The Beatles – Yellow Submarine

Until my early teens we had very little music in the house, we very much a Home Service, and its successor, Radio 4, household.  We didn’t have a record player or gramophone until I was around 8 or 9.  While a TV was bought just before I went to school in 1965, so I ‘didn’t feel left out’, I only remember being allowed to watch ‘educational’ programmes and certainly not music.

Austin A40 mkI

I don’t remember having listened to popular music before one of our regular trips to Cornwall; Mum originates from there.  It would have been the summer of 1966, we had gone down with my cousin from Canada – Mum was one of seven and four of her siblings were to emigrate to Canada; moving away was part of Cornish life – many of my grandparent’s generation had emigrated to Australia.  There were five of us in a tiny Austin A40 (picture Wikipedia Commons) with masses of pre-war suitcases, neatly wrapped in polythene on a roof rack that made the journey from Mansfield to Penzance in the days before motorways.  One of the brackets of the roof rack broke off around Cirencester in the Cotswolds and the rest of the journey was spent with my Mum, my cousin and myself (for short periods) holding onto the roof rack from the passenger side-clipped window.

Eleanor_rigby_single_usaWe stayed with my aunt; I think that she had moved to Penzance at that point from her previous home in Newlyn.  Unlike us, she had a record player and a radio in the car and bought singles – unsurprisingly she had bought The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ which was a double A-side with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – the former was played a lot more though.  I remember signing along and thinking it hilarious to change the words to ‘Jar of Vaseline’ and ‘Tub of Margarine’ – how the adults must have laughed.

As had been the case in previous visits, I was allowed to go in the car with my aunt.  Oddly, I associate ‘Yellow Submarine’ with rows in the car – they were something that never happened at home. By that stage, I think that she was with her second husband with whom she seemed to have had quite a volatile relationship, there seemed to be a row every time we got in the car. She had divorced a year or two before, her first husband had eventually and painfully ‘come out’ in days when homosexuality was still illegal.

Despite the early exposure to The Beatles, they were never a band I listened to much – I think that I only ever bought ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Back in the USSR’ – the latter was oddly a song that was always played at parties of the group of friends that I was part of in the late 1970s, linked to a church youth club.  The reasons for it being ‘our song’ were never clear though.

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More recently, both A-sides featured in Beatles ‘sites’ seen in a visit to Liverpool – the former outside a community centre in Penny Lane where we were told on a bus tour that Lennon stayed and looked out at this bizarre yellow construction.  It was utter nonsense, of course, ‘facts’ for the gullible tourist, as the history of the song demonstrates.  The Eleanor Rigby bronze statue in Stanley Street is much more tasteful and genuine – designed and made by the entertainer Tommy Steele, who is a renowned sculpture artist as well – it wasn’t even mentioned on the tour bus commentary as the less than magical mystery tour strangely by-passed the area around The Cavern.

 

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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.

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.

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.

 

 

Ron Goodwin – ‘Schickel Shamble’

I am a Radio 4 person; I almost certainly spend more time listening to Radio 4 than I do watching television, often now ‘on demand’.  Television by its very nature is something that requires at least most of your attention, it’s the visual nature.  Radio though is much more pervading and, for me, it has always felt like I am inviting presenters into my home, sharing my space with them while my life happens.

Presenters become an important part of life – you form a bond, a relationship, a friendship with them; you know it isn’t shared but that doesn’t matter, you perhaps spend more time with them that with real family and real friends.  Their deaths hit you hard – I still remember the January over 20 years ago when both Brian Redhead (Today) and Brian Johnson (Test Match Special) joined the choir invisible, part of my growing up had disappeared and tears were shed for both.

I love the cornucopia of the spoken word of news, politics, arts and comedy that comes with Radio 4.  Of the latter, my favourite is, without any shadow of a doubt, ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ – I can’t claim to have listened since the first episodes in 1972, but have certainly been listening off and, mainly on, since around 1978, when I recall my Dad tuning in to it on a massive ancient ‘wireless’ in our kitchen.

Just hearing the first few notes of ‘Schickel Shamble’ brings a smile – I know I am in for a treat, it is like being with a bunch of old friends – knowing all the in-jokes, understanding the ‘rules’ of Mornington Crescent, the making fun of the host towns, of the panellists and of the pianist Colin Sell’s musical ability, knowing what comes after ‘Hamish, Dougal …’ in ‘Sound Charades’, looking forward to Jeremy Hardy ‘singing’, sniggering at the Samantha-related smutty innuendos, and knowing that closing time will be called in a delightful and bizarre way ….

…and so, as we rapidly approach the bus stop of the Apocalypse, I notice that the Four Horsemen have all come along at the same time…

Like the demise of the two Brians, I shed a tear for ‘Humph’ (Humphrey Littleton, the first ‘host’) when the Goofy hand on his fake Rolex stopped ticking; I feared for the show and its ‘traditions’ but Jack Dee’s droll humour is perfect for ISIHAC and has re-invigorated a certain Mrs Trellis from North Wales.  If you have never experienced the delights of ISIHAC, the stage show below (the final recording of ‘Humph’) gives some idea of what it is all about, but to fully appreciate the nuances, though, at least half a lifetime’s listening is required.

Zaine Griff – Run

Mansfield was a desperate place to grow up for live music in the 1970s; there were no venues in the town and no late buses back from either of the places that did have them – Nottingham or Sheffield. That I remember seeing Zaine Griff in 1979 says much for the paucity of the live musical options.  I only recall having seen one other band in the town – a bunch of Van der Graaf Generator wannabes, who vaguely knew Peter Hammill from Leicester, and wanted to emulate him.  Sadly for them, they were playing terrible chart covers in a pub on one of those uncertain boundaries, between suburbia and council estate, to a handful of bored looking drinkers and me, drowning my sorrows after some set back or other.  Putting their gear and squeezing their bodies into their van, to make the trip back down the M1, was probably a relief for them.

Zaine+Griff+Ashes+And+Diamonds+439827Zaine Griff, was New Zealand’s answer to Bowie, I had never heard of him and I suspect that was true of virtually all the audience at the Civic Theatre in 1979, but it didn’t matter mind, it was live music, music from London. I remember nothing of the evening apart from a band from Sutton-in-Ashfield, the neighbouring town, providing the support.  They proclaimed that Mansfield was the ‘rock and roll capital of the universe,’ it was, but, only if your world only went as far as Huthwaite.   Having done a number of rock standards, the guitarist used the opportunity of being on the ‘big stage’ of the Mansfield Civic Theatre (where I had performed on numerous occasions in my junior school class choir, more on that another day, maybe ….) to enact that classic rock and roll guitar extravaganza – smashing the ‘axe’ against the speaker stack.  He obviously wasn’t that experienced in this – it took an age of pounding against the Marshalls to complete the task.

I can’t remember who I went to see them with it may well have been F (I have changed his initial to protect his identity), who had left my school at 16 to join the merchant navy who used to regale me with tales of the high seas, girls and VD clinics and buy me copious amounts of Hardy and Hanson’s bitter on his shore leave.

I have no idea whether Run was performed but it was certainly from that era of Zaine Griff’s career.

My next trip to the Civic (now Palace) Theatre was a couple of years later in 1981, a very different line-up – it was a rally of Tony Benn, as part of his Labour Deputy Leadership Campaign, and Arthur Scargill, who was standing for the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.  It was really inspiring and, I think, spurred me to join the Labour Party that year.

Maxïmo Park – Going Missing

While my own youth and early teens had a variety or musical influences from home, many which have shaped music that I latterly listened to, none were things I could talk to friends about.  I did attempt to feign knowledge of ‘popular beat combos’ but generally made errors, suggesting the likes of Slade, The Sweet and Emerson Lake and Palmer – whose ill drawn logo appeared on the back of many a school rucksack of the era, including my own.  There was little or no actual knowledge of the music that I purported to like, so any cursory attempt to ask about which albums I had was met with blank looks on my part and the inevitable witty banter or derision as a result.  The ELP rucksack mysteriously ‘disappeared’ at school one day (although strangely I was able to take all the contents home in a carrier bag….)   I would probably have been better off sticking to things I actually knew about, such as Mozart.

Around the Millennium, I had returned to those classical roots, but as my older son was approaching his early teens, and the younger son not far behind, I wanted to make sure that they at least had the musical influences from home that might get imbued into their own musical consciousness and allow them to name drop without the risk of the mockery and embarrassment that I had experienced at their age.

220px-Goingmissing_cdThere would be no point dusting down the old Blur and Oasis CDs, they needed new sounds, new bands and new music.  So despite my dislike of adverts invading my life, my non-running journeys to work started to have the accompaniment of XFM.  One of the first songs I heard on the station, in the early summer of 2005, was Maxïmo Park’s ‘Going Missing.’  I loved it, it was proper, basic rock and roll music – it felt as though a musical space in my life had been filled.  The CD of the ‘A Certain Trigger’ was bought the next day – the first of many similar bands from the era like The Rakes, The Enemy, The Pigeon Detectives and a little later Arctic Monkeys.

A_Certain_TriggerAs for the strategy; well, it sort of worked – the indie music influenced my eldest and youngest; my eldest borrowed loads of my CDs and we saw a couple of dozen bands live together.  ‘A Certain Trigger’  was often the backdrop to return trips home from Selhurst Park with all three children,  my daughter always changing the words of one of the lines of my favourite track,‘The Coast is Always Changing’, from ‘And we look out upon the sea’ to ‘And we look out upon the ceiling.’  The reasons for the change presumably came from her six year old self mishearing, but it is still the same whenever she hears and sings it – now approaching 17.

MaxPFast forward ten years to the autumn of 2015; Maxïmo Park (still with a proper rock umlaut, although not in lights) did a short 10th anniversary tour where they played ‘A Certain Trigger’ in its entirety as the second half of the gig.  My eldest got tickets, as a present, for the ‘leg’ at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, I was a little apprehensive as one of the odd psychological impacts of my accident had been an intolerance of noise, including loud music, and I hadn’t listened to Maxïmo Park since January as a result.  I needn’t have worried though, I loved it – I was able to sing along, almost word perfect, and almost mimicking Paul Smith’s Geordie intonation.  For a couple of hours, I had gone back in time.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any footage from the Roundhouse of the song – but a few nights later they performed it at Newcastle City Hall.