Lindisfarne – Run for Home

I’m quarter Geordie, my paternal grandmother’s side of the family came down to the Nottinghamshire coalfield from its Durham counterpart in the later 19th century.    Their sojourn in Durham had been a relatively short one – the family had previously been colliers in Northumberland, 30 miles to the north.  It seems that there was a liaison with a daughter of a local landowner, a quick marriage and a move to near Bishop Auckland which saw the family of miners become a family of pit managers. There were still some links to the Northumberland coalfield and one of the sons was middle named after a colliery in a pit village that was eventually swallowed up by Cramlington New Town.  It became a family tradition to continuing the naming, passed down to me and now one of my sons.

DaleFortFieldCentre(JulianCremona)May2003I’d met J on a field trip course during a bitterly cold Easter at Dale Fort Field Centre (left on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia), a very bleak former Victorian fort which guarded the northern entrance to Milford Haven.  She was from Surrey commuter land and her trip was a biology one, mine geography – we had got chatting in the pub one evening.  We stayed in touch and wrote to each other quite a lot – she was the only person I have ever ‘corresponded’ with.  We met up a few times including seeing Tom Petty, Genesis and others at Knebworth in 1979 and I went up to see her in Durham a couple of times when she went there to university.

On one of those visits we went to see the band Lindisfarne.  They had always somehow resonated with me in my youth, I felt that there was a connection – perhaps I wanted there to be as I knew the history of my middle name. They were close to ‘home’ in a small, crowded venue full of both students and north-eastern fans of the band, every song being sung-along to.  Lindisfarne seemed to be in their element.  Few gigs I have been before or since came close to the amazing atmosphere that night; my ears were ringing for days afterwards.

Unsurprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any footage of the concert, but this was one of their concerts from a few years later at Newcastle City Hall.

r-1457363-1352498132-7517-jpegI think that I’d borrowed and taped a live album, probably ‘Magic in the Air’ around 1975 and bought ‘Run for Home’ which did quite well as a single in mid-1978 – at the time we saw them it was my favourite song of theirs.   My tastes moved on though, and any vague liking of Lindisfarne was completely destroyed when the band allowed Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne to do an appalling rendition of ‘Fog on The Tyne’ in 1990.

As for J, I think that we saw each other only once or twice more before losing touch – it was in the days before Friends Reunited and then Facebook – I guess that I was never really a letter writer and that I probably didn’t really have the time anyway as I got more involved politically in my second year at LSE.  Oddly, I saw her Dad again a few years later in a corridor at Nationwide Building Society’s head office, where he worked, when I was having a meeting with someone in relation to my housing policy PhD.

Colm Tóibín – ‘Nora Webster’

Set in late 1960s Ireland against the backdrop of the growth of imagethe Civil Rights movement, ‘Nora Webster’ is about one woman’s loss of a husband, Maurice, a well respected teacher and member of the local community. It also deals with the impact that his death had on their children, particularly the two younger sons. Several of the interviews given at the time of the publication suggest that it was partially shaped by the death of Tóibín’s own father.

imageDeath, loss and the beautifully observed small town Ireland feature strongly, they are well trodden paths for Tóibín – featuring in some of his other novels, notably ‘Brooklyn.’ As the flow of visitors and people stopping her in the street to ‘pay their respects’ reduces, Nora begins to find a voice for herself and a new confidence through classical music as the beautiful, well-paced novel progresses.

In future, she hoped, fewer people would call. In future, once the boys went to bed, she might have the house to herself more often. She would learn how to spend these hours. In the peace of these winter evenings, she would work out how she was going to live.

Austin A40 mkIThe detail of the Austin A40 (picture Wikipedia Commons) driven by Nora brought back memories of my own youth – trips from the Nottinghamshire coalfield to the south west of Cornwall with five on board, piled high with carefully polythene sheet wrapped ancient cases, precariously balanced on a roof rack of uncertain stability. I digress though ……

Tóibín has a delightful reading voice, which you can almost ‘hear’ in the narrative; it is a voice that I first came across reading a short story by Sylvia Townsend Warner on the excellent New Yorker Fiction Podcast. The YouTube video below has him reading some extracts from Nora Webster as well as discussing it.

 

 

Orchestre Jazira – Happy Day (Celebration)

The early to mid-1980s saw a growing interest in West African music, I probably first came across it at Glastonbury in 1983 when I saw King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti the following year.

I started seeing highlife bands at Arts Centres around Birmingham and later at smaller London music venues. The standouts were the excellent Somo Somo and my favourites of the era, Orchestre Jazira. Musically, Jazira while labelled an “Anglo-Ghanaian band” were much more diverse than most and this was reflected in their music.imageTheir only album, ‘Nomadic Activities’, was released in 1984 and while it could have been a springboard to success it wasn’t, as one of the few on-line biographies of the band noted

The album was consciously and defiantly at odds with what both the UK record business and its public then expected of an ‘African’ band – that is a simple, happy, all-night party sound.

‘Happy Day’ is atypical of ‘Nomadic Activites’ and was a final doomed attempt by their label Beggars Banquet to eke out some sales from the album, it did have a rather good video which surfaced again on YouTube a year or two ago.

I saw them a couple of times live, once in a crowded pub in Islington (I think) and the other in an almost deserted community centre in North London – around Crouch End, if my fading memory serves me correctly. The former was full of joy, dancing and sweat (probably what Beggars Banquet thought that they had signed), the latter much more subdued – the organisers appeared to have forgotten to do any publicity, but the band was slowly drifting apart, a shadow of  the recent past.  As it was probably around 1987, it may have been one of their last gigs – they were to finally split up that year.

The lack of commercial success and their demise didn’t stop me playing the record – it remains one of my favourites. Sadly, it was never to get a digital release, Jazira had drifted apart by the time CDs effectively replaced LPs. A fair number of the tracks are on YouTube though.

Literary Lewisham – Graham Swift’s Last Orders

One from my ‘other’ blog that has some overlap here.

Running Past

Running Past occasionally covers some of the writers that have formed part of the Lewisham’s literary heritage.  This has included some with clear links such as CS ForesterDavid Lodge and Robert Browning, plus a few where the links are a little more tenuous – including Thomas Dermody – a Lewisham resident only in is his dying days and burial at St Mary’s Church.

Graham Swift was born in Lewisham, and, if my memory has served me correctly, in a nursing home on Woolstone Road; this was based on an information board that used to be at Kirkdale Bookshop.  Certainly, Swift was born on the borders of Catford and Sydenham.

There are South London settings to many of his novels – his debut novel, the wonderful ‘The Sweet Shop Owner’ featured both Upper Sydenham (perhaps then home to his maternal grandparents) and Wandsworth; ‘Shuttlecock’ was set…

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Graham Parker – Hold Back the Night

pink-parkerThe Pink Parker single with ‘Hold Back the Night’ as the ‘A’ side, was a discounted purchase from perhaps the coolest job imaginable – well coolest for a 17 year-old from a mining town.  There was I, the kid with no discernible musical tastes or knowledge, who had drifted from Elton John to Status Quo to Focus over half a dozen months in an attempt to find a musical ‘home’ had suddenly landed a Saturday job to die for – in an independent record shop, courtesy of my Dad knowing the owner and a chance meeting in a doctor’s surgery waiting room.

The difference a ‘cool’ job can make to an inconspicuous, small, shy teenager was startling – people came into the shop to chat, even girls in the year above me at school – I hadn’t really changed though, I was still rather lacking in social skills but I was no longer just the lad who played the oboe (badly) in school assemblies, and would get picked for football and cricket teams just to make up the numbers.

sydbooth
Syd Booth’s  a few years after I worked there – just before being taken over by Revolver Records in 1981 (source)

It wasn’t all glamour having a Saturday job in a record shop – I got some really cruddy jobs to do – if we ran out of any particular chart singles (or other high volume sales) I would be sent out to scour the other musical outlets in the town centre and buy their copies for Syd Booths.  In the main this involved trips to the neighbouring Boots, a shop called Vallances – a sort of pre-Currys electrical retailer that in addition to the fridges and gramophones had a motley collection of vinyl at the back of the shop, and outside the shopping centre, Woolworths.  The worst of these forays was trying to come up with an excuse in Woolworths for the reasons why a 17 year old would need to buy a dozen copies of a budget record of the 20 Golden Greats (or something like it) by Tony Bennett  -‘my mum wants them as a joke present for people at work’ was the excuse that oddly worked.  The job only lasted 9 months or so – both of the Saturday staff were laid off in early June 1977 in a cost saving exercise – or that’s how it was presented – maybe I was just rubbish at the job.

I suspect not though, as I was to successfully get other Saturday shop jobs, none as cool though – the next job was a couple of months later in an awful, run-down men’s clothing retailer, Gentz, the name says it all, which took the dregs of clothes that the slightly less downmarket shops in the group couldn’t shift.  Making sales was a real struggle; I remember a post-Christmas extra day I worked when there were negative takings, no purchases but a return on one of the shoddy garments we’d offloaded to a hapless customer during the run-up to the festive period. The job ended when the shop closed down after becoming little more than a jumble sale for unworn, un(never)fashionable clothes; I digress though….

As for ‘Hold Back the Night’, the ‘Pink Parker’ it was on was a lurid ‘Barbie pink’ vinyl which hadn’t been brilliantly pressed and jumped a bit, well a lot, but as the pink pressings were limited I would have only been able to get a boring black version as a replacement, so I kept it.

As a result of the quality of the single, I didn’t listen to it that much – although did I did listen quite a lot to the album that preceded it, ‘Heat Treatment’, which I also bought soon after.  I must have lent the LP to someone, as I don’t remember having it by the time I went to university eighteen months later.  I probably didn’t knowingly listen to Graham Parker again for a couple of decades, until I bought a ‘Best of…’ compilation for next to nothing in the Woolworth closing down sale – the CD was played a couple of times but then forgotten about, I knew something was missing though, but wasn’t bothered enough to work out what.

It was a mention in Sebastian Faulkes wonderful ‘Engleby’ that jogged my memory, Faulkes eloquently describes it being sung at the end of a gig – describing Parker as a

…thin, rodent like man with sleeveless tee shirt and bare arms – his snarling manner still seemed defiant even when admitting to emotion: ‘Hold back the night, Turn on the light, Don’t wanna dream about you, baby

Sebastian Faulkes (2007) Engleby pp145-146

The memories of the song flooded back, I put down the novel and immediately downloaded the song – oddly, the perfection of the digital version slightly annoyed me, for the first dozen or so plays I kept expecting the slight ‘jumps’ of my 1977 version despite not having heard it for almost 35 years.  It is a song I still play quite a lot now.

 

 

Barbara Kingsolver – Pigs in Heaven

Barbara Kingsolver never disappoints, ‘Pigs in Heaven’ is no exception to this literary ‘rule.’ The novel is a essentially a sequel to the earlier ‘The Bean Trees,’ where a child is deposited on the front seat of a Taylor Greer’s Volkswagen in Oklahoma, close to a Cherokee reservation, by a Native American who immediately disappears.  Taylor essentially keeps driving until her car breaks down in 1000 kilometres away in Arizona.

pigs-in-heavenRoll the lives on three years from ‘The Bean Trees’ and, at a visit to the Hoover Dam, the ‘daughter’ who Taylor names Turtle due to her grip, notices someone fall into a drainage channel.  A man with learning disabilities is eventually rescued and mother and ‘daughter’ appear on ‘Oprah’ as a result. One of the viewers is a lawyer from the Cherokee Nation who notices a Native American daughter with a mother that appeared not to be.   The lawyer starts to dig a little deeper and Taylor, worried that she might lose Turtle, flees.  A poverty-stricken road trip with cheap motels and worse jobs ensues which eventually ends up back at the Native American reserve at Heaven, Oklahoma.

Don’t expect a fast moving plot, it isn’t Kingsolver’s style – the narrative is subtle, thoughtful and thought-provoking; the real power of the writing lies in the warmth and depth of the characters, mostly women, women who have been left or have had to leave:

Women on their own run in Alice’s family. This dawns on her with the unkindness of a heart attack and she sits up in bed to get a closer look at her thoughts, which have collected above her in the dark.

There are men, but they are flawed and almost incidental to the plot:

She married him two years ago for love, or so she thought, and he’s a good enough man but a devotee of household silence. His idea of marriage is to spray WD-40 on anything that squeaks. … The quiet only subsides when Harland sleeps and his tonsils make up for lost time.

The final denouement is possibly a little contrived and leaves perhaps too many loose ends – it was probably deliberate, life doesn’t always have tidy endings, novels shouldn’t either. Perhaps part of the reasoning may have been leaving the door just slightly ajar, to allow the potential for developing the characters elsewhere.

Dorothy Richardson – The Interim

I have written about Richardson’s work a couple of times before, both here, in relation to The Tunnel and in my other blog, Running Past, about the first volume of Pilgrimage, and particularly Pointed Roofs. Pilgrimage, is effectively a series of 13 autobiographical short novels which were published separately although were subsequently brought together in four volumes by Virago; they describe the life of Richardson’s thinly disguised fictional self, Miriam Henderson. The Interim is the fifth novel in the tridecology and sees Richardson’s fictional alter ego still in the lodging house in Bloomsbury, still working as a dental assistant.

PilgrimageIf The Tunnel can be seen as a book about exploring London and exploring ideas, The Interim is perhaps more about exploring people – observing those passing through the lodging house where Miriam has an eyrie-like room in the eves, overlooking the roofs of the city. It is a masterclass in people-watching, perhaps only bettered by Patrick Hamilton’s ‘Slaves of Solitude’, written 25 years later in a very similar setting.  Possibly a lodging house is a setting that ideally lends itself to the observation of others.

The focus on the people though doesn’t mean a move away from some sublime descriptions

Windows were being pushed open up and down the street.  The new year changed to a soft moonlit breath stealing through the darkness, brimming over the faces at the doors and windows, touching their brows with fingers of dawn, sending fresh soothing healing fingers in amongst their hair.  Eleven … twelve.  Across the rushing scale of St Pancras bells came a fearful clangour.  Bicycle bells, cab whistles, dinner bells, the banging of tea-trays and gongs.  Of course.  New Year.  It must be a Bloomsbury custom.  She had had her share in a Bloomsbury New Year.  Rather jolly … rowdy; but jolly in that sort of way.  She could hear the Baileys laughing and talking on their doorstep.  A smooth firm foreign voice flung out a shapely little fragment of song.  Miriam watched its outline.  It repeated itself in her mind with the foreign voice and personality of the singer.  She drew back into her room.

The Interim was published in 1920 but much of it was serialised the year before in the ‘Little Review’, an American journal which promoted modernist writing set up by Margaret Anderson with links to the likes of Ezra Pound.  ‘Little Review’ had begun serialising ‘Ulysses’ in 1918 an continued until 1921 when the US Post Office refused to distribute, claiming it was obscene; there was a subsequent trial which found against ‘Ulysses’ and the ‘Little Review.’

It is apt that the work Richardson and Joyce appear side-by-side, both were ground breaking, but is seems strange that Richardson’s work has been largely forgotten – she deserves a much wider audience.