My Pop Life #245 : Double Barrel – Dave & Ansel Collins

Double Barrel – Dave & Ansel Collins

I am the magnificent  W   O   O   O

*

This blog is stretching my memory to breaking point.  A few weeks ago (September 2020) I was trying to recall one of the surrogate family experiences I had as a teenager, sheltering at a friend’s house while mum had a rest, or became homeless, or in this particular case, had a termination.  I’d spent a few weeks – maybe just a week I can’t remember – with Simon Lester’s family in Chiddingly in deepest Sussex in this instance and had vivid memories of learning to drive a battered car in the field behind the house.

I contacted Simon to see how much he remembered, in particular about when it occurred.  I sent him a blurry Polaroid of him at school in the hope that it would jog his memory.

Simon Lester at Lewes Priory with Jenny Yewlett – but when?

I also sent the picture to Simon Korner because he has specialised in his writing in remembering this intense period of our schooldays.  Controversy ensued.  I thought it was around 1973, last year of Middle School because of the fence.  (Wrong – Middle School was 3rd & 4th years) Simon K. thought that the fence was where we smoked in Upper School – 5th, 6th forms.  And Jenny T. didn’t arrive at the school until the 5th year apparently.  So why were we smoking in Middle school?  It went on.  Simon Lester and I have another mutual friend, John Hawkins who was imaginatively nicknamed Billy at school and who was a regular at the Goldstone Ground on Saturdays along with Sherlock, Crod, Simon Lester and I.  It was a football ground in Hove where Brighton & Hove Albion played.   Last time I saw John was at an away game at Bolton Wanderers when we had some pints and watched legend Bobby Zamora’s first game for us for 12 years.  It was 2-2 final score.   John lives up that way, in Lancashire, and I was working in Liverpool.  Turns out that John has a better memory than all of us and confirmed that it was indeed the Middle School fence.  See the picture below of me on the same day

This doesn’t show the tunnel in the background that ran from Middle School to Upper School past the Chapel.  But you can just see Mountfield Road behind that.  All very fascinating I’m sure if you’re not from Lewes Priory in the 1970s.  So the photo appeared to be from 1973 – I was right about the date.  Maybe the School Festival.  But but but.  I asked my sister Rebecca what she could tell me about this mysterious sanctuary moment of mine – and why did I do that? She would have been one year old at the time.  But amazingly enough, she remembers a conversation that she’d had with Mum (whom I wasn’t talking to this summer otherwise I might have asked her) when Mum said that yes, a year before Becky was born she’d had a termination.  We did the sums.  Becky was born in April 1972 so my moment driving around the field with Simon Lester was perhaps spring 1971.  That did seem very early.  I’d be thirteen years old.

Meanwhile Simon Lester was asking his sisters Katie and Gill if they could remember anything, and blow me down, Katie remembers their mum picking me up from Hailsham and finding the house really hard to find.  We had just been rehoused on this new-build council estate on the freshly-dug outskirts of Hailsham after spending nine months apart, discussed in various posts such as My Pop Life #84 All Along The Watchtower.  I was 13 years old, Paul was eleven, Andrew six.  We’d all been in different locations for most of 1970, and moved into Salternes Drive, later called Town Farm Estate, and known as Sin City to all the locals in the early weeks of 1971.  I cannot be more precise than that because I suspect time fogs the memory, and trauma sometimes wipes it completely.  At some point in the spring of 1971 I’d taken a record into my Music class – discussed in My Pop Life #141 Jig-A-Jig which takes place largely in the pre-fab classroom just behind that fence.

And at some other indiscernible point that spring, Simon Lester’s mum had somehow found her way to our new house and picked me up with my schoolbag and some spare clothes and taken me back to Chiddingly.

532 Salternes Drive, Hailsham in 1973

Simon Lester’s sister Katie reckoned it was 1971, before their father left.  Simon’s version of this detail would mean that he would drive to work in Hove every morning where he was a dentist, and drop Simon and I off in Lewes High Street to walk to school.  Before the bypass was built.  Sounds about right.  Simon’s mother was very kind to me – that I do remember very clearly.  She asked me what I wanted to eat one day and I said “a peanut butter sandwich please” because that was my favourite, and she then asked me how I would like the peanut butter on the bread, separated alongside the butter or all mushed together, an extraordinary detail which has stuck with me to this day.  How shall I make your sandwich.  I don’t think anyone had asked me that before or indeed since.  Very special lady.  When she showed me “my” bedroom and I thanked her she then said that if she found any of my clothes on the floor while I was at school, she would wash them, so if I didn’t want something washed not to leave it on the floor.  It was the only rule I can remember, also because I hadn’t come across it before !!  A kind way of encouraging tidyness.

The Lester’s house in Chiddingly

I had my own bedroom which was amazing because I shared with Paul at home.  Incidentally I do not remember where Paul or Andrew went during this period, it is one of the shadier corners of our family history, by which I mean “not remembered” rather than shameful.  Abortion shouldn’t be shameful at all, it is part of the human story.  But it was whispered about at the time as I recall, and discussed as termination, the word I’ve used in this blog.  This episode as a teenager was the closest I’ve ever been to an abortion, as far as I know, none of my girlfriends or friends ever talked to me about it, if indeed any of them experienced it.  I’d imagine some of them did.   But there’s no moral high ground in bringing unwanted children onto this planet.  I certainly knew the reason why I was at Simon Lester’s house at the time, although he didn’t.  It all felt reasonably normal to be honest.  I vaguely remember watching TV with the family, 1971 style, it would have been It’s A Knockout!, The Golden Shot, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Blue Peter and Banana SplitsGrandstand on Saturday.  The Big Match on Sunday.  Simon and I would have kicked a ball around his garden too because we both played football for the school team – Simon had a better touch than me, a more cultured right foot I should say, more accurate, capable of stroking the ball wherever he wanted it to go.  Football is where we’d bonded, and it was in 1971 that I went to my first Brighton & Hove Albion game, but I cannot recall the opposition I’m afraid.  Maybe Bury?  I remember the Brighton team which included brothers John & Kit Napier, John Templeman, Eddie Spearrit, Alan Duffy, Norman Gall, Peter O’Sullivan, Willie Irvine, Nobby Lawton, because after that first visit I was hooked.  We used to go after we’d played on a Saturday morning, you could just pay on the turnstile and then stand behind the goal in the North Stand Shoreham Road, singing songs, strolling down the Shoreham Roooooaad… to see Pat Saward’s Aces, bouncing up and down on the stone terraces, waves of bodies plunging forward during moments of excitement then heaving back to more or less your original spot as the moment passed.  Extraordinarily exciting.  Cameraderie.  Togetherness.  Family.  Playing at home.  I was an instant convert to Saturday afternoon football, and am still addicted now some fifty years later.  The anticipation, the scarf tied around your wrist, in later years the replica shirt, the pub, the singing, the laughing, the fear of opposition fans, the hatred of the referee, the wit, the profound primal eruption of triumph when the ball hits the back of the net, the staggering gutless mortification as we concede.  Football has taught me many things – loyalty, defeat, acumen, singing pour encourager les autres, grace in victory.  Thirteen was a good age to start finding some of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We played Reading and Aston Villa on successive days at home over Easter – extraordinary really – in front of sell-out crowds of 35,000 – in the Third Division !  Our PE teacher Tony Alexander (whom we all loved) was a Villa fan, and managed the school football team. We ragged each other but happily both teams went up that season and my lifelong love of Brighton & Hove Albion was sealed: win, lose or draw, sunshine or rain, in sickness and in health, til death us do part. The other lads at football were essentially the ones from the school team – Conrad Ryle (Crod), Andy Holmes (Sherlock), Martin Cooper (Coops), plus John Hawkins (Billy) and Simon Lester who never had a nickname plus me snap.  We’d lose each other in the mayhem of the North Stand and rediscover each other amid the bouncing bodies.

Knock Knock  –  Who’s there?

Ivor

Ivor Who?
I’ve a knock kneed chicken and a bow-legged hen
We ain’t lost a fight since we don’t know when
We don’t give a widdle and we don’t give a wank
WE ARE THE BRIGHTON 
NORTH STAND
Lalalalalalalalala Lalalalalalala lalalalalalalaaaa
WE ARE THE BRIGHTON
NORTH STAND
 
 
 
 
 

I can’t pin down the date exactly and photos from this era seem non-existent but was it around this time when I flirted with the skinhead look?  It was certainly fashionable by then thanks to the rude boy culture imported from Jamaica – the ska beat, pork-pie hats, sta-prest trousers, button-down collars, braces and boots.  Short hair obviously, but not shaved.  More Suedehead to be honest, the name of a book which was passed round too.   Kind of sex and violence and fashion YA stuff.  I saved up for my first Ben Sherman shirt, precious status symbol of the early 70s.  White socks were cheaper.  Braces too.  Didn’t own a Fred Perry til I was in my 20s.  It was about being smart rather than scruffy and grew out of mod culture, Tamla Motown, bluebeat.  A year or so later I was wearing make-up and blouses as glam rock took over, proving that for me it was another uniform, I was a pop tart, a dedicated follower of whatever took my fancy that year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A truly awful song called Johnny Reggae pins the era down to 1971 – that was a Jonathon King cash-in turd, but at the other end of the scale was the real deal – Jamaican ska and reggae.  Reggae was a new word (Do The Reggay by The Maytals was released in 1968).  The music had slowed down from the choppy ska beat by the late sixties when rocksteady ruled the Jamaican charts and made an impression on the UK.  Desmond Dekker had charted in 1967 with 007 (Shanty Town) then made number one with Israelites (See My Pop Life #102) in 1969 when the Kingston sounds really tickled the UK charts with some classic stuff : The Liquidator, Long Shot Kick De Bucket, Return of Django and yes Skinhead Moonstomp the latter from a local act Symarip (Pyramids backwards!! almost!!!).  And being the UK, it was the fashion as much as the sounds – totally against the hippie look as the 1960s spun to their disillusioned finish with Altamont, Vietnam and the student uprisings forming a TV backdrop to heroin, cynicism about selling out and the break-up of The Beatles.  1970 brought us Young Gifted & Black (written by Nina Simone) by Bob & Marcia who would also hit with Pied Piper and The Maytals released Pressure Drop. Then in 1971 the Year of Our Lord brought us, and me, the mighty Double Barrel by Dave & Ansel Collins.

I. Am the magnificent.  I’m beg for the sheck of a so bose, most turmeric, story, sound of soul!

Thus begins the mightiest number one hit of 1971….

I am W O O O.  And I’m certain here again. OW!

Good god.  Too much I like it!  Huh? 

I still have no idea what the lyrics are.  The mystery of it is powerful to be honest, like a mantra chanted for secret power.  Where did I hear it?  On the radio of course, it reached number one in March 1971 and Radio One played it regularly.  It was a revelation.  It still sounds immense.  Dave did the vocals, with Ansel (spelled Ansil on the single) on the keyboards. After one LP and another hit single called Monkey Spanner (the heavy heavy monster sound!) they split up.

Oh yes, and the car in the field.  The highlight of this era perhaps (although the football and the reggae are gonna run it close).  There it was in the field behind the house in Chiddingly – a battered old motor car.  Simon, perhaps 14 by now (I was young for my school year) had the key, and he would drive round in circles mainly – big circles I mean – around the field.  Then he taught me how to do it.  How to turn the key, depress the clutch, rev the engine, release the handbrake and whoooosh power speed thrills.  We devised a kind of Escape From Alcatraz scene which involved us running to the car which had two open doors then jumpin in and each having two jobs, Simon turned the key and did the clutch, I released the handbrake and maybe pulled the choke out, so we could achieve lift-off in seconds flat.

The house is bang centre behind the white tree, the field is the great swoop of green to the right

I didn’t stay at the Lester’s house for very long but that became a vivid memory burned through me.  A few years later Simon left school and started work, and on weekends would go to the Arlington Speedway track near Hailsham and drive in Stock Car Races with his souped up and painted old banger.  Not sure if it was the same car.  Stock Car racing is like racing around a dirt track 30 laps (?) with no rules. Simon would skid and drive his Stock Car around the track, bashing into the other drivers, backending them, sideswiping them, skidding through the dirt and exhaust smoke in his reinforced old banger.  I went a couple of times to watch, and it was of course completely thrilling.  Cars deliberately driving into each other to gain an advantage in a race.  Yup.  I should stress this is completely separate from NASCAR or any American style car racing.  This was more down and dirty for one.  More local.  There’s some footage of this fabulous phenomenon here:

We lost touch after I moved to London, but we would see each other now and again at Brighton games, and we have kept the lines of communication open.  I was back in England in late summer 2019 to fix up the house, and went to see the Albion twice, meeting friends in The Swan in Falmer – Crod, Sherlock and Simon Lester along with my sister and her boyfriend Lee another huge Albion fan.  Now old geezers reminiscing about the days gone by, survivors of cancer and other scares, still friends drinking Harvey’s finest on the way to the game.

IMG_4603

Andy Holmes, Simon Lester, Ralph Brown, Conrad Ryle 2019 The Swan

I wasn’t very reflexive at 13 – I didn’t think about what kind of person Simon Lester was for example, he was just there, a companion, easy-going, enjoyed a chuckle.  In retrospect now I see him as shy, gentle, bright and very kind with none of the edge that I imagine I had.  But back in those days I was still growing, as was he.   I’m hugely grateful for his help in piecing this memory together.  

So from the age of ten to 18 I had at least six surrogate Parenting experiences that I can recall.   Philip and Mya in Brighton aged 10, Sheila Smurthwaite in Ringmer aged 11, then again in Lewes aged 13, Mrs Lester in Chiddingly aged 13, Mrs Korner in Lewes aged 14/15, Mrs Ryle in Kingston ages 16/17/18.   Then I was grown up and found my own way, went back many times to the Ryles and the Korners over the years.   All have now sadly passed.  I’m forever grateful to all of these generous beautiful big-hearted people for if not for thee and thine, I would certainly have spent some years in foster care or worse.  They made my physical and psychic survival possible.  The rest was up to me. 

the original single:

The Top of The Pops appearance with Dave extemporising because he is the magnificent

My Pop Life #231 : Dancing Queen – ABBA

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Dancing Queen – ABBA

You can dance, you can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen

IMG_3595

My favourite memory of my younger sister Becky was her practising ‘majorettes’ routines in our front room in East Sussex to Dancing Queen, when she must have been around 7 years old.   It was her joy.  Her enthusiasm and excellence got her on the front page of a local paper which I cannot reproduce for you here, but:

IMG_4464

Becky standing on the right in majorette’s costume 1979. Mum in front of her

On June 18th 1986 I had reached 29 years old and panicked – I hadn’t written a play yet!   I actually envisioned my life at that point as a shape – literally – a kind of warped triangle with a steep slope up to the top (30 years old) and a gentle declining slope going back down to the base (death around 75?).  So at 29 I was a few steps away from my peak.  I should explain – I thought of my peak as a physical thing, like an athlete or a footballer.  The decline was gentle and should include other peaks within it of course, of wisdom, happiness, success blah blah.  But thirty 30 thirty was a Big Deal.  Be honest, it was for you too wasn’t it?  The end of fucking about.  The start of being responsible for your own life and its trajectory.  The start of the end of blaming your parents for your life.   Proper grown-up, middle-class white western privilege style.  I had an old typewriter and sat down and punched out a play,  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.   Which was my favourite play when I was 29.  Steal from the best !!

IMG_4771

Christmas 1980 perhaps – Mumtaz, Becky, Andrew, me, Paul and Mum – but who is taking it? Alan!

In the play, Easter visitors to the family home are Mumtaz and I who are having problems, and brother Paul, who will announce to the single parent that he is gay.  Mother is having both a nervous breakdown and a bad reaction to new tablets at the time of the visit.  Rebecca is a seven-year old Dancing Queen and Andrew is present via a series of letters which my character reads aloud.   I cannot remember how this happened but I seem to recall slimming the thing down from three hours to two and presenting it as a radio play at one point.  So the slender version was some how sent to The National Theatre Studio under the wing of Peter Gill and got a week’s rehearsal for a rehearsed reading.  This was exciting !  I think I thought that I’d made it. Ha.  I cannot remember anyone in the cast except Stephanie Fayerman who played Mum.  She was extraordinary and instinctively knew how to play the part I’d written.  Without comment.  Deeply sympathetic yet unsentimental.

IMG_5262

Drive Away The Darkness is set in the house on the left

Gill and Nicholas Wright summoned me into a room after the reading was done and asked me “what I wanted to do with it?”  I wasn’t entirely sure why they were asking me that, so I answered, truthfully : “Get it produced?”   They smiled somewhat 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 ?  There isn’t a course for playwriting that I was aware of, and I had no idea what they thought was wrong with it as it was.  Maybe – in retrospect – they wanted the structure to be clever.  Flashbacks.  These kinds of things go in and out of fashion, but there are no flashbacks in Pinter (ooh, yes there are – Betrayal!) , and Shakespeare’s plays all start at the beginning and go forward in time.  Most plays do this to be fair.   I don’t know.  Anyway, I don’t think I was a better playwright at the end of that week than I was before.  It was a famous Missed Opportunity.

IMG_4803

teenage rampage!

But the flame had been lit, and the following year I applied to Joint Stock Theatre Company with my friend Paulette Randall for their annual playwriting job, based on a workshop which we would do with six actors and a designer.  I got lucky and we got the gig.  The result was Sanctuary, a hip-hop musical about homeless teenagers which toured the UK in 1987 (see My Pop Life #86).

IMG_3743

Rebecca and her looky-likey Martine ‘matinee’ McCutcheon

I digress somewhat.  My sister Rebecca who opened my first play as a seven-year old has had a long eventful fecund life, three marriages, three children all from the second, and a wonderful sense of humour.  I wrote about her 40th birthday and her children Mollie and Ellie in My Pop Life #120 and again went back to that party for a different angle in My Pop Life #161.  Since I wrote those chapters things have changed – Becky fell out with some finality with mother, who had been abusing her for years, both mentally and physically.  We’ve all taken it in turns to make a final break with mother – she is very difficult and as well as being mentally ill is also not a very nice woman.  It’s difficult to find the line sometimes, but we have all found it in our own way and drawn it distinctively around ourselves for protection.  I don’t hate my mother but she wants to hurt us, and does so consistently.  She isn’t stupid, she knows where our weak points are and pokes them until she can see blood.  It’s just what she’s like.  She has a gift for seeing people all the way through but she abuses it.  Becky held out longer than any of us.  We’ve all supported her though, even though the four of us – me, Paul, Andrew and Becky – are in different corners of the earth – we have a family What’s App group for sentient adults which Jenny is included on where we share the news both triumphant and tragic.

IMG_4768

Alan, Mum, Becky early 80s

Early last year Mum started to fall over in her bungalow back on the estate in Hailsham where we all moved in 1971.  She has a garden on three sides and it is quiet, best place she’s lived in I think.  She has a small dog called Trisha and walks with a Zimmer frame, support workers and health visitors come in every day.  She fell over and hurt herself and went into hospital.  I was in England to officiate at my niece’s wedding in Hampshire but I had time to visit her in hospital, with Andrew (who was frankly shocked at seeing her in that condition).  I’d done it so many times I didn’t realise it was new to him.  Above the bed it said “Bedbound”. Now all this time, Becky is having nothing to do with her.  Tired of the abuse and needs to get on with her own life, to heal, to stop going back for more abuse and pain.  So Andrew steps up and does the admin – talking to the hospital, the social workers, the carers, with Becky giving him a bit of help without having to speak to anyone.  Mum is taken to a Nursing Home which she hates.  I call her there on her birthday and she is in a rage of self-pity and pleads with me to get her out “I’m surrounded by dying people”.    Within weeks she is home but not because of anything I did.  Paul and I go to see her in August at home, reunited with the dog.  As visits go it is up there with the best.  No hallucinations, no abuse, no paranoia just a few reminiscences and a chat and a laugh.  Becky still isn’t speaking to her.

IMG_4893

Mum and Trish, August 2019 aged 84

Cut to 22nd November 2019.  Two months ago.  Becky has a row with live-in boyfriend Lee, goes outside and gets into her car and drives.  Even though she hasn’t spoken to mother for over two years, she finds herself driving across Hailsham to Town Farm Estate where she went to primary school and where mother now lives.  As she parks the car and walks towards the house she can hear a beeping noise than sees smoke pouring out of a window.  The place is on fire.  The door isn’t locked so she runs in and grabs Mother who is screaming “I’m not leaving!” and gets her outside somehow, grabbing the zimmer frame as she goes, calls 999 and waits for the Fire Brigade while mother continues to abuse her and the neighbour comes out and Mum goes to wait in there.  She’s never spoken to the neighbour until this point.  The Fireman asks where is Heather (mum) going to live – by this time Becky’s best friend Jan has turned up who is herself a miracle social worker and she intervenes, Becky has just had a stroke she can’t look after her mother.  Jan and Becky leave and Mum gets taken to a nursing home because the kitchen is destroyed.

What are the chances of Becky arriving at that very moment?

IMG_2005

Debbie, Mark, Bex & Peter, Andrew, Paul and Colin 1987?

There are stranger things happening than you or I know about.

I called mum a few days later to see how she was.  We spoke for a bit about Jenny’s sister Dee who died suddenly last summer after an operation which knocked us all for six.  At which point my mum said “You care more about Jenny and those black people than you do about me“.   Pretty soon after that the phone got cut off and I decided not to call back.  Andrew is still in loco parentis there, fielding the admin.

*

external-content.duckduckgo

Thinking back to that period of time after I left home, really anywhere between 1976 to 1981 it’s ABBA who dominate the musical landscape.  Mum and Becky shared a mutual love for I Have A Dream, Chiquita, Lay All Your Love On Me, The Winner Takes It All, Thank You For The Music.   No wonder I started my play with ABBA.   Watching them live on Youtube is strange though.  They are so antiseptic and stiff.  Amazing music, arrangements, melodies, chord changes.  Great pop music.  If you listen to the albums (rather than the greatest LP of all time ABBA Gold), you’ll hear hit after hit after hit.  Every song is a hit.  Benny on the keys, Bjorn on the guitar, a songwriting hit factory to match Lennon & McCartney. I’ve had a weird relationship with Dancing Queen.  I think it was so ubiquitous in the 1980s/90s, being wheeled out at every party disco club and rave that I got sick of it.  Jenny loves it – she was one of the DJs who wheeled it out in fact!  Then the band decided to play it for a party and I got to play the violin parts on my keyboard – quite a good sample as it goes – but I got the chance to crawl inside the song and examine its mechanics.  What a joy.  The harmonies.  The clever way it loops back into the verse each time, the chorus chords which flip over depending on which part of the song you’re in.   But that was just an introduction.  Recently I re-discovered it as a piano piece – got the chords, and started to learn it properly.  And have completely fallen in love with what is probably the finest pop song every written and recorded.  The way it all fits together so effortlessly but the wonderful architecture that makes that possible is just incredibly impressive.  Listen to the counter melody beneath “having the time of your life” for a glorious thrill that is unmatched in popular music…

Took a while, but I got there in the end.

E                           C#7                 F#m                                   B7
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
                         D                    Bm                                                A
See that girl, watch that scene, digging the dancing queen

My Pop Life #116: Left Bank Two (Vision On : Gallery Theme) – The Noveltones

Featured image

Left Bank Two   –   The Noveltones

(Vision On :  The Gallery theme)

Featured image

Tony Hart

Unmistakable, gentle, playful vibraphone jazz shuffle which evokes immediate memories for my generation of a BBCtv show called Vision On which ran from 1964 to 1976 thus neatly encapsulating my entire life in East Sussex as a youth.  My family moved from Portsmouth in 1964 when I was just seven, Dad having scored a teaching job at Falmer School just outside of Brighton.  We moved into a semi-detached house in Selmeston, a small village of some 200 people, bordered by a railway line at one end and the A27 at the other.

Featured image

Selmeston Church

That one-mile stretch of road was my universe until the age of eleven by which time my dad and mum had divorced, mum had spent nine months in a mental hospital and I’d passed my eleven-plus exam and would take a bus into Lewes every day.   Two years later we would all be separated as a family as the landlords – horsey toffs from Sherrington Manor – made us homeless and wiped our debt to them at one stroke.  For the remainder of the 1970s we were in a council house in Hailsham, although I left for Laughton Lodge in 1975, and London in 1976.

Featured image

Pat Keysell, Tony Hart

Throughout this period Vision On was on BBC TV.  It was a programme for deaf children, and had almost no spoken words.  It was watched by all children.   Filled with speech bubbles and mime it was largely a visual show.  Presented by Tony Hart and Pat Keysell, who spoke in sign language and spoke, with Tony spending much of the show (so it seemed to me) drawing things.  Encouraging children to create.  Awakening our latent interest in expression.  The centrepiece of each show was The Gallery where the camera lingered over pictures that viewers – ie children – had sent in, with their name and age displayed, and a notice explaining and apologising that pictures could not be returned but that a prize would be given for those shown.  What that prize was we never found out.  We never sent one in, but were transfixed, at least partly by the music.  For this section of the programme was played out to a piece of music which, with its dreamy melody and nimble simplicity appeared to come from another planet.  In fact it came from Holland.

Featured image

Left Bank Two was a piece of Library Music originally.   Library Music is licensed differently than other music and is often used for TV shows.  It is much cheaper for producers to use, as the broadcaster in general will pay the royalties, maybe a dollar each time it is played.  If it is a long-running series, over the years this can add up.  If it is a commercial, you could be, as composer, quids in.  I found out a little about Library Music when I was directing an aborted documentary (called Red Light Fever) on British Session Musicians in 2012, inspired by the great doc Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.  I was assisted by local musician and photographer Diana Frangi who has written a few albums of South American library music since she is from Argentina.  I’m still learning about the whole scene.  But all of the people I interviewed – singer and composer Barbara Moore, guitarists Chris Spedding & Alan Parker, bass players Herbie Flowers and Les Hurdle, drummer Clem Cattini, singer Madeline Bell – all of them great session musicians, arrangers, songwriters, all exceptional musicians as session players have to be – (deep breath it’s a long sentence) – all of them have played Library Music on a regular basis.   How to explain it?  There are some production houses which specialise in this kind of music.  De Wolfe Music is the big one, started in 1927 to provide cheap music for the talkies.

Featured image

 They hire a composer to write : seascapes, exciting car chase, a creepy scene, ghostly atmospheres, romantic swoons, mood music of various types.   The Composer will hire a group of session musicians to come and read the dots and they will be paid a session fee.  The pieces of music will be grouped together and issued to TV production companies who can use a short piece – eg Grange Hill written by Alan Hawkshaw – and the broadcaster will cover the royalties.  All the musicians who played on the piece will get a cut, unless they signed that percentage away, in the deal – a “buy-out”.  And if you’re a session musician you never know which piece will suddenly get picked up.  Indeed these days when hip-hop producers and DJs are constantly looking for new samples, obscure beats and licks that other producers haven’t used yet, Library Music is now being plundered like every other form of music.   Barbara Moore provided the marvellous wordless vocal on the theme tune to The Saint.  Les Hurdle ended up playing with Giorgio Moroder‘s band in Munich when Donna Summer turned up and disco was born.   And this particular piece – called Left Bank Two – was an afterthought on one of those De Wolfe sessions in 1963, at the end of the day with half an hour still on the clock – I love these stories, this one reminiscent of Otis Redding’s big break – “has anyone got anything we can play here?”

Featured image

It was young vibes player Wayne Hill who offered ‘a thing he’d been playing around with’.   The group of Dutch musicians with whom he was playing (who called themselves The Noveltones) quickly learned it and recorded the vibraphone-led piece.  Carefully listening musos will hear the guitarist having a slight crisis over chords towards the end, the only clue to the tune’s end-of-session nativity.  TV viewers would never get to hear that anyway since The Gallery would only last a minute usually.  Seemed longer though didn’t it ?  A minute is a long time on television…

I bought a vibraphone in 2004 once The Brighton Beach Boys had decided to perform Pet Sounds live.  There is one tune on that LP which requires vibes, and although my keyboard has a good vibes sample, the visual of seeing someone strike the keys with beaters as Darian Sahanaja had done with the Brian Wilson Band earlier that year had stuck with me.  I want to be him, I thought.  I wanted to play vibes on Let’s Go Away For A While.  I’ll save it for another post.  But the first tune I attempted to play, once I’d set it up and worked out how to use the foot-pedal, was the Vision On Gallery Theme.  Of course !  And wheeling it into rehearsal with the Brighton Beach Boys, everyone wanted a go, and I think almost everyone wanted to play that tune.  Maybe it was just me ;-0

Featured image

Live in St George’s – my Penny Lane vibes – concentration is key !

My vibraphone currently resides in the Charlotte Glasson Musical Museum of Earthly Recollections in Brighton’s sexy Surrey Street, being carefully nurtured and oiled.

Featured image

Morph

Tony Hart is a children’s TV legend.  An early (ie before my time) Blue Peter presenter, he designed the logo for the Blue Peter badge, and took a buy-out rather than the requested 1d per badge.  After Vision On was discontinued in 1976 would go on to use Left Bank Two as the theme music for his next show Take Hart, and John Williams‘ Deer Hunter Theme Cavatina would take over as the Gallery Music.  He often appeared alongside Aardman Animations creation Morph in the late 70s and 80s until he retired with two Baftas in 2001.  Tony Hart died in 2006, his reputation unbesmirched like others of his generation.

Featured image

Left Bank Two – the Vision On Gallery Theme – is often referred to as ‘easy-listening music’ or even ‘elevator music’.   It’s library music.   It’s TV theme music.  And – yes – it’s jazz.

My Pop Life #112 : The Night – Franki Valli & The Four Seasons

Featured image

The Night   –   Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

…you know you’re gonna lose more than you found…

Mid-May 1975, the green fields of East Sussex.   I am three weeks away from my A-level exams at Lewes Priory School, some 25 miles away, which I have spent two years studying for.   My choices are English Literature, Geography and Economics.   Geography is my favourite subject, so much so that I have taken an extra O-Level in the Lower Sixth in Geology and passed with grade 1.

Featured image

geological cross-section of Lyme Regis bay

There is a possibility of taking a Geography Degree somewhere or other – or even a Geology Degree.  But the prospect, once I’d had a little think about prospects, of a lifetime working for the oil and gas industry did sway me away from that wonderful subject.  I love maps very much, especially the ones that go underground and show the rock layers.  Fascinating.  But that would be where it stopped.

Featured imageEnglish Literature was an easy choice and kind of non-negotiable – I’d enjoyed books since I could read and devoured them voraciously.  At this point I was well past A Clockwork Orange, 1984 and Brave New World and onto reading Dostoyevsky and Mervyn Peake.  The set texts were, if I can remember them : Anthony & Cleopatra (“Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall…“), Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale which is brilliant, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (swoon), Dubliners by James Joyce, Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw (?) hmmmm and some poetry.  Yeats?  Eliot ?  Cannae remember captain.  

My third A-Level was Economics.  Weird choice?  I’d been told that if I wanted to study Law at the LSE (and I did) that I would have to take Economics A-Level.   Seemed fair enough.   We had one good teacher on macro Economics called Mr Dennis, which was all about GDP, Interest Rates, unemployment and Monetary Policy, Keynes etc.   And we had one bad teacher whose name strangely escapes me on microeconomics (supply and demand, pricing, business) who ran a VG shop in Chailey and constantly referred to it to illustrate what he was talking about in a particularly tedious way.  He also prefaced most of his sentences with the non-word “Em”.  “Em, just open your books on, em, page 43…”   Andy Holmes and I became needlessly obsessed with this vocal tic and started to log the regularity of its use.  To enumerate its tally.  Em.  We would place a small mark in a rough book with each spasm. one, two three, four, then a line across for five.  Then you could see at a glance how many Ems there had been in a double period Economics lesson.  Sometimes they would come in a flurry and we could scarcely keep up.  It was proper work.  What this meant though, was that we didn’t really hear any of the words in-between each Em and the next.  And fun though it had been, suddenly there we were in May 1975 and a few short weeks away from the examination which would determine whether we would be champs or chumps in life.

Featured image

It’s called Revision. It means going over your notes from the previous two years and making sure you remember pertinent details, concepts, definitions.  My notes were a series of totals.  38 Ems.  54 Ems. And yes, 71 Ems.   I badly needed to read an Economics Textbook, so I found one in the Library and started to read – and take notes.   Not so much Revision as simply panic-cramming two years of Em Economics into two months of seriously undiluted brain workout.  No music, no gigs, no getting stoned or drunk.   EXAMS.  Like entering a tunnel where the parallel lines converge to a point on a dark horizon.

Featured image

Of course the radio was always on downstairs and always tuned to Radio One.  Tony Blackburn, Paul Burnett, Johnnie Walker.  And creeping up the charts was a strange beguiling song called The Night by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons which started with a sinister bassline, is joined by a thin organ & tambourine combo, the drums kick in and a very odd semi-whispered vocal warns

Beware of his promise. Believe what I say…”

at which point the song actually starts with a rush of vocal harmony and tuba/baritone sax…

..Before I go forever..be sure of what you say…

And then we’re off !  What an amazing single this is.   Adopted by the Northern Soul possee for its dancefloor pulse and sensational vocal shapes, it was released on Jobete, the Motown label, for whom it was recorded in 1972, then withdrawn after a handful of promo copies were handed out.  Some of these found their way to England and the underground soul scene.  (For a previous example of the high-tempo rhythm and passionate vocals of Northern Soul see My Pop Life #17.)

Featured image

Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, Tommy De Vito, Bob Gaudio

The Four Seasons had been hugely successful since the early 60s, the first white act to sign with the Vee-Jay label with hits like Walk Like A ManRag Doll and Sherry, and the originals of Bye Bye Baby (see My Pop Life #11), and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, covered memorably by the great Andy Williams.   Frankie Valli the Italian boy from the Jersey ‘hood has had an astonishing career lasting over 55 years and counting.  Not to mention his band mate Bob Gaudio who co-wrote this song.   They were the East Coast Beach Boys, best-selling pop vocal harmony sweetness incarnate – brilliantly celebrated and exposed in the hit show Jersey Boys, now a film. That’s all for another post – here it is suffice to say that the Four Seasons’ years at Motown (from 1970-74) were a commercial disaster zone for the band, and this single was only re-released due to pressure from Northern Soul DJs in the 70s, according to legend, or perhaps because they’d had a pop-disco resurgence on Warners with Who Loves You and Oh What A Night, and Franki Valli had scored with My Eyes Adored You, also recorded at Motown.  The Northern Soul DJs certainly adopted the song and played it, helping to lift The Night to number 7 in the charts in May 1975.

It was around this time that my mother started to slide.  Again.  She had been unstable since the first breakdown in 1964 in Selmeston.  Diagnosed by a variety of doctors and psychiatrists as schizophrenic, manic depressive, paranoid or just mentally ill, she was regularly suffering from nervous breakdowns or affective disorders, and treated either in or out of hospital with every drug ever invented, many of which were tested on patients such as my mum, she had begun to self-diagnose by this point and pick her tablets from the giant selection in the kitchen cupboard with care.  It made her unreasonable, violent, depressed, miserable, lonely, vulnerable and a terrible bully all at once.  We didn’t tiptoe around her either, we took her on and dealt with each day as it came along.   It was a volatile household.   Who’s isn’t ??   It was a challenge that I became increasingly good at handling.  But at some cost, as I would discover much later in life.  During these years – the 1970s – the visits to hospital weren’t so long and devastating, the hospital was called Amberstone which had a slightly more relaxed regime, no ECT for example, and every so often there would be a crisis at home and Mum would be admitted, or admit herself.   We were old enough to hold the fort, or at least I certainly was.  A 17 year old young adult, I would make sure that there was food, that the milkman was paid and we had enough coal to heat the place.  But by 1975 I had a younger sister from Mum’s second marriage to John Daignault, which had since collapsed.   Rebecca was born in April 1973 and was thus just 2 years old when Mum announced one morning while I was revising Economics upstairs in my bedroom (Paul and Andrew were at school) that she was going into hospital.  An ambulance was called.  My brother’s girlfriend Janice came round to take Rebecca.    I packed a small bag for Mum with a nightie, underwear, slippers, tobacco, papers, matches, and some clothes, toothbrush and deodorant.  A small towel.  A flannel.  She didn’t look so good.  I was pretty numb.  Then the doorbell rang and there was the ambulance.  We hugged and she left with her bag.   I went back upstairs and was gripped suddenly by a huge and excruciating pain spasm inside the middle of my body.  I lay down.  It got worse.  Like a vice grip around my core, being held by a giant iron hand that wouldn’t let go.   I had never felt anything like it before,  it was so intense that all I could do was curl up on the bed and moan gently.  The parallel lines heading directly into the dark tunnel.   Listen for the break at 2.35 in The Night for a musical evocation of this moment.  It would not relent and I could not move.  I had no idea what to do and I couldn’t move.  Frozen in agony.  Some four hours later it finally started to abate and I could unwind and stretch gingerly out.  At some point after that Paul and Andrew came home and I told them that Mum had gone to Amberstone for a bit.   We all knew the drill by then.  No tears, no drama.  We just got on with it.  Thank god for Janice !  And thinking about it since, that must have been some kind of cramp that gripped me that afternoon.  An immediate psychic emotional reaction by my muscles.  All I could think about was WHY NOW?  I’ve got exams coming up!!  I can’t afford to fuck them up.  I think I then immediately boxed my heart away and tightened the great padlock over my chest so that I couldn’t feel anything that would undermine or dissolve me and went back to the Economics book.

Featured image

mid-seventies Franki Valli 

Two weeks later I started the A-Level exam run.  Six exams in all I seem to recall.  Mum came out of Amberstone after about a month.  Later that summer I found out (in Budapest: see My Pop Life #70) that I’d scored an A in Geography and two Bs in English and Economics.   I had my place at the LSE.

But the night begins to turn your head around…

I wouldn’t begin to unlock the cage and truly unbox my heart for almost another forty years.

My Pop Life #19 : Y Sharp – Osibisa

Featured image

Y Sharp   –   Osibisa

There was a moment at school when it all went music.  It certainly wasn’t in a music lesson.  I didn’t even do the O level music exam I enjoyed it so little.  Mr Richards taught us in the 4th year and I took in one of my singles – “Jig A Jig” by East Of Eden.  Maybe I’ll do a post on it later (you did – Ed. see My Pop Life #141).   He hated it.   I hated him.   But he couldn’t kill my love of music, the kind of music that came out of the radio, the stereo, and then suddenly LIVE GIGS.  I actually can’t remember what the first live gig I saw was.  So blurred that whole period, my mum going in and out of different psychiatric hospitals, me staying with friends – Pete’s, Simon’s or Conrad’s houses, or once with Simon Lester’s mum & dad in Chiddingly.  Sometimes staying in Hailsham and holding down the fort, paying the milkman, doing the shopping.  I think it kind of depended on what was happening to Paul (now 13) and Andrew (9).  And then Rebecca was born.  My timeline is confused here, things overlap and run parallel, dissolve and get swapped around.  But in the 5th year while I was doing O levels we had a ‘new kid’ (he’d been at Priory since we were twelve) in our class who sat at the back near me & Simon & Andrew Birch and his name was Andrew Holmes.  With great creativity and wit we immediately nicknamed him Sherlock.  He had musical enthusiasm and liked to drum with me on the desktop before Mr Knight came in – and we went to our first live gig together – at Sussex University – to see Osibisa.  What a great gig that was.  If you don’t know them they were – and still are – a jazz-funk afro-pop rock latin fusion outfit formed in London by Ghanaians Teddy Osei, Sol Armarfio and Mac Tontoh, Nigerian Loughty Lassisi Amao and West Indians Spartacus R, Robert Bailey and Wendell Richardson.

external-content.duckduckgo-17

The magnificent seven.  Their sound is unique to them.  Criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness.  They had the distinct advantage in 1971 of having their first LP produced by the great Tony Visconti, and cover art drawn by the prog artist Roger Dean (who now lives in Lewes) famed for Yes, Atomic Rooster and Gentle Giant. His flying elephant for Osibisa was iconic.

Featured image

But of course live they were simply outstanding, and have continued to be so for the last forty years – playing African music for western ears 20 years before the term “World Music” was coined, and they are a simply tremendous band.  I bought the 2nd LP above “Woyaya” and played it endlessly in 1973.

Around this time people started bringing guitars into school and playing them in the common room.  Older kids in the 6th form were in cool bands such as The Grobs.  There were actually three great drummers in the year above ours  – Patrick Freyne (whom I later played in a band with & who also played in my wedding band with Simon, Andrew Ranken, Joe, Stephen Wood, Jenny, Lucy, Maureen and others), Andrew Ranken himself (who went out with Simon’s sister Deborah, played in The Grobs and later became The Pogues drummer) and Pete Thomas (who has played with Elvis Costello since the 1st LP My Aim Is True).  Stephen Wood played the accordion, piano and everything else and later went on to win an Oscar for his soundtrack writing.  So when kids in my year started playing guitars and talking about playing in bands I knew I had to be in that number when the saints went marching in.  But I was at least six months behind already.  I tried picking up an acoustic but it hurt my fingers and I was clumsy – my fingers aren’t that long.  Now what?  Another groovy kid in the year above (god those year-above kids were SO INFLUENTIAL!), one John Mote – whose dad owned an antique shop in Cliffe High Street (before they were ubiquitous) – was selling an alto saxophone.  I saved up some money from (where?) my Sunday paper round probably -the instrument cost me £35.  It was a huge amount of money in those days, especially to me, but I still have that instrument today – a silver Boosey & Hawkes 1936 alto with a Selmer C mouthpiece.

Featured image

John may have given me a book too called “How To Play The Saxophone” but I only picked up the basics, and even then some fundamentals whizzed over my head.  (some pretty key ones in fact : see My Pop Life #80).  Luckily I thought, the fingering was the same as for the recorder, which I’d learnt at Selmeston Primary School with Miss Lamb the legendary Miss Lamb.   C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C.  The sharps and flats were a bit different.  And actually getting a sound out of it was really different.  Initially impossible.  Then, some off-key honking.  Squeaks.  Pigs being murdered.   Dying geese.  My mum had the patience of Job because, while she used to bang the ceiling with a broomstick when Jimi Hendrix got too loud, she never did when I was learning how to play the sax.  Bless her.   I eventually put a pair of rolled up socks into the bell, which dampened the sound somewhat.

204139_999987408_osibisa

And that’s where Y Sharp comes in.  It has a fairly simple opening refrain, played on trumpet and saxophone over the rolling guitar.  If memory serves, D-C-B-A.  The D would have to be played on the higher octave meaning the thumb would come into play.   And the rhythm was staccato, meaning I had to tongue the reed to get those punctuated notes.   I played this damn song over and over and over again, before I moved on to the second phrase, and played that over and over and over until I’d got that too.  After about six months (can it be?) I applied for band membership as a saxophone player.   I knew there weren’t any other sax players in Lewes Priory.   I’d shortcut myself into the most exclusive club in the school – the band.