Graham Bonnet: The Story Behind The Shades

by Steve Wright

Easy On The Eye Books 2017

The man that hides away from man who’s hard to understand is taken from the spotlight to the page for scrutiny of mutiny.

Graham Bonnet: The Story Behind The Shades

Graham Bonnet:
The Story Behind The Shades

Graham Bonnet is an enigma. Stunning audiences for five decades now, the singer keeps his personal reality cloaked in thick cloth of involuntarily created mythology. That’s the shades referenced in the title of this book which locates the real Graham behind a storied facade. Those easily recognizable – inimitable even – vocals that drive his solo recordings and albums of the bands Bonnet’s been in, refusal to let his hair grow long in the era of RAINBOW, on-stage exhibitionism when in MSG, making supernova out of a couple guitarists in ALCATRAZZ: except for some facts, there’s not a lot an aficionado knows about the artist, all of it a mere reflection of existence as seen in his sunglasses. Steve Wright moved beyond being a mere fan to unravel the music-related mystery by virtually reconstructing the veteran’s life, from before day one to the latter-day resurrection of his career, through Bonnet’s own words and the testaments of those close to him.

The author had an unprecedented access to Graham’s universe, including chats with his father, albeit, obviously, not speaking to the Barry Gibb, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen and a few other high-flyers who are present here by way of old interviews, but there’s a lot of illustrations to make the narrative significantly more substantial than one could expect, and a unique photo of a long-haired Graham alongside iconic portraits and memorabilia is just one of many surprises of both the book and the man it’s dedicated to. From Skegness to L.A. to Adelaide and back again, with the whole world in between, Bonnet is – trite as it may sound – a natural born singer who, with wins at local talent shows at preteen age, never really envisioned any other career for himself and, most important, never wanted to sound like anybody else. That was why, despite stints at a butcher’s shop where the future star used to give elderly customers more cuts than they could afford – which speaks volumes of his heart – and stays with a string of groups delivering covers, out of obscurity emerged a very distinctive performer. What emerges from these pages, though, is a strange mix of determination and reluctance on the hero’s part: more often then not, when Graham decided to take reins in his own hands a failure awaited, yet Bonnet rocked when he went with the flow.

Perhaps, noticing a typo in the paper article on his early contest victory, Graham dropped a second “t” from his original family name, and this individuality-projecting image-savviness remained with the artist for ever, the tome addressing not only the aforementioned tonsorial issue but also bright stage outfits, if not the sneakers, by revealing the protagonist’s motives behind his every move including public exposure, with Bonnet brutally honest about everything. Digging under the surface, Wright sheds a light on the vocalist’s influences – he’s not ashamed to praise Helen Shapiro, rather than usual pop suspects – and his other skills, particularly his masterful guitar playing with nods to jazz: something that Graham doesn’t employ now left an imprint on numbers like “Will You Be Home Tonight” which was used for an anti-drunk-driving campaign, while tapping into the singer’s James Dean looks, so it’s not all down to famous axemen he’s worked with. There’s depth to Bonnet, much more than meets the eye, his lyrics being informed – as detailed in the book’s body and one of its appendices, alongside discography and concert diary – by reading on the road, watching TV in times of depression or, in case of “General Hospital” (where Graham got to as a result of one of the illnesses which plague him for years yet make him soldier on), real-life events.

Having no proper vocal training, Bonnet professionally described his technique as early as in THE MARBLES days, and this attitude is the key to how this voice became an instrument of mass attraction, to provide its owner with well-profiled gigs and myriad sessions – all of those Steve investigated and put in a context of Graham’s creative and personal existence. Not without certain gaps in the line of events, Wright comes up with an overwhelming load of knowledge; however, it all tends to be a tad too schematic towards the tale’s finale, when set lists, accompanists names and itineraries seem to take over the story that leaves the hero in 2016, one year before he hit three score and ten, the year when the reissues of Bonnet-related records started to arrive in earnest and the title of his 2015 comeback single "My Kingdom Come" began to ring true. Still, given the veteran’s presence on social media, it’s easy to see where he’s at now. More so, it’s easy to be a Graham Bonnet fan now; but even today, in the Internet age, this tome is essential for his aficionados. An artist who can sing an atlas of galaxies, let alone the phone book, yet sticks to heavy rock, Graham remains an enigma, though. And cracking the enigma code has always been fascinating.

****1/4

May 18, 2018

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