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.

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.

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).

madness1

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.

Melody Gardot – Some Lessons

Jules Holland’s ‘Later’ was on in the background on the television in late May 2015; he introduced a singer I hadn’t heard of before who grabbed my attention with her haunting, slightly gravelly voice with wonderful control.  It was Melody Gardot singing ‘It Gonna Come’, the opening track from her fourth album.

I looked her up on-line whilst Seasick Steve, Muse and one or two others played.  She had an interesting story and a reason for wearing the sunglasses indoors.  She had suffered serious head and spinal injuries after being hit by a car that ignored a red traffic light whilst cycling in Philadelphia in 2003.   After a stay in hospital of over a year she was left hypersensitive to sound and light.  She had used music to help re-establish the neural pathways between her brain’s two cortices.

Within a couple of minutes of her finishing her second song – ‘The Preacherman’ – I had pre-ordered the album; it is wonderful, the songs played on ‘Later’ are perhaps the best and it is an album I have listened to a lot since I bought it – often as an accompaniment to reading.

MGHer story resonated with me – there were a lot of parallels with my own accident, a driver failing to stop at a red light and the resultant near-death experience. I downloaded her first album, ‘Worrisome Heart’, too, which is much more pared back and has echoes of Billy Holiday , but as I listened to the lyrics of ‘Some Lessons’ the first time I heard something that felt as though she could have been writing about me which left me in floods of tears

Well I’m buckled up inside

It’s a miracle that I’m alive …

To think that I could have fallen

A centimeter to the left

Would not be here to see the sunset

Or have myself a time

They are feelings I have most days – whether it be out running feeling the rain or the sun on my skin, looking out from The Point on the edge of Blackheath, standing on top of a Norwegian mountain, going to the theatre, reading, or just writing a blog post.  It sums up the last eight months of my life and probably many years to come – falling slight differently or the same fall with fewer clothes on a warmer day and the crack in my neck vertebra could have been worse and I could have damaged my spinal cord or not survived.  It is important though to celebrate the ‘sunsets’, the ‘times’ and the being ‘alive’ rather than dwell too long on what could have happened.