My Pop Life #190 : There You Are – Millie Jackson

There You Are – Millie Jackson

Shucks, I thought this party was gonna be really hitting on something
Ain’t nothing around here but a bunch of women, nobody to dance with
Every man that looks like anything already been taken
Sho’ can’t trust nobody to tell you where to go these days
Uh oh…..

…hmm Lord, have mercy…

I was 20 years old when I discovered Millie Jackson. And she blew my tiny white boy mind.  No, I didn’t meet her, could’ve been fatal.  I bought an LP entitled Caught Up – I cannot remember why or how I came to know about it.  I was in my soul music educational phase playing catch-up on a lifetime’s diet of Pop Music with the occasional prog rock interlude (Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf) mixed with some Pure Prairie League and Joe Walsh and Spirit with a smattering of Roxy Music, Carly Simon and Joan Armatrading.  You could drive a truck through the gaps – jazz, soul, reggae, classical, african, indian, country, blues, the works really.  I was at least aware of my limited palette and spent all of my spare pocket money on records.  LPs and 45s.  I was living in London with Norman Wilson, Lewis MacLeod and Derek Sherwin and we were all at LSE in the Aldwych so opportunities were many, a stroll down to Berwick Street or D’Arblay St in Soho would leave me flicking through endless LPs I’d never heard of, desperate to spend my student grant.  One of the winners was Millie Jackson.

This LP, as I say, blew me away.  On the cover, Millie Jackson caught in a spider’s web, with a man, and another woman.  The music was soul music with spoken interludes, told from the viewpoint of the mistress and the spoken word sections – notably The Rap which is track two, right after the classic If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right) – are quite extraordinary.  Tired Of Hiding is also on side one – what a song that is.  Her personality comes breaking out of the speakers, larger than life, mouthy, opinionated, funny, dirty, defiant, honest, truthful. Magnificent.  There’s a section in The Rap, and you have to hear it really because it’s the way she delivers it that kills me, in a sassy Georgia accent via Brooklyn and Jersey :

You know, I don’t wanna leave you with a one-sided conception over this thing.
Anyone out there in my shoes this evening, I want you to know what I’m talking about.
I want you know there’s two sides to this thing.
There’s a good side to being in love with a married man and I like it.
‘Cause you see, when you’re going with a married man, he can come over two or three times a week and give you a little bit.
That means you’re two up on the wife already, ’cause once you’ve married one, you don’t get it but once a week.
Another sweet thing is on pay day, he can come over and give you a little bread and I like that.
But the sweetest thing about the whole situation is the fact that when you go to the Laundromat, you don’t have to wash nobody’s funky drawers but your own and I like it like that

Call me sheltered but it was just something I’d never encountered before.  Growing up in leafy East Sussex I wasn’t aware that I’d met a single black person until I got to the LSE.  A couple of Mauritian nurses at Laughton Lodge, a Brazilian kid at school, Ugandan asians billeted in Lewes, but that was about it.  It was like a doorway into a world I knew nothing about.  It got under my skin clearly.   But it wouldn’t be until 1984 and Panic! at the Royal Court with Danny Boyle and Paulette Randall that I would have a genuine close friend who was black.

The album finishes with a cover of the timeless Bobby Goldsboro ballad Summer (The First Time) with that sexy piano riff and a whispery sexy lead vocal about Millie losing her virginity on the last day of June.  Genuinely Hot Stuff !

The follow-up LP was called Still Caught Up – the cover has a soulful portrait of Millie wearing a 1970s hippy hat.  This follow-up is mainly from the point of view of the wife, with the same scintillating soul-bearing honesty, more like a bulletin from the front line of the sex wars than a soul LP.  Again, spoken word over the orchestrated lush soul section dominates the experience, vengeful, furious, telling it like it is.   Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama like its predecessor, these two records are classic soul moments which take no prisoners, raunch-rap long before Mary J. Blige or Salt’n’Pepa.  She is a little like a female Barry White or Isaac Hayes but Millie is actually way more original and unique than either of these fellas.  A storyteller.   Still Caught Up finishes with the married woman alone – she’s lost her husband to the other woman on I Still Love You (You Still Love Me) – and it’s a heartfelt tearful slow ballad which finishes in a mental hospital, I kid you not.  No prisoners are taken.  I was hooked by this woman, and bought three more albums before being led astray by other music – 1979’s A Moment’s Pleasure with the opening track Never Change Lovers In The Middle OF The Night and a big dirty live LP called Live and Uncensored which is a record of Millie Jackson’s massive presence in a live arena, something which I regret to never having experienced.

This song comes from Free And In Love, released in 1976.  Not considered in the high echelons like the previous two albums (or the three that preceded them in the early 1970s) it nevertheless contains one of my favourite songs of all time : There You Are.  Again Millie tells us a story, about being at a club, with no decent-looking men available when – uh-oh….

……There You Are…..

Looking like a king and everything…

So in my and Jenny’s favourite section, she turns to Helen for a sister’s help…

Hey, Helen, the fella standing over there on the corner
Do you know his name? Oh, you do… Jimmy?
Would you introduce me to him?
…See, that’s why I don’t like to go nowhere with you
What kind of friend are you?
That’s alright, wait ’til the next time you want somebody to hang out with you
You’re gonna hang out by yourself, ’cause I’m gonna be with Jimmy


So she introduces herself to Jimmy, and the rest is history and herstory. One of her greatest vocal performances, not cynical and whip-smart like much of Caught Up, just open-heart surgery soul music.

We introduced our friend Jimmy Lance to this tune back in the day when we all lived in Brighton.  Oh how we laughed.

Eight years after I first heard Millie Jackson and carried her around in my secret heart like an unspoken, unthought-of sexual fantasy, I was working at The Tricycle Theatre on Kilburn High Road on a show called Return To The Forbidden Planet, by Bob Carlton.  It was a rock’n’roll version of The Tempest set in outer space, loosely based on the 1956 sci-fi B-movie.  All the actors had to sing and play something, and they needed a saxophone.  I auditioned for Hereward Kaye, the MD, and Glen Walford the director (who would a short year later put me off live theatre for 20 years when I played Macbeth in Liverpool Everyman (see My Pop Life #108)).  I did OK.  I got cast as the bo’sun.  We rehearsed and I learned Good Vibrations from Herry, keys and backing vocals, played bass on another song, drums on another song, it was one of those shows where we swapped instruments for effect.  We opened sometime in the spring of 1985.  Mumtaz and I were on our last legs in the Finsbury Park flat (even though tragically she was back in Karachi buying me two wedding shalwar-kamiz behind her parent’s backs) and I was driving to work across the top of Hampstead Heath in my Hillman Minx.   At some point in this process I started rehearsing for the Joint Stock show Deadlines in the daytime hours (see My Pop Life #185) then travelled to the Trike to do the show in the evenings – pretty full on – and I had to stop drinking even a half-pint of beer because it made me feel that my Hepatitus was on the rise again, contracted in Mexico in 1981. I was stretched to the physical limit in other words and my body was letting me know.

When it came to opening night of Planet at the Trike, the actors were told that we had to circulate in the bar with the audience, offering them travel-sickness pills (sweets) and generally hyping up the spacecraft they were about to board (the auditorium, the show).  So we did.  I have no pictures from this part of my life but I guess I was about 28 years old and still had most of my hair.  I walked around the bar slightly reluctantly engaging with the punters – I am incredibly shy.  In fact, I’m not a natural cabaret-type person like the lead actors Mathew Devitt and Nicky .  What this means is that when something goes wrong, they step in and acknowledge the moment, sharing with the audience the unfortunate events and telling off-colour jokes to fill the space.  In fact I could swear that Mathew found these “live” moments his favourite parts of the show.  It’s light entertainment I suppose – or cabaret.  Or stand-up, which hadn’t quite taken off in London at this point but was hovering in the wings waiting to take over.  I was never any good at any of it until I had to be.

So I struggled nightly with these pre-show chores, engaging with the audience as an actor, in character, speaking in an american accent I think.  As I heard the final announcement to “get on board” I swept the final punters out like a good sheepdog then left the bar and rounded the corner into the foyer and

>>>**BAM**<<<

There she was.  Lookin’ like a queen and everything.  There you were.

My future wife.  Looking like Millie Jackson.  Just a little bit.  An usherette.  Tearing tickets.  I just stopped.  A vision.  Of loveliness.  Of love.

We just looked at each other, maybe said “hi” and then I went in, and walked upstairs, for I had a show to do and my entrance was climbing down from the balcony onto the stage.  I didn’t know what had just happened, but it was

a moment.

Hurts so good just wouldn’t start to cover it.  It was electricity.  It’s a reasonably long story in the end.  We saw each other – in the corridor – a few times after that, but people in the theatre warned her off me and it wasn’t to be, it was too complicated all round.  It wouldn’t actually be until 1988 that we finally had a date together, just across the road from the Tricycle in a restaurant called Le Cloche.  That’s for another post I guess.

And… here we are.

My Pop Life #189 : Lost In Music – Sister Sledge

Lost In Music – Sister Sledge

we’re Roxy Music caught in a trap no turning back

we’re Roxy Music

Yes confession time as I count down the days towards my 60th birthday.  To be filed alongside My Pop Life #11 where I discussed the merits of the Bay City Rollers having decided after listening to 2 uncredited radio minutes that I liked them.  This one is perhaps more embarrassing, perhaps more forgivable.   Perhaps not.

Spring 1979.  My final term at LSE.  Living in Honor Oak, SE23 with Mike Hil and Rosie (see My Pop Life #151).  Very post-punk, my ears were switching from Talking Heads to The Undertones, Teddy Pendergrass to Elvis Costello, Donna Summer (On The Radio) to The Specials.   Just around the corner was Off The Wall, one of the greatest records of the 20th century, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones re-writing the rules of dance.  The sound on the streets of London was no longer punk, the three-chord snotty-nosed kids had grown up and were playing reggae and funk covers.  London’s Calling was a long way from The Clash’s first LP.  And coinciding with punk rock subsuming into the mainstream was the disco backlash.  But not in London.  London was always open-minded about music I’d like to think, and my brother Paul had always sought out nightclubs on weekends and had a special penchant for Disco music, right from it’s early days in 1975, when it wasn’t called Disco, just dance music – I’m thinking of Barry White, The O’Jays Love Train, Fatback’s The Spanish Hustle, and George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby.  Not to mention the great Johnny Bristol.

1975 had been the year of the fifth and last Roxy Music LP – entitled Siren, it contained mighty smash hit Love Is The Drug, and extended triptych song Sentimental Fool which Paul had suggested in a Roxy Music competition for Smash Hits (perhaps) was their greatest song, giving reasons why of course.  He won that competition and my respect and a complete set of Roxy Music LPs, which he already had. The band then announced that it was over and they split up.   Wow I hated that.  Bryan Ferry continued to produce solo LPs, using Roxy band members : guitarist Phil Manzanera, drummer Paul Thompson and sax player Andy Mackay on Let’s Stick Together, In Your Mind and in 1978 The Bride Stripped Bare (which is a tremendous record by the way).  Being a full-on dyed-in-the-wool Roxy Music fanclub member and aficionado I bought all of these without question, without reading the reviews in the music press, without any doubt that they would make me happy.  They kind of did, but not like a Roxy Music record would.  And pining for this great band to reconvene, I heard that in the spring of 1979 they were playing a more dance-oriented style, less rock, less art-rock, more r’n’b.  They’d gone disco!  They’d always changed up from album to album, but this was tantalising!

Then listening to the radio one day I heard “We’re Roxy Music” clearly being sung by women over a disco beat, but in a very laid-back way.  “Caught in a trap.  No turning back.”  It was catchy, bouncy, smooth.  There was an itchy rhythm guitar scratching over a bubbling bassline and and eight-count hi-hat.  “We’re Roxy Music”.  And pretty weird too, singing the name of the band like that, like an advert.  Post modern and typically art-school pretension, I thought.  I liked it.  No.  I flippin’ LOVED IT.  What a rhythm guitar lick! How the beat slides behind itself on every turnaround!   The bass line was speaking to me!  IT WAS PERFECT!

IT JUST WASN’T ROXY MUSIC! YOU DICK!

WOW.  Disappointed and embarrassed as I was to learn that it wasn’t my heroes performing some arch all-knowing song with tongue firmly planted in cheek and that it was in fact an American group called Sister Sledge singing about being lost in music.  Which I clearly also was.   Without a paddle.  In fact Roxy Music had reformed and their new LP Manifesto was released that autumn of 1979 along with hit single Dance Away which was a dance-floor filler but even so.  Even so.

The shame can only now be shared.  Luckily I have recovered and the song Lost In Music hooked its way into my subconscious and my legs and it is an irresistible moment in any party of nightclub.  It is a disco classic and I love it.  It reminds me of Off The Wall from the same era – the idea of leaving your 9-5 up on the shelf and getting out on the dance floor was just as radical as any punk stance.  And of course we are now told by pop historians that disco was black, gay, female, latino and revolutionary and everyone remembers – something.  Not me because I wasn’t there.  I was walking outside in eye make-up and ripped jeans and dyed hair.  But disco music was huge alongside my punk era, largely indulged through my brother’s taste.  He was right.  He was being supported and acknowledged in his own identity while simultaneously discovering the idea of being Lost In Music.   Lose Yourself To Dance as Daft Punk (with Nile Rogers) encouraged us to do in 2015.   It is a fantastic musical form and will stand the test of time against any other pop trend of the last 70 years.  For me personally I have become fonder and fonder of Disco music as I’ve grown older.

But it has always been my favourite music to dance to  – along with ska.  I just always liked the groove, the beat.  The arrangement.  Like a jigsaw puzzle.  The syncopation. The timing.  All of it.  Many memories of dancing in formation with Millie, Jenny, Mandy and others to Odyssey, The Bee Gees or Michael Jackson.  Or of course Chic, the genius pair behind this song.

Chic was Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, rhythm guitar and bass, songwriters from New York City, the heart of disco in 1976.  Rahter incredibly I recently learned that Nile Rogers was partly inspired by seeing Roxy Music live in 1975 to form Chic.  Without getting into the whole history of disco, it was he who heard Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby in a discotheque getting mixed by the DJ into the next track amid a heaving multi-racial gay/straight dance floor mix all in a trance pulsing to the beat.  He was sold.  The heart beats at 60-90 bpm while at rest, but once you’re in the club and the DJ puts on Sister Sledge you fill find your heartbeat going up to around 120bpm, and many disco records are around this pulse.

Off The Wall – 119 bpm

You Should Be Dancing – 123 bpm

Le Freak – 120bpm

Don’t Leave Me This Way (Thelma Houston) – 121bpm

I Will Survive – 117bpm

Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – 118bpm

We Are Family – 119bpm

Maybe this is why these records – and my disco playlist – is perfect for a morning workout and stretch, pilates, weights, floor crunches and so on.  The body understands the beat, the gentle acceleration is what it needs each day to get the blood flowing round.  So for the last couple of years Jenny and I have put on either a reggae playlist  – also with a friendly bpm – or the classic disco playlist.  Usually my favourite record is Odyssey’s Use It Up, Wear It Out but that will have to wait for a more pure day.  This post has mainly been about the humiliation, the embarrassment, the acceptance.

In 2012 I read a book called 33 & a third Revolutions by Dorian Lynskey which was a history of the protest song from Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit to American Idiot by Green Day, covering civil rights, gay disco, anti-war songs, riot grrl and punk.  If he updated the book it would have to include Russia’s Pussy Riot and something from the grime scene, but I loved it (of course) and got in touch with the writer.  We had lunch in Groucho one day in 2012 and talked about the possibility of making a documentary based on the book.  Neither of us had ever made a documentary before of course.  But enthusiasm is all, and over the next few weeks we produced a pitch document.  The key to getting it made was asking Public Enemy frontman Chuck D to do the voice-over, or maybe even front up the doc, take us through the protest song.  Fight The Power (My Pop Life #61) was one of the songs in the book.

It won’t surprise you that much to know that the documentary remains unmade as I type.  But in November that year Dorian – who lives in London and writes music reviews and interviews with singers and bands for a living – put up on Facebook a spare ticket to Chic that night, playing in Kentish Town at the Forum.  I’d never seen them, and it was time.  We met nearby and went in.  Bernie Edwards had died in 1996 but there was Nile playing that scratchy catchy insistent rhythm guitar – that signature sound.  It was an incredible gig – the sound was perfect, and Rogers played us through his repertoire, not just Chic’s Everybody Dance, I Want Your Love and Le Freak but also Sister Sledge’s He’s The Greatest Dancer AND We Are Family, Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Diana Ross’ Upside Down, and cherry icing on the cake of love, Sheila E. Devotion’s wonderful single Spacer, all songs produced by Nile Rogers & Bernie Edwards and often written by them too, mainly after the Disco Sucks backlash, a racist homophobic spasm in the summer of 1979 that shames the perpetrators.   At the finale of the gig Chic played monster song Good Times with that massive bassline which kickstarted hip-hop and invited people onto the stage.  I walked to the front but stood in front of a speaker and danced with glazed eyes in a happy trance.  I both wanted and didn’t want to be onstage at that point.

They didn’t play Lost In Music which has a bpm of 114, representing a very slightly laid-back groove but nevertheless still an insistent disco heartbeat rhythm.   Sister Sledge themselves are from Philadelphia, the daughters of Broadway people and Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy really are Family – they’re sisters, naturally.  How extremely odd that I should mistake their close harmony vocal for that of Bryan Ferry, presumably buried in the mix in my foolish analysis.   Or perhaps not – they’re not so very different.  But disco had the last laugh, and in no way does it suck.  It never did.  I remain, as ever, Lost In Music.   Joni Sledge passed away this year aged 60 of unknown causes.

The music is my salvation

Joni Sledge sings lead :

 

My Pop Life #188 : Spirit In The Sky – Norman Greenbaum

Spirit In The Sky   –   Norman Greenbaum

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky

*

It is January 28th 1994.  Jenny and I are sitting in the front row of the back section of the Empire Leicester Square, reserved for the red carpet people for this Premiere of the film Wayne’s World 2.   All our guests are sitting in the front section.

I had shot the movie a few months earlier in Los Angeles.  At one point I’d been walking back to my trailer in full make-up and rig – quite a few hundred yards across the Festival site – and the producer, Lorne Michaels was walking toward me.  We both stopped to say hi, and after exchanging niceties I asked him if my name could be on the poster, since I’d never had my name on a poster before.  He agreed that it could.  Just like that.  And it was, which later annoyed Julie Burchill so much that she mentioned it in fury in one of her rants.  Haha.  It was exciting for me for the film to open so quickly, but my split life in California and London meant that I had no strategy to deal with the opening except to just turn up and enjoy it.  Looking back it now appears that this was a golden springboard that could (should?) have launched me onto another level, but I think that a) I thought that I was already on that level and b) I didn’t really strategise my work in those days.  I’ve never enjoyed publicity, PR, Q&A, EPK, red carpet, all that.  It’s like a completely different job to the one I do, and frankly I’m just not very good at it.  I should just try acting (dear blanche) probably.  But oftentimes I am number five or six on the cast list, which is just below where the important people are, and being overlooked has become part of my brief when films are publicised.  Which funnily enough I got used to.  Below the radar.  Not recognised when out and about.  And so on, and so forth.  But we’d had a little red carpet stuff, not much because there was Mike Myers, Jerry Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones and people like that at the Premiere and that’s how it always goes. So Jenny and I went into the foyer and were ushered into a wee room where we could sup champagne briefly before being taken in to our seats.  It was a huge thrill to be sure. The lights started to dim – or did they?  That moment in the cinema where you feel the light fading, and it doesn’t.  My agent Michael Foster was sitting in front of us and he turned around and his eyebrows were working overtime because..

Then Paul & Linda McCartney walked in and the whole place went apeshit.  People stood, cheered and whooped, rushed them, got held back by security.  Paul and Linda were shown to their seats NEXT TO US, and Paul turned to security and indicated that he would sign autographs for a few minutes, a kind of “let them through” moment.  And through they came, shaking hands, whooping, crying… and Linda started whooping herself, joining in, so did Paul “WOOOO” they said enjoying the fuss and attention, apparently.  People shook their hands, had things signed, took pictures (with real cameras – it’s 1994), and eventually security put an end to all the activities and got everyone back to their seats.  At which point Paul turned to us and they introduced himself : “Hi I’m Paul, this is Linda“.  No shit sherlock I thought but said: “Hi Paul, I’m Ralph this is Jenny“.   All done, now the lights went down for real and the film started.  Jenny and Linda shared popcorn.  It was one of those nights.

Wow right.  This was the man I had idolised since I was a boy.  I was now 37 years old.  I couldn’t quite take it all in but didn’t have to because now there was a film to watch.  Watching myself acting has become harder and harder for me over the years – and recently next-to-impossible.  I can’t explain it fully, except to say that I feel increasingly vulnerable, increasingly exposed & revealed as the years go by.  But in 1994 I didn’t have much of a problem with it to be honest.  Also – the character I was playing in Wayne’s World 2 – roadie Del Preston – was such a world away from me that I didn’t feel that exposed.  I think I became an actor to escape myself, and these kinds of parts have always been my favourite as a result.  The character was firmly based on Danny The Dealer from Withnail and I, shot almost ten years earlier in England and written about in My Pop Life #128 .   Long hair, tattoos, a slurred, brain-bombed voice, spouting curious drug-addled philosophy based on years of experience “on the road” with various “bands” so that the character had become a virtual stereotype of the vintage rock’n’roll hippy roadie.  It was a gift of a role, and in retrospect (always 20/20 hindsight) should have put me into some kind of opportunistic position.  In fact, I didn’t work much in 1994.  Odd.

The weird naked Indian

I enjoyed the film.  It was funny.  Mike Myers and Dana Carvey (who wasn’t at the London Premiere sadly) had a great onscreen schtick which had carried over from Saturday Night Live sketches – they knew these characters and what they could get away with, what their timing should be.  Against them were the beautiful Tia Carrere and Kim Basinger as the unattainable girlfriends who – against all odds – fall for our heroes, and Christopher Walken as the evil biz manager who wants to steal Wayne’s girl.  And me.  Del Preston – the old London roadie who can help Wayne and Garth put on ‘Waynestock‘, a pop festival in their home town of Aurora, Illinois.   And a plethora, a gamut, a menagerie, a rogue’s gallery indeed of characters, comedians, jokers, ne-er-do-wells and faces who have either disappeared entirely or become legend : Bob Odenkirk, James Hong, Lee Tergusen, Chris Farley, Charlton Heston, Harry Shearer, Jay Leno, Drew Barrymore.  It was good company to be in for sure.  We laughed a lot.  Gags. Jokes. Laffs. Foolishness.  I’ll blog the shooting of Waynestock later.  For this post, I’m watching…

Chris Farley & Lee Tergusen 

Then suddenly, the scene where I have to train Wayne and Garth and their buddies (including Chris Farley & Lee Tergusen) How To Be Roadies.  A series of faintly comic sketches pumping tennis balls at a stage while yanking over a microphone stand, an eve-of-battle talk for morale.  And over this sequence, the director Steve Surjik and producer Lorne Michaels had put this song : Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum.  A classic.  An evocative, original one-off, a truly great song.

Norman Greenbaum is Jewish and wrote this song – his only hit – presumably under the influence of mind-altering substances, given that it is a Christian gospel glam-rock anthem with a stunningly phased lead guitar, recorded, amazingly in 1969.  Some claim it as the record that started glam rock, which was a British scene in the early 1970s and included working class geezers in lipstick and make-up stomping around on stack heels to a solid 4/4 backbeat, often with hand-claps : bands such as The Sweet, Wizzard, Slade, Mud, Suzi Quattro, Gary Glitter and David Bowie himself trod this glorious path, but some years after this single was number one pretty much everywhere.  Or maybe I made that bit up.

Either way, there it was soundtracking my moment in the film.  I felt strangely moved at this point.  Like this really was a personal soundtrack for that character, and that situation.  I wonder now what other songs they tried out for that bit?

Tia Carrere & Christopher Walken

After the film Paul & Linda were hustled away as the credits rolled, and the rest of us had cars to take us to the Hard Rock Cafe on Hyde Park Corner, straight down Piccadilly.  Somehow we got squeezed into a vehicle with a tall Texan model who used to go out with Bryan Ferry before she ditched him for Mick Jagger.  Let’s Stick Together indeed.

At the Hard Rock we were inside the roped VIP section (was there another section in fact?) and we had sixteen guests with us – I’d asked for a generous handful of tickets for the film and the party and got them.  Who was there with us that night ?  I remember Paul and Colin Chapman, Jo Martin and Michael Rose. Roger Griffith and Jo Melville. Beverley and Paulette Randall.  Danny Webb & Leila Bertrand.  Eamonn Walker & Sandra Kane.  Mandy and Lucy Jules, Jenny’s sisters.  And Michael Buffong.  A good gang.  We spread out and hunted food and drink in packs.  I’d like to say that all the food was vegetarian, at the request of Linda McCartney and Paul, but I can’t actually remember that detail.  We sat with them and they were lovely – Mike Myers and miserable unfriendly Paul Merton also joined.  Linda was very sweet and kind and very strongly vegetarian, very important to her indeed.  Macca was light and funny and generous.  The reason for them being there was this : Myers had designated the chosen charity of the Premiere to be Paul’s newly opened Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts or LIPA, on the site of his old school near the Cathedral off Hope Street in Liverpool.  I offered to do some free workshops there, but when I contacted them later that month the first question was “Please send us your C.V.”  I did but nothing.

Del Preston

As for the party.  It’s all a little blurry now.  It probably was then too.  Those were the days of smoking indoors.  My highlight reel would have to include the following clip :  after Paul and Linda moved on to another table of their friends, Naomi Campbell slid in beside me (I was bleached blond that night, and she’d recently shown a preference for that look and had an affair with the U2 bass player,) and we chatted for a while, someone took a photograph which is framed and in storage, so sorry not for the blog today, and then Jo Martin the flame-breathing goddess of Hackney introduced herself to Naomi with “Hello, I’m Jo, a friend of Ralph’s WIFE“.  Not before I’d given NC my phone number, but alas it never rang.  In the photo of Naomi and I you can see Jo and Leila behind us looking daggers…

Chrissie Hynde (for yes, it was she…) winking at me as I walked downstairs looking for the toilets.  Good friends of Linda.

Michael Rose (who then played in a great band called The April Place) saying “Ralph, c’mon, I have to speak to Paul NOW!”   So we joined his table and Paul and Michael and I chatted about Fool On The Hill & Pet Sounds and Paul passed me a spliff he was smoking and I inhaled and Everything Was Fine With The Earth And All That Was On It.  And kind of has been ever since to be honest.   A moment.  Childish but true.  Later the party started to wind down – at which point I noticed that Jaye Davidson was there – friends with Naomi – who I’d worked with a few years earlier on The Crying Game.  He was drunk.  So was I.

There’s another fabulous picture of Macca and I talking to each other as the party starts to move out (it’s in storage).  TRAMP was the word being passed around.  A nightclub on St James St.  “We used to go there in the old days, me and the boys,”  said Paul confidentially to me “after a show or whatever, to pick up birds“.  He winked.  “Mind you, see her over there?” he nodded toward Linda who was talking to someone else, “She gave me the glad eye earlier.  Think I might be in there.”  He enjoyed this joke very much, one he must have told a hundred times in similar circumstances, surrounded by adoring fans and ‘birds’ and seeking out the eyes of his beloved.

I asked him how – after years of this public adoration that we’d seen a glimpse of inside the cinema – the screaming fans, the crowds, the adulation – how he’d handled it all this time, and how gracious they’d both been about it.  He looked around and whispered “In the car on the way up from Sussex : we get really stoned.”  Of course.  “You coming to Tramp then?

Drunken moments – watching Roger grabbing Naomi’s leather-clad buttock in one hand as we walked out.  The gang were getting taxis down Piccadilly to the club.  I think everyone decided to Carry on Partying.

At Tramp, a desk, a maitre-D, a penguin looks at the large group of black people at the entrance to his club.  “Can I help you?” he says, his eyes giving the opposite meaning.  Yes I say, we’re with Paul & Linda and Naomi from Hard Rock, Wayne’s World blah blah fucking blah.  His face is the picture of England that we know and love, drenched in miserable boarding school rainy afternoons, ranked prefects and results, furtive secret sex, jealous unattainable class status and a wilted disdain for anything foreign.  He asked for my name.  “Just a moment please“.  He disappears downstairs to check my story.  The gang behind Jenny and I are happy, glowing, full of joy, but clearly expecting the worst.  Which then duly appears with Penguin and a faintly obsequious smile, pastel-coloured with supercilious hauteur : “I can let the two of you downstairs, but sorry, not the others…”  

Bless the gang, they insisted to a woman that Jenny and I go into Tramp and Carry on Partying with the glamour pop model people.  We didn’t.  We were moving as a pack in those days.  You turn my people away, we aren’t coming in.  Any of us.  Goodnight.  All back to ours !!   About ten years later, maybe twenty ? we did go into Tramp with Rula Lenska who is possibly a contemporary of Paul McCartney, and I stole an ashtray.

A series of taxis took us back to Archway Road N6 where we lived.  And we laughed and drank and smoked some more.  Celebrated properly together.  Who were we again ?  Well to honour the few :  Jenny and I, newlyweds in 94.  Paulette & Beverley who have appeared in My Pop Life #60 and My Pop Life #187 (among many others) and who are two of my very special friends.  My brother Paul, and his man at that time Colin Chapman – who had moved down from Durham a few years earlier and who is still in our lives to this day.  Indeed recently Colin it was who told me where to go to find a nice leather jacket in New York = Cast on the Lower East Side.  Colin knows these things.  He now does a fashion blog and is here regularly, but lives in Shoreditch with his man Dunk.

Jo Martin

Roger Griffith

 

Danny Webb

Michael Rose

Michael Buffong

Sandra Kane

 

Josephine Melville

Eamonn Walker

Paulette & Beverley Randall

Paul, Ralph & Colin Chapman in 2013

Jo Martin (who saved Naomi Campbell from a date with me) had worked with Jenny in a play at the Tricycle Theatre called Pecong – an updating of Medea to Trinidad, directed by Paulette.   Eamonn was also in this production playing Jenny’s brother (My Pop Life #104).   His partner Sandra now runs the cafe in Roundhill Park; when we met her she’d just come back from living in Japan.   Jo Martin was going out with Michael Rose at that point, a foxy eastender who played a mean guitar and could sing too.  They lived down the road from us in Holloway so time was spent there, smoking weed mainly, listening to reggae, Lenny Kravitz’ first LP, hanging out with her friend Tracey, or with Roger and Jo Melville.  Roger Griffith is a wonderful actor – I had cast him as my lead in The House That Crack Built in a BBC funded workshop, the rap opera/play that was never performed, and his to-be wife Jo Melville was one of the female Possee known as The Bibi Crew.  They are no longer together.  Roger and Michael Buffong were both in The Possee, which I mentioned in My Pop Life #184, a big part of that early 90s London landscape.  As were Danny Webb and Leila Bertrand – Danny was in Alien 3 with me in 1991 (see my Pop Life #  ) and his wife Leila is a casting director : they lived downstairs from my therapist for a while (probably around this time?) in Maida Vale, and all I remember from that shoulder-rub was Leila meeting her on the stairs one afternoon after some complaints and nonsense with “Heal thyself physician!“.   Funny.  They have two beautiful daughters Lily & Bellaray who came to see us in Brooklyn in late 2015 with their mum, we went to Sunny’s bar in Red Hook for a bit of live bluegrass.

Jenny, Leila & Johanna at Sunny’s in Red Hook 2015

And Mandy and Lucy, ever-present sisters, confidantes and ladies-in-waiting, keepers of the secrets, queens, princesses and gold medal winners of life, love and art.   They are, naturally very dear to Jenny’s heart, and mine.

Me, Mandy, Lucy

It was a great kitchen party.  We smoked.  We drank.  We played records.  Til dawn ? Dunno.   Did we play Spirit In The Sky ?  Maybe we did.   Probably not.

Well, it is my pop life after all.

Youtube doesn’t have the roadie training section which features this song, so you’ll have to make do with this clip : Del Preston outlines his plans for the gig…

My Pop Life #187 : Groovy Little Thing – Beres Hammond

Groovy Little Thing   –   Beres Hammond

*

It was around 4am on a Sunday morning at Club 61 and we were close to running out of vodka.  Paulette had been making caipirinha for the drinking of the 5000 since 8pm : crushed ice, lime, sugar and vodka instead of cachaça – the London way, the Club 61 way.  People were dancing, smooching, smoking, DJing, talking shit, talking love, arguing, sharing.  Beverley was there, Jenny was there, Elaine the sweet, David the intellectual, Eugene the cynic, Sharon the comic, Debbie & Jacqui & Attlee the cousins,  many others.  I was drunk, stoned, happy.  The Fatback Band were playing I Feel Lovin’ : hands and voices were raised, the heart and soul of the party, the centre of the sacred ritual.  But the loving was always short-lived because surely Louis Prima would be next with I Ain’t Got Nobody, which would be celebrated with even more gusto, just as a wake is more drunken and raucous than a wedding.

Miss P

The party breathes, the tide goes out, the phases of the moon.  In the next lull, Paulette and I are in the kitchen talking family.  She confides that her mum has taken a bad turn in Jamaica where she lives and probably won’t make it to Christmas.  We hug.  A proper squeeze.   The plan is to go out to Jamaica to bury her, when the moment comes.  I promise to go with her and Beverley when that moment arises.

London 2005

About a fortnight later we touch down in Montego Bay and get a taxi across the island to Treasure Beach on the southern coast.  Paulette and Beverley, with cousins Debbie, Jaqui & Attlee, and me.   I think I was sharing a room with Bev & P, and the other three were in a next room but I cannot remember.  We certainly all spent any hotel time in that one room, drinking rum & coca cola, rum & ginger, rum & orange or rum & sprite.

St Elizabeths parish, SW Jamaica

The days go like this : Jason the driver turns up after breakfast and we pile into the transport and drive off to see an auntie – either Magdelen, who lives halfway up the hill, Vadne who lives at the top of the hill or Vera who was on the family land.  Or Merline, or Loretta.  Aunties for days.  Greetings, hugs, an offering of drinks, some food perhaps.  Cigarette smoking outside on the porch.   Funeral arrangements being made – not by me (ever) but by the sisters from England and the aunties from Jamaica.  Family politics.  Where is the goat coming from? Who is carrying the coffin?  Who is singing?  After a while we drive off again, get some more food in a bar, watch the green sweep of the rural landscape as it tumbles over red earth down to the Caribbean sea.  A stunningly beautiful island, poverty everywhere.

Jason played the same tape in his transport pretty much every day.  It started with Beres HammondGroovy Little Thing‘ which is why this song reminds me so heavily of this trip.  We would be on the rum all day pretty much.  Driving around.  Kids would crowd round whenever we went to Miss Edna’s house – Paulette & Beverley’s mum lived in a two-room wooden house on some land near Pedro Plains, green green grass, red red earth, chickens, kids, people waving, coming to meet us, we were the English relations.  The size of the small house was important, as I will relate later.

This picture reminds me of Miss Edna’s house in Jamaica, but it may have been smaller than this

Enough room for a bed, some chest of drawers and a wardrobe, a table, a chair.  Outside the kids are amazing as kids always are… “him have coolie hair” is their greeting for me… “wass your name?“.  Not at any stage in Jamaica am I described or treated like a white person. There are plenty of white Jamaicans of course but the kids pick up on my Indian not-curly hair which was more interesting than my pale skin.  We meet a white Jamaican called Mas Ralph who insists that my actual name is Rolph. There is a photo of us somewhere, an actual photo, wherever photos live these days.

Lovers Leap

In fact there are plenty of actual photos of this trip, from before I had a digital camera.  I’m writing this in Charleston, South Carolina and all my pictures are in a box in the attic in Brighton, England.  I’ll do me best !  It is a very visual two weeks, faces mainly but we also do some stuff – go to Lover’s Leap on the coast – a huge clifftop walk, and same day inland to YS Falls where I jump into the waterfall off a rope swing and sit on a rock, both in St Bess parish where we are based.

We head back to Sunset Resort on Great Bay loaded up with snacks and drinks and download the day.  Sometimes we go out in the evening – one bar deep in the bush was memorable for the DJ dropping dancehall tunes and the varied clientele including ladies of the night, children, mums and grandads all gently moving to the reggae beat.  I loved it.

And as time slips by towards the Nine Night, family tensions surface as they do, and dip over my head, or round my backside, since they don’t involve me but only concern what is expected of people and what is delivered. And each night was counting towards Nine.

Treasure Beach is where it says Calabash Bay on the map

Miss Edna’s good friend is called Guilty and he lives not far from Treasure Beach, in Great Bay.  Paulette Bev and I ended up at his house one night.  The sun had set.  Cicadas.  A pale blue light on the porch as he rolled a giant cone of weed.  Guilty is a rastafarian.  He cooks us ital food – clean, vegetarian, naturality, Vital without the V, the I & I denoting I-man’s connection to the universe.  Ital = no salt, no chemicals, no flesh, no blood,  no alcohol, no cigarettes and no drugs (herbs are not considered drugs).
We smoked.  Even Bev and P smoked. The only time I have ever seen it.  There was rum too, but Guilty did not he drink it.  But another cone was smoked – and Bev and P decline this time around, because they are higher than the moon already, which is pretty high and casting a pale light across Guilty’s strange garden.  The music is fantastic  – a modest sound system, nothing fancy but the sounds are profound. Righteous.  I am baked.  I mean, frankly I am close to panic, the rising feeling inside my chest not to be suppressed, allowing it to flow, allowing yourself to know, allowing it to go up up and away as high as you can pray and trust.  You will not fall away.  I have never ever been so stoned in all my born days.  It feels appropriate.  Beyond high.  Brave.  To boldly go.  Posing the question : how long can you keep hold of the rope ?  And so on.  We walked back a couple of miles to the hotel, blissful and baked to a T.

The Nine Night is upon us.  It was up on the property on the red earth.  The sun has set.  Paulette and Beverley are inside the house for much of the time, with the aunties, and that means it is pretty crowded already.  I say hello to each auntie and back out into the night again where there are now hundreds of people under the starlight eating curry goat – the same goat I had not witnessed being bought – callaloo, breadfruit and plantain, rice and peas of course, red stripe beer, a sound system playing tunes further down the hill, older folk sitting under an awning with bibles, reading psalms and singing hymns as they are fed rum, a frenzy of eating, drinking and religion : it is quite extraordinary.

Paulette & Bev at Sharon’s wedding in 2005

A group of younger people have come from over the mountain – Ginger Hill – where Miss Edna spent some time earlier in her life and they remember her.  Dirt poor. They’ve made the journey.  They don’t know anyone here.  Neither do I.  Doesn’t matter.  Feels like I talk to everyone.  Sing a hymn.  Drink rum. Smoke weed.  Sway.  Feel sad, feel open.  Fight gently through the people trying to get into the house, impossible, but get in somehow, see Paulette and Bev again, surrounded by women, weeping together, we hug, we kiss.  Go outside again and find Jaqui & Debbie sat down on the porch, in awe at this community that I find myself among.   Then suddenly a drum-beat starts up, a shuffle and a chant.  It becomes louder and louder, and clearer.  It is coming from the Ginger Hill mob.  About thirty of them, drumming on trash cans, pieces of wood, buckets and drums they have brought with them, and they chant :

“…cyaan get inna Miss Edna house, cyaan get inna Miss Edna house…”

It is eerie and powerful and honest.  The house is too small and they’ve been politely turned away.  A shiver goes  down my spine and I force force my way back inside again to see Bev and P : “you’ve got to come out and see this” and so they do.

And we laugh.  Hug again and laugh.  Amid the hymns, the crying aunties, the freeloading anybodys, the foreign relatives, the kids, the gravediggers, casket carriers and Guilty the sweet rastafarian philosopher, it seems as fitting a tribute to Miss Edna as you could get.  For philosophically speaking, none of us could get into Miss Edna’s house anymore.

The next day is the service at the Christadelphian Meeting Hall in Round Hill, St Elizabeth parish.  It is hot hot. Everyone is now dressed proper, shirt, suit, tie, shoes. Hats.  Fans gently beating across aunty’s faces.  The pallbearers are six nephews – Clive, Neville and Nesbert Powell and George, Kenneth and Vernan Legister.  They carry her in and lay her down in front of us.  It is November 10th 2002, but the Order of Service programmes has the date September 11th, misprinted (rather spookily) by Mr Bolt the funeral director.

Paulette and Beverley both speak about their mum in the service.  They are brave. Cashell and Crystal are trying to speak, two little girls, but they are crying too much and abandon the attempt, have us all in floods.  The casket is hoisted onto the six nephews shoulders again and we travel back down the hill to the property where the night before such scenes had unfurled.  The kids keep us all real – Full Mouth who had a great deal of teeth, and unrepentant farter Force Ripe.  I suppose their name for me is Coolie Hair.

A cousin named Bones has dug the grave deep into the red earth, and we gather around the grave to sing once more and pray together.  More tears now, less restraint.  More Jamaica, less England.  People shouting goodbye as the coffin is lowered on ropes into the deep hole, men pass the shovel around and cover the coffin with earth, I join in, grateful for the physical effort to channel my quivering energy.  Did the sisters also shovel some earth into the grave ?  I may be confusing that detail from their father’s funeral which was a year or so earlier in London.  I become transfixed with the colour of the dirt and sequester a small black plastic bag full which I transport back to Brighton with me.  I’m not sure though that I have ever planted anything in it.  What a strange man I am.

Guilty painted the tomb for Miss Edna and subsequently disappeared, we don’t know where he is now.  Miss Vadne still lives up the hill in Southfield.  I haven’t been back to Jamaica but I will go one day.  It was my tenth Caribbean island trip.  They’re all quite different in many ways.  Cuba is extraordinary – I wrote about it in My Pop Life #173 –  and Trinidad & Tobago was an amazing trip in 1993 – My Pop Life #184.  I haven’t written about St Lucia yet – where Jenny’s parents come from, and we’ve visited three times together.  On one visit we took a boat to Martinique. We’ve also holidayed at different times in Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua and the Dominican Republic when my brother Paul was living in Santo Domingo.  It’s an incredible part of the world.  But Jamaica is the island where I felt most at home. Perhaps the intensity of the trip opened me up in a different way – or perhaps it just has a special kind of atmosphere which I picked up on.  I was in the bush – the countryside – and was with people whose relatives live there.  The same is true of St Lucia, and Trinidad of course.  I don’t know.       I just know that Jamaica cast a spell over me.

Beres Hammond is amazing by the way – this is an early cut from the 2nd LP –  a soulful purveyor of Lovers Rock through to more conscious styles on albums such as Music Is Life in 2001 which Jenny and I waxed and rinsed when it came out.  We saw him at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park in 2003 on a reggae extravaganza night – a beautiful open air amphitheatre, we walked from our apartment on Live Oak Drive on a balmy July night, perched above Los Feliz, and there was Beres Hammond live onstage, what joy – supporting the legendary I-Three Marcia Griffith and the Marley boys Stephen, Kymani and Damian Marley – Junior Gong – who was showcasing his new album Welcome To Jamrock.  Quite a night.

I appreciate and give thanks for all my blessings, all my friends, all my musical experiences, for my life has been rich and full of joy.  Even the tragedy and sorrow of the death of my beautiful friends Paulette and Beverley’s mother turned somehow into a thing of such great beauty.   We are separate but always connected.

My Pop Life #186 : Praise You – Fatboy Slim

Praise You   –   Fatboy Slim

We’ve come a long, long way together – through the hard times and the good                   I need to celebrate you baby I need to praise you like I should…….

*

March 1971 was my first visit to The Goldstone Ground in Hove, to see Alan Duffy, Brian Powney in goal, John and Kit Napier, Peter O’Sullivan, John Templeman, Norman Gall.   Amazing that I can remember pretty much the whole team.  Tattooed on the brain. Went with a group of kids from the Lewes Priory football team : Martin Cooper,  Conrad Ryle, Simon Lester – we played on Saturday morning then went into Brighton in the afternoon for a Division Three game v Port Vale.  We stood in the North Stand with the hooligans, scarves wrapped around our wrists.  Jumped up and down singing Knees Up Mother Brown and the Banana Splits Song.  A year later, we were the hooligans, marching through the cold wet streets of Watford and Luton singing our songs of Albion and war.  Andrew Holmes joined the gang.  John Hawkins.  Paul my brother.  Conrad’s older brother Martin was a regular too but he stood in the Chicken Run – the East Stand which was a stone terrace with a few metal railings to lean on (prized positions).  That season we played Aston Villa on Good Friday and Reading on Easter Monday – maybe it was the season after, standing in a crowd of 36,000 people.  As a slightly dysfunctional teenager with a tenuous and insecure family life, the idea of playing at home was powerful.  For an atheist to stand with my fellow man and woman and sing in our thousands replaced any religious feelings I may have had left by the age of fourteen.  In other words, I was hooked.

The legendary Brian Clough came down to manage us with his assistant Peter Taylor. The most memorable game from that tenure was an 8-2 home defeat to Bristol Rovers, still a club record failure, and a 0-4 defeat in the FA Cup to Walton & Hersham, a part-time club.   Clough would go on to two European Cup wins with Nottingham Forest and was the best manager that England never appointed.  Taylor stayed and signed Peter Ward who became club legend goalscorer, but was replaced with ex-Tottenham & England man Alan Mullery – he became a club legend manager himself and took us to promotion in 1979 away at Newcastle United.  By now I was a student at the LSE.  I would come down for games on a Saturday, and my Glaswegian friend Lewis McLeod would come along too, despite being a Rangers fan.  By now we were standing in the Chicken Run.  The team swept all before them and rose to the elite with a 3-1 win at St James’ Park.  I travelled up alone on the train, even bravely venturing into a Newcastle public house on my own before joining the huddled masses in the Away end, celebrating a legendary victory and travelling back on the train with the blue & white family and endless cans of beer and joy.

Manager Alan Mullery with the team 1980

The following season we went to some exciting away games – Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur.  I got punched at Tottenham after the game.  Martin Ryle told a mounted policeman about it and pointed out who’d hit me and we saw the kid getting sandwiched between two police horses just down the High Road.  Enjoyed that.  Four seasons in the top flight.  On Match Of The Day now and again.  Nobby Horton in midfield, Steve Foster playing centre-half, with a headband.  Mike Robinson, Gordon Smith, Jimmy Case.  Beating Liverpool in the Cup two seasons running, playing Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-final at Highbury literally a few hundred yards from where I lived with Mumtaz in Finsbury Park in 1983, Winning 2-1.  Sitting on my stoop with my scarf on watching the fans streaming away from the game.  Magic.  Failing to get Cup Final tickets, watching on TV as Jimmy Melia’s team drew with Manchester United 2-2 and almost winning in the final minute.  And Smith Must Score…ohhhhh.  But Robinson should have scored in retrospect.  We lost the replay 4-0 and were relegated in the same season.

Things declined after that, gradually.  At some point in the 1980s I started to collect grounds – and picked up places like Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, Fulham, Leicester City and Rochdale. The chairman Mike Bamber who’d brought in Mullery lost control and this fuckwit called Bill Archer took over.  Greg Stanley was his stooge on the board.  And David Bellotti, failed Lib Dem candidate for Eastbourne was his gofer.  Between them they nearly took the club to extinction.  By now I was sitting in the West Stand when I came down for games – I’d now watched the team from 3 sides of the Goldstone Ground.   Just as I moved back to Sussex and had a season ticket for the first time in my life, things went downhill rapidly.

Albion walk out for their last home game at the Goldstone, 1997

I made friends with Ian Hart, Worthing undertaker who ran a fanzine called Gull’s Eye with Peter Kennard and I wrote a few columns for them about the resistance movement.  We became aware that Archer was planning to sell the ground “to pay debts”.  A huge campaign got underway to resist this asset-stripping.  We picketed the ground one day and tried to stop fans from going in.  Thousands stayed outside, then broke through the flimsy gate of the Chicken Run at half time and got onto the pitch and up into the director’s box, mingled with the away fans too, all of whom were aware of our plight and supported us.

There was a Fans United match at the Goldstone (which I couldn’t make) when we played Hartlepool, and Doncaster Rovers in particular had helped to organise fans from every club come down and publicise what was happening to the Albion.  Bellotti was barracked at every game and had police protection – although he never came to any harm, often he would be asked to leave by the police.

Then the York City game at the end of the ’96/97 season when the pitch invasion after 15 minutes left a broken crossbar and a huge sit-in with match abandoned.  2 Points deducted but now everyone knew what was afoot, too late to change the outcome.

 Dick Knight took over but the sale was done.  The last game at The Goldstone, our home, was against Doncaster Rovers.  It was like a funeral.  I sat in the South Stand for the first and last time, and had watched my team from all four sides of the Goldstone.  We ran onto the pitch after the match and people started take the place apart for keepsakes.  Seats.  Signs.  Anything.  I got a large chunk of the pitch which I kept in a flowerpot in the garden, trimmed with scissors and sporting a subbuteo goal. Meanwhile after being 13 points adrift at the foot of the table we finally need a point in the last game,  away to Hereford United which meant the losers were out of the League.  I couldn’t face the implications or the game and chose to go to the Dome for a Mahler concert on a Saturday afternoon, swerving the tension and feelings of sickness, coming out at 5pm and asking the nearest bystander the result.  Pre-internet of course. We drew 1-1, Robbie Reinelt scoring the all important goal – Hereford were down and out, we’d survived.  This period of the Albion’s history – the guerrilla warfare, the back-stabbing, the surge of fan’s anger and magnificent commitment to their club is recorded by Steve North and Paul Hodson in the memorable book Build A Bonfire.

Albion legend, another saviour : Dick Knight

But the ground had been sold for £7 million and we were homeless.  Debts were paid but one year later the Goldstone was re-sold : this time for £28 million.  It turned out that Bill Archer had sold the ground to himself and then made a £21 million profit out of our homelessness – the worst kind of scum.  Albion played at Gillingham for two seasons, 75 miles away, to meagre crowds and an impoverished atmosphere.  I usually drove there, and we’d congregate in the pub, defiant, phlegmatic.  The spirit of the fans and our indomitable sense of humour is illustrated beautifully with a small anecdote from Colchester United FC where I’d gone with Martin Ryle and his son Jude for a League game.   Fans being cruel the Colchester massive taunted us with “Where’s The Goldstone gone, where’s the Goldstone gone?” to the tune of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.  Came the immediate response from the Albion faithful : “It’s a Toys R Us, it’s a Toys R Us“.   We have the best songs – out of necessity.  When we hear “Town full of queers” (Guantanamera) or “Does Your Boyfriend know you’re here?” (Bread of Heaven) we traditionally sing “You’re too ugly to be gay“.  I’m proud to be a Brighton fan, not afraid to sing about being gay.   Came home with relief to the Withdean Stadium in 1999, an athletics track converted with temporary stands and a two-bob portakabin atmosphere.  Micky Adams arrived and bought young striker Bobby Zamora and suddenly we were on the up again, winning two promotions in successive seasons.  I met him once at a Club do, just as it had been announced he was leaving for Leicester.  I think he’d been getting stick all night because when I thanked him for everything and wished him all the best for his future he was genuinely pleased and thanked me in return.  But it was all two steps forward, one step back, what we needed more than anything else was a proper ground.  The campaign for Falmer Stadium was long and bitter and took in various local heroes like Paul Samrah, Paul Whelch (RIP another LSE graduate), Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Skint Records, Paul CamillinDick Knight of course and John Baine – Attila The Stockbroker – with whom I’d made a protest single – ‘We Want Falmer‘ b/w ‘Sussex By The Sea‘ which got to number 17 in the charts (see My Pop Life #51).   One of my more memorable days was the protest outside the Labour Party Conference on Brighton Seafront when one fan appeared with a sign reading : Prescott :  Mother Cooked Socks In Hull.

Skint Records and Norman were having a moment or three in the sun.  Based in Middle Street in The Lanes, with co-owner & Arsenal fan Damian Harris as Midfield General (I would later appear on one of his records) and Norman as Fatboy Slim they adopted the Seagulls in 1999 and provided shirt sponsorship during this critical 9-year period.  My favourite Albion shirt has their name on it.

The logo was pertinent and a frank admission of status – we were broke.   Rumour had it that Norman was paying Bobby Zamora’s wages in exchange for a car-park space : the many ramifications of playing at Withdean included a no-parking zone around the stadium.  I used to park and walk like many other fans – sometimes I’d take the bus from the bottom of Trafalgar Street after a few pints of Harveys.

Norman – and his wife Zoe Ball (now separated) – are integrated members of the Brighton & Hove community, around and about at openings, screenings, football matches, club nights and very supportive of the local scene – like their local successful brothers Stomp –  in many and diverse ways.  They were at the premiere of The Murmuration (see My Pop Life #87 ) at The Booth Museum in Dyke Road.  Norm was an usher at Patrick Sullivan‘s wedding in Rottingdean when we all went to the pub both before and after the service.  I once watched a Liverpool v Chelsea European Cup game round his house with Jim and Pat which was faintly awkward – I was the only one supporting Liverpool… then I called Norman once to ask about vintage recording equipment as texture for my abandoned Session Musician documentary Red Light Fever (see My Pop Life #116) and others) and he very kindly offered me some interesting space to shoot an interview with bass player Les Hurdle (who’d recorded with Giorgio Moroder and The Foundations among others).  We’ve seen Norman DJ at two World Cups – in Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro parties, playing records for football fans.   He is a proper decent bloke, and very good at his job needless to say.  The records that Skint put out at the end of the 20th & beginning of the 21st Century helped to define Brighton as the number one party city in Europe – Rockefeller Skank, Right Here, Right Now, Praise You, Weapon of Choice, Gangster Trippin’ and many remix remake remodels too.  We all celebrated the big beat culture which started on Brighton seafront and conquered the world, peaking in July 2002 when 250,000 flocked and danced to Big Beat Boutique 2 where the Skint DJs partied all day and all night between the piers.

Big Beach Boutique II, July 2002, Brighton Beach 

Planning permission for Falmer Stadium was finally granted after a long struggle.  Nobody wanted the football fans on their doorstep.  Every version of the plan for a stadium was met with objection.  But it happened.  We’d fought an imaginative campaign and got the nod – Martin Perry was instrumental in achieving the result and building the actual finished stadium, alongside every single Brighton fan from that time, including my friend Ian Andrews who’d worked at the club since the 90s being brought in by Dick Knight, and running the accounts through the Withdean years.  I would sit with Ian, David Cuff, Adrian Simons, Julian Benkel and Mark Griffin – and indeed with actor Mark Williams during this period – or we would meet in the Lord Nelson on Trafalgar Street, famous Albion pub.  All good friends still.

All the trials and tribulations have brought the club closer to the city of Brighton. We are now a true community club.  After all the noise, litter and scare stories about the middle class enclave of Withdean being invaded by football hooligans, the last game there was rather emotional.

As promotion to the Championship beckoned, Julian and myself went on a few last away trips to places where I didn’t think the team would be playing again (with respect to those clubs of course) : Hartlepool United, Northampton Town, Dagenham & Redbridge.  Ian gave me a hard hat and showed me around the Falmer foundations one memorable afternoon in 2009 :

Myself and Ian Andrews, Falmer Stadium 1st December 2009

The Amex today – photograph ©Peter Whitcomb

The first game at the new stadium was a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur – my wife’s team and all of her family.  We had season tickets to the new ground, David Cuff had been among the first to gain access and we were 12 rows back from the front, bang central, near the dugouts where the managers, trainers and substitutes sat and alongside the press box.  When the music of Sussex By The Sea started up across this magnificent sparkling brand new arena filled with fans, and the two teams walked out onto the sacred green sward, a tear rolled down my cheek and my chest was full of emotion.  Home.  Our Home.   And the first League game was against… Doncaster Rovers.  By then the chairman was Tony Bloom who been on the board for many years but slowly acquired a greater percentage of control.  Dick Knight was made President for Life, and Tony funded the stadium and, later, the brand new state-of-the art training ground at Lancing near Shoreham Airport.  A Brighton fan all of his life, two of his uncles were on previous Boards of the club.  Bloom made his money in online gambling and has now invested over £250 million into Brighton & Hove Albion.  That is a local hero.

We still can’t match the budgets of our main rivals – this season Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Norwich.  But life isn’t all about money.  There is something about trying to win games of football which is a mystical alchemical process – a team event at which all have to be present, an undefined nebulous concept called confidence, determination, spirit, something a manager worth his salt can produce in players, week in, week out.  Gus Poyet managed it with a legendary season in the final year at Withdean ( final away game at Walsall pictured below) when we were promoted once again.

Andy Holmes (for it is he), Julian Benkel, David Cuff at Walsall

We opened Falmer Stadium – now called The Amex in the Championship.  At the end of that magnificent 2nd season in the new arena, we stumbled at the final hurdle in a terrible match at home to Crystal Palace in the play-offs as Poyet reportedly had resigned to the players in the dressing room before the game.  Or was he pushed?  His relationship with the club had deteriorated to an alarming degree over those final months, but it was a fatal flaw in a great footballing brain.   I met Gus on the tube once in London and he was sincerely enthusiastic and charming talking about The Seagulls.  Oscar Garcia and Sami Hyypia came and went and then Chris Hughton, ex Spurs defender and living legend arrived and took us to the play-offs once again last season – the third time in four years.  Over the disappointment of last summer – 2016 – he kept the same group of players together and added a spine – Duffy, Murray, Norwood, Sidwell.  Anthony Knockaert was our enlightenment, Bruno Salter our soul, Lewis Dunk our local hero along with Hailsham boy Solly March, Dale Stephens our midfield maestro along with Beram KayalDavid Stockdale our rock between the sticks, Glen Murray our shark goalscorer, Tomer Hemed our spearhead.    Chris Hughton our football genius.  Tony Bloom our saviour.

Tony Bloom celebrates Promotion 2017

Since moving to New York in 2014 I’ve let my season ticket lapse.  I’ve watched two games per season basically.  Last season I wandered in to two more grounds – Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers.  I saw two games this season, both at home, against Huddersfield and Leeds : both tough games, both wins.  We’ve been in the top two all season, have now been promoted to the Premiership and are one win away from the title – first place – and the Championship Trophy which will represent the finest achievement of this football club in it’s 116-year history.  A new chapter awaits.

Anthony Knockaert celebrates at the Amex.  The Premiership beckons

I’ve been watching games on my computer where I can.  Following on Twitter.  I’ve had a lifetime of watching the Albion, ups and downs.  I miss the pints and the cameraderie, the team sheet and the songs.  The moaning about the ref.  The irritating opposition player.  The pies.  But at least now I get to watch the team on TV – for here in America, all the Premiership games are screened live.  You can record them.   And doubtless I’ll be in England to watch one or two.

We have come a long long way together.  I need to celebrate you baby.  Yesterday, 17th April 2017, my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion were promoted to the Premier League.

My Pop Life #185 : Between The Wars – Billy Bragg

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Between The Wars   –   Billy Bragg

Call up the craftsmen bring me the draughtsmen build me a path from cradle to grave     and I’ll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage

*

I wrote the piece below in the Spring of 1985 as this song was released. I was 27.

*

Blackpool.  Monday afternoon,  a wet October,  1984

Six actors, a director and a writer meet each other in the lounge of the Pendale Hotel (just off the town map) and plan their assault on the Labour Party Conference :  the largest collection of journalists to be found outside of a Fleet Street pub.  Our mission: to explore their world, their obsessions.  We have (valued possessions) press passes saying ‘Joint Stock’ pinned to our clothing, currently providing simple entry to the Winter Gardens.  We are naive, optimistic, nervous, brave.  We move in.

A fringe meeting upstairs from the bar is getting underway.  Entrance is through a sea of leaflets thrusting at you from Nicaragua to the Kent coalfields.  Inside, a large surreal Spanish galleon of a room is filling up.  TV cameras at the front, lights.  A sense of excitement.  The speakers tonight are Livingstone, Benn & Scargill.  I am looking for journalists.  What do they wear?  How do they talk?  Who do they vote for?  Why are they journalists?  Will they even talk to me?  I see two, identifiable by their press passes, and sit down next to them, a youngish woman and an older bespectacled man.

Hello,’  I offer boldly.  ‘Can I talk to you?‘  They look at me.  I launch in.  ‘My name is Ralph Brown and I’m up in Blackpool with Joint Stock Theatre Group and we’re researching a play about journalists and we don’t know what it’s about yet, and can I talk to you?’   They are both from The Sunday Times, covering the conference – she is on the Insight team, he is the local man in Lancashire.

‘We set the agenda for this conference’ he claims, ‘Three weeks ago our front page said Kinnock would be in trouble on three fronts at this conference – the police, the miners, the local authorities.  And that’s the way the conference will go.’  He evidently felt that this was the legitimate role of the paper, but perhaps feeling he had said too much started to move away.  ‘Talk to Ros,’ he said, ‘she’s the expert on the miner’s strike.’  Could I meet him later I asked, at the Imperial Hotel perhaps?  He smiled and nodded and moved off. The woman grabbed my arm. ‘Do you know who that is?’ she whispered.  ‘He’s the one you want to talk to. That’s Michael Jones, political editor of The Sunday Times.’  I was going to have to be a little smarter over the course of the next three weeks.  There was a stirring at the front of the hall.  Scargill was entering – he timed it well, and the room erupted as their hero moved onto the platform. The feeling was quite extraordinary. Suddenly the press became noticeable leaning against walls, slouching in chairs, bored. Even so, notebooks were produced, pens from inside pockets, and attention brightened a little: the studied boredom of their poses couldn’t quite smother the sense of history.

Arthur Scargill, leader of the miner’s union at the Labour Party Conference, 1984

Later, the bar and foyer of the Imperial Hotel provided the true flavour of the conference. The place was full of journalists and politicians, and Joint Stock valiantly camoflauged within.  Peter Hillmore (Observer) peered at my press pass suspiciously, exchanged a sentence with me and decided there were more important people to talk to. Sir Robin Day was decidedly the worse for wear and tottering on the steps with a young woman in black. I cornered Mick Costello, industrial editor of the Morning Star, smoking cigars and hobnobbing happily with capitalist comrades from the Telegraph and the Express. In fact there was an awful lot of hobnobbing going on. I think everyone there was drunk. I met Michael Jones again, he welcomed me with open arms, told me the play didn’t have a hope of understanding “the relationship between me and the office”, confessed to always having had ambitions to being one of the opinion-forming elite, and wished me the very best of luck, young man.  ‘Of course, it’s very different when the Tories are here,’ a wobbling hack confided.  ‘Last year it was wonderful though, Parkinson – you remember?’ Little did he suspect that the Tories would provide the best story for a decade only ten days later.

       

    It was Scargill’s week, undoubtedly. Adulated by conference, hated and adored by the press, ‘Coal Not Dole’ stickers everywhere and buckets being rattled at every door.  Quite a time.  We all had our adventures.  Simon Curtis followed a Sun reporter for one afternoon hoping to catch some juicy bit or other, and was spotted trying to listen in on a conversation.  I was finally confronted by this man, a stocky Scot, who told me that if my friend didn’t lay off he would receive a crack on the head.  I talked to him.  I was getting quite good at asking the right questions.  He told me how he’d always wanted to be a policeman and had fallen into journalism at a Spencer Davis concert in Glasgow.

The Joint Stock method meant that observation was crucial.  Each morning, we would present, one at a time, a character we had encountered the day before, with close attention to detail: accent, hand movements, figures of speech etc. Sometimes we would write notes. I found it easier and more accurate to rely on memory. If more than one of us had been there, we could present the group with a ‘scene’.  We slowly discovered which questions and lines of conversation gave the best ‘results’, but it was always the unexpected, the surprising, which caught the imagination of the group. It was for me a wonderfully exciting way to work.

Robert Maxwell, Mirror owner in July 1984

My final memory of Blackpool was a Daily Mirror press conference called by Robert Maxwell to present a granny from Essex with a huge cheque for one million pounds for winning Mirror bingo.  The scene was grotesque, and made its way into Deadlines – the play which resulted from this workshop – in all its surreal horror, with myself playing the elephantine Maxwell. I remember the poor woman standing there, with cameras clicking, TV arc lights, microphones and questions, a glass of champagne glued into her hand, a frozen smile on her bewildered face.  She turned to Marge Proops (Mirror Women’s Page) standing next to her and asked if it was all right for her to have a sip. Later, Kathryn Pogson and I spoke to her daughter. ‘ You’re not from The Sun are you? We’ve been told not to answer any questions.’   We explained that we were actors doing research and suddenly the woman recognised Kathryn: ‘You were on TV weren’t you?’  She immediately relaxed and took us into her confidence. ‘They’ve been ever so good. We’ve been to four hotels in four days. We had the phone call saying we’d won, and they just said pack a suitcase. We left the washing in the machine.’  Her son was whimpering. ‘Shut up,‘ said his dad, ‘I’ve bought you loads of things today.’  They had just won a million pounds. Mirror men were gently ushering people to a photocall with the trams. ‘Let’s hope we’ve got more friends than enemies’ was the daughters final thought as Kathryn and I left for the Big Dipper.

The local Sheffield paper : me, Paul Jesson, a journalist, Stephen Wakelam, Tricia Kelly, Alan David

The company left for Sheffield, the heart of the miner’s strike, and spent two days at the local paper – the Morning Telegraph and the Sheffield Star the evening version, who shared the same office, again asking questions and listening.  I suggested to the industrial editor (‘a close friend of Arthur‘ someone whispered) that being a local reporter was something of a luxury, being able to be accurate and honest and truthful. ‘No,‘ he said, ‘I just have to live here.’  It was becoming increasingly difficult to parry the obvious question: “What is the play about?”  We really had no idea, and the people we talked to, especially the journalists, couldn’t accept this.  ‘You’re going to expose us, aren’t you? All the drink and sex.’  And in truth we were beginning to behave more and more like journalists: finding ways of making people talk, being persistent, looking for angles.

The most famous photograph from the 1984-5 miner’s strike

Simon Curtis and I visited some picket lines at Maltby and Silverwood collieries and spent one afternoon talking to two miners who were on strike, one of whom, Jim, became a character in the play.  Throughout the two and a half hour conversation, Simon had been fingering a five pound note in his pocket, preparing to give it to the fund before he left. ‘Do you have a collection?’ he asked the young miner. ‘Sure, just give it to me, we’ll mek sure it gets t’ reght place.’  Simon pulled out his note and offered it. They both looked at it.  It was a twenty pound note. (more like a hundred pounds in today’s money). ‘Oh’ said the miner.  Simon’s eyes glazed over. ‘Oh thanks a lot’ said the miner. Simon’s fingers released the note, and he smiled weakly.  We drove off, Simon in some shock.

The company then moved to the hustle and bustle of London, Fleet Street, the TV Studios and radio stations.  The journey was important. The people we’d talked to 200 miles north were filtered and made into ‘news’ down here in the capital.  Stephen Wakelam (the writer) was particularly affected by this geographical change, and the play’s sweep covers the quiet of the South Yorkshire countryside to the claustrophobic newsrooms of London.  My favourite place was BBC Newsnight. ‘We’re doing a play about the media’ I offered as an introduction to Howard, sleeveless-jerseyed, Guardian-reading type. He swung round in his typical journalists swing-round chair. ‘Media!’ He glared at me, managing to look totally harmless. ‘Don’t lump us in with the bloody Express, Mirror and Beano.  This is a television news programme.’ 

   Presenter Peter Snow (right) had an SDP poster up in the room where he was working. I desperately wanted to ask him if it was his, but couldn’t find the words. It was very very difficult to ask journalists about their politics. They pretended they didn’t have any. Or they said ‘I’m nosy’ or ‘I’m an observer.’  Others were more approachable, notably those at The Express, where a considerable number of the writers are members of the Labour Party!  I was devastated by this disclosure, although the Express journalists I spoke to found it totally normal : ‘It’s the same at the Mail, the Sun, the Telegraph. You’ve got to earn a living.’ I suggested the two things might be incompatible. ‘I’ve never written a word against the Labour Party in twelve years on the Express.’  The man seemed proud of this, as if his principles were still intact.  Fiona Millar, one of the few women on the paper had an even worse situation, surrounded by pin-ups, being given the Royal stories or the animal stories because of her gender.  ‘My generation is terribly disappointed in the profession we’ve joined,’ she told me.  She is in her late twenties, and moved from the local paper to Fleet Street just as it was going down the drain : bingo, tits and circulation wars.  She was consoled by the fact that the Express was ‘a writer’s paper’ rather than a subeditor’s paper.  Subeditors – the back bench – are a strange group of men (invariably) who sift the paras, reorganise the stories, and in many cases rewrite according to the paper’s politics.

The Sun was more difficult.  We trooped up to the office and were told to wait by the door.  We huddled there, feeling like intruders. A nervous face told us about The Sun glancing over his shoulder now and again. One of us was escorted to the toilet and back. We were not allowed to talk to any journalists.  The face we were talking to had a plastic smile which it kept putting on to reassure us, and only succeeded in totally unnerving us. ‘We are a family newspaper. We never print anything unless it’s checked. We write for an average reading age of eight.’ He did, however, tell us the name of the cabinet minister whom the whole of Fleet Street knew was fucking small boys. And somehow, this one rather sordid point was a believable oasis in the desert of his insincerity.

And so to the Tories.  We took it in turns to visit the Tory Conference in Brighton (only had two press passes) and Tricia Kelly and I found ourselves on the train down just hours after an IRA bomb had wrecked the Grand Hotel.  There was security everywhere. The atmosphere inside the conference hall was extraordinary. Resilience, survivors. Thatcher got an emotional standing ovation just for being there. Tricia and I felt like enemies of the people in the midst of the mob, protected by the legitimate neutrality of our press passes. It meant we didn’t have to applaud. We could look cool and detached and professional. This was a relief. Thatcher was finally introduced as ‘a great statesman’ and she spoke for the whole hall about Tebbit’s bravery, property, owners and earners, and got a massive, absurd standing ovation at the end. Tricia made our way to the door and stopped to watch this display of political football hooliganism.  We were ushered out by a rather embarrassed man, as if this was a private Tory moment not to be witnessed by the unfaithful.

Grand Hotel, Brighton, the morning after an IRA bomb, October 1984

   We moved out onto the beach.  The Grand Hotel had a huge hole knocked out of it, the beach was roped off, police were everywhere. Earlier, I had tried to have a few words with  of the Observer, one of our contacts.  ‘Haven’t got time,’ he said, rushing away. ‘Best story for twenty-five years.’  There were journalists everywhere.  Every paper and TV station had quintupled its Brighton staff. By now, we Joint Stockers were behaving like journalists ourselves, moving towards huddles of people instinctively for titbits trading information, becoming strangely distanced from the event. The process was not dissimilar : the workshop, the story.

I remember the feeling standing on Brighton beach, so clearly. An exhilarating sense of history. It was all happening around me: the strike, the conferences, the bomb. I felt at the centre of the universe.

*

Jenny Stoller, Tricia Kelly and Amelda Brown in Caryl Churchill’s ‘Fen’

The piece above was the last chapter in The Joint Stock Book, published by Methuen in 1997 and reprinted here for information. I do not claim copyright.  I think the book is now out of print.  Subtitled The Making Of A Theatre Collective, the book is a tribute to the working method of Joint Stock, a unique theatre collective in the UK as I was starting out in the 1980s.  It started around 1974 and had built a formidable reputation for itself as a producing house for new, often devised work.   The company operated as a self-managing collective with only one permanent member of staff, the administrator, everyone else was invited to meetings and made decisions, on a collective level.  I met a lot of very good people over the three years that I was involved with Joint Stock, including my next girlfriend, Rita Wolf, who had been in Borderline written by Hanif Kureishi and was thus on the collective.  The book contains contributions from members of the collective about the work of the company, ranging from Max Stafford-Clark to Roger Lloyd-Pack to Bill Gaskill to Caryl Churchill to Kenny Ireland to Danny Boyle to Miriam Margoyles to Pauline Melville.  It remains for me the finest way to create a play, both as an actor and as a writer.  I was lucky enough to do both – the play Sanctuary came two years later in 1987 – Deadlines premiered in Sheffield in February 1995 before touring the UK.  Both plays were written about and for a community : journalists and homeless youth.  Later in 1985 Jane Thornton wrote Amid The Standing Corn about the miner’s wives for Joint Stock.  She is from Yorkshire where my dad lives now (married to a Barnsley lass, dear Beryl) and Jane is also married to a Yorkshireman John Godber who is instrumental in my working life (A Clockwork Orange, Up’n’Under).  A strain of decency and pride running through the county.  I think the most rewarding part of both Deadlines and Sanctuary for me  were the nights when the community came to see the play they’d helped create.  When the journalists at the Sheffield Star came to the Crucible Theatre, sitting alongside striking miners and their familes.   When the homeless familes and charities like Centrepoint London came to The Drill Hall for a benefit one night to see themselves represented onstage.  The highest form of emotional.  Lucky to have experienced it twice.  To think that Thatcher had called the National Union of Mineworkers ‘the enemy within’ still makes me enraged to a level which frightens me to this day.  Turbulent times.  A historic defeat.  La lotta continua.  Here’s Billy.

My Pop Life #184 : Mystery Band – Lord Kitchener

Mystery Band   –   Lord Kitchener

    Pan beating all night in de dry river, We all hearing but can’t see this orchestra  

*

  Another thing confusing the whole public : you can only hear the pan when rain fall

*

We hearing pan – but can’t see the band 

*

First things first.  Pan = Steel pan.  The national music of Trinidad.  Steel Band Music.   Various stick fighting and bamboo-based African customs were banned in Trinidad around 1880 because of the Camboulay riots, but the tradition went underground and re-emerged in the hillside region of Laventille above capital city Port Of Spain, being internationalized by the US forces after WW2.  From the late 40s (a time period referenced in this amazing song) to the present day, steel pan have been played all year round and particularly at Carnival, which usually falls in February.  They were historically made from discarded oil-drums with chromatic indentations beaten into the base, played with rubber-topped sticks.  Nowadays they are made to specification.  They are an astoundingly exciting instrument for many reasons.  First – steelpan is the most recent addition to the orchestra, and the only ‘new’ instrument added in the 20th century.  Second – anyone can learn to play it – and thus the huge steelpan orchestras of Trinidad who compete every year in Panorama for the crown.  These can contain up to two hundred people.   Third – any style of music can and is played – from jazz to filmscores to classical to latin.  Panorama is almost exclusively made up of calypso tunes, however, the steelpan is not confined to caribbean music.

I wrote a bit about Panorama and our visit to Trinidad in 1993 in My Pop Life #4, discussing Mighty Sparrow and the carnival.  We spent two weeks on Tobago having a holiday, then two weeks with Felix Cross’ parents Marie and Felix Sr.,  in the beautiful Santa Cruz valley just outside Port of Spain.  Went to Laventille one day to watch the steelpan rehearsals which take place every evening pre-carnival and which are open to spectators with beer, rum, roti and chicken being served to an enthusiastic crowd in the bleachers.   Felix we knew from theatre land in London – he was a composer and director and he had organised and rehearsed the choir for our wedding the year before, (composed of our friends and family) and then been forced to play the organ in the church because the organist didn’t turn up on the day!  Only about 150 yards away from the poor singers !  It all sounded beautiful of course…

Jouvert, the night before Mardi Gras in Port of Spain, is an all-night affair

Back in Trinidad, we went to the beach, we went on a boat trip near the Venezualan islands, did some natural history and hung around the capital.  Felix and I participated in Jouvert, described in My Pop Life #4.  Once carnival started we were joined by other London folk, namely Michael Buffong who was holidaying on his parent’s island of Grenada just up the road, and Rudolph Walker, one of Trinidad’s finest exports.   Michael was a member of The Possee, a sketch show gang of black actors who took London by storm in the late 1980s and included Gary MacDonald, Roger Griffith, Jenny’s cousin Victor Romero Evans, Robbie Gee, Eddie Nestor, Brian Bovell and Sylvester Williams.  We saw them regularly together at Stratford East, The Tricycle and then individually in other plays around town in the 1980s.

887130_10151393418604825_196968037_o

Michael Buffong, Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre

Michael Buffong would later turn his energy to directing and Jenny has done two fantastic shows with him – A Raisin In The Sun (written by Lorraine Hansbury in 1959) at Manchester Royal Exchange (for which she won an award), and Moon On A Rainbow Shawl (written by Trinidadian actor and writer Errol John in 1957) at The National Theatre with friends Danny Sapani, Martina Laird, Jade Anouka and Bert Caesar.

Somebody cut something out from the newspaper that day

I first met Rudolph Walker in 1989 in Portsmouth.  We were both working on a four-part TV show called Rules Of Engagement, about a nuclear sub incident and Portsmouth being cut off from the mainland (it is actually an island).  Also present : Kenneth Cranham one of my main musical benefactors and inspirations whom I have written about before, and Karl Johnson, one of the funniest fuckers I have ever worked with, he was also in The Black & Blue Lamp with Ken and I (see My Pop Life #177).   Rudolph was playing a big noise accountant who could get things done.  I was a small-time spiv, and me & my mate Peter Attard represented the flotsam and jetsam of humanity caught up in the geo-political wargames.  The director was Rob Walker, (father of writer Che Walker – Ann Mitchell is Mum) and he is one of the few directors who cast black people without the script mentioning their skin colour.  Thus back in 1989 Cathy Tyson and Ken Cranham were the cops, Rudolph the crooked businessman.

Rudolph I knew of course from my youth, from the telly:  Love Thy Neighbour.  Yes, that Rudolph.  With his screen wife and fellow Trini Nina Baden-Semper they withstood the slings and arrows of white 1970s Britain over 7 series for ITV living next door to racist Eddie Booth (played by Jack Smethhurst) and his non-racist wife Joan (Kate Williams).   At the time I think it was a kind of ITV riposte to Til Death Us Do Part starring Warren Mitchell, the most famous racist character on British TV at that time.  But Love Thy Neighbour actually had black characters and represented their experience, so Rudolph became the first prime-time black actor on British TV and thus the most well-known black actor in Britain for years as a result of this show, which he is clearly very proud of.  Many people thought the series was offensive because the racist Eddie’s favourite phrase was ‘nig-nog’ and he would insist that white people were above black people.  It was totally on the nose and you know how the British like everything to be unspoken and under the carpet if possible.  So while Warren Mitchell and ‘Til Death got all the cultural credit, Love Thy Neighbour became an embarrassment and is no longer repeated in TV schedules.  I hope I’m not overstating things here.  Rudolph is extremely phlegmatic about all this and carries his fame, the controversy and his part in it lightly and with grace and charm.  If you push him though, he’ll defend it to the hilt.  It showed the English who they were, and it showed many of the Caribbean immigrants who they were.  Which was more radical?  Rudi and I used to breakfast together in our little seafront hotel, and one morning he met Jenny who’d only recently become (officially anyway) my main squeeze (see My Pop Life #114).

In fact it was while I was on this job in my old home town where both my parents were born and where I lived from the ages of 2 – 6,  that I proposed to Jenny.  It was a happy accident.   My first school was in Portsmouth and I can still recall the bomb debris site near our house where we played as kids – houses now piles of bricks and rubble and wood still broken down from the Second World War, when Portsmouth, home to the British Navy for centuries, was bombed to smithereens.  My brain thinks bomb-like.  Lord Nelson‘s flagship from The Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the galleon H.M.S. Victory is in dry dock there as a living museum of war and naval superiority.   Jenny and I had spent a fantastic weekend, taking the ferry to the Isle of Wight and walking along the beach, me heroically retrieving her scarf when we left it on a fence and walked on for a mile before realising it was gone, racing back to get it.  On the evening of her departure,  we both dragged our feet so reluctant were we to part.  When Jenny inevitably failed to board the train back to London, we had two hours to wait until the next one.  Portsmouth Station is very close to the naval yard so we walked over to H.M.S. Victory and sat on the giant anchor, chatting.   When I say giant anchor you have to imagine a piece of metal the size of a small bus.

After a while the dusk was falling and Jenny said “What shall we do now?”.    I looked over at the sea and back at her and felt so happy.  “Let’s get married”  I replied.   And so it was to be.  This moment was marked on my skin with a tattoo in 2016.  I always used to say “I’m never getting married” .  I was young, and wrong.  Scarred by the five divorces of my parents.  No respect for the institution of marriage.  But underneath, I just wanted to do it the one time, and this was going to be it.

Rudolph Walker

When I saw Rudi for breakfast the following morning, I told him that Jenny and I were engaged and he blessed us and was pleased.  Three years later he read  from the Song Of Solomon at our wedding in St Joseph’s Church in Highgate “the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God” said the priest Father Joseph, for it was he that was marrying us “but it mentions love many many times and God is love“.  Over the following weeks Rudi and I decided to work together and he told me his main film idea about an itinerant Trini preacher in London called D.K. and his mother.   I loved the idea and agreed to write it – by this point I’d written the Joint Stock play Sanctuary, won the Samuel Beckett Award for it and had all kinds of projects on the go.  This particular one I actually wrote as the first episode of a four-part special called Messiah, had DK and his ma taking over a disused church, performing miracles, providing sanctuary to Kurdish refugees (years ahead of my time, me ;-).. and filling the church with religious iconography from every single religion in the world.  DK’s sermons were very non-denominational.    And the miracles were fun.  Political magic realism. Took me the best part of a year I reckon, by which time Jenny had done Prime Suspect 2 with Helen Mirren and got to know the producer Paul Marcus really well, to the extent of singing at his birthday party.  I didn’t know that many TV producers so when Rudi and I were both happy with the script Paul was the first person I took Messiah to.  And then I waited.  At the meeting with Paul he said some weird stuff about the project having a lot of “ego”, and expressed dislike for the idea.  I was seriously disheartened and didn’t really take it to many other people, Malcolm Craddock for sure, maybe a couple of others but…suddenly, nothing happened.  It’s all about contacts this business-called-show and I had very few in those days.   About ten years later a show appeared on ITV called hmmm The 2nd Coming with miracles and all (just like Rudi and I’s film) with Chris Ecclestone as the preacher.   These are the kinds of things that discourage me from writing.

But Rudi and I stayed in touch and we would see each other from time to time, at theatrical first nights at the National Theatre, The Tricycle and other events, often he’d be with Dounne Alexander, now his wife.  He was granted an OBE in 2006 and we went to the reception at the Trinidadian Embassy in London where a group of youngsters enrolled in The Rudolph Walker Foundation marched in to show discipline and leadership potential and honour their founder.  It was pretty impressive.   By then he had joined the cast of Eastenders playing Patrick Trueman where he works to this day, a cornerstone in the cultural landscape, representing the Caribbean in Britain, both in his life and on screen.  It is an honour to consider him my friend.

Aldwyn Roberts – Lord Kitchener

As for Lord Kitchener, well.  Perhaps even Rudi would accept that Kitch was the greatest Trini export.   Too much to unravel here – but born Aldwyn Roberts in Arima, Trinidad in 1922, he became a full-time musician at the age of 14 after his father died.  Gifted both musically and lyrically he toured Jamaica in 1947/8 for 6 months with calypsonians Lord Beginner and Lord Woodbine before embarking on the Empire Windrush and sailing for Great Britain.  He sang ‘London Is De Place For Me‘ with its Big Ben chimes live on camera, as they docked, for Pathé News.  When the West Indies cricket team beat England in 1950, Kitch was on hand with ‘Cricket Lovely Cricket‘ a victory calypso which became the first well-known Caribbean song in the UK.  He ran a nightclub in Manchester and had a regular spot at the Sunset Club in London until 1962 whereupon he returned to Trinidad, which meant competing in the annual calypso competition, which he dominated alongside The Mighty Sparrow, for the next 20 years.

Lord Kitchener with steel pan orchestra

Lord Kitchener won the road march ten times between 1965 and 1976 at which point he retired from competition and started to develop a soca sound, recently popularised by younger calypsonians Lord Shorty and Robin Imamshah.  So-ca was defined as “the soul of calypso” and would redefine Caribbean music completely, although to my ears, Kitch’s records always have some old school flavour.  Perhaps it is the compositions – as mentioned earlier he is lyrically dextrous, reminiscent of the great Chuck Berry, and more often than not extremely funny while the music is always beautifully melodic and highly syncopated.   There is something in there which I cannot describe – is it the dotted notes ?  The off-beat is constant and pulling you onto your feet incessantly.  So infectious.

Still from the documentary Calypso Dreams (2004). 

As a form, calypso has always been very responsive to the news, often being a commentary on conditions and events, often dealing in double-entendres, often lewd and always entertaining.  It’s a poor man’s newspaper, telling him what’s going on behind his back.   My favourite Kitchener songs alongside this particular work of genius are all later songs :  Pan in A Minor which is stunning, The Bees Melody which is wickedly clever, Tribute To Spree Simon which won the Monarch title in 1975, and of course Sugar Bum Bum from 1977 which needs no commentary from me.  Calypso music had a moment of high fashion in the late 50s and reached a huge international audience when Harry Belafonte’s Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) was released on his LP Calypso in 1956 and suddenly the music of the caribbean was everywhere.  Even Robert Mitchum made a calypso album.  Although I note quickly that both Belafonte and the Banana Boat Song emanate from Jamaica (before I get biffed).

It’s a living vibration rooted deep within my Caribbean belly, lyrics to make a politician cringe or turn a woman’s body to jelly… it’s a sweet soca music, you could never refuse it, it make you shake like a shango and why the hell you shakin’ you don’t know : calypso music

This song – the mighty Mystery Band –  is from when we were there – 1993 – and we heard it everywhere we went along with road-march winner Bacchannal Time by Superblue which is a stonking, itching, devilish party tune.  We bought both records in Port of Spain and carried them home with us as souvenirs of an unforgettable trip.  Kitch was 71 when this record was released.

        

1993 Carnival in Trinidad

Mystery Band is a song about an invisible band which only plays when it is raining.

Some say the music sound the the late 40s, some say it sound like a band from space

What is the Mystery Band ?  I won’t spoil it by telling you – enjoy the song, one of my all-time favourite pieces of music.   Wonderful lyrics by calypsonian David Rudder, music by Aldwyn Roberts.   It has two distinct parts, in the key of F and the key of E, one semitone below, accentuated each time in a magnificent musical gear shift down half a pitch which makes me swoon with joy.   What a hook.

Lord Kitchener died in 2000 and is buried in Santa Rosa cemetery in Arima.

The Amoco Renegades steelband made this superb rendition of Mystery Band in 1993 and won Panorama. Arrangement by the genius Dr Jit Samaroo.

Previous Older Entries