proby and meProby And Me. A Howling Tale of a Falling Star – MJ Cornwall (BookPOD)

The label doesn’t lie. “Proby And Me” is a runaway train of a story, a rollicking saga of a disastrous “tour” down under by the trouser-splitting, UK-exiled Texan-born ‘60s pop star who was, briefly, as big as the Beatles.

The context: Ex-publican Brett Stevens (aka Brett Eldorado) and former Hoodoo Guru Clyde Bramley had lured the man to Sydney - and he barely made it past the front door of the Hopetoun Hotel.

By 1990, Proby’s currency as anything but a cult item had well and truly faded. He was plucked from a housing estate in the north of England where his performing stocks were low, his live appearances limited to a circuit of scrappy workingman’s clubs and seaside summer resorts.

Proby’s would-be promoters flew him to Sydney, put him up in a Bondi hotel and paid his considerable bar tabs. At least his food bill would have been minimal. PJ sounds like a graduate from the Eating Is Cheating School.

Attempts to match Proby with a backing band were fraught - his preference was a full orchestra - musicians who “read” - and his promotional appearances in media were sporadic and booze-sodden. A warm-up gig in Newcastle and an inner-city stand at Paddington RSL that sparked a mini riot were the only shows.

Author Mark Cornwall tells the story through the eyes of Eldorado - or should that be ears as Proby never shuts up. It’s 321 pages of staccato chatter and patois - delivered like machine gun fire in the style of James Ellroy.

It’s a story that’s exceedingly well told, with grim humour and massive swathes of colour.

Proby namechecks everybody from Jimi Hendrix to The Doors, Marc Almond to Elvis and Kim Fowley to Jimmy Page, in recounting a storied life mostly spent clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. What’s more, the yarns have all been verified to be true, and their common denominator is that when it turned to shit, it was always somebody else’s fault.

The book’s promo blurb does it justice: “Frenzied stage shows called obscene. Of liquor and firearms. Arrests. Jail time. Fortunes blow. House fires, turbulent marriages. Bankruptcy and the long slow fall”.

Proby could only be lured off his Hoey barstool by the lure of hard liquor or a six-pack of beer travellers. Encounters with the New Christs, the Bambalams, the late Ian Rilen and Janine Hall (RIP also, and largely his nursemaid) litter the pages. You’re left with lots of sympathy for his handlers but also with a sense of: “What the fuck were you guys thinking?”

PJ Proby probably was robbed blind by a 1960s music industry that was rife with conmen and charlatans, but his antics were self-destructive and left him wide open. For the record, PJ is reportedly now sober and still kicking.

“Proby And Me” isn’t so much a cautionary tale as a head-spinning speed trip without the ground-down teeth and next-day headache. What a fucking ride. Available from good online outlets and some stores in Sydney and Melbourne. Google and you shall find.

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