My Pop Life #140 : The Right Thing To Do – Carly Simon

The Right Thing To Do   –   Carly Simon

And it used to be for a while
That the river flowed right to my door
Making me just a little too free
But now the river doesn’t seem to stop here anymore

Spring 1977.  I’m nearing the end of my first year at LSE.  I’ve got a decision to make, because during the long summer break I won’t be able to stay in my lodgings, the Maple Street flats on the corner of Fitzroy St, London W1, because they are owned and run by the LSE and in the summer we can’t stay there.  Most of my gang are going home to Glasgow, Sussex,  Barnsley, or Bedfordshire.  I actually hadn’t worked anything out, but going back to Hailsham and that sin city council estate wasn’t even an option.  But I was no longer going out with Miriam, so the Ryles wasn’t an option, Simon Korner was going abroad and going back to Lewes somehow didn’t seem right anyway.   Then I spotted a notice on the college noticeboard :

ACTORS WANTED FOR NEW PLAY GOING TO EDINBURGH FESTIVAL
JUNE – AUGUST
AUDITIONS BLAH BLAH BLAH

I scribbled the phone number down and called it up and booked an audition.  I cannot remember a single detail of the audition, either where it was, what I had to do, anything. But I got it, and made immediate plans to stay in London for the rehearsals.

Only one pupil from Lewes Priory had gone to Drama School (Drama Centre I think?) – Helen Lane, who was in the year above me.  I knew her because I’d done a few plays at school – rehearsing after school usually with kids older than me.  So many stories there – but – I enjoyed it.  I knew I’d enjoy Edinburgh – although I’d never even heard of the Festival before.  During my first year studying law down on the Aldwych there were a few competing social activities – and after some thought I’d decided to play football on Wednesday afternoons.  It clashed with Drama which was also on offer.  But I’d played football for Lewes every Saturday morning for years, and subsequently played centre-half for the LSE.  The home games were in New Malden so some commitment was required !  But the point was, that I treated playing football and drama as the same kind of thing.  Like playing pool.  Things that you did for fun, in the evening and at weekends.  So a whole summer of that was cool by me.

Anyway, I told Helen about Edinburgh and she was very supportive and offered her floor for me to sleep on for rehearsals.  I think she lived in Camden Town or maybe Kentish Town.  Rehearsals were near Russell Square somewhere in Bloomsbury which was my route to college anyway, familiar.  Weird this – by now I was going steady with Mumtaz, and she was running the student accommodations so why didn’t I stay with her ?  The memory is no help once again.

Carly Simon, London 1972

Now it’s all going to go vague. I think a fella called Murray directed the play.  we did weird stretches and warm-ups in the mornings and played some drama games which I would remember for my National Youth Theatre Days a decade later (see My Pop Life #7).  I was playing a recruiting Lieutenant for the US Army.  The play was called The Death Of Private Kowalski.  The National Student Theatre Company, run by Mr Clive Wolfe was producing it at their inaugural season at Edinburgh.  We were in a theatre or perhaps it was a Church Hall in Broughton St ? York Place ? in Edinburgh.  Near Leith Walk ?  I think we shared it with a deaf theatre company.   I remember an altercation one night, just the silent fury of sign language.  I think an American actor called Tom played Private Kowalski.  I remember little very clearly.  But I’m absolutely certain that every single one of the cast EXCEPT FOR ME was at Drama School – either Rada, Drama Centre, Ealing, Mountview or the Old Vic.  I was an object of curiosity.

“What are you going to do when you leave college?”

I’m going to be a barrister.

“Oh.  Really?”

Yes.  Really.  Why, what are you going to do?

“What do you think?  I’m going to be an actor of course.”

> THUNDERSTRUCK <

Edinburgh 77

A trickle of an idea started to form in my left ear.  I didn’t dare speak it aloud, so daring , so brave and foolish it was.  One other student from LSE was in the Company, Nick Broadhurst who was studying Sociology.  I was quite impressed that he’d managed to snaggle the beautiful Tibetan student Kalsang as his girlfriend, but he listened to weird music like Elevator Coming Over The Hill.  He was helping Clive behind the scenes and secretly plotting a brave and dangerous idea of his own.   The other administrator was Jane who had curly brown hair and John Lennon granny glasses.  I think my digs were unremarkable, and all I remember of Edinburgh is the constant smell of sweetness in the air coming from the breweries.  Known as “Auld Reekie” Edinburgh was a cornucopia of delights, from the Castle to the Fringe club, to the streets full of actors and clowns and buskers all competing for audience.  This was 1977 remember, way before the comedians took over, and way before it became the commercial event it is today.  It was a theatre festival, and I remember seeing groups from Russia and New Zealand that year.

Edinburgh Festival 1977

Then, one afternoon, after the show (once a day at 3pm I believe) I was downstairs in the toilet having a slash.  Innocent, unformed and alive, I was about to experience what I would later understand was akin to a Damascene conversion.  In an Ediburgh toilet. Beside me a large man who asked me, in a strong Texan accent

“Where are you from in America son?”

Is it strange that I had my cock in my hand at this revelation, as the stars changed course and the earth swallowed my life up and spat me back out ?

I’m from England

I replied, shaking drips and re-corking the underpants.  “Well,” said the Texan,

“Fooled me.  Great Job !”

Thank you I said, covering my earthquake and zipping up the trouser.  It was a bolt of lightning which went to my very core and rewired my entire life.  At that point I realised that I could be like those other kids.  I could be an actor.

*

Why Carly Simon ?  Really ?  Well, it was ubiquitous that summer.  No idea why – it had been out for years by then.  But music lasted in those days.  This LP, No Secrets by Carly Simon, was an ever-present that summer.  I think Helen had it in her flat in Kentish Town.  Jane definitely had it.  I kept seeing girls carrying it.  It was a girls record.  All the girls I knew LOVED IT.  And I became exposed to it, there was a record player somewhere and on it went.  It is an amazing LP.  Of course I already knew You’re So Vain from Pan’s People dancing to it on Top Of The Pops and finding clouds in their coffee.  No Secrets was her 3rd LP on Elektra Records, making number one in the billboard charts for 5 straight weeks in 1972.  I love every song on this record.  Lovely chord changes on The Carter Family and When You Close Your Eyes and emotional bombs going off all over the place.  The Right Thing To Do is the opening song and has a lazy 70s feel that takes me right back to the joints smoked, the relaxed vibes, the flares, the girls.

Trident Studio (as was), St Ann’s Court

Later I would discover that No Secrets was recorded at Trident Studios in St Ann’s Court in Soho, now a Film Production house where I’ve done numerous voice recordings, ADR sessions and so on.  Transformer, Space Oddity and many other great albums were recorded there in the 60s and 70s.  The studio musician credits on No Secrets now reads like a who’s who of the London Sessions, about which I almost made a documentary a few years back.  Another story.  Andy Newmark on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, Jimmy Ryan on guitars.  With contributions from my old friend Ray Cooper (from Handmade Films) on percussion (listen for the ripple of the congas after the first line of The Right Thing To Do), Jim Keltner, Paul Buckmaster, Paul & Linda McCartney, Mick Jagger, Lowell George, Bonnie Bramlett, James Taylor, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, Doris Troy with Liza Strike and Vicki Brown doing the bvs for this song.  Richard Perry produced. Everything clearly just fell into place. There is an ease and a freshness to these songs, both in the writing and the recording.

*

I’ve often wondered in subsequent years, perhaps on a daily basis whether a career in acting was The Right Thing To Do.  I went back to LSE that autumn a changed man, but I completed the final two years of the law degree and I am indeed LLB or Batchelor of Law. So I have a complex relationship with my ghost career as a barrister, and often peek over to see how he’s doing.  How’m I doing ?  Possibly my least favourite question.  Gemini. Always needs an option.   I sadly discovered while writing this blurry memory that Clive Wolfe passed away last year.  RIP.  He was at  least partly responsible for where I am today.

Live !!

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My Pop Life #107 : Desiderata – Les Crane

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Desiderata   –   Les Crane

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story…

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Whilst I am unable to find the release date for this single, it was huge in our house.   Our house being a three bedroom council estate new build on the outside edge of East Sussex market town Hailsham.   Facing north towards Herstmonceux Observatory.   A field where we played football.   A back garden which felt permanently in the shade.   We had coal delivered directly into a hole in the back wall which was the coal shed.   We’d take it in turns to fill the coal scuttle which was shaped like a cone, then carry it through to the living room where all the paraphernalia of the fireplace were present :  shovel, poker, brush and tongs.   Proper fire.   Proper chimney that got swept probably once.   If ever.   TV in the corner.   Two settees ?   Or was it one settee and two armchairs ?   Milk delivered in bottles every day onto the doorstep.  Sometimes the silver foil tops would be pecked before we took the bottles in – by blue tits famously who wanted the cream which had risen to the top of the bottle.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

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“the front of the house, and you can just see a bit of the side”

Next door was Monique and her two kids : Tim, who was my brother Paul’s age (12 going on 13 in 1972) and Joanna who was younger, perhaps 10.    Carl, the kid’s dad was “inside”.   On the other side was an old lady whose name has been forgotten and her fully grown son.  Can’t remember his name either.   But one day we heard that he been “fiddling about” with Joanna, so we weren’t to make friends with him.   He was “a bit funny”.   And that was that.   It was, as people never seem to tire of saying “a different time”.    Sure was.    I am forever grateful that I was never “fiddled about” with, by anyone, and never put into care by the Social Workers -despite the regular family upheavals and hospital stays that mum was experiencing during this whole period.    It was a long walk into the town centre, to the bus stop, to Polegate Station to take the train, to Lewes.   I was at school in Lewes.   It was an hour’s journey at least.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

By the time I was in the 4th year, moving into the 5th year and O-levels I was buying singles regularly, and LPs on special occasions.   1972 was a major year for me as a music fan.   A brief look at the charts confirms the incredible variety of music that people were buying in vast numbers – a record needed to sell many hundreds of thousands of copies even to reach the top 20.   Desiderata by Les Crane peaked at number 8 in late March 1972 – Harry Nilsson was at #1 with a cover of Badfinger’s “Without You“, also present in the top 20 were Gilbert O’ Sullivan “Alone Again, Naturally”, Argent “Hold Your Head Up”, Paul Simon “Mother & Child Reunion”, and Michael Jackson “Got To Be There”.   There was virtually no ‘crap pop’ – The New Seekers, Middle Of The Road and Englebert Humperdinck being the blots on an otherwise pristine and glorious pop landscape:  American Pie, Bernadette, Heart Of Gold, Say You Don’t Mind, Have You Seen Her.  Yes I romanticise, I see through rose-tinted ear-plugs, and none more so than Desiderata.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

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What a strange and glorious thing it is.  A man reads a poem, Desiderata (Latin : things to be desired) a series of aphorisms, epigrams and generally perspicacious observations on LIFE, THE UNIVERSE and EVERYTHING while a female choir joins him for the loosely-defined “chorus” :

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars

You have a right to be here…

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…

And then the narrator would be off again with his pearls of wisdom, his insights into getting through it all.  Les Crane, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a radio broadcaster and one time talk-show host who was himself an interesting mover and shaker within the counter-culture during the late 1960s.  His short lived Talk Show lasted just 14 episodes in 1964 without denting The Carson Show, but the list of guests speaks for itself : Bob Dylan, who rarely appeared on TV;  Malcolm X,  Martin Luther King,  Richard Burton,  George Wallace, Robert Kennedy, Muhammed Ali.    The Rolling Stones first appearance on US TV was on his show in 1964.   Crane, who tried acting at one point and who won a Grammy for ‘Best Spoken Word’ for Desiderata, reads the prose poem with a kindly gravitas which Paul and I found hilarious.  Fred Werner provided the musical accompaniment, which was of its time, think for example of The Congregation Softly Whispering I Love You or Aquarius by the Fifth Dimension, two beautiful records.

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Les Crane

Although we didn’t fully admit it at the time, we were mesmerised by this song.  Paul and I in particular took the royal piss out of it, probably because it got under our skin so effectively.

Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

When younger brother Andrew (who was 8 years old at the time) wanted to come into our bedroom, or made a mistake with a word, or anything stupid like that, we were merciless.  “You are a Child Of The Universe” we would pronounce, (without the solace of “you have a right to be here“), in fact I seem to recall we would deliver our own version of this judgement, as follows “You are a Child Of The Universe : You Have No Right to be Here”.   Meaning our bedroom.   Or even anywhere.   We were cruel.   It was a cycle of cruelty.  Andrew would find his way into our bedroom when we weren’t there.   He would find a plastic Airfix kit, carefully built from component parts and glued together according to the printed instructions, usually an aeroplane from the second World War, wheels that actually turned, a cockpit you could see into, decals shiny on the wings and fuselage, painted with a tiny paint brush from tiny paint pots the size of a thimble, all mounted on a stand on the chest of drawers.

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Andrew used to like to play with the Airfix kits and break them.   Maybe he pretended they could fly and threw them across the room.   But I’d come home from school and find pieces of plastic littering the floor, smashed aeroplane bits.   So he wasn’t allowed in our bedroom.    He was in fact a child of the universe and he had no right to be there.   I don’t think I beat him up ever.   The scars would be deeper and for life, rather than bruises for a few days.   The cycle of cruelty manifested in other areas too.    Football.   Andrew was in goal, Paul and I would fire shots at him.   Penalties mainly.   In the back field.   Forever.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

We thought Desiderata was funny because it was, but the words stuck, buried deep in the teenage brain.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

For years everyone thought it was an anonymous poem from the Middle Ages, found in a church in Baltimore by the Reverend Frederick Kates and dating from 1628.  In fact the date referred to the church’s founding.  The poem Desiderata was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, a lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana who stopped working aged 40 to write.   It has been intoned by a variety of characters, notably Leonard Nimoy’s Mr Spock on a 1968 LP calling it “Spock Thoughts“.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

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Max Ehrmann

It is one of those pieces that people can recite.  The eternal truth contained in the lines makes it feel Medieval or a translation from Buddha or Confucius.   No.   A lawyer from Indiana.    Everyone is at the centre of the universe.  Clearly, the truth is all around us.   And for me, as a non-religious man who rejects the pious the righteous and the pontificating peace of religion, this is as near as I get to spirituality.   It’s like a survival manifesto, with kindness at its core.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

My Pop Life #103 : Focus II – Focus

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Focus II   –   Focus

Summer 1972, end of the the 4th form, Lewes Priory, three O levels finished.   I’d taken Maths, French and Art a year ‘early’.  I only remember the Art exam, which I did with Simon Korner.  We had to paint “Decline”in two hours.  There were girls from the actual 5th form in the room doing their O Levels.   I was a virgin still and pretty inexperienced in the ways.  I painted a soldier being shot and falling down, seven or eight different figures all overlapping, the colours getting paler and paler with each figure on the same piece of ground.  By the time he hit the earth he was a skeleton.  I think I got a “3”.  So that left History, Geography, English Literature, English Language, Latin and Biology/Chemistry….hmmm any more for any more…for the following year ?   I got ten all together including one I took in the Lower Sixth, Geology.   And I failed Latin.   So that makes nine.   HA !  I’ve forgotten a whole O’level !!   I didn’t take German that far, or Religion, or Music (for reasons I’ll discuss with you later), or Physics (yuk!) or Woodwork, Metalwork or PE.   So what is the lesson that has disparu??  Humanities ?  Was that an O Level ?

Oh well.

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A small gang of us – all 15 years old – decided we were going to go to Reading Festival in August – or The Twelfth National Jazz Blues And Rock Festival August 11th -13th to give it its full name.   And yes.  The poster got it wrong !   Not the 11th.  No one cared.   Wish I hadn’t mentioned it now.   It had been advertised in Melody Maker and the New Musical Express.   Tickets were available on the gate priced £3.50, first come first served, so did we hitch hike up to Reading on the Thursday to make sure we got in?   To be honest I can’t even remember who I was with.   I’ve asked a few likely culprits but everyone is as vague as me pretty much.   So candidates are :  Martin Elkins, Adrian Birch and Martin Cooper.   Possibly all three.   We’d have probably smoked dope and drunk cider all weekend.  Dope being hasish, Paki black or Red Leb, possibly Moroccan gold, whatever we could have scored.  The Thames Valley police were all over the event, especially going in, searching people, busting hippies who’d come for some peaceful music vibes.  Pigs.

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Friday is a blur – I think Mungo Jerry played and Curved Air,  the highlight was Genesis but I don’t remember it much at all I’m afraid.  We probably slept in a large marquee where people without tents slept.  Did I have a sleeping bag?  Probably!

Saturday was better.   The Welsh band Man played in the afternoon, loved them, as did Edgar Broughton – wasn’t too bothered about them, Solid Gold Cadillac – cannot remember at all, The Johnny Otis Rhythm and Blues Show – very enjoyable, and, blowing us all away :  a band called Focus from Holland.   A kind of prog-jazz-classical fusion, they had the crowd of unwashed stoners on their feet cheering for more.  Headliners The Faces were preceded by the Electric Light Orchestra who were simply splendid.  It was a great day.

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The following day John Peel was DJ-ing between sets, mumbling away in gentle Scouse, and he not only played the Focus tune Hocus Pocus which we’d all raved at the day before and which was unlike anything any of us had ever heard before, full of Thjis Van Leer‘s yodelling, flute, accordion and nonsense, in-between Jan Akkerman‘s hard rock riffing guitar, it was a mighty sound and would be released as a single in the UK the following spring (!)   I distinctly DO remember Peel also playing my first hearing of Roxy Music’s ridiculous re-imagining of pop music Virginia Plain with the see-sawing Eno synthesiser finish, and it was a sensation.  Don’t forget we were all stoned of out tits, but we didn’t like Everything even so.  Other Sunday highlights were Status QuoVinegar Joe with the wonderful Elkie Brooks up front, Stackridge, Matching Mole and Wizzard fronted by the mighty genius of Roy Wood.   Blimey.

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Status Quo, Reading ’72

I had just turned fifteen years old.  Many of the other festival-goers were the same age as us, some were older, some younger.  I didn’t wash for three days obviously.  Latrines, holes in the ground for toilets.  Burgers and hot dogs, beer and sandwiches.  Can’t remember anyone throwing anything at the stage, or any fights or bad feeling.   Once the last band had finished people lit fires and sat around them smoking joints and drinking beer.  It was pretty damn good to be honest.

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At some point that autumn as I entered the Fifth Form and O-levels proper I bought the LP Moving Waves, with Hocus Pocus as the leading track.   But stealing the glory for me eventually is this beautiful piece Focus II which doesn’t flaunt its wares but quietly and beautifully makes me melt.   Fantastic subtle tempo changes.   I don’t think it was ever a single.   I had records by very few of the artists at Reading – and mainly singles :  See My Baby Jive, 10538 Overture, Stay With Me, Maggie May, Back Street Luv, In The Summertime and Baby Jump.  I would go on to buy Focus, The Faces and Man of the bands I saw that year.  And ELO later.   Even at that young age a group of people strumming away on guitars wasn’t really floating my boat (Faces and Man excepted – there’s always exceptions !!)  Well that’ll teach me to try and generalise.

Side two of Moving Waves was all one piece called “Eruption”.   This was fairly typical of the era.  Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson were doing similar things, it was the age of the LP.   And despite my memory of Reading 1972 being so fuggy, I clearly enjoyed myself because I went back the following summer…to almost the same line-up strangely enough.  Of which, more later.

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Focus split up then reformed a few times.  They are currently back together and touring the world.   Proper musicians making great music.   And they’re fun too.   It’s the only time I ever saw them live.   But whenever I hear this song, the sound and groove of it can only be 1972.   Don’t you think ?  Oh and incidentally – been searching youtube for some live clips of this track – they’ve either got Thjis Van Leer on gorgeous organ grooves but some fill-in guitarist who isn’t up to the precision and pure expressiveness of the original on guitar, OR Jan Akkerman smashing the searing guitar stuff and some horrible drummer rocking up what is a jazz break by genius Pierre van der Linden, and a perfectly good piano player.    For the record Cyril Havermans was on bass guitar – such a lovely way it comes in here on bar 16 after two rounds of Hammond…   So anyone who knows of good quality live versions of this marvellous tune with the chaps all doing their thing, then please leave a comment and I’ll add it later, easily done…

Peace,

Jud

My Pop Life #78 : Then Came The Last Days Of May – Blue Öyster Cult

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Then Came The Last Days Of May   –   Blue Öyster Cult

They’re OK, the last days of May, but I’ll be breathing dry air

I’m leaving soon, the others are already there

You wouldn’t be interested in coming along ?  Instead of staying here…

It’s said the west is nice this time of year, it’s what they say…

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One of the towering theme songs of my adolescence, Blue Öyster Cult‘s Then Came The Last Days Of May seems an appropriate choice on May 31 2015 as I write this blog at 5.00am.  Evocative, stirring, tragic and beautiful, it is the last track on BÖC’s first self-titled LP.   I carried this LP around the competitive corridors of the Lower Sixth when taste began to carve out the cliques.  New kid Andy Shand had introduced Andy Holmes (“Sherlock”) to the Cult as he was a Seaford clan member, taking the train into Lewes for school.  Andy Shand was also the bass player in Rough Justice, the band I had joined who rehearsed at Waterlilies, Conrad Ryle‘s place in Kingston.   I’ll save the mighty Rough Justice for another post, but suffice it to say that Andy Shand (he never did have a nickname) and I were so enamoured of this LP that we included a section of “Before The Kiss, A Redcap” (at 1.39 it’s a bass riff naturally enough) in a Rough Justice song that had a nice indulgent instrumental middle section (and also featured the riff from You Really Got Me), which I think guitarist Andrew Taylor (Tat – ) had suggested, with Conrad’s approval.

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We all walked around school with little badges on, the cross and hook symbol that the band used on all their LPs – there were 3 LPs out already in 1974 – in Greek mythology the sign of Kronus, King of Titan and Father of Zeus – and furthermore, symbol of the chemical element for lead, the heaviest of metals.  For Blue Öyster Cult were a very streamlined and polished heavy metal band, one of the first.    They were the first band to use an umlaut (ö) over one of the letters in their name (Motörhead, Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe would follow) – and as any German speaker or Arsenal fan would know, an umlaut changes an Oh into an Er.  Özil – the German international World Cup winner who currently plays for the Arsenal and won the FA Cup yesterday v Aston Villa – is pronounced Erzil.   But at school we never went around saying Blue Erster Cult.  Sounds stupid right?   Manager Sandy Pearlman came up with the name, thought it conjured up Wagner.   What it all meant was that we thought we were the grooviest kids in the school, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.   We were pretentious twerps.   But the band was undoubtedly great, and many many years later, the records still hold up as crisp riff-laden metallic shiny rock craftsmanship.  Really metal is not my thing – nor is rock – I never took a shine to Deep Purple (except for the incredible Fireball) or Black Sabbath, and the bluesey side of guitar rock never grabbed me much either (Stones, Zepp, Free etc).  I was a pop tart awaiting my conversion to soul and dub reggae.  And hip hop.  But these days I can listen to anything and find joy in it – classical, country, metal, folk, electro-pop, balkan gypsy, trad jazz, disco, soukous, mbaquanga, samba, salsa, son.  Bring me your music !

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This song is tragically a true story.   Then Came The Last Days Of May was written by lead guitarist Donald Roeser – known as Buck Dharma – it tells the tale of a group of lads going west to score a huge dope deal, : “each one had the money in his pocket to go out and buy himself a brand new car”  crossing the border to Mexico in a rented Ford and being murdered for their money.   The tragedy is played out in the guitar solos which open and close the song, and comment on the story throughout.   The playing is impeccable, the song immense.   Of course, being the only ballad on that great first LP, it’s the one I hold dearest to my heart.  You should know me by now !    It still plays a part in the band’s live shows today.   We worshipped at the altar of this song in the mid-seventies.  Like a biblical tale of temptation in the desert and the one who turned down the chance to go with them, and survived to write a song about it.    The rest of the band – the classic 70s line-up – were Eric Bloom on lead vocals, brothers Albert and Joe Bouchard on drums and bass, and Allen Lanier on rhythm guitar.

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They hailed from Long Island and had a long gestation – from The Soft White Underbelly in the late 60s through The Stalk Forrest Group who issued one sought-after single What Is Quicksand? (which of course I have) before settling at Pearlman’s insistence on Blue Öyster Cult.   The name stuck and so did the music.

Their 2nd LP is called Tyranny and Mutation and is more of the same tight dark melodic tremendosity:

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Their 3rd LP is probably my favourite – Secret Treaties – a proto-metal manifesto with strange lyrics and twisted muscular riffs :

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Their 4th LP was a mighty live album called On Your Feet Or On Your Knees which is a stunning testimony to their tightness and power:

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then came the mighty Agents Of Fortune in 1976 with the huge sound and big hit “Don’t Fear The Reaper“.   One of Jenny’s favourite songs.   Rifftastic!

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I’ve never seen them live, but one day perhaps I will be granted that treat.  There was a period when they were my absolute favourite band in the universe.  I still like them.  But I didn’t follow their followers into metal – although I have soft spots for Metallica and Slipknot – most of those bands don’t have the softer melodic side that the Cult have.   They wrote great songs.  I followed them through albums 5 and 6 :  Spectres and Mirrors and then they faded as I grew into Stax and Channel One, DefJam and Blue Note.

This time of year is my favourite.  We’ve already moved into Gemini, my sign but we’re not quite in June.   They’re OK the last days of May.   Hats off to Blue Öyster Cult.

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guitarmy

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 ! :