My Pop Life #111 : Three Lions – The Lightning Seeds

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Three Lions   –   The Lightning Seeds

Jules Rimet’s still gleaming…

Brooklyn, July 3rd 2018.  The Russia World Cup : When Eric Dier stepped up and sank the penalty winner in the last-16 game against Colombia it was the first time England had won a penalty shoot-out in an international football competition, ever.  My wife wept for ten minutes.  I was on the internet booking a flight to Samara.  As a message, it really couldn’t have been any clearer, so, wanting to make the world a better place I took a look at myself and made that change.  The man in the mirror was booked on a flight to Samara, Russia via Istanbul on Turkish Air.    Then I realised that I needed a visa and it was 7pm and the next day was July 4th when everything was closed.  Fluff.

Further internet search revealed that visa regulations would be suspended for the duration of the tournament, and that all I’d need is a Fan ID.  Passport photos from Walmart, ticket number for the loophole and I was all set.

At midnight the next day I was on the plane.  9 hours later I was in Istanbul.  Got some rubles. Flew to Samara and landed at 1am.  The following day I hooked up with The Characters: Billy The Bee, Puns, Andy Dubai Bee, Phil, Obi and Martin in the Balkan Grill near the Fifa Fan Park, downtown Samara.

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My Russian friends for the afternoon

Earlier I’d walked along the beautiful riverbank walk along the mighty Volga with a father & son who’d helped me navigate the all-Cyrillic alphabet subway system and then visited Stalin’s bunker where I learned that Samara had briefly become the capital of Russia when Hitler was only 20 kilometres from Moscow in 1942.

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Marx, Engels & Lenin in Stalin’s bunker, Samara

The city was warm and friendly, colourful and mixed – the mosques and the Orthodox churches share the same kind of architecture, golden domes and spires.

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Samara

People were happy to see foreign fans – Colombians, Mexicans, Swedes and English mingling with locals – they were happy and excited to be hosting the tournament, indeed when I met The Characters I was told that one of our number Obi had been asked for a photo by hundreds of Russians since he’d been here.  A far cry from the racism we’d been led to expect from the Marseilles 2016 incidents involving Russian hooligans attacking England fans, and Champions League games in Russia with racist chanting.  This was all swept underneath the FIFA carpet and normal human people replaced the Russian bogeymen  – helpful, curious hosts wielding their Google Translate Apps amidst plenty of sign language.

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Back in the Balkan Grill we watched France take Uruguay down and advance to the semi finals, then walked up to the giant fanpark to see Belgium v Brazil.  It was set in a huge town square full of old-school statues and grand buildings – I later learned that Samara has the largest square in Europe.  We stood in it drinking beer watching the big screen and listening to Russian techno music and the enthusiasm of the DJs and dancers.  A few English fans scattered here and there, but the vast majority of Fans are Russian.  Belgium tear Brazil apart in the first half – a footballing masterclass with Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku all finding acres of space across the Brazilian defence.  Half-time : 0-2 to Belgium.  We reconvene and drink further pints.  Billy and I wander back out into the crowd.  In the second half young Russians came up to chat to us as they realised that we were English.  Russians watches the Premiership on TV & the fans favour us as their second favourites for the tournament – the following day we would play Sweden and Russia would face Croatia.  Meanwhile the Spurs defence Alderweireld & Vertonghen alongside the mighty Vincent Kompany kept Neymar & Coutinho quiet and gave away zero free kicks around the box.  Brazil scored a goal but couldn’t manage a second. Game over.  Brazil were out, along with Argentina & Germany, what a thrilling World Cup !!

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We walked slowly out – like herding cats as ever – and found the Gareth Southgate lookalike outside Shannon’s the inevitable Irish bar.  Billy interviewed him.  Minutes later we were in the groovy nightclub Art & Fact with a few dozen Swedish fans and a bunch of happy locals.  The Swedes hadn’t been polishing their manners much : “England are shit.  We will beat you.”  It was possible – they’d had a decent tournament.  At 3am I developed a thumping headache and retired to Yandex the local Russian taxi App and my hotel.

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On the day of the game we met on the river at a bar/restaurant called Beluga.  It was sparsely populated with England fans from Bristol Rovers, Sunderland, Notts Forest.  The crew gathered slowly.  Tickets distributed.  A kind of rhythm was established where Andy and I got antsy first and wanted to leave, with others more or less gathering at half-speed to follow.  Billy was usually last with his head buried in his phone, local simcard, media hack, blogger and face of the fans 2018 thanks to visibility and the BBC filming his reaction to the penalty shootout, and using it as part of their introduction to the game.  The shootout victory had put the feel-good back into England.  We could go all the way – couldn’t we?  Memes started to appear “I’ve got a secret….”  and it became clear that this song was back once again.  Over in Samara we didn’t like to say it, to voice it, but it had been in our secret heart for months : this was a decent team with a good manager.  No egos.  No wankers.  Only a couple of weak players, all in all a prospect who might not let us down, again.

My birthday 2010 we watched England 0 Algeria 0 in Greenpoint, Cape Town, one of the worst footballing experiences I have ever had.  We’d gone out in the group stages in Brazil and lost to Iceland in Euro 2016.  The only way was up.  But to move from that to the hubris of ‘it’s coming home‘ after one penalty shoot-out victory?  We boarded the tram clutching our bottles of water.  Billy, Obi, Andy, Puns and I.  Phil had gone early, Martin we didn’t know.  The tram slowly filled up as it passed through the pleasant city toward the highest point where the new stadium stood.  We walked with the thousands of others, face painted, Brazil tops, Russians mainly.  A local TV crew stopped us and asked for a song, so I filmed the lads singing  “Southgate you’re the one, you still turn me on” and “drinking all yer vodka”  the two most popular songs out here.  There were pockets of fans in England colours, we’d been told just under 3,000 in all in a crowd of 45,000.  Then inevitably Obi got asked for his 462nd photo of the World Cup by a Russian family.

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Obi aka Photos

That long walk from the taxi/tram/train/bus to the stadium is a feature of World Cups – and this was my 7th in a sequence that stretched back to Los Angeles 1994, when we lived in that fair city and had scored tickets to every game at the Rose Bowl Pasadena, including the Final.  Hooked, we’d travelled to France in 1998 and witnessed Marseilles being trashed by England fans fighting local North Africans, then met Billy on a train to Toulouse.  I’d flown to Japan in 2002 for the quarter-final game v Brazil with Julian Benkel and we’d gone on to Seoul in Korea for the semi final game between South Korea and Germany.  In 2006 Jenny and I drove from Copenhagen to Sweden to visit our friend Amanda Ooms in Sköne before travelling through Germany for a beautiful tournament and another penalty shoot-out defeat against Portugal.  2010 was the magical South Africa World Cup with it’s highlight quarter-final game in Soweto between Ghana and Uruguay (Suarez handball) after England had capitulated to Germany in Bloemfontain.  Then Brazil 2014 and Rio, Manaus, another group-stage exit for England.  Jenny had sworn not to come to Russia (see My Pop Life #109) and I thought I’d missed it but now I felt full, emotional, in the place I was supposed to be, 700 miles north of Kazahkstan on the mighty Volga, watching a quarter-final game between England and Sweden.

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My seat was in the gods high above the SW corner flag, strangely close to the two Sunderland fans from earlier.  Russians were supporting Sweden, Russians were supporting England but as we found out later, Russians were supporting Russia. I could make out the England players warming up far below me.  Then they left the field and the build-up started.  I was completely ambushed when they played Three Lions through the tannoy system, with a karaoke highlighted lyric line.

…everyone seems to know the score, 
They’ve seen it all before
They just know, they’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away
But I know they can play,
‘Cause I remember…

And bugger me if I didn’t have a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as the emotion swelled inside me, completely sidelining any defensive cynicism, any secret irritation for the constant repetition and squashing down of hope to protect the inevitable disappointment, the emotion flooding through me and drowning the irony, we just want to see these players turn up and believe in themselves like they do every week for their clubs.  Sometimes – Algeria, Iceland – it feels as if the very shirt is infected with doubt, a curse is on the land and all who wear it.  But I know we can play…

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We started slowly but were in possession immediately and often and all the corners were right below me.  After 15 minutes Harry Maguire thumped home a magnificent header and we were 1-0 up and cruising.  Sterling could and should have scored a couple more before the whistle blew for half-time.  I made my way down, down, down and around to the far side of the beautiful stadium where the England fans were gathered.  No one asked me for a ticket at any point.  Little pockets of fans were smoking in corners beneath the stands with stewards ignoring the rules.  When I’d got behind the goal at the other end I walked in, and the 2nd half had already started.  It was easy to spot Billy, standing on his seat, so I squeezed over, joined Obi and Puns and Andy then met two youngers Cass and Stu and we sang, we sang, we sang for the entire second half.   To the tune of Earth Wind & Fire’s September :

Oh wee Oh, England Fans in Russia Oh wee Oh, drinking all yer vodka  Oh wee Oh, England’s going all the way……………

Then a corner.  It goes out to Lingard. He crosses to the far post, right in front of us and DELE ALLI BULLETS A HEADER INTO THE BACK OF THE NET !!!  The place erupts in noise, arms waving and beer spraying everywhere, screaming, jumping, celebrating, hugging, drenched in beer, happy, delirious.  What a moment.  I was soaked in beer and my glasses were spattered with lager but we were 2-0 up and heading for the giddy heights of a semi final.  The singing intensified now, glorified, the other song became the favourite :

                   …On our way, we’re on our way, to The Moscow we’re on our way                             how do we get there I don’t know, how do we get there I don’t care – all I know is England’s on the way….

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Puns, me, Billy Grant, Andy 

Something so wonderfully right about singing The Moscow and literally being on our way there for a semi final that we sang it over and over and over again, long after the final whistle and the England players had walked over and at least three of them had danced to our chanting, hands waving – Lingard, Walker and Stones I believe – and Gareth – now inevitably Sir Gareth Southgate had come and punched the air with lion-esque passion at us.  And there it was again

It’s coming home it’s coming home it’s coming Football’s coming home…

We sang it.  The sacred phrase It’s Coming Home which encapsulates so much disappointment and hope.

Where has it been ?  Brazil mainly.  Germany.  Argentina.  Spain.  France.

The highly charged emotive word “home” referring to the modern game’s development in the British Isles in the late 19th Century before becoming the world’s favourite game.  The reason why footballers and football fans around the world HATE the song so much and hate to hear The England singing it.  The utter hubris.  The entitlement.  And they might be right.  Baddiel certainly went to Oxford.

It was written for Euro ’96 which was held in England, so perhaps we all read too much into it.  But it was been dusted down & polished up and sent out to bolster our hopes each time there is a tournament – every two years.  I had always treated it in an ironic way, like a piece of kitsch.  But hearing it in the context of a competitive England match it becomes something else entirely.  It becomes an expression of longing and hope.  A real one.

We left the ground in a daze, taking pictures of the moment, recounting the goals and saves, wondering who we would play in the semi final.  The tram was crowded and unreal.  Some 3000 England fans had been inside the ground and sang their hearts out and now we were trying to get back to the fanpark to see Russia play Croatia.  It took forever, we started a countdown to kickoff and eventually jumped off, then walked ten blocks and jumped back on – or at least four of us did, Billy, me Cass & Stu.  It became apparent that the rumours of overcrowding at the fanpark were true (in the largest square in Europe) as we saw thousands of fans gathered around the corner entrance being turned away.  We stayed on the tram and it swung north.  After a while we jumped off and found a pizza restaurant with a screen on the pavement, surrounded by scores of people.  We went inside.  It was heaving but there was a queue for the bar. Facing the screen.  Then Russia scored.

The noise was incredible.  Billy started filming but there was real alarm on his face as the chant Ross-i-ya arose from the faces around us, deep, gutteral, primal.  Or maybe I imagined it.  We edged nearer to the bar & beer.  The atmosphere was electric and intense.  Then Croatia scored.  Silence.

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We got to the bar.  Sorry there’s no more beer.  Gin ?  Vodka ?  No No more alcohol.  Like a bad dream where you are stuck somewhere hostile but no one is admitting it.  Four cokes please I said.  We only have three : Sprite?  Fine.  Three cokes and a Sprite and back on the tram heading south again.  Andy had gone back to his hotel so we headed there back past the fanpark, still mobbed outside but now it was halftime. At the top of the Slavy Square stands the Glory Monument dedicated to the Kuybyshev aircraft manufacturers of WW2 who made over 30,000 planes.  We descended to the hotel amid the surreal excitement of a city in thrall to a football match happening hundreds of miles away.

In the Volga hotel we were rejoined by Andy, who had my cases in his room, Puns and Obi and we watched the second half with a large number of Russians, a few English, the odd Swede, some Kazahks, three Bolivians and a handful of Brazilians.  They also ran out of beer as we arrived at the bar.  Vodka and orange then.  Vodka and coke.  And finally these mythical imaginary drinks arrived.

Extra time.  Croatia scored again.  Modric was playing a blinder.  I turned to Billy at one point and said – there is a giant Croatian pin heading towards a big Russian balloon.  Surely it was all over.  But no – Russia equalised with minutes left and we were down to penalties.  I had a plane to catch at 3.45am going to Moscow – I’d got the last seat – but I couldn’t leave yet.  Russia had beaten the Spanish on penalties thanks to their goalkeeper Akinfeev but this time they couldn’t go the extra mile to the huge immediate palpable disappointment of a vast nation. Croatia were through to the semi final and a match with England.  I grabbed my cases and said my goodbyes – we’d all meet again in Moscow but character’s planes weren’t until Tuesday in the main. Outside it was drunken and mobbed, taxis everywhere but I had my Yandex App.  It didn’t work.  No wifi suddenly after three days.  I stood on the street corner and watched the Russians high on drink and disappointment crossing the road, singing, smoking, laughing in some cases.  They appeared to be taking it well.  I saw a cab across the road and dragging my cases, walked over.  “Airport?”  I wondered.  She nodded and off we went.

The airport was an hour away.  My driver had a translation App and switched it on immediately.  We started talking – had an entire conversation in fact.   She told me she had a man in Italy and she wanted to move there but that her friend had warned her about Italian men and now she wasn’t so sure.  She told me her daughter was her sole reason for living after she called in and they’d chatted.  She told me she wanted to leave Russia.  I became a counsellor for an hour.  Keep your goals in mind, focus and keep your self-esteem high. You can have whatever you want if you keep it front focus.  And so on and so forth.  Then she said – written on the App in front of me :

I am terrified of the loneliness

I became quite moved and we were silent for the last ten minutes.

There were a handful of drunk England fans in Samara airport among the vast majority of media workers and like loud people everywhere they changed the environment for everyone.  Even on the plane they continued to repeat the same few simple melodies and words I have already outlined above, like some broken clockwork toys before I fell asleep.  We all got about an hours sleep before we landed in Domodedovo Airport near Moscow at 4.30am.  We staggered onto buses and commenced a 15-minute drive to the terminal while I realised that I had left my phone on the plane.  Taken to Lost Property I sat there for half an excruciating hour before the stewardesses came in with it in their hand.  Exhausted relief.  Got a bus through the green field and forests south of Moscow to the Metro then a Metro to Tverskaya.  When I got up the escalator to the subway exit there was a monsoon outside.

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A monsoon.  I waited.  The address of the hotel was 14 Tverskaya and I was steps from 18.  When I finally took those steps though some 25 minutes later I was nowhere near 14.  When I got there I was wet – and the number 14 just told you which chunk of the block we were on, then it was building 4.  No one could tell me where it was.  Round the corner.  Into the alley.  Ask at the flower shop.  He didn’t know. He asked his mate.  He didn’t know.  There was no internet on my phone and I was getting very wet now.   I also had sharp pain every time I put down my right foot and realised that I must have blisters from walking around Samara for hours the previous day.  I squeezed my foot to protect it and limped my way into an apartment building in Number four thinking there might be a secret hotel on the top floor but no go.  At least it wasn’t wet in there.  My England jacket was drenched so I changed into the Burberry raincoat.  I stood under an archway for about half an hour watching the torrential downpour before realising that I had to move, somewhere, anywhere.  I walked back around to the cafe which was opposite the grand old grocery which I later learned was the famous Eliseyev Food Hall:

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A cleaner told us the cafe was closed until 10am – it was 8.30 by now – and the two chaps who had come inside looking for a cafe with me told me in broken Russki English that MacDonalds had wifi.  Back down the underpass, out the other end and into a vast Micky D with breakfast roll egg Macfuckface and fries with black coffee AND WIFI.   Connection.  Suddenly all the messages and email come rolling in.  Loads of WhatsApp messages from EnglandOnTourRussia2018 and plenty involving last night’s party in Samara which developed into dawn selfies with girls and loads of photos of people with fingers to their lips.  I later worked out that this referred to people resisting the urge to say

It’s Coming Home

under any circumstances and to keep radio silence as far as winning the world cup was concerned…Meanwhile back in England that’s all anyone could say and non-football fans were in secret righteous fury vowing to kill the next person who said it.  When drunk of course, people say it louder and more often.  Was it to become our secret undoing ?  I couldn’t get the stupid phrase out of my head.  Or the Three Lions On A Shirt bit.  It was taking over my brain.  Worst of all I was re-writing it to stop it being repetitive brain injury.  Sealions on a Skirt.  Felines on a Flirt.  Or that evergreen Scaffold cover in praise of laundry Three Shirts On A Line.

Of course I wanted England to win the World Cup and now and again in my secret heart I thought they could.  But my undrunk morning self knew that we were underdogs, that we didn’t have a midfielder like Luka Modric who could run a game.  Nevertheless the hope was planted by this carefully constructed and rather sweet song from 1996.  The music was written by a Liverpool musician Ian Broudie and the lyrics by a Birmingham comedian Frank Skinner with a London comedian David Baddiel and recorded by Broudie’s band The Lightning Seeds.   It contains famous pieces of commentary describing the England team as disappointing.  It is indeed a song about failure, about how the team never quite rise to the occasion, although sometimes, it feels as if they might. There are moments.  Lineker’s goal against Germany in Rome 1990.  Gazza.  And of course Bobby Moore and 1966 at Wembley.   The England squad of 1996 appear in the video and sing the chorus.  It has become the England supporters’ anthem and rises into the charts during most football tournaments, the torture of watching England playing football once again like a recurring nightmare that will never go away. It’s the hope that kills you.  Like itching powder I couldn’t soothe the damn tune out of my ears.  But Southgate has made all the difference hasn’t he ?? And here we are.

  A World Cup semi-final in Moscow for fuck’s sake.

At 10.am I went back to the cafe and it was finally open.  The Uzbeki waiter Jim spoke good English and was a budding film-maker.  He wanted to follow me on Instagram because I was an actor.  He now does.  He also realised that I’d been looking at 14 Tverskaya Street, rather than it’s cross street Tverskaya Bul Var, or Boulevard.  OMG.  I’d been walking through a monsoon for the last four hours and I was drenched.  I changed my shoes and my socks and headed in hopefully the correct direction.  The area was really nice.  After further fluffing in almost every direction I finally found the East-West Hotel hidden carefully behind a cool restaurant called Didi and checked in at 11am.  My room was small and perfect.  I examined my right foot.  Two blisters.  I broker them both and promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke some hours later I noticed that all the beer stains on the back of my England Jacket had been washed out by the monsoon rain.   It was time to walk out into the Russian capital and see what I could see.  In the small reception area of the hotel the TV was showing the defeated Russian players being paraded across the stage at the FanPark near Luzhniki, with their manager, thousands of Russians filming it on their phones.  The receptionist and I watched.  I turned to him and put my hand on my heart.   “Are you proud?”  I asked.  “No”  he said.  “Sad?” I asked.  “Yes” he said.  Fair enough I thought your team got knocked out on penalties.  “But do you feel patriotic?”  I asked again.  He rolled up his right trouser leg and showed me a thing white crescent scar around his kneecap.  “I was a footballer”  he said,  ” It could be me up there“.   I said I was sorry and walked out onto Tverskaya Bul Var.  As I walked in the bright sunshine I felt a lump in my throat and tears coming to my eyes.  The conversation had opened me right up.  Russia was making me feel emotions

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My Pop Life #210 : The Carnival Is Over – The Seekers

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The Carnival Is Over – The Seekers

High above the dawn is waiting
And my tears are falling rain
For the carnival is over
We may never meet again

1965 was the year of The Seekers, The Shangri-Las, The Skatalites, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Bert Jansch & Ken Dodd, The Byrds & The Beatles, Bob Dylan & Tom Jones, Mum’s nervous breakdown and subsequent divorce from my father.  That all bled into 1966 too.   I was young – 8 years old – but not that young.

I previously wrote about the time my mum spent in Hellingly Hospital in My Pop Life #55 – Help! by The Beatles but it was all a blur in the end, apart from those few memories.   The songs of that year stand out as beacons of clarity in a world turning darker and confusingly indeterminate – twinkling shards of light in the doubt – but looking back the only ones I strongly remember were the number 1s (of which The Seekers had two).  And I wonder if that is because my dad and my Nan were looking after us,  and they didn’t have the radio on much, or maybe it was 1965 and they didn’t play Radio Luxemburg or Radio Caroline.  So only the ones off the telly got through to my ears.  Strange thought. Like a rent in the sound firmament.

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Me holding my brother Paul in the early 1960s

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Even though The Seekers break-through year was 1965, I rather feel that this song is set in 1966/7 after Mum had come out of hospital and bought The Best Of The Seekers LP and played it quite a lot.      Especially the first three tracks : Morningtown Ride, A World Of Our Own and The Carnival Is Over.

Mum had escaped from hospital by pretending to go for a walk one day.  She’d earlier made friends with a woman who was on the same meds as she was and a few beds along, and one day the woman had disappeared.  I actually remember Mum telling us this on one clear autumn day, when Dad took me, Paul and Andrew into the visiting room at Hellingly.  Mum, Heather Brown as was, said that she assumed the woman had gone home, got out of that place and was back with her family.   Then one day Mum had gone upstairs for something (?) and there was that same woman walking along the corridor, drugged up to the eyeballs and not recognising Mum at all.  We didn’t like that story and neither did Mum because shortly after that visit she was back home.  She’d just walked out and got on a bus.

Later on, maybe 1967 or even later, she told me of the circumstances of the escape and how the doctor had phoned her at home and said she would have to come back and she said no.  For a few days they negotiated, Dad, Mum, Dr Maggs and then she voluntarily went back to hospital for a short while, on the strict understanding that it was for a few weeks only.  I can’t remember how long for.  But a deal was struck and so at some point she was finally back at home to our huge relief.  I can’t claim to remember the celebrations, the hugs and kisses or the arguments that followed, just a few images of marmalade pots flying into the wall; glasses being removed and held high in the air; “don’t be so stupid“;  regular use of the words ‘bugger‘ and ‘off‘ and even the occasional ‘sod‘.  We hated it.

All this time or thereabouts, Lynne was babysitting for us.  She was a kind of flowery hippy type, skinny with long frizzy ashblonde hair.  She would marry our dad in 1973 if memory serves.  There’s an infinitely sad photo of Ralph, Paul and Andrew with John & Lynne outside the Brighton Registry Office.  The tear-drop shirts give me the date.  Years later mum would tell us of others, and other things that happened before the divorce was granted sometime in 1966 on the grounds of “mental cruelty”.   I didn’t really understand at the time, and actually remembered the entire two year period later as – a divorce followed by a nervous breakdown.  My memory had literally re-ordered the universe so that it made sense.  The divorce caused the breakdown.  We can all understand that, so some degree.  But no.  It was actually the other way around.  I unpicked the actual facts much later when I was fully grown and older than my parents were in 1966.

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I was going to school half a mile away towards the Downs and life went on as before but without Dad.  Nan still came up now and again, or more commonly it was Wendy who turned up who was our cousin from Portsmouth and must have been a teenager by then.  I wrote about her in My Pop Life #102 when she visited a few years later and went to Eastbourne with Mum to see Desmond Dekker.

The sacred music from this mid-sixties era is imprinted onto me like a stick of rock, all the lyrics, harmonies and tunes.  The Sound Of Music.  Oliver!  Motown. The Beatles.  Dionne Warwick.  And, yes – The Seekers.

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They were part of that early-60s folk wave of clean-harmony middle-class white folk who had a particular confidence, and a bright, clear and gently righteous sound – Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, The Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, The New Christy Minstrels, Joan Baez and John Denver.  The Seekers were somewhat more poppy folk from Australia and their first release was a version of Waltzing Matilda, which I have to report reluctantly is not as good as Rolf Harris’.  They travelled to Britain by ship then performed alongside Dusty Springfield (see My Pop Life #149) whereupon they also met her brother Tom who had earlier been in a popular group with his sister called The Springfields.  He wrote and produced a song for The Seekers called I’ll Never Find Another You in 1964 which eventually got to Number 1 in the UK. He also wrote The Carnival Is Over, Georgy Girl and A World Of Our Own.  The clear female voice is that of Judith Durham whose pitching is straight as an arrow clean centre of every note, supported by the three fellas whose harmonies thrillingly nestle under that clear pure voice, supporting and stretching the melody to its full promise and providing hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck every time.

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The Carnival Is Over is sung to an old Russian folk melody called Stenka Razin with original lyrics written by the poet Dmitry Sadovnikov in 1883 – and he told a historical tale of the Volga boatmen – a terrible dark story :

The Ballad of Stenka Razin

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
ships of Cossack yeomanry.

On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side
Drunken holds in marriage revels
With his beauteous young bride

From behind there comes a murmur
He has left his sword to woo;
One short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman, too.

Stenka Razin hears the murmur
Of his discontented band
And his lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.

His dark brows are drawn together
As the waves of anger rise;
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing jet black eyes

I will give you all you ask for
Head and heart and life and hand.
And his voice rolls out like thunder
Out across the distant land.

Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Wide and deep beneath the sun,
You have never seen such a present
From the Cossacks of the Don.

So that peace may reign forever
In this band so free and brave
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Make this lovely girl a grave.

Now, with one swift mighty motion
He has raised his bride on high
And has cast her where the waters
Of the Volga roll and sigh.

Dance, you fools, and let’s be merry
What is this that’s in your eyes?
Let us thunder out a shanty
To the place where beauty lies.

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
ships of Cossack yeomanry.

It is a darkly male, anti-love, pro-warrior kind of song.  Not many of those in my Pop Life.  It alarms me that there is a strand in song – in men – with this death-cult kind of feeling being expressed and I copy it here for interest and as a kind of appalled question – is that who we are?  Really?  It actually appears very Greek – Medea killing her children.  According to Wikipedia  “the Dutch traveller Jean Jansen Struys (1630—1694), says that the murder was meant as a sacrifice with which Razin hoped to appease the much loved and feared Volga River”.

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In the Tom Springfield re-write the darkness disappears and we have a simple yearning lament for something lost, perhaps a brief affair with a lion-tamer or a clown, but the circus is leaving town and we get sympathetic lines :

Like a drum, my heart was beating
And your kiss was sweet as wine
But the joys of love are fleeting…

My mother, consciously or not, must have used this as an of anthem for her own doomed marriage.  It has a funereal beat to it, tragic and fated but yet graced with ethereal & beautiful harmonies that really lift you up from tragedy into a place of light and joy.  Quite an extraordinary effect.  It worked on Mum, and it still works on me. Some of the best songs have both joy and sadness in them.  And it hasn’t escaped me that I have avoided the in-depth discussion of my parent’s divorce and instead devoted some time to an exploration of the song.  There is a pattern here I believe.  Most of my traumatic moments, my lonely moments, my brave moments have been hidden inside my personal soundtrack.  The music made it all bearable.  Now older, I can be ambushed by all kinds of things which operate the hidden triggers to open those boxes of feeling, not always musical.  And I’m not sure if I have very much to say about my parent’s divorce anyway, except that it put me off marriage – or so I thought.  Once I was in fact married, I realised that it was divorce I wasn’t interested in.  Marriage was fine, as long as it was for ever.

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Andrew, Selmeston East Sussex 1965

Morningtown Ride opened the Seekers album and was our lullaby that we used to rock baby Andrew, now two, three years old :

Train whistle blowing, makes a sleepy noise

Underneath the blankets for all the boys and girls..

Rockin, rollin’ ridin, out along the bay

All bound for Morningtown, many miles away…

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Andrew it was who was hit hardest by the divorce because he had no real memory of his father being at home.  In that sense I became his father-figure at the tender age of 8.   In later years I always placed my younger brother in goal so that I could score past him, and he would get revenge by entering Paul and I’s bedroom and breaking carefully constructed airfix kits.    Middle brother Paul’s version of the damage control that comes from a broken home was a simple but devastating remark he made when I was 30 years old : “Ralph, you got the lion’s share of the confidence in our family”.  This is undeniable – as the oldest of three boys left at home with a recovering single mother, I’d had seven years with both parents, a reasonably stable base from which to build a person.  Paul had five years, Andrew one.  But having two parents isn’t the be-all & end-all of a healthy childhood.  Many other things come into play.  The carnival might have been over, but we could all still sing about it and we were all still together.

This blog contains 1965 words.

My Pop Life #206 : Summertime In My Heart – Electric Soft Parade

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Summertime In My Heart – Electric Soft Parade

I gotta say that it often feels
There’s someone watching over me
I don’t pray and I certainly don’t preach
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking
You gotta take the rough with the smooth
If you’re prepared to tell your own truth
It certainly don’t make me look cool
And maybe it’s just all this drinking 

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Alex and Tom White.  Tom has the tie.

I have to write a post on the White brothers.   It was, of course, music that brought us together.  Dear Kit Ashton, when he lived in Brighton, used to do a songwriter’s evening once a year, and I suspect it was Julian Deane – once of Toploader and now running Raygun Records – who suggested he contact me.  Kit emailed probably and said he was doing a David Bowie night, and which song would I like to sing?

Wow.

I said, without any hesitation, ‘Station To Station’ which rhymes, and the resulting rehearsals and live gig were among the highlights of my musical life.  Honest – I will write about the lowlights too at some point, but my favourites are the highlights.  They just are.  Call me old-fashioned.   I missed the earlier incarnations of Kit’s annual event, but they included Rufus Wainwright which is a show I’d have loved to have been involved in.  The following year we’d done Elvis Costello (or was it the previous year?) and that was brilliant too, mainly doing backing vocals and some sax, and singing a couple of leads.  Worth its own post.

Anyway the band on the Bowie gig included some folk I knew : killer guitarist Rachel Wood I’d seen in Paul Steel’s band, some special guests : Herbie Flowers, Glen Richardson, and some folk I didn’t really know, Joe on keyboards and Alex White on drums.  He was outstanding.  Was it the same night of the gig when we went back up Abbey Road to our house and got high and compared notes on depression and strategies for dealing with it?  And then Alex made me a CD with some cracking songs I’d never heard of – including: Ambrosia’s Running Away ; a blast from my own past which he’d somehow unearthed: Deaf School’s What A Way To End It All; a shared joy: Van Dyke Parks & Brian Wilson’s Orange Crate Art;  and most astoundingly, a cover that Alex had made by himself of a Todd Rundgren song All The Children Sing.  This blew my tiny mind, because it is a multi-layered exquisite piece of work in the original and Alex had somehow re-created its vibe note-perfectly.

I undoubtedly made him some kind of CD too, but lacking the cover version moment with me playing all the parts and singing all the harmonies.  I jest.  As any fule kno.  At this point I suspect I went back to listen to Electric Soft Parade all over again.

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Electric Soft Parade were Alex and his brother Tom White, previously members of Feltro Media, a Brighton band who’d recorded three (!) self-released albums in the late 90s.  I’ve not heard any of these.   Electric Soft Parade’s first album Holes In The Wall came out in 2002 and was nominated for a Mercury prize, two other great albums followed which I won’t go into here, but from around 2007 everything they’ve done together or singly has been self-produced.   When I met Alex, the band was on an extended hiatus, the two brothers being busy with their own projects as well as playing with Brakes – another Brighton outfit formed with members of British Seapower & Tenderfoot.

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Alex and Tom as youngers

I bumped into Tom White one day in the framing shop in The Lanes and said ‘hi, I’m a friend of Alex‘.   I went to see Clowwns at the Prince Albert one night, Miles Heathfield‘s excellent band, Tom was on drums.   The brothers kept popping up at gigs around town.  Then, suddenly, their Mum died.  In their grief, a benefit concert was arranged down at The Concorde on the seafront, almost directly below our house.  I went along and saw the cream of the Brighton musical establishment playing for the brothers, including Field Music and Electric Soft Parade themselves, playing their first gig for some time.

What was great for me about discovering further musical riches in my home town was that sense of things being joined together.  Pretty much any musician I talked to knew them.  Among my joyous memories of local bands (or bands who’d based themselves in Brighton) were Mike Lord‘s tremendous outfit Stars & Sons in which Paul Steel played bass and Luke Sital-Singh played guitar – both now incandescent solo acts with Julian’s Raygun Records along with ace punk-rock group The Xcerts.  My friend Tim Lewis was now dating a beautiful young lady named Beth Hannah. Her father is Ian Hannah of this parish, a massive music fan who enjoys going to local gigs (like me) and would always be seen at anything involving the White brothers.  He is their biggest fan I reckon!  So  often the crowd would be me, Tim and Ian with maybe Andy or Will or Keith or whoever we can rustle up.  The live scene there is ace.

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Tom White, Alex White : The Electric Soft Parade : “Idiots”

The following year or maybe the year after that they released their fourth album “Idiots” which was on the Helium label and had a rather brilliant front cover (see above).  One of the songs on this album caught my ear and never let go.   Summertime in My Heart is a wonderful piece of songwriting & playing by the brothers White, conjuring up endless sunny days, carefree afternoons and long lazy evenings with people you love and bottles of cider.  It references sounds like The Byrds jangly guitar pop, The Las from Liverpool and the fresh punk-pop of The Undertones.  But really it sounds just like them.  My wife Jenny adores the song with its sibling harmonies mixed high in the production, and references to catching “the first bus into town“.  Perfect pop.

I don’t know if Idiots” got much traction, had good reviews or sales, but it seems not which is one of the many crimes against perfect pop that have been perpetrated over the years.  I reference here one of Brighton’s other fine musicians, Paul Steel, and his 2nd album Moon Rock which was released in Japan and is now available on iTunes, but very few people know about it.  Such a shame.

Disheartened they may have been but it didn’t dent their confidence, as evidenced by the next move.  Around this time they both produced albums on their own – Alex made a perfect copy of Steely Dan’s Katy Lied :

https://theelectricsoftparade.bandcamp.com/album/katy-lied

while Tom made an equally perfect copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours :

https://theelectricsoftparade.bandcamp.com/album/rumours

Because why not? !!

Alex was also making an album inspired by his mother called Interlocutor at The Levellers‘ studio near Brighton College playing-fields with mates and wanted some of my alto saxophone on it.  The dates never quite worked and I’ve never heard the finished product, if indeed it was ever finished.

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Tom made a handful of solo LPs, including Yalla recorded in Egypt (all his stuff is great by the way) and then formed a new band called The Fiction Aisle.  I love this band too.  Their first album was a stunner, called Heart Map Rubric. To date they have produced four albums – three studio releases and a live LP  which came out last month (April 2018) with Alex playing guitar which was welcome news since every time I’d seen Alex recently he hasn’t been buoyant.  The previous last time (I think) was at a Fiction Aisle gig in Brighton in December 2016 where Alex was on DJ duties and we went back to his mate’s flat for a few beers and smokes afterward.  It was nice to see him again.

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Earlier Tom had spied me on the pavement smoking eternal cigarettes as ever & I’d congratulated him on the gig and yet expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like my favourite album of theirs Fuchsia Days.  Different line-up, instruments, energy.  Tom was full of joy and told me that he and Alex had been hanging out at Preston Park earlier in the year listening outside the perimeter fence to Brian Wilson & his band playing Pet Sounds and melting into their musical boots.  I was inside with Paul Steel & his partner Hollie his partner & Martin his dad (see My Pop Life #1 and #2) and wondering why Brian was singing like Frank Sinatra and breaking up the rhythm of the phrases.  There is a school that believes that Brian can do whatever he wants and there is a smaller group of devotees like myself who want to hear the song, not the singer’s experimentation.  Ah fuck it, he can do whatever he wants, course he can!  He’s a living savant.

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Brian Wilson at Together The People, Preston Park Brighton 2016

So Tom says “we loved Brian Wilson and we’d like to play in your band if there’s space“.  My band being The Brighton Beach Boys who started out playing the music of Brian Wilson then The Beatles, now Bowie, John Barry and everyone you like (see My Pop Life #111,  My Pop Life #154,  My Pop Life #169  and others…)   There was a little bit of band politics to follow, but in the end we needed a new drummer who lived in Brighton for we were at that time rehearsing The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour LP for its 50th Anniversary to play alongside Sgt Pepper and… well, our regular Ringo the reverend Thomas Arnold was out in Macau and other exotic loci with a Michael Jackson show entitled Thriller.  Early in 2017 I flew back to the UK for a rehearsal and there was Tom White on the kit.  Very happy to see this fresh injection of talent and energy.   And a new generation.  Good for the band I thought.  And he loved the lack of stress, as he put it, playing other people’s music.   Not sure if all the band felt that way!  The following months were a joy for me, and all of us, he gobbled up everything we threw at him, including, of course, backing vocals by the score.  And fake animal heads of course.

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Tom at rehearsal playing er…I Am The Walrus

(the walrus was Paul : see  My Pop Life#118)

That summer (time in my heart) of 2017 we happy few played Brighton Festival, Windsor, Liverpool (!) and London together.  Enjoying those two mighty albums. For another post no doubt, it will remain one of the highlights of my life.

Alex meanwhile had retreated into not really wanting to play music.   Until he turned up on the 4th Fiction Aisle (live) album sounding quite amazing.

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I really should mention the drummer Damo Waters too who is a monster player and who spreads himself among the high end Brighton music scene like caviar on Armenian toast – I’ve seen him with Clowwns, Field Music, ESP and others, always outstanding.

*

 I really wanted the brothers to play Summertime In My Heart at my 60th birthday concert in the summer of 2017 (see My Pop Life #200) but Alex was in the slough of despond and didn’t like being in rooms full of people, or even know if he wanted to play music any longer.  I think he’s better now.   I hope so.  I know that struggle.   Tom sang Simon & Garfunkel’s America with Kit Ashton, closing the circle of karma with which we started 1932 words ago and we all ended up on the beach at dawnIMG_2993 Tom White & Paul Brown my dear brother, dawn, June 19th 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you : the White brothers as the magnificent Electric Soft Parade :

My Pop Life #205 : Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do – Captain Beefheart

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Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do  –  Captain Beefheart

Well I was born in the desert, came on up from New Orleans
Came up on a tornado, sunlight in the sky
I went around all day with the moon sticking in my eye

The song itself doesn’t really mean anything to me. So what’s it doing here then?  It’s a blues copy of an old jugband song by Gus Cannon which is a shout out to young girls to come on by  and spend some time.  Sure, why not.  But Captain Beefheart was a sound I’d heard at school round my friend Simon’s house, possibly even at Pete’s too, and I was pretty sure I didn’t like it much.  But in the spirit of the great John Peel, DJ from the early 60s through to 2004, it tops this blog as a song which he introduced to me. 

Let me explain.  This is from Captain Beefheart’s first LP Safe As Milk which came out in 1967, and when I finally started to dig this Magic Band in the year 2008 I was working on a British film called The Boat That Rocked, playing a DJ broadcasting from a pirate radio station moored on a sandbank in the North Sea, just outside British territorial waters.   Set in 1966/7, the film attempts to encapsulate british pop culture at a time when, despite The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Motown, Dusty, The Beach Boys et al, the incredibly fecund and musically diverse pop boom that was the mid-sixties, the nation was being fed a musical diet of trad jazz & light entertainment by the BBC.  Pirate radio stations filled the gap.   Based on both Radio Caroline & Radio London (but always denied by Working Title Films for legal reasons) the film portrays a who’s who of the deejays of the mid-1960s most of whom went on to Radio One when it was formed in 1967 as the law changed and the pirates ceased broadcasting.

I am actually old enough to remember Radio Caroline and Radio London – ‘the Big L’.  I remember Emporer Rosko and Keith Skues and Johnny Walker and even the jingles.  My mum would tune in from leafy East Sussex.  I was 8, 9 years old.  Where else could we find the pop music we loved?  Radio Luxembourg, Radio London, Radio Caroline.  It’s hard to conceive that until summer 1967 there was no pop radio in the UK (a few hours on Saturday BBC) apart from the Pirate Radio stations.

In December/January 2007/8 I was actually on stage doing a play (for the first time since 1990!) at the Bush Theatre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.  I’ll write about it another time, but it was about a punk band revived in their later years for cash.  Damn good piece of work.  One of the cast Pierce Quigley had auditioned for Richard Curtis and told me about the set-up of the movie.  Right up my street, down my valley, into my top pocket, straight to the heart on my watch I felt.  I wondered if I had a shout, but it sounded pretty much all cast.  In January though I travelled to Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill and met Richard, Hilary Bevan-Jones the producer, Fiona Weir the casting director and Richard’s girlfriend (and mother of his four children) Emma Freud. I read my version of “Bob” the late-night DJ, the hermit, the whispery groovy stoner and Hendrix lover (“this young man is really quite good at playing the guitar”).

Nailed it.

Next up was a table read in London’s Soho with a shiny selection of insecure yet quixotic talent – Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Davenport, Chris O’Dowd, Tom Sturridge.   Jason Isaacs was sitting next to me but he was only keeping a seat warm, he assured me, for Rhys Ifans who couldn’t make it.  The critical part of The Count, the American DJ – the Emporer Rosko part – had not apparently been filled.  No one else had been cast.  Actually I think Bill & Rhys and Nick & Ken had been cast, but all the “smaller parts” had not.  It was like a giant open audition.  Jeez.

We read the script aloud, someone was taping it.  No pressure.

We were all cast a few days later.  Except Jason Isaacs.

I was to play Bob, and Richard wanted to change the name.  Clearly lawyers were all over this script to stop it being likened to Radio Caroline or the others.  Bob reminded the lawyers of Bob Harris from The Old Grey Whistle Test and they wanted to avoid litigation.  During my research period I met Bob Harris at the BBC while he recorded his country show for Radio 2, and told him of the discussion of names.  He insisted that the character be named Bob, because even though he wasn’t on a pirate ship, Harris felt a huge affinity for those characters, and came up in the same generation.  “Bob” my DJ was a mix of John Peel and Whispering Bob Harris really, a laid back groover, bringing alternative sounds to a pop generation.  I was in method-acting heaven.  Bob was officially my DJ name and I’m still friends with Mr Harris.images.duckduckgo-3

Bob Harris

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John Peel

I read all the books by & about Bob Harris and John Peel, with whom I had grown up in the 1970s.  Harris on OGWT with the best live music, including Bob Marley and Focus, Peel’s late night show on Radio One, his dry appearances on Top Of The Pops, his scouse wit hidden beneath a monotone of intelligence, his music choices bloody minded, but 90% of the time right on the money.  Reggae, folk, psychedelic rock, punk, post punk, Vivian Stanshall  and alternative music were his forte.  He had a massive vinyl collection at his home near Ipswich.

John Peel sadly died in 2004 and is now enshrined as a national treasure, so I was doubly honoured to portray even a pretend version of his early years on the pirate ship.  In fact in 1966 he had an eclectic radio show called The Perfumed Garden which broadcast every night from midnight until 3am.  He played strange new bands like Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and The Incredible String Band, and read poetry and passages from children’s literature – which was all the rage in mid-sixties pop land – Piper At The Gates of Dawn is from Wind In The Willows, White Rabbit from Alice In Wonderland.  He did speak incredibly quietly into the microphone, unlike the daytime DJs like Kenny Everett or Tony Blackburn, who would create a party atmosphere and keep it upbeat.  Peel would imagine his audience were stoned, lying on rugs and cushions with joss-sticks burning, smoking cigarettes and joints, and he was largely right.  Of course some of his audience were at home with their parents listening in that infamous cliché under the bedclothes to a tiny transistor radio, so the whispering worked well for them too.  It was Peel who introduced Captain Beefheart to the UK.  He also championed Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and other blues artists who had already been picked up on by John Mayall, Cream, The Rolling Stones & the Animals.  It was a shame that I couldn’t talk to John, but I felt close to him and I wanted to honour his memory and his massive legacy.  In the end I didn’t contact Sheila his widow, in case there were some restrictions or anxieties, but I did find a fan – Gray Newell -who had taped The Perfumed Garden and made CDs of about a dozen shows, recreated with mp3s of the songs he played. I’ll be forever grateful to Gray who very kindly sent me a handful of the CDs – treasure !  Like listening to Radio Caroline in 1966…

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Bob Silver, The Dawn Treader

We had a weekend rehearsal on the boat we would be shooting on in Portland harbour, Dorset.   All the boat cast were there, including Philip Seymour Hoffman who was playing the Count.  We were berthed in the cabins, complete with posh moisturiser and shampoo courtesy of Emma.

Innocence.  For some reason I had a little Brighton Beach Boys interview on my computer – me talking about 1966/67 and why we did these live shows presenting the pop highs of the era, Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper, and I guess I felt it was so On Point that I offered it to the assembly.  Maybe I thought Richard would book us for the wrap party? (he didn’t).  Thinking back on it now it does seems like appalling hubris on my part.  But it was innocently offered to be fair.  We would be a community of sorts in the months that followed but – for me – we would never really gel together as a family, despite everything that was laid on for us, the best efforts of the producers and all the crew.   Early days we were all invited up to Eric Fellner’s Elizabethan mansion in Bucks to eat and drink and bond.  It was a stunning day with red kites landing on the lawn.  One of the lawns.

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Pressure – for a British film it had a big budget (£30 million), and although this was a subconscious pressure it was nevertheless there.  It was hard work and there was plenty of it.  We’d get ferried out to the boat every morning, and if you weren’t in the scene you’d hang out below deck or somewhere out of vision.  The crew was huge – but people didn’t want to be seen to be chatting and hanging out when they should be working.

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script supervisor Emma Thomas

Strangely on the very last day I was chatting to the script supervisor Emma Thomas who had been good fun & friendly throughout, and found that we had strong mutual friends, namely Paulette & Beverley Randall.

I discovered on the same day as the unit slowly relaxed that Luke the B-camera operator was my pal Jemma Redgrave’s brother!  I thought that showed how focussed we were, how tight everyone had been, that those cross-discipline friendships didn’t really happen even on a five month gig.  A shame.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman

Drugs.  Who knows, now that Phil is no longer with us, what he was doing and with whom on that gig.  There may have been an off-set hang that didn’t involve me, and this happens all the time in “real life” – if you don’t participate in other people’s drugs, you don’t get invited.  Fair enough.  Big LA thing, that is.  I don’t know.  Rest in peace lovely man.

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Phil, Tom W, Rhys, Rhys, Tom S, Chris, Ike, Nick, Katherine, me, Bill

Cast. The huge cast of name actors playing name DJs certainly was surreal.  I can’t put my finger on why that might be so.  Some competitive joke telling.  Who could make Philip Seymour Hoffman laugh the most.  Some scrambling for screentime in the big ensemble scenes.  Actually loads of that.  Who were they? Well,  Rhys Darby was recruited from Flight of the Conchords to play the Kenny Everett character.  He was shy like me I think.  And he pronounced six as sux.  Somehow Nick Frost, Chris O’ Dowd, Rhys Ifans and Tom Wisdom inhabited the souls of Dave Lee Travis, Tony Blackburn, Johnny Walker, Tony Prince, Simon Dee and Johnny Vance between them.

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Rhys Ifans

Rhys Ifans was zonked for most of the film, and after he split with Sienna Miller halfway-through the shoot even monosyllables were like gold dust.  I worked with him later (2014) on the show Elementary in New York, and he was sweet as a nut.  Bill Nighy played the owner, an oasis of calm and saturnine urbanity and like me, in his musical element.  The younger ones – Tom Sturridge who never bothered to befriend me at any point, Tom Brooke, Will Adamsdale, Katherine Parkinson, Ike Hamilton and Talulah Riley who did bless their cotton socks.

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Ike Hamilton, me, Tom Brooke

January Jones was delightful, but refused to reveal the secrets of Mad Men.   Kenneth Branagh was charm and warmth as ever, and dear Emma Thompson with whom I’d worked in France many years before was just gorgeous. (See My Pop Life #9).

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Ralph & Emma : we’d had sex in a previous film…

Me.  Perhaps it was me.  Not joining in as usual.  Method-acting a stoner hermit  who set himself aside from the gang in almost every way.  My first scene in the film is in the mess-hall where The Count, Philip Seymour Hoffman, says “hey man, who are you??” because I’m the invisible man on board.

Weeks later up on deck Phil and I were chatting about something, and as he turned away I heard him mutter under his breath “funny little, nerdy little guy“.   So I guess I never wandered too far from my character, and just didn’t join in much.  But then later he gave me the biggest hug.

The crew  included dear Christine Blundell on make-up, who had designed  my film New Year’s Day.   I love her, despite her Oscar.

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Christine Blundell – make-up dept.

And Joanna Johnson designed my hippy costume.  I’d hook up with her again on Jack The Giant Slayer, with an old friend of Jenny’s Fiona McCann

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Joanna Johnson & Fiona McCann – costume dept.

So mainly I suspect it was funny little nerdy little me, playing a music-loving hermit, spending the days asleep, the evenings preparing the show and the nights broadcasting.  Not really part of the pop radio scene.  When I did appear in scenes with the chaps my default was a kind of stoned shyness, mixed with hidden musical snobbery & arrogance of course.  Because my show went out between 3.00am and 6am I called it The Dawn Treader…after the Narnia cycle.

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Emma Freud

Emma Freud directed 2nd unit and was in fact, along with Richard Curtis himself, the friendliest person on the movie.  Probably the single best thing that happened to me on this job was her genius idea to film each of the DJs broadcasting their radio show for a whole hour.   The actors had to research and compile the show, source the vinyl and other bits & pieces, then learn how to use the equipment which we’d already done, and off we went in real time.  It was such a brilliant idea that none of it, as far as I know, made the final cut or indeed any DVD-extras footage.  Nevertheless we were not to know this.

Since I had quite a few episodes of The Perfumed Garden to listen to, I had a great template for The Dawn Treader show, but all the songs, album covers, anything I wanted to use had to be cleared by the companies who had copyright, by the lawyers, and by Richard himself.

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Art Department prop

For reasons that emanate from Bob Silver, The Dawn Treader himself, the character wanted to open this to-be-filmed show with Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. But before that – the intro music!! – the signature sound of the show which would be played every night.  I had a song in my collection called 3am Boogie by Willard McDaniel and blow me down if it didn’t sound EXACTLY like a radio show intro piece from 1967.   You’ll have to buy it though because it isn’t on Youtube I’m afraid.  Maybe Spotify.  What I knew though was that I had to have track one, side two of Are You Experienced? by Jimi Hendrix somewhere in there.  ‘May This Be Love’.  An album I owned already – but on Polydor.  When it came out in 1966 it was on Track Records, and since it would be on camera, that was the one I needed.  I soon discovered that it is something of a collector’s item.  I made a bid for it on ebay but it went for £600.  Whoosh.  Now what.  I visited one of the vinyl Emporia of Brighton’s North Laine, in particular Wax Factor, a kind of holygrail willywonka cave for vinyl junkies.

waxx8I told the man what I needed and he said he thought he could source a damaged copy for me, at a reduced price.  Sounded perfect. A few days later it was in my possession…

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It cost me £150.

I know that will shock some people but clearly in my secret heart I wanted to collect it.  I do have a beautiful vinyl collection.  ‘Course I do.  The other albums I bought for ‘research’ were the Captain Beefheart LP Safe As Milk, The Yardbirds first LP, Fresh Cream and Highway 61 Revisited, all reasonably priced.  And 45s of Pink Floyd, Jefferson AirplaneNina Simone & The Small Faces.   So here is The Dawn Treader hour – now a playlist on my computer, but in reality a set of vinyl records, 45s and LPs…

The Dawn Treader

intro : 3am Boogie : Willard McDaniel

Sunshine Superman  – Donovan

Alone Again Or  – Love

White Rabbit  –  Jefferson Airplane

{Reading from Alice Through the Looking Glass}

Eight Miles High  – The Byrds

May This Be Love   –   Jimi Hendrix

Here Come The Nice  –  Small Faces

Dust My Blues  –  John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers

Highway 61 Revisited  – Bob Dylan

Sure Nuff ‘N Yes I Do – Capt Beefheart

Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys

Hang On To A Dream  – Tim Hardin

Dreaming  – Cream

Water Woman  – Spirit

{Reading – Icarus Allsorts by Roger McGough

I Put A Spell On You  –  Nina Simone

Killing Floor  –   Howlin’ Wolf

Dedicated To The One I Love – The Mamas & the Papas

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We recorded it in one take one afternoon, complete with letters from readers asking for The Strawberry Alarm Clock, weather reports, playing Howlin’ Wolf at the wrong speed “by mistake” – Peel was quite famous for this – poems, whimsy and some gentle self-reflexive humour. I do think it’s one of the most perfect things I’ve ever experienced – I don’t mean I was good at it, what I mean is that I revelled in it, the planning, designing, writing and recording of it.  Thankfully I’ve never had to watch it.  Or listen to it… I know we all dream of having a radio show – if you’re reading this it’s probably because you love music and share that same fantasy – well, lucky me, I got to do it for an hour.  Thanks Emma!   And thank you Richard for approving the idea, the playlist, the actor…

There was one last job I had to do – choose the LP which Bob would save from the water as the ship is sinking – a sequence where I carry a box of vinyl out of the cabin and suddenly disappear down into the hold and underwater, records floating everywhere.  Bob grabs one and he and his son surface together to be met by Nick Frost who takes the LP off me, glances at it and throws it back into the water.  I chose The Incredible String Band‘s record “The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion” mainly because it had a good cover but also because I don’t like it very much.

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Peel loved this band and really gave them a push but I’ve never been able to listen to more than half of a song.  It was a good gag in the film, but I couldn’t do that to a Bob Dylan album for example (one of the suggestions!)  Sacrilege.  Well, I could’ve done, but I didn’t.  The record I’m listening to as my son rushes in and scratches to tell me we are sinking is The Grateful Dead first LP, also accurate to Peel’s (and Bob Harris’) taste.

The underwater sequence dubbed into Italian

All I had to do then was the acting.

We were in Weymouth for the first part of the shoot, a lovely English seaside resort with a harbour at Portland where the Radio Rock boat was moored offshore, and plenty of welcoming pubs.

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Chester and Jenny came to Weymouth for a week

Later we went to Shepperton Studios to film all the interiors.  Meanwhile in real life, god-daughter Delilah-Rose was three months old…

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I discovered during filming that Richard Curtis was at the same level of music nerd enthusiasm as I – vividly illustrated in the finished product, which bangs seven shades of sugary shit as a musical evocation of the mid-sixties.  The soundtrack is exquisite, and the filming of needles being gently lowered onto vinyl singles has never been bettered.  I can’t say fairer than that.  We discussed our passion in quiet breaks., and one morning after we’d finished shooting the film the doorbell rang and there was a cardboard package “fragile” delivered to my hand – a framed, signed photo of The Beach Boys.  Sent from Richard Curtis.  I thought, that’s a flagrant short-cut to my heart, how very dare you !

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Richard had a laser operation on his eyes before shooting so he didn’t need glasses

There’s a point in the script where Simple Simon (Chris O’ Dowd) is to marry Elenore (January Jones) and all the other DJs take him on a stag night ashore through London’s West End, via Paul McCartney’s house in St John’s Wood (where he lived in 1967 round the corner from Abbey Road Studios).  Paul didn’t like the scene where The Count pays homage to the Gods of Pop because he didn’t like fans outside his house, and George Harrison had recently been attacked in his house, so he veto’d it.  But all the scenes we did shoot that night – it was an all-nighter – were to the musical accompaniment of The Beatles’ I Should Have Known Better a kick-arse John Lennon song from A Hard Day’s Night.  So – literally – all night long, there would be : turn over, sound speed, mark it, music: BEATLES and then Action!   We walked to the beat of Ringo, we got drunk to John’s harmonica, we crawled out of pubs to George’s guitar solo, we fell into star shapes at the National Gallery at dawn in Trafalgar Square to Paul’s harmonies.  And it never made the film. A different song is on that sequence : Lazy Sunday by the Small Faces.  Which has exactly the same BPM. By necessity !

Richard told me later that it was too expensive – around £400,000 for a Beatles song – then years later said that Paul didn’t want it in the film.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that a film about Radio Caroline & 60s pop music Has To Have A Beatles Song In It Somewhere.  Surely.  But : you can get ten great songs vs one Beatles song for that price.  I’ve never had to make that call.

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Tamana Bleasdale, Alan’s daughter, working as a PA

I found it righteously difficult to choose a song to illustrate this entry.  So many to choose from.  In the end, to honour John Peel himself, I chose the song which he turned me onto.  Not something I loved anyway.  I didn’t care for a lot of Peel’s musical taste, but I liked him tremendously.  He supported independent record labels after the punk explosion, and even played songs from unsigned bands to the nation.  He encouraged the great Viv Stanshall to record Sir Henry At Rawlinson End for the radio, and the result was never bettered, not by the album or the film of that mythical hero.  Peel had a vast musical appetite and an extremely wide musical taste.  It was an honour to bob on the same coastal waters as the great man.   And if there’s a little Bob Harris smudged in there to blur the lines, so much the better, for his radio show remains one of the finest ways to spend a couple of hours in the UK.  Again, like John, a supporter of the music first and foremost.

 

 

My Pop Life #204 : Never Enough – Boris Dlugosch & Róisín Murphy

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Never Enough – Boris Dlugosch & Róisín Murphy

Do you belong to what you’re hanging on to?

Are you caught in a loop? What is wrong with you?

You keep making do…

Dear Ralph,

Everything is shit.  I don’t know about you lot, but I fucking hate life.  What’s the point of it all.  Everything I do turns to ashes.  I’ve got a cold, I’m injured, My eyesight is going, I’m lonely, I’m depressed, no one is interested in me.  Is it me?  I’m so tired of being alone.  So tired of it.  I’m so fed up with my buttons not doing up first time around, I always have to have two goes.  At least! At everything.  I pick something up and it falls out of my hand.  I go to open a cupboard and it slides out of my grasp.  I pick up a cat toy from the floor and it drops from my fingers.  Infuriating !  Rage the size of Niagara courses through my veins, popping from my eyeballs and I feel a clench in the heart of my being, my voice gets tight, I am not like water, I am a rock, I am banging my hand against the wall, I am banging my head against the mirror.  So sick and tired of all these pictures of me.  I mean what is the actual point?  Heh?? Atomic frustration on a mini-level, the atoms themselves defy me and re-organise each moment to frustrate my every move.  Self sabotage. Self hatred barrage.  Nigel Farage.

Have you given up on hope? I could be your antidote

Are you lost in a state of anxiety? Just let it be

I’m stuck basically.  I’m full of self-loathing, vicious contempt that I should suffer from baseless anxiety when there are suffering millions across the globe who shame me with their fortitude and courage, their focus and their sheer damn hard work, all I have is a spineless capitulation to the icloud of depression that always hovers on icloudy days, provoking me with its basic formulaic symbolism, jeering at my dependence on the sun for joy and happiness, refusing to allow a smile across my miserable features unless a beam from the mote of a star caresses my carefully moisturised skin.  The depression that tells you that hey, bro, yes, that’s right – THIS is Reality, playing magic tricks – look over here, up there – because the rest of the time you are merely distracting yourself with flim-flammery, with culture, with art, with sport, with food, underneath all these doubtless pleasurable fripperies which fill your neverending daisy is a giant iceberg called Reality and once you’ve spied the tip of it, better watch out boyo because the other 90% is gonna drag you under by the shark-tailfin of your chequered cab and I can’t sit down I’m going overboard in this heathen town.

I cannot enjoy and appreciate the simple things of life.  Despite a culture of gratitude around us, the simple pleasures have curdled and become stale, the deadly filter over my eyes has turned it all rotten, shaded all beauty with decay, rust and dust.  It is a tiresome repeat of so many dear dead days, that waking up becomes a burden, a heavy tread downstairs for catfeeding, tea and the bastard internet as I contemplate my entirely unstressful life with a baleful eye and a frozen soul that can only see Reality, pain, failure, humiliation, extinction, pollution, cruelty, greed, sickness and death.  Nothing ever matters.  Nothing really matters.  To me.  Ennui.  But wait.

Excuse me, please I’m just so happy I could scream

Adjust your mindset, do the same All that you lost will be regained

One phone call.  One message.  One walk down the street to the pharmacy, one social interaction. One glimmer…  As Kacey Musgraves country singer she say – if you’re looking for a silver lining, gonna have to be a cloudy day.  Straighten up and fly right, tighten the core, chin up, purpose, direction, focus. You have life you have love you have nothing to complain about, I am blessed I am comforts I am whole got my arms got my legs got my hands got my feet got my brain got my eyes got my mouth I got my smile said Nina Simone, you have friends and flavours projects and zoo animals in your house.  Books and records and everything ever written or painted or recorded in history at your fingertips.  But it’s

NEVER EVER ENOUGH

 it’s never enough, Is it ever enough, when it’s just enough? If it’s never enough, why do we hang up on hope? Enough is enough, never enough

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images.duckduckgo-2Róisín Murphy

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Boris Dlugosch
She’s an Irish lass who studied in Manchester then met Mark Brydon at a party in Sheffield (“do you like my tight sweater?  See how it fits my body!”) then formed the pop band Moloko around 1994.  Their first album was called Do You Like My Tight Sweater?   They were reasonably popular & successful until a song called Sing It Back was mixed and remixed by Todd Terry and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all and all until Mr Dlugosch got his housey hands on it and it became a massive hit reaching number one on the US Dance Charts in 1999.
images.duckduckgo-5Rather than pay the fella, Róisín co-wrote his next song called Never Enough and it was another big hit in 2001.  That’s all you need to know really I reckon.  Because whatever it is, it’s never enough.

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My Pop Life #201 : The Banner Man – Blue Mink

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The Banner Man – Blue Mink

…and the Banner Man held the banner high he was ten feet tall and he touched the sky and I wish that I could be a banner man…

 This was, I can finally reveal, the first single I ever bought with my own money.  I suspect this money was from doing a paper round, or helping the farmer baling straw, or selling eels to Mr Catchlove, or maybe – just maybe – my mum gave me some pocket money and I saved it up.  The Regal Zonophone label, red and silver 45rpm single in a square piece of paper with a circle in the centre so you could see the label.

This would then be placed in the singles rack at home alongside the record player.  It would join my mum’s singles – Simon Dupree & The Big Sound, Joe South, The Casuals, Guy Darrell (see My Pop Life #181) until I bought a record player of my own for the bedroom, but even then I wonder if I didn’t leave it downstairs in the pop section.  The bedroom singles were religious artefacts for the shrine of Jimi Hendrix – 45rpm singles on Track records, Gypsy Eyes, Long Hot Summer Night, Burning of The Midnight Lamp, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).  What was Blue Mink doing with these inspirational songs?  It was like a throwback to my childhood  and I still can’t really explain it.  Taste changes fast when you’re 14.

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It was May 1971 when the single first charted.  It reached Number 3 on the 20th June, two days after my 14th birthday.  This therefore becomes a fairly accurate indication of how cool I was as a teenager.  No older brother or sister to look up to, take taste from.  A mum who had her own particular taste, from Dionne Warwick singing a cover of The Rascals (My Pop Life #17) to The Kinks (My Pop Life #147).        I liked all of the above, and when I look at the charts of 1971 I think that mum must’ve bought Your Song by Elton John and Double Barrel by Dave & Ansel Collins for there they were in the singles rack.  Gosh the Proustian rush is too much, and  I’m in too deep now to walk back – or as Macbeth would say :

“I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er”

which means that, since 1971 is my year of sentience, I have to dive right in and indulge in that vivid musical touchstone of my life.  So with no further apology,  Here Is the Top 30 on my 14th birthday :

  1.    Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep          –     Middle Of The Road
  2.    Knock Three Times                         –     Dawn
  3.    I Did What I Did For Maria           –      Tony Christie
  4.    Banner Man                                     –      Blue Mink
  5.    I’m Gonna Run Away From You   –     Tami Lynn
  6.    Lady Rose                                          –     Mungo Jerry
  7.    He’s Gonna Step On You Again     –     John Kongos
  8.    Heaven Must Have Sent You         –     The Elgins
  9.    I Am…I Said                                       –     Neil Diamond
  10.    Indiana Wants Me                           –     R. Dean Taylor
  11.    My Brother Jake                               –     Free
  12.    Rags To Riches                                  –     Elvis Presley
  13.    Oh You Pretty Thing                        –     Peter Noone
  14.    Malt & Barley Blues                         –     McGuinness Flint
  15.    I Think Of You                                   –     Perry Como
  16.    Brown Sugar                                     –     The Rolling Stones
  17.    Just My Imagination                        –     The Temptations
  18.    Don’t Let It Die                                  –     Hurricane Smith
  19.    Co-Co                                                   –     The Sweet
  20.    Mozart Symphony Number 40       –     Waldo De Los Rios
  21.    Jig-A-Jig                                               –      East Of Eden
  22.    I Don’t Blame You At All                  –      Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  23.    Lazy Bones                                         –      Jonathan King
  24.    Hey Willy                                            –      The Hollies
  25.    Rain                                                      –      Bruce Ruffin
  26.    Joy To The World                               –      Three Dog Night
  27.    Pied Piper                                            –      Bob & Marcia
  28.    Un Banc, Un Arbre, Un Rue             –      Severine
  29.    It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie                       –      Gerry Monroe
  30.    Double Barrel                                     –      Dave & Ansel Collins

It was, even to my clearly biased ears, a fairly fecund picture : plenty of irritating bubblegum at the top end, a decent smattering of pop reggae (Greyhound‘s Black & White was about to rise into the Top 30), some genuine originals in John Kongos, Hurricane Smith and East of Eden (written about in My Pop Life #141), some great Motown, some lovely bluesy stuff and a few songs for grandma.  For me the whole of 1971 imprinted itself on my ears, for it was when I learned what I liked, and what I didn’t like, and maybe even what the difference was and why.   Now, aged 60 as I write, I can find merit in all of these songs, yes, even the number one, which grated on us all at the time with its defiance of any kind of grooviness.   I bought Banner Man and brought it home, and now I’m wondering if I bought Jig-A-Jig at the same time, because it was a big song in our house and there it is travelling down the charts from a high point of number 7.

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Blue Mink in 1971

Banner Man is terribly catchy, a genuine earworm.  Simple lyrically, a song about a marching band…

So we waved our hands as we marched along
And the people smiled as we sang our song
And the world was saved as they listened to the band

who march up to the top of the hill,

So we reached the square, on the top of the hill
And the music stopped and we stood quite still
And a few were saved and the people said
Amen

I also note that the the Banner Man had “an Allelujah in his eye” and that the chorus goes full gospel :

Glory, glory, glory
Listen to the band
Sing the same old story
Ain’t it something grand?
To be good as you can
Like a Banner-Man

It’s a brass band song, a kind of 2-step oompah rhythm, and the trombone does that cheesy slide down (glissando!) on “grand” and “can” .   I spell it all out like this because it is something of a mystery to me even now – what was I listening to?  What did I hear?  It is like a child’s nursery rhyme (rather like a fair section of that top 30), but I was 14.   There is something endearing in the fact that both Blue Mink and East of Eden (Jig-A-Jig) were crossing musical genres and spinning pop gold out of old forms, but I knew nothing of this at the time, I just liked the tunes I think.  Maybe something primal in that brass band sound though that gets under the skin – the New Orleans funeral march, the Second Line, the celebration of life after the body is interred.  The sound of something ancient, churchy but celebratory, harking back to “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” a popular song from 1907 :

I do like to stroll
Upon the Prom, Prom, Prom,
Where the brass bands play
Tiddly-om-pom-pom!

and “76 Trombones” from 1957 which echoed through my childhood.   The Beatles of course made use of the brass during their psychedelic period, from Yellow Submarine through Sgt Pepper to Martha My Dear on The White Album.  Other brass band songs that made hit records include Peter Skellern‘s sublime You’re A Lady from 1973 and Mike Nesmith’s Listen To The Band for The Monkees from 1969.  And really that’s it, aside from The Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band‘s single The Floral Dance in 1977.  The number of pop brass band songs can be counted on one hand pretty much.

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Madeline Bell & Roger Cook

I remembered Blue Mink from their first single in 1969 “Melting Pot” with its call for racial harmony mixed up in racist language :

Take a pinch of White man
Wrap it up in Black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty-bit of Red Indian boy

Curly Latin Kinkies,  mixed with yellow Chinkees
If you lump it all together
Well, you’ve got a recipe for a get-along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true you know, you know
What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough to take the world and all it’s got
Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee-coloured people by the score

This song with Madeline Bell, a black American and Roger Cook, a white Englishman taking alternate verses reached number one and was part of a brief English soul boom in the late sixties which included mixed-race groups such as The Equals, The Foundations, Geno Washington’s RamJam Band and Hot Chocolate.

clockwise :  The Equals, The Foundations, Hot Chocolate, Geno Washington

But Blue Mink were different.  Formed by a group of session musicians, they were professional players working for a day-rate on other people’s music, like the famous Wrecking Crew out of Los Angeles who played on everything from Frank Sinatra to The Beach Boys, the Funk Brothers who played on every hit record from Motown or another mixed-race group Booker T & The MGs, the house band at Stax records, on all of Otis Redding and Sam & Dave’s records.

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Herbie Flowers, Roger Cook, Maddy Bell, Barry Morgan, Roger Coulam, Alan Parker

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Roger Coulam on keyboards hooked up with bass player Herbie Flowers, guitarist Alan Parker, drummer Barry Morgan and vocalists Madeline Bell and Roger Cook in 1969.   Bell, an American from New Jersey, had come to England with a gospel show in 1962 and stayed, met Dusty Springfield and had some hits herself.

By 1969 she already released three solo albums including her debut Bell’s A Poppin’ (1967) which had Dusty Springfield on backing vocals repaying her friend’s debt after Bell had backed many of Dusty’s blue-eyed soul hits.  Roger Cook had a successful songwriting partnership with Roger Greenaway established after they’d written You’ve Got Your Troubles for The Fortunes, and continued later with I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (and sell Coke), and Softly Whispering I Love You among many many others.  He now lives in Nashville.

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Disc Jockey Tony Blackburn takes the place of Alan Parker in this shot

After the success of Melting Pot, the band stuck together for five more years 4 LPs and released a handful of decent, musical hit singles, including the vibrant Good Morning Freedom (1970).   They all continued working as session musicians in-between Blue Mink gigs and appearances on Top of the Pops, notably on Elton John‘s first LP.  Most of Blue Mink were also in C.C.S. (Collective Consciousness Society) another band which charted in 1971 with Tap Turn On The Water, and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love which became the Top of the Pops theme music for years to come.  Flowers played on Lou Reed’s Transformer and Bowie’s Space Oddity, Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love and was later a Womble and on David Live!  He now lives in Ditchling.  Bell sings on Rolling Stones & Dusty singles, and with Tom Jones, Elton John, Joe Cocker and Scott Walker.  Parker plays the riff on Rebel Rebel, Hurdy Gurdy Man and No Regrets among countless others, and now writes theme music for film and television.   Drummer Morgan played with Elton, Tom Jones, Nilsson and many others while Coulam played on iconic Serge Gainsbourg single Je T’Aime and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and died in 2005.

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It was in 2012 that I started work on a documentary project about session musicians.  I felt drawn to them as if they could help me to understand my own strange career as a character actor, a self-styled Lee Van Cleef, the hired gun, forever getting on my horse & leaving town clutching my fee after helping to kill the bad guys.  I called the putative film Red Light Fever and we worked for a good solid week, interviewing a group of players from the Brighton/M25 area – legend Chris Spedding, who sat in the guitar section of the GAK (Guitar & Keyboard) shop for his interview, Barbara Moore – voice of The Saint and Bedazzled and arranger of The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal – Alan Freeman’s chart countdown music, Alan Parker and Herbie Flowers from Blue Mink, legendary drummer Clem Cattini (Telstar, much of The Kinks early stuff, Hurdy Gurdy Man, hundreds of others) and bass player Les Hurdle (Foundations, Donna Summer) who we talked to in Fatboy Slim’s shoreline studio (thanks generous Norm!).

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Before we started shooting, one of my first interviews, with guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, was abruptly cancelled after he passed away.  I attended his funeral outside Worthing and saw many of the old session faces there, (including Chas Hodges).  There was a sense of time slipping away, an urgency to complete the project before it was too late.  I wanted to record a new piece of music which Barbara Moore would write and using all the old faces from the 60s and 70s London sessions, record it at Maida Vale Number One Studio, filming the whole get-together.  Maybe even a gig too like that great film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.  It was like a detective story piecing it all together, great fun and a proper buzz.  Sample joke : when I asked who played the trumpet on It’s Not Unusual about 50 musicians claim to have been in the studio that day, record-keeping was poor, and royalties are like gold-dust.   We shot enough for a decent trailer – here it is :

Red Light Fever Promo

you’ll need the password which is :  rlflatest

That is because my buddy David Cuff was working at Latest TV in Brighton in 2012 and the boss of that young channel Bill Smith liked the idea and generously agreed to front £500 to pay for the promo.  It all went on the camera crew.

I cut the promo at home on Final Cut and took it to Luke Cresswell’s brother Addison and he hawked it around the industry (see My Pop Life #183 for the full terrible story).   I didn’t have much money at the end of 2012 but I thought something might break for us, and the trailer was decent (despite all the Super-8 footage being out of focus so that we couldn’t use it).  I was still working on the interviews.  Just before Christmas Madeline Bell finally relented to meet and chat while she was visiting from Spain.  Jenny and I had lunch with her at The Delauney on the Aldwych.  She was great company, very funny and warm.  She promised to grant us an interview if we got over to Spain with our camera and we parted on very positive terms.  The film would not be finished though due to tragic circumstances already described in the above link to Elton John’s Rocket Man.

If I find a spare 10 grand I will finish that film in my own time.  The musicians deserve the accolade after all these unsung years, just as the Funk Brothers did with their film.

Meanwhile 1971 will forever glow in the dark like a lighthouse to my soul.  My friend Martin Steel (father of Paul who opened this blog (My Pop Life #1) has been trying to link me up with an audio version of writer and broadcaster David Hepworth’s book Never A Dull Moment : 1971 – Rock’s Golden Year.  It feels like it was written for me and I look forward to disagreeing with its contents while saluting its general premise. (I strongly suspect that it is rockist i.e.) Perhaps he values album statements over 45rpm pop singles too, which will be seen in years to come as an historic mistake.  The pop single is the late 20th century’s highest form of popular culture as any fule kno.  I know Simon Price is with me on that one.  They are also, in particular, spangly dayglo markers for our emerging personalities.  Every one of us has this sentient musical moment, and commonly it will be our early teens, probably coinciding with puberty.  Awakening. The chrysalis unfurls and there we are in all our contradictions.

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Trust me : make a playlist up from your year of musical sentience, say the moment you turned from 13 to 14 and then listen to it in pure joy as the waves of discovery once more wash through your soul, and you rediscover that you know every lick, every drumbeat, every intake of breath for they are forever imprinted upon you like rhythmic & melodic DNA.  Almost as if, as you grew into your body and the cells expanded, the music you heard then got into the cracks and became part of you.

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I wonder if I liked Blue Mink because of Madeline Bell ?   I married a black British woman some years later and we created our own mixed-race band, me, Jenny, two different breeds of cat.  Very open-minded, inclusive.   But the mystery at the heart of this blog though is why that song?  One’s first single purchase is supposed to be an indicator of something. Some tribal moment, some groove, something that will not be denied.  Perhaps all this is blurred by my mum’s pop purchases, after all she was only 34 at the time, and our musical tastes crossed over considerably.  It wasn’t just me – thousands of people bought the single and it reached number 4 eventually.  Maybe we all wanted a bit of Glory Hallelujah dressed up as pop music – Oh Happy Day with a brass band, or a hippie Salvation Army?  Or… maybe… when I was a wee child in Portsmouth, Mum had taken my brother Paul and I in the pram down to Southsea where the funfair was, where you could see the Isle of Wight and the giant ships coming in and out of Portsmouth Harbour, where H.M.S. Victory stands in dry dock, where a bandstand hosts the occasional concert.   A very early childhood memory.   Did we like to walk along the prom prom prom to hear the brass band play tiddly om pom pom?

Well I’ve been reluctant to press the “Publish” button on this post for over 24 hours now.  Something beyond a mystery.  Looking back at My Pop Life #84 which is set in 1970 and which precedes this by a profound 9-month period of my life, it is starting to become clear that my memory is unreliable.  The Hendrix era had been the previous year, and surely I had bought those singles already.  Why this song always pops into my head as “first single” I do not know, but it cannot be.  It doesn’t matter.  I definitely bought it, and Jig-A-Jig, and All Along The Watchtower.  I’m glad I did.

My Pop Life #200 : Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles

Hello, Goodbye   –   The Beatles

I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello

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  • This blog celebrates my 60th birthday crossroads weekend, which was epic on almost every level.   Indeed it was also a living embodiment of this entire series of blogs, both musically and as a representation of the people in my life.  So this will be the fulcrum of it all I suspect.
  • The result is the longest and luvviest post of the 200 so far written.  Enjoy.

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On June 18th 2017 I was 60 years old.  It crept up on me like a hungry lioness, but I was ready for it, for I’d known for some time that it would be there, all six decades of it, shined up and sharp-toothed with a big zero on its pyjamas, an undeniable signpost to my future & inevitable death, an achievement, a relief, a triumph, a moment in time, a landmark, a shock to the system, a meaningless profound number.   Everyone has their own version of what this means, I certainly had mine.    Whatever lies, untruths and kind little stories I’d told myself up to this point, after June 18th I would be old.  OLD.  I was crossing a portal into another world.  It was to be celebrated with a party.  I needed my people to hold my hand and help me cross over.  I have always chosen to celebrate the big zero numbers.   I planned this party for the best part of three years.  As I mentioned in my speech on the night, the original celebration was to be a live gig, with all of my favourite songs, sung by me.  Like a massive indulgent splurge : “Of Me“.  As the months went by and I started to narrow down a playlist of sorts, the idea began to pall, to ever-so-slightly turn at the edges and discolour, until a faint whiff of hubris started to come off of its glittering carapace.   Each time I returned to plan the dreadful occasion it had gone a little more mouldy.   It was, in short, a rotten idea.  So bad was this idea indeed, that I felt embarrassed for having had it, and hoped that I hadn’t talked to too many people about it.  Me sing at a 60th birthday party !?  The utter gall.  The shame.

Brighton fam : Millie, Scarlett & Skye, Thomas, Delilah-Rose, Kerry

I decided to celebrate the big Zero of Six in Brighton, East Sussex, England, my home town, home of my football team, my band, my political party, my friends, where I’d lived for 20 years before moving to New York in 2014.   Some of my friends who ran the percussion ensemble and hit West End, Broadway and touring show Stomp have their HQ in Brighton in a lovely old venue called The Old Market (Hove Actually).  I chatted with dear Loretta Sacco who runs the company and it was fixed with ridiculous & welcome ease.  Loretta is married to Steve McNicholas who is half of Stomp along with my friend Luke Cresswell.  I had a date, and a venue.

Guest vocalist Lucy Jules with her sister Natasha

But I still wanted to hear the songs, so I came up with a marvellous plan B, seriously superior in every way to the first idea : to get other people to sing the songs TO ME, and then watch them with the rest of the party.  Now here was an idea I could run with, over the hills & far away.  But how to find the guest vocalists?  My first stop was family – my wife’s sister Lucy Jules (see My Pop Life #134 ) and my nephew Thomas Jules (see My Pop Life #57  and  #129).   I wasn’t sure which song to start with but it was good to have a couple of great singers to kick things off (or close the show).  Then I hoped Pippa Randall would probably agree to sing me an Amy Winehouse song since we’d played in an Amy tribute band together (see My Pop Life #65).   And I dreamed that Lisa Abbott, who sings a wonderful Kate Bush tribute ‘Hounds Of Love‘ with most of my band mates from the Brighton Beach Boys : (Stephen Wrigley, Glen Richardson, Charlotte Glasson etc, ) would be agreeable to singing a little Kate for me…

I drew up a list of songs and shared it with Jenny.  She was polite but firm.  “Ralph my love,” she said, or words of similar joy, “it is going to be a party.  These songs are all depressing vibes.”   I looked down at the partial list :

Goodbye To Love  (Carpenters)

Too Far Gone (Bobby Bland) (My Pop Life #28)

My Old School  (Steely Dan)

Man With The Child In His Eyes  (Kate Bush)

We Will  (Gilbert O’Sullivan)

Stardust  (Nat King Cole) (My Pop Life #100)

Something  (Beatles)

Back To Black  (Amy Winehouse)

All Is Fair In Love  (Stevie Wonder)

I must admit I’d watch that set and clap loudly after each song, but I could see with my host hat on that she was right, too much sad ballad, so I had another think.  Meanwhile I worried about catering and invites.  Of course the two are interdependent.  I invited 300 people, perhaps 350.  Would they all come?  Would they fuck.   I had to guess on the catering numbers then.  People who know about these things told me that half the invitees turn up.  Slightly depressing statistic isn’t it?   So I catered for 200.  Better not to have hungry people wandering around.   Then I went back to worrying about the setlist & singers.  I’d promised to myself, and told the folk in the band that I would pay for rehearsals – initially imagining I think a whole week of rehearsals.  Naïve.  There was one rehearsal in the end on the Thursday before the party.  By then I’d emailed and phoned around and the setlist & singers had been finalised, and some of them were there in the rehearsal space, meeting the band for the first time.   So, here’s the final setlist and the beautiful brave singers who sang that night, some chose their songs, and others had songs thrust upon them.  Each song is either a showstopper, or gives me a lump in my throat, or both.  I love all of these singers, each & every one, forever :

  • Beatles : Hello Goodbye – Glen Richardson (My Pop Life #200!!)
  • Beatles : Getting Better – Glen Richardson
  • Rascals : How Can I Be Sure – Stephen Wrigley
  • Joni Mitchell : My Old Man – Meera Syal
  • Simon & Garfunkel : America – Tom White & Kit Ashton (My Pop Life #130)
  • Procol Harum : A Salty Dog – Leon & Hereward Kaye  (My Pop Life #37)
  • Herb Alpert : This Guy’s In Love With You – Lee Ross (My Pop Life #49)
  • Nina Simone : Ne Me Quitte Pas  –  Maureen Hibbert
  • Kate Bush : Moments Of Pleasure  –  Lisa Abbott
  • Cilla Black/Dionne Warwick : Alfie  –  Lucy Jules
  • David Bowie : Life On Mars  –  Glen Richardson
  • Monkees : Pleasant Valley Sunday  – yours truly (My Pop Life #168)
  • Ian Dury : What A Waste  –  Cush Jumbo
  • Amy Winehouse : Valerie  –  Pippa Randall
  • Ike & Tina Turner : River Deep Mountain High  –  Lucy Jules (My Pop Life #160)
  • Stevie Wonder : I Wish  –  Thomas Jules
  • Bruce Springsteen : Born To Run  –  Glen Richardson
  • Beach Boys : And Your Dream Comes True – the band

Me giving Paul a piggyback in 1961

The whole weekend was extraordinary in so many ways.  My brother Paul Brown had flown in from Shanghai where he lives.  He was staying in the Pelirocco Hotel, where Jenny and I were staying.  Regency Square.  It’s a self-consciously “rock’n’roll hotel” cliché with themed rooms but no fridges & weak wi-fi but after a rough teething period, we ended up loving it a great deal.  So great to see Paul after a couple of years.  He had a marvellous beard.

Breakfast with Paul

The Hotel Pelirocco reception area

Then Lynn Nottage and Tony Gerber and  their beautiful children Ruby and Melkamu arrived (from Brooklyn!) & checked into a seafront hotel near us.  They’d  told me the name of it in New York & asked me what it was like.  I’d said “it’s on the seafront“.  When I saw them a few weeks later in Brighton I asked how the hotel was.  “Wellit’s on the seafront…”  said Tony.  See what I mean.

Pippa & Jenny in Alfresco

Ralph, Paul, Tony in Alfresco

On the Friday Jenny, Paul & I hooked up with Pippa, Lynn, Tony, Ruby and Mel in Alfresco which is a lovely Italian restaurant above the beach.  About 4pm.  It was almost empty.  Perfect.  We drank wine and so on.  Ate food.  Walked along the seafront past the West Pier ruins,

West Pier : Ruby, Lynn, Pippa, Paul, Jenny & Melkamu

past the Fortune of War public house & the Victorian carousel up to the mighty Palace Pier and walked out into the sea on the boards.  Took some cheesy pictures.  Stretched out a bit.  It was a heatwave.  Sunblock and T-shirts.  It was very special to have my New York family there with my family in Brighton.  Fam.  So much love.

   

Embracing the cheese on the Palace Pier (Albion got promoted in May)

Melkamu

Paul

We started to make a habit of landing at The Regency Tavern across the square for a late-night pint.   Harveys, naturally.

Brighton Pavilion : Ralph, Tony, Paul, Lynn, Jenny, Ruby

Lulu & Jide arrived on Saturday after we’d shown Lynn & Tony the Royal Pavilion and took us to a lovely restaurant in the Lanes called 64 Degrees.  Rather movingly, the waitress there was Neil Cooper‘s daughter Sunny who we’d met in 2001.  Neil – or Spiderman as he called himself – had production-managed Jenny and I’s wedding in 1992 after working on my play Sanctuary with Paulette and I, then had taught me how to water-ski and generally been a very good friend over the years until he suddenly died about 15 years ago. Shocked and sad, we had gone to his funeral in Golders Green.

Alex Major-Brown with his father, Andrew Brown on Brighton Beach

Later that afternoon Andrew Brown my younger brother arrived from Bournemouth with his 15-year old son Alex, known as Bootsy to us all although he now prefers Alex I understand (see My Pop Life #138) and Alex and I walked up to The Old Market to fix some necessary arrangements for the following day.  We chatted together about school, music and his dad.  It was rather great to be an Uncle once again.

As fate would have it, The Brighton Beach Boys had a gig at the Open Air Theatre (aka BOAT) in Dyke Road that night, a Bowie tribute, and I’d agreed to take part.  Well, I was 59 still.  That has to be for another blog…but I will mention that Paul, Lynn, Tony, Ruby and Melkamu all came to the park (Jenny had a date with Lucy) and witnessed the strange truth : Britain is in thrall to a secret David Bowie cult.

Vintage Brighton Beach Boys photo with Theseus on drums

Another late-night pint at The Regency ushered in June 18th and my 60th birthday.  We sat on a table – Paul, me, Jenny, Lynn and Tony.  Suddenly a fracas occurred next to us, a dog had growled at a tough guy & suddenly he wasn’t looking so tough.  He was acting tough though.  “Fucking keep your fucking dog under control.”  The dog owners were a group of young hippy types who immediately decided to leave the pub.  The geezer was right next to us and Paul shielded Jenny from any aggro instinctively.  The very camp bar staff intervened and asked the pant-wetting guy to leave and after some more noise and the prospect of the police being called he went into the gents, smashed the mirror (symbolic!) and left with his girlfriend.  Happy Birthday!!

Next morning in the Dollywood room I was showered with gifts and cards from my darling wife.  We had breakfast downstairs with a glass of champagne, then hooked up with the gang again for a good old-fashioned Sunday roast in Kemp Town at the Thomas Kemp pub, near our house.  Tony drove us up there in his rental and we piled into the walled garden, bathed in sunshine and shadow.  Lulu & Jide were there looking bonny, then Indhu Rubasingham arrived from London. Indhu directed Jenny in Lynn’s play Ruined at The Almeida (My Pop Life #180).  Kerry appeared, dear Kerry.  Even though Paul was there from China and didn’t know half of these people I somehow felt that he was guiding everyone through the day with grace and ease and charm, a natural facility he has with celebrations.  Very happy to have him there.  Beyond happy.  Then Scarlett arrived with her parents Maggie Flynn and Rob Pugh, warm, lovely people, (Rob greeted me in Welsh and Scarlett said “Dad!  Ralph, do you know what he just said to you?” I didn’t and still don’t !)  With them was Skye our 3-year old beauty with Thomas Jules my precious nephew.   We had a bench table or three and out came the meat (not for me), the potatoes,  yorkshire puddings & gravy and what we insist on calling “the trimmings“.  Then I had to run for a soundcheck & get-in at the venue.

I’d played The Old Market not three weeks earlier in Brighton Festival.  Magical Mystery Tour v Sgt Pepper.  I’d seen stuff there over the years.  Drank beers there.  Enjoyed Luke’s birthday fairly recently, rented out our house to one of Loretta’s staff, Helen at one point.  It was all very familiar and friendly but I was already feeling disembodied.  I had created a giant crossroads made of my life.  It was like a living breathing giant figure made out of all of these blog posts, music pouring from every orifice, made of love but still a giant puzzle, a huge inchoate emotional time bomb – 60 years of life ready to explode at any second.  I’d essentially invited everyone that I deemed myself to have had a proper relationship with, obviously they couldn’t all come, but nevertheless it was a daunting unknown test I appeared to have set myself.  All those plans, those hopes and fears – the desire beneath everything else to simply bring people together in a musical event, using the 60th as a hard-to-refuse invitation to a party, probably most likely, the biggest party I would ever throw.

The band arrived and started to unwrap gear, erect stands, plug in amplifiers, organise their sheet music at their stations, exchange pleasantries about the songs that they felt they didn’t know well enough.  Adrian in particular had a worry about one or two of the songs, and didn’t like to wear glasses on a gig to read the chord charts.  Oh well !  Tom White was setting up the drum kit, Jono the keyboards stage left, Glen the keyboards stage right.  The woodwinds were to the left of the drums, the strings to the right.  Stephen Wrigley the Musical Director, the co-author of this band with me, the genius who made everything possible, the man who had scored all of my favourite songs for this event, arranged for a 16-piece band and rehearsed on Thursday evening, Stephen was arranging his guitar sculpture in the centre of the stage.  I loved him so much that I couldn’t say it.

Stephen Wrigley

I popped out for a cigarette outside the back door – where the pub was which used to be called The Conqueror.  Theseus Gerrard was there, drummer for The Beach Boys and Bowie gigs but not for Beatles, and he wasn’t on the kit for this gig.  Almost a founder member of the group, a great rhythmist and free spirit, he divides the band because he is so dependent on the kindness of strangers, and such an itinerant addict, and so bad at learning new songs.  Unless he’s in the mood.  We have tolerated a lot from Theese over the years because he brings so much to the show, particularly regarding our relationship with the audience.  Theseus is a natural showman and communicator, whereas the rest of us are more nerdy and muso, staring at our instruments in order to get it right, engaged in some private musical examination, whereas Theseus is always aware that the gig is a relationship.  Audiences love him.  In the Sgt Pepper shows he is on percussion, but moves around the stage drawing focus onto whoever is singing, playing a solo or enacting some part of the song.  It really works.  He is a conundrum in many ways, a challenge to each and every one of us.  But then I think we all are like that to each other, in different ways.  Theseus sat there on the bench smoking a fag and looked at me, then said “Ralph – what do you want me to do in this gig mate?”  I think it was the year before when he’d sung me the Stones “Miss You” in another pub for my birthday, which was the highlight of that year.  I’d been in Brooklyn for nearly three years and it was touching.   I looked at him.  “You know what to do” I said.  He held my arm.  We were cool.  Although I partly wished I’d asked him to sing Miss You again, it also felt like an indulgence swerved.

I’d given my ipod to the bar -one mix.  And my computer to the main hall – another mix.  They couldn’t connect the two sound systems.  I’d made a rule – only one song per artist in each mix.  That was fun.  I remember hearing exactly one song at the party – It was a Rufus Wainwright song “I Don’t Know What It Is“.  Weird.  I asked the bar staff to turn the sound system up but it was playing at top volume apparently. I’d gone temporarily deaf for the night on top of everything else.  They were busy cutting oranges and cucumbers for the Pimms jugs which were to be free all night.

The band ran through a few numbers and now after the nerves and nail-biting and list-making, engineering party-organising, forgetting and mental-ness there suddenly appeared a moment of calm.  Music.  I wasn’t playing on most of these songs because I intended to be in the audience for most of the night.  Lisa sang Kate Bush, magically. Pippa went through Valerie.  So exciting.  Venue staff came and asked me stuff now & again, but I was suddenly peaceful.  Lucy sang Alfie, wonderfully.   The tears pricked me suddenly.  Something about that song.

*

And so the party.  It was all so completely overwhelming seeing everyone who came and missing all those who did not.   Jenny looked extravagantly beautiful as ever, I knew she had my back, all night, and would make people feel welcome and loved even if I’d only spoken to them for a few moments.  She is my rock, my guiding star.  We walked up the stairs and looked briefly at each other and smiled a kind of “see you later” kind of smile.  Dressed in my gorgeous black & white puppy-tooth Jump The Gun suit with black & white short-sleeved shirt, loafers, I greeted my guests as they arrived, some carrying presents despite the urgent Red Cross Appeal Not To Bring Any Presents because I’d only have to leave them behind …I’d only brought one suitcase…

Of course the biggest and heaviest present came from Lucy & Graham.  A fully gigantic encyclopedia of hip hop made of some kind of stone or granite.  It is amazing !  But they weren’t the only ones.  Cards, books, all kinds of things.  There was even a book for people to sign.  Some did.    There were surprise arrivals to balance out the no-shows, Simon Korner brought his wife Leonie bless her, and his grown-up son Asher who had french girlfriend in tow.  Lewis MacLeod, Simon Lester, Norman Wilson, Dona Croll, Susan Kyd, Jo Martin, Eamonn Walker and Sandra Kane – I’d asked Eamonn to sing & he’d never answered so I didn’t know if he’d be there, my brother from another mother.  Catherine Walker came from Paris, and the Brighton gang were reunited in force.  Great turnout.  None better than Johanna Francis who’d just flown in from New York, our fairy godmother who’d sheltered us from the winter storm in 2014 just after we arrived in Brooklyn.  She’s become our homegirl.

Brooklyn gang – me, Sean, Johanna

On the night I knew that I would hardly get to speak to anyone, basically being magnetised by each new arrival for as long as it took until another one appeared over their shoulder and stole my attention.  Then they would start to leave and each moment would be just a moment.  Everyone, hopefully, would get a hello and a goodbye.  I knew this.  I mentioned it in my speech “Sorry I haven’t spoken to any of you yet.  I’m not going to speak to you later either.”  Got a laugh.  I alluded to the turnout being likely to be the same for my funeral, except that I would be dead, and therefore wouldn’t enjoy it as much.  Also got a laugh.  Also mentioned all the last-minute “sorry” texts & emails I’d received in the days leading up to the party as ‘little stabs‘ … ‘which didn’t hurt’.  Got a 3rd laugh!  Probably the biggest.  The speech finished with the greetings & partings acknowledgement which bled perfectly into Hello Goodbye as an opening number.   Because 2017 was the 50th anniversary of Magical Mystery Tour (the EP & the LP) we were all up to speed on this song, one of McCartney’s finest moments, an apparently simple song with simple lyrics, astoundingly well performed and produced, clear and clean and HAPPY.  I love it.

It was the perfect opener for the gig, the perfect hinge on my year and my evening.  We then played Getting Better from Sgt Pepper because it’s an uptempo positive song, and a 50th birthday for that album AND it was a party 😉  And then the first special request song – How Can I Be Sure – chosen by me for Stephen Wrigley to sing because I knew he loved it as much as I did.  I prefer the David Cassidy version to the original by The Rascals, but he prefers that one, so that was the one we did.  Fair enough.  Then I left the stage and watched the remainder of the show from the audience.

I’d waited for Paulette & Beverley to arrive before I started the entertainment.  They were drinking with old reprobates David & Eugene in the Pelirocco in the porn-themed room.  I was so happy that they’d all made it to the party.  Absurdly self-conscious as I had been onstage making my speech & participating in a few songs, I became positively opaque sitting in the audience, like a hair-trigger of emotion awaiting release, whilst knowing deep in my floppy sweet liquorice bones that I could not afford to plumb those depths, not here, not now, don’t cry, shut it down fella.

Meera Syal

Meera Syal was first up, singing Joni Mitchell‘s My Old Man from Blue – our joint choice.  We’d chatted about the key it should be in, but she’d only been able to make today.  She stood in front of the microphone and announced :  “Ralphy, I want you to know that you’re the only person I love enough to sing this song without any rehearsal“.  A ripple of excitement and expectation ran through the guests – oh, wow, no rehearsal.  The bravery, the love.  A little like watching a live X-factor gig where the band are fully rehearsed, safe group of hands, but the singers are all walking the tightrope.  Woop !  Meera was stunning of course, nailed the song and the emotion of the song with aplomb.  I helped her offstage and kissed & thanked her.

Ralph Brown, Andy Baybutt, Tim Lewis : Friston Forest

JennyTim Lewis were doing the MC honours, announcing the guest singers in turn.  Jenny had, as ever, been my right hand, my guiding star, my heart & soul and over half of my brain all weekend.   Next up were Tom White our drummer & Brighton musical genius in his own right (having played with his band The Electric Soft Parade since being at school with his brother Alex; also Brakes, The Fiction Aisle and many other outlets).  He has music running through his veins.  He teamed up with another Brighton musical legend Kit Ashton.  I’d hooked up with Kit when he was running his “Songwriter” gigs – he’d do one a year at Hanbury Ballroom with guest vocalists and one year he’d asked me if I wanted to sing a couple of Elvis Costello songs and I’d bitten his hand off and performed Alison & All Grown Up.  The following year he did Bowie and I got Glen involved, I did Station To Station and Glen did Drive-In Saturday and Life On Mars,  another memorable night since legendary bass player Herbie Flowers turned up to play his parts on Rebel Rebel & Space Oddity.  Tom and Kit got all acoustic together and sang me the Simon & Garfunkel classic “America” (see My Pop Life #130 ) which is deeply symbolic because Jenny and I walked off to look for America or something.  Such a beautiful song.

Hereward Kaye

Next up my old buddy Hereward Kaye – the man who taught me Good Vibrations for the Rock and Roll Shakepeare sci-fi extravaganza Return To The Forbidden Planet at The Tricycle Theatre in 1985 (see My Pop Life #190).  Herry took to the keyboard with his son Leon on vocals and tore into the prog-rock masterpiece known as A Salty Dog (see My Pop Life #37).  Leon fair took the roof off with his voice, rising to the occasion and the massive challenge of singing Gary Brooker, Procol Harum‘s lead vocalist and one of the great rock singers.   It was all getting a bit serious and intense, but here came Lee Ross my beautiful friend to give us a rendition of a Bacharach song This Guy’s In Love With You, originally sung by Herb Alpert (My Pop Life #49).

Lee Ross

Dear MC Tim Lewis had to improvise a story because Lee was having an emergency pre-stage leak in the gents downstairs.  He related how, in the early days of our friendship we had been on the phone organising something, and he’d ended by saying “Thanks lovely Ralph“.  I misheard him, and after a slight pause replied “I love you too Tim“.  Dear Tim didn’t have the inclination to correct me, but now took the opportunity to say that he loved me too.  Awwww.

Lee was unintentionally hilarious, his hat slightly askew, his lyrics sheet had a life of its own & kept leaving his hand or jumping off the music stand with every slight gust of breath.  He brought the house down and delivered the tune with great joy, cracked the atmosphere, now it was a party.  I wrote about Lee and Jo McInnes in My Pop Life #192 .

Jenny Jules, Pippa Randall, Maureen Hibbert at the party

Next up was Maureen Hibbert who deserves her own blog and her own story for I cannot do it justice inside this piece.  And I have to mention her daughter Chloe, my god-daughter who had travelled from Zanzibar (I think?) to spend the evening with me, to be there for me.  Maureen and Chloe ended up sleeping on our couch!  Mo sang, with huge courage and soul, the amazing Jaques Brel song Ne Me Quitte Pas, in the style of Nina Simone, in French.  Wow.   This was the most dramatic part of the show, easily.  In verse three she wasn’t happy with a vocal mistake and held up her hand “Wait wait, hold on!” she said.  The band stopped playing.  “I want this to be right for Ralphy” she said, “can we do that part again please?”  Stephen raised the baton “top of verse three?” And.  The bar kept being raised.

Lisa Abbott

Somewhere in the hall Scarlett’s dad Rob Pugh, writer of Reg which I’d filmed in 2015 (My Pop Life #119) muttered to Luke standing alongside him “here comes another piece of hippy shite“.  He is 100% Welsh of course.  I’m a mere 25%.

He was right too : The darling hippy Lisa Abbott took the microphone for my favourite Kate Bush song which never fails to bring water to the eye : Moments Of Pleasure from the Red Shoes album.  It was both uncanny and magical listening to Lisa sing for me on my birthday.  She just inhabits Kate Bush totally.  Her voice is quite exquisite.  I’d seen her sing the whole of the Hounds Of Love LP one night two years earlier in this very venue and it was nothing short of extraordinary.   I could see the people in the party who had yet to sing looking at her and thinking “Shit! I’ve got to follow that.

Lucy Jules

But it was Lucy Jules up next, singing Alfie.  The Bacharach arrangement, Steve conducting.  A string quartet, a woodwind quartet, a band of great players.  It is a great band and it was lovely to showcase them for my friends who had never seen us gig.  I really am so proud of this part of my life, and I miss it a great deal and try to get back to England as often as possible to play with them.  By now I was sitting down, Simon Korner to my right, Conrad Ryle to my left – Simon had joined me after America, Conrad after A Salty Dog.  My mates from school.  My surrogate families who rescued me in the 1970s.  My North & South Poles.

Lucy sang the first line :  “ What’s it all about, Ralphie?” and I smiled.  It was funny and bold and lovely & it stopped me from weeping once more.  Everyone in the room smiled I think.   I can’t really put into words what it meant, what it felt like.  She kept it up for the entire song.  “And if life belongs only to the strong Ralphie…” and each time she left a miniscule pause before the name as if deciding anew each time to change the name of the person she was talking to, and each time it was funny, witty, affectionate, very moving.  Especially in a song about love…

Brought the house down of course.   I was grateful to her for changing the song from Alfie to Ralphie.  Stopped my meltdown in its tracks which she later told me was why she’d done it.  Some people are very wise aren’t they?  I still feel like a young soul, like a 25-year old learning how it all works.  I look at people like say Bruno the Brighton & Hove Albion captain and I think “look at that old guy, he’s doing all right”.  Bruno is 37 years old.  I still feel, without thinking, that he & others like him are older than me.  This is a kind of psychic dissonance, a denial of time passing, arrested development or simply genius.  Does everyone feel this strange emotional eternal youth inside?  Only mirrors give me a shock –  Gulp : who the fuck is THAT??  Adjustment, temporarily.  Then I’m back, 25 years old, dealing with the next minute, then the next.

Lucy received a standing ovation for her performance and a thrill ran through the room.  It was a good gig all right !  I was thrilled to bits by now and had decided to go through with my song – I almost swerved it, but then also felt in one way that the singers who had yet to perform would be encouraged by watching me struggle a little musically, that I would bring the bar back down and that Cush and Pippa in particular would be imbued with renewed courage.  Maybe. I looked over at Cush and she raised her eyebrows at me like WOW.

our lead vocalist Glen Richardson

Who followed that emotional centrepiece ?  Why David Bowie of course in the eminent shape of Glen Richardson singing Life On Mars.  He and the band absolutely smashed it to pieces.  I then jumped back onstage fortified by ales and love and sang a rendition of the Carole King/Monkees classic Pleasant Valley Sunday which I dearly hoped we were all inhabiting by that point.  I then made my way to the horn section where my trusty alto saxophone was nestled on its stand and honked my way through the remainder of the set : a massive error on my part here, since I didn’t get to see the surprise package of the event, namely, Cush Jumbo singing What A Waste, unrehearsed, never met the band, just like Meera, apparently extraordinary…

Sean Griffin & Cush Jumbo

OK I’ve now seen the footage and Cush was outstanding.  Especially changing the chorus final line from “rock’n’roll don’t mind” to “my mum don’t mind” !!  Genius.  These two are our newest dearest friends, both English, moved over just after we did, they live down the road from us in Brooklyn and we try to hang out with them as often as we can.   She’d given a little speech before the song about how much she appreciated me befriending Sean in America and taking him to the dirty bar to play pool and get horribly drunk.  Aw.

Cush was followed by Pippa Randall singing Valerie with true relish, what a star she is, accompanied by Joe Kaye plugged in next to her, at which point Conrad & Gaynor and a whole bunch of other people decided to get up and dance (hooray!).  Maybe we’d gone on too long, but I love Conrad and Gaynor for always dancing !!!  Then Lucy came back to scale the mountaintop River Deep Mountain High with Lisa, Meera, Cush, Maureen & Pippa on backing vocals which apparently tore the roof off the sucker, and the throat out of dear Lucy, and finally darling Thomas who’d had a sore throat all weekend stepped up to sing Stevie Wonder‘s I Wish with Lucy on chorus high notes.  He was absolutely flipping amazing.

Thomas Jules

I missed it all, because the sound at the back of the stage was poor, only climbing back into the audience for Born To Run which Glen sang.  But my friend Steve McNicholas was filming it all, so I do believe that I will get to see these magic moments one day soon.

Charlotte Glasson, Danielle Flarty, Adrian Marshall

At the end of the gig we sang the Beach Boys acapella lullaby And Your Dream Comes True to Scarlett, who was heavily pregnant and about to DJ for the dancing part of the party with Thomas.  Yes, a Beach Boys song and a sad ballad but I felt it was a sweet way to end the set and serenade mum-to-be.  The beautiful Lua Blue Jules Pugh was born 20 days later, somewhat overdue but perfect in every way.

Mum Scarlett & baby Lua Blue 4 months later

end of the party : Alex, Ralph, Rebecca, Andrew, Paul

At the end of the party the gang split into two fact-finding groups –

group A) people who had to leave including my sister Rebecca Coleman and her kids Ellie and William who rode off into the night with her dad Alan Sully;  Jenny’s mother Esther Jules who was driven back to Wembley by Jenny’s sister & Thomas’ mum Dee, who then returned to Harlow, Essex with nephews Jordan and Jamie;  Uncle Lee who took Auntie Mame and Tete Sica back to Ramsgate (!);  the families Randall & Kaye with Roy & Robbie, Herry & Pat, Pippa & Joe, Tia & Lucy;  and plenty of others who’d booked babysitters…

and group B) people who hadn’t finished getting fucked up.  Well that group all walked down to the Pelirocco Hotel and drank until dawn.

Dawn : Kit Ashton, Ralph, Tom White, Paul

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Much later I wrote an email to those who had participated including the band themselves :  Steve, Glen, Adrian, Charlotte, Theseus, Tom, Brian, Jane, Joe, Rob, Danielle, Jono, Simon.

First and most importantly, Thank You for helping me through the great gates of 60, daunting and aged though they were, an ancient stone portal which loomed ahead casting a shadow over the earth for the last few years, during which time I planned this event to avoid facing the tremendous fear beneath the celebration.  The numbers do not lie, and I am 60.  So thank you once again for holding my hand, bringing yourself and your love.  I felt it.  I was overwhelmed and did not surrender, but now I thank you.  You have o’erleaped the rest into my personal pop charts.  You are a Golden Great.  I may never do that again, but I will always cherish it.”   Lots of love, Ralph, aged 60

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if anyone has any photos from the party, please send them to me !!

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