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, Too Many Crooks and me – 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.

Brazil – Copa das Copas – 3

Day 3 – Sao Paulo

The eyes of the world are on Sao Paulo today. Sure enough a small demonstration is broken up by riot police with tear gas and sticks. Later the ITV studio in Rio will have rocks thrown at it, and other cities will also see tear gas and masked protestors.  This is a country ill at ease with itself, aware that the sport it so loves is being used to quell domestic unrest.  The tax-free profits of FIFA have melded with the corruption of the Brazilian government to produce an uneasy atmosphere manifest by graffiti springing up both celebrating the Selecao and lampooning the orgy of greed. Image

But come what may, the World Cup will begin today and like all bread and all circuses throughout history it will sweep across the  discontent, the anger, the cynicism and the fury and be another pacification force called football.

If Brazil win today that is.

We travel into central Sao Paulo, passing Croats in their red-and-white chequered shirts, and a tide of yellow and green.  The feeling is still tentative, and the old town is deserted but for gangs of armoured police squads lingering on street corners waiting to crush the revolution should it dare to appear.  The FanFest area is livelier – music pumps out and a small crowd gather to enter – making sure to finish their beer and coke, because FIFA rules are that no food or drink will be allowed into a FIFA area. All the locals dudes selling cans and bottles outside are disenfranchised at a stroke.  Somewhat against our instincts we shuffle into the crowd and enter the dragon.  ImageEveryone is in here. Mexicans, English, Germans, Colombians, Chileans, Ecuadorians, homeless men and women, and thousands of locals.  Beer is the local Brahma (no Budweiser !)  This is a compromise since in Brazil beer is banned from football stadiums and events. FIFA forced them to change the law. So I guess the Brazilians insisted on their local beer) People are already drunk and it’s two hours before the opening match kicks off.  The opening ceremony doesn’t appear on the big screen : instead we get a local version of Justin Beiber who causes an outbreak of fist pumping and singalong frenzy. Image

It’s gonna get messy here. We slide out the side and walk up the steps to a previously ear-marked bar and restaurant, securing a table next to some noisy folk from Seattle and underneath a screen, order some beer and pizza and wait for the kick-off.

I guess if you’re reading this you’ve seen the match by now. The first Brazilian goal, symbolically, was in their own net. 1-0 Croatia. The Europeans looked sharp and played direct, marshalled by world-class recently shorn midfielder Luka Modric. Neymar equalised with a beautiful shot, and it was game on.  The atmosphere in the bar was fantastic. Image


Then the referee awarded one of the dodgiest penalties in the history of World Football and even some of the locals looked embarrassed. Neymar put it away, a Croatian goal was disallowed for a “foul on the keeper” and Oscar finished the story 3-1. The script was exposed and laid bare for all to see – Brazil HAD to win this game, for themselves, for the World Cup and for the survival of FIFA. A fix ? A referee who didn’t speak English ? We’ve seen it all before in previous trounaments where Brazil – FIFA’s bitch – have been ushered through games by the officials. Nothing new here, sponsor’s rules, advert breaks featuring Brazilian superstars have another five weeks to run. But the feeling of shame embarrassment and anger will not be shaken.

Our beautiful game has been stolen by thieves, crooks and pigs. FIFA have taken everything beautiful and turned it into a corporate whore dance of death.  FIFA must be destroyed.  We want our ball back.

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Brazil – Copa das Copas – 2

Day 2.  Sao Paulo The day starts with the worst taxi journey you can imagine – you know – the one where the car doesn’t move for seven minutes at a time, when you’re watching old ladies walk past you up the road and the minutes tick away towards the time your plane is leaving. We get to Santos Dumont airport 45 minutes before our plane is due to take off, but they’re all relaxed, take our cases and let us on.  It’s a beautiful airport too. Santos Dumont airportA quick 45-minute flight down the coast to Sao Paulo – and aside from the odd FIFA representative and sundry Australian fans, you wouldn’t know that a World Cup was starting tomorrow. The country feels tense.  A year ago a million people participated in demonstrations against the cost of this tournament: imagine, Sepp Blatter and his corrupt cronies at FIFA have actually turned Brazil off of football.  There are bits and pieces of bunting but it rather feels as if a nation is holding its breath and waiting for the moment of truth. We check in to Pousada Zilah in the Jardins district, Jenny gets a migraine (from her yellow fever jab – delayed) so I walk up to the Paulista metro station and travel the new subway system into the centre of this huge city of 20 million people – the largest in the southern hemisphere. It’s bright, spacious and air-conditioned and feels very new. Disembarking at Parc Do Se I skid through the homeless, drunk and mentally ill and find XV Novembre where Lebanese merchants are selling all things yellow and green.  FIFA have established themselves appropriately in a vast bank and I go to collect our 2 legitimate tickets for the game on my birthday in Manaus next week. The FIFA girl takes my picture and explains that when we enter the stadium, my face will flash up – this to deter touts.  What if I get ill ? I ask – you’d rather have an empty seat ??  Anyway, I stroll past the Croatians making pub noise down to the viaduct which overlooks the FanFest – still being built at 7pm the night before the opening game. A father and son watch the preparations from the bridge. Fahter and son watch FanFest prep A slight sense of anticipation starts to build. I walk back past the Teatro and the buskers, more yellow and green and red-and-white checks, and a proper gathering of football people near Republicca Square, the Croat boys taking selfies with Brazilian girls, their optimism all-consuming. Back in Jardins the tree-lined avenues are relaxed and European so Jenny and I decide to eat in a beautiful Italian restaurant called Positano and decide that we prefer Sao Paulo to Rio.  We are of course experts by now. Two whole days in Brasil.

 

Brazil – Copa das Copas 2014

Day One – Cantagalo, Copacabana, Ipanema

Jenny and I meet Sidney from the Museum of the Favela at the foot of the Miranda lift with Daniel and his wife Vela helping to translate.  We ascend the lift to a viewing room.  Now level with the hillside, overlooking Ipanema beach, the lift and walkway was completed 4 years ago to link the hillside favela of Cantagalo with the beach community of Ipanema. Previously, favela inhabitants had to walk up the steep steps. The lift and walkway are very blue, very modern, and very much in use as people are walk past us while Daniel does the translation and Sidney greets his friends. The artwork starts to appear – painted onto the sides of buildings by local artists and depicting in vivid colour the history of the favela – started by freed slaves over 100 years ago and usually the first port of call for those seeking work in Rio from other parts of Brasil, particularly Minas Gerais to the north.  Cantagalo cock The mood darkens as a possee of armed police walk past in combat mode, pointing their weapons like a SWAT team into people’s houses.  Sidney waits for them to pass then shows his contempt for this “pacification force”.  We walk up, we walk down, past tight little dwellings cramped onto the slopes, through dark alleyways where dogs are stretched out asleep, tiny hair salons, cafes, stores and kids playing. IMG_7734The views over Rio are breathtaking. Makes we wonder out loud whether the gentrifiers will be along shortly. Slightly farther south past Leblon this is already happening to a hillside favela which looks from a distance like Positano on the Amalfi coast. As the facilities improve here – sanitation, running water, electricity and now the modern, free access, these areas become more desirable to the middle class.  MUF HQWe reach the Museum HQ, buy a T-shirt and pose for photos on the roof.  Moving into Pavao-Parvinhno, a twin favela above Copacabana the mood changes again. Pavao-ParvinhnoA funicular railway here serves the steep hillside and marks the place where a water tower fell down one Christmas day ten years ago killing whole families.  We walk through the entertainment corridor where men unload crates of drink and other men scarcely conceal their weapons. Sidney advises me not to take pictures. But in the next breath he insists that we are safer up here in the slums than we are on the beach down below us, where pickpockets roam and armed muggers look for opportunities. Sidney and Pavao dancerHe poses next to a picture of a dancer from the favela and big on TV : Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, killed by the police two month ago. There were riots here when his body was found. Jenny recognises a graffiti from a US World Cup commercial. We walk down the steps and out, shaking hands.

Sidney CantagaloIt’s been an entertaining and enlightening 3 hours and a great way to start our Brazilian adventure.

Two minutes later we are strolling along the promenade of famous Copacabana beach being gently hassled by trinket sellers, spotting fans from Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, England, Spain and Mexico all deciding not to eat the various fried food offerings. A giant temporary structure at one end of the beach turns out to be the media centre where Gary Lineker, Adrian Chiles et al will broadcast from for the next month. At the far end of the great curved beach is the FIFA Fanpark, where we expect to watch England v Italy on Saturday night. fix the fucking picture

We walk around the headland to Ipanema beach where the tone softens, surfers fight the breaking waves and mini-vultures hop along the shoreline. Hat and scarf sellers have to pack up and vanish at a moment’s notice whenever a police car drives slowly and malevolently along the service road. We sip on vodka & tonic and watch the world walking by.  Later that night we eat with the beautiful people in Caffe Felice amidst a tropical downpour and a dumb waiter who brings me milk in a teapot. One mosquito bite and bed.