My Pop Life #248 : Duel – Propaganda

Eye to eye stand winners and losers
Hurt by envy, cut by greed
Face to face with their own disillusions
The scars of old romances still on their cheeks
And when blow by blow
The passion dies sweet little death
Just have been lies
Some memories of gone by times would still recall the lies

*

March 26th 1985 Finsbury Park, London

My god is a jealous god. I feel nervous and weird. I need. What do I want? I have decided to leave Mumtaz. That was fucking difficult to write. I’ve told a few people. They are generally supportive. Most don’t want a long conversation, but then I don’t suppose I do either.

Michael Foster coming to the show [Deadlines, Royal Court] tonight. Definitely a change of course in my career. Up up and away.

April 17th 1985 Liverpool

Poor Mumtaz, I have hurt her terribly, but it’s for the best for both of us. She’ll see it one day, not for a while. Meantime I must try to be kind. It’s best happening now rather than later, that’s the main thing. She’s only 31, still young at heart, and so am I. So am I.

Meanwhile Mike Foster is doing the business : interviews with Alan Price & Braham Murray (not a good enough singer), Jane Howell (great part) and Liz England (The Bill – do I want it?) in the last three weeks. Top marks there, even though two of them have been trips down to London from Liverpool.

May 1st 1985 Bow, London

Ten years ago today Saigon fell to the Vietcong. Well, this is me, alone, working on a TV series, homeless.

Pretty disappointed with my first day on The Bill. A bit laddy in atmosphere, people are bored, fairly rushed, it feels that not a lot of care is taken with it – no rehearsals, feels a bit like a cheap video. It’s stupid to feel so bad about it, I want the exposure and the financial security, but shouldn’t I have waited for something better? It might never have come. And besides, in TV terms, is there much better? You have to serve your time. Be patient. Learn about camera. Use it.

Monday July 8th 1985 – Bow, London

How sad that Mumtaz and I both spent yesterday at Battersea Park GLC Festival alone, watching the same bands : Jimmy Somerville, Thomas Mapfumo, Aswad & The Pogues and both wandering around meeting no-one in that huge crowd. I did bump into members of the Birds Of Tin (see My Pop Life #) and then went round to Mumtaz’ afterwards and she had made sandwiches and had a bottle of wine and no one to share them with. I felt so sad for her.

The day before she had told me a great deal, not always looking at me but at an unspecified spot on the table between us. She told me to be honest with myself, not to act in real life, not to become a wanker and do certain things to make myself respectable in the business, just to be myself. She also conceded that she might have allowed me too much power and I conceded in turn that I had not discouraged that a great deal. There was definitely some communication.

I must talk to Kathryn this week, she’s off to New York on Monday for Aunt Dan & Lemon. Mumtaz also accused me of using her, and women generally, to leave her, saying I could never have done it on my own. This could be true, too.

Perhaps I should make an effort now to be single, which probably means turning people down who want to spend the night with me. Well, which definitely means that !

Having said that, those three nights with Rita were wonderful, surprising, I kept looking at her and couldn’t quite believe she was there.

Everyone is looking for the same thing – Love.

CODA

The Bill is shaping up, I’ve got to know the cast a bit now and they’re a good bunch. I still find the working method odd, but it has produced some good things. One relies on one’s instincts a lot, which isn’t always bad. You have to be on the ball on the day, really concentrate.

Monday July 22nd 1985 Bow, London

Wonderful wonderful wonderful week with Rita !!! Life can be fantastically unexpected.

In the wake of the stolen Minx, three cars have moved into pole position as the next R. Brown car : a Vauxhall Cresta PB, a series 1 Hillman Minx and a Vauxhall Wyvern 1953. I cannot decide on this Monday night.

I am also being indecisive about a flat offered to me in Archway Road – small but noisy but with a decent back garden which needs a lot of work… might not get a garden in the ‘next offer’. Affecting the decision is that I now feel much more comfortable here in Bow, especially after Rita stayed last week. On the other hand, next door was broken into today, and they have the same locks as this one. Is this a sign for me to get out?…

Crossways Estate – Bow, London E3

Sunday August 4th 1985 Bow, London E3

Rita called it off today, just before the Joint Stock AGM at the Royal Court. I am very upset, sad, confused…

Interrupted by a phone call from yes you guessed it Rita, saying that she loved me and that was why she couldn’t see me, and she had rung up to make me feel better. Initially this made me feel worse, but now I feel better again and I will sleep OK. What am I getting into here…is it a good idea? I want to be happy that’s all, same as anybody else.

To be noted : I have a Vauxhall of great beauty and style. Brill.

I have a flat on Archway Road which will become home in a couple of weeks. On with decorating, gardening, getting a kitten, furnishing,

LIVING ! On….

*

*

*

Saturday November 21st, 2020 Brooklyn, NY

Fast forward to today. Those are genuine diary entries from the time when I was 28 years old, turning 29. I have omitted some of the more embarrassing pieces of writing, I am only human you know. My current-day feelings on those months are as follows.

It was gut-wrenchingly difficult leaving Mumtaz. I’d been with her since I was a 19 year old student (see My Pop Life #21 That’s The Way Of The World) and it was my third attempt to leave this relationship behind me. Twice I had been in such a vulnerable place – both physically and emotionally – that I had crept back into that safe secure loving nest and not moved forward at all as a person. This time I packed up the car with all my books and clothes and drove round to Simon Korner‘s flat in Stoke Newington, not far from Blackstock Road where Taj’s attic flat was. Stayed there for two weeks (I think that was the deal we had) then moved into Bob Carlton’s flat in Bow on the 11th floor of a tower block. Bob Carlton was the writer on Return To The Forbidden Planet which I had just done at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. He didn’t live in London but kept it on as a place to stay when he visited. It was very generous of him. Meanwhile behind the scenes Ram John Holder, who’d played Prospero in Planet was organising me with a Housing Association flat through his girlfriend who worked for West Hampstead HA. He was most insistent – you have the right to be housed he would say, nobody should be homeless. And that was what transpired in August. Another very generous man. You see how lucky I am?

Ram John Holder as Pork Pie

A few years later my new girlfriend Jenny Jules (whom I would marry) was working with Ram John in Desmonds, the barbershop sitcom where he played Pork Pie and Jenny was his daughter. Funny how things tie up.

Kathryn Pogson and I making eyes 1985

Kathryn Pogson is also mentioned above – we were working on Deadlines by Stephen Wakelam for Joint Stock Theatre Company which was directed by Simon Curtis and was touring around the UK after opening at the Royal Court. See My Pop Life #185 Between The Wars. Kathryn and I were having an affair, and I think it was the week that we were at the Sheffield Crucible that one of her ex-boyfriends, Max Stafford-Clark, came up to see the show, and her. He was the Artistic Director of the Royal Court at the time, and he tried to pull droit de seigneur on Kathryn. She asked me if I minded, which was funny. I did of course, I am not that liberal, and I am a typical jealous god type man when it comes to sexual partners. So Max never got his tings and I never worked at the Royal Court again.

Rita Wolf was an unexpected happenstance which turned into three glorious years. She had also worked for Joint Stock, and been directed by Max Stafford-Clark in a play called Borderline which was written by Hanif Kureishi, and which I’d seen. Enjoyed it very much. Joint Stock was an inspirational collective which meant that on paper it had no Artisitic Director (although Max was de facto that person for years) and anyone who had ever worked for the company could be on the various committees and attend the AGM. It was after one of these meetings that Rita and I walked up from the office on Tottenham Court Road to Regent’s Park for lunch near the rose beds and she asked me out, just at that point when I’d decided to be single for a bit and “sort myself out“. The hollow cry of the terminally-coupled male.

Rita, me, Anita Lewton, on the tube

Because I am and always was a totally crap single man. I always think of McCartney’s lyric –

suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be

Oh yesterday came suddenly. Even when I’m the one who leaves.

But Rita came suddenly into my single world too like a vision of beauty.

Rita’s parents were Bengalis from Calcutta – or Kolkata as it is once again known. They lived in Swiss Cottage with Rita’s brother. They were very friendly to me, her father in particular pulling out an Indian drum and singing to me when the spirit caught him. Rita and I did a huge trip to India a few years later as we were breaking apart, neither of us admitting or accepting it out loud. We visited her mother, at that time in Kolkata, an extraordinary city on the river Ganges, but I’ll have to save all that stuff for another time. Rita moved in with me to the Archway Road flat, but my strongest memory of this particular slice of time is the flat in Bow. There we enjoyed each other without interruption, making love multiple times a night which you do when you’re young and horny, and the skin is sweet. We were sharing a life in theatre, music, television, and politics. Rita was separated from her husband who ran the 606 Jazz club in Chelsea and who bequeathed her a surname to reckon with. And we talked and talked. What we liked, what we didn’t like. It was Thatcher glowering over us all back then. Selling shares in previously nationalised industries to create more tories. Rita had gone to Camden School For Girls on Camden Road there, where future friends Catherine Wearing and Emma Thomson went, a good school which encouraged confidence and debate and Rita is well-versed in both.

I moved all my books and clothes from Simon Korner’s place into the Bow flat but none of my music came with me for I had left it all in Finsbury Park and Mumtaz wasn’t in the mood to let me have any of it. At all. I’d built a glass display case in her attic flat for all of the LPs, based on the kind of thing you’d see in a department store, my pride and joy, and all of my picture-sleeve singles from the punk era, all of my soul singles, all of my pop stuff from the late 60s and 70s – including the first single I ever bought (see My Pop Life #201 The Banner Man) – these treasures were in boxes and cases. And perhaps they still are because I haven’t seen them since. I tried but was told that there was a price to pay for leaving her and that was my music collection. And the record player, amp and speakers.

There were no CDs around yet, no internet, no mp3s, no streaming. There were LPs, 45s, a few 78s and cassettes. Remember those? Apparently they’re cool again. Whatever. See My Pop Life #42 African Children. So in the Bow flat up there on the 11th floor my music was whatever cassettes I had grabbed into a plastic bag that day I’d left, and any I’d bought since. And my favourite cassette that summer was A Secret Wish by Propaganda from whence this track comes. Mainly for this track Duel and previous single Dr Mabüse. Sure I think I had Fulfillingness First Finale and some other stuff to play which I loved, but not much and this was new. My latest noise. There’s another version of this song called Jewel which is more art-noise, less pop on the LP. And a Blake-inspired Dream Within A Dream.

Propaganda are a German band formed in Düsseldorf in 1982 from the ashes of pioneering industrial metal/electronic band Die Krupps, led by Ralf Dörper. It is hard now to over-estimate the influence of German music on the 1970s and 80s with the benefit of hindsight, particularly Kraftwerk and Neu! also from Düsseldorf and Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia and Tangerine Dream from Berlin. It would be trite but possibly true to suggest that Kraftwerk’s Autobahn was the most influential song of the 1970s given the musicians who claim that it influenced their own direction and choice of sounds – Bowie, Brian Eno (he preferred Kluster of course), Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Public Image Ltd, Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, OMD, Ultravox, The Pet Shop Boys, Yazoo, Soft Cell, Human League, Spandau Ballet, all techno and house music and of course Propaganda themselves and anyone who ever used a synthesiser or a drum machine. The music was a rejection of America in part and there is little blues influence in there, mainly more industrial noises from the likes of Stockhausen or music concrete, or in the case of intellectuals Can, tape machines & jazz and minimalism.

Lol Creme, Anne Dudley, Paul Morley, Trevor Horn : Art Of Noise

Propaganda were signed by new record label Zung Tuum Tung in the UK thanks to John Peel and (possibly) Paul Morley’s ear to the ground. Their album A Secret Wish was produced by Stephen Lipson overseen by all-round musical genius Trevor Horn who had his first big hit with Video Killed The Radio Star (with Geoff Downes in Buggles) in 1979.

Horn then bought a Fairlight computer in 1980 (one of four in the UK), produced million sellers Mirror Mirror and Give Me Back My Heart for Dollar, Owner Of A Lonely Heart and others for prog band Yes, the Lexicon of Love LP for ABC, formed the band Art Of Noise with Anne Dudley, produced Buffalo Gals & Double Dutch for Malcolm McClaren, then signed Frankie Goes To Hollywood to ZTT a record label he ran with his wife Jill Sinclair and iconoclastic situationist NME journalist Paul Morley, then produced Relax and Two Tribes. Stories abound of his domineering way in the studio, but the results were hits, and who’s going to argue with hits? Relax became the 4th-largest selling single ever in the UK. Trevor Horn is one of the people who shaped the 1980s in the UK and beyond, of that there is no doubt.

Trevor Horn

When I look down his cv though, I realise that I was never a fan of his sound – neither Buggles nor Frankie, not Yes, nyet Dollar, not particularly ABC nitto McLaren. This song yes, and I always enjoyed Art Of Noise, who are occasionally great. What does that tell us about me? That yes I am an intellectual pop snob a man who claims to love pop music but actually is full of disdain for it. Whoa hang on. Easy on the self-hate captain.

Not disdain. But in all honesty the UK 80s music scene wasn’t my thing, the New Romantics and the synth pop. I liked Spandau Ballet and Soft Cell, I liked Culture Club and I like Lynx and Imagination. But Duran Duran, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Human League, etc etc didn’t do it for me. In the 1980s I started to take my ears elsewhere, to Africa, to the Caribbean, to hip hop, to Ireland, to Germany, to jazz. To Kate Bush.

We will also give kudos to Katherine Hamnett who designed the T-shirts and Anton Corbijn who did the sleeve art. Jean Michel Goude anyone? Later in 1985, just to rub it in, Grace JonesSlave To The Rhythm was released on Island Records, produced by Trevor Horn. I wonder what happened to him? After he produced Seal‘s Kiss From A Rose for example? LOL. Now that I do love.

Propaganda were excited that they had been signed to ZTT. The whole German music thing was a bit of a cognoscenti flex to be fair, and still is, cool band names to drop, whether as a musician influenced by or just a consumer who knows more than thou. It’s sweet to think that Propaganda felt that way about Trevor Horn, but then there’s cool, and there’s hits.

PC Muswell – by me

Meanwhile I’d got a new agent, Michael Foster who is still a dear friend (not an agent anymore) and he had set me up on The Bill, a show in its second series for Thames Television. [note for American and other readers – the Old Bill is a nickname for the Metropolitan Police Force]. The Bill was a police procedural drama, shot in verité style on video with no rehearsal and long takes – there was a police officer in every scene, it was fly-on-the-wall style rough and ready reality drama of the kind we see all over town these days, and thus a pioneer in the kind careful hands of Peter Cregeen the producer. I was cast to play PC Pete Muswell, a cocky old-school racist wanker and general bully boy. What overlaps were there with me? LOL. He was a character I believed in having had run-ins with the police, and witnessed Brixton and Finsbury Park policing at first hand. Muswell was also a character I never saw on British TV. A racist copper.

Me and Ronny Cush on set in the East End 1985

A black actor Ronny Cush was cast to play PC Abe Lyttleton who Muswell hilariously called Snowflake. We may cringe now, but at the time this was revolutionary stuff. It was rare to find a racist character on TV – Love Thy Neighbour (see My Pop Life #184 Mystery Band) and Til Death Us Do Part being stand-out exceptions. But a policeman ? Mate. This was after the Brixton & Wood Green & Toxteth uprisings of 1981 don’t forget, and Dixon of Dock Green was old skool propaganda. I am still very proud of being part of an effort to make TV policing more reflective of reality – we were post-watershed, we swore, there was nudity, racism and boring chit-chat. We were mimicking reality. Or pretending to.

We shot the programme at Artichoke Hill in Wapping. The newly redeveloped East End of London. The following year, 1986, the print unions for next-doors News International (Murdoch plc) went on strike and the resulting pickets made it very difficult for Artichoke Hill to continue as Sun Hill, the fictional Police Station in The Bill, partly because so many actors wandering around in uniform were being mistaken for the real old Bill.

Eric Richard as Sgt Bob Cryer

But that was after my time. I used to drive there in my Hillman Minx series One with the bench seat and the stick shift gear in the steering wheel column. Then that car got nicked one night outside the King’s Cross Snooker Hall where I used to go on Saturday nights with various characters and I bought a Vauxhall Wyvern as marked in the diary above, a proper wanker’s look-at-me style car. You only live once, I felt, so might as well be a wanker.

chinese slippers too, were so 80s

I don’t know what I was trying to prove. Or to whom. It was all happening thick & fast and I was surfing it as best I could. Shedding one skin and growing another, skidding round town flashing the cash and buying stuff I looked like a ponce in. For example, the tartan suit which I wore to Birds of Tin rehearsals (see My Pop Life #149 Little By Little ). There are other sartorial errors of judgement. But what is youth for if not sartorial errors of judgement?

Shout out to Mark Wingett who became a proper mate. PC Carver. And Trudie Goodwin who is a dear dear lady. PC Ackland. The legend that is Eric Richard, Sgt Bob Cryer who turned up in Dunkirk recently. A very special man. John Salthouse was extremely kind to me and hated all the palaver around being an actor. He’d played football for Crystal Palace before joining us max factors. He hadn’t bargained with being famous. Neither had I – but that’s for another post, when the damned thing actually came out on the Television. Colin Blumenau who played Taffy. Robert Hudson who played ‘Yorkie’ and who I’ll always associate with Hull Truck Theatre Company & John Godber. Chris Walker also from Yorkshire lovely lad, I’d work with him later in Ivanhoe. Nula Conwell bless her playing PC Viv Martella, Jon Iles playing DC Mike Dashwood, Ashley Gunstock who joined the Green Party like me decades later…and lovely Peter Ellis pictured below in sheepskin, the kind of cosy Super who didn’t actually exist. Anywhere. But writer Geoff McQueen got a lot of things right to be fair.

Nula Conwell, Peter Ellis, Lisa Cavilli Green, Trudie Goodwin

Then there’s Jenny Tate who designed the costumes and who I really liked and Chris Dingley who operated the camera on his shoulder all damn day long, and make up ladies Gillian Wakeford and Lisa Cavilli Green (who knitted me an amazing harlequin jumper in green and claret) and whom I L O V E D because I’d decided early doors to have a scar on my face so I had to be there early to get that applied and then sit in a chair on wrap when everyone else was running to the pub to get it removed. But I liked that scar because very simply, it meant that PC Muswell wasn’t me.

Who was I ? No idea. I look back at my diary from the time and he doesn’t know either. All I know is, I was doing my best, blundering through relationships, work, pop music & politics and I guess I still am, 35 years later. Thanks for reading. Here’s Propaganda :

My Pop Life #67 : Yun Na Thi – Asha Bhosle

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Yun Na Thi   –   Asha Bhosle

..Yuun na thi mujhse berukhi pehle
Tum toh aise na the kabhi pehle.. 

you were not so indifferent towards me earlier….

you have completely changed from how you were…

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Asha Bhosle sang her first Hindi film song at 10 years old, and had eloped with a man 15 years older than herself aged 16.   Three babies later she left her husband with his name and returned to the maternal home in Mumbai, still singing for a living.  Her older sister Lata Mangeshkar was also singing Bollywood film songs, but Asha was determined not to just be Lata’s younger sister and looked for ways to follow her own path.  This meant often singing the ‘fallen woman’ role in B-grade movies, but as the 1950s drew to a close she and her sister dominated the Hindi film industry having sung more ‘playback songs’ than anyone else.  Her speciality was often seen as western-style and more sensual songs.  Her success and popularity grew from there.  Ashaji is now the official most-recorded singer in world history, having sung over 13,000 songs.  Most of these were for Bollywood, but she has also sung ghazals (such as this song Yun Na Thi), Indian classical pieces, pop, folk songs and qawwalis among others.   She was the subject of Cornershop‘s single Brimful of Asha (on the 45) in 1997.  She continues to sing and tour today, at the age of 82.    Some of her greatest work has been the most recent, a duet LP with young Pakistani singer Adnan Sami in 1997, an LP of Indian classical music with sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar Kahn getting a Grammy nomination.  But she will always be loved for her Bollywood songs, the mainstay of her career and the Indian music industry.

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Dil Cheez Kya Hai from Umrao Jaan

It is impossible to overstate the importance of film songs in the overall picture of Indian music, rather like pop music in the UK, millions listen to it, go to the films and buy it.   Among her ‘greatest hits’ which are too many to include on one LP would be Dil Cheez Kya Hai from Umrao Jaan (1981), Dum Maro Dum from Hare Krishna (1971), title track Chura Liye Hai Tumne (2003) and Aaiye Meharbaan from Howrah Bridge (1958).

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She sings in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, English –  in fact 20 languages in all.   Perhaps the most remarkable facet of her long life and singing career has been her relationship with her sister Lata Mangeshkar, who is the 2nd-most recorded singer in history, and is herself still singing aged 85.

I didn’t hear any Indian music when I was growing up – apart from Sgt. Pepper’s Within You Without You, and Love You To (Revolver) or Peter Sellers taking the piss.   Ravi Shankar came to educate us all in the ways of Indian classical music, having made friends with George Harrison, and received a standing ovation for tuning up his sitar at his first English concert.  He smiled and thanked the audience for appreciating his craft and hoped they would enjoy the actual music.   Then we saw what he could do at the Concert For Bangla Desh.  But Ravi was the classical end of things – a sitar player.  Asha Bhosle was the filmi end of things – a singer.

Part of the problem for western ears are the instruments used : sitar, tabla, sarod, dilrubi, saranga, bansuri, tambura, shehnai, swarmandel, harmonium.  We used some of these instruments when we played The Sgt Pepper show, eg the swarmandel as played by George in Strawberry Fields Forever.

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Sarod                     Swarmandel  player                                Sarangi

The other part of the problem is the pitch – shruti – in hindi which translates as the smallest possible difference in pitch the human ear can distinguish between two tones.  Thus our 12-tone scale,  in Indian music becomes 23 tones – quarter tones to us westerners, often heard as “blue notes” ie notes sung in a blues between two other notes, either sliding up or down.  Pianists are unable to play blue notes – they can’t bend the note like a singer or guitarist or saxophone player, but they overcome this by playing the two notes alongside each other together, creating a dissonance which is rather pleasing.  Indian music to my cloth ears relies heavily on these subtleties of pitch which seem to appeal directly to the heart and the emotions.  When Lloyd-Webber employed AR Rahman he called it “cheating” but really, what does he know ?

*

Within weeks of starting my law degree at LSE I had a steady girlfriend.   Mumtaz, who I called Taj, was born in Aden (Yemen) to Pakistani parents, the family had then moved to Karachi in the 1960s.  Mumtaz was schooled in Murree, in the foothills of the Himalayas, near Kashmir.   She had come to London to study law, and having graduated the summer before was now studying for part 2 of the Law Exam.  Over the next nine years we would be, off and on, a couple.  Most of that time was spent in an attic flat in Finsbury Park as we both established footholds in our chosen careers.  Mumtaz’ parents never accepted me as a potential son-in-law because I am not a muslim, and although Taj’s older sister Naz had married an Englishman, it hadn’t lessened that pressure, and maybe made it worse.

Taj introduced me to north Indian cuisine, and I can still cook basmati rice, perfect every time, rogan jhosh and and keema peas.  Taj taught me how to cook pitta bread – lightly brush water over each side then lightly grill it until it starts to puff up then whip it out, cut in half, careful not to burn your fingers.   We ate regularly at the Diwan-e-Khas in Whitfield St, and the Diwan-e-Am in Drummond St.  I learned all the spices, some Urdu, some basic tenets of islam.  And we saw a few Indian movies, with singing.  Not so many, but enough to introduce me to the whole world of Bollywood Awaara, Pyaasa,  as well as the more serious Indian cinema of Satyajit Ray & Mrinal Sen and Mehboob Khan’s epic 1957 film Mother India.   I found some Bollywood cassettes somewhere, bought them and played them, their incredible arrangements, timings and melodies started to work their way into my ears.  Indeed one of these tunes I CANNOT REMEMBER WHAT IT’S CALLED OR WHO SANG IT, (but it wasn’t Asha or Lata or Mohamed Rafi) became the basis for a song I wrote for Birds Of Tin, the band I was playing in at the time with Joe Korner – a song called Dangerous Garden.  In fact I think the cassette was by Shamshad Begum.  More about Birds Of Tin on another day.  Mumtaz also introduced me to the Beach Boys LP Holland, the band Earth Wind & Fire (My Pop Life #21), Fulfillingness’ First Finale and The Isley Brothers.

It was hard leaving Mumtaz.  Very hard.  I had three attempts, and twice went back, tail between legs. But the third time it had to be done.  Taj didn’t agree, but we had no future together.   It just wasn’t right.   I ended up in Bob Carlton’s flat in Bow in a tower block, with all my books and none of my records.   I never saw my records again.  Taj’s revenge.  Well, records : they’re just things, right ?  as this blog will testify…..

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In 1985 I was a disciple of WOMAD.  World Of Music Arts & Dance.   I bought their first LP Music and Rhythm (see My Pop Life #4) in 1982 and had spent the next three years listening to anything that wasn’t some skinny white kid playing guitar – south african township jive, calypso, greek songs, jazz, classical, gypsy music, arabic, congolese soukous, samba, algerian rai, flamenco, salsa, showtunes, mexican pop music, and hindi film music, what a beautiful world of music there was out there and I wanted to eat it all up, to explore, to mine those golden seams of rhythm and melody, to hear strange languages, strange beats, unusual instruments, see then how things joined up, how distant relations were joined, the cuba-congo axis, the irish/scottish/quadrille/african birth of jazz in New Orleans, the music of Brahms and Jobim, Eric Satie and Oum Kalthoum, the Bhundu Boys and Sergio Leone.

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So when WOMAD brought out a Talking Book LP called Asia 1 I immediately bought it full price and consumed it with joy.  Asha Bhosle sang Yun Na Thi as the last track on side B.  Well, you can’t follow that really.  Indeed, how foolish it is to create an LP of “Music From Asia” – which included the desert musicians of Rajahstan, Kurdish music from Siwan Perwer (brilliant), Yemeni Ofra Haza, tabla solos, Iranian goblet drummers and Temple musicians of Sri Lanka ??  Absurd to group them all together – but – it was a sampler made especially for people like me who were trawling the world for their music, who’d got fed up with the radio, whichever station it was, who wanted to explore with their ears.  It was, I have to say, a completely brilliant album, but the outstanding songs on it were from Şivan Perwer and Asha Bhosle.

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Ashaji had made Abshar-e-Ghazal – the source album for this track – as a break from Hindi film music.  She was a hugely respected and wealthy star in India, had restaurants in the Gulf and could do what she wanted.  She wanted to do some more classical and traditional music.  All the music on the LP was written by Hariharan and the lyrics are ghazals – an ancient pre-islamic form of poetry.  As near as I can get to an understanding of this form is the Sonnet – all of the rhymes must be a certain way.  A ghazal is a love poem, always about unrequited love, and often takes the Sufi form – a poem about love of God, the ultimate unrequited love.  A famous Persian ghazal poet Rumi, who died in 1273, is known a little in the west, although scarcely enough – but the ghazal goes back at least 500 years before him.

I’ve asked for translations of the words to this ghazal, when they come I’ll add them to this blog.   Perhaps the unrequited love is Mumtaz’ for me.

Yun na thi mujh se berukhi pehle

tum toh aise na the kabhi pehle

jismeain shaamil tunhaari marzi thi

humne chaahi wahi kushi pehle

jab talak woh na tha toh ai raahi

kitni aasaan thi zindagi pehle

My Pop Life #51 : Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

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Tom Hark   –  Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

…your team is shit

I don’t know why

but after the match

you’re going to die…

That’s me singing nonsense aged too old in 1980-something in the North Stand of the Goldstone Ground – to the tune of Tom Hark.  After 1980 when The Piranhas did their cover of this much-covered song.   It is still sung today at football grounds around the nation, with differing violent and scatalogical lyrics depending on the team being supported.   I really enjoyed singing violent songs at football when I was a teenager.  “You’re going home in a fucking ambulance” followed by a rhythmical clapping pattern, thousands of hands in unison.   It was funny.   I know it doesn’t sound funny but it was.   We sang to Bread Of Heaven (“referee, referee – you’re not fit to wipe my arse” which I misheard, rather brilliantly, as “you’re the features of my arse“!), we sang to Land Of Hope and Glory (“we hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Liverpool too, we hate Westham United but Brighton we love you… ALL TOGETHER NOW…”) and we sang to The Quartermaster’s Song (“he shot, he scored, it must be Peter Ward, Peter Ward ! Peter Ward…”).  And many many more.   Football fans like to sing.  They like to change the words of popular songs to fit around their team, the current squad of players.  I know some musicians whose sole aim and ambition is to write a song which gets sung at football matches.   The Pet Shop Boys spring to mind as a recent addition – Go West has many different versions but the no-diocese “You’re shit and you know you are” is my personal favourite ;  the existentially acerbic wit of “you know you are” being the most humiliating insult in the lexicon.

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The Piranhas were a Brighton punk band led by Bob Grover who added lyrics to the tune of Tom Hark, and had a top 10 hit with it in 1980.  Previous covers were by Millie Smalls (1964) Georgie Fame (1964) Mickey Finn (1964) and the Ted Heath Band (1958).  The first three of these are all, like the Piranhas version, ska, or bluebeat, which is to say 1960s Jamaican music which became popular in the UK and elsewhere.   Which is odd because the original is from Johannesburg in South Africa.  It’s a nice story…

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Jack Lerole would play the pennywhistle or kwela on the streets of Jo’burg and Alexandria township for money with his fellow musicians David Ramosa, Zeph Nkabinde and his brother Elias Lerole in the 1950s.  They would carry hatchets or tomahawks with them to deter thieves and gangs.     One day, talent scout and producer Rupert Bopape heard them and invited them to record at EMI South Africa’s newly-formed black division.   The resulting tune was called “Tom Hark”  which may have been a mis-hearing of Tomahawk, or may have been changed to make the song less violently-flavoured.   It struck gold – the single was a huge international hit, and the success of Tom Hark in the UK charts (where it reached number 2 in 1958), and the orchestration by Ted Heath in the US (see below) hugely boosted the popularity of kwela music in South Africa itself, leaving behind many of the street urchin associations that pennywhistle had picked up (but which perhaps returned when we sang it on the terraces?).

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Pennywhistle music (or ‘jive flute’) was considered very lower class in the earlier part of the century, being the favourite employ of street gangs and urchins who would masquerade as buskers.  After it became “kwela” music it emerged as a genuine home-grown South African music, perhaps echoing the reed flutes of the Tswana and others.   The term kwela is also interesting.    In Zulu it means “climb on, get up” and is often shouted in these types of songs, encouraging people to join in.   However, on the record itself, listen: it  begins with a short scene (spoken in flytaal the Afrikaans-based urban African dialect) of men playing dice on the street, then packing up the gambling and pulling out the penny whistles as one shouts ‘dar kom die khwela khwela‘ – or the police van.  Who knows?  It certainly became kwela after this single was released.

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Either way it had been the dominant musical style of the townships throughout the 1950s and made huge stars of Spokes Mashiyane, Aaron Lerole, and Jack Lerole himself, forming a local style that could compete commercially with imported music.   It wouldn’t last too much longer though – by the early 1960s the saxophone had replaced the pennywhistle and the bands had electrified their guitars and added a bass guitar creating a brand new sound that would dominate the airwaves for over 40 years – Township Jive or”mbaqanga“.    But that’s for another post.    This was a commercial fact of life, to pick up the saxophone in order to keep making money from music, but many of the kwela players claimed to prefer playing the penny whistle because as Aaron Lerole noted later “I could master it. I could make it talk any sound I wanted“.  The saxophone is more rigid.

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Rupert Bopape in 1958

The record is credited to “R. Bopape” who took all of the publishing.  Elias and Jack never received a penny beyond that which they made for the day’s recording.  Jack Lerole went on to become one of the first “groaners” affecting an extremely deep voice like township star Mahlathini, but would die of throat cancer in Soweto in 2003.  Rupert Bopape would go on become a hugely influential Berry-Gordy-esque figure in the South African music scene, running Gallo records and creating many many hit acts, including The Mahotella Queens and the Funk Brothers of the South African scene, The Makgona Tsohle Band.   I came across all this music in 1985 via one LP released in the UK on Earthworks called The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, featuring both of the above-named bands.   It was a doorway into a thrilling new collection of sounds.

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As for Tom Hark, it reappeared into my football life – c’mon, it had never gone away only the words had changed – when my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion became homeless in 1997, and the only viable site for a new stadium in Brighton was Falmer, opposite Sussex University.   We’d been playing at temporary athletics stadium at Withdean for years when the Falmer campaign really kicked in.   John Prescott was the target as his department would ultimately be the judge and jury, and so a long imaginative campaign by Albion fans commenced.  My own small part in it was to play the saxophone on a new version of Tom Hark called We Want Falmer with Attila The Stockbroker and The Fish Brothers, and Too Many Crooks – a Brighton supergroup called Seagulls Ska.

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Recorded in Sayers Common one afternoon and rush-released in January 2005 with an instrumental version of our anthem “Sussex By The Sea” on the B-side, the mass-purchase of this single by Albion fans pushed the campaign song to number 17 on the national charts, and Number 1 on the independent charts.  Not bad.  Falmer Stadium eventually opened for business in July 2011. Of course I was there !