My Pop Life #133 : Sun King – The Beatles

Sun King   – The Beatles

Questo obrigado tanto mucho cake and eat it carousel

After 18 long and eventful months after being asked by John Lennon to imagine there’s no heaven I dropped my first acid trip.  It was the beginning of summer 1973.   School had almost broken up and the fifth form was abuzz with the plans.  We’d all completed our O Level examinations at Lewes Priory and there was a sense of freedom in the air.  Most of us would stay on for the sixth form, not all.    Before the summer holidays started, Tat’s girlfriend, the mysterious gypsy-eyed Elvira, invited what felt like the entire school to her house in Ashdown Forest for a midsummer night’s dream.  We travelled by bus then walked.  It was balmy and dry.  We were stoned and happy.   I travelled with Simon Korner I think.  Also present were Conrad Ryle, Pete Smurthwaite, Patrick Freyne, Chris Clarke, Martin Elkins, John Foreman, Adrian Birch, Andy Holmes and some older kids.  We lay around on the vast lawn of Elvira’s parents’ house.  Presumably they were away, but they may not have been.  A large set of speakers on the terrace blasted out The Beatles’ final album Abbey Road.  It was everyone’s favourite LP.  It seemed like an impossible piece of confectionary that went on forever and had the most satisfying last piece.  It still feels like that to me.  It has been varnished by time into a shiny antique pop marvel, but at the age of sixteen it was just 4 years old, and already a classic, an album for the ages. It was perfectly natural to be selected to play as the sun went down over a raggle-taggle gang of groovy student wannabees smoking dope and nodding wisely at each other’s amusing observations.  It was uncontroversial and universally admired by the cognoscenti.

The Beatles : Abbey Road

Elvira and Tat were like the alternative hippy royal couple that summer.  They both had curtains of long hair, flared jeans and embroidered tops.  They should have been on an album cover.  Elvira wore dark kohl eye make-up and flowing beaded skirts and she looked at everyone with witchy suspicion and a twinkle.  Her party was guaranteed to be a hit.  Tat – or Andrew Taylor – played guitar in the band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80) and wrote songs, had a sweet easy-going nature, a dry and pleasantly absurdist sense of humour, laughed easily and was slow to anger.  He’d become a closer friend of mine when he introduced me to his favourite band Gentle Giant, (for another post naturally).   He lived with his parents on South Street in Lewes, under the chalk drop of The Cliffe and the Golf Course which would be the location for our second acid trip.  Elvira was mysterious to me yet friendly, I can’t remember having a conversation much longer than a minute with her.  Who were her parents?   We didn’t talk to each other’s girlfriends much to be honest.  She was Tat’s girl.

There must have been food at the party but I can’t remember it.  Perhaps a barbecue.  The sun was starting to set.  We drank cider and lager.  Wine. Then the acid was handed out.  Tiny black microdots of  LSD.  We all took one and swallowed.  “It will last twelve hours” someone said.   Perhaps Space Oddity was playing…Memory Of A Free Festival

“the sun machine is going down and we’re gonna have a party…”

Before the light disappeared completely we all walked into the forest.  About a 20-minute walk ?  I do remember that Patrick still hadn’t arrived and we wondered how he would find us.   He did.  We found a small clearing, a small stream, a few rocks amid the trees and made a base camp.  Something weird was happening.  I felt nervous.  I looked around.  Someone winked.   Someone laughed.  It echoed with a ghoulish chuckle.   Shit – what?    A host of golden daffodils were flowering inside my stomach up through my veins through my fingertips, an unmistakeable rush of gold surged through my nerves, my skin, my eyes, like a huge chord with an impossibly large number of notes swelling lifting quivering getting louder and louder like a motorbike coming straight towards me.  Rather like falling off the top of a fairground ride with no brakes or a bunjee jump, except going upwards.  Can be fun.

here comes the sun king?

It’s entirely possible that not everyone was tripping, that we had a guide vocal, but I can’t remember who it was, even if I knew at the time.  Later on, in subsequent acid adventures we always used to have a guide on hand to hold our hand in case things went weird.  When things went weird.

because,

well,

they always did.

But not this time.  This being my first trip I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted hallucinations mainly.   I remember laying down on the rock in the stream to get a stereo effect of running water.  I remember looking at the trees dancing at dawn for about an hour, their branches wavering together in choreographed vibrations.  I remember staring at my hand for about an hour.  My eyes couldn’t focus properly for hours.

everybody’s laughing

       I remember laughing a lot with Conrad, Pete, John, Simon and Patrick.

everybody’s happy

It felt safe.   We smoked and drank.

Here comes the Sun King

There was undoubtedly speed in the acid which kept us keen.

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazón

It wasn’t cold, and we had sleeping bags and coats.   I can’t remember any music, amazingly.

Mundo papparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol

Just the wind in the trees, the stream, the birds, the snatches of conversation.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

 It didn’t change my life.  But I would do it again, and I did.

Sun King, like most of Abbey Road, is inspired by the music of the late 60s.  The Beatles had their ears open for the people around them, and this song is inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross with its heavy dreamy guitars.  Lennon put the chords together and he and McCartney added the nonsense lyrics at the end.  It is the second song on the medley which completes side 2 of the band’s last LP.  The story goes that Paul McCartney, keen to leave the legacy on a high, spent hours in Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin polishing and reworking the “Huge Medley”as it was known on the tapes and later bootlegs.  But the studio out-takes, some of which are available on Youtube, show a band working together to learn each other’s songs, as they had been doing for years. Both versions are probably true.  The Huge Medley,  almost all ‘Paul songs’, opens with You Never Give Me Your Money the song about the break-up of the band, and what Ian MacDonald (in the magisterial Revolution In The Head) called “the beginning of McCartney’s solo career”. It contains the immortal harmony and lyric

Oh that magic feeling : nowhere to go

and the song finishes with a spiralling guitar lift into

one sweet dream

and the three chords:   C   G/B   A  which will return at the end of the Huge Medley for the finale, but this time we have a whispered

one two three four five six seven, all good children go to heaven

and a bluesy guitar solo fades slowly into the faint sounds of an organ and bells, gongs and cicadas, a lush exotic other-worldly sound which ushers in the lazy guitar shape inspired by Peter Green and Albatross and played by George Harrison.  Sun King is a minor John Lennon song which can’t be imagined outside of the context of the Huge Medley, but which is quite magical inside it, especially the G 11th chord which bridges the E major section and the C major section – very lush, very Beach Boys.

The song ends abruptly and punches into Mean Mr Mustard, another Lennon snippet which wouldn’t stand on its own as a single or album track, but which gives the Huge Medley its charm and delight and keeps us interested and entertained.

When The Brighton Beach Boys chose to perform Abbey Road live at the Brighton Festival in 2011, Sun King presented a variety of tricky problems and we spent a fair amount of time on the 2 minutes and 26 seconds of this song, not least the vocal harmonies, particularly that G 11th chord on 52 seconds.  I actually bought a small gong which played a shimmering E from the percussion shop Adaptatrap on Trafalgar Street where I used to get the kazoos for Lovely Rita and bought the tambourine for Polythene Pam.  Good shop.  Since The Beatles are largely unrepresented in their original form on youtube I will post a version of  by the Fab Faux who are the best Beatles tribute band out there I believe, having not just the accurate notes and tempos but the feel too.  Tribute bands, so low in status, will be the classical music players of late-20th century pop in the future.  We always played in black suits for that reason.

It wasn’t the most difficult song on the album, but it was close.  But for me it’s less about the song, more about the feeling and the memory.  I can’t remember how we got home from Ashdown Forest that midsummer night’s morning, but Andy Holmes remembers a group singalong of Here Comes The Sun at 5am.   I suspect I caught a bus in Uckfield and ended up in Kingston with Conrad Ryle and his family.  Buzzing faintly, getting shivery electric echoes of the vision interference.  Strange taste in my mouth.  Slept all day Sunday.   Was this the same Uckfield bus trip that Simon Korner and Patrick Freyne took, or were they on the bus in front ?  They were threatened by a man with a large head, a kind of combine harvester of a neanderthal, who, taking exception to their stoned and strung out giggling, told them that: “If you don’t shut up, You’re Gonna Die.  BY ME.

The following acid trips wouldn’t be quite so simple.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

*lyrics websites hilariously have this as “Que Canite” rather than “cake and eat it”…

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My Pop Life #102 : Israelites – Desmond Dekker

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Israelites   –   Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir

so that every mouth can be fed

poor me Israelites

We didn’t really know what he was on about ’til we were older, but Israelites reached Number One in the hit parade in Britain in May 1969, the first Jamaican ska song to reach that lofty pinnacle.  (Milly Small’s cover of My Boy Lollipop reached Number Two in 1964).    Desmond Dekker had irresistible syncopated rhythms and cool rude boy threads – and an extremely visceral way of shaping his words (whatever they were!) – I was eleven years old and transfixed.   So was my mum.   We were living in a house in the deep Sussex countryside between Lewes & Eastbourne just north of Bo-Peep Hill in Selmeston.

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view from Bo-Peep Hill towards Selmeston

Dad had left some 3 years previously and was living in Eastbourne, we saw him once a week – I think – maybe once a fortnight – on Saturdays, walking up to Beachy Head, coming back in time for the football results.    Paul and I did anyway, Andrew was only 3 years old then.   The whole country went Desmond Dekker crazy though.  It was a phenomenon.

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Ska had been around in Jamaica since at least 1961, some say earlier.  Prince Buster, Ernest Ranglin, Laurel Aitken, Jimmy Ciff, Duke Reid, Derrick Morgan, Toots & The Maytals, The Skatalites were all there at the beginnings.   Laurel Aitken had the UK’s first single release on Blue Beat Records, a song called Boogie Beat which was a kind of loose R&B shuffle with the guitar on the off-beat, embryonic ska.  The more choppy sound we associate with classic Jamaican ska came later with singles like Guns Of Navarone by The Skatalites and Al Capone by Prince Buster.

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Desmond Dekker signed with Leslie Kong‘s Beverley label in Kingston Jamaica in 1961 but didn’t release his first single until two years later: “Honour Your Father and Mother”, and a string of hits followed – all morally and culturally decent christian songs – until he recorded a song with Derrick Morgan.    Tougher Than Tough was part of the rude boy trend – the court was in session, judgement was being passed, but Rudies Don’t Fear.   This was ghetto life in Kingston writ large – and Dekker’s next song 007 (Shanty Town) made him an icon in Jamaica, was a hit in England in 1967 amongst the mod crowd as well as the West Indian population, and is rightly considered a classic.  Despite it reaching #14 on the charts (the first Jamaican-produced song to reach the top 15) it wasn’t until 1969 that the mighty Israelites took the country by storm.

We had a cousin, Wendy, who was older than us and who would come and stay now and again.  She must have been seventeen or eighteen when Mum invited her up from Portsmouth for a week, and they decided to go into Eastbourne one night to see Desmond Dekker & The Aces live on the Pier.   Mum only told me about this quite recently.   Amazing what you find out if you actually ask !

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Mum had also decided that it was high time that Wendy made out with a man – she claims now that Wendy had never been kissed.   I think they took the bus into Eastbourne along the A27, had a few drinks, then got onto the pier and saw the electric Desmond Dekker & The Aces in the flesh (I never did manage to see him!) then danced the night away to all the latest hits.  I think they both found some willing snogging partners and stayed out so late that they had to take the milk train back to Berwick – about 3 miles from Selmeston.   It was dawn when they started walking back, hitching a lift from the hugely embarrassed milkman, and getting a discreet worldly wink from Cedric the postman as they finally reached home.   We were all asleep upstairs, none the wiser.   I think Mum remembers that night now as one of the great nights of the 1960s for her, and I’m rather hoping that Wendy does too.

*

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It was many years later when I finally truly established what the actual lyrics to the song really were :

Wife and a kids they buck up an a leave me

Darlin’ she said I was yours to receive

Look – me shirt dem a tear up, trousers a go

I don’t want to end up like Bonnie & Clyde

After a storm there must be a calm

if they catch me in the farm you sound your alarm….

Poor Me Israelites

It became like a magical spell cast across the radio, across the dance floor, bouncing out of car radios, in shops, a mantra of phrases that ring around your head.  The rest of 1969 found us listening to The Liquidator by Harry J & The All-Stars, Return Of Django by The Upsetters (Lee Perry) and apparently (I never heard it at the time but older kids did ) Wet Dream by Max Romeo.   Songs like Israelites reaching Number One in Britain is one of the reasons why I love the UK.  It’s not all bad, however it may seem.

My Pop Life #77 : Shirt – Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

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Shirt   –   Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

Good morning, could I have this shirt cleaned express, please?
Yes, that’ll be three weeks, dearie,

three weeks?   But the sign outside says 59-minute cleaners
Yes, thats just the name of the shop love, we take three weeks to do a shirt

Just the name of the shop?
Yes, that’s if theres an R in the month otherwise its four weeks
Your name does begin with a P, doesnt it?
Well, no, actually, of course its, uh

Well, that’ll be five weeks, then,

five weeks? Blimey !

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The above absurd dialogue nestled in the central section of this “song” – a series of sketches and musical ideas linked only by the title – “Shirt“.   I never fail to enjoy this song when I hear it, there are elements of true genius at work.    The man’s voice you can hear doing the interviews on Willesden Green – “yes brrr it is a bit chilly..” is the one and only Vivian Stanshall, lead singer of the Bonzos, professional glint-eyed fool, ginger geezer, effete prankster, florid purveyor of onomatopoeiac confabulations, and educated yobbo.    Britain’s zaniest pervert.

I first saw him as a youth, watching our black and white television, a show entitled “Do Not Adjust Your Set” on Thames TV in 1968.   This comedy sketch show starred David Jason, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Denise Coffey and Terry Jones – three of whom would go on to form Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969.

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Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Denise Coffey, Eric Idle, David Jason

 The house band on Do Not Adjust Your Set were the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band who performed one song per week, and whose performances were notable for the large number of goofy props and comedy eyeballs, fluffy sticks and signs saying “Where?”  and “Why Not?”. They were a seemingly unrehearsed surreal happening marshalled with charm and glee by the suave Vivian Stanshall.

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I loved them.  When I discovered that they actually made albums I went and bought one called Tadpoles which was a compilation of the TV stuff.  In 1968 they’d had a hit single called I’m The Urban Spaceman written by Neil Innes and produced by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth, with The Canyons Of Your Mind on the B-side (“in the wardrobe of my soul, in the section labelled “Shirts”).   The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band were a mixture of many things – musicians Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Legs Larry Smith and Sam Spoons and mischief-makers Vernon Dudley Bowhay-Nowell, Vivian Stanshall and Roger Ruskin-Spear could all play something musical and based their sound on trad jazz, 1920s pop and vaudeville croons, peppered with music-hall and of-the-time psychedelia, all overlaid by comedy and foolishness.  They rarely did a straight song in a straight way, although Tubas In The Moonlight may be the one exception – on the same LP.

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The early LPs – Gorilla, The Doughnut In Granny’s Greenhouse, Keynsham, and Tadpoles are endlessly listenable nonsense, both musical and funny.  For me the peak moments were always provided by Stanshall’s invented posh accent (described as talking complete nonsense at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party).  In this track he actually interviews members of the general public about “Shirts” and the results are there for all to hear.

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The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

The Bonzos split and reformed at least seven times after 1970, and their most recent incarnation Three Bonzos and A Piano starred my friend and band member Charlotte Glasson’s dad David Glasson on The Piano.  I went to see them a few times in the Brighton area and their ramshackle anarchy and sense of unrehearsed surrealism was still intact and a joy to witness, even though Stanshall had passed and Innes was elsewhere.

I had the opportunity to meet Viv Stanshall in the late 1970s and I grabbed it.  By then we were all listening to the John Peel Show late night on Radio One, playing punk, reggae, and some spoken word segments entitled Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, with all characters voiced by Vivian Stanshall.   Some shrewd folk were taping it straight from the radio – and it remains one of the finest and funniest things I’ve ever heard.  Sir Henry was an old-school colonial racist and Rawlinson End was his country pile inhabited by a random selection of strange characters including Mrs E and Old Scrotum, the Wrinkled Retainer.  Vivian was lined up to perform the entire show at the LSE Old Theatre.  I think it was 1978.  Someone from the LSE student rag “Beaver” had to go down and interview Mr Stanshall in his houseboat near Roehampton.  Crikey.  I stepped into the breach and took directions down.

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Viv Stanshall on the Thames towpath in 1978

The boat was called The Searchlight and was moored near Shepperton.   The door was answered by Pamela Ki Longfellow his american girlfriend, I was made a cup of tea, introduced to Viv, sat down and off we went.  I recorded the man talking to me for almost three hours – about Leigh-On-Sea in Essex, teddy boys, rococo theatres, turtles and “losing the cosy” before Pamela broke it up and said that Vivian was feeling tired.  It was probably the most thrilling three hours of my life up to that point.   What joy I took away with me.  Sitting with my hero in his house, doing comedy voices, talking nonsense, making me laugh, making me feel stupid, but mainly, making me feel happy.  I asked him about Shirt and he revealed that he had done all those interviews.  What a joyous man.

Featured imageI travelled back to London in a bit of a daze.  I still have the C120 tape that I interviewed Viv on, my chirpy young gauche voice and Vivian’s world-weary cultured tones and quips.

The interview was written up for the student paper, and a sold-out Old Theatre welcomed Vivian Stanshall a few weeks later.   I distinctly remember two things he said to me – first when he asked me what The Old Theatre was like, and I immediately answered “It’s definitely cosy” – he arched his eyebrow and quizzed further : “Ah.  But is it rococo?”   Then when I tried to ask him about Sir Henry and those wonderful stream-of-consciousness narratives therein he held up his hand with a smile : “Nonsense dear boy, I worked on those pieces for bloody hours, days even.  They are painstakingly put together and worked on, re-written and polished…stream of consciousness my arse!!”

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 He was difficult to work with sometimes, became full of rage in later life, disowned the LP of “Sir Henry…” as being rushed out and unready – and in truth it never did match the peerless John Peel sessions somehow – and eventually died in a house-fire in Muswell Hill in 1995.  A true and endearing National Treasure, massively influential, intelligent, compassionate, bored and funny as fuck.  There’s a fellow out there – Michael Livesley – doing “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End” live – I saw it a few years back and can reveal that it is a loving and very good tribute to the man.  As for the Bonzos, their remnants appear and re-appear, split and re-form and will doubtless continue to do so.  They have also brought countless joy to many.

My Pop Life #37 : A Salty Dog – Procol Harum

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A Salty Dog   –   Procol Harum

We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy
Now many moons and many junes have passed since we made land
A salty dog, this seaman’s log: your witness my own hand…

The sister show to Pet Sounds/Sgt Pepper which The Brighton Beach Boys developed was, by overwhelming public demand, a rendition of final Beatles LP Abbey Road.  We did this show three times, but the conundrum was always – what would we play in the first half?   In Year One, which I think was 2011, we played an LPs worth of tunes written by Glen Richardson and called it Pop Dreams – brilliant songs, beautifully composed and sung, a gig I sadly missed playing in due to work, but watched from the back of the church.   Glen didn’t want to repeat that exercise the following year so in 2012 we started to put together something we called “The 1969 Show”, playing songs that appeared in that glorious year alongside Abbey Road.   This led to irritating and tremendous rehearsals of Aquarius, Pinball Wizard, Wichita Lineman, Gimme Shelter, Space Oddity, Midnight Cowboy, The Boxer, My Cherie Amour, River Man, Crosstown Traffic, Blackberry Way, Something In The Air and The Liquidator/Return Of Django/Israelites.   A slideshow was produced.   It was a hit – some of the audience didn’t think it “gelled” – why should it?  Others thought it was a tremendous kaleidoscopic presentation of a great musical year.   And the following year an extra date was added to the fringe diary – the Rest of The 1969 Show where enthusiasts could hear extra selections from The Kinks, Creedence, The Archies, Mama Cass and Crosby Stills and Nash.

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1969 is a rewarding seam to mine for pop jewels.   My rather pleasing discovery while researching the show was this gem from Procol Harum, best-known of course for their huge 1967 hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale.    A Salty Dog was their third LP, and the title track was written by singer Gary Brooker with poet member Keith Reid providing the Melville-esque lyrics :

We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain’s eye
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all

Any song with seagull noises will get my vote.   The rather amazing chord sequence behind this verse structure can only be marvelled at in a pop context, sounding more like Sibelius or Mahler than chart music.  One for the musos then – here are those sixteen amazing chords :

Db-5                        Csus4     C           Cm7                       Bbsus4 Bb

“All hands on deck   we’ve run afloat”  I heard the captain cry    

Fm/Ab                  Fm              Fm7     Db-5                       E6

Explore the ship   replace the cook      Let no one leave alive

B/F#                     F#                          B        Bmaj7          B7

Across the straits   around the horn    How far can sailors fly?

E                           Em6/G                         B/F#             F#sus4 F#

A twisted path   our tortured course   And no one left alive

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Yes, that is a pastiche of the Capstan Full Strength cigarette packet.   This is the first song in My Pop Life to have been dissected with a chord chart but I only discovered it recently and I have become quite unreasonably obsessed with it as a piece of music.    There’s some fantastic footage of Gary Brooker singing this in 2009 in Denmark with a symphony orchestra and choir, quite wonderful.   Listen to his voice as the sailors see land in the final verse, it is very special.

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a seafaring chap, but evidence would suggest I’m more of a landlubber.   I have a very early memory of sitting in a long rowing boat in The Solent between my dad’s knees – a racing rowboat Cambridge v Oxford style – off the coast of Portsmouth where we lived at the time, the waves chopping all around us, the oar blades cutting through the water, the coxswain yelling “Stroke!” and the breathing of my dad and his team.  I must have been five, or six.  1963.  Couldn’t swim.   It was terrifying and exhilarating as we rowed under one of those black looming World War Two forts that sit in the sea down there.

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Conrad Ryle is probably the most comfortable person I know on sea water – oh and Robert Pugh of course, but I haven’t sailed with Bob yet.  Conrad has taken me out from Piddinghoe near Newhaven on his boat and I loved it, but I didn’t help much as Conrad pulled ropes and swung the sail and hoisted this and that.    Conrad and I went to school together, played in a band together, his family were very kind to me when my family were gently disintegrating in the early 70s…

I always talked about living by the sea, the sea the sea but there was little evidence that I wanted to spend any time ON IT.   I like looking at it out of the window.   Final proof came in 2010 when I was cast in one of those ‘small boat with sharks nearby’ films – shooting off Simonstown on The Cape of Good Hope with Halle Berry.   We boarded the craft at 8.00am every morning and stayed on board for lunch which was delivered by another boat coming alongside, shooting all afternoon both on board and occasionally in the water until the fading of the light, for six weeks straight.

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Filming Dark Tide with real Great Whites off South Africa

You’d think I would have got used to it.   We had a box of ginger for seasickness – biscuits, sweets, drinks.  You could tell if it was a rough day by looking at the box – always full in the morning, often decimated by lunchtime.   I felt seasick pretty often, but held it down.   I think Halle was sick on Day One but she’s game, and never complained.   We bonded over puke in fact.   What a beautiful lady – inside and out – the complete professional, courteous, charming, warm and honest.   The sea rolled on,  I refused to vomit, but then we went round and filmed on the other side of the Cape – the Atlantic side -and it was much much rougher.  The horrible thing about seasickness – as opposed to land puking – is that it doesn’t banish the nausea.  At all.

Maybe the nearest I got to salty dog status was when Jenny and I were sitting on the anchor of Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in Portsmouth, waiting for her train to London, and an undesirable separation.   But that’s for another story….

My Pop Life #17 : People Got To Be Free – Dionne Warwick

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People Got To Be Free   –   Dionne Warwick

…why don’t you ask me my opinion ?   it’s the natural situation…

Selmeston, East Sussex.  1968/69.  I took the bus to Lewes every day from my little village of 200 people.  A callow youth, my school had just gone comprehensive, which means that Lewes Grammar, where I’d served a survivor’s 1st year complete with detention, punches to the face and rugby, suddenly flowered into a school next to Grange Gardens (1st and 2nd years only), football and girls.   Need I describe every ray of sunshine that ensued ?  At home, we were a single-parent family but around this time one of my Mum’s friends moved in with her daughter.  I think she was called Heather, same as my mum.  I remember little about Heather but for one detail burned indelibly into my retina, of a photograph of her sitting in a meadow somewhere, which when you turned it over, bore the inscription “Pensive In The Grass“.  We howled and hooted with laughter when we discovered this – poor Heather, she was probably in one of those singles clubs with my Mum – Gingerbread I think it was called – writing to single men who wanted to meet someone special.  Who knows.   Pensive in the Grass became  a fantasy LP title forever.  I was scarcely buying records by this time – I was only just in long trousers to be honest.  But Mum had Radio One on all day long, and chose her own personal soundtrack which would get purchased in Eastbourne – a 45-minute bus journey away.  One of these sacred maternal singles was a Dionne Warwick song which bursts out of the speakers like a vintage slice of Northern Soul, meaty, beaty big and bouncy.  We all loved it.  As I grew older and more knowledgeable about music it appeared that this single was almost completely unknown by everyone I ever met, and was almost lost in a wrinkle of time, but for the fact that every time I went home to see my Mum, there that single still was – in it’s paper sleeve on the pink Pye label (can I have actually remembered that?) and still a belter of a song.

Later still, I found out that the song was written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, the mainstays of 60s east-coast groovers The Rascals, famous for their hit song Groovin’ (on a Sunday afternoon).    Clearly everyone knew Dionne as the finest exponent of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s liquid pop masterpieces throughout the 1960s – Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San Jose and so on, but apparently in the late 60s her people decided to position her more in the R’n’B world and she went down to Memphis and Chips Moman‘s American Studios to record what was for her a whole new sound on the LP “Soulful”.  I don’t think it was a huge success, and People Got To Be Free wasn’t released as a single in the US.  Looking at the tracklist today, it’s ironic that only 3 of the ten songs are written by black songwriters – there are three Beatle’s songs, two from Dan Penn (When A Man Loves A Woman)  and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann‘s “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” among the Curtis, Otis and Marvin covers.  Her handwritten sleevenotes talk about “recording R&B my way” but it’s really not her style to be honest – this song excepted.  It’s the standout track on the album, which clearly tanked, and within 6 months she was recording “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” with Bacharach, one of her biggest hits.

Of course my Mum – or perhaps you dear reader – doesn’t care about any of this.  She just liked the beat, and the sentiment – people got to be free.  She was single and was going to enjoy it rather than sulk and feel sorry for herself.  It was written as a blue-eyed soulboys answer to Martin Luther King’s call for tolerance and compassion in the late 60s, but became Ms Dionne Warwick’s most soulful vocal of her otherwise extremely silky pop career.  I love this record.