I never particularly enjoy the first months of the year. It’s never a good time for anybody and considering the beating people have received with Covid and it’s repercussions I was kind of left thinking how could things get any worse ? in less than three days I lost two incredibly close friends and musical legends – Mark Keds and Sylvain Sylvain that the music world will be mourning acutely .
My first time that I saw Sylvain was on a rerun of the Old Grey Whistle Test – and the New York Dolls were playing “ Jet boy “. If I’m honest the first thing that hit me about the Dolls was they just looked like nothing I’d ever seen before . But one thing you could say for sure is they looked like a gang. Regardless of whether they wore platforms or not you could tell they would fight ( as Sylvain would inform me one night ) to defend their honour and right to wear their garb.
I could easily picture them in a movie like the seventies action film “ The Warriors”. The clothes they had on weren’t mere costumes but what the band wore everyday .Unlike The Sweet or Mott the Hoople, who you could imagine returned to some normality after a performance, there was an air of danger that caught my eye when watching more Dolls footage. There was a defiance on Sylvain’s face that said ‘We don’t need your approval – were the greatest rock n roll band ever.’
Never at any point in my life did I ever consider that our paths would or could ever cross . It took me years to track down any info on Dolls (this was pre – internet times ) until I read Johnny Thunders biography “ In Cold Blood” by Nina Antonia – this book Peter Perret Junior showed me at his family home. Later on I also read Nina’s book on the Dolls .
Asides from the occasional article ~ it seemed that the Dolls were put in the “ Cult “ section simply because they hadn’t been considered a “ major success” . I absolutely guarantee that there is at least ten bands in your record collection that were inspired by the Dolls . Without the Dolls there’d be no Sex Pistols , no Ramones , no Buzzcocks , no Clash , no Guns n Roses , no Smiths ( Morrissey ran their fan club ) and definitely no Guns N Roses. Culturally the Dolls influenced so many even down to stealing hairstyles (I’m guilty).
I then received the “ call “ as it were back in 2013 to be part of “ Sylvain’s New York Dolls “ . Since the Dolls highly successful reformation in 2005 I had the impression that things had soured between Sylvain and David Johansen.
I had already conversed online and later he admitted the reason he’d asked me to play bass was not because of my musical ability but rather that I had the right “ look” for his upcoming tour.
I was excited on one level …and terrified on the other as I’m a guitarist. Sure a guitarist can blag playing the bass but I’ve never really by choice ever wanted to “ blag it “ when it comes to music but even if Syl had asked me to play pots and pans I’d have done it .He later messaged to say he’d asked Gary Powell ( The Libertines ) to play drums, which made me glad it wasn’t somebody I didn’t know but at the same time caused me concern as there was no way he was going to tolerate a slack bassist either. However with a little practice I managed to rise to the occasion.
The tour had many dates which kicked off with a festival in Turkey , spread over Europe and would finish in Ireland and the UK.
Eventually we only performed in the UK and Ireland which I didn’t care about one bit ~ because this was an almighty honour.
Upon meeting Syl the first time in the now defunct Survival studios I am happy to say I met a warm, kind and humorous guy who I instantly felt at ease with ~ after the rehearsal I asked him how he felt about the upcoming tour “It’s going to be the tits Jackson !” He replied ~ to this day I’ve no idea why Syl nicknamed me Jackson but it stuck .
Around the time of that tour I was having my fare share of problems with my private life and Sylvain was just such a sweetheart , offering advice and often after a gig – usually at 1am I’d get a call at my hotel room from Syl “ Hey Jackson you gotta come to my room and hear this” Syl would either play me a new idea on his Gretsch that he’d come up with or he’d play me a rare record that he’d add to the list of what he named his “ Rampage of Songs “ – an archive of great and sometimes obscure gems he’d post online.
I would’ve thought some of the disappointments and the way he’d been treated over the years in the music industry would’ve made him bitter – but Syl was possibly one of the happiest guys I’d ever met. He just loved living life to the full and was often like an adolescent full of energy and anticipation of what was next . I remember him playing Gary and I “ Leaving New York “ backstage at the Fleece ( Bristol ) And it bought a tear to my eye ~ I felt it was his farewell not just to the streets that had defined a huge chunk of his life but a recognition on his part of a new chapter of his life , A mantra of sorts where he’d be at the steering wheel and growing .
In October 2014 Syl asked me to come join him onstage at a gig at Greenwich O2 arena but I’d had such a bad panic attack that night and felt very guilty that I’d not shown up.
Luckily he forgave me.
The last time I saw Syl was one blisteringly hot summer’s night in 2018. He was playing a gig at the Dublin Castle and promoting his biography “ No Bones in Ice Cream “. He’d asked me to join him, Alison Gordy ( who looked exactly the same as she had back in JT’s Oddballs days) and Thurston Moore ( Sonic Youth ) for “ Personality Crisis “.
After we’d played he gave me a hug and asked me to sit down as he was signing books ~ “ How you doing Jackson ? “ he asked solemnly “ I’m Good Syl ..but how are you ?” I asked. He signed another book and lent over to whisper in my ear “ I’m not too good buddy ..my backs killing me and …” He paused and then carried on signing books eventually asking me to pose for pics with him and then informed his TM to tell the rest of the line of fans that he was now no longer signing.
He looked exhausted.
I felt sad. I wasn’t used to seeing Sylvain like this. He just looked worn out. I said let’s catch up before you leave, unfortunately he was leaving the next day around 5am to get back to Atlanta .
I remember the following year we spoke on the phone and he told me he had cancer. was devastated but didn’t want to let on “ You’ll beat it Syl , I promise “ “ Maybe Jackson …maybe… “ he replied .
We spoke a few times online after and the very last time we spoke online was after I posted a pic of Syl, Gary and I playing Belfast Empire that he said he adored .
I’ve so many great memories of being around Syl but being onstage with him at the 100 club playing “ Jet Boy” followed by Glen Matlock and Clem Burke joining us for ‘Personality Crisis’ has to be one that sticks out for sure.
Another memory that never fails to make me smile was one night some drunken fan wandered backstage and decided to become “ DJ”. They made the stupid mistake of playing “ Kickstart my heart “ by Motley Crue ~ Sylvain stood up and bellowed “ Turn that shit off! “ before teaching the ‘DJ’ the subtle differences between “ Rock” and “ Rock N Roll.”
Sylvain is somebody who just lit up a room when he walked in ~ he had an immediate infectious enthusiasm , if you were having a bad day he would instantly raise your spirits and I used to say that if they played Sylvain on the TV everyday the world would be a happier place . No wonder he was born on Valentine’s Day ~ the guy had a heart of gold . I’m so grateful to have shared a stage with him and witness his generous and beautiful spirit .
Rest well Syl ~ I’m sure JT , Jerry , Billy And Arthur are all over the moon to see you once again.
My thoughts are with his wife Wanda Mizrahi