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 sharp left by the church and heading through 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 patch of trodden grass which led to a clearing – and 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.

Wall

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.

 

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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 #76 : St Matthew Passion – Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott – J.S. Bach

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Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen   (St Matthew Passion)   –   J.S. Bach

Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott  (St Matthew Passion)   –   J.S. Bach

Erbarme dich, mein Gott,
Um meiner Zähren Willen!
Schaue hier, Herz und Auge
Weint vor dir bitterlich.
Erbarme dich, erbarme dich!

Have mercy, my God,
for the sake of my tears!
Look here, heart and eyes
weep bitterly before You.
Have mercy, have mercy!

I cannot remember where and when I first heard this piece of music.   Or why.   It wasn’t the first piece of Bach I bought – that was the Brandenburg Concertos, which I saw live in The Hollywood Bowl when I was 19 years old (along with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – clearly it was pop classic night).    Then I think the Orchestral Suites were next (include Air On A G String) which a gang of us went to see in Brighton Festival around 1999, sat in the front row of the balcony of St George’s Church, the first few notes of that famous section float up to us from the ensemble at which point Luke Cresswell turns to us and whispers “Tune!”.    But anyway, at some point in my late 20s/early 30s I bought John Eliot Gardiner‘s version of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on CD.   It is my favourite piece of classical music, along with Chopin’s Ballade #1 and Debussy’s Prelude A L’Aprés-Midi d’un Faun.

Bach is the daddy of classical music – his output, between 1708 and 1750 is immense, including organ works (Toccata & Fugue), violin concertos, over 200 sacred cantatas, 2 passions, a Great Mass, the Goldberg Variations, Brandenburg Concertos, Cello Suites,  and Orchestral suites among many other pieces.  He is considered to be a baroque composer.  Everything I’ve heard (about 10% of his output at a guess) is extraordinarily beautiful, rich and contains great depth of feeling.  It is not complex music (to my ears) but it is endlessly rewarding.  Don’t worry I’m not going to post the entire two and a half hours of the Passion here – but you should hear it once before you die.  You’ll hear it plenty of times after you die I’m quite certain of that, but the experience of listening to it whilst alive is quite excellent, and highly recommended.   But I will post the opening Kommt Ihr Tochter which is going to blow your head off, and also Erbarme Dich… which is transcendent.

Being a Passion, this means the libretto, or oratorio is taken from the New Testament of the Bible.  I’ve never actually followed the story, and I’ve heard the music many many times, I always get lost in the music and forget completely about the story it is telling – the life and particularly I suspect, the death of Christ.   It really sounds like church music though, perhaps one of the reasons I like it – the hymnal qualities, the shapes of the chords.  The layered choral effect of the opening Kommt Ihr Tochter Helft Mir Klagencome you daughters, help me lament – played by two orchestras and three choirs is probably the most fantastic and exciting piece of music ever written.  Thus it starts at the end of the story with the daughters of Zion weeping over the dead body of the lamb, our saviour.

I always heard this piece of music in my head when I was writing New Year’s Day (NYD).   Not for any intellectual reason, but because it has an immense feeling of something about to happen, something huge and undefinable.  In NYD, our two boys have survived a terrible tragedy at the beginning of the film, Christmas comes and goes with funerals, memorial services, counselling and piles of wreaths outside the school gates.  When the final death happens on New Year’s Eve, the two boys arrange to meet on the clifftop the following day.  In the first draft of the film (set in Lewes, East Sussex) they cycled from Lewes to Eastbourne, (Beachy Head more specifically a 600 foot cliff) – perhaps we’d have used Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters – but a decent 15-20 miles cycle ride by two teenage boys with this massive dramatic music of Bach supporting them.  It is a matter of life and death for them.

The second piece – Erbarme Dich Mein Gotthave pity on me my god – is just pure emotion.  Sung by a counter-tenor usually – a man with a high voice – this short piece of music really transcends intellect and debate, description and enthusiasm.  I would like it to be played at my funeral as the most beautiful piece of music I had the pleasure to hear in  my life.  It makes me weep every time I hear it, unless I’m washing up at the time.   Joke.    Now, I’m not religious as you know (see My Pop Life 24 : Faure’s Requiem) but I like to play classical music on a Sunday morning, whether it be religious or not, an LP of Chopin’s Etudes, a Mozart or Brahms symphony, Erik Satie, or some Bach.  Whatever my newest discovery is – currently Corelli a contemporary of Johan Sebastian.   It makes the day seem without stress.   Often on Sunday mornings I’m off to work – the film industry isn’t christian – but one always notices.  Sundays – or Saturdays – or Fridays – doesn’t really matter – but one day should be for resting.   St Matthew Passion is played more than any other piece of music in our house on a Sunday.

I’ve never seen SMP live.  I will though.  One day.   In the meantime, I have these….

John Eliot Gardiner conducts The Monteverdi Choir, The London Oratory Junior Choir, and The English Baroque Soloists :  

Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen

Erbarme Dich sung by Michael Chance, John Eliot Gardiner conducting :

Erbarme Dich with Karl Richter conducting, Julia Hamari singing: