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.

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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.

Oasis –Don’t Look Back In Anger

SICP-4152In my musical auto-biography Oasis have to feature, and ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’ has to be there too as it would be on my ‘Desert Island Discs’ list.    ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, while not my favourite song on the album, holds a really special place as it forms an important part of the backdrop of my children growing up.

My younger son loved singing along to songs from when he was very small, we have an embarrassing (for him at least) recording of him singing along to Boyzone’s ‘No Matter What’ in front of a Christmas tree.  In the car though, the demands were frequently for ‘The Sally Song’, as ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was always referred to.

Roll on a decade or so and my eldest and I went to see Oasis at Wembley Stadium in July 2009; it ought to be a horrible venue for seeing bands, but Oasis made it their own and the size, even standing on the top tier somehow didn’t matter.  It was to be one of the last gigs they played before the tensions between Liam and Noel finally boiled over. Towards the end, probably as part of the encore, Liam appeared on the set on his own and just let us ‘do’ the vocals – 90,000 singing back his lyrics to him, as he played a pared- back version of the song.  Of all the songs, at all the gigs I’ve been to, it is the one that is most firmly implanted in my memory bank.

Madness – It Must Be Love

OnBlackheath felt different to other festivals and concerts I have been to, I think it was because it seemed like the first real post-parenting one – the older children were both away and our youngest was out with friends, and, at 16 going on 17 and sufficiently ‘older and wiser’ to safely make her own way home in the early evening ( yes, I know that should be 17 going on 18).

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An excellent prelude to Madness had been provided by David Rodigan’s DJ mix of reggae and ska classics which warmed up the chilly early evening in a way none of the earlier acts on the main stage had managed before.

Madness was J’s musical past rather than mine really – I was much less into ska than she was in her youth, but Madness, collectively and individually, are national treasures, everyone knows their music, everyone can sing along (even if I didn’t know all the words of every verse…)

The age of the audience told though – maybe a decade ago, certainly two decades ago, we would all have been bouncing/dancing throughout the set – but it was only for 30 seconds after each song was recognised and started, followed by 3 minutes of shuffling (out of time in my case) we just can’t keep up with the frenetic activity that we used to.

Almost predictably, the evening brought a few tears for me – it was one of the ‘times’ that Melody Gardot sung of which I wrote about a month or so ago.  The trigger was about being still able to be there and being in love.

The Blackheath Society, amongst others, had forced the organisers to finish the set at 9:30 (and had set up a sound monitoring van between the festival site and the Village).  Twenty five years ago I would have been outraged at this, but now,  I was secretly quite happy – I was home before 10, sitting in a comfy chair with a glass of red wine.  It seemed perfect – my younger self would have been quite depressed by the thought I would hazard.

Nena – 99 Luftballons

99 Luftballons is probably the only music that I have bought for not entirely musical reasons, I was 23 and really old enough to know better…..but…

99_Luftballons_single_coverIt wasn’t the only reason though – the song had a very clear anti-war message, which was slightly lost in translation with the English version, 99 Red Balloons.  I was certainly aware of the differences as I recall the Guardian doing a piece on it.  It was effectively a song about mistakes leading to nuclear war and was written against the backdrop of the Cold War and the nuclear re-armament of Europe.  In Britain, this included the purchase of Trident, the basing of American Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common and the growth of CND, which I had supported since the late 1970s due to a fantastic article in the New Musical Express.

I bought the album expecting more of the same, it wasn’t though, and was quickly discarded and I probably didn’t listen to anything other than 99 Luftballons more than a couple of times.  I no longer have the album; I assume that I must have traded it in for a pittance as a down-purchase on other second hand records at a small shop alongside a remote bit of Birmingham’s inner ring road.

Oddly, the song stayed in my subconscious, and it was one of the first tracks I bought electronically as I retraced my almost lost musical footsteps, it is one I still listen to a lot – it reminds me of Birmingham, particularly New Street where it was bought, and CND.