My Pop Life #229 : Wish Tower – Glen Richardson

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Wish Tower  –  Glen Richardson

Morning came in seven flavours I tried every one

Stuffed my bags with chocolate fags and ran off home to mum

Had my little tryst with sunny Aberystwyth

But I missed the haunts of my youth

Kept all my daydreams as proof

Stuffed behind the station ticket booth

Careful of that melancholy morning.  I awoke today too early with a misty dream just out of reach and the opening lines of this song tiptoeing across my mind. I turned around and my cat Boy stood on me so I turned back and we made solace for a moment. Then he left for a warm spot but the song stayed.  I tried to remember the rest of it. I tried to go back to sleep.  Neither being successful I was left with one option. Get up, make a cup of tea, feed Boy (and Roxy who didn’t come down) and put on the headphones and listen to the song.  Tears sprang to my eyes as they usually do when I hear it, but this morning more than usual.

*

The opening is curious until you reach the chorus but it resembles a trippy haunted memory of Eastbourne Pier and the bingo caller shouting over the plinks plonks and wooden planks of the penny arcade machines.  Childhood memories.  Chocolate fags were sweet cigarettes made of sugar for children to pretend they were smoking. Although the chocolate ones were perhaps more cigar-like. The sweet cigarettes were white.  Then we’re quickly off to Wales, the coastal town of Aberystwyth where the writer Glen studied music for 3 years.  Clearly one of the student activities was trying to find rhymes for the town name which Glen manages here with winning aplomb.  But home calls him back.  East Sussex.  The haunts of my youth.  The melancholia of autumn, halloween and the past in one short sweet line.  The final two lines of the first verse are just breathtaking though and they lift my heart while simultaneously bringing water to mine eyn.  His daydreams are stuffed behind the station ticket booth.  Glen lived in Polegate and takes the train to Eastbourne eventually, a lost town by the sea where Debussy composed La Mer and where I and my brothers would climb Beachy Head with my dad in the years after he’d left the house where we lived with mum in Selmeston,  not far from Polegate.

Which is where we find Glen in verse two – happily back home.

 

Sunny lazy Monday mornings back where I belong

Loves and hates and middle eights for some unfinished song

Look who’s in the garden ripping up a carton

Dragged out from our rubbish box

No stars for you Mr Fox

Nipping down the Co-Op in your socks

 

It’s like a dream from a memory, songwriting happiness in rural sunny England in the 1970s. The almost embarrassing recall of nipping down the Co-op (a supermarket) in your socks is so specific so domestic and so relaxed and loose that we get a clue as to why this life is hymned as the glowing holy grail but there’s something drifting too, the D major chord that can’t escape its root, the fading backing vocals that accompany Mr Fox. Where are we going?

One way to Eastbourne when you’re off-season

Wished on the Wish Tower but I’m still around

Left all my stardust down at the Congress

Went back to fetch it but look what I found

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The Wish Tower is an old fort on the beach which now has a cafe and gardens around it, local denizens walk slowly with walking sticks and take their seats in the autumn sunlight.  What did Glen wish for ?  Success probably because he’s still around.  The reference to Hoagy Carmichael’s Star Dust always pricks my eyes because it is simply my favourite song – discussed earlier in these memoirs at My Pop Life #100 in the version by Nat King Cole.  The Congress Theatre is where you’ll get the annual pantomime with fading stars from television, faces you’ll know and love.  A certain type of show business that contains its own inbuilt melancholia – but they’ll also host touring theatre and the occasional pop or rock show.  Provincial English Theatre par excellence.  I remember shooting a scene from a pop video in there one autumn with Mark Williams, Zoe Thorne and a Welsh band The Crocketts. For another time.  But look what I found ?  Every great song has to have a mysterious line :

And though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway

Glen has the same relationship with Sir Paul as I do – frankly, adoration – which is one reason why we clicked early on in the Brighton Beach Boys days in 2002 – learning those sibling Wilson harmonies in Steve & Rory’s flat in Viaduct Road – In My Room, Surfer Girl, Help Me Rhonda.  Glen calls him Saint Paul.  If you’re going to be influenced by someone, you could do worse.

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Stephen Wrigley and Glen Richardson in electric dreams

Of course my feeling for this song is coloured completely by my relationship to Glen, and to my memories of Eastbourne and what it means to me :  Slightly genteel, full of white-haired conservatives and a few scallywags, a faintly useless record shop, and a whole bunch of businesses which seemed rather sad and neglected, as if shrugging at the lack of interest from the people walking by. Some foreign students, happy, weird happy people. My dad in a flat near the seafront.  Crazy golf.  Queens Tennis club (never been). The best bit of Eastbourne of course is the walk up to Beachy Head.

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Walking to Beachy Head.  The Wish Tower is the fort this side of the pier.

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Magnificent.   A wave-cut platform full of hermit crabs, tidal pools and other treasure where The Downs meets The Sea and falls into it.  A large piece of chalk.  And of course, where you go to commit suicide. Setting for my film New Year’s Day – (press the back button below three times for that story, not so much melancholic as downright tragic!)

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Wedding Day swoon

By the time I’d met Glen he was with Christine who had seen him perform (with Steve and Rory and others) at the Gardner Arts Centre at Sussex University with a 30 -piece orchestra playing the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Glen was singing, and since he has the voice of an angel, she swooned immediately.  The rest is herstory.  A few years after we met they were married but I’ll save that for another post and another song.  But Glen’s mum was often at our early gigs with Glen’s sister, they travelled in from Polegate to Brighton.  A sweet little cherub with her own head of white hair and a twinkly smile.  She fell ill once and we travelled in to see her in hospital and sang her a five-part harmony Surfer Girl (Glen may correct me here in the precise details).  She died earlier this year after some illness, just before I went to England to conduct the marriage of my god-daughter Kimberley to her beau Kazim.  I didn’t make the funeral but I called Glen from the wedding venue as we waited for the rehearsal to start the day before and we had a surreal and delightful chat as he handled both his children Daisy and Stan in the back garden of his Hollingbury house overlooking the Downs and a bee threatened their peaceful afternoon.  I miss him.

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Glen Richardson is happy

Glen passed me a CD of 16 songs sometime back in 2009 if I recall correctly.  The band was thriving, by then we were performing Pet Sounds & Sgt Pepper every year in the Brighton Festival.  Then we decided to arrange Abbey Road for concerts, and needed a new first half.  That first year (2011) I talked the band and Glen (just about) into performing his album of self-composed songs which was then called Pop Dreams.  Brilliant gems of songwriting in the mould of Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello or Randy Newman with sparse instrumentation which exposed the songs themselves as the little jewels that they are.  I particularly liked All Sewn Up, Underground and A Country Walk but they are all really good.  I started giving the CD to friends of mine urging them to listen – see what you think of this> because I couldn’t believe that someone as talented as him hadn’t been signed, hadn’t been produced, didn’t have a deal.  Even if not as a singer (incredible though he is) as a songwriter.  In fact Brighton was full of people like this at that point (and maybe always has been and always will be).  Stars and Sons.  Butterfly McQueen. Electric Soft Parade !  To name but three.  So we started to rehearse Pop Dreams. I would be on backing vocals mainly because there’s only one keyboard part, and very little woodwind.  Then I got a job.  It was spring 2011 and Bryan Singer was directing Jack The Giant Slayer under a giant beanstalk somewhere in Surrey out of Longcross Studios and I was to assist in disguise.

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Ian McShane, Chris Fairbank, unknown, me : Jack The Giant Slayer

It meant that I would miss the crucial rehearsals right before showtime which was May 28th in St George’s Church.  So disappointing.  I didn’t even know if I would be able to do the gig at all such are the demands and vagaries of filming.  So I pulled out of Pop Dreams and let them get on with it.  I wasn’t exactly a critical member of the band instrumentally for this show, but there is a nebulous chemistry among us all and it would change when people were missing.  I was told that my presence was missed and all I heard back was of friction and disagreements as Glen felt people weren’t learning his songs quickly or thoroughly enough.  He was under pressure in retrospect. How do you learn a song ?  You listen to it and then work it out at home. Nothing I could do.

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Rehearsal : Tom on drums, Rory guitar, Steve bass, Adrian guitar, Glen on keys

I made the May 25th rehearsal three days before the weekend of gigs – on Sunday it was Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper which still needs rehearsal even if you know it !  On the day in fact I was free and watched Pop Dreams from the back of the church.  I loved those songs and the band played them really well, but I just wish I’d been up there singing the backing vocals which were largely missing.

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Then I joined them for Abbey Road in the 2nd half.  Later on Glen confessed that he’d found the entire experience an ordeal and he was a) glad it was over and b) would never do it again.  Which was a shame because I had a fantasy that the Brighton Beach Boys could have an original outlet with Glen songs.  It wasn’t to be.  The following year we played other songs from 1969 cleverly titled “The 1969 Show” as our warm up for Abbey Road.  Anyway here’s the third and final verse of Wish Tower.

Mother writes a letter to the local government

Says we won’t be beaten and I wonder what she meant

Wonder where my dad’s gone, please don’t look so sad son

Maybe he’s lost in the rain

Won’t be the same here again

Must be off now I’m gonna miss the train

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So touching, so direct, so sad – the memory of the death of his father, which could be from years earlier but is the final shattering verse before the final haunting chorus.  I cannot hear this verse without the tears coming which is extraordinary because I never met Glen’s father, and mine is still alive (as is my dear mother).  But his facility with the melody, his delivery of the lyric, and the lyric itself :

Won’t be the same here again

is quietly devastating.  And the final line is just so English, as a reaction to expressing emotion.  As the current Halloween season draws to its climax on Thursday here in New York City, over two months have now passed since my wife Jenny’s beloved older sister Dee died.  We are still in shock and the season is perfect for our sadness which is a heartbeat away from whatever mood we are in.  We feel so close to her but she has gone and it won’t be the same here again.