My Pop Life #235 : You’ve Got A Friend – James Taylor


You’ve Got A Friend   –   Carole King

close your eyes and think of me


I wrote this diary excerpt when I was hitch-hiking around North America with my friend Simon (referenced in My Pop Life #130).   We celebrated my 19th birthday in Santa Fe with tequila shots, salt & lime til dawn, a reasonably appropriate celebration I think, then hitch-hiked for a couple of days through Navajo Nation and the stunning red rock towers of Monument Valley eventually getting to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where we pitched our tent.  Then a wonderful moment happened.  The VW camper van next door had two lovely American fellas our age.  Darrell & Sam struck up conversation.   They were going to Las Vegas too – but via Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon.  Four wonderful days and nights, backgammon and weed and music as I recall.   Across the desert.  Then we finally got to Las Vegas.  No indication of the drama which was to unfold.  Now read on dot dot dot



Thursday July 2nd 1976 9pm

So here we are at last – in the gambling capital of the world. Everything is open 25 hours a day, and there’s only one thing to do – spend money.  Characteristically, Simon and I decide to avoid doing that, and manage fairly well.  We arrive in Las Vegas mid-afternoon and check into a hotel on the Strip which offers us “casino packages“.  You can find these deals all over the city and for 100 miles outside – free meal tickets, free drinks, free chips and nickels and free souvenirs – like miniature one-armed bandits (I shamelessly acquire one).


After a magnificent cold shower, we brave the heat – 110 in the shade – and armed with hundreds of “good deals” we move out.  Fourteen hours later, we stare blankly at one another from our beds, shattered and amazed.  Now I really know what it’s like to have a night on the town, and watch the orangey-pink dawn at 5.30 in the morning over Sunrise Mountain.  I know what the town is too.  The whole of our stay here is like a dream – Vegas is a very unreal and surreal place, a neon city which becomes very beautiful at night.  The Stardust, Caesar’s Palace, Sahara and The Dunes have the most spectacular 100-foot neon displays on the boulevard advertising their casinos.  And inside, the sight that hits you between the eyes is also out of a dream.  In the large casinos there are literally acres of fruit machines, rows of blackjack tables, roulette, craps and baccarat.  Watching it all go on is an entertainment in itself – the people here are incredible, ranging from very rich, slick tuxedos and evening dresses through middle-aged T-shirts and fat women mindlessly feeding machines, to scruffy jeans and sneakers.  They’re all here to feed Vegas in one form or another with their money.  The fruit machines which surround everything and populate every bar gobble up nickels, dimes, quarters & silver dollars, and occasionally, with a loud noise, spit some back.  It is noticeable that the machines are very noisy when they pay out, and very quiet when they’re emptying your pockets – thus if a casino has enough machines, somebody somewhere will be winning noisily giving the impression that the machines are constantly paying out.


The noise inside a casino is unbelievable – there are six or seven different layers -soft music, bells, chinking coins, rattles, dealer’s calls, very loud weird noises and the constant sound of money.  Money is the only criteria here – the only one. You are either rich, or poor and that is it – you are not good-looking, nice, friendly, nasty or affected – just rich or poor.  We are poor.  But we have a great time.  Although it is an entertainment watching the types of people and the neon and the roulette, you can only watch for two minutes then it sucks you in and you are not in control.  Luckily we have enough free nickels & tokens to play with and we spend very little of our own money.  And in fact, we do very well, walking into a casino, getting a bunch of free tokens, winning, and then walking out two bucks up, resisting the urge to gamble with it.


We get a free stew and endless beers at Mr Sy’s, a hot dog and coffee at Foxy’s, nickels at The Sahara, nothing at Honest John’s, champagne and tokens at El Morocco, and nickels and endless champagne at King 8 which is connected to our hotel and thus gives us Good Deals.  The casinos own smaller casinos, hotels & snack bars and also have deals going with gas stations so that the whole city is a web which catches you wherever you happen to be in it. But I love it and I am definitely coming back here with some money.  [And I did – see My Pop Life #230 deja vu country songs in Vegas].  What better way to lose money – it is basically worthless stuff anyway – and the attitude of play the game easy come easy go is a healthy one – it is how money should be treated.  What a place !


By midnight we are totally blammed on champagne from King 8, where we have been insanely giggling for two hours, imagining going back to the hotel for our traveller’s cheques and gambling everything, being in the limelight at the centre of the game at Caesar’s Palace for half and hour, then thumbing back to DC to stay at the Furth’s while we wait for September 19th, broke.  We imagined the story :

Well, we got as far as Las Vegas…

And believe me, it would be so easy to do. We are tottering along the Strip towards Caesar’s harbouring the sexy rich lady fantasy when we are picked up by two girls in a jeep, unattractive and poor [who need us with our fake IDs to go and buy whisky for them the legal age being 21].  By now however, we are helpless and “nobody knows” – that is to say the conversations are

“Where do you want to go?”       ” don’t know”

“What do you want to do?”        “don’t know”

“What’s your name?”             “don’t know, etc”


We smoke some grass and find ourselves in a kiddies playground on slides and climbing bars.  The stars are stupendous.  We decide to go for a swim, yet upon reaching a pool everyone denies that they agreed.  We head once again for Caesar’s Palace.  It is enormous inside, very plush and attractive and fairly crowded even though it is by now about 2.30am.  We then go to The MGM another enormous casino with fountains and mirrors in the ceilings and tuxedoed croupiers.  Trying to park, we crash into a brand new Porsche and subsequently spend the next hour in the MGM car park arguing with a reactionary bastard from Denver, waiting for the police, and pouring whisky onto each other’s heads. [None of the drivers present were sober it has to be recorded].


We eventually get into The MGM at 4am and walk about zombie-like, staring with blank faces at the glitter and cash around us. We go all the way to the back of the casino and there is a huge shopping mall with very expensive diamonds, minks of orange hue, fox-furs and absurd paintings.  These shops are where you spend your winnings, all owned by the casino, so naturally they get all your money back.

Of course!

After an hour or so of total surreal weirdness (we are here, now, doing this…) we become aware of a sensation within each one of us that we identify as hunger. Breakfast!


We stagger into yet another casino as the dawn spreads over the pinkish sky above Sunrise Mountains, and the neon sign outside The Dunes is switched off until the next sunset.  A 77 c breakfast of eggs, hash browns, bacon and coffee is eaten in total darkness because the electrical operators are going slow – giving the casinos half hour blackouts every now and then : naturally we have arrived in that half hour.  I am at the stage where I could believe anything, and frequently do.  Still mindlessly tipping whisky down our throats we decide again to go for a swim, so everyone changes and meets at the pool in the girl’s hotel.

The night ends badly though as one of the girls falls off the diving board onto the concrete and is badly bruised, and I come as close to death as I have ever been, or will ever be likely to without actually dying.  In 9 feet of water I suddenly lose confidence and my muscles refuse to work.  I sink like a stone, don’t touch the bottom and come up, gasping for breath and immediately sink again, swallowing water.  With horror I realise that I am now drowning and there is nothing I can do about it.  Some distant memory of “when you go down the third time you don’t come up“.  I come up for the second time and Simon recognises that I am in big trouble.  [Later he tells me that he forgot the diving girl’s name and rather than shout “OI” which he felt was rude, he dived in to get me himself].  I see him swimming towards me through mouthfuls of water and gulps of air as my arms and legs are thrashing about – I don’t want to drown, I really don’t.  It seems to take Simon hours to reach me and then I immediately grab him somewhere, anywhere and we both go down, me for the third time, him for the first.  For one horrible moment I am so close to dying that I can feel it, a cold presence, a ghastly sensation.  I see angels I see a coffin flying back to England on a plane,  a school assembly where my name is read out, a funeral But this is not my time and we both come up, and somehow Simon takes me to the edge.  I cling gratefully to the side, gasping painfully and fast, but alive.  We are both in a bad state of shock, and the girls drive us back to our room, once we have partially recovered.  We eventually sleep at 11am, through til 7 in the evening when we get up, go and eat, and return.  It is now 10pm in the evening – we plan on leaving very early tomorrow to avoid the ridiculously hot weather, thumbing to Los Angeles.

The last 30 hours are a blur, a dream, an unreality lit by neon and flashing lights, a whirl of chinking coins, rolling dice, aces, jacks and queens, oranges and plums, tuxedos diamonds champagne and a brush with death.


Simon saved my life I have no doubt about that.  Rather odd that I didn’t write that phrase into the diary at the time.  Shock.  Even two days later, writing about the day – I reckon this was written once we’d arrived in Los Angeles at Nick Carr’s parent’s place in Monterey Park.  The part I missed is the part I almost always missed in the diary of that road trip – the sexual exploits.  Once we’d got back to the hotel it was decided that Simon and Diving Girl would take the room, and Ralph and short-haired girl would wait in the Jeep. I think we kissed for a bit but that was it, we didn’t really fancy each other.  After two hours I got to crash out when Diving Girl came out and the girls drove off waving.   We never saw them again. 


I’m writing this on Monday 20th April 2020 in Brooklyn, the epicentre of the coronavirus covid 19 pandemic with death all around us, hundreds of people every day pass over, old people, young people, nurses, cooks, cleaners, bus drivers, policemen and women, grandparents, asthmatics, care-home workers, immigrants, musicians, retired insurance brokers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, physios. 


Jenny my wife is asthmatic and doesn’t go out at all.  She isn’t taking any risks.  I do the shopping and the bins, the prescriptions, the bread, the cheese the oranges.  We have both become obsessed with oranges.  I have disposable gloves and a mask which purports to be N95 but actually isn’t I don’t think.  I can smell weed when I cycle past the youth.  We line up outside Trader Joe six feet apart and go into a quiet supermarket walking gently around sourcing our priority produce, then pack out bags ourselves and walk the Citibike back home with the absurdly heavy shopping, remove shoes before entering, unpeel vinyl gloves into the trash, wash hands thoroughly, take bleach wipes and disinfect every single item as it comes out of the shopping bag, disinfect the handles, the taps, the phone, the glasses, the mask, my eyeballs.

We’ve been back to Las Vegas numerous times since then, but I never seriously took up gambling as a past-time.  See My Pop Life #230.  I still live a charmed life, and have at least one other serious near-death experience to relate.  South Africa 2010.  I’ll do it next. 


The LP Tapestry by songwriting genius Carole King (Natural Woman, It Might As Well Rain Until September, The Locomotion, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Up On The Roof, Will You Love Me Tomorrow) is one of the greatest ever made, and this – You’ve Got A Friend – is the stand-out song for me.  Many have covered it – notably Donny Hathaway & James Taylor, and I have chosen Mr Taylor’s sweet cover since that was the song Simon and I would have listened to in 1974-5.   It helps I guess that when I met Jenny and we started dating, one of the things that made me fall in love with her was that she could sign the lyrics to this song, and still can.  But today this song is for Simon, my closest friend, my dearest companion, my life-saver, my brother.

My Pop Life #234 : I Remember You – Frank Ifield


I Remember You   –   Frank Ifield

When my life is through
And the angels ask me to recall
The thrill of it all, then I will tell them
I remember you, ooh


I was born in June 1957 in Cambridge.   I don’t have the date of my Christening but I am told by Dad that it was in Downing College Chapel.  There is a photograph of the family outside, with most of his family, and Mum’s sister Valerie.  The older lady next to mum is their landlady in Cambridge who was very happy when told that Mum was pregnant “It’s been a long time since there were children in this house”. 


Grandad & Granma Brown holding Helen’s hand, Mum tucked behind, behind her Pam and Pauline. Tall guy is Reg, married to Pam, then Horace with the moustache my other Grandad. The lady next to Mum is their landlady, and in front of her is dear auntie Jessie, then it’s Dad holding me and Mum’s sister Valerie next to him!

Dad had four sisters, Pauline, Pam Jessie and Mollie, all older than him.  Mollie wasn’t there.  Mum had one sister, Valerie, who Dad had walked out with before Mum.  Valerie turned out to be gay many years later, after a marriage to Uncle Keith (see My Pop Life #49).  It’s quite remarkable to see that many people travelled from Portsmouth to Cambridge.  Peter, Pauline’s husband was taking the photo.  Mum’s mum, nan, Ruby wasn’t there. No idea why.

I turned one year old in 1958 and dad graduated in English from Downing College and we all moved back to Portsmouth.  My first memory of childhood was related earlier in My Pop Life #12Rubber Ball, at my dad’s parents in Manner’s Road,  Fratton.  This current memory comes from at least a year later when I was around five years old.   We lived in a terraced house in Hyde Park Road, Southsea – the front door stepped right out onto the street – if you turned right it went up to Commerical Road, if you turned left which Paul and I always did it went to the bomb debris.  There was a small garden at the back.


These are Dad’s sisters Pauline and Jessie and their families. Mum & Dad are standing at the back.  Me front central (it’s my blog!) Paul is looking down in front of Dad’s parents. Somewhere in Portsmouth I imagine.

I remember very little about this period of my life.  Paul would have been born just after I turned two years old.  I cannot but wonder where he was during this story.  Perhaps he was asleep upstairs in a cot ?  He would have been three.  Later I recall us playing down the street in the bomb debris site left over from World War 2 – yes even in 1962 there were these bombed out houses, piles of brick and rubble and we loved messing about there, pretending to be soldiers or explorers.  Of course they were dangerous, but it was a different time. Kids just played outside unattended for hours.


Wendy was a cousin who lived with Nan. She’s holding Paul. We’re all sitting on Dad in the back garden.

The bombing of Portsmouth on the 10th January 1941 is recalled in this People’s History of the Second World War.  My Mum’s dad Horace was a volunteer auxiliary policeman in Pompey during this time and was often scouting on the roof of the Guildhall for unexploded bombs.  Portsmouth was a major target for the Germans because it was and still is the headquarters of the British Navy.

One day there was a very heavy prolonged bout of rain and water started to come into our house, via the ceiling.  Lots of water.  Pots and pans were placed under the drips which became steady streams of water.  It was incredibly dramatic.  Eventually there was so much water coming out of the ceilings of the house that Mum and I went into the garden, where it was still raining, but less wet than inside!   Maybe it was a burst pipe?!?

Gill Milk Bottle - 4912

I started going to the local school aged 5.  Cottage Grove Juniors.  We had a gill of milk every day which is an ancient measurement equal to a quarter of a pint.


I’m assuming that I’m in school uniform here, carrying Paul. Is that evidence of the flood on the wall?

We drew. We played. We sang.  We learned things.  Then one day there was a medical alert.  Some children in the class had worms. In the early sixties one of the panic illnesses for children was worms.   They’re a gastrointestinal parasite which comes in various forms, tapeworms, hookworms, others.  My mum collected me from school one day and they explained, or gave her a note.

When we got home Mum explained to me that when I went to the toilet, I wasn’t to flush, because she wanted to check to see if I had the parasite.  I have absolutely no idea how she could tell but at the age of five you just agree.  Later I went upstairs to the bathroom, did a decent enough poo and pulled the chain automatically without thinking.  When I came onto the landing Mum was waiting there, livid.  “Why did you pull the chain?”  she demanded.  “Sorry mum I forgot” I cried, expecting a clonk.  CLONK.  I got a fourpenny one around the side of my head which toppled me over and straight down the stairs to the first landing.  I cannot remember if it hurt.  Mum was absolutely horrified.  She came and gathered me up and we went to the kitchen where some form of treat was administered.  She felt guilty and scared.  Checked me for cuts bruises and breaks.  Nothing.  Then she said “Let’s go and see Watch With Mother shall we?”  This was strange because now I was at school I always missed the programme, which went out at 1.30pm every afternoon : Andy Pandy, Bill & Ben and Rag, Tag & Bobtail.  I’d watched it all through nursery.  It felt like another treat.


The television was in the front room and we walked down the corridor and I sat on the settee.  Mum put the television on.  It took a while to warm up.  Then a white dot and there, in black and white, was Andy Pandy.  You could see the strings on the puppet but it didn’t matter.  Andy looked like a girl and had a strange crooked smile.  I watched it, with mother.


Andy Pandy and Teddy

I can clearly recall the feeling of being treated suddenly with kid gloves.  She was attentive and careful, and I realised that she hadn’t intended to knock me down the stairs.  She was hugging me.  I was grateful.  I didn’t really know what had happened but it felt significant.


Bill and Ben and little weed

We watched Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men after that.  “flobalob” they said to each other, “flobalob“, accompanied as ever by Little Weed.  I think she was a dandelion, and an early example of sexism for a five year old boy.  There were plenty of others.

The street we lived on – Hyde Park Road – doesn’t exist anymore.  It, and the bomb debris sites further to the south were all demolished and blocks of flats built there.  I will ask my Dad if he can remember the street name and area.  It was Southsea I think.

*Correct – Dad remembered the street name.


The song “I Remember You” by Frank Ifield was one of Mum’s favourites that year.   He was an Australian who moved back to the UK from Sydney and this was the second biggest seller in the UK that year, 1962.  Written by the great lyricist Johnny Mercer (and about Judy Garland apparently) with Victor Scherzinger’s music it has a country flavour and a continually interesting melody, which features hints of Ifield’s yodel, all the rage at the time.  Love Me Do by The Beatles was released in 1962 and got to number 17 in the charts.  When Frank’s tour got to Liverpool Brian Epstein approached him to put the band on as support and thus it was that The Beatles’ first few gigs outside of Liverpool were supporting Frank Ifield in Peterborough & other places.  There is a bootleg of them singing this song out there.

Hands up who remembers The WoodentopsSpotty Dog ??


Goodbye.   Say goodbye children.



My Pop Life #233 : Big Science – Laurie Anderson


Big Science   –   Laurie Anderson

Ooo coo ooo coo coo it’s cold outside
Ooo coo ooo coo coo. Don’t forget your mittens

Hey pal! How do I get to town from here?
And he said:
Well just take a right where they’re going to build that new shopping mall
Go straight past where they’re going to put in the freeway
Take a left at what’s going to be the new sports center
And keep going until you hit the place where
They’re thinking of building that drive-in bank

You can’t miss it. And I said: This must be the place


March 24th 2020.  Brooklyn, New York.  Covid-19 shutdown.  I receive an email from Town Hall, a public treasure, a concert hall in midtown with a storied history of suffragettes and civil rights where we’ve seen Ry Cooder, Utopia, Taylor Mac and others and where I was due to see The Chieftains last week before we all got sent to our rooms.   Lovely venue.

The email announced – like so many these days – that we could now watch STUFF online.  There aren’t enough hours in the day believe me, but this one caught myne eyne.  It was a premiere of a Laurie Anderson show there from 2018 called ‘Things I Lost In The Flood‘.  I fancied it and checked with Jen – so did she.   Then as 7pm started to roll around her two sisters Mandy and Lucy Face-Timed and since they are each other’s sanity and joy I donned the headphones and watched alone, at a social distance 😉


Golden cities. Golden towns
And long cars, in long lines and great big signs
And they all say: Hallelujah. Yodelayheehoo
Every man for himself. Ooo coo coo
Golden cities. Golden towns. Thanks for the ride


It was astounding of course.  She always is.  She told us a true story of the Hurricane Sandy event in New York 2012 when Laurie’s basement in downtown Manhattan was flooded by seawater and when she went to examine the damage a few days later as the water subsided, pretty much everything down there – projectors, slides, film, photographs, paintings, screens, books, instruments, tapes, technology of various kinds, ways of producing electronic noise including changing the sound of the human voice, files, sculptures, notes, ideas, operas, plays, computers and printers – were destroyed.  Salt water will do that.  After a couple of days she realised that having a list of everything that was there – which she had in another location – was actually better than having the things in the basement.  So she read the list and made a show.  It covered her entire career pretty much, from O Superman which she discussed as being permanently prescient

This is the hand, the hand that takes
Here come the planes
They’re American planes. Made in America
Smoking or non-smoking?

through to Habeus Corpus, a project at The Armoury in 2016 in collaboration with British human rights charity Reprieve.  I’m a member and supporter of Reprieve and meet occasionally with the founder Clive Stafford-Smith when he comes through New York on his way to Guantanamo to meet clients.  He and Reprieve have been responsible for the release of more than 80 Gitmo detainees to date, one of which was Mohammed el Gharani who featured in Habeus Corpus. As he sat in his house in Africa a camera recorded him and the image was beamed back to The Armoury where it was projected onto a huge, Lincoln Memorial-sized statue.  Laurie described how people who visited the exhibit would realise that there was a camera in the ceiling looking down at the statue so that Mohammed would be able to tell if he should move a hand slightly and so on.  They would stand in the light at the feet of the statue and look up at where they felt he could see them and they all mouthed the same thing

I’m sorry

Laurie told us it was the most moving moment of her artistic life so far.  She also talked a little about her husband Lou Reed (who died in October 2013 while Jenny was doing Julius Caesar at St Anne’s Warehouse in Dumbo) and how he would name her male characters.


Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson in New York 2008

For example,  ‘Fenway Bergamot‘, one of Laurie’s signature male alter-ego creations who told us in a deep bass voice that a woman’s name is her first name, because she is liable to lose her second name and get it lopped off if she gets married.  Or divorced.  And your mother’s maiden name is so forgotten and hidden that it becomes a password to all of your information.

Is this Fenway Bergamot ?

Then Laurie told of how she worked in Greece on the opening ceremony of the Olympics there trying to find meaning from the ceiling and pieces of the Parthenon.  How she did a performance of Mister Heartbreak in Tokyo and learned phonetically her entire performance in Japanese, then discovered after the first show that the guy she had learned it from had a stutter.

All of this is presented deadpan, with electronic interludes and accompaniment.  I always find it mesmerising, funny, and intriguing.

The concert is here on YouTube in the Town Hall Archive.  Even long-time fans like me can’t keep up with her output so impossibly fecund is she, so there’s always more to discover. It is two hours long, no interval, but she explains why, and there is a pause button.

Oh and here is Laurie talking about her relationship with Lou Reed published in Rolling Stone just after he died: 



My first exposure to Laurie Anderson was the alarming single O Superman which was championed by DJ John Peel (see My Pop Life #205) and astoundingly reached number 2 in the UK Charts in 1981.  Inspired by the Iran hostage events in 1979-80, the over-arching theme of the piece and much of her work is violence.  American violence.

‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice
And when justice is gone, there’s always force
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!


I bought Laurie Anderson’s LP Big Science in 1982 and played it a great deal.  That year I was still with Moving Parts Theatre Company about whom I wrote in My Pop Life #18 but who certainly deserve another chapter or two in this blog.  I’d been working with them since autumn of 1981 and already done two tours.  The company was formed by Ruth McKenzie & Rachel Feldberg as a radical idealistic vehicle to reach the young.  The summer of ’81 remember there had been riots in Brixton, Liverpool, Southall, Birmingham.  Margaret Thatcher milk-snatcher was waging war on the workers and after her actual war in Las Malvinas won her a second term she would take on the Miner’s Union (see My Pop Life #185).  It was a violent time.   A time for taking sides.


I shaved my head and bought braces for the racism show. Of course I did.  But see the tell-tale Roxy Music tee


You know, I think we should put some mountains here
Otherwise, what are the characters going to fall off of?
And what about stairs? Yodellayheehoo. Ooo coo coo ooo



Saffron Myers and Anita Lewton summer 82

That summertime I was on a tour of the drop-in centres and youth clubs of the UK (once the World Cup in Spain had finished he emphasised in italics) with a musical play about racism in our country called The Empire Strikes Back co-written by myself and Anita Lewton, a broad-brush-stroke punchy slapstick history of the United Kingdom in the style of 7:84 Theatre Company or one of those early 80s angry gangs.  We drove to Leicester one day in our white Transit van, did the show in a school in the morning, had lunch then did it again at a drop-in centre in the afternoon.  From being a white socialist-feminist theatre company run by women, we had become a multi-racial socialist-feminist theatre company run by women by drafting in two black actors.  Fodder.  Tokenism.  Genuine attempt to do the right thing.  We all had a vote because it was, like Joint Stock a few years later, a genuine Collective, but like all collective activity some voices carry more authority than others.


In Yorkshire on tour, with Courtney the drumming accountant

Courtney wasn’t even an actor.  He could do it all right.  No, he was an accountant who could play the drums who’d answered the ad.  Big Chas’N’ Dave fan.  He had a really sweet temperament and he needed one.  We got a pretty hot reception in some towns, and our reaction was always the same :

let’s sit down and talk…


Ken, Saffron, Rachel, me in rehearsal 1982

Ken was a rasta african Londoner, and was also phlegmatic about other people’s ignorance.  But how did these fellas feel inside?  I can guess.  Scarred.  My wife Jenny toured a few years later with Red Ladder (then run by Rachel Feldberg!) and Theatre Centre and got chased out of clubs in Newcastle and other areas because of the multi-racial nature of their company.  It goes deep.  And there’s no excuse for racism.  And I do not forgive it.  It is a choice in the end.

So there was a show, followed by a discussion -“Thank you very much, now, don’t move, because, er, we’d like to come and talk to you about what you’ve just seen and what you feel about it so if you’d just get yourselves into six small groups and we’ll go one to a group“….and this way the social workers and teachers LOVED US and we got booked up and down the country, and we all got our Equity Cards.  Earned our stripes.  So anyway, that evening we all (?) went to see an experience (a play) by the local youth.  Who were we?  Saffron, Ken,  Courtney, me and Rachel probably.  And Ruth?  We had to get on a mini bus in the centre of town and were driven to a dark street where we were hustled by masked security past barbed wire down into a basement.  A small ‘theatre’ with rows of seats – we were given a wrapped sweet as we entered and found on unwrapping it that it was raw meat.  Then ‘Born, Never Asked’ (track 5 on Big Science) pumped out of the speakers

It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds
And they had all arrived at the same building
At more or less the same time
And they were all free. And they were all
Asking themselves the same question:
What.     Is Behind.     That Curtain?


Cue electronica

and the show began.  I think it was The People Show number 78.  Pretty mad, pretty great.  The folks who’d done it were memorialised in my diary so impressed was I with this event.  Brendan, Liam and Robert “etc”.


The name Mike Figgis at the top there, who went on to be a top film director after working with The People Show, the diary written in my childish 25-year old hand

I was particularly obsessed with Laurie Anderson at this time and had a chance to exercise that obsession when she came to London later in 1982 (or was it 1983?) and performed live at Hammersmith Odeon – a show called United States I-IV which was simply astounding and remains one of the top live musical live experiences of my life.  The original multi-media experience, it includes all of Big Science in slightly different forms.


Laurie showcased her vocal effects box on O Superman and other songs like From The Air and Let X = X.   Also unforgettably a she played a glowing violin with a bow made of tape on which was recorded a phrase.  She could play it fast or slow, pitch high or low.  It was both funny and astoundingly good at the same time.  Was that Blue Lagoon?  Can’t remember.  I must have gone with dear Mumtaz.  Laurie is a genius raconteur – part of her multi-media brilliance – and she also told a story in her matter-of-fact-yet-faintly-amused voice about how Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States.  At the time the English colonial army were headquartered in Philadelphia, but in the British Empire at that time, soldier’s pay was according to lines of Latitude.  The officers realised that if they moved their base camp 125 miles south into the marshes of the Potomac River, their wages would increase.


Here’s a man who lives a life of danger
Everywhere he goes, he stays – a stranger
Howdy stranger, mind if I smoke? And he said:
Every man, every man for himself
Every man, every man for himself
All in favour say aye

Big Science. Hallelujah. Big Science. Yodelayheehoo

As a result of this mind-bending, hilarious show I stayed faithful to Laurie across the years, but never managed to catch another live show.   At some point in the 80s I made an ansaphone message on a cassette (oh those cassettes were so cool!) which would click on with Laurie’s pre-computerised semi-automatic delivery :

Hi. I’m not home right now
But if you want to leave a message
Just start talking at the sound of the tone 

which cut into Fats Domino singing Ain’t That A Shame.  Yes, I bothered to do that.

The follow-up LP to Big Science was called Mister Heartbreak and had songs like Sharkey’s Day and Blue Lagoon (which I A-listed for Songs Which Quote Shakespeare on the Song Bar a few weeks ago), then United States I-IV was released unbeknown to me, then Home Of The Brave which I did know about and bought.  Homeland with the Kronos Quartet is the most recent work that I’m aware of. Never disappointing.


I was invited, via Reprieve, to see Habeus Corpus at the Armoury in 2016.  Dagnabbit turns out I was working in Virginia on ‘Turn’ that day.  So Jenny took our nephew Thomas the singer and they met Laurie afterwards.  Apparently she is really lovely.   I knew she was.  She inspired Tom to write a song.  Before I forget, here is a link to Reprieve’s website on their work getting folk out of Guantanamo.  Most of them have been there over 18 years without charge, taxi drivers, kitchen workers, all sold to the US Govt by agents of darkness.  None of them terrorists.

I keep going back to this Big Science LP though.  It was played up the wazoo in 1982 and beyond, especially the title track.  Yodelayheehoo.  But live Laurie is the thing.  If you ever get the chance, buy the ticket.  And hey.  Look after yourselves out there.

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms
In your arms
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms
In your electronic arms