My Pop Life #167 : Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean

Thinkin Bout You   –   Frank Ocean

or do you not think so far ahead ?  Cos I been thinkin’ bout forever…

Moments of bliss.  The moments we think we live for, the ones we’ve earned.  Are they holidays ?  Sometimes.  Are they music ?  Sometimes.  Happiness is fleeting of course, it’s there for a second crest the green horizon and see the feminine green curves of the hills before you  >freedom<  >bliss<   then next second it’s gone as you look down to avoid flints and cowpats.   The brain isn’t wired for bliss really.  That’s why getting stoned is so great – so you can hold onto those moments for just a little longer.  I’m sitting here thinking about the glorious summer of 2012 in England when suddenly everything was right – in my world.

What was it about summer 2012 ?  Well the London Olympics for a start.  Marvellous.  And my dear friend Paulette Randall was helping Danny Boyle direct the Opening Ceremony.  I’ll write about that another time, but it was cool, and Jenny and I drove to The Mermaid Inn in Rye to watch it and celebrate our wedding anniversary.  2012 was the year I realised that the Paralympics were better than the Olympics, and got tickets for two separate days in the Stadium to watch it.  I saw my dad singing in the Proms for the Desert Island Discs Prom with Huddersfield Choral, and attended with Paulette, Simon and brother Andrew.  Again for another blog, but happiness.  But what else was it ?

We had bought Roxy in the previous winter and she was now a full member of the household, much to Mimi’s evident displeasure.  Both Cornish Rex females. Not ideal, but no missing fur.  And then there were the bike rides….

I’d bought the bike in Kentish Town in the mid 90s, had drop handlebars put (upside-down!)  onto a mountain bike so we could walk past it in the Archway Road hallway.  When we moved to Brighton I replaced the handlebars with BMX ones and took it out the back door up onto the Downs at the back of our house, up Walpole Road past the primary school up past the allotments to the old iron-age fort and down to the racecourse, round the inside rail of the racetrack on open ground, across the road, and then take the back way across the top of Woodingdean to Falmer Road.

Cross that road and you’re on your way to Kingston Ridge, or the secret valley, or the South Downs Way which crosses the A27 to your left down a steep chalk path alongside carpets of poppies, barley and wild flowers full of butterflies.  Or sometimes I cycled from the house straight up to the railway station, up Dyke Road to Devil’s Dyke, then went along the South Downs Way to the River Adur, down to Shoreham Harbour and back along the seafront.  Or the other way around.  With a right turn when I felt like it.  There are endless variations on all of these routes across the South Downs National Park as it now thankfully is.  I took one of my OS maps andmarked all the routes I’d done in yellow highlighter.  Can’t help it.  Essential packing – water bottle, map, camera/phone, cigarettes.  Most journeys : about two hours.  Seek your bliss.

It is stunning : a beautiful acreage of man-managed yet natural beauty, occasionally farmed and grazed. Per square metre this is the most diverse and fecund ecosystem in the UK.  You just need to get really close to see all the variation in those ground-hugging plants :  horseshoe vetch, cowslips, primula, birds-foot trefoil, salad burnet, mouse-ear hawkweed, stemless thistles, wild marjoram, worts, rampions and many orchids, all supporting a healthy population of moths and butterflies and dragonflies and other life.  There are lost glades of Silver-Washed Fritillaries and White Admirals if you know where to find them.    Yes you see, this is holy ground.  This is bliss, for me.

Frank Ocean released Channel ORANGE in July 2012 and it hooked me from first listen.  Proper soul music, lovely chords, influences from the 1970s Elton, Stevie, Sly and others but new music, wonderful new music.  What a beautiful record.  This song, the opener is a stunning piece of work, so simple, so heartfelt.  What a lift I get from really loving  brand new piece of music, the kids are all right, it’s all still good.

Yes, of course
I remember, how could I forget 
How you feel ?
You know you were my first time 
A new feel
It won’t ever get old, not in my soul,
Not in my spirit, keep it alive 
We’ll go down this road
‘Til it turns from colour to black and white

The talk around the album – talk offered by Frank Ocean himself – was that some of the songs, including Thinkin Bout You were about an (unrequited?) gay affair Frank had when he was 19.   He was now 25, and although this was his first studio-produced album, the previous year he’d released a mixtape called Nostalgia, Ultra which again was a fantastic new look at soul music for the 21st Century, and before that there were a whole bunch of songs to hunt down, later released as The Lonny Breaux Collection for completists.  Originally from New Orleans, Ocean moved to LA in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina drowned his recording space, and he stayed on the West Coast.  

He has a very refreshing take on everything – for example “his” track American Wedding on Nostalgia, Ultra which is essentially the whole of the title track of The Eagles’ Hotel California with Frank singing different lyrics over the top.  Don Henley hates him.  It’s brilliant.  I was already used to Hotel California being a black man’s favourite track since my brother from another mother Eamonn Walker confessed to me earlier the same year (2012) when I was living in his Los Angeles pad high in the hills.  Moments of bliss there too.  Channel ORANGE was bliss from start to finish, from Sweet Life written with Pharrell : “Who needs the world when you got the beach?” to Super Rich Kids channelling Bennie & The Jets with an Earl Sweatshirt rap (Frank’s buddy from the LA Odd Future Collective) to the monster 9-minute syth-sweaty funk of Pyramids – an Egyptian myth re-told in a Las Vegas strip club – all produced by Frank aka Christopher Breaux and his old spar Malay aka James Ryan Ho – it is a soul record of the very highest quality.   Now for the next one…

the only version on the internet with the glorious string intro :

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My Pop Life #120 : I Love It : Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX

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I Love It   :   Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX

I threw your shit into a bag and shoved it down the stairs

I crashed my car into the bridge – I don’t care !

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Trashy electro bubblegum pop of the very finest kind.  And I’ll tell you why.  It was April 2012 and my sister was turning 40.  One of those moments when you realise that a large number of years have passed by and that young baby who was born in the 1970s was now a grown woman with three kids – which meant I was officially middle-aged.  Age ain’t nothing but a number they say – and they’re right – the inside of my head feels largely the same as when I was 25, but boy some things make you stop short and gulp.

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Rebecca and Alan

Rebecca’s dad-in-love (if not in blood or law) the rather wonderful Alan Sully had booked my band The Brighton Beach Boys to perform at this event, in The Fishermen’s Club in Eastbourne – eastern Eastbourne, somewhere beachside.  I’ll save the band moment for a later post – but just to say that it all went down very well, and remains the only time that my Mum ever saw the Brighton Beach Boys play live.  But for another day.  The band packed up their instruments and gear and drove back to Brighton, leaving Jenny and I to celebrate with the family and friends.  Mum had come with Darren her oldest and dearest friend, both pushing 80, the youngest people there weren’t even 10.  Alan was there with his bowling club mates, Becky’s friends were social workers and teachers.  Mollie, Becky’s oldest daughter was 15, Ellie was 13 and William was 9.  I think.  There were sausages on sticks, cheese sandwiches, a huge cake and lots of drink.  Lots of drink.  We would eventually get the train back to Brighton so no designated driver.

Rebecca was born in Hailsham East Sussex on 29 April 1972 almost exactly two months after her dad John Daignault was kicked out by Mum.  She wouldn’t get to meet him until she was in her 30s.  Born in the midst of a dysfunctional family storm that lasted for at least the first decade of her life, she grew up largely with Mum.  I left home in 1975 at 18 years old, but had spent much of the previous two years in Kingston nr Lewes with the Ryle family.  Paul left home, or was kicked out by Mum, the same year.  Andrew stayed until he too was 18 four years later, then left for college.  So Becky’s prime relationship was always with her Mum.  They bicker, they fight, but they are close – perhaps too close at times.  When Mum met Alan and married him in 1987 her and Rebecca moved into Alan’s house in Polegate by the railway station and Becky called Alan ‘dad’ from then on, and he treated her as his daughter.  Although that marriage also didn’t last a lifetime Alan always kept true to his word and looked after Becky, and this birthday was one of his finest hours.  He proudly paid for everything, and didn’t impose his will on anyone – as far as I know!  I am 15 years older than Bex and have always felt protective of her, although she never appeared to need protection to be honest.  She has ploughed her own furrow through life and is a strong, versatile, funny and warm woman, a great mother and a totally supportive and loving sister.  I love her to bits.  We don’t see that much of each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever really had a seriously cross word.  there’s the shared history of dealing with Mum of course which we all have, but Andrew and I occasionally fight, and Paul and I have had some legendary fights.  Becky and I – never.  Always aligned somehow.

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Proud Mum and her daughters :  Mollie, Rebecca, Ellie

So we drank and ate, admired the cake and drank some more.  The kids were dancing but the adults mooched around the edges.  And then this song dropped.  A churning plumb drop of electronic bass and a thumping 4×4 drumbeat with fierce young ladies chanting in punk pop rant above it.  “I don’t CARE : I LOVE IT”.  The room became instantly transformed into a bouncing melee of mental dancing – young, old, friends, foes, people who didn’t dance and people who absolutely DID.  It was a moment.  Mollie and Ellie were drunk ravers by now and raised the bar on the dance floor.  What was really great was the Everyone loved this song.  Half an hour later Rebecca was in her absolute element and took the party and the dancefloor by the throat.  I have never ever seen her so drunk as that night.  It was glorious – like performance art, she strutted, twirled, span around and around, made shapes and poses, flung her head back, pointed at the sky and ruled.  We howled.  She loved it and so did we.  A memorable event of a night, and yes there are pictures, but to protect the sister who needs no protection I will only post the one below.  There are others…

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can I kick it

I suspect this song has been responsible for quite a few moments, at weddings, birthdays, clubs and raves.  It’s quite simply a stonker.  In a perfect story, my two teenage nieces would have shouted the line

you’re from the seventies but I’m a nineties bitch

at me, their aged uncle Ralph who is indeed from the seventies, but given their ages they scarcely merit the 90s bitch claim.  Ah well they probably sang it at me and their Mum anyway !

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Charlie XCX

Written by Charlotte Aitchison when she was a relatively experienced songwriter at the age of 19 (having started public performance aged 14 encouraged by her parents), she didn’t think I Love It would suit her style at the time (2011).  It was picked up by Swedish producer Patrick Berger who’d previously worked with Robyn on her influential dance record Body Talk Pt 1 and in particular Dancing On My Own.  Swedish producers currently rule the world of pop on both sides of the Atlantic – notably Max Martin (Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry) and Tove Lo who also worked with the Swedish band Icona Pop.  Icona Pop were formed in 2009 by Stockholm teens Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, they hit the jackpot with Charlie XCX‘s “I Love It” on which Charlie was a featured artist. Although the song was released in the US in 2012 it didn’t reach the UK charts until 2013.

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It is cheesy trashy irresistible fist-pumping pop of the finest lowest-common-denominator kind, a call to arms to unburden yourself of any conformist instincts for the duration of its 2 minutes and 37 seconds and thus takes its place in the great canon of perfect pop.  It’s a destroyer of the generation gap.  It’s a fucking classic.   Make sure the DJ plays it at your party.

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My Pop Life #96 : Climb On Board – Labrinth

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Climb On Board   –   Labrinth

Something tell me I’m almost there…

When was the day the music died ?   Not the Buddy Holly plane crash – For you I mean.  Or did it just fade away ?  How exactly do you ‘keep up’ with what’s going on ?  Maybe it doesn’t really matter to you.   Isn’t it strange that we all have a magic year of music which coincides with our 13th-14th birthdays?   Mine is 1971 – almost every song from that year makes me go weak at the knees.   So perhaps there is a year when we disengage with music, and our own peculiar musical taste is set in stone.   I find that my taste is growing all the time and – some people do this –  I actually do try to keep up with “what’s going on” – but in a filtered way of course.   For example – I was immersed in the punk and post-punk scene in London, but probably ignored the funk music, the metal, the folk music of that time.   I was similarly enamoured with hip hop from 1987-1990 and almost literally bought everything, but as a result ignored much of the pop and rock music of the late eighties (did I miss much?).   And as the years roll by, how do we stay in touch…?  Do we even want to…?  Should a 50-year-old man be listening to Radio One ?  Why not ?

If you have young people in your life, music becomes current naturally – if they live in your house you will hear the latest thing whether you want to or not.  My own musical curiosity has not dimmed at all over the years, and from time to time I do listen to Radio One, especially in the evenings if I’m in England, or even online.   I still read reviews of new music : Pitchfork, The Guardian, Quietus, anywhere.   I still chase music down, whether on Youtube channels, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp.   People send me stuff.   I follow up on leads.   I keep my ears open, generally.   But it is impossible to stay abreast of everything, even if that were desirable.   My relationship with music comes partly from repetition – listening to an LP over and over again, becoming obsessed with it, having to hear it at least once a day.  I still have those moments, but not so often.  Now – songs will still grab me, and I like to listen to them over and over.  Everything Everything still do that for me, three albums in.  Kanye West still does that for me.  And Labrinth certainly does that for me.

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I first heard this track Climb On Board by Labrinth inside my own house, played by my nephew Thomas Jules to one of his friends Paul.  They both loved it in a way that I immediately understood.   I really liked it too.   We played it again, then I ordered the LP Electronic Earth and it arrived a few days later.   It was summer 2012, I’d just shot Inspector George Gently with the rather wonderful Martin Shaw in Durham, and I’d taken the rather fantastic Diana Quick to dinner and talked shop.    I was now embarking on another round of the sitcom Him & Her for BBC3, where I played Her Dad.   My wife – or Her Mum – was one of my regular acting partners Marion Bailey – I think this was our fifth or sixth job together – not always married, but people who like her also like me, apparently.

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Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani were Him & Her, while Ricky Champ, Kerry Howard, Joe Wilkinson and Camille Coduri were the other regulars.  They became my family for four years, finishing in 2013 with The Wedding.  I did eight episodes in all.  It was a Great Gig, all directed by Richard Laxton, all written by Stefan Golaszewski, I’m immensely pleased and proud to have been a part of this series.

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Climb On Board is electronic music, 21st century British music.  It uses a drum and bass beat, auto-tuned vocals, synthesised riffs and chords and dubstep rhythms and breaks.  It is massively confident without being lyrically too clever.  It’s probably about drugs.  The middle eight is thrilling, and my favourite piece of the song (as so often with a Beatles or Motown track).   But there is another interesting feature which is the almost continuous conversation going on in the background – I haven’t managed to decode all of it but at one point you hear him saying “one step two step three step…whoah!” which presumably references 2-Step, the original name for the child of UK garage dubstep.   The idea being that Labrinth has gone beyond his roots in 2-step, gone beyond even 3-step.   The middle eight confirms that this is no idle boast.   The LP Electronic Earth has a large number of high points – this is track one, other hits include Earthquake which is tremendously powerful in a live context, Beneath Your Beautiful with Emeli Sandé providing the lead vocal,  Express Yourself (taking on the famous song from Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band) and Sundown which is a take on Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.

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Clearly Labrinth is a major talent.   Born Timothy MacKenzie in North London, he and his eight siblings formed a band called Mac9.   His big breakthrough came when he hooked up with South Londoner Tinie Tempah and produced, and sang the vocals “Let it rain, let it pour away…” on the huge hit single Pass Out which reached number 1 in 2010 and won best British single at the Brits the following year.   Labrinth and Tinie Tempah collaborated again on the single Frisky, shortly after that Simon Cowell signed Labrinth to Syco his record label.   Labrinth remains the only non-variety-show winner on Cowell’s label.    Tinie Tempah returned the favour and dropped in to spit some lyrics on the single Earthquake in October 2011.   Electronic Earth was released in March 2012.

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Jenny and I saw him and his band performing live at The Brighton Centre on Feb 13th 2013 when Plan B was headlining and Rudimental was supporting, with nephew Thomas singing all the John Newman parts.  It was needless to say a rather splendid night.  Rudimental and Thomas smashed it as they always do – not that I take it for granted, ever – Labrinth played keyboards, lead guitar, pushed buttons and sang and was very impressive, and Plan B was doing the whole “She said I love you boy I love you so…” LP (Defamation Of Strickland Banks) with a cracking band and dancers!    I saw Labrinth again later in 2013 when Rizzle Kicks (old friends, long story) played Shakedown Festival in Stanmer Park and Labrinth was supporting.  He was excellent once again.

So now I look out for his new stuff – the last single Let It Be was very different to anything off the drum and bass style of Electronic Earth – more like new school soul music, or church in space perhaps, and it also featured a brilliant video.  Which I appear to have imagined since it has disappeared from the web.  But the new album looks like it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

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As for what’s new in 2015 – I couldn’t tell you since I’ve spent much of my music allowance time (strictly policed!) on this blog.   But early indications suggest that Natalie Prass, Kendrick Lamar and East India Youth might be pushing Mark Ronson, Hudson Mohawke and Everything Everything for that coveted Album of The Year Award.   Awarded by me.  Of course !  Unless the new LP from Labrinth : Take Me To The Truth knocks them all into a cocked hat !   Whatever that means !  Apparently we’ll find out on October 16th 2015.   In the meantime, we have this :

My Pop Life #65 : Wake Up Alone – Amy Winehouse

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Wake Up Alone   –   Amy Winehouse

He’s fierce in my dreams, seizing my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked in soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone

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This is an incredible song from a deeply talented songwriter and singer who sadly left us at way too young an age.   She has many imitators, but none who can match her artistry.   I was working on a film called Tower Block on the day she died – 23rd July 2011 – with an accomplished gang which included Russell Tovey, Jack O’Connell, Julie Graham, Nabil Elouahabi, Kano, Montserrat Lombard, Jill Baker and Sheridan Smith.  Towards the end of the shoot I was suddenly aware that Sheridan was in floods of tears so I went over and asked her what was wrong.  “Amy” she said, “she’s gone“.  It was a terrible moment, and without further explanation I knew that she was dead.  Sheridan was one of her friends.  What an utter and tragic waste, that we all saw enacted in front of our eyes.

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In 1984 I did a play at the Tricycle Theatre in north London called Return To The Forbidden Planet.  I played the saxophone.  The MD was Hereward Kaye.

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In 2012 I was playing saxophone in The Amy Winehouse Experience at a music festival, with Hereward Kaye’s sons Joe and Rory Kaye, and my wife’s childhood friend Pippa.   Wait.  I’ll explain.

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Rewind to north west London and two young girls : one with St Lucian parents, one jewish, doing dance routines for their own imaginary TV show.  My wife Jenny was the black girl, her best friend was Philippa Randall.  They danced together, sang into hairbrushes, choreographed steps and roped in siblings to ‘assist’.   As the years went by they stayed in touch, Jenny became an actor, Pippa a nail technician.  When Jenny got married, all of Pippa’s family came, when Pippa got married to Tony, Jenny and I went.   When Jenny and Pippy’s Nanny Flo died, we all went to the funeral.   Then Philippa’s wonderful parents Roy and Robbie decided to move to Spain for their retirement.  Pippa and her Prince-lookalike husband Tony joined them.  We missed Pippa when she was in Spain but she seemed to like it there and flourished.  Her marriage wasn’t working though, despite two beautiful girls Tia Bliss and Lucy Bear.   After the inevitable split with Tony, Phillippa came back to the UK with her parents and 2 girls and her new man Joe Kaye, whom she’d met in southern Spain, and whose own parents were also very special, Hereward and Pat.   Yes, the same Hereward who’d been my musical director at the Trike.   The extended family moved back from the Costa Brava to Linfield, (just outside Haywards Heath a few miles north of Brighton) and Herry & Pat opened a Rock School nearby with Joe, who is  a very good guitarist and musician in his own right.

Now : Philippa just happens to be a spitting image of Amy Winehouse, a terrific singer, and being a North London jewess I guess all the pieces were in place.  The whole family had come to see The Brighton Beach Boys one night playing our big concert – Sgt Pepper v Pet Sounds and absolutely loved it.  Herry’s other son Rory is also a guitarist and now has his own band playing rock.  Joe and Philippa asked me to step in on sax for some gigs.  I was a huge fan of Amy, so I agreed.

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Then I had to learn the songs!  I had both LPs, “Frank” was a breath of fresh air in 2003 with it’s jazzy vibe, but certainly didn’t prepare us for Back To Black in 2006 which is quite simply a modern masterpiece.  Produced by Mark Ronson, with the analogue old-school New York soul band The Dap-Kings providing almost all the session musicians, as well as being her touring band in 2006, it was a perfect confluence of elements.  Every track is special.  And having had to learn them all for the horn parts, I can tell you that they have very unusual and intriguing chord sequences.  Take “Wake Up Alone” which is the best song on the album for me :

verse :       A     A    G#    G#    C#m   C#m    C     C

Emaj7   Emaj7    C#m   C#m   C    C    F#m   F  

bridge :         Dsus4      D     G     E7b9   x3

chorus :          C     Bm    E7b9

See what I mean ?   I’m joking – that’s for the musos reading.    But take my word for it – that’s a wonderful series of chords.  The lyrics are even better…

…That silent sense of content that everyone gets

Just disappears as soon as the sun sets…

It is a song of deep longing, unfulfilled.  Plenty of water references – he swims in my eyes by the bed is an incredible line,  Pour myself over him….  This is soul music,  as good as it gets.   I never did see Amy live, and I wish I had.   I know many who saw the slurring, shaky performances of those last few years.  Terribly terribly sad.  I prefer to remember her with the swaggering yet vulnerable poise of that incredible show from 2006 in Ireland, at the St James’ Church in Dingle on Dec 3rd, or the Shepherd’s Bush concert from the same year.   But I got great pleasure in playing her songs with a lovely tight band based around my friends, old and new and my wife’s  friend Pippa, giving her own trembling chutzpah and antsy tottering to the Winehouse legend, tattoos carefully drawn on, beehive in place, that dark trembling voice just about intact.

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A remarkable circle of life – Herry and I had played Good Vibrations on stage every night at the Tricycle, the show there, written by Bob Carlton, being a rock’n’roll musical of the sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, which itself is a re-imaging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.   The notable thing about the Tricycle’s production of this show, (which originated at Bubble Theatre and went on to grace the West End), was that it introduced the novel idea of having black actors in the cast – the inhabitants of the magical island – this being part of the theatre’s brief, and their local audience.   Ram John Holder played Prospero, and found me a place to live since I was once again homeless as that show ended its run.  In a further spiral to this circle, my wife Jenny was schooled at the Tricycle Youth Theatre during the 80s, and is now on the Board of that great venue.   Jenny has also performed Amy – at a special celebration fundraiser for Nicholas Kent, who was artistic director of the Tricycle for many years – singing Love Is A Losing Game with Graham Kearns accompanying.  I’d love to have seen that, but I saw Jenny rehearsing it many times !

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 I only played a handful of gigs with the Amy Winehouse Experience, but it was worth it for the opportunity to get inside these tremendous songs.    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, in various incarnations – Amy Winehouse.

track 8 from Back To Black :

incredible live performance at Shepherd’s Bush :

The Amy Winehouse Experience live, 2012 :

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Amy-Winehouse-Experience/390986427614883

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

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A Salty Dog   –   Procol Harum

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

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

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

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

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

Db-5                        Csus4     C           Cm7                       Bbsus4 Bb

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

Fm/Ab                  Fm              Fm7     Db-5                       E6

Explore the ship   replace the cook      Let no one leave alive

B/F#                     F#                          B        Bmaj7          B7

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

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

A twisted path   our tortured course   And no one left alive

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

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

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

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

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Filming Dark Tide with real Great Whites off South Africa

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

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