a barrier. After all, being a rock star is a career that demands a certain screw-you belief in one's own invincibility, infallibility and genius. And sometimes these second careers can turn out even greater successes than the original. Consider the example of erstwhile Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who this week drew gasps of admiration from the New York fashion pack for her classy range of designer dresses.
By far the most popular career segues have been into the worlds of acting and art. Ever since Elvis Presley donned his Stetson for Love Me Tender in 1956 and Cliff Richard appeared in 1959's Expresso Bongo, musicians have sought immortality on the silver screen. Their efforts range from the cringe-inducingly awful to the surprisingly magnetic – sometimes, as with Madonna, within the career of a single artist. Most recently, American Idol runner-up Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for her acting in Dreamgirls before her music career had even properly taken off.
Some of more self-effacing, spiritual types who have swapped plectrums for paintbrushes include David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney. In the last year, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood (who co-owns a gallery in London's Mayfair), Paul Simonon (paintings of matadors), Leonard Cohen (bold lines, primary colours) and former Stone Roses guitarist, John Squire (Jackson Pollock-esque abstracts) have all mounted exhibitions. But it's not all art and acting: as the following examples show...
Trout fishery owner
Roger Daltrey has chosen to offset his rock'n'roll lifestyle with a passion for trout. "When I go fishing," he has said, "I come away feeling like I've smoked half a dozen joints." He designed and created Lakedown Trout Fishery. There is, according to Trout Fisherman magazine, "no prettier fishery in this land". He then followed up this with a self-confessed "disastrous" attempt to farm worms. A true Daltrey completist would have to include in their DVD library, next to Tommy, Underwater World of Trout, Vol 1, a documentary in which the former Who star talks enthusiastically about the fish he has farmed and sold in Dorset. A good job he did not, in fact, die before he got old.
Madonna has made forays into publishing since the 1992 release of her coffee-table book, SEX. But it was her series of children's books, The English Roses, which properly drew focus onto her literary capabilities. Using the full force of her celebrity status, it had the biggest launch in publishing history in 2003, released in more than 100 countries on the same day, in 30 languages. The tales of Binah and her friends Nicole, Amy, Charlotte and Grace – named after her daughter, Lourdes and her friends – may have raised eyebrows with their infusion of not-so-subtle Kabbalist philosophy, but they've sold millions. The floodgates are open. Other singers with children's books credits to their name include Paul McCartney, Julie Andrews and Kylie Minogue.
In addition to fronting one of the biggest bands of all time, Sir Mick finds time to produce films – and he hasn't limited himself to ones about The Stones. In 2001 he took on Enigma, starring Kate Winslet. It's no secret that Jagger is something of a connoisseur when it comes to the fairer sex, but it may surprise that he has produced the current remake of George Cukor's 1939 film The Women, starring Meg Ryan.
Gilberto Gil's career has always fused music and politics. Brazil's military dictatorship found his lyrics provocative and in 1968, along with co-founder of the Tropicalia movement Caetano Veloso, he was imprisoned for nine months then exiled for three years. On his return, Gil immersed himself in politics, becoming city councillor of Salvador, creating the Blue Wave conservation group and taking a prominent post in the Green Party. In 2001 he was nominated for the position of Goodwill Ambassador for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. Two years later, he was appointed culture minister, accepting the job on the condition that he could still perform. Last year Gil toured in North America with nothing but an acoustic guitar. "As a minister, I have very little time to dedicate to music, so I have made choices marked by minimalism," he explained. Last month he stepped down from the Cabinet. President Lula da Silva understood that he was "going back to being a great artist, going back to giving priority to what is most important".
Ringo Starr loves acting. But it was his narration of the first two seasons of Thomas the Tank Engine in 1984 that is perhaps his most fondly remembered on-screen outing. Having declined to return for the third series, he created "Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band" and engineered his return to music. For which we should all be glad, right?
Special needs teacher
David Jackson, who was temporarily reunited with Van der Graff Generator in 2005, has spent much of his time encouraging others to make music. He taught maths as well as music for 12 years before starting up the Tonewall project in 1992. This makes use of a technology known as Soundbeam, which enables children and adults with special needs to make their own music through physical movement. Jackson arranges events, too, and has had his "non-musicians" perform at Caribbean festivals, with river dancers in Dublin and bell ringers at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Despite his advancing years, Al Green continues to tour, and to preach at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tennessee. Green had a strict upbringing and was kicked out of the quartet he sung in by his father for listening to Jackie Wilson. He had little interest in religion until 1974, when a girlfriend assaulted him (giving him third-degree burns with a pan of hot grits) because he refused to marry her, and then shot herself dead. The event inspired Green to become ordained. He has since devoted himself to preaching, recording gospel albums, winning eight "soul gospel performance" Grammys, and appearing in the Broadway musical Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God.
Former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett made headlines when he was named Australia's environment minister in 2007. Never one to shy away from political issues, the band once staged an impromptu concert outside Exxon's New York headquarters in 1990, flaunting a banner that read: "Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes Us Sick." The towering Garrett also sang impassioned songs about Aboriginal land rights ("Beds are Burning"), was head of the Australian Conservation Foundation and sat on the international board of Greenpeace. He made a bid for the Senate as a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984, but failed, making his recent ministerial appointment all the sweeter. Having hung up his rock star hat for good in 2002 to focus on politics, he has been known to entertain his colleagues by strumming Animals hits after late-night parliamentary sessions.
Sean Combs has had his mind on the money ever since he established Bad Boy Records in 1993. In addition to music producing, Combs owns a film production company which was responsible for the television adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, the play in which he starred when it ran on Broadway in 2004. He owns restaurants. He set up the organisation Citizen Change to galvanise the US youth during the 2004 Presidential election campaign with the slogan "Vote or Die". His clothing line, Sean John, won the Council of Fashion Designers of America's award in 2004 despite the controversy regarding violations of Honduran labour laws. Combs resolved the issue by allowing the formation of a union and installing air-conditioning.
By the late Seventies, George Harrison was heavily into spiritual soft-rock – and woefully out of fashion. He found another outlet for his creative interests and formed a film company with friend Dennis O'Brien in 1979. His parallel career was established when Handmade Films provided the backing for Monty Python's The Life of Brian, after EMI backed out for fear of charges of blasphemy. During the Eighties, Handmade's successes included The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits, Mona Lisa and Withnail and I. Harrison wasn't averse to the odd cameo and popped up as a nightclub singer in Shanghai Surprise, another (less successful) Handmade film, and as Mr Papadopolous in The Life of Brian.
When Peter Green sings"who is going to carry me to my grave?" on "Born Under a Bad Sign", it's unclear whether he is concerned about what will happen to his body when the inevitable happens, or if he's singing about his job. For the Fleetwood Mac guitarist performed the weirdest and most morbid career change of all. After leaving the band he drifted aimlessly from job to job, putting in a turn as a hospital orderly before becoming a gravedigger. Little is known about this point in his life, which came shortly before he was treated for schizophrenia with electro-shock therapy.
In 2002, the vegan opened TeaNY, a bistro and teahouse with his former girlfriend, Kelly Tisdale. Moby came up with the idea when hungover and craving tea, and designed the café's look and its menu. He claims to visit the venue every day. The iced teas and green teas are available online and even in certain places in the UK, including the Suburb café chain in London and Manchester. Rock'n'roll.
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