As the new British music-comedy Svengali (with an impressive cast of Martin freeman, Vicky McClure, Roger Evens & writer Jonathon Owen) makes the move from it’s roots online to the big screen Louder Than War gets to talk to the man who inspired the story, the inspirational character behind the films main man ‘Dixie’, Paul Dixon.
Subjects covered include such things as what it feels like to be portrayed by his good friend Jonathon Owen & to see the film actually come together & we also go over some of his own rock ‘n’ roll memories from the days he spent in the music industry, managing groups and making things happen…
Louder Than War: Hi Dixie, big thanks for talking to Louder Than War. The new film Svengali has already had a good start & it’s receiving some great comments, reviews and reactions. Can you tell me the first time you were told that your persona, character and namesake would be the central character in the film?
Dixie: The first time I heard about it in 2008 he phoned me up and said ‘you’ll never believe it Dixie, I’ve been asked to play a band manager?’ I pissed myself laughing said ‘you’ll never carry it off!’ He wasn’t very rock and roll ! And he said ‘Dixon I’m an actor I’m going to play him AS someone !’ So I thought he meant Kit Lambert or Malcolm McLaren it wasn’t til pilot 1 ‘god loves a trier’ went online that I realised he meant me ! Of course I told everyone and they were all ‘yeah sure they’re going to make a film about you Dixie !’ All thinking I’d gone completely mental! lol!
Svengali originally started out on YouTube. Can you give us a quick run through of the story of the film?
Dixie: Well in all there were 9 pilot episodes filmed. I went up to see most of them being filmed. The atmosphere on set was amazing and the film evolved from there. Johnny Owen has done a fantastic job. He really has the spirit shown in the film to keep going against all the odds! The film is the story of a dreamer inspired by the great music Svengali’s Malcolm McLaren , Alan McGee , Brian Epstein , Kit Lambert etc to break a bank in the shark infested murky waters of the music business. Vicky McClure plays Shell, my wife was Michelle, well still is Michelle, she’s just not my wife anymore! But he has captured the music business accurately and the desperation of what is a shit or bust existence. Jon even remembered a loan I took out without telling Michelle to keep a band going and what it has captured brilliantly is the desperation of being broke in London doing shit jobs but there’s always a major deal just around the corner so there’s always a glimmer of hope to keep dragging you further in! I don’t want to give the plot away because I don’t want take anything away from seeing it and running with it, it’s a roller coaster ride!
So how much is the films character of ‘Dixie’ based on your self and what did you think to your old mate Jonathan Owen’s portrayal of you?
Dixie: I was an ex mod & I had a wife called Michelle. I was inspired totally by the Kit Lambert’s and Malcolm McLarens of this world .
But the story must go to Johnny Owen. It’s weird Irish Jack has been a mate of mine for years he was the inspiration for Jimmy in Quadrophenia and I always used to think how amazing it must be to have inspired something so incredible! When jack heard about the film he sent me a message ‘Paul, congratulations on your elevation to cult celebrity status!’ I’am honoured to have been included as they could easily have changed his name and fucked me off altogether! But Jon has been amazing the way he has included me in all of this loyalty in a dog eat dog business is a rare and wonderful thing !
How did you initially find yourself working in the music biz?
Dixie: It’s all down to the fucking ‘Who’ really ! I spent most of my early years wanting to be Keith Moon, I don’t mean I wanted to be like him – I actually wanted to BE him! How that would have worked I have no idea! Symbolic of my battle with reality! I played drums for a punk band but I was no Mooney! But I did like the idea of trying to beat the odds and Malcolm McLaren was genius as was Kit Lambert with The Who. I loved the stories of rock and roll excess! So I moved to London early 80’s and put on a mod gig at the corn exchange in Brighton on bank holiday Monday! It made a front page story on a few national papers as the police tried to close it down, rounded all the kids up, stuck them on trains out of Brighton & turned all the coaches back to London! Proper excitement! One of the bands was 007 who became The Scene , I started managing them and as my personal life fell apart at one point ‘clean living under difficult circumstances’ was my motto as I was living in a car on Ealing common (Wolsey hornet – size of a gnat’s chuff). I’d go down to Paddington after work. It was 15p for a full bath and then down to La Beat Route or the 100 Club or the Phoenix or wherever for the night! Then I’d get the night bus back to car! The blokes in Paddington station slipper baths called me ‘Taff, the best dressed tramp in London!’
Truth is stranger than fiction, looking back on your own time working in the music industry, looking after groups, promoting gigs and so on I bet you’ve got a stack of crazy/strange and outrageous rock’n’roll tales of your own.?
Dixie: None. Well a few, loads come to think of it! The Pocket Devils when I first started managing them had a gig at the Harvest Fair in West Wales, Dodgy had played the previous day and Dai Davies the then head of sanctuary who were massive at the time, they had Destiny’s Child and Elton John to name two, owned trident and Nomis studios etc had come down to see The Pocket Devils and was tramping about in wellies looking for me as I had forgotten to put him on guest list! I had gone down in my mothers little yellow metro which felt as if your arse was about one inch off the road I had Michelle, and my son Tom with me who was about 4. Gerion our roadie had give me a bag of mushrooms and keen to enhance the festival vibe I duly ate them. Tom was in the face painting tent having his face painted like the devil (as in The Pocket Devils), the mushrooms are starting to take hold when Gerion comes running down to me ‘Dixie the band have fucked off Jon didn’t want to get his shoes muddy!’ This is about an hour before their set! When I realised he wasn’t joking the reality quickly straightened me out – I had the head of sanctuary looking for me in a field in west Wales, a band who had gone AWOL, Dyfed Powys police had helicopters were lining the streets pulling all the cars over because they wanted to close the festival down I’ve got to drive past them with a car that’s on the floor, tripping on mushrooms with Satan sitting next to me and Michelle in the back giving it ‘well they can’t be much of band if they didn’t play!’
Past rows of police pulling everyone over!
So I sacked The Pocket Devils! Lasted about a week Dai Davies played fuck with me when I saw him in London the following week ! ‘You can’t let a band dictate to you , you’ll become too conservative in your management afraid to do anything for fear the band might disapprove!’
…and your still working in the music scene managing Welsh mod inspired band ‘The Broken Vinyl Club’…
Dixie: Yeah, we did an album on Acid Jazz last year supported the Stereophonic’s. They are currently working on new material. ‘I want you girl’ is on the Svengali soundtrack which also has The Who (the High Numbers), Jake Bugg etc
So how about your own favourite moments in the film?
Dixie: To be honest I loved it all and the music is incredible, the scene where he goes for a job in Don (Martin Freeman’s) record shop is great. He says to Don ‘and I’m a mod !’ And Don is like “How are you a fucking mod, a two pound Parker and a Merc t shirt does not make you a mod!’ Then Don’s wife comes in played brilliantly by Maxine Peake says ‘you are just what we are looking for Dixie , and you’re a mod !’ And Martin Freeman is going ‘Fucking Hell !’ The Alan McGee and Carl Barat scenes are great too and ‘The Prems’ are exactly like a real band! Really well cast! (See pic below)
Did you get to meet the cast and crew on the film, people like Martin freeman and Vicky McClure?
Dixie: I haven’t met Martin Freeman yet but Vicky McClure, what a genuine and lovely girl! She was filming in Russia when she got the script and Jon was told she wouldn’t be up for it but she read the script and got in touch with him personally! Martin Freeman has given an interview with the NME saying ‘someone told me about Svengali about pilot episode 3, when they were telling me I felt annoyed agh I hadn’t been asked to to be in it! I went home & watched all 3 episodes and I knew I was right to be annoyed, it’s charming , sussed and very very funny !’
Coming from Martin Freeman what a quote and what an endorsement ! I’ve met so many great people through Svengali though, it’s been a great buzz in itself; too many to mention really, Alan McGee, Carl Barat, Brian Hibbard, Ceiron Griffiths, Curtis from The Prems, Dave and Max off Soccer AM, Matt Berry, Joanna Pickering etc etc
Lastly, who’s the greatest Svengali in the music biz ever? Dixie, Mclaren, Peter Grant, Larry Parnes, Robert Stigwood, Berry Gordy, Epstein? Andrew Loog Oldham was a pretty influential figure not just on the Stones but the 60’s as a whole, But who’s your favorite Svengali ever?
Dixie: All of them are greats but Malcolm McLaren because he created more than a band, he created a threat to society, something which questioned the system, and punk did challenge the whole fucking thing for a while! The excitement of being a punk in 1977 can never be recaptured! Playing god save the queen on jubilee day when the whole country were waving union jacks, what a feeling! ‘God save the queen, the fascist regime, made you a moron a potential H Bomb!’ What a line!
The Sex Pistols, amazing. I had my red zipped jacket from Boy Malcolm’s shop and the world was my lobster! Apart from all the normal people who wanted to kill you because you were a punk ! lol :0(