My Pop Life 161 : Shine – Take That

Shine   –   Take That

You, you’re such a big star to me
You’re everything I wanna be
But you’re stuck in a hole and I want you to get out
I don’t know what there is to see
But I know it’s time for you to leave
We’re all just pushing along
Trying to figure it out, out, out, oh your anticipation pulls you down, when you can have it all

*

My favourite memory of Becky was of her practising majorettes in our front room to Abba’s Dancing Queen, when she must have been around 7 years old.  The image of her practicing her steps became the opening scene of my first play Drive Away The Darkness, a play named without irony from a Rolf Harris song Sun Arise.  I had reached 29 years old and panicked – I hadn’t written a play yet !  So sat down and vomited up the family history based around an Easter weekend from hell.  It was, to all intents and purposes, my family’s version of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  The finished play got a rehearsed reading at the National Theatre Studio in London under the wing of Peter Gill in 1986 and… that was pretty much that.   Gill and Nicholas Wright summoned me into a room after the reading was done and asked me “what I wanted to do with it?”  “Get it produced?” I answered.  They smiled condescendingly “no, we meant what do you want to do with the material?”   I didn’t know what they were talking about.    “Go away and have a think about it”.   No clues, no notes, no help was offered.  I wondered what the point of it all was.  Encouragement ?

Legendary photo from late 1972 

My sister Rebecca was born on April 29th 1972 when I was a teenage boy of 15.   Mum was in and out of Amberstone Hospital at this point, as usual, and Becky’s dad, John Daignault (see My Pop Life #132) had been ejected from our council house in Newton Park by the police for domestic violence when Mum was 9 months pregnant.  So Becky was born into a recently peaceful, if shaky household.  And although the hospital visits continued (about 2 weeks at a time when Mum couldn’t cope) somehow the social workers managed to keep Becky – and us three boys – out of care.  Various people helped out, notably a girlfriend of Paul’s called Sharon, who must’ve been around 13 herself.  A few years later I was gone, to Lewes, thence to London, University and the rest of my life.  But I’ve always had a close relationship with Bex despite the age difference.

Becky and Sparky, 1979 ?

We lived on the edge of a large council estate, our garden backed onto a vast Sussex field which led to Marshfoot Lane and Herstmonceux Observatory eventually, although none of us ever went that far.    I’d come back for Easter, for Christmas and birthdays etc, usually for a punch-up  (not literally!) with Mum, and a chat with Becky about how things were going.  By now Mum had met Alan, perhaps through Gingerbread, an organisation for single parents, and they had married.   Alan was a decent bloke and treated Rebecca as if she was his own daughter, bless him, and still does to this day.   She went to the same school as Andrew and Paul in Hailsham, before Mum decided to move in with Alan in Polegate.  By now Rebecca had met Peter and they were married with much fanfare and dancing on July 4th 1992, some three weeks before my wedding to Jenny.  It meant Becky couldn’t be a bridesmaid because the fittings were during her honeymoon…it also meant that I wasn’t there.  Becky remembers this as filming Alien 3 which was a year earlier – but I did have to fly to Los Angeles to shoot some extra bits so perhaps that was it – anyway – Paul and Andrew were there in spades…

Paul, Rebecca, Andrew July 4th 1992, Eastbourne

*

Rebecca marries Peter July 4th 1992

Bex, Darren, Peter, me, Mum, Debs (behind Mum), Paul, Alan

Us kids had, for many many years, only one topic of conversation  when we hooked up – Mother.  It drove our various partners mad knowing that we would huddle together in a coping quartet – Ralph, Paul, Andrew Becky – and relate the latest installment of the soap opera of our family. Thankfully those days and that feeling of perma-crisis have gone.   We’ve grown.  But I think Mum’s personality and issues were so powerful that it bound us together.  Becky has always been my sister, never my step-sister.  Becky and Peter got divorced, and she married John Coleman from Dagenham in 1997.  I offered my blue Jaguar as her wedding car and left Brighton too late, bombing up the M23 at 120mph.  Got a ticket too and appeared at Haywards Heath magistrates a few months later and got a £200 fine and was banned for six months.  “But it was my sister’s wedding” I said.  Becky and John had three lovely kids – Mollie, Ellie and William (see My Pop Life #120).

Renewal of vowels 2005- Ellie, sleeping Will, John, Bex and Mollie

In 2005, eight years after the marriage and now in Strood on the Medway, they renewed their vows.  It was a lovely day.  I was doing Nighty Night at the time in Bude in Cornwall.  We joked that they’d renewed their vowels – an E and an O.

2007

Soon after that they moved down to Sussex and an old house in Horsebridge near Hailsham.  Closer to Mum and to us, we saw more of each other.  But the marriage was broken and John moved back to East London.

Becky marries Steve, 2013

In 2013 Becky married Steve in Eastbourne, Paul came back from China to be there, it lasted about a year and a bit.  Becky is now single and living in Hailsham, near Mum, with Ellie and William still at school.

So that’s the bare bones of a life that tell you nothing about the woman. She is, as the song suggests, resilient and optimistic, tough and glamourous, funny and generous.  Becky is the best mimic of our mother of all of us, and when she relates the latest installment of our mum, we are weeping with laughter.  She has re-trained herself so many times as a businesswoman, nail technician, health consultant while ferrying the kids to schools in Ringmer, Hamden Park, Hailsham and Eastbourne and William to football practice while swimming three times a week and doing the family shopping looking after a dog and popping in to clean Mum’s house and do some shopping for her that really she ought to look like a wet dishrag of exhausted martyrdom.  But Becky has it seems, unlimited powers and juice – like the duracell bunny – powers of determination and a centred strength of being that brooks no fools, and suffers no half-stepping.  I’m very proud of her, and I was very proud to play at her 40th birthday (previously discussed in My Pop Life #120 from a different angle) and more especially to play this particular song.

A young Take That in 1990

Tune.  First things first.  It’s a tune.  A major key piano bounce with vocal harmonies will almost always find favour with me, an echo of English pop, particularly Penny Lane (see My Pop Life #36) & Mr Blue Sky.   This though from 2007 and the most successful boy-band of all time, and one who actually wrote their own material.  Built around songwriter Gary Barlow in 1990, the original members were a bank clerk (Mark Owen) a hopeful breakdancer (Jason Orange) a carshop paintsprayer (Howard Donald) and a 16-year-old teenager (Robbie Williams) all of whom auditioned a number of times for Nigel Martin-Smith in Manchester before securing the gig.  One of the most successful and loved bands in British Pop History, they swept all before them during the 1990s with some beautiful songs – A Million Love Songs, Back For Good, How Deep Is Your Love – until William’s drug issues forced him out in 1995 and Take That disbanded the following year to the sound of a million broken teenage hearts.  In fact the UK government set up suicide hotlines because so many teenage girls were distraught.

The 4-piece without Williams eventually got back together in 2005, toured in 2006, then dropped this great single Shine with a lead vocal by Mark Owen, a love letter to the missing Williams, in early 2007.  It won the Ivor Novello in 2008 for best song, and sure enough Robbie Williams rejoined Take That in 2010 for a reunion tour and album, but the band currently exist as a 3-piece in the wake of Jason and Robbie’s subsequent departures.

Bex has been obsessed with Take That since their inception in 1990, and has seen them at least six times live, in all their various incarnations.  On the occasion of her 40th birthday, her step-dad Alan hired my band The Brighton Beach Boys to play the birthday party, and we learned Shine especially for the event.  Or did we ?  Actually I think I decided on the morning of the gig that I would play it for her, alone if necessary, and when I told the band in the soundcheck they joined in.  I had printed a few copies of the charts in case we had time, and we did.  I’ve just found the setlist from that show :

We may be a Beach Boys tribute band but we have a few party tunes up our collective sleeve too, thanks to the excellence of Mr Stephen Wrigley, Mr Glen Richardson, Mr Theseus Gerrard, Mr Adrian Marshall, Ms Charlotte Glasson and – in those days – Mr Rory Cameron.  The ska section had just been played at our 1969 Show, and Dancing Queen & Night Fever had been played at Caroline Lucas’50th Birthday bash.  The ever-expanding playlist strikes again.   But Shine was a one-off, just for Becky.

I don’t think we got the Stop! bit right, although a few people attempted it.  The thing is with a Stop! bit is that unless everyone does it, it isn’t a Stop! bit at all.  At all at all.   But it went down well, and is a thrillingly good song to play live.  Uplifting.   The link to Mr Blue Sky became apparent when Take That played it live and started the song with the end of Jeff Lynne’s great pop song.  Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of that in 2012.

Ellie, William, Rebecca, Mollie

I’ve always loved my sister unconditionally.   She is the strongest of us all, the closest to Mum and the most volatile of all four kids – her relationship with Heather, my mother, is tempestuous to say the least.  I listen to them both bitching in extremis about the other and just nod, like Alan, like my Dad, like Johnny Coleman – yes dear.

I’m not stupid enough to take sides with the women in my family, they’re too fierce.

Don’t you let your demons pull you down

Cos you can have it all, you can have it all, all, ALL

So c’mon oh c’mon get it on I dunno what you’re waiting for your time is coming don’t be late

hey hey

So c’mon, see the light on your face, let it shine, let it shine

the full live version from the Circus tour 2009.  Rebecca was there !

My Pop Life #137 : The Word/Sardines – Junkyard Band

The Word/Sardines   –   Junkyard Band

My mother went down to the foodstamp line…

1988 Washington D.C.    I was undecided.  Thinking about work-shopping my play Sanctuary for a new city, a new country, new circumstances.  Sanctuary had been produced the previous year by Joint Stock Theatre Group and toured the UK from Salisbury to Newcastle.  I wrote about it in My Pop Life #86.   Sanctuary was a rap musical about homeless teenagers and based around London’s Centrepoint Shelter and the cardboard city at Waterloo, as well as the bed-and-breakfast policies of most of the London boroughs in the mid-80s.  An American Theatre Company called The No-Neck Monsters had seen the show at The Drill Hall and asked me if I’d like to re-stage it in Washington D.C.  I said “No” of course, but later wondered whether I should investigate when they said they would fly me to D.C. to meet them and look around the city.    I arrived in Washington in late June ’88 and was met at the airport by Gwendoline Wynne and Helen Patton who ran the theatre company.  We drank, chatted, ate and I crashed.  Later I met D.C. actor Eric Dellums who was in Spike Lee’s School Daze and bought a $40 selection of go-go records, the local funk music.  I should note in passing that there was also a thriving punk scene in Washington D.C. in the 1980s, producing local groups like Fugazi and their predecessors Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Embrace.  Henry Rollins  is from D.C. (years before Black Flag and LA).  But I didn’t know about that then.  Shame – it would have been an interesting element for the play.

Chapter III nightclub, 1988

Next we spent night after night trying to get into go-go clubs to check the pulse of the scene.  Washington D.C. is called Chocolate City because the population is 80% black and often we are the only white people in evidence when we do get allowed in – I keep failing the no-sneakers rule.  Chapter III in SW Washington let us in eventually and the manager Adolphe took a shine to us and showed me the DJ booth where we watched some scratching and I was taught “The Butt“, a local dance, by a fat boy – the current hit single by E.U. or Experience Unlimited, also featured in the School Daze film.

Junkyard Band 1986

We carried on walking around the streets talking to homeless kids about their experiences.  Often they would be busking, we met one group on Capitol Hill on July 4th who ranged from 10-13 years old playing upside down buckets and jam-jars with a go-go beat.  They called themselves ‘High Profit’ and their heroes were The Junkyard Band.  The following day another young group at Dupont Circle were playing the buckets and cans, watched over by their mum.  They were called Backyard and clearly hoping for a hit record like their heroes Junkyard who’d been signed to Def Jam.  The fact that E.U. had a track in a Spike Lee joint had the go-go scene buzzing, and a few days later we went to an outside event at Brandywine, Maryland for a go-go spectacular to see local heroes JunkyardLittle Benny & The Masters, Hot Cold Sweat, Rare Essence and Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers.   This was a roll-call of the top go-go scene bands.  Temperatures were mid-80s and upwards.  Once again, Helen and I were pretty much the only white people there.

Bowie T-shirt !

Cycle shorts, hi-top sneakers and gold chains were the order of the day.  People posed for photographs in front of painted backdrops of Cadillacs, thrones and jewellry for $5 a picture.  The best one was Fred Flintstone with gold chains, diamond rings and Adidas sneakers with a speech bubble : “How Ya Like Me Now?”   Two dimensional images of wealth and status for the black American dreamers.  Another guy was selling T-shirts with crack slang:  ‘Beam Me Up Scotty‘ and on the back ‘Don’t Let Scotty Get Your Body‘.   I bought one, and for the rest of the summer people in D.C. asked me where I’d got it from.  The huge difference between Sanctuary UK and Sanctuary DC was crack cocaine.  We were surrounded by it here.  Teenagers openly flashing rolls of $100 bills.  Crack is the short cut to status and money and is inextricably linked to the murder rate.  Adolphe told me he wouldn’t allow go-go nights in Chapter III anymore after shooting incidents.  Ironically the go-go scene itself is anti-crack – a new supergroup had just released a 12″ single called D.C. Don’t Stand For Dodge City.  But it was entirely clear to me that if I decided to come back here and re-write my play,  crack would have to be part of the storyline.

But the other huge issue was race.  Fear.  Oppression.  Hate.  Only 20 years previously there had been Jim Crow laws in Washington : whites-only drinking fountains, rest-rooms, cinemas and lunch bars.  You could still feel it around the city.  I was cycling around like a naive white liberal poking my nose into communities who were selling drugs to survive, and it was killing them, literally.

One day I cycled down to a homeless shelter south of the Capitol building, and went in to meet the people who ran it.  On my way out I was surrounded by a group of angry and curious black men who wanted to know what I was doing there.  I explained that I was researching for a play about homelessness.  “You is European” one of them said, as an accusation.  Yes, I replied, I am English.  He didn’t mean that.  He meant I was white.  One scary-looking dude prowled around the edge of the circle of men like a caged tiger, a challenging look in his eye, flashing his coat open now and again to show me a 12-inch blade.  I tried to explain that I wasn’t racist – that I saw a colour-blind future.  Why the hell did I say that ?  I probably did feel that way in 1988.  I don’t anymore.  At all.  That will never happen.  I’m currently reading Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between The World & Me and here my current racial politics lies.  Resistance.  By all means necessary.  Non-violence ?  The establishment doesn’t respect it.  So why keep showing these 1960s civil rights scenes of black people being beaten?  No.  We’re entering a new paradigm I believe.  Or going back to an old one. Malcolm X.  The Panthers.  Enough is enough.

For some reason in downtown D.C. in 1988 this group of angry homeless black men heard some degree of non-hate in my voice and parted to allow me to cycle away.   Perhaps I had acknowledged their pain and circumstance, and they’d recognised that.  Or perhaps they’d meant no harm in the first place.

1988 was the final year of Reaganomics – the famous trickle-down bullshit – referenced by the Valentine Brothers on their seminal single Money’s Too Tight To Mention.  The Junkyard Band reference Reagan on The Word

Reagan gave The Pentagon the foodstamp money

and waiting in the wings was George Bush Sr, about to defeat Dukakis in the presidential election by calling him a liberal, as if it was a curse word.

Go-Go was born in Washington D.C. and can be traced right back to the 1960s – the word was originally a name for a club, as in Smokey Robinson’s Going To A Go-Go (1965) – and it developed as a live call-and-response form of funk music, hugely influenced by James Brown, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Grover Washington, among others, and using cowbell, congas and other percussion instruments to create a more latin or african groove.  The music has brass and the word “boogie” seemingly permanently in evidence, other dance tunes are often quoted, and it is best experienced live, since there was rarely a break between songs, any talking was done while the band played.

Chuck Brown has been credited with being the Godfather of Go-Go – perhaps he made the nation aware of it with his huge hit Bustin’ Loose in 1978, but he’d been around since the mid-60s.   Other exponents Trouble Funk and Rare Essence built the go-go house on solid ground alongside E.U. and others during the golden years of the 1980s.   Come to think of it the previous piece of music I’ve written about from Washington D.C. has some of this feel – Julia & Company’s Breaking Down (Sugar Samba) (see My Pop Life #50) has a great deal of cowbell !

Junkyard Band

Junkyard Band started out in 1980 with members as young as nine playing on buckets and cans and bottles and traffic cones and they would add an instrument when they could afford it. By 1985 they were honed into a funky percussion ensemble that rapped more than the other acts, had less horns and had a defining street-edge.  Def Jam Records signed them and in 1986 Rick Rubin produced the double A-side  The Word, flipside Sardines, now their signature tune.

They are still playing together in Washington and elsewhere.

My Pop Life #114 : There’s Nothing Better Than Love – Luther Vandross

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There’s Nothing Better Than Love   –   Luther Vandross

…what in the world could you ever be thinking of ??…

This song makes me melt, because of the music, the words, the rhythm, the notes, and where it takes me – to 1989 and falling in love with Jenny.   We had started dating in the summer of ’88 and following a mad American road trip at the end of that year I had finally almost accepted that she WAS the ONE.  1989 we were together.  We were in Portsmouth where I proposed, in New York City and Washington D.C., but mainly we were in London, in Highgate N6, on the middle section of the Archway Road.

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Jenny had introduced me to Luther Vandross in the shape of two LPs : Give Me The Reason and Any Love.  Probably three actually because I remember Never Too Much from this era too.  Luther was new to me, although I’d unknowingly heard him before singing background vocals on David Bowie’s Young Americans in 1974 and co-writing the song Fascination.  He also sang on the LP Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, one of the greatest soul albums of all time, released in 1972, which includes the first incarnation of Where Is The Love.  He also sang backing for Diana Ross, Chic, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Carly Simon among others.  I found all this out later.

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One Thursday evening in late January we lay in bed together and I summoned the courage to tell Jenny that it was all over, that I didn’t think it would be a good idea if we carried on seeing each other.  “Why not?” said Jen, who was lying on my shoulder, my right arm around her.  “Well,” I said, “Because I don’t want you to fall in love with me.”  Luther Vandross was on the stereo singing this song !  “I’m already in love with you…” she answered.  The answer that stopped my breathing, and halted the celestial cycle and melted my heart, and softened my very bones.  I pulled her toward me in an embrace.  We have been together since that moment.

My courting of Jenny had reached the point of going to meet the parents, so one Sunday I was formally introduced to Esther & Thomas Jules a handsome and loving St Lucian couple who had produced a houseful of gorgeous girls and one son.  They were very kind and served me a classic West Indian Sunday roast : chicken, plantain, yam, corn, greens, roast potatoes, dashin and gravy.  Delicious.  Mr Jules insisted that I drink a whisky or a rum with him.  I complied happily.  Jenny had two older sisters : Dee and Mollie, and two younger : Natasha and Lucy.  Jon the brother was slightly older than Jenny.  They were all very warm and friendly toward me because they all loved Jenny very much and didn’t want to upset their sister.  But also because they have all been brought up with love, and have it in abundance to spare.  It was just the family I needed and wanted to become a part of.  Solid, secure, easy, supportive and loving.   I’d already proposed to Jenny in February ’89 but hadn’t asked her father yet – but that is for another song and another story.

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Luther Vandross is the soundtrack to those young lovers though.   At the time he was an unfeasibly smooth, handsome and sultry soul singer with a very modern sound – his music is forever attached to the 1980s.   Those LPs were played a lot in Archway Road.  Beautifully produced – but what a voice.   One of the great singers of my lifetime, so expressive, so pure, gentle, and sensitive.  In a line of greatness back to Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, the record you play after you’ve gone to bed.  Love music.  Of course women also sing this music – Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Sade, Gladys Knight, Toni Braxton, Roberta Flack and on and on.   Is anyone still doing it you ask ?  Oh yes – Usher, Ciara, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Frank Ocean, Lianne La Havas, and on and on.    It will always be made of course.

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My soul development went something like this :  60s – Motown on the radio, 70s – Al Green on TOTP, discovery of James Brown, Otis Redding, Stax & Atlantic then through Philly, back to Sam Cooke and Jacky Wilson, Barry White & Teddy Pendergrass, Earth Wind & Fire into DISCO, Donna Summer and all that somehow emerging into the 80s with Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC, Electro LPs and Prince.  So I had completely missed the soul continuum that Luther Vandross represents.   Jenny introduced him to me, and soon I loved him too.

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March ’89, Wembley

He was playing at Wembley Arena in March 1989 and Jenny’s sister Dee asked if we wanted to go, so together with Mick her boyfriend, we did.  It was a sold-out ten-night run in the Arena, which is massive – and Luther was the first artist to sell that many tickets, he was huge in England in the late 80s.  Rightly so.  We sat to his left, he wore silver and black, we swooned and went home happy and high.  The concert was released on video/DVD sometime later in 1991 but we’ve never seen it.   This song was on the brilliant LP Give Me The Reason in 1986, and is a duet with Gregory Hines.   I think it’s time to have a look at that night in March 1989.  Because – you know – and I know – there is nothing better than love.