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 ash-blonde 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 #147 : Days – The Kinks

Days   –   The Kinks

thank you for the days….those endless days, those sacred days you gave me

I’m thinking of the days…

Red Admiral

I hated my Mum and my Dad when I was growing up.  Who didn’t ?  Especially as a teenager.  Then again later, in therapy in my late twenties/early 30s.  They fuck you up your mum and dad they do not want to but they do…  Mine sure did.  Jeez,  didn’t yours ?  Mine were a) mentally ill and b) absent.  A badge I wore for years, a cross I carried up the hill from Gethsemane.  Hi, I’m fucked-up, how are you?  Then I grew out of all that and made friends with my parents again.  Took responsibility  for my own life and stopped feeling so hard done by.   Then I forgave them for making mistakes, for being young.  For separating.  And for everything.  If they annoy me now, I still get annoyed – of course.  But there’s no residual anger. I don’t think.  Now I feel lucky that they’re both still alive (Feb 20th 2016). And that they are both my friends.

Peacocks

In 1968 my Dad was in Eastbourne in a bedsit flat off Terminus Road.  We’d visit on Saturdays, have lunch at Ceres Salad Bar and then walk to Beachy Head, be back for the James Alexander Gordon football results and Sports Report.  We’d never talk about Mum.   Back in Selmeston Mum would talk about Dad now and again, or John Brown as she called him, we all called him that in fact.  Later he became JB for me and my brothers.  Mum would tell me things I didn’t want to know about, why they split up and so on.  Lurid details of conversations and incidents that eleven year-old boys don’t need to know about. My memory of those years is blurred naturally, but Mum wasn’t entirely alone bringing up three boys in a Sussex village – she had Stan at one point, (see My Pop Life #63) and her friend Heather at another point, both in 1968/69.

Small Tortoiseshell

Stan was Australian and worked at Arlington Reservoir, digging out a huge hole in the Weald where water would be stored for the surrounding farms and villages.  He was our lodger, and Mum’s lover.  Later on, when he went back to Australia and left Mum with a broken heart,  she bought a single called “Part Of My Past“by Simon Dupree & the Big Sound and wept while listening to it.   Even worse was a song called Skyline Pigeon by Guy Darrell : “fly away…”  She took all of these records deadly seriously, and we respected that.  They were treated like living breathing things with immense power.  Emotional bombs.  They were her and our soundtrack.

Marbled White

On sunny days we would make a picnic up, take a tablecloth and cups and crisps and buckets and spades and walk up the village – Mum and three boys – then take a rambling left through the churchyard and head down the path and overhanging trees to the most sacred spot of my youth – the sandpit.  Mum later confessed that she felt secretly ashamed that we weren’t getting on a bus and going to the beach somewhere, but to us the sandpit was simply a magical place.

Comma

The path carried on towards Berwick across the fields, but there on the right, tucked away, was a small path of trodden grass which led to a clearing – an area completely overgrown and wild.  A half-dozen acres probably with patches of exposed sand in cliffs and banks, other areas of marsh, other densely wooded parts and some open space with short tufts of grass where we settled and laid the tablecloth and ate our sandwiches.  Mum would bring the transistor radio, but wouldn’t always play it because the rustling of the leaves, the birdsong and the silence was better.

Adonis Blue  f & m

There were butterflies everywhere – the usual Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods, Red Admirals and Common Blues all in abundance, and more unusual ones too – Clouded Yellows, Small Coppers, Adonis Blues, Brimstones and Orange Tips.  Marbled Whites!  We spent hours identifying them from a book – the Observer Book of British Butterflies, which always got packed along with the paste sandwiches.  Shippams.  Or Marmite.  Peanut Butter.  Delicious. White sliced bread. Of course !

Brimstone

We were always alone in the sandpit, never once did we sight anyone else, or even hear them.  It was our place.  It was always a sunny afternoon.   It was always peaceful.  Some days Paul and I would go there on our own, and one day with my friend Martin Coleman we found a grass snake, also unusual.  The slow-worms were pretty common – actually not snakes but legless lizards whose tails fell off if you picked them up the wrong way.  There were plenty of actual lizards there too.  Sometimes we would bring back a skull of a small mammal – a squirrel perhaps, a fox, a weasel.  And the bird-life was also rich.

Clouded Yellow

It was the butterflies though that captured our imaginations.  And we in turn captured them.  As we got older and learned about methods of capture we suddenly had nets, jars, and at home, chloroform to put them to sleep.  Two in particular were pinned under glass – a Small Tortoiseshell and a magnificent Clouded Yellow.  Treasure.  Near us in Alfriston was Drusillas, a mini-zoo with toy railway and a butterfly house, with an exhibit of every single species of British Butterfly – there are 63 altogether – and some foreign ones too including the spectacular irridescent Morpho.

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Of course grown-up Ralph finds this behaviour abhorrent now – the decline in butterfly numbers in the UK is truly alarming, mainly thanks  to farming chemicals and loss of habitat – hedgerows and meadows, but the collecting didn’t help and no one does this now.  We have all learned to cherish our world in a different way.   It only serves to reinforce the innocence of those days in the sandpit.  Whatever misery was upon us, whether financial, emotional, mental or spiritual, those trips down that secret path past the church to the sandpit healed us, nourished us, gave us a reason to be.   A reason to believe.

Days was released at the end of June 1968.  I’d just turned 11, and I wouldn’t be going back to the village school.  I’d passed the eleven plus (at the age of ten!) and was on my way to Lewes Grammar – a long bus journey away.  Things were changing.  It was exciting.  I was about to outgrow the village, and my friends.  The Kinks were very popular in our house, we loved everything they did.  Songwriter and singer Ray Davies was like a raconteur troubadour speaking to us of England.  On 45 rpm of course – the singles market was all we consumed in those days.  I had absolutely no idea that The Kinks‘ LP The Village Green Preservation Society had been released, just as I didn’t have a clue what The White Album was – we had Lady Madonna and Hey Jude and The Marmalade singing Obla-di Obla-da instead.  Leapy Lee singing Little Arrows.  Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin.  I Can’t Let Maggie Go – an advert for Nimble.  Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations.

The best thing about The KinksDays‘ were the harmonies.  Our cousin Wendy used to come up from Portsmouth to visit Mum and they’d go into Eastbourne to get kissed (see My Pop Life #102).  They would also sing together – they’d done it for years in church.  Mum would always sing “thirds” as she called it, in other words two tones above the melody, or Doh-Re-Me.   In fact Days has a suspended 4th –  “Thank you for the Days…” – on the word days, which resolves onto the third at the end of the phrase.  I didn’t know that at the time, but I knew how to sing it thanks to Mum and Wendy.  And thus I was really brought up singing in harmony, to The Seekers (Morningtown Ride, Georgy Girl), The Beatles, MotownBeach Boys and The Kinks and many others.  It was the most natural thing in the world.  So Mum – Thank You for the thirds, the suspended 4ths, the butterflies, the sand-pit and all of the music.  It’s still what makes me happiest.   And yes, thank you for the days.

 

My Pop Life #125 : Chickery Chick – Sammy Kaye

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Chickery Chick   –   Sammy Kaye Orchestra

“Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a banonika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me? “

My mother, Heather Ruby Laming, was born in June 1935 in Portsmouth to mother Ruby née Price and father Horace Laming.  Ruby had come down to Pompey from Abergavenny in her teens and worked ‘in service’ until the birth of my mum.  Below stairs in a rich families’ house in other words.  Something happened there that she almost told me once, then changed her mind.  I’d travelled down to Copnor in North Portsmouth in the 1980s to talk to her about her life.  My Nan would have been late 80s by then, still painting occasionally-interesting abstracts, still lives and strange scenes from road accidents or desolate sea shores.  The house was full of her paintings.  She appeared to be fond of me, regarding me with a tolerant, knowing chuckle as if I couldn’t put one over on her.  She came out with some odd things regarding my Mum – “Heather has always been difficult – she wouldn’t even take the nipple as a baby”.  

That’s a bit dark, I thought.

Her dad Fred Price was a lovely old geezer who used to write funny letters to my Mum when she married my Dad and moved away from Portsmouth, first to Cambridge, then to Sussex. “Winter – drawers – on” he wrote as we entered December.  Clever old stick.  Ruby would have us believe that she was the eternally long-suffering wife of a dreadful husband – Horace, and I wrote about the strange atmosphere pervading his funeral in the late 1960s in My Pop Life #49.

 Almost all of the stories I heard about my Nan were bad, and my own experience talking to her backed them up.  She favoured Mum’s sister, Aunty Valerie, deeply favoured her.   She used to drink heavily when Heather was growing up and going out with my Dad, and once or twice he intervened to stop Horace and Ruby coming to blows.  Or to stop Ruby beating on my Mum.  In any event it didn’t sound like the most closely-knit family.   I remember one Christmas round there when I was about five – where we had to behave.  Keep quiet.  Ssshhh.

Of course when Mum had her first nervous breakdown (that I was aware of) in 1965 (see My Pop Life #54), Nan came up from Portsmouth to look after us while Dad went to work teaching.  She must have lived with us in 2 Manor Cottages, Selmeston, for nine months, for that was how long Mum stayed in the hospital in the end.  The Mental Hospital it was called.  I can’t remember much about that period, having successfully wiped it out of my memory and grown up without its haunting disabilities at the front of my brain.  Buried so deep that it rots my soul from within.  But Nan must have been alternately strict and loving with us, me, Paul and Andrew.  Thinking about it, this was when Andrew was disappeared to Portsmouth to stay with Aunty Valerie and Uncle Keith, so Nan was only looking after Paul and I.  We shared a bedroom.  We talked before we fell asleep, after the light was turned off.  It kept us sane.  Kind of.

Later on, when Nan sold the house in Copnor and moved into a nursing home in Southsea, Mum travelled down to see the house for one last time.  the same one we’d gather in for Horace’s funeral, for Christmas, for strange visits which I dreaded.  When Mum got there the house was empty.  Literally.  No art.  No china.  No furniture.  “Oh“, she said to Ruby, “I thought I could have taken one thing to remember this house by, a saucer or a vase or something“.   Ruby then answered with one of her classics :  “I gave everything to the woman over the road.  She’s been like a daughter to me.” 

When my Mum told me this story I was horrified.  I said “You can’t go on taking this shit, it’s abusive, designed to hurt you.”  Nan was still alive, we were still visiting her in the nursing home.  She was in her 90s now.  “No,” said Mum, “I don’t want to upset her.”  I had another clue to the cause of the mental illnesses mum had been plagued with for what seemed like the bulk of her life.  Not to mention my own bipolarity.

Bollika Wollika.

My friend Richard went to see her one day with Paul and we had an interesting chat about it later.  He thought there was a possibility that she was a lesbian who’d never owned it, let alone come out.  Pretty charitable I thought.

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This may well be the happiest memory I can retrieve of my Nan (although see My Pop Life #183 Rocket Man – Elton John) …and perhaps may have been the first pop song I ever heard, although it would have been from my Mother’s lips.  She remembers it from World War Two when Ruby sang it to her, enjoying the nonsense words.  I remember Mum singing this all through the 1960s.  She actually sang “Wollika Wollika can’t you see” rather than the actual words “Bollika Wollika” which clearly don’t have the same connotation in America and which were carefully screened from our young English ears.   I never did know what she was talking about until one day looking through some old sheet music in a shop, I found this.

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So it had been a Number #1 hit song in the U.S. and in the charts for over 4 months, played by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra.  The odd words were written by Sylvia Dee, and the music by her regular songwriting partner Sidney Lippman.  Sammy Kaye had over 30 hit songs in the swing era, and six number ones.  “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye”offered the tag-line, and young Nancy Norman auditioned aged 16 and 4’11” high and got the job of female vocalist.  Her mother would chaperone her all over the United States to sing Chickery Chick.  The man’s voice is country singer Billy Wiliams.   Many other stars covered the song, including The Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Gene Krupa & Anita O’Day, and Evelyn Knight and The Jesters, which is my actual favourite.

The word banonika is still in use in our house here in Brooklyn.  It is used to denote a wrapping into which the special needs cat Roxy will position herself, enjoying the cosy created therein.

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Not a banonika

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Not a banonika, strictly speaking

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a carboard box I’d call that

When she is under the duvet or inside some clothing then :  “Are you in your banonika darling?”we will ask in slightly high-pitched voices as if talking to a child.  Which we are really.  A furry child substitute.  Maybe we should sing Chickery Chick to our cat.  I’m sure people have.

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Roxy and I agree that we have no banonika pictures

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Sammy Kaye, featuring Nancy Norman & Billy Williams :

Evelyn Knight & The Jesters :

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

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Left Bank Two   –   The Noveltones

(Vision On :  The Gallery theme)

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Tony Hart

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

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Selmeston Church

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

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Pat Keysell, Tony Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morph

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

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

My Pop Life #102 : Israelites – Desmond Dekker

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Israelites   –   Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir

so that every mouth can be fed

poor me Israelites

We didn’t really know what he was on about ’til we were older, but Israelites reached Number One in the hit parade in Britain in May 1969, the first Jamaican ska song to reach that lofty pinnacle.  (Milly Small’s cover of My Boy Lollipop reached Number Two in 1964).    Desmond Dekker had irresistible syncopated rhythms and cool rude boy threads – and an extremely visceral way of shaping his words (whatever they were!) – I was eleven years old and transfixed.   So was my mum.   We were living in a house in the deep Sussex countryside between Lewes & Eastbourne just north of Bo-Peep Hill in Selmeston.

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view from Bo-Peep Hill towards Selmeston

Dad had left some 3 years previously and was living in Eastbourne, we saw him once a week – I think – maybe once a fortnight – on Saturdays, walking up to Beachy Head, coming back in time for the football results.    Paul and I did anyway, Andrew was only 3 years old then.   The whole country went Desmond Dekker crazy though.  It was a phenomenon.

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Ska had been around in Jamaica since at least 1961, some say earlier.  Prince Buster, Ernest Ranglin, Laurel Aitken, Jimmy Ciff, Duke Reid, Derrick Morgan, Toots & The Maytals, The Skatalites were all there at the beginnings.   Laurel Aitken had the UK’s first single release on Blue Beat Records, a song called Boogie Beat which was a kind of loose R&B shuffle with the guitar on the off-beat, embryonic ska.  The more choppy sound we associate with classic Jamaican ska came later with singles like Guns Of Navarone by The Skatalites and Al Capone by Prince Buster.

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Desmond Dekker signed with Leslie Kong‘s Beverley label in Kingston Jamaica in 1961 but didn’t release his first single until two years later: “Honour Your Father and Mother”, and a string of hits followed – all morally and culturally decent christian songs – until he recorded a song with Derrick Morgan.    Tougher Than Tough was part of the rude boy trend – the court was in session, judgement was being passed, but Rudies Don’t Fear.   This was ghetto life in Kingston writ large – and Dekker’s next song 007 (Shanty Town) made him an icon in Jamaica, was a hit in England in 1967 amongst the mod crowd as well as the West Indian population, and is rightly considered a classic.  Despite it reaching #14 on the charts (the first Jamaican-produced song to reach the top 15) it wasn’t until 1969 that the mighty Israelites took the country by storm.

We had a cousin, Wendy, who was older than us and who would come and stay now and again.  She must have been seventeen or eighteen when Mum invited her up from Portsmouth for a week, and they decided to go into Eastbourne one night to see Desmond Dekker & The Aces live on the Pier.   Mum only told me about this quite recently.   Amazing what you find out if you actually ask !

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Mum had also decided that it was high time that Wendy made out with a man – she claims now that Wendy had never been kissed.   I think they took the bus into Eastbourne along the A27, had a few drinks, then got onto the pier and saw the electric Desmond Dekker & The Aces in the flesh (I never did manage to see him!) then danced the night away to all the latest hits.  I think they both found some willing snogging partners and stayed out so late that they had to take the milk train back to Berwick – about 3 miles from Selmeston.   It was dawn when they started walking back, hitching a lift from the hugely embarrassed milkman, and getting a discreet worldly wink from Cedric the postman as they finally reached home.   We were all asleep upstairs, none the wiser.   I think Mum remembers that night now as one of the great nights of the 1960s for her, and I’m rather hoping that Wendy does too.

*

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It was many years later when I finally truly established what the actual lyrics to the song really were :

Wife and a kids they buck up an a leave me

Darlin’ she said I was yours to receive

Look – me shirt dem a tear up, trousers a go

I don’t want to end up like Bonnie & Clyde

After a storm there must be a calm

if they catch me in the farm you sound your alarm….

Poor Me Israelites

It became like a magical spell cast across the radio, across the dance floor, bouncing out of car radios, in shops, a mantra of phrases that ring around your head.  The rest of 1969 found us listening to The Liquidator by Harry J & The All-Stars, Return Of Django by The Upsetters (Lee Perry) and apparently (I never heard it at the time but older kids did ) Wet Dream by Max Romeo.   Songs like Israelites reaching Number One in Britain is one of the reasons why I love the UK.  It’s not all bad, however it may seem.

My Pop Life #95 : Delaney’s Donkey – Val Doonican

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Delaney’s Donkey   –   Val Doonican

Now Delaney had a donkey that everyone admired
Temporarily lazy and permanently tired
A leg at every corner balancing his head
And a tail to let you know which end he wanted to be fed…

RIP Val Doonican.  If you grew up in Britain between the 1960s – 1980s, he was a fixture on Saturday night TV.   He had a crinkly smile and perfect teeth and the warmest smile on television.  His daughter said today (2nd July 2015) that she thought no one had a bad word to say about him, that he was as lovely in real life as he appeared on television.  Can this be possible ?  I’d love to think so.

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My own relationship with Val Doonican went from deep joy and abiding affection through to teenaged embarrassment that I ever liked him.  Then growing ever older, childhood’s innocent honesty about what is good and what isn’t trumps the teenager, and just because 13 was when I discovered groovy music doesn’t mean that that I knew anything.    Val Doonican belonged in that easy-listening Saturday night TV world, he sat on a rocking chair, he wore a cardigan, he was simply uncool.  He was too nice.  His songs were childish.  Your nan liked him.  He just wasn’t groovy !

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But he was of course.  First and foremost he was a musician.  He worked for years on the Irish live circuit before eventually joining The Four Ramblers in 1951.  UK tours followed, supporting the great Anthony Newley (who inspired a young David Bowie among others) and who introduced Val to his future wife Lynette.  Newley also suggested that Michael Valentine Doonican go solo, so he did, performing for the BBC on the radio until fate offered him The Royal Variety Performance in 1963, aged 36.  Billy Cotton offered him his own show at the BBC on the strength of that performance and he was – after seventeen years in showbiz – an overnight success.  It was a story he liked to tell, and does so in the clip below, where I searched for an element of steel beneath the warm fuzzy smile.  It’s there all right, look out for the moment when he silences the clap-along audience at the end of the song.  Followed by that killer smile, crinkly eyes.  The Irish charm goes a long way in England, and Valentine made a career of it.

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His big hit was Walk Tall in 1964 – a song with a word of advice for everyone – be proud – look the world right in the eye – and Val sings in in a straight-ahead english accent with a slight Irish twang, barely discernible.  It was a country song really, but I don’t think it was ever released in the USA.  I remember it very well indeed – I was seven years old, my parents were together, we lived in a small village in East sussex called Selmeston, I had a younger brother Paul and a new baby brother Andrew, a cat and a dog and life was big and new.  We lived opposite a farm and we could smell a strong mixture of creosote and cow dung that summer as the farmer painted his barn which was exactly opposite our garden, standing on a huge wooden ladder with a bucket of black goo which dripped everywhere and smelled like pungent tar.  I loved that smell.   The cow dung smell I got used to – country people will understand.  What rose-tinted specs I have on as I remember being seven.   Wow.

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Val Doonican will do that to a memory, even the cow dung is coated is in roses.  Later on in 1966 he had a hit with that great crooners’ song Elusive Butterly, written by Bob Lind.   But perhaps he’ll be remembered most affectionately for the trio of humourous Irish songs which he regularly sang on his show – Paddy McGinty’s Goat, Rafferty’s Motor Car and Delaney’s Donkey.  These were something else entirely – also in a country style, but sung in an unmistakable Irish twang that emanated from Waterford, his home down in the south of Ireland.  These three songs undoubtedly contributed to the cultural English meme of the funny Irishman.

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Briefly – Paddy McGinty’s Goat was written in 1917 by Bert Lee and R.P. Weston with two American songwriters called the Two Bobs.  A song about a randy goat it was a favourite of Val’s and he put it on the B-side of Delaney’s Donkey in 1964.  O’Rafferty’s Motor Car was written by Tommy Connor  (an Englishman) in the 1920s and describes a car (a model T- Ford apparently?) which “used to be black as me father’s hat, now its 40 shades of green”.  It appears to have inspired “Driving In My Car” by Madness…

Delaney’s Donkey is my personal favourite and complete with lyrical mishearings, despite Val’s perfect enunciation.  Like the other two he affects a more Irish accent than he did for Walk Tall and gets the full humour out of the brilliant rhyming couplets and internal rhymes – in fact this song comes across as much like a rap than a song, a talking song, although there is a very strong melody line too.  Music hall rap perhaps…

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There’s a line towards the end : “Hogan, Logan and all the bally crew…” which seared deep into my subconscious, probably because of the other words I might choose to use instead of “bally“.   Another line :  “A grip like a Scotsman on a five pound note” – oh how we laughed at kindly smiley Val as he allowed us to enjoy these stereotypes!  A different time…

I also always thought it was called “The Lady’s Donkey”.  Still sounds like that !

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But the song is pure joy, the love of language, the story that the whole town is trying to get this donkey to run, “they might as well have tried to push the Town Hall down”.   Enjoy this clip – it was on The Guardian obituary today, but much as I hate to be fashionable or repeat someone else’s choices, it’s a brilliant clip.  Enjoy, and Val – rest in peace.   We loved you.

My Pop Life #84 : All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

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All Along The Watchtower   –   The Jimi Hendrix Experience

“…No reason to get excited

The thief he kindly spoke

There are many here among us

Who feel that life is but a joke…”

I felt that life was but a joke in September 1970.  I was thirteen and staying in Lewes with one of my surrogate familes, foster-mum Sheila Smurthwaite.   But first quick – a little re-wind selector…backstory…

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The second time our family was split up, I was 11.   I’d just got to Lewes Grammar School For Boys by passing the 11-plus.  Three of us from the little village school in Selmeston had done it : Me, Cedric the postman’s son Graham Sutton and David Bristow, much to the delight of Miss Lamb, the headmistress who used to bring goose-eggs to school as prizes, and who taught us how to make porridge, play Men of Harlech on the recorder, and probably what a slide rule is for.   It was daunting, travelling into Lewes on the bus wearing the uniform with cap, being in this giant school full of big hairy boys, playing rugby and being bullied by prefects.  I think Pete Smurthwaite and I probably shared a detention together for being scruffy.  No cap on.  That kind of thing.  He was in my class, 1R.   Anyway.   Mum had to go into hospital again so me and my two brothers went to three different houses – Andrew to Portsmouth and Aunty Val (he was about five years old), Paul down the road to Gilda and Jack (he was still at Selmeston school being 2 years younger than me) and I went to stay with Pete Smurthwaite and his mum in Ringmer, which was near Lewes, but not near Selmeston.   Really.   When I go back there now, through the green fields of East Sussex, Glyndebourne, the Downs, Firle Beacon, it’s all deliciously close together, but aged 11 it felt like a foreign country.  To be fair, Ringmer actually is a foreign country, despite being a mere 4 miles from bohemian, pope-burning, witchy, cobbled Lewes.  But Sheila Smurthwaite made up for Ringmer’s lack of charm with her own hippy spirit and welcoming vibes.  Jimi Hendrix posters. Gaugin’s Tahitian women.   Guernica.

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Two years later, and a different crisis – we were evicted from our tied feudal cottage for not paying rent – and we were all split up again.   By now Mum had re-married, to John Daignault.   He was a chef, but then worked at Caffyns on Lewes High St, then lost his job.   I’ve got a feeling that we all went to the same places we’d been 2 years earlier, and I definitely stayed with Sheila and Pete again – only now they were actually in groovy Lewes where they belonged, Pete had a baby brother called Jake (whose dad Nick was Sheila’s 19-year-old lover) and Jimi Hendrix was all over the walls and loudspeakers.  There was a board-game inventor down the road and Pete and I got to go round there and try them out – war-games and one evolution game shaped like a tree.  We all ended up as sharks every time we played it.

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I smoked my first joint in that house, and helped local legend Noddy Norris roll a two-foot long joint by sticking forty or fifty cigarette papers together, along with a bunch of mates (Pete, Conrad, Spark, Fore, Martin Elkins, Dougie Sanders, Tat?).   My mum smoked roll-ups, so I was au-fait with the apparatus.   The Camberwell Carrot had nothing on this monster.   At least two feet long.   But thinking back now, what was an 18-year-old ex-con doing hanging out with a bunch of 13-14 year olds?   That was Lewes though.   Hendrix and The Doors and The Beatles were always playing.   Soft Machine.  Cream.  Santana.  Dirty hippy music.  Always the older kids were groovier than us, had longer hair, better afghan coats and boots, had groovier record sleeves tucked under their arms, could actually play the guitar and drums.   I had my first wank in that house, in the bath.   It was completely alarming, but tremendous and I never looked back.   Smiley face.   And then Jimi died.

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The house went into shock.   I remember composing a giant memoriam on my blue school rough book which said Jimi Hendrix RIP Sept 18th 1970.  We listened to four LPs and a handful of singles – Are You Experienced?, Axis Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland (number one LP for me and All Along The Watchtower is on this album) and Hendrix In The West with the amazing version of Little Wing.   Simon Korner later bought Cry Of Love the scribble-cover LP but I never listened to it because it was released after he died and so I suspected it of being inferior and somehow not meant to be.   In fact it was a rush-released version of the 4th Jimi Hendrix LP which never got finished.  In 1997 a more carefully crafted version of this record called New Rays Of The Rising Sun was released, and it is as near as we’ll ever get to that follow-up to Electric Ladyland.  It’s fantastic.   We could not believed Jimi had gone.  He was so young, so full of fire and love.  He was the future of music, we knew it, you could hear it in the way he played and sang in perfect sync with himself.  He was an incredible poet, musician and person.   We mourned.   We were stunned.   We played the records again.   And then in the weeks that followed, or possibly in the weeks preceding this calamitous death, I’d gone to see my Mum in Eastbourne.  She looked terrible.  She had a large black shape on her cheek vaguely covered with make-up.  She told me it was barbiturate poison because she’d taken an overdose.  She’d been living in a caravan in Pevensey Bay with John Daignault and they’d fought and scratched and punched each other to a standstill.  My mind was reeling – not by the fighting – that was happening in Selmeston before we’d all moved out.   In one comic interlude Mum had thrown eggs at JD (as he then became known) and one of them had landed and broken in his hair.  He’d walked up to the police station in the village up on the A27 to file a complaint.  With an egg on his head.  No – it was the overdose that was frightening.

Then weeks after this meeting I received a letter in New Road Lewes from Mum.  It explained that we’d have to wait another nine months before we got housed.   Nine months !   I crumpled in a heap on my bed and wept like a baby.   What could I do?  Bear it.  Get on with life.  I bought Hendrix 45s which became god-like items, played them over and over again.  Gypsy Eyes.  Long Hot Summer Night.  Stone Free.  All Along The Watchtower – like a hurricane blowing through my body every time I heard it.  A song of devastation.  A testimony of chaos.

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“There must be some kind of way out of here, Said the joker to the thief,  

There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief….”

I had no idea that Bob Dylan wrote it.  It was Hendrix through and through, round and round.  It was a terrifying record, an exhilarating record, it was everything I ever hoped to be, everything I feared, a prophet crying in the wilderness.   A distillation of pain and despair.   I completely misheard many of the lyrics.

  “Mr Splendid – drink my wine….ploughman take my urn…

no one will level out of mind, nobody else in this world”

And despite now knowing the actual words now : “Business men, they drink my wine, Plowman dig my earth, None were level on the mind, Nobody up at his word“.  Really ??  No I prefer mine and I still sing Mr Splendid drink my wine.  

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The song perfectly expresses the joke of my life in 1970.  It is still burned into my heart.   Jimi Hendrix RIP  September 18th 1970.

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