My Pop Life #186 : Praise You – Fatboy Slim

Praise You   –   Fatboy Slim

We’ve come a long, long way together – through the hard times and the good                   I need to celebrate you baby I need to praise you like I should…….

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March 1971 was my first visit to The Goldstone Ground in Hove, to see Alan Duffy, Brian Powney in goal, John and Kit Napier, Peter O’Sullivan, John Templeman, Norman Gall.   Amazing that I can remember pretty much the whole team.  Tattooed on the brain. Went with a group of kids from the Lewes Priory football team : Martin Cooper,  Conrad Ryle, Simon Lester – we played on Saturday morning then went into Brighton in the afternoon for a Division Three game v Port Vale.  We stood in the North Stand with the hooligans, scarves wrapped around our wrists.  Jumped up and down singing Knees Up Mother Brown and the Banana Splits Song.  A year later, we were the hooligans, marching through the cold wet streets of Watford and Luton singing our songs of Albion and war.  Andrew Holmes joined the gang.  John Hawkins.  Paul my brother.  Conrad’s older brother Martin was a regular too but he stood in the Chicken Run – the East Stand which was a stone terrace with a few metal railings to lean on (prized positions).  That season we played Aston Villa on Good Friday and Reading on Easter Monday – maybe it was the season after, standing in a crowd of 36,000 people.  As a slightly dysfunctional teenager with a tenuous and insecure family life, the idea of playing at home was powerful.  For an atheist to stand with my fellow man and woman and sing in our thousands replaced any religious feelings I may have had left by the age of fourteen.  In other words, I was hooked.

The legendary Brian Clough came down to manage us with his assistant Peter Taylor. The most memorable game from that tenure was an 8-2 home defeat to Bristol Rovers, still a club record failure, and a 0-4 defeat in the FA Cup to Walton & Hersham, a part-time club.   Clough would go on to two European Cup wins with Nottingham Forest and was the best manager that England never appointed.  Taylor stayed and signed Peter Ward who became club legend goalscorer, but was replaced with ex-Tottenham & England man Alan Mullery – he became a club legend manager himself and took us to promotion in 1979 away at Newcastle United.  By now I was a student at the LSE.  I would come down for games on a Saturday, and my Glaswegian friend Lewis McLeod would come along too, despite being a Rangers fan.  By now we were standing in the Chicken Run.  The team swept all before them and rose to the elite with a 3-1 win at St James’ Park.  I travelled up alone on the train, even bravely venturing into a Newcastle public house on my own before joining the huddled masses in the Away end, celebrating a legendary victory and travelling back on the train with the blue & white family and endless cans of beer and joy.

Manager Alan Mullery with the team 1980

The following season we went to some exciting away games – Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur.  I got punched at Tottenham after the game.  Martin Ryle told a mounted policeman about it and pointed out who’d hit me and we saw the kid getting sandwiched between two police horses just down the High Road.  Enjoyed that.  Four seasons in the top flight.  On Match Of The Day now and again.  Nobby Horton in midfield, Steve Foster playing centre-half, with a headband.  Mike Robinson, Gordon Smith, Jimmy Case.  Beating Liverpool in the Cup two seasons running, playing Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-final at Highbury literally a few hundred yards from where I lived with Mumtaz in Finsbury Park in 1983, Winning 2-1.  Sitting on my stoop with my scarf on watching the fans streaming away from the game.  Magic.  Failing to get Cup Final tickets, watching on TV as Jimmy Melia’s team drew with Manchester United 2-2 and almost winning in the final minute.  And Smith Must Score…ohhhhh.  But Robinson should have scored in retrospect.  We lost the replay 4-0 and were relegated in the same season.

Things declined after that, gradually.  At some point in the 1980s I started to collect grounds – and picked up places like Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, Fulham, Leicester City and Rochdale. The chairman Mike Bamber who’d brought in Mullery lost control and this fuckwit called Bill Archer took over.  Greg Stanley was his stooge on the board.  And David Bellotti, failed Lib Dem candidate for Eastbourne was his gofer.  Between them they nearly took the club to extinction.  By now I was sitting in the West Stand when I came down for games – I’d now watched the team from 3 sides of the Goldstone Ground.   Just as I moved back to Sussex and had a season ticket for the first time in my life, things went downhill rapidly.

Albion walk out for their last home game at the Goldstone, 1997

I made friends with Ian Hart, Worthing undertaker who ran a fanzine called Gull’s Eye with Peter Kennard and I wrote a few columns for them about the resistance movement.  We became aware that Archer was planning to sell the ground “to pay debts”.  A huge campaign got underway to resist this asset-stripping.  We picketed the ground one day and tried to stop fans from going in.  Thousands stayed outside, then broke through the flimsy gate of the Chicken Run at half time and got onto the pitch and up into the director’s box, mingled with the away fans too, all of whom were aware of our plight and supported us.

There was a Fans United match at the Goldstone (which I couldn’t make) when we played Hartlepool, and Doncaster Rovers in particular had helped to organise fans from every club come down and publicise what was happening to the Albion.  Bellotti was barracked at every game and had police protection – although he never came to any harm, often he would be asked to leave by the police.

Then the York City game at the end of the ’96/97 season when the pitch invasion after 15 minutes left a broken crossbar and a huge sit-in with match abandoned.  2 Points deducted but now everyone knew what was afoot, too late to change the outcome.

 Dick Knight took over but the sale was done.  The last game at The Goldstone, our home, was against Doncaster Rovers.  It was like a funeral.  I sat in the South Stand for the first and last time, and had watched my team from all four sides of the Goldstone.  We ran onto the pitch after the match and people started take the place apart for keepsakes.  Seats.  Signs.  Anything.  I got a large chunk of the pitch which I kept in a flowerpot in the garden, trimmed with scissors and sporting a subbuteo goal. Meanwhile after being 13 points adrift at the foot of the table we finally need a point in the last game,  away to Hereford United which meant the losers were out of the League.  I couldn’t face the implications or the game and chose to go to the Dome for a Mahler concert on a Saturday afternoon, swerving the tension and feelings of sickness, coming out at 5pm and asking the nearest bystander the result.  Pre-internet of course. We drew 1-1, Robbie Reinelt scoring the all important goal – Hereford were down and out, we’d survived.  This period of the Albion’s history – the guerrilla warfare, the back-stabbing, the surge of fan’s anger and magnificent commitment to their club is recorded by Steve North and Paul Hodson in the memorable book Build A Bonfire.

Albion legend, another saviour : Dick Knight

But the ground had been sold for £7 million and we were homeless.  Debts were paid but one year later the Goldstone was re-sold : this time for £28 million.  It turned out that Bill Archer had sold the ground to himself and then made a £21 million profit out of our homelessness – the worst kind of scum.  Albion played at Gillingham for two seasons, 75 miles away, to meagre crowds and an impoverished atmosphere.  I usually drove there, and we’d congregate in the pub, defiant, phlegmatic.  The spirit of the fans and our indomitable sense of humour is illustrated beautifully with a small anecdote from Colchester United FC where I’d gone with Martin Ryle and his son Jude for a League game.   Fans being cruel the Colchester massive taunted us with “Where’s The Goldstone gone, where’s the Goldstone gone?” to the tune of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.  Came the immediate response from the Albion faithful : “It’s a Toys R Us, it’s a Toys R Us“.   We have the best songs – out of necessity.  When we hear “Town full of queers” (Guantanamera) or “Does Your Boyfriend know you’re here?” (Bread of Heaven) we traditionally sing “You’re too ugly to be gay“.  I’m proud to be a Brighton fan, not afraid to sing about being gay.   Came home with relief to the Withdean Stadium in 1999, an athletics track converted with temporary stands and a two-bob portakabin atmosphere.  Micky Adams arrived and bought young striker Bobby Zamora and suddenly we were on the up again, winning two promotions in successive seasons.  I met him once at a Club do, just as it had been announced he was leaving for Leicester.  I think he’d been getting stick all night because when I thanked him for everything and wished him all the best for his future he was genuinely pleased and thanked me in return.  But it was all two steps forward, one step back, what we needed more than anything else was a proper ground.  The campaign for Falmer Stadium was long and bitter and took in various local heroes like Paul Samrah, Paul Whelch (RIP another LSE graduate), Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Skint Records, Paul CamillinDick Knight of course and John Baine – Attila The Stockbroker – with whom I’d made a protest single – ‘We Want Falmer‘ b/w ‘Sussex By The Sea‘ which got to number 17 in the charts (see My Pop Life #51).   One of my more memorable days was the protest outside the Labour Party Conference on Brighton Seafront when one fan appeared with a sign reading : Prescott :  Mother Cooked Socks In Hull.

Skint Records and Norman were having a moment or three in the sun.  Based in Middle Street in The Lanes, with co-owner & Arsenal fan Damian Harris as Midfield General (I would later appear on one of his records) and Norman as Fatboy Slim they adopted the Seagulls in 1999 and provided shirt sponsorship during this critical 9-year period.  My favourite Albion shirt has their name on it.

The logo was pertinent and a frank admission of status – we were broke.   Rumour had it that Norman was paying Bobby Zamora’s wages in exchange for a car-park space : the many ramifications of playing at Withdean included a no-parking zone around the stadium.  I used to park and walk like many other fans – sometimes I’d take the bus from the bottom of Trafalgar Street after a few pints of Harveys.

Norman – and his wife Zoe Ball (now separated) – are integrated members of the Brighton & Hove community, around and about at openings, screenings, football matches, club nights and very supportive of the local scene – like their local successful brothers Stomp –  in many and diverse ways.  They were at the premiere of The Murmuration (see My Pop Life #87 ) at The Booth Museum in Dyke Road.  Norm was an usher at Patrick Sullivan‘s wedding in Rottingdean when we all went to the pub both before and after the service.  I once watched a Liverpool v Chelsea European Cup game round his house with Jim and Pat which was faintly awkward – I was the only one supporting Liverpool… then I called Norman once to ask about vintage recording equipment as texture for my abandoned Session Musician documentary Red Light Fever (see My Pop Life #116) and others) and he very kindly offered me some interesting space to shoot an interview with bass player Les Hurdle (who’d recorded with Giorgio Moroder and The Foundations among others).  We’ve seen Norman DJ at two World Cups – in Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro parties, playing records for football fans.   He is a proper decent bloke, and very good at his job needless to say.  The records that Skint put out at the end of the 20th & beginning of the 21st Century helped to define Brighton as the number one party city in Europe – Rockefeller Skank, Right Here, Right Now, Praise You, Weapon of Choice, Gangster Trippin’ and many remix remake remodels too.  We all celebrated the big beat culture which started on Brighton seafront and conquered the world, peaking in July 2002 when 250,000 flocked and danced to Big Beat Boutique 2 where the Skint DJs partied all day and all night between the piers.

Big Beach Boutique II, July 2002, Brighton Beach 

Planning permission for Falmer Stadium was finally granted after a long struggle.  Nobody wanted the football fans on their doorstep.  Every version of the plan for a stadium was met with objection.  But it happened.  We’d fought an imaginative campaign and got the nod – Martin Perry was instrumental in achieving the result and building the actual finished stadium, alongside every single Brighton fan from that time, including my friend Ian Andrews who’d worked at the club since the 90s being brought in by Dick Knight, and running the accounts through the Withdean years.  I would sit with Ian, David Cuff, Adrian Simons, Julian Benkel and Mark Griffin – and indeed with actor Mark Williams during this period – or we would meet in the Lord Nelson on Trafalgar Street, famous Albion pub.  All good friends still.

All the trials and tribulations have brought the club closer to the city of Brighton. We are now a true community club.  After all the noise, litter and scare stories about the middle class enclave of Withdean being invaded by football hooligans, the last game there was rather emotional.

As promotion to the Championship beckoned, Julian and myself went on a few last away trips to places where I didn’t think the team would be playing again (with respect to those clubs of course) : Hartlepool United, Northampton Town, Dagenham & Redbridge.  Ian gave me a hard hat and showed me around the Falmer foundations one memorable afternoon in 2009 :

Myself and Ian Andrews, Falmer Stadium 1st December 2009

The Amex today – photograph ©Peter Whitcomb

The first game at the new stadium was a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur – my wife’s team and all of her family.  We had season tickets to the new ground, David Cuff had been among the first to gain access and we were 12 rows back from the front, bang central, near the dugouts where the managers, trainers and substitutes sat and alongside the press box.  When the music of Sussex By The Sea started up across this magnificent sparkling brand new arena filled with fans, and the two teams walked out onto the sacred green sward, a tear rolled down my cheek and my chest was full of emotion.  Home.  Our Home.   And the first League game was against… Doncaster Rovers.  By then the chairman was Tony Bloom who been on the board for many years but slowly acquired a greater percentage of control.  Dick Knight was made President for Life, and Tony funded the stadium and, later, the brand new state-of-the art training ground at Lancing near Shoreham Airport.  A Brighton fan all of his life, two of his uncles were on previous Boards of the club.  Bloom made his money in online gambling and has now invested over £250 million into Brighton & Hove Albion.  That is a local hero.

We still can’t match the budgets of our main rivals – this season Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Norwich.  But life isn’t all about money.  There is something about trying to win games of football which is a mystical alchemical process – a team event at which all have to be present, an undefined nebulous concept called confidence, determination, spirit, something a manager worth his salt can produce in players, week in, week out.  Gus Poyet managed it with a legendary season in the final year at Withdean ( final away game at Walsall pictured below) when we were promoted once again.

Andy Holmes (for it is he), Julian Benkel, David Cuff at Walsall

We opened Falmer Stadium – now called The Amex in the Championship.  At the end of that magnificent 2nd season in the new arena, we stumbled at the final hurdle in a terrible match at home to Crystal Palace in the play-offs as Poyet reportedly had resigned to the players in the dressing room before the game.  Or was he pushed?  His relationship with the club had deteriorated to an alarming degree over those final months, but it was a fatal flaw in a great footballing brain.   I met Gus on the tube once in London and he was sincerely enthusiastic and charming talking about The Seagulls.  Oscar Garcia and Sami Hyypia came and went and then Chris Hughton, ex Spurs defender and living legend arrived and took us to the play-offs once again last season – the third time in four years.  Over the disappointment of last summer – 2016 – he kept the same group of players together and added a spine – Duffy, Murray, Norwood, Sidwell.  Anthony Knockaert was our enlightenment, Bruno Salter our soul, Lewis Dunk our local hero along with Hailsham boy Solly March, Dale Stephens our midfield maestro along with Beram KayalDavid Stockdale our rock between the sticks, Glen Murray our shark goalscorer, Tomer Hemed our spearhead.    Chris Hughton our football genius.  Tony Bloom our saviour.

Tony Bloom celebrates Promotion 2017

Since moving to New York in 2014 I’ve let my season ticket lapse.  I’ve watched two games per season basically.  Last season I wandered in to two more grounds – Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers.  I saw two games this season, both at home, against Huddersfield and Leeds : both tough games, both wins.  We’ve been in the top two all season, have now been promoted to the Premiership and are one win away from the title – first place – and the Championship Trophy which will represent the finest achievement of this football club in it’s 116-year history.  A new chapter awaits.

Anthony Knockaert celebrates at the Amex.  The Premiership beckons

I’ve been watching games on my computer where I can.  Following on Twitter.  I’ve had a lifetime of watching the Albion, ups and downs.  I miss the pints and the cameraderie, the team sheet and the songs.  The moaning about the ref.  The irritating opposition player.  The pies.  But at least now I get to watch the team on TV – for here in America, all the Premiership games are screened live.  You can record them.   And doubtless I’ll be in England to watch one or two.

We have come a long long way together.  I need to celebrate you baby.  Yesterday, 17th April 2017, my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion were promoted to the Premier League.

My Pop Life #70 : Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love) – The Stylistics

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Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)   –   The Stylistics

…If I had money I’d go wild buy you furs dress you like a queen
And in a chauffered limousine
We’d look so fine.
But I’m an ordinary guy and my pockets are empty
Just an ordinary guy
But I’m yours till I die…

In July 1975 I hitch-hiked to Hungary with my friend Martin Cooper.  In our last year at Lewes Priory he’d been Head Boy, and I’d been Deputy Head Boy, voted by the students of the sixth form.  This really only meant that every now and then we had a meeting with the headmistress about things that have entirely slipped my memory, but probably involved social events and smoking in the toilets.  An honorary title really, but there was a channel open at least.  Martin was a carrot-topped football fanatic and we would often go to the Goldstone Ground together to see Brighton & Hove Albion playing in League Division 3 against the likes of Preston North End, Gillingham and Aldershot.  We’d finished 19th that season.  Coops was also captain of the school football team, being the son of a vicar and a sensible sort of chap, head boy and all that.  We played on Saturday mornings – Coop was in midfield and I played centre forward in that last season at school.  I did about three good things over the course of the season in my recall.   I may be placing this event in the wrong year – but for some reason – perhaps because his reasonableness was in fact a curse – Martin Cooper put his foot through a train window one day and severed his achilles tendon.  To say we were all shocked is an understatement.  Completely out of character and rather more violent than anyone else in the school would have managed, even under stress.  He spent a few months hobbling around in plaster poor chap, and John Trower, star of the javelin,  took on the captain’s mantle, and the sexiest girl in the school Sarah-Jane.

I’d got a job at Sussex University for a few weeks and stayed at Waterlilies in Kingston at Rosemary Ryle‘s insistence, despite her daughter Miriam having finished with me.   I had my own room (see My Pop Life #47).    I think Rough Justice, the band I played in with Conrad Ryle and Tat and Andy Shand played one last gig at school but were somewhat upstaged by a new band from the lower 6th who covered Jo Jo Gunne’s Run Run Run rather impressively.

And as The Stylistics started to climb the charts with this magnificent single, Coops and I started our thumbs-only journey through Europe.   The first part was easy – ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe.   We had a two-man tent and erected it somewhere or other that night.  I cannot really remember the French section of the journey, but we got to Grenoble on day three amidst stunning Alpine pastures.  Thence through the Great St Bernard Tunnel to Italy and the Aosta Valley, then right across North Italy.  We ended up in a small car with a funny old bloke who only said one word to us : “Udine“.  Ooh-Dinn-Ay.  We checked on the map and there it was just north of Trieste.  After a frankly bizarre lift where the little man kept saying Udine every five minutes we got out and pitched the tent on the Trieste road.  Next day we got as far as Ljubljana in western Yugoslavia which felt pretty foreign, (very pretty, very foreign), and so we stayed a couple of days in the Youth Hostel.   Nice place.  Next up was Zagreb which we skimmed and then headed north for the Hungarian border which we reached at about 6pm.  There was a little cafe just before the border post, so we went in and had some food.

The locals were aghast.  We were going to Hungary ?  Alarmed looks all round, heads shaking, pitying glances !  They insisted on buying us a farewell drink each – our last taste of freedom I believe it was called, except that it wasn’t our last – there were about three more.  Each.  As dusk fell we staggered under the sudden weight of our rucksacks and with the waves of our new comrades ringing in our ears, walked in a drunken manner to the border post, showed our visas and stepped over the Iron Curtain.

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Now what?  We knew there was a campsite about ten miles up the road.  How we knew this I have absolutely no idea but pre-internet it actually was possible to discover things you didn’t know.   We stood there and hitched as cars drove past us, then started walking as the light faded.  Before ten minutes had passed a huge army truck stopped just in front of us, full of soldiers.  The Hungarian Red Army.  Now bloody what.  We’d been intrepid to plan the trip and then we’d actually got there, had no idea what to expect.  Hungarian words v English words.  Soldiers.  Sixth formers.  There was only one word that all of us, me Coops and the soldiers all knew.  “Camping”.   Nods.  They gave us seats in the back of the truck with them and drove us to the campsite.  I think we managed to share the simple fact that we were English, on holiday, but I’m not sure they understood the holiday bit.   When we pulled into the darkened campsite, they took our rucksacks from us, unpacked the tent and proceeded with military efficiency to erect it there and then, shook our hands and jumped back in the truck, headlights disappearing into the night.  We looked at our little tent and thought: “Bloody communists“.

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No of course we didn’t.   We thought “Welcome to Communist Eastern Europe”   The next day, with a Yugoslav liquor hangover, we hitched to Lake Balaton and met some East German girls in the youth hostel.   Detente.  Stayed a few days in that beautiful part of Europe, and thence to Budapest where our A-levels results were going to be posted in a few days time.

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We ate in restaurants with live bands playing Hungarian folk music, using an instrument I’d never seen before called a cymbalom which is like a stringed vibraphone-type thing, or perhaps a piano on it’s side played with padded sticks;  alongside violins, cellos, bagpipes.  Then a huge display on weaponry along the Danube one day, with red flags alongside every Hungarian red white & green flag – gunboats, a flotilla bristling with armaments.   A local told us that the red flag was Russian.   Our A-level results were collected on time the next day, poste restante Budapest – we both got what we wanted, which means I got an A in Geography and two Bs in English and Economics.  I’d be going to LSE in a year’s time, after taking a break from education for a while.   A few days later we took the train to Vienna and separated, I was heading for La Chaux De Fonds in Switzerland, which is another tale, and Martin was going to Germany.   When I eventually got “home” which was nowhere really, but anywhere in East Sussex in actual fact, The Stylistics were number 1.

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The Stylistics were one of my favourite bands in those days – long before I decided that I liked soul music, they just had a string of amazing singles between 1972 and 1975.  The voice of Russell Thompkins Jr is a thing of great sweetness joy and beauty and twice now I’ve had tickets for a live show and been unable to make it on the night.  Such are the vagaries of self-employment.  They are a Philly soul band, a symphonic soul band, initially under the wing of Thom Bell at Avco Records who produced all of their hits up to 1974, when Van McCoy took the reigns and gave his signature sound to Can’t Give You Anything.  The opening trumpet glissando and melody with that twinkling piano arpeggio behind it is breathtaking every time I hear it.   And the voice!   The Stylistics are still playing together, still performing.  Catch them when you can, these old soul guys really know how to put on a show.  But be warned – Russell Thompkins Jr. is singing with The New Stylistics which he formed in 2004.

Meanwhile, Hungary is now in the EU and not such an exotic destination as it was in 1975.  It was always a more independent country than a lot of the Eastern Bloc, but now it has swung violently to the right, has a popular fascist party (Jobbik), and anti-Roma feeling is running high.   There’s also a strong organised crime element to Budapest, as there is with Sofia and to a lesser extent Bucharest, all places where I’ve worked on films.  The border where we crossed is now open all day.   And  Ljubljana is now the capital of new country (old country) Slovenia since the break-up of Yugoslavia, and Zagreb the capital of Croatia.  Am I mourning the old communist bloc then ?  Well what do I know ?  Hungary 1975 was very warm and friendly.  You have to watch yourself these days.

I think Martin Cooper and I saw each other once, maybe twice more after that.  Ever.  Martin got married and I wrote to him (at Durham University) or maybe he settled in the North-East, anyway I got his wife’s name wrong, called her Bridget, his sister’s name, he got annoyed and we haven’t spoken since.    Such are the chapters of life.   We come together, we separate. Now read on dot dot dot…

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My Pop Life #51 : Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

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Tom Hark   –  Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

…your team is shit

I don’t know why

but after the match

you’re going to die…

That’s me singing nonsense aged too old in 1980-something in the North Stand of the Goldstone Ground – to the tune of Tom Hark.  After 1980 when The Piranhas did their cover of this much-covered song.   It is still sung today at football grounds around the nation, with differing violent and scatalogical lyrics depending on the team being supported.   I really enjoyed singing violent songs at football when I was a teenager.  “You’re going home in a fucking ambulance” followed by a rhythmical clapping pattern, thousands of hands in unison.   It was funny.   I know it doesn’t sound funny but it was.   We sang to Bread Of Heaven (“referee, referee – you’re not fit to wipe my arse” which I misheard, rather brilliantly, as “you’re the features of my arse“!), we sang to Land Of Hope and Glory (“we hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Liverpool too, we hate Westham United but Brighton we love you… ALL TOGETHER NOW…”) and we sang to The Quartermaster’s Song (“he shot, he scored, it must be Peter Ward, Peter Ward ! Peter Ward…”).  And many many more.   Football fans like to sing.  They like to change the words of popular songs to fit around their team, the current squad of players.  I know some musicians whose sole aim and ambition is to write a song which gets sung at football matches.   The Pet Shop Boys spring to mind as a recent addition – Go West has many different versions but the no-diocese “You’re shit and you know you are” is my personal favourite ;  the existentially acerbic wit of “you know you are” being the most humiliating insult in the lexicon.

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The Piranhas were a Brighton punk band led by Bob Grover who added lyrics to the tune of Tom Hark, and had a top 10 hit with it in 1980.  Previous covers were by Millie Smalls (1964) Georgie Fame (1964) Mickey Finn (1964) and the Ted Heath Band (1958).  The first three of these are all, like the Piranhas version, ska, or bluebeat, which is to say 1960s Jamaican music which became popular in the UK and elsewhere.   Which is odd because the original is from Johannesburg in South Africa.  It’s a nice story…

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Jack Lerole would play the pennywhistle or kwela on the streets of Jo’burg and Alexandria township for money with his fellow musicians David Ramosa, Zeph Nkabinde and his brother Elias Lerole in the 1950s.  They would carry hatchets or tomahawks with them to deter thieves and gangs.     One day, talent scout and producer Rupert Bopape heard them and invited them to record at EMI South Africa’s newly-formed black division.   The resulting tune was called “Tom Hark”  which may have been a mis-hearing of Tomahawk, or may have been changed to make the song less violently-flavoured.   It struck gold – the single was a huge international hit, and the success of Tom Hark in the UK charts (where it reached number 2 in 1958), and the orchestration by Ted Heath in the US (see below) hugely boosted the popularity of kwela music in South Africa itself, leaving behind many of the street urchin associations that pennywhistle had picked up (but which perhaps returned when we sang it on the terraces?).

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Pennywhistle music (or ‘jive flute’) was considered very lower class in the earlier part of the century, being the favourite employ of street gangs and urchins who would masquerade as buskers.  After it became “kwela” music it emerged as a genuine home-grown South African music, perhaps echoing the reed flutes of the Tswana and others.   The term kwela is also interesting.    In Zulu it means “climb on, get up” and is often shouted in these types of songs, encouraging people to join in.   However, on the record itself, listen: it  begins with a short scene (spoken in flytaal the Afrikaans-based urban African dialect) of men playing dice on the street, then packing up the gambling and pulling out the penny whistles as one shouts ‘dar kom die khwela khwela‘ – or the police van.  Who knows?  It certainly became kwela after this single was released.

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Either way it had been the dominant musical style of the townships throughout the 1950s and made huge stars of Spokes Mashiyane, Aaron Lerole, and Jack Lerole himself, forming a local style that could compete commercially with imported music.   It wouldn’t last too much longer though – by the early 1960s the saxophone had replaced the pennywhistle and the bands had electrified their guitars and added a bass guitar creating a brand new sound that would dominate the airwaves for over 40 years – Township Jive or”mbaqanga“.    But that’s for another post.    This was a commercial fact of life, to pick up the saxophone in order to keep making money from music, but many of the kwela players claimed to prefer playing the penny whistle because as Aaron Lerole noted later “I could master it. I could make it talk any sound I wanted“.  The saxophone is more rigid.

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Rupert Bopape in 1958

The record is credited to “R. Bopape” who took all of the publishing.  Elias and Jack never received a penny beyond that which they made for the day’s recording.  Jack Lerole went on to become one of the first “groaners” affecting an extremely deep voice like township star Mahlathini, but would die of throat cancer in Soweto in 2003.  Rupert Bopape would go on become a hugely influential Berry-Gordy-esque figure in the South African music scene, running Gallo records and creating many many hit acts, including The Mahotella Queens and the Funk Brothers of the South African scene, The Makgona Tsohle Band.   I came across all this music in 1985 via one LP released in the UK on Earthworks called The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, featuring both of the above-named bands.   It was a doorway into a thrilling new collection of sounds.

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As for Tom Hark, it reappeared into my football life – c’mon, it had never gone away only the words had changed – when my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion became homeless in 1997, and the only viable site for a new stadium in Brighton was Falmer, opposite Sussex University.   We’d been playing at temporary athletics stadium at Withdean for years when the Falmer campaign really kicked in.   John Prescott was the target as his department would ultimately be the judge and jury, and so a long imaginative campaign by Albion fans commenced.  My own small part in it was to play the saxophone on a new version of Tom Hark called We Want Falmer with Attila The Stockbroker and The Fish Brothers, Too Many Crooks and me – a Brighton supergroup called Seagulls Ska.

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Recorded in Sayers Common one afternoon and rush-released in January 2005 with an instrumental version of our anthem “Sussex By The Sea” on the B-side, the mass-purchase of this single by Albion fans pushed the campaign song to number 17 on the national charts, and Number 1 on the independent charts.  Not bad.  Falmer Stadium eventually opened for business in July 2011.