My Pop Life 161 : Shine – Take That

Shine   –   Take That

You, you’re such a big star to me
You’re everything I wanna be
But you’re stuck in a hole and I want you to get out
I don’t know what there is to see
But I know it’s time for you to leave
We’re all just pushing along
Trying to figure it out, out, out, oh your anticipation pulls you down, when you can have it all

*

My favourite memory of Becky was of her practising majorettes in our front room to Abba’s Dancing Queen, when she must have been around 7 years old.  The image of her practicing her steps became the opening scene of my first play Drive Away The Darkness, a play named without irony from a Rolf Harris song Sun Arise.  I had reached 29 years old and panicked – I hadn’t written a play yet !  So sat down and vomited up the family history based around an Easter weekend from hell.  It was, to all intents and purposes, my family’s version of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  The finished play got a rehearsed reading at the National Theatre Studio in London under the wing of Peter Gill in 1986 and… that was pretty much that.   Gill and Nicholas Wright summoned me into a room after the reading was done and asked me “what I wanted to do with it?”  “Get it produced?” I answered.  They smiled condescendingly “no, we meant what do you want to do with the material?”   I didn’t know what they were talking about.    “Go away and have a think about it”.   No clues, no notes, no help was offered.  I wondered what the point of it all was.  Encouragement ?

Legendary photo from late 1972 

My sister Rebecca was born on April 29th 1972 when I was a teenage boy of 15.   Mum was in and out of Amberstone Hospital at this point, as usual, and Becky’s dad, John Daignault (see My Pop Life #132) had been ejected from our council house in Newton Park by the police for domestic violence when Mum was 9 months pregnant.  So Becky was born into a recently peaceful, if shaky household.  And although the hospital visits continued (about 2 weeks at a time when Mum couldn’t cope) somehow the social workers managed to keep Becky – and us three boys – out of care.  Various people helped out, notably a girlfriend of Paul’s called Sharon, who must’ve been around 13 herself.  A few years later I was gone, to Lewes, thence to London, University and the rest of my life.  But I’ve always had a close relationship with Bex despite the age difference.

Becky and Sparky, 1979 ?

We lived on the edge of a large council estate, our garden backed onto a vast Sussex field which led to Marshfoot Lane and Herstmonceux Observatory eventually, although none of us ever went that far.    I’d come back for Easter, for Christmas and birthdays etc, usually for a punch-up  (not literally!) with Mum, and a chat with Becky about how things were going.  By now Mum had met Alan, perhaps through Gingerbread, an organisation for single parents, and they had married.   Alan was a decent bloke and treated Rebecca as if she was his own daughter, bless him, and still does to this day.   She went to the same school as Andrew and Paul in Hailsham, before Mum decided to move in with Alan in Polegate.  By now Rebecca had met Peter and they were married with much fanfare and dancing on July 4th 1992, some three weeks before my wedding to Jenny.  It meant Becky couldn’t be a bridesmaid because the fittings were during her honeymoon…it also meant that I wasn’t there.  Becky remembers this as filming Alien 3 which was a year earlier – but I did have to fly to Los Angeles to shoot some extra bits so perhaps that was it – anyway – Paul and Andrew were there in spades…

Paul, Rebecca, Andrew July 4th 1992, Eastbourne

*

Rebecca marries Peter July 4th 1992

Bex, Darren, Peter, me, Mum, Debs (behind Mum), Paul, Alan

Us kids had, for many many years, only one topic of conversation  when we hooked up – Mother.  It drove our various partners mad knowing that we would huddle together in a coping quartet – Ralph, Paul, Andrew Becky – and relate the latest installment of the soap opera of our family. Thankfully those days and that feeling of perma-crisis have gone.   We’ve grown.  But I think Mum’s personality and issues were so powerful that it bound us together.  Becky has always been my sister, never my step-sister.  Becky and Peter got divorced, and she married John Coleman from Dagenham in 1997.  I offered my blue Jaguar as her wedding car and left Brighton too late, bombing up the M23 at 120mph.  Got a ticket too and appeared at Haywards Heath magistrates a few months later and got a £200 fine and was banned for six months.  “But it was my sister’s wedding” I said.  Becky and John had three lovely kids – Mollie, Ellie and William (see My Pop Life #120).

Renewal of vowels 2005- Ellie, sleeping Will, John, Bex and Mollie

In 2005, eight years after the marriage and now in Strood on the Medway, they renewed their vows.  It was a lovely day.  I was doing Nighty Night at the time in Bude in Cornwall.  We joked that they’d renewed their vowels – an E and an O.

2007

Soon after that they moved down to Sussex and an old house in Horsebridge near Hailsham.  Closer to Mum and to us, we saw more of each other.  But the marriage was broken and John moved back to East London.

Becky marries Steve, 2013

In 2013 Becky married Steve in Eastbourne, Paul came back from China to be there, it lasted about a year and a bit.  Becky is now single and living in Hailsham, near Mum, with Ellie and William still at school.

So that’s the bare bones of a life that tell you nothing about the woman. She is, as the song suggests, resilient and optimistic, tough and glamourous, funny and generous.  Becky is the best mimic of our mother of all of us, and when she relates the latest installment of our mum, we are weeping with laughter.  She has re-trained herself so many times as a businesswoman, nail technician, health consultant while ferrying the kids to schools in Ringmer, Hamden Park, Hailsham and Eastbourne and William to football practice while swimming three times a week and doing the family shopping looking after a dog and popping in to clean Mum’s house and do some shopping for her that really she ought to look like a wet dishrag of exhausted martyrdom.  But Becky has it seems, unlimited powers and juice – like the duracell bunny – powers of determination and a centred strength of being that brooks no fools, and suffers no half-stepping.  I’m very proud of her, and I was very proud to play at her 40th birthday (previously discussed in My Pop Life #120 from a different angle) and more especially to play this particular song.

A young Take That in 1990

Tune.  First things first.  It’s a tune.  A major key piano bounce with vocal harmonies will almost always find favour with me, an echo of English pop, particularly Penny Lane (see My Pop Life #36) & Mr Blue Sky.   This though from 2007 and the most successful boy-band of all time, and one who actually wrote their own material.  Built around songwriter Gary Barlow in 1990, the original members were a bank clerk (Mark Owen) a hopeful breakdancer (Jason Orange) a carshop paintsprayer (Howard Donald) and a 16-year-old teenager (Robbie Williams) all of whom auditioned a number of times for Nigel Martin-Smith in Manchester before securing the gig.  One of the most successful and loved bands in British Pop History, they swept all before them during the 1990s with some beautiful songs – A Million Love Songs, Back For Good, How Deep Is Your Love – until William’s drug issues forced him out in 1995 and Take That disbanded the following year to the sound of a million broken teenage hearts.  In fact the UK government set up suicide hotlines because so many teenage girls were distraught.

The 4-piece without Williams eventually got back together in 2005, toured in 2006, then dropped this great single Shine with a lead vocal by Mark Owen, a love letter to the missing Williams, in early 2007.  It won the Ivor Novello in 2008 for best song, and sure enough Robbie Williams rejoined Take That in 2010 for a reunion tour and album, but the band currently exist as a 3-piece in the wake of Jason and Robbie’s subsequent departures.

Bex has been obsessed with Take That since their inception in 1990, and has seen them at least six times live, in all their various incarnations.  On the occasion of her 40th birthday, her step-dad Alan hired my band The Brighton Beach Boys to play the birthday party, and we learned Shine especially for the event.  Or did we ?  Actually I think I decided on the morning of the gig that I would play it for her, alone if necessary, and when I told the band in the soundcheck they joined in.  I had printed a few copies of the charts in case we had time, and we did.  I’ve just found the setlist from that show :

We may be a Beach Boys tribute band but we have a few party tunes up our collective sleeve too, thanks to the excellence of Mr Stephen Wrigley, Mr Glen Richardson, Mr Theseus Gerrard, Mr Adrian Marshall, Ms Charlotte Glasson and – in those days – Mr Rory Cameron.  The ska section had just been played at our 1969 Show, and Dancing Queen & Night Fever had been played at Caroline Lucas’50th Birthday bash.  The ever-expanding playlist strikes again.   But Shine was a one-off, just for Becky.

I don’t think we got the Stop! bit right, although a few people attempted it.  The thing is with a Stop! bit is that unless everyone does it, it isn’t a Stop! bit at all.  At all at all.   But it went down well, and is a thrillingly good song to play live.  Uplifting.   The link to Mr Blue Sky became apparent when Take That played it live and started the song with the end of Jeff Lynne’s great pop song.  Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of that in 2012.

Ellie, William, Rebecca, Mollie

I’ve always loved my sister unconditionally.   She is the strongest of us all, the closest to Mum and the most volatile of all four kids – her relationship with Heather, my mother, is tempestuous to say the least.  I listen to them both bitching in extremis about the other and just nod, like Alan, like my Dad, like Johnny Coleman – yes dear.

I’m not stupid enough to take sides with the women in my family, they’re too fierce.

Don’t you let your demons pull you down

Cos you can have it all, you can have it all, all, ALL

So c’mon oh c’mon get it on I dunno what you’re waiting for your time is coming don’t be late

hey hey

So c’mon, see the light on your face, let it shine, let it shine

the full live version from the Circus tour 2009.  Rebecca was there !

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My Pop Life #148 : Lost Highway – Hank Williams

Lost Highway   –   Hank Williams

I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost
For a life of sin I have paid the cost
When I pass by all the people say
Just another guy on the lost highway

Late ’88 I’m driving down Highway 20 towards El Paso, Texas.  Apart from ordering food and gas I haven’t spoken to anyone for over three days,  I’m almost out of money, my credit card has started bouncing and it’ll be Christmas in 4 days.  I think it’s possibly the most all alone and lost I’ve ever been in my life, but I’m kind of happy in a self-pityingly dramatic kind of way.  O Me Misererum.  One of life’s natural wallowers in misery, (wallow, not wallflower) I was pretty vacant, alone, solo, half-empty and broke.  Mile after mile after mile of desert scrub, punctuated by dull dipping oil derricks and the odd bridge.  The lost highway.  Abilene.  I knew that from a Nanci Griffith song. Lone Star State of Mind, deep in the fart of Texas.   There was a kind of masochistic pointlessness to the drive which suited me perfectly.

I’d gone into Auto Driveaway in Washington D.C. on December 16th and got a car to deliver.  You give them a deposit of $200 and get five days to drive to say, Dallas.  If you drive like a wanker, which is not allowed but who’s checking, you can spend a day somewhere along the route and still deliver on time.  I drove like a wanker through Virginia and West Virginia and crashed out in a motel in Bristol, Eastern Tennessee on day 1, got to Nashville on Day 2 (noted previously in My Pop Life #83) spent all of Day 3 in Nashville bopping around, drove to Memphis on Day 4 and mooched around Graceland and Beale St, got ripped off by the Mack man to the tune of $350 which is most of what I had on me, then delivered the car to an address in Dallas on Day 5 after driving through Arkansas.  

Oh you want more on the Mack man?  The phrase has now gone out of use thanks to the computer age, but you might have heard of the Mack Daddy, also going out of use.  We heard about him the following spring when I returned to D.C. with my new girlfriend Jenny for an awards ceremony.  A barbecue at a Hubert’s yard, one fella had delighted us in spinning his rap on The MackMan.  He’s the man who you can’t trust.  He’s a good talker.  He’s on your side.  He can help you get what you want, what you need.  He’s your buddy.  Oh yeah, he’s good, real good.  Then he fucks off with your money.  That’s who the mac man is.  He’s a pimp.  He’s a hustler.  The Mack Man can spot a fool from 40 paces, and wandering on Beale St, Memphis, birth of the fucking blues, he’d seen me.  Would you walk away from a Fool and His Money ?   So that was that, on the road again, Memphis had come and gone and been really great by the way, love that city, and when I’d delivered the car, the grateful owner did the decent thing and driven me to the Autodriveaway office in downtown Dallas – thence to choose a new car.  I chose the red open top 2-seater Mercedes from 1967. Can’t remember why. Where’s that car going?  I asked. It doesn’t work like that she said, where are you going?  I looked at her, short and frumpy and bad-tempered.  Not a very American attitude. They are usually so friendly and generous and willing.  She was a cow.   I’m not going anywhere I said.   No plans.  No destination.  She looked at me like I’d tricked her.  I was supposed to have a destination. I just genuinely didn’t have one.   I’d lost my UK girlfriend Rita earlier in 1988, and although I was seeing someone in England it didn’t feel official at all.   I’d had a relationship in Washington D.C., which lasted until I left town at the beginning of rehearsals and mongrel shagger Paul had stepped into my shoes and my girlfriend’s bed.  So now I was licking wounds and driving WEST WHEREVER.  I was as alone and lost as I’ll ever be in all likelihood.  I didn’t say all that.  But I wasn’t lying.  No destination, no expectations.  So she gave me the Mercedes.  It was going to Phoenix, Arizona. Another five-day ride.

I figured Texas would be boring but I was still stultified and unprepared for just how   b  o  r  i  n  g Highway 20 was. I drove into El Paso on the afternoon of Day 3, found a hotel and then drove into Juarez across the bridge over the Rio Grande.  It was Mexico.  First time I’d been there since 1980 (see My Pop Life #31).  

The bridge was the border, but not really.   I had some proper Mexican food and crossed back into the USA and slept.   The following day I drove out towards New Mexico and crossed the actual border about 5 miles outside El Paso on Highway 10.   Passport, everything. The little red Merc was driving well, guzzling gas, and I had to choose gas stations where they didn’t have the new-fangled credit card machines that were electronically connected to the bank and the rest of the world.  I sought out the ones with a piece of grey tracing paper that got rubbed over your card leaving a blackish imprint which you had to sign. Then I could fill up, and make sure I bought provisions too.  The electronic machines refused the Access Card – I was over my limit. Oh well. Made me feel more like an outlaw.

The reality was dull and lonely of course.  The lonely road.  Actually the road in New Mexico is pretty special, one of the great drives I’ve been on.  Red baked earth, blue sky, adobe dwellings and building, grey tarmac.  Country music on the radio mainly.  Washington D.C. And the theatre company who’d stabbed me in the back dwindled further and further into the distance.   Ahead of me was nothing.  It was a strange glorious empty sad feeling.  The white lines, the rolling tyres, the sun treading across the sky, the minutes ticking past, the gas tank slowly emptying, the feelings of sorrow and freedom, the man alone driving into the future, the rolling stone, all alone and lost, as night falls once more, a few more miles, a few more and there’s a cheap motel, there’s a place to crash, a parking lot, a giant empty sky. But, being a romantic, I stubbed my eyes upon the wheeling spokeshave of the stars.

Alun Lewis wrote that last line – one of my Dad’s favourites. Nicked it for the first play I ever wrote “Drive Away The Darkness” which itself is a quote from a Rolf Harris song ‘Sun Arise‘. Irony as one imagines his wandering fingers brought a fair bit of Darkness into young girl’s lives over the years.

Tombstone, Arizona

On Day 5 I rolled into Phoenix after a brief look round Tombstone and the Boothill Graveyard, resting place of the Clanton brothers, murdered by Wyatt Earp and his brothers Virgil, Warren and Morgan and Doc Holliday in the Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881.  The so-called gunfight lasted around 20 seconds and established the Earp family as ascendant in this part of the West. They became the law, literally, which is to say that Wyatt Earp became sheriff.   Much of the history of the U.S.A. has this violent gangster-ised quality (as does the history of man in general I hasten to add) where the winners write the history and the “good guys” always win.  I had always wanted to write the true history of Tombstone, a kind of anti-history where the Clantons are the heroes who get murdered.  But that’s the kind of warped twerp I am – always running against the wind, swimming against the tide.  

Well, now the tide had dumped me in Phoenix, where the Reverend Diane had said I would have my turning point when I spoke with her in D.C.   And you know, when people predict things, sometimes they do come true.   Maybe particularly if you want them to.   I delivered the car and back at the office was told that I couldn’t take the next car to Los Angeles.  Why ?  Because it was Christmas Eve today, LA was only a one-day delivery, and the office was closed on Christmas Day. They couldn’t give me the car for an extra day !!   No no.  No. So where was I going ?   The same old question.  What you got?  I asked.  They had Portland, Oregon.  That was like driving into winter, but it was further West.  And way further North.  I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken that car.  And this Brown Oldsmobile is going to Dallas, Texas.  Where I’d been five days earlier.  Turning point ?  Rising from the ashes ?  The definition of futility ?  Time to stop all of these rolling stone fantasies and go back home ?  Not quite.

Hank Williams was a major influence on country music in America despite dying at the young age of 29. Born with spina bifida, he used pain killers and alcohol all his life especially after an accident led to further pain. From Montgomery, Alabama, Hank (christened Hiram) learned guitar chords and turnarounds from black blues singer Rufus ‘Tee Tot’ Payne, a fact he acknowledged years later. He recorded his first hit Move It On Over in 1947 after slogging around the circuit for years, spending the war shipbuilding in Mobile, Alabama and singing for the sailors in the evenings.  The spinal injury and another fall had excused him from service but he was already an alcoholic. Roy Acuff, country music pioneer told him “You have a million-dollar talent son, but a ten cent brain.”  Move It On Over was a huge hit, and Hank Williams spent the next six years playing live and recording his 31 singles before dying on a car journey between gigs in 1952. 

Lost Highway was written by Leon Payne, a blind country singer, and its combination of doomed romantic drifter schtick and self-mythologising misogyny was perfect for Williams.  It was also perfect for my self-pitying road trip, a man searching for his soul, for himself, a man who had never been single in his adult life but was trying it on for size and frankly, hating it.  Little did I know (or did I?) that the most important relationship of my entire life was literally days away.  

Hank Williams Sr sings to Hank Williams Jr

Lost Highway was a minor hit for Williams but remains a major song.   Dylan and Joan Baez sing it in Don’t Look Back the famous Pennebaker documentary from 1965.  It remains the anthem for the single man.  

Lost Highway is also a fantastic book by that greatest of music writers Peter Guralnick, author of Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love the two-part Elvis Presley biography, as well as books about soul music, blues, Sam Cooke and Sam Phillips. Lost Highway is a personal review of the history of American music, featuring Ernest Tubb, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, and Sleepy LaBeef.   It’s absolutely brilliant.  

I started driving back to Dallas on Christmas Day 1988.