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.

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.

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.

Vic Godard – Holiday Hymn

A song that I probably haven’t listeimagened to for around 30 years may seem an odd place to start a series of posts on my musical past but it’s importance was more where it was bought than the music itself- Rough Trade, close to Portobello Road.

It was a shop I spent lunchtimes browsing in when I worked at a nearby summer play scheme in the early 1980s, and it was always my mental image of the record shop in Nick Hornby’s Hi Fidelity, although I knew full well that the ‘real’ shop was elsewhere.

I had returned to Portobello Road for a job interview just around the corner in early May 1986. The interview was unsuccessful but I used the opportunity to return to Rough Trade.

As for the song, and the album it came from, T.R.O.U.B.L.E., featured several members of Working Week which I guess it was why I was attracted to it – having never really listened to Godard’s previous work with Subway Sect. It was an album that was a long time in the making and in the three years from inception to release Godard had given up on music and was working as a postie – he still does, although has been back performing with the Subway Sect for over a decade.

It was a song, and album, that I listened to a lot that summer and autumn, mainly on a cheap cassette player precariously attached to the passenger side of the dashboard of my (Austin) Mini with bits of Meccano.

The cassette with it on became mangled on the badly cleaned rollers of my Walkman and while I could have easily re-recorded it, I never did, and the album had been largely forgotten before the winter was out. My memory was only jogged on a recent visit to Notting Hill looking for the blue door of one of my daughter’s favourite films.

The choice as a starting point for this part of the blog, is probably a nostalgic one though – whilst the Rough Trade shop remains, buoyed by a growth in buying vinyl again, it is one of a dying breed, a shop-type largely lost to downloads and on-line shopping. It is also perhaps symbolic of changes to my adopted city, Notting Hill has gone from a slightly shabby area where ordinary people lived, to the gentrified one where the likes of David Cameron have homes.