Saturday mornin’, oh saturday mornin’ all my tiredness has gone away
got my money and my honey & we’re out on the stand to play…
When Jenny and I finally got married on July 25th 1992 we did it in style. We did it in the way we wanted to. We’d postponed the original date (see My Pop Life #20) and waited a year or two then walked up the aisle eventually in 1992. Our perfect wedding consisted of : a gold wedding dress for Jenny; a bootlace tie for me; a choir composed of our friends to sing things to us (see My Pop Life 56); a wedding reception where someone played Chopin and where we both made speeches; a party in the evening where we could invite EVERYONE; a wedding band which played at the party that we could both play in. For starters. We planned every detail. Some people don’t do this obviously – some people run away to Las Vegas, or in Dee’s case, Grenada. Yes, Jenny’s oldest sister Dee flew to New York and thence to Grenada to marry Mick Stock (Jamie and Jordan’s dad) and made Jenny’s mum Esther furious for denying her a wedding. We included Esther in our wedding – it was about 18 months of serious hard-nosed negotiation, mainly by Jenny. OK, all by Jenny.
Stephen Warbeck Joe Korner
Simon Korner Andrew Ranken
The wedding band was made of people I’d gone to school with and played in bands with, almost exclusively. Andrew Taylor “Tat”on guitar, from school band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80); Joe Korner on keyboards/piano from art-rock band Birds Of Tin (haven’t written about them yet); Patrick Freyne on drums also from an early incarnation of Birds Of Tin; Simon Korner my oldest and best friend on bass guitar – rather remarkably I’d never played in a band with him before so we were making up for lost time; Andrew Ranken on vocals who had gone out with Simon’s sister Deborah Korner for years through school and beyond before Deborah had a baby boy and then tragically and awfully died shortly afterwards of an aneurysm in 1991. The shadow of that death was still cast over our wedding quite naturally. Andrew and Patrick had both been excellent drummers at Priory School in Lewes, (as had Pete Thomas) and they had performed a memorable drum battle on the school playing fields one summers day in 1974. Pete Thomas went on to join The Attractions in 1977 and has been playing with Elvis Costello ever since off and on, while Andrew joined The Pogues in 1983 and had recorded five LPs with them by the time of our wedding. I’d seen them live many times with Simon and Joe. He brought multi-instrumentalist and good bloke Jem Finer, co-writer of Fairytale in New York with him into the wedding band on saxophone alongside myself.
James Fearnley, Jem Finer, Andrew Ranken, Spider Stacey, Shane McGowan, Cait O’Riordan early 1980s
Stephen Wood, close friend of Andrew who also went to Priory played accordion and went on to change his name to ‘Oscar-winning composer ‘ Stephen Warbeck (for Shakespeare In Love). On the night of the wedding a third sax player called Chris turned up and played tenor. He was good, but he needed to be because he hadn’t been to any rehearsals. Jenny’s sister Lucy Jules was on backing vocals with Jenny herself alongside our good friend Maureen Hibbert. They looked like The Supremes or The Emotions ie : great. And they could all sing. It was a good wee band.
The Mysterious Wheels
Andrew, Simon and Joe are still playing together in that band, now called Andrew Ranken & The Mysterious Wheels. Catch them live in London!
We rehearsed in IGA Studios as I recall, close to Mount Pleasant Post Office in WC2. The early discussions about a setlist were interesting since they mainly consisted of Andrew casting a veto over any song which he didn’t fancy singing – which was most of the songs that we wanted at our wedding. Oh well. The only exception was Try A Little Tenderness which we had lined up for Lucy, who has an exceptional voice, but that’s for another post. In the end our setlist was based on Andrew’s tried and tested setlist emanating from the great city of New Orleans and primarily songs written or performed by the great Smiley Lewis: One Night, I Hear You Knocking, Dirty People and Blue Monday. I knew Smiley Lewis – I’d bought the above-pictured CD in the mid-80s, it is Fantastic. One of the inventors of rock and roll or R’n’B as we knew it. (They’re very close.) All songs made famous by other players – One Night by Elvis, I Hear You Knocking by Fats Domino and Dave Edmunds, Dirty People by Omar & The Howlers. Who? I also owned Fats Domino’s greatest hits from way back in the late 70s and considered him to be a genius. Fats covered all these songs. We also threw in Robert Parker’s Barefootin’, Chuck Berry’s Nadine, Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene, Dr John’s version of Junco Partner, and Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee and Lawdy Miss Clawdy (I think!).
Andrew had played in Lewes band The Grobs when Simon and I, Tat and Joe and Patrick and Stephen were at Priory School. He’d always been cooler than us. One year older is a long time when you’re sixteen. I’m not sure when he settled on New Orleans as the source of his live act, but it is definitely a sign of muso grooviness, like a faintly secret musical society. Everyone knows Motown, most people know Philly, some know Stax but who knows Imperial Records or Specialty Records from Louisiana ? The sound of New Orleans is different from everywhere else in the States in that most songs will be piano-based rather than guitar. This rolling style exemplified by Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and Dr John gives all these records their own unique flavour, my own personal favourite style of boogie-woogie rhythm and blues. Andrew Ranken, in short, was right. Perhaps The Pogues, a punk-flavoured London Irish band led by the inimitable Shane McGowan had formed an attachment to the city when they’d passed through. Original member Spider Stacey now lives there with his wife, having worked on a couple of episodes of that great TV showcase for the city Treme.
Fats Domino 1956
Almost all of these chosen wedding night songs were born in New Orleans. Days after the wedding night, in a completely star-crossed, fortuitous and magical co-incidence, Jenny and I were drinking our way around the Crescent City on our first honeymoon, courtesy of MGM Studios who had employed me to act in their film Undercover Blues alongside Fiona Shaw, Dennis Quaid, Kathleen Turner and Stanley Tucci. For another post !
New Orleans is where jazz was born in those days before recording was invented. Instruments abandoned by the marching bands of the Confederate army after the Civil War ended in 1965 were currency in New Orleans where whites and blacks mixed more than they did elsewhere in the segregated south, giving rise to a creole property-owning middle class in the late 1890s when the riverboats would steam up the Mississippi and gamblers, hucksters and nascent capitalists rubbed shoulders in the gin-joints and speakeasys of The French Quarter where Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton could be found forging the music of the 20th century. It became known as Music City long before Nashville stole that crown. There are blues joints and hops all over town, some of them such as Tipitina’s legendary. By the mid-forties the blues had acquired a bit of bounce and this is where Smiley Lewis comes in. A rural Louisianan who hopped a tramcar to N’Awlins after his mother died, he hooked up with bandleader and key figure Dave Bartholomew, and cut Dave’s song Blue Monday.
It’s a Monday to Friday song, some of my favourite songs have this structure : Friday On My Mind by The Easybeats, Diary of Horace Wimp by ELO. Solomon Grundy springs to mind :
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
That was the end, of Solomon Grundy
A nursery rhyme ‘collected’ in the 1840s. Bartholomew’s song was re-recorded by Fats Domino two years later and became a huge hit in 1956, the year that I was conceived. Smiley Lewis’ biggest hit was I Hear You Knocking but again Fats’ version of that also outsold it by hundreds of thousands. Smiley Lewis didn’t have no luck.
Our version of Blue Monday featured a crappish saxophone solo by me and a wonderful chorus of the girls singing “Saturday morning oooh Saturday morning…” as they swayed in the breeze at the microphone. I remember watching our friends Conrad and Gaynor dancing, and others too. Jenny’s primary memory of the gig is Stephen Wood’s leather sandal beating time into a puddle of beer as he squeezed that accordion.
The wedding party itself was at The Diorama near Regent’s Park, and was brilliantly stage-managed by blessed Neil Cooper may his soul rest in peace. We had an open parachute suspended from the ceiling above the dance floor. Flowers everywhere. The band went on at around ten-thirty I think. It was nerve-wracking, but no more so than standing in a church in front of everyone and saying your vows. I tried to enjoy it, and some of the time I did. I’m really really glad we did it. I remember standing round in the Diorama earlier in the evening in my brand new blue suit from Paul Smith gnashing my teeth at the non-arrival of Jenny’s brother Jon who was doing the DJ-ing at the party (he never did show up) and playing Songs In The Key Of Life as people arrived and overhearing two people standing in front of me – the light was low and there were hundreds of people there – discussing the event… “I heard The Pogues are playing later…” “No…!“
Well two of them were. My main confession concerns the song itself. I always thought that the Sunday section was “Sunday morning my head is bare, but it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had” but apparently that’s a mis-hearing. I’m imagining Fats Domino or Smiley Lewis in church on Sunday morning with bare head. But apparently all the lyric sites quote “Sunday morning my head is bad…” Make up your own mind dear reader.
Fats Domino himself is simply a legend. One of the primary forces behind the birth of rock’n’roll he is remarkably still alive, as are Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard from that era. Three of the group are pianists. Fats still lives in the 9th Ward in New Orleans and he went missing after deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as did many people including Allen Toussaint. But he surfaced a few days later. One of my favourite Fats Domino stories involves boogie-woogie ivory basher Jools Holland who was making a documentary and was visiting his house. “Good morning“said Jools in his scrawny Lewisham gobshite accent, “We’re here from the BBC making a documentary about pianists and we’re very pleased to include your good self“. Fats blinked and stared. “What’d he say?” Fats eventually asked. Jools repeated his sentence probably slightly slower to no effect. They all stood there looking at each other. Eventually Jools sat down at the grand piano and played the intro to Blue Monday. Fats broke out in a big grin and shook his hand : “I don’t understand a word you’re saying, but if you can play that tune, you can stay“
Blue Monday was my favourite of the wedding band songs I think. It’s a great great song. Still in the Ralph & Jenny playlist. Enjoy.