Carmel – Sally

I had lived in a housing association flat in Smethwick for most of my time in at Birmingham University as I studied for a housing policy PhD. I was allocated it after I had to be moved out of the horrible dry rot riddled University accommodation in King’s Norton that I had been my ‘home’ when I first arrived in Birmingham. Returning to London to work, the plan was to get an inter-landlord move to north or east London, it never happened in practice though. In the short- term, I took up the space vacated by one colleague, I, in a short-life house rented by T in Leytonstone. It was owned by the council I worked for, but being managed by a small housing association whilst money was found to refurbish it.

I had lived in short-life before behind Turnpike Lane tube station in a house earmarked for demolition for a bypass of Wood Green High Road that never came to fruition. That had just been a bit grotty, but no worse than much student housing of the era. The house in Leytonstone was grim, really grim. There was only an outside toilet, with a hole in the roof – of sufficient size to ensure that toilet paper always got wet when it rained.

The bathroom was a massive room with an ancient cast iron bath and basin at one end and the rest of the room something of a dumping ground. We had bath nights a couple of times a week during the bitterly cold winter of 1986/87, taking it in turns as to which order we bathed in – the heavy iron bath took a couple of occupations and new hot water to warm up to an acceptable level, although for the third bather it was almost like being in a steam room.

My room was the rear living room which had little natural light and a small window overlooking the partially covered walkway to the toilet. While the room had a door, it wasn’t attached to the frame and had to be manhandled into place when any privacy was required. This didn’t prevent the free movement of the other inhabitants of the house, a large family of mice, in and out of the room and everywhere else in the house for that matter.

The other human occupant was M, who worked for a travel agency. Despite his tall frame, he was terrified of the mice and would often be heard screaming in the kitchen. The mice though were almost oblivious to our presence. We made desultory attempts to rid the house of rodents by putting out copious amounts of poison, it seemed to have little impact on numbers although the stench of rotting mouse carcass occasionally filled the air. The mice liked to store the poison for future use, oddly in the 1960s spin drier we had for helping to dry the hand washed clothes, water frequently emerged from the spout a bright blue as a result. I was working as a Housing Officer at the time, residents would often say – ‘I bet you live somewhere really nice.’ If only …

imageThe front room had a floor covered with beer cans, particularly the gold aluminium of Stella Export – M’s drink of preference – which seemed to appear like mushrooms, it was particularly noticeable if I had been absent for a day or two. He had musical tastes were not dissimilar to mine and introduced me to a few new artists including Mathilde Santing and Astrid Gilberto. The most significant though was Carmel, a three-piece band, who played a mixture of jazz and pop. The first sound of the the drums of Gerry Darby, with the echoey double bass of Jim Parris being woven into the mix at the beginning of ‘I’m Not Afraid of You’ followed by the haunting, slightly gravely voice of Carmel McCourt had me hooked within seconds. The best was to come at the end of the album though – the delightful, upbeat ‘Sally.’

T, I and sometimes M and our respective girlfriends, E at the time for me, saw Carmel several times at Ronnie Scott’s, the Jazz Café and one or two other places over the next few years, even after I’d moved out and bought a house in Walthamstow Village with E. There doesn’t seem to be any footage from the gigs at Ronnie Scott’s but ‘Sally’ is available from the same era in a concert in Bologna.

We were all due to see Carmel at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road on 4 July 1990 in the days when you could still pay on the night to watch bands at medium sized venues. The Astoria was one of my favourite London venues, despite the aggressive bouncers in its latter years; it was sadly lost to Crossrail. The plans to see Carmel had been made weeks before but excuses started to roll in as it clashed with the Italia 90 semifinal with England playing Germany for a place in the World Cup Final in Rome. It would have been one of the last times E and I went out together before we split up, it was only the pair of us that went in the end.

I had recorded the game at home on a VCR, just replaced after a burglary. I was hoping to avoid all reference of the result, ‘Likely Lads’ style, at the gig and on the way home – it was a dismal plan. The venue was almost empty and Carmel gave updates on the game, which was going into penalties by the time the encores had finished and we emerged onto Charing Cross Road. Those getting onto the Victoria Line train at later stops knew the final score and grumbled about the misses of Pearce and Waddle that they had seen on pub TVs. The tape was never watched.

I saw Carmel once or twice with J in the subsequent years, I remember a festival in Stanmer Park in Brighton, but I guess I was falling out of love with their newer work which started to take on more of a gospel based sound with overtly religious lyrics.

Like a lot of music I listened to in that era, particularly Working Week and Everything ButThe Girl, Carmel was largely forgotten for a couple of decades from the mid 1990s as my musical tastes moved on. A serious accident in 2015 and the resultant psychological dislike of loud noise saw me return to my music of the 1980s. A second hand CD of ‘The Falling’ was an early purchase as I recovered at home, it remains my favourite Carmel album, and one that I play regularly.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Listen to Her Heart

Tom Petty holds a very special place for me – unlike anyone else, I can genuinely say that his music changed my life; it was something that I recognised as soon as it happened and reflect upon every time I listened to his music.  Perhaps as a result, he is one of the few artists that I have almost certainly played every year for the best part of 40 years.

I had been dreading the interview at the London School of Economics for a place on their Geography degree course; 12 months before I had had a crash and burn interview at University College, London and, unsurprisingly, had failed to even get an unachievable offer from them.  It was the only formal interview that I had had when I applied to universities in late 1977.  My grades weren’t quite good enough for my first choice Hull or my fall-back position of Sheffield.  While I was offered places through ‘clearing’ at some less renowned educational establishments, I suppose that I also realised that I wanted to move to London and not have the comfort blanket of being close to ‘home.’

Twelve months on, despite my not quite good enough A Level results, I was, perhaps, slightly more confident in myself –  I had found a new Saturday job working for an old boss who, when I enquired about the job, S offered it to me on the spot without an interview; I had successfully found some new friends and was consequently going out a lot more and at the FE College I had gone to in Nottingham to re-take my A Levels; I had a great, inspirational teacher in A, who clearly saw something in me and was always really encouraging and positive towards me.

The night before the interview, I had stayed with J (see Lindisfarne – Run for Home) in Surrey commuter land and had gone into central London with the City workers and had plenty of time to kill before my late morning interview.  I had wandered around the yet-to-be regenerated Covent Garden and had stopped at a record shop, probably somewhere near Shaftesbury Avenue and saw Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 2nd album on offer and with the few quid in my pocket had bought it.  It was perhaps the best purchase of my life.

You're Gonna Get IT

The interview had started with the contents of the bag – ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ (fortunately I didn’t get out the Albert Camus novel that was also there, as I suspect talking about that would have sunk me) and went onto talk about other musical likes and and a shared dislike of opera and Wagner.  The Admissions Tutor, B, then wondered out aloud as to how we could get the interview back onto geography and I was neatly able to take it back through Tom Petty to Knebworth to J who I had gone with to Dale Fort Field Centre where I had met J to the coastal geomorphology that I had studied there.   B was impressed with my transition whilst I was able to stick to something that I knew about and was confident in discussing.  It set me in good stead for the rest of the interview. I was given an offer of much lower grades than the standard LSE Geography offer. In the end, I needn’t have worried about the grades – I did more than enough to get into LSE when I re-took my A Levels.

The Tom Petty album in the bag had been the starting point to one of my best ever interviews, changing something that I feared could go catastrophically wrong into a positive watershed in my life; a place that much of what has happened to me in terms of work, education and relationships points back to.  As I am generally pretty happy with the way in which my life has turned out, I have a lot to thank Tom Petty for. The standout song from ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ was ‘Listen to Her Heart’ so it seems appropriate to focus on that here.

R-1986451-1322941246.jpegI saw Tom Petty at least a couple of times live, at Knebworth in 1978 where they were on stage mid-afternoon and were fantastic, the real highlight of the day; and at Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) and when ‘touring’ my favourite album of his, ‘Damn the Torpedoes’, in early 1980.

Tom Petty’s death brought me to tears – more so than the passing of any other musician, it was more than part of my past having gone, it was the recognition that, without him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.  I have played him a lot in the days since his death – my vinyl copies of ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ and ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ are long gone, lent to a friend and not returned two decades ago.  But the digital Greatest Hits, the re-purchased ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ and the 1981 Hard Promises have been on almost non-stop over the last few weeks.

Tom Petty –  October 20, 1950 to October 2, 2017

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.

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.