My Pop Life #168 : Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees

Pleasant Valley Sunday   –   The Monkees

The local rock group down the street is trying hard to play their song…. 

to serenade the weekend squire who’s just come out to mow his lawn

We are into the territory of pure joy here.  Memories of watching The Monkees TV show which was on ITV (?) between 1966 and 1968 – clearly a manufactured band, created to match or at least run in the slipstream of The Beatles, who were dominating culture all over the world at this point.

I was nine years old when I heard Theme To (Hey Hey We’re) The Monkees, Last Train To Clarksville and Daydream Believer.  We loved the show.  Speeded up film, wacky sight gags, slapstick, pulling faces, always a song, four charming, mop-topped cheeky chappies.  Strangely familiar but American.  Davy Jones was the charming Macca-esque Manc Brit, Peter Tork the lugubrious butt-of-jokes Ringo, Mike Nesmith the quiet musical one while Mickey Dolenz was the unpredictable sarcastic Lennon figure.  He was my favourite, (you had to have a favourite!) he played the drums and he sings Pleasant Valley Sunday (1967), written by the great Gerry Goffin and Carole King (see My Pop Life #135 ) a sweet social commentary-type pop tune that the late 60s had coming out of its ears.  Guitar intro of wonder, lead vocal, lyrics, melody, harmonies, wispy weird middle eight, it’s the perfect pop single.

Peter Tork with Bob Rafelson 1968

The Monkees were formed as a TV show (!) by Producer/Director Bob Rafelson in LA who pitched the idea with his partner Bert Schneider to NBC.  Bob later went on to direct the Monkees in the psychedelic oddity Head (1968), then went on to make Five Easy Pieces (1971) starring Jack Nicholson and other movies such as Mountains Of The Moon which in a strange twist of fate I was employed to help him cast in June 1988, working alongside casting director Celestia Fox.  They saw two actors per day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, for the two lead parts, Burton & Speke, and I would work with the actor for three hours at a time under Bob’s direction.   Many of my mates came in: Adrian Dunbar, Bruce Payne, Gabriel Byrne, then others : Tom Conti (he was really good), Patrick Bergin (he got Burton) and Iain Glen (he got Speke).  When Bob asked me what part I should play I said Speke but they disagreed and offered me a smaller one – so being a twat I turned it down and old friend Chris Fulford got a trip to Kenya instead;  just as well, I’d have probably caught AIDS.  In those days I thought if I did too many supporting parts it would lessen my cracks at playing a lead.  It did, eventually.  So I didn’t work with him on a movie, which was a shame, but of course, I did too.

Bob Rafelson

{I later fell out with Bruce, did two movies with Gabriel (I, Anna & Diamond Skulls), became neighbours in Brighton with Patrick and in 2009 I went to Galway to work with Iain and old buddy Stuart Orme.}

Anyway,  The Monkees couldn’t put a foot wrong for this ten-year old boy, yet to worry about small parts and auditions (although that was the year of the Selmeston primary school nativity play in which I played cuckold Joseph), yet to discover that they weren’t in fact cool, because they were manufactured and didn’t write their own songs, yet to discover that despite all that they were still brilliant.   The TV show was great, the songs, often written by Boyce/Hart were classic pop music.   When I moved to Brighton in the late 90s and found Stephen Wrigley, Dave Barnard & Adrian Marshall playing live in my local pub The Dragon I used to look forward to going down there on a Monday night when Caribbean food was served.   They would open up the mic in the second set, and had a large book of lyrics on the pub table for hopefuls to peruse.  My kind of heaven !  One night we sang Pleasant Valley Sunday to assorted random locals.  It climaxes with a tremendous verse where the lyrics are all ba-ba-baa ba-baa bababa in three-part harmony. We were about as slightly drunk as we should be and ended up over the road in the jazz club, drinking further until we’d formed a Beach Boys tribute band in our heads.  Which became The Brighton Beach Boys.

*

In 1976 aged 19, Simon Korner and I were hitch-hiking our way across the USA and we’d reached Los Angeles (see My Pop Life #130 and My Pop Life #30).  On July 4th it was Independence Day – in fact it was the Bi-Centennial of the United States’ independence from Great Britain – and they were celebrating 200 years of Freedom from the monarchy and the old colonial power.  We chose to visit Disneyland down in Orange County.   What a remarkable place.  Totally surreal, especially on this particular day, and being a little stoned as we were.  Not that we needed to be.  Walking in was like inhaling non-reality.  Like a whole town with different neighbourhoods – Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Bear Country, Snow White’s house, Cinderella’s palace, cascading waterfalls, Mississippi river steamers, large blue grinning cats playing the guitar, jazz, R’n’B and disco bands playing at every corner and a huge Uncle Sam float with the Statue of Liberty prancing weirdly beneath an eagle (and a giant US flag) as crowds lining the streets stand and cheer.  America On Parade.

Disneyland: ‘America On Parade’, July 4th 1976

We choose to take another ride – on The Matterhorn, an enormous rollercoaster, and as we round another hairpin bend hear the strains of “I’m a Believer”  floating through the brightly-colored air.   We climb off the ride and walk over to a nearby stage to find, rather astonishingly, The Monkees playing live – at that point comprising Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz  from the original band playing with their songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

I guess legal reasons stopped them using the word Monkees

I mentioned this moment to Micky Dolenz when I met him in Liverpool a few weeks ago.  Funny old thing life.  The Monkees issued a new album in 2016 which got amazingly good reviews, but he was here for the same reason as me.  The Brighton Beach Boys had been invited to play “Pet Sounds”at Beatlesweek, which is a week-long celebration held every summer in that fair city.  We drove up from Brighton, checked in and scouted the locations – The Royal Court Theatre for the first set, and The Cavern for the 2nd set.  The atmosphere was bank holiday, sunny, the streets were heaving, music pouring out of every venue, everyone was drunk.  Reminded me of New Orleans – the crossroads historic coastal city drenched in music.

the great 1st album

We walked around the corner from The Cavern and went into The Hard Day’s Night Hotel which annoyed some of the entourage (we don’t belong in here).  But we had a drink and when Micky Dolenz turned up I chatted to him at the bar even though he appeared to be more interested in two youngish ladies to his right.  He remembered Disneyland.  They giggled.  “I think you’re in there” I remarked.  He smiled. Sensing my moment I pounced.  “Mind if the band have a picture with you?”

Later that afternoon he drove past us on Duke Street in a taxi with the same two girls and a glazed grin on his face.   He was on the same bill as us the following day, although we were on at 2pm and he was in the evening.  Legend.

So this manufactured pop has woven a golden thread running through my life from the moment it came out right up the present day.    I didn’t know what half the words were in 1967.  “Another pleasant valley Sunday, here in saddasimba land”.  But the thrill of the intro, the voices and the harmonies still work their same magic almost fifty years later, here in status symbol land.

My Pop Life #154 : Within You Without You – The Beatles

Within You Without You   –   The Beatles

try to realise it’s all within yourself no one else can make you change 

and to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you

*

when you see beyond yourself then you will find peace of mind is waiting there

and the time will come when you see we’re all one + life flows on within you and without you

‘laughter’

Track 1, side 2 of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  A song written by George Harrison inspired by his love of Ravi Shankar‘s records and his newly-found spiritual awakening to Indian philosophy and religion.   After the pop glories of Lovely Rita and Getting Better and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds have become over-familiar, Within You Without You retains its mystical glowing power after many repeated listens and starts to become the warm central heartbeat of the LP.  Often claimed to be the greatest LP of all time, (though more usually placed way down a list of great Beatles albums), Sgt Pepper was a cultural phenomenon that even I was aware of at the age of 9 on June 1st 1967 when it was released.   It was played on Radio Luxembourg all day, and John Peel played it on his eclectic late night show The Perfumed Garden on Radio London without interruption.  Artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa all fell under its strange English spell, and despite years of claim and counter-claim –  ‘holy grail‘ versus ‘not very good really‘ criticism, it still towers over most of pop’s major records as a Legendary Thing, combining the first concept LP (despite the concept not holding up for more than three songs), the pop-art sleeve by Peter Blake, and the music itself, a rather eccentric combination of psychedelic rock, end-of-the-pier Edwardian recital, classical Indian music, and pure pop.  The first two songs recorded for the LP were Penny Lane (see My Pop Life #36) and Strawberry Fields Forever, but they were released as an extraordinary double-A sided single in April by a zealous EMI.  It’s a testament to the depth of the Beatles’ songwriting that this commercial decision didn’t sink the subsequent LP.

George was always third in the Beatles.  John, Paul…..and George.  And Ringo.  It was simple – he was youngest.  Ringo was last because he was last in, and because he was the drummer.  And our family has a similar shape.   Ralph, Paul…..and Andrew.  And Becky.   George traditionally got one song per album if he was lucky, but by the end of the 1960s his songwriting was so strong that Abbey Road had to include Here Comes The Sun AND Something, the finest song on the LP.

Roger McGuinn & David Crosby in the early days of The Byrds

It was The Byrds‘ guitarist and legendary stoner David Crosby who first showed George a sitar in California in 1965 at an LSD-drenched party in the hills, although Roger McGuinn later insisted that he had shown George the instrument.  I can’t imagine any of them actually remember the details, but George then played one on Norwegian Wood in October of that year.  The following April Harrison went full Indian on Love You To, which is on the LP Revolver.  The accompanying musicians were uncredited but came from the Asian Music Circle,  an organisation founded in Finchley in 1946 by Ayana Angadi and his wife Patrica Fell-Clarke, and where Harrison had been taking sitar lessons.

Ravi Shankar was guest of honour at the Finchley house in June 1966 when he first met George, who thereupon humbly asked him if he could become his pupil.  Ravi accepted.  They became firm friends and the most rewarding fruit of their work is Within You Without You, also recorded with uncredited members of the Asian Music Circle on the Indian instruments tamboura, swarmandel, dilruba and tabla.

Unknown musician, George Harrison & Ravi Shankar in 1967

With a string section arranged by producer George Martin and George Harrison, none of the other Beatles are on the track.  George plays the sitar, much improved from his first attempt.  The effect is mesmerising, musically adventurous and unembarrassingly spiritual.    He was determined to master the instrument, but after a conversation with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (!) Harrison realised that he had started his lessons fifteen years too late, and that he would never achieve true mastery.   He put the sitar down, and went back to electric guitar, playing some astonishing pieces after the Beatles’ split, including How Do You Sleep? on the Imagine LP, and some beautiful slide guitar on My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) among others.

George Harrison & Ravi Shankar

When the Brighton Beach Boys decided to tackle Sgt. Pepper, we sat around and threw our names into the hat for lead vocals.  Within You Without You was my first choice.  Clearly the angelic and profoundly moving voice of Glen Richardson would sing most of the McCartney vocals – She’s Leaving Home, Fixing A Hole, When I’m 64 etc.  Tom and Stephen tussled over Paul’s opening screamer.  That left John,  George & Ringo among the remaining five singers.  I got Ringo’s A Little Help From My Friends and the John part of A Day In The Life and this amazing song.  Rehearsing it was odd, because we couldn’t really play it without the strings.  So I sang it at home on my own to the record and tried to hold my nerve.

Very rough Sgt Pepper live event in The Robin Hood pub, 2005.  From the top : Stephen Wrigley, me, Adrian Marshall, Tom Arnold

In May 2005 we had a very rough run-through of Pet Sounds v Sgt Pepper in the Robin Hood pub in Brighton one Sunday afternoon in front of a few customers and friends.  Landlord Neil Hayward had come up with the idea so it was his fault.  We’d already done Pet Sounds at Komedia on May 7th – the first time.  I simply cannot remember how we did WYWY, perhaps we didn’t, or perhaps we had an electric tamboura by then (plug-in, switch on, choose key = instant spangly drone and lots of “mine’s a chicken korma” jokes) and Charlotte played the string part solo.  Or perhaps not.

Soundcheck for Within You Without You in the church.  Steve is playing harmonium (on the vibraphone!)

But history (and Tom Arnold) does record that the first time we played this gig was at the Brighton Festival, May 21st 2006.  We had a tabla player just for this one song which we later considered to be a luxury, and since then Tom Arnold has played a variety of tabla and djembe and other percussion in the song.  Rory Cameron played the sitar part on a Danelectro sparkling blue guitar belonging to Stephen Wrigley.  Later he would learn the part on an actual sitar which of course is visually rather marvellous.  Rory has now left the band.  Glen found a swarmandel sound on his synthesiser – like a zither or metallic harp.   And Steve also scored the string quartet.  For this gig we added a string quartet and an extra flute and sax, and percussion, bringing the total to 16 players, and called the ensemble The Psychedelic Love Orchestra.  Stringers being expensive people who insist (with complete justification) on being paid for rehearsal, I think we may have had just the one rehearsal with them.  (We didn’t have any rehearsals with the stringers this year!)  We then rehearsed during the sound-check, always a nerve-wracking experience.  No pressure.  It kept breaking down in the call-and-answer section between the first violin and the sitar, and the timing was controversial too – was it in 2/5 ??  For my part I had simply listened to the track ENDLESSLY and knew every twitch and sigh, so when I heard my cue, in I droned with the opening line:

 “We were talking . . . about the space between us all…”

St George’s Church, Kemp Town with full Psychedelic Love Orchestra

That night the space between us all was a packed Georgian church – St George’s  in Kemp Town, Brighton.  We were set up on the altar thanks to a groovy priest who no longer runs the place – as a result the altar is now out of bounds, and we can’t fit into the space left.  So those six or seven church gigs were unique and special, in a beautiful wooden structure with wonderful acoustics and an intimate setting.  We lit  incense as the tamboura warmed up, Stephen played the harmonium I think, and it was there, singing live in front of people that I discovered the soul of the piece, how heartfelt and warm it was, how true.  How it was a miracle that somehow we got to the end without breaking down as we had in almost every single run-through.  How I made the pranam prayer Hindu shape with my hands and bowed into the applause, and how we then slid effortlessly (apparently) into the soft shoe shuffle of When I’m 64, such is the clever sequencing of the LP.   How proud I was that we had, collectively, scaled an Everest of a song in English pop culture, inspired by another tradition many miles away.  How I could never count the bars, but always had to rely on instinct, which is much scarier.  We’ve done the show ten times now, and it is always for me the scariest section of the show, and the part I look forward to the most.  A bit like a ghost train.

Practise makes fantactiss

When we moved to New York City in 2014, my great sacrifice was seeing the godchildren growing up – Delilah Rose, who is eight years old, and Skye who is almost two. Uncle Ralph flies back as often as he can to see these precious little people.  The other sacrifice was the band.  It was touch-and-go for a few years whether it would continue at all – not just my absence, but Rory moved to Bury St Edmunds, Charlotte had a baby boy Cosmo, and Tom joined the endless tour of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.   A chance visit in December 2015 found me in Brighton on the same night as a gig at The Brunswick with the rock’n’roll version of the Brighton Beach Boys complete with legend Chris Spedding on the guitar.  I played on that gig (from memory, almost forgetting a key chord in Good Vibrations) and then said that if they booked the Pet Sounds/Pepper gig, I would fly back for it from Brooklyn.

May 28th 2016, Pet Sounds v Sgt Pepper live

Thus it was that almost exactly three years to the day since we last tackled these two pop landmarks The Brighton Beach Boys were reunited at The Haunt, in Pool Valley Brighton on Saturday May 28th 2016.  No Spedding this time, but a lovely guitarist and singer called Jono Harrison.  The band had had two rehearsals, but the woodwinds and strings hadn’t been there.  The same four key players : Nicky and Brian on violins, Sarah on cello and Rob on viola joined us for the soundcheck on Saturday afternoon and we had a quick run-through of Within You Without You.  As usual it was rubbish, well, not rubbish, but covered in errors and hesitations and poor timings, mainly from me.  As usual when we performed it live it was fine.  Some enthusiastic audience members even insisted that it was great.

Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away on 11 December 2012.  George Harrison left us on 29 November 2001.  They remained great friends.

Now and again I tiptoe towards the wisdom embraced by the song – seeing both within myself to change the sadness, and seeing beyond myself to find – sometimes – that peace of mind is waiting there.  I hope I can grow old gracefully.  At the moment the tempest shows no signs of abating.  But life.   Life flows on within you, and without you.

 

My Pop Life #111 : Heroes & Villains : The Beach Boys

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Heroes & Villains   –   The Beach Boys

I’ve been in this town so long that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost & gone & unknown for a long long time…

*

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This extraordinary creation was one of the songs on The Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats, one of the handful of LPs in our council house in Sussex in the mid 70s.  The album pulled together all the big singles, and had a couple of interesting choices including this song, which we also had on 45rpm Capitol Records black label 7-inch from 1967 when it was released.  My mum must have bought it – I was 10 years old in ’67.

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Back in those days, The Beach Boys were a chart-pop act for me, even when Simon and I hitch-hiked around the USA in the summer of 1976 the great discovery was their greatest hits LP Endless Summer which contained songs I hadn’t heard before like Be True To Your School and the exquisite jewel Girls On The Beach.   I had no interest or awareness in their LPs until I got to college later in 1976 and my girlfriend Mumtaz had the LP Holland from 1973.  I think Surf’s Up (1971) was the next Beach Boys LP I was aware of, during the LSE days, but they remained a singles band for me apart from those two exceptions.   Pet Sounds you ask ?  Didn’t hear it – in full – until the early 1990s when Jenny and I were living in Los Angeles.    Perhaps it was because they are the quintessential LA band that I bought the box-set Good Vibrations in 1993 in Amoeba Records – an Aladdin’s cave of musical treasure – and played it endlessly due to the immense discoveries thereon – including the Pet Sounds songs.  Featured image

The 1966 LP Pet Sounds is for another post – but for now I’ll simply acknowledge it as an extraordinary piece of music – a deep, rich, carefully arranged and orchestrated work of delicate beauty, terrible sadness & infinite fascination.  It was Beach Boy’s head honcho and songwriter Brian Wilson’s response to hearing the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, an inspirational leap into the studio and the possibilities of playing pop music in a completely different way.   The Beatle’s responded with Sgt Pepper,  itself influenced by Pet Sounds, but while they were recording Pepper, Brian Wilson was working on his own follow-up to the Pet Sounds album.   One of the problems for The Beach Boys was that Pet Sounds hadn’t shifted large numbers of units, and even today it is considered complex and less obvious than most of the music of 1966.

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Brian salvaged his pure pop credentials with the single Good Vibrations in October ’66 which outsold the Beatles and won Single Of The Year in all the polls.  This pop rivalry was pushing the respective songwriters to unheard-of peaks of creativity.  Good Vibrations was recorded at four different studios in Los Angeles and endlessly polished before release – but it is an undoubted masterpiece which was Brian Wilson’s first installment on the Pet Sounds follow-up LP – to be called “Smile”.    The album never came out.   But the second single Heroes & Villains did – and it is another towering slice of baroque harmony pop which goes where no 7″ single has gone before.   Apparently the bigwigs at Capitol Records in Hollywood weren’t impressed with it (??) and the start of Brian’s great mental decline can be measured from this song.   Which kind of makes this a peak moment in 1967.

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I’ve always been obsessed with Heroes & Villains.   Jimi Hendrix called The Beach Boys ‘psychedelic barbershop‘, and some people took that as an insult.   But it applies here.   The vocal arrangement is second-to-none in a pop milieu.   It sounds impossibly complex, but the Beach Boys would happily sing it live.   They had a natural blend – three brothers and a cousin plus one mate – and in a live setting they could pull off the most beautiful layered harmonies either acapella or rockin’ out.  The 1993 Good Vibrations box-set though had something else going on – at least 3 other songs called “Heroes & Villains” with different words, different tempos, different arrangements, little pieces of music using parts of the song like strands of sound, stunning piano shapes, harpsichord modulations, vocal experiments, percussive expressions, doo-wop, strings, animal noises, hand-claps, swoons, cantinas, laughs, a whole universe of sound.  A series of clues.  This was like a suite of songs all with the same title.  It’s just a little bit mental.  The final release of SMiLE in 2011 had over 30 tracks called Heroes & Villains.

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Indulgent ?  LSD ?  Genius  ?  Or just unable to settle – a spasm in D minor which couldn’t be resolved.  Probably all of these.  Brian Wilson was mentally disintegrating as he was writing his greatest work, and the pressure to compete with Sgt Pepper, the lack of support from other band members and the record company, and Brian’s own inability to shape the endlessly brilliant pieces of music he was giving birth to into a coherent whole meant that the SMiLE project was finally ditched in May 1967.   It wouldn’t surface again until 2004 when I saw the Brian Wilson band playing it live onstage at The Royal Festival Hall in London – a world premiere.  I went to see it a further five times that week.  It is clearly a masterwork in the pop medium, but apparently, isn’t as it was originally intended.  Sadly no-one can remember what was originally intended least of all Brian himself.  My own theories are centred on this song, it was clearly a musical thread which was to run throughout the work, but don’t forget that in those days all tape was analog and pieced together one part at a time – not like today’s digital world where we can shuffle pieces of music at the touch of a click and experiment with what sounds best.  Brian had written and recorded a musical puzzle which no-one could put together.  He spent the first few months of 1967 shaping Heroes & Villains into a reasonably regular pop song, and it remains a high water mark of musical joy.

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Original artwork for the aborted SMiLE LP by Frank Holmes

In September 1967 a Beach Boys album called Smiley Smile was released, with Good Vibrations and Heroes & Villains on it, and a few survivors of the abandoned project.   It is an average album, a cobbled-together record-company compromise, not a masterpiece, and not a Pet Sounds 2.   It would be 2011 when Alan Boyd and Mark Linnett would finally put together the box-set The Smile Sessions with the Beach Boys approval.  It is everything I hoped it would be, a fitting companion piece to Pet Sounds, and better in many ways, even more adventurous musically  containing humour, American history (care of lyricist Van Dyke Parks) and the masterpiece Surf’s Up – a kind of choral farewell.  Wilson called SMiLE ‘a teenage symphony to God‘ and I can’t better that LSD-drenched description.

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Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love & Dennis Wilson in 1967

When Stephen Wrigley and I formed The Brighton Beach Boys in early 2002 we started with In My Room, Surfer Girl and Surfin’ USA.   Joined by Glen Richardson, Adrian Marshall, Charlotte Glasson, Rob Breskal, Rory Cameron and Theseus Gerrard we did our first gig later that year, in the Hanbury Ballroom.   Paul Gunter joined on percussion, Rob departed and Tom Arnold arrived.   Andy Doe joined on French Horn, left and was replaced by Dom Nunns.   We started doing some of the more complex songs.  Wouldn’t It Be Nice.  And Your Dream Comes True.   And – yes : Heroes & Villains.   Glen did all of our vocal arrangements and taught us the notes, and week by painstaking yet thrilling week we pieced the song together.   I sang the lead part – it’s right in my range – and it’s the easiest part – and we wheeled it out one night in a live show.   It brought the house down because it sounds so impossibly complex, Glen’s brilliant arrangement giving us each a specific vocal job.   And the song itself is so thrilling, a rush of words and music.   It was an absolute privilege to perform it each time we played live.

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Charlotte, Adrian, Stephen, Stevie, me, Rory, Dom, Glen, Theseus – Herne Bay 26.08.06

Later on the band would be introduced to beat poet and lyricist Stephen J. Kalinich who wrote a number of songs with Dennis Wilson, and later with Brian too.  Stevie was in England for a mini-tour, and he sat in on a BBB rehearsal then travelled to a gig with us in Herne Bay, Kent, which I’ll save for another post.   But I’ve been friends with Stevie ever since and we always spend time together when I am in Los Angeles.  He is a gentle and lyrical soul with a unique sensitivity to life which he expresses in words and poems.  Featured image

Stevie in Los Angeles 2012

Again I will save Stevie for another post (see My Pop Life #169) but he introduced me to Mark Linnett while Stevie was living in his house in Glendale in 2009-2010.    Stevie also introduced me to other members of the wider Beach Boys family including David Marks, guitarist on the first five LPs, Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, Brian’s first wife and her husband Daniel, and also the wonderful Alan Boyd, The Beach Boys’ archivist and the only person that all former and current members actually talk to.   Alan is a beautiful man with a fine collection of vintage celluloid and 1920s pop music and it was he who laboured night and day to put the final 2011 SMiLE Sessions Box-Set together, with Mark Linnett engineering.   He won a totally-deserved Grammy for his pains.   I’ve talked to Alan about the Heroes & Villains conundrum and he agrees that the musical pieces are the cornerstone of SMiLE but the many parts mean that it is impossible to know how to assemble it satisfactorily or otherwise.   Alan has spent more time with this song than anyone since Brian Wilson in 1966-67, and I think it drove him a little bit bonkers trying to piece it all together.   In the end Heroes & Villains takes up a whole side of vinyl on the box-set, its different parts laid out for us to all to hear and make of what we will.   It is astonishing.   Me – I always liked the original single, but Al Jardine always said that the actual original was way better.    I’ll leave you with the Stereo Mix from the 2011 SMiLE Sessions.  It’s a little bit like the one The Brighton Beach Boys used to sing live, and perhaps will again one day…

My Pop Life #98 : When Something Is Wrong With My Baby – Sam & Dave

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When Something Is Wrong With My Baby   –   Sam & Dave

…we stand as one…and that’s what makes it better….

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Sam and Dave in 1967

When I landed at LSE in 1976 to study Law I was a country boy from Sussex who’d grown up in a town where the 1960s were still being celebrated.   Lewes wouldn’t go punk until around 1979-1980.   My musical taste was – I thought – pretty wide.    It wasn’t.    I’d discovered soul and reggae in 1971 in the magical forms of Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Dave & Ansel Collins and Bob & Marcia – all chart acts though.  All the non-chart music I liked was stuff like:  prog (VDGG & Gentle Giant), US country rock (Commander Cody, Joe Walsh) and groovy english rock (Man & Roxy Music).  Random additions in the shape of Osibisa, Joan Armatrading and Blue Öyster Cult completed the patchy picture.   My new friend at LSE was in the shape of Glaswegian Rangers fan Lewis MacLeod, also studying Law, with absurdly long wavy hair and an almost unintelligible accent, especially when drunk.   We bonded while writing a Beatles ‘A’ Level Paper together one stoned afternoon (I’ll blog it one day).   We were hungry for more music.   Together we would go on a voyage of discovery into the deepest realms of soul music.  Classic soul music.

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I suspect the first major purchase of this period was James Brown’s 30 Golden Hits, all the singles from Please Please Please through to the most recent Sex Machine.   This was a record to savour.   But it wasn’t enough, oh no.    Next up was the Stax Gold LP which was the creme de la creme from Memphis, but only scratched the surface of that great record label (William Bell and Judy Clay – Private Number, Mel & Tim –  Starting All Over Again, The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself, Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff – all will have their day!).

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I don’t think Sam & Dave were represented on this LP because for arcane reasons their records were all owned and distributed (?) by Atlantic, the parent company who completely stiffed Stax in the late 1960s.  Although I have some of their 45s on the Stax blue label.    Curious.    We dug deeper – Sam & Dave recorded all their hits at Stax Records under the supervision of soul gurus David Porter and Isaac Hayes,Featured image with the house band Booker T & The MGs playing the instruments – two white fellas Steve Cropper and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on guitar and bass, and two black fellas Booker T Washington on keys and Al Parker on drums (pictured right).   This is a major band of brothers.   Together with the Memphis Horns – white trumpeter Wayne Jackson and black saxophonist Andrew Love they created an unparalleled run of songs that define southern soul music.   All of the singers were black : Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, The Staples Singers, Wilson Pickett (also released by Atlantic), William Bell, blues guitarist Albert King, Johnnie Taylor.  The owners were white : Jim Stewart, who formed Stax Records in 1959 with his sister Estelle Axton (St-Ax) and who personally engineered many of these records up almost until the takeover of the company by Al Bell in 1970.   I mention the race of the participants because it both was and was not important – it wasn’t important to the musicians at all, nor to Jim and Estelle, but Memphis, Tennessee was a racially segregated city when they were all growing up, and yet they worked together making classic soul music for all those years.   However once Dr Martin Luther King was shot just up the road from Stax in the Lorraine Motel in 1968, the atmosphere and racial politics of America and the record label changed.   The story of Stax Records is for me the most compelling portrait of America in the 1960s and I have long nurtured projects about Booker T & The MGs, Otis Redding and the label itself.  There are many documentaries, and books (Rob Bowman wrote the best one) and a museum now stands where the studio was, overseen by previous Stax secretary Deannie Parker, whom I have spoken to on the telephone while trying to get a Stax stage play off the ground.  She was very sweet and helpful.

Sam & Dave came up through the gospel circuit in the South and met at an amateur night in Miami.  They became a duo that night and were later signed to a local record label by Henry Stone.  Stone it was who suggested them to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records (based in New York) and Wexler decided to ‘loan them out’ to Stax because he thought their style suited the label.   He was right.   While Steve Cropper and Jim Stewart worked on the first few songs, they were soon passed to relative label newcomers Isaac Hayes and David Porter who proceeded to shape their act into a more passionate call-and-response Southern roots gospel sound, and who then wrote and produced a run of hit singles that was only bettered in the R&B charts by Aretha Franklin in the 1960s, including huge pop hits Soul Man and Hold On I’m Coming.

Sam Moore has the higher sweeter voice, a Sam Cooke template if you will, while Dave Prater is the gruffer urgent baritone reminiscent of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops.   Together they were Double Dynamite or The Sultans Of Sweat, the most compelling live act of the 1960s (and that includes Otis and Aretha).   They wore lime green suits with red handkerchiefs to mop up the sweat, the righteous sweat that they produced onstage as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy.   The music was infectious, the double act irresistible.

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Featured imageThey went on tour to Europe in 1967 – The Stax/Volt Revue  – with Otis Redding, Arthur Conley (Sweet Soul Music), Eddie Floyd and The Mar-Keys.  Booker T & The MGs backed every singer and Otis was naturally top of the bill.  The story goes that he would watch Sam & Dave from the wings every night as they ripped through their hits, kicking up a storm with their gritty gospel soul and leaving the audience high – then he’d have to go on and top it – solo – every night.   He’d never worked so hard in his life.   At the end of that tour he told his manager Phil Walden never to book him with Sam & Dave again.   But tragically Otis would be dead before the year was out,  killed in a plane crash on December 10th 1967 near Madison, Wisconsin just three days after recording Dock Of The Bay.   There are now recordings of this amazing Stax/Volt tour available out there.   I’d just love to have been at one of those shows.

When Something Is Wrong With My Baby was Sam & Dave’s only ballad (there I go again!) released in January 1967.   It didn’t dent the UK charts, and I certainly didn’t hear it as a 9-year old.   I first heard it in my crate-digging soul years when I amassed over a period of some years a rather splendid collection of rhythm and blues 45s and LPs which I subsequently lost in the split with Mumtaz in 1985 (see My Pop Life #93), and then slowly rebuilt from (spiral) scratch.   I’m certain that this essential song is on the Soul Tape that I made for Jenny when we were courting (see My Pop Life #29 & My Pop Life #28).    It became one of “our songs”.   Well, it would wouldn’t it?    What an amazing record.   Wayne Jackson himself said it was the best record he played on, or heard in the 1960s.   Rob Bowman’s book calls it “one of the most sublime records in soul music’s history“.

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So that when I was invited to be interviewed by Peter Curran for Greater London Radio to promote either a film or a TV show (cannot remember!)  that was about to be released, I travelled down to the cosy GLR Studios in Marylebone clutching my Stax 45rpm 7″ copy of this single, hoping that the young Northern Irish DJ would indulge the youngish Sussex actor.   I think it was 1990, but I wouldn’t put money on it.   And bless Mr Curran’s cotton socks because when he saw a 7-inch single in my hand he immediately said “Great – you’ve brought in some music – what is it?” instead of wittering on about the playlist like some radio stations I could mention.  And he played it.

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Eddie Floyd, Sam Moore, Steve Cropper, Otis Redding, Wayne Jackson and Arthur Conley on tour with Stax/Volt in Europe 1967

A few days later I was at Jenny’s parents’ house in Wembley and Dee was there – Jenny’s eldest sister (Tom’s Mum) and her partner Mick Stock.   They ran a pub together in Alperton, just down the road.   Mick was in the kitchen when he saw me, and said, “I heard you on the radio the other day Ralph.  GLR?”  “Oh yes. Did you?”  I answered, always embarrassed by these kinds of conversations, especially then, before I’d learned the human art of grace-under-pressure.   Mick was happy though.  “I love that Sam and Dave song – brilliant choice!” he said  – and shook my hand.   “Great stuff”.   What a lovely endorsement.

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Jamie with Mick in 1992

Sadly for us all, Mick Stock – Jamie and Jordan’s father – passed away in 2013 of a heart attack and is deeply missed.    I dedicate this song to him, and to Dee.

vinyl single :

outstanding live version where Dave sings the 1st verse solo, Sam the 2nd :

My Pop Life #64 : Fresh Garbage – Spirit

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Fresh Garbage   –   Spirit

…look beneath your lids some morning, see those things you didn’t quite consume

the world’s a can for your fresh garbage…

The first time I heard this song was in Simon Korner’s bedroom.  We’d met at a party out of town in Cooksbridge somewhere (in a village hall I think) and walked back to Lewes together getting to know each other like 15-year-olds do, in the middle of the night, probably bonding on absent fathers, but Simon remembers the conversation better than I.   Simon didn’t really talk about his father to be fair, but when was it ?  I’m saying it was the 4th form and the spring of 1972.  Not long after that something went wrong at home in Hailsham and Mum went into Amberstone Hospital for another stay.   I had already stayed with Pete Smurthwaite twice, once at 11 and once, for 9 months at 13.  And I’d spent a month at Simon Lester’s house in Chiddingly when Mum had an abortion in  early 1972.  Don’t quote me on the dates !

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This time my Dad clearly arranged with Shirley Korner that I would be billeted with Simon’s family in King Henry’s Road, above Landport Estate in Lewes.  I guess it was my choice ?  Simon’s dad Asher had died the year before.  Shirley Korner, Simon’s mother, was a kind, intelligent, sweet-natured no-nonsense social worker now left looking after four children : Deborah the eldest, Simon, my age, Joseph two years below, then Jessica.  At the same time that they took me in, they also housed Maria, a single mum and her daughter Melba.  Maria & Melba had been ejected from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin in the great purge of Indians from that country, most of whom came to the UK.  ‘Ugandan Asians’ they were called.  Two of them were now in Shirley Korner’s house.  Melba had a thin right leg, the result of polio as a child, but she was a stunning gentle beauty.   Younger than me by one year, I felt sorry for her, being evicted from her home like that, and having the polio leg.  We flirted, chatted, and walked to school together occasionally, but after I sang Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me There?” to her one evening in my bedroom, the affair was off.

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It was a happy house in my experience.  There must have been a huge bombshell crater where their dad was, but I hadn’t known him, and they were all so talkative and enthusiastic about everything, I loved staying there.  They were jewish, but it was never acted upon either religiously or in diet or indeed politics.   We gathered around the vast kitchen table for tea/dinner, passing food around, drinking juice and tea, Shirley Korner clucking over us all with patient forbearance and amused chuckles.  They all answered back in a relaxed way, there was no tension, no atmosphere, indeed no mental illness that I could detect.  It was a lovely big Victorian house, I guess I was in the former servants quarters on the top floor.  Simon’s bedroom had a drum kit erected on the floor, and was thus massively cool.  Perhaps this was Andrew Ranken’s – Deborah’s boyfriend, later to join the Pogues.  I was sitting at this drum kit when Mathew Ford offered me a joint to smoke and I hit at it with the drumstick.  But soon I was puffing.  I’d been smoking cigarettes since I was about 12.  Roll-ups sometimes, but mainly Number 6.  Learned to do a reasonable beat with the kit too, but drumming never interested me that much for some reason.  Simon played bass guitar.   We only played together once, at my wedding.

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Simon was impressive because he didn’t go with the flow.  He was super-bright but also cool, had good clothes and haircut and a witty sense of humour.  I liked him a lot.  Clearly I still do because we’ve been friends since that moment.  There’s too much to say about ‘Simon and I’ in one post, but I will just add this – about a year later when we all started getting serious girlfriends, Simon was going out with the official sexiest girl in the school, Kerry Day.  She had previously been out with boys in the years above us, and was without question a real catch.  Simon told me that one day he had painted her naked body, it had taken about three hours, then they’d had sex.  This was, and still is, impossibly cool….

Simon’s taste in music was very specific, and he would visibly sneer at bands he thought weren’t cool.  Didn’t we all at that age ?  Maybe…  He sold me an LP he didn’t like by Van Der Graaf Generator for 50p, and I loved it.  Still love Peter Hammill’s voice.  Deborah Korner being a year older also had boyfriends older than her, so there was a clearly groovy conveyor belt of music from people like Pete Davies and Pete Thomas (later to join Elvis Costello on drums) down to me.  I should relate that it wasn’t all about ‘cool’ as Simon’s early and faithful adoption of Elton John would prove, and my own favouring of Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day by Gilbert O’ Sullivan.   In fact I don’t think Simon was a big fan of Roxy Music’s first LP that summer.   The charts though were magnificent – The O’Jays, T. Rex, Colin Blunstone, Rod Stewart, The Stylistics, Johnny Nash and Hurricane Smith and more.

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Thinking about Simon’s music now, Spirit stand head and shoulders above the rest, in particular the first LP ‘Spirit’ from 1967 and the 4th LP, the magnificent “12 Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus” from 1970.  I would carry Spirit with me into my University years, and find kindred spirits and fans there.  Simon also favoured Hendrix, The Doors and Cream, and actually owned Jack Bruce’s first solo LP Songs For A Tailor.    But I never really got into Cream or Jack Bruce.  Spirit I have held dear to my heart for many years.

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Spirit were a California band par excellence.  Their first incarnation, which this track is from, was as a jazz-rock outfit I suppose, all the songs on the first LP are really interesting.  Shades of Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan years before they were formed, hard to categorise.  Randy California was the guitarist, (who’d played with Hendrix), and his uncle Ed Cassidy was the bald drummer who was at least 20 years older than the rest of the band, and versed in jazz.  Jay Ferguson was the other key member and singer, alongside John Locke on keys and Mark Andes on bass.  Their first four LPs are an exceptional run of music.

It is also worth noting how prescient the lyrics to this particular song were.  California was always a little further ahead.  A note on my version of the lyrics : I forever thought the first line was “girl – she calls me”  (actually “fresh garbage”), and the next line was “look beneath your lids a moment” when he’s actually singing “look beneath your lids some morning”.  Enjoy!

Marvellous footage of original line-up live on French TV ! :

My Pop Life #44 : Autumn Almanac – The Kinks

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Autumn Almanac   –   The Kinks

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar
When the dawn begins to crack, it’s all part of my autumn almanac…

This is one of those quintessentially English songs which represents, along with a handful of other tunes, the peak of the 45rpm single format.   Ray Davies, the songwriter, formed The Kinks with his brother Dave Davies, Mick Avory and Pete Quaife in Muswell Hill, North London in 1963 and went on to grace the radio airwaves and the pop charts with stunning regularity throughout the 1960s.   I always think of my childhood which spanned that decade as being breast-fed by The Beatles (although in reality that would have been Elvis and Chuck Berry) and weaned on The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.   There were others of course, Tamla Motown, The Beach Boys and The Who, but The Kinks occupy a special position in my museum of recollections for their mini-dramas of life as it was lived in 1960s Britain.  Ray Davies’ unerring eye for detail and the times gave him a palette of realism which, laced with a few poetic grace notes, makes the run of singles from You Really Got Me through to Lola pretty much unequalled in British songwriting.

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Autumn Almanac is a pinnacle of songwriting for me partly because of the lyrics – “I like my football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sunday – all right” and partly because of the actual structure of the song :   verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, wordless verse, chorus, wordless verse, chorus, further middle eight, and then yet another (unprecendented) middle eight, final chorus and finale.  I can’t think of another song that does this – even A Day In The Life which is two songs stitched cleverly together, or even the great Paul Simon compositions (My Little Town) from the early 70s still don’t get anywhere near this kind of boldness.

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As our narrator sweeps leaves into the sack he ruminates on his life : football, roast beef, toasted buttered currant buns, which “help to compensate for lack of sun, cos the sun has all gone”, with Ray singing the last word in Cockney as “gawn” which pokes fun at and yet celebrates the music hall roots of his genius.   As he talks about football and roast beef, and Blackpool holidays and sitting in the sunlight Ray’s voice becomes like a character, a trick he would use on a regular basis (Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Apeman) but just when you think he’s taking the mickey, wham,  here comes his real voice and a brass band, getting properly wistful as we reach the third middle eight which evokes the glory of community, of the simple connected life we all desire :

…this is my street, and I’m never gonna leave it 

and I’m always gonna stay, if I live to be ninety nine

cos all the people I meet,

seem to come from my street 

and I can’t get away,

because it’s calling me

“come on home”…

The French horns return to both lament and fanfare this moment which is then somewhat undercut by the last raucous chorus which comes across almost as a drunken pub song, and the Beach Boys-esque outro bap-bap-bap ooh has Ray speaking ‘Yes‘ in a confident affirmation as it fades.   It is a major achievement in popular song, inspired apparently by a hunchbacked old gardener Ray had seen in a local churchyard.   Romantic with a capital R – yes, file alongside Penny Lane and Lazy Sunday as slices of pop life in Britain in the late 60s, beautifully realised.

Autumn Almanac was released in October 1967 on the Pye label and reached Number 5 on the charts.   I was ten years old, in my final year at Selmeston Village School and living with my Mum and two brothers Paul and Andrew.  Dad had left the previous year.  There had been a divorce.   This felt somewhat shameful, but we saw him every weekend, and we were kids – you know, we just got on with it.   The television had been moved into the main living room.  We’d bought another corgi (Bessie) after Raq, the previous corgi, had bitten Andrew when he was 18 months old.   Raq had been given away.  Then, when it was too late, I found a long white dog whisker in the corner where the bite had taken place !  Andrew had pulled Raq’s whisker out and got a bite for his trouble.  This shocking revelation inspired the purchase of Bessie who was a very sweet dog.   We watched Top Of The Pops religiously, waiting for our favourites, patiently sitting through Engelbert Humperdinck  – or maybe not  –  no indeed, at ten years old I wouldn’t have had favourites particularly, or people (like Cliff Richard) whom I didn’t like.  They would all have been fine.   I’m projecting back from the mid-70s when I was a “discerning teenager” with plenty of attitude and only three bands I liked.  No at ten I would sit and enjoy all music.  All TV.  Crackerjack.  Star Trek.  Thunderbirds.  Do Not Adjust Your Set.   The Magic Roundabout.  Tin-Tin.   Vision On.  Johnny Morris.

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And conkers.  There was a large horse-chestnut tree near the village churchyard and another one further up the road.  We harvested bags of conkers and selected the biggest, the best to skewer, string up and take to school.  Deadly serious competitions would ensue – one hit each – knuckles would get banged, a winner would splatter the weak conker into pieces leaving a pathetic piece of string dangling, and your winner would become a One-er.  One of my conkers got up to be a fourteen-er before the effects of constant combat weakened its sinews and it was shattered – the victorious conker would of course inherit all 14 wins – plus one.   Did some kids vinegar their conkers?  Other tactics were discussed for hardening, and techniques for the hit, from the side, from the top…

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Sometimes these competitions would end in a fight.  David Bristow liked to fight.  So did I.  We fought a lot, David and I.   David got nosebleeds easily, and fight would normally end with knees straddling upper arms, pinning down your opponent and calling for submission.   David’s trick, after I punched him in the nose and caused it to bleed, would be to pin me down on the grass, kneel on my arms, and drip blood into my face.   There would always be a gang of boys watching, the usual suspects.   And sometimes a teacher would intervene – but not often.   There were only two teachers at the school, Miss Cox for the young ‘uns and Miss Lamb for the older ones.  So break times were football and fights, or Graham Sutton would somehow have enough money for a bag of crisps and he would stand there nonchalantly eating them, one at a time, until you were forced to beg  “Can I have a crisp please Sut?”  His shoes were polished and his jumper was green and knitted.   “People who ask don’t get” he said, lifting another crisp into his mouth.    He was popular at primary school.   The football pitch had a sand pit in the middle of it – a perfect square.   We just played round it.   One day we thought we saw The Beatles walking past the school fence, in the field, with Jane Asher, not all of them, just Paul and John and Jane and someone else.   Excitement shuddered through the school.   I’ve often thought about that moment.   It can’t have been them though.

But it was.

My Pop Life #36 : Penny Lane – The Beatles

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Penny Lane   –   The Beatles

Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway

Possibly the finest lyric from the 1960s or any other time, Paul McCartney is reminiscing about growing up in Liverpool.   This was a monster single when it came out in early 1967 on a double-A-side with John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever, also a psychedelic childhood impressionistic work.   They were the first two songs (along with When I’m 64) to be recorded for their new LP Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but EMI wanted a spring single and producer George Martin offered them these, thus both songs were subsequently not included on that LP.   This double-A side of masterpiece pop theatre – surely one of the peaks of the entire genre of 7″ vinyl – was the first Beatles single since their debut Love Me Do in 1962 (unfeasibly only 5 long years earlier) to fail to reach the Number One position in the charts, being kept stubbornly in the Number Two position by Engelbert Humperdinck’s schmaltzy  “Release Me”.   It presaged the end of The Beatles as a completely dominant cultural force, although the single did reach Number One in the US and they would of course continue to make extraordinary music for the next three years together.

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Those are the facts.   Psycho-geographers and groove-diviners could probably find a mystical mid-way point between the two real locations of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields in Liverpool which would mark the actual centre of the pop universe.   It still thrills me to listen to it, the soaring harmonies, the bright blue suburban brass in the chorus, the English-pop confidence of the characters in & around the barbershop and the Goon-esque BBC comedy line “very strange” at the end of each verse.   Every time I go for a haircut I sing the opening line to myself  : “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known”.    We meet the banker – clearly a lower-middle class figure of fun – was this a dim memory even in 1966? – the patriotic fireman with a portrait of The Queen in his pocket (more Englishness) and the nurse selling poppies (not real poppies, we somehow know this refers to Nov 11th Armistice Day and the wearing of poppies in remembrance of the war dead).   We get the illicit sexual behind-the-bus-shelter line “a four of fish and finger pies” which doesn’t refer to frozen food, and the fireman’s bell ringing a clear F sharp to herald in the simply magnificent piccolo trumpet solo, played on the session by David Mason, inspired by Paul watching him play it in Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto on the telly a few nights earlier.   Brilliantly engineered as ever by Geoff Emerick the result is a perfect encapsulation of childhood memory become pop art.

I’ve taken the trip down Penny Lane, been to Paul’s old house at 20 Forthlin Road where the teenage Beatles taught each other Little Richard and Chuck Berry songs, I’ve been to John’s Aunt Mimi’s house at 251 Menlove Avenue, (when John was “in my tree” in the back garden he could see Strawberry Fields) and then along to Strawberry Fields’ gate round the corner, seen a gig at the new Cavern and patronised other Beatles-related tourism in Liverpool.   All highly recommended, very well curated, and makes for a magical mystery tour of a day.  Or a week.

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I’ve bought the T-shirts, seen the tribute bands and even bought the road sign.   It hangs from my vibraphone, currently on loan to Charlotte Glasson from The Brighton Beach Boys, a band I played in for 10 years in Brighton.    I add hastily I wasn’t very good on the vibes, but really loved playing them.

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After being together for five years and mastering most of the Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats we moved on to Pet Sounds – the whole LP, then with an heroic attempt at the impossible decided to try Sgt Pepper.  Some bright spark (Neil Hayward of the Robin Hood pub in Brighton) suggested we play both LPs live back to back to settle the old baby-boomer argument about which was better. And so it was that for eight years consecutively we used to play all of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper live with a string quartet and brass & woodwinds in the Brighton Festival each spring.   These evenings remain as some of the very brightest moments in my life.

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We’d end the show and bring the house down with the final chord of A Day In The Life (it’s an E major popfans) and take the applause – then the first encore just had to be Penny Lane.  I played the alto line in the chorus.  Such joy.   Stephen Wrigley arranged the strings and brass.   Heroic work was undertaken by Dominic Nunns on the French Horn as he would play the piccolo trumpet solo and somehow hit that top note to a burst of applause mid song.  And lead vocal duties were delivered with uncanny accuracy by Glen Richardson who has a crush on St Paul anyway (and is also in a play, but has never sold poppies).

My knee jerk response to that impossible question “what is your favourite Beatles song?” is “Penny Lane” 90% of the time, when I’m not being a smart-arse, or just wallowing in some indulgence.  I love Strawberry Fields too of course, and playing that song live made me appreciate its brilliance even more.  I can’t compare the two songs, they are two sides of the same shiny acid-drenched musical coin, from my favourite musical era, the post-LSD 1960s when for about 2 years all the great songwriters and singers added harpsichords and bells, trumpets and brightly-coloured imagery to their work – Itchycoo Park, Autumn Almanac, I Can See For Miles, Sunshine Superman, See Emily Play.  But there is a purity to this song that eclipses all those great great songs – and it’s there, for me, in the simple, bright blinding light of the chorus:

“…Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes…”

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