Y Sharp – Osibisa
There was a moment at school when it all went music. It certainly wasn’t in a music lesson. I didn’t even do the O level music exam I enjoyed it so little. Mr Richards taught us in the 4th year and I took in one of my singles – “Jig A Jig” by East Of Eden. Maybe I’ll do a post on it later. He hated it. I hated him. But he couldn’t kill my love of music, the kind of music that came out of the radio, the stereo, and then suddenly LIVE GIGS. I actually can’t remember what the first live gig I saw was. So blurred that whole period, my mum going in and out of different psychiatric hospitals, me staying with friends – Pete’s, Simon’s or Conrad’s houses, or once with Simon Lester’s mum & dad in Chiddingly. Sometimes staying in Hailsham and holding down the fort, paying the milkman, doing the shopping. I think it kind of depended on what was happening to Paul (now 13) and Andrew (9). And then Rebecca was born. My timeline is confused here, things overlap and run parallel, dissolve and get swapped around. But in the 5th year while I was doing O levels we had a ‘new kid’ in our class who sat at the back near me & Simon & Andrew Birch and his name was Andrew Holmes. With great creativity and wit we immediately nicknamed him Sherlock. He had musical enthusiasm and liked to drum with me on the desktop before Mr Knight came in – and we went to our first live gig together – at Sussex University – to see Osibisa. What a great gig that was. If you don’t know them they were – and still are – a jazz-funk afro-pop rock latin fusion outfit formed in London by Ghanaians Teddy Osei, Sol Armarfio and Mac Tontoh, Nigerian Loughty Lassisi Amao and West Indians Spartacus R, Robert Bailey and Wendell Richardson. The magnificent seven. Their sound is unique to them. Criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness. They had the distinct advantage in 1971 of having their first LP produced by the great Tony Visconti, and cover art drawn by the prog artist Roger Dean (who now lives in Lewes) famed for Yes, Atomic Rooster and Gentle Giant. His flying elephant for Osibisa was iconic.
But of course live they were simply outstanding, and have continued to be so for the last forty years – playing African music for western ears 20 years before the term “World Music” was coined, and they are a simply tremendous band. I bought the 2nd LP above “Woyaya” and played it endlessly in 1973.
Around this time people started bringing guitars into school and playing them in the common room. Older kids in the 6th form were in cool bands such as The Grobs. There were actually three great drummers in the year above ours – Patrick Freyne (who I later played in a band with & who also played in my wedding band with Simon, Andy Rankin, Joe and others), Andy Rankin himself (who went out with Simon’s sister Deborah, played in The Grobs and later became The Pogues drummer) and Pete Thomas (who has played with Elvis Costello since 1st LP My Aim Is True). Stephen Wood played the accordion, piano and everything else and later went on to win an Oscar for his soundtrack writing. So when kids in my year started playing guitars and talking about playing in bands I knew I had to be in that number when the saints went marching in. But I was at least six months behind already. I tried picking up an acoustic but it hurt my fingers and I was clumsy – my fingers aren’t that long. Now what? Another groovy kid in the year above (god those year-above kids were SO INFLUENTIAL!), one John Mote – whose dad owned an antique shop in Cliffe High Street (before they were ubiquitous) – was selling an alto saxophone. I saved up some money from (where?) my Sunday paper round probably -the instrument cost me £35. It was a huge amount of money in those days, especially to me, but I still have that instrument today – a silver Boosey & Hawkes 1936 alto with a Selmer C mouthpiece.
John may have given me a book too called “How To Play The Saxophone” but I only picked up the basics, and even then some fundamentals whizzed over my head. Luckily I thought, the fingering was the same as for the recorder, which I’d learnt at Selmeston Primary with Miss Lamb the legendary Miss Lamb. C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C. The sharps and flats were a bit different. And actually getting a sound out of it was really different. Initially impossible. Then, some off-key honking. Squeaks. Pigs being murdered. Dying geese. My mum had the patience of Job because, while she used to bang the ceiling with a broomstick when Jimi Hendrix got too loud, she never did when I was learning how to play the sax. Bless her. I eventually put a pair of rolled up socks into the bell, which dampened the sound somewhat.
And that’s where Y Sharp comes in. It has a fairly simple opening refrain, played on trumpet and saxophone over the rolling guitar. If memory serves, D-C-B-A. The D would have to be played on the higher octave meaning the thumb would come into play. And the rhythm was staccato, meaning I had to tongue the reed to get those punctuated notes. I played this damn song over and over and over again, before I moved on to the second phrase, and played that over and over and over until I’d got that too. After about six months (can it be?) I applied for band membership as a saxophone player. I knew there weren’t any other sax players in Lewes Priory. I’d shortcut myself into the most exclusive club in the school – the band.