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

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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

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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 #132 : Imagine – John Lennon

Imagine   –    John Lennon

..I wonder if you can..

In the summer of 1971, after nine achingly long months apart, my family was finally offered a new-build Council House on the edge of Hailsham, an East Sussex market town between Eastbourne and Uckfield.    I was 14.  Paul 12.  Andrew was 8.  Mum was mid-30s.  Paul and I shared a bedroom which overlooked fields and faraway trees, and in the distance, Herstmonceux Observatory. Andrew had the smaller single bedroom.  Ralph, Paul…..and Andrew.  That’s just how it was.

Mum’s ‘new’ husband, John Daignault, had not moved back in with us.  We were secretly glad, because he was just an extra person in the house.  He took our Mum’s attention and they usually ended up arguing, shouting and screaming or actually fighting.  It was a drag.  So we were pretty relieved when we found out that they’d fought again, and Mum had no intention of inviting him to stay in the new house.  But then she changed her mind and one day, there he was.  Short, dark-haired, slightly nervous.  He was always nice to us, but he was only about ten years older than me and I was decidedly cool with him.  I was a twatty teenage boy who was primarily concerned with increasingly important decisions about grooviness, my own burgeoning sex life and the expanding musical landscape, not whether my mum’s 2nd husband was worthy of consideration.  He was just there.  He tried though.  Back in the village his record collection had included The White Album, The Beatles double-LP from 1968 which was a compendium of musical styles and grooves, from country to heavy rock, weird experimentia to 1930s pop.  JD, as we called him, had a few cool points logged.

Lennon, Ono & Grapefruit at Cannes, May 1971

Christmas 1971.  Beneath the tree an LP-shaped present for me.  Intrigued, I had to wait for the entire ritual to unfold, starting with the stockings filled with brazil nuts, small plastic toys, a satsuma and other ephemera.  Early morning thrills with mini-pinball tables and so on.  Then breakfast.  Then church – or had we abandoned church by then?  I think we had not.  Dragged there and back through the weather in our best.  Then home.  Then presents ?  No – change your clothes.  THEN Then??   NO A NICE CUP OF TEA FIRST.  Christ in swaddling clothes can we now open our flipping presents ???  AFTER THE QUEEN’S SPEECH.

Summer ’71

This may be a singular and important reason which explains why I am a republican.  The speech was always fluff and was intoned in a flat aristocratic drone.  I had no respect for The Royal Family in 1971 and even less today in 2015.

And finally.  Someone was nominated as Santa – but not before we’d been further delayed by sausage rolls, slices of ham and bread and mustard, things that mum had been ‘slaving over a hot stove for months’ with, anything really to keep us from the fucking presents.  There was a real tree with decorations, tinsel and a fairy on the top, the presents bulged beneath it.  It would end up in the back garden and slowly die as winter progressed toward a long-promised distant spring.

And my LP-shaped present from Mum and John Daignault – a French-Canadian name by the way – was the new John Lennon LP “Imagine”.   I knew it was from him really.  And I was actually bowled over.  I think it’s the most I ever liked him, and it remains one of the best Christmas presents I ever received.  When I was 14, brand-new LPs were a rarity.  They had to be saved for.  Our LP collection – almost all Mum’s – was small, and included Wagner’s Tannhauser (see My Pop Life #94), Oliver! and The Seekers ‘Morningtown Ride”.  The Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats.  Simon and Garfunkel.  Dusty Springfield.  Van Der Graaf Generator.  Jimi Hendrix.  ‘Imagine’ may well have been my 3rd-ever LP.

The Plastic Ono Band in 1969 :

Klaus Voorman,  Alan White,  Yoko Ono,  John Lennon,  Eric Clapton 

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We were a singles family mainly.  Loads of those.  Big pop hits and obscure lower-chart singles.  We had many Beatles singles.  From She Loves You through We Can Work It Out to Let It Be.  And the Beatles had finally split up officially on April 10th 1970 when Paul announced he was leaving the group.  John Lennon had already told the rest of the band that he was finished during the previous September when The Plastic Ono Band played Toronto to an extremely warm reception but the decision was kept under wraps until the spring of 1970.  We’d all been learning to live without the Beatles for over 18 months, and it was hard.  Each and every former Beatle’s release was devoured hungrily, and although almost always not as satisfying a meal as a Beatles song, it was at least like one of the ingredients.  A snack.  They were the four most famous people in the world still.  With Muhammed Ali.  If you made an LP out of the first two years of solo releases it was an AMAZING Beatles LP, with Maybe I’m Amazed, My Sweet Lord, What Is Life, Imagine and Working Class Hero.

1964

We would learn to nourish ourselves with these offerings,  scoured for clues, hints, rifts, chords, harmonies, these musical conversations between former members now not on speaking terms.  The family divorce was played out by my favourite band separating and going their own ways.  Or rather, by Lennon and McCartney being actually divorced.  The great song-writing team was over.

McCartney’s first solo offering, an acoustic collection which gets better with the passing years was entitled “McCartney”and released in 1970. Lennon had already explored a great deal of strange musical territory with Yoko Ono on the LPs Unfinished Music : Two Virgins and Life With The Lions (1968) and The Wedding Album (1969) all released while The Beatles were still together.

Unfinished Music : Two Virgins (1968)

Unfinished Music : Life With The Lions (1968)

The Wedding Album (1969)

All three albums dabbled unselfconsciously in avant-garde experimental sounds, tape-loops, heartbeats and their own voices.  Not many people listened more than once or twice.  It was the late 60s, everything to be abandoned, everything to play for.  Then in 1970 they released 2 Plastic Ono Band LPs – one each.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

 The JohnLennon/Plastic Ono Band LP is a masterpiece pure and simple. It  emanated from the primal scream therapy Lennon and Ono were doing in Los Angeles with Arthur Janov.  Songs about the death of The Beatles and howls of pain on subjects such as his mother and loneliness gave the album a huge depth and impact.  I listened to it at Simon’s house, but not then I don’t think.   A year or two later.  It wasn’t played on the radio or TV at all, apart from on a few late-night shows.

October 1969

But then music just wasn’t available in the same way as it is today.  Most music wasn’t played on the radio.  There was no internet, tapes, CDs, mp3s.  You’d have to be round someone’s house to hear it.  Vinyl.  So the gaps were filled – as always – by the singles.  Lennon’s first was an anguished snarl of pain about heroin addiction, Cold Turkey, which was rejected as a Beatles song and became his first solo single on the Beatles own record label Apple in October 1969.  It was followed by Power To The People and Instant Karma, big thumping sounds, exciting anthems with casts of thousands.

Bed Peace, Room 902, Amsterdam Hilton, March 25th – 31st 1969

Since meeting Yoko Ono John had become an extremely active public person, from the mass-media wedding onwards, unafraid of making grandstanding statements and leading the pop culture into new political areas.  It was thrilling.  He was aware of his status and used it change the public discourse. The hippie dream was over, but Vietnam wasn’t.   John Lennon positioned himself clearly on the battlements as a counter-cultural leader.   As a result he was lampooned, vilified and undermined by political and cultural commentators, while becoming a hero to progressives and others.  This high-profile campaign culminated in the Green Card harrassment of Lennon by President Nixon in 1972 who felt that Lennon’s high-profile activism could undermine his re-election campaign, and who issued deportation proceedings against Lennon that were only halted when Nixon himself was snared in the Watergate scandal.  But all that was to come.

In the early part of December 1971 the Christmas single Merry Xmas (War Is Over) was played on the radio – political but less punchy as a production, still anthemic, but totally anti-Vietnam.  Lennon was in his post-pop political pomp. Then came Imagine.

Tittenhurst Park 

The title track was written in John’s house Tittenhurst Park in Ascot, Surrey one morning in early 1971 on a white Steinway piano.  Inspiration was provided by a Yoko Ono poem from the collection called Grapefruit published in 1964.  The poem was called Cloud Piece :

“Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a hole in your garden to put them in.”

Words that were later placed on the LP’s back cover.   That summer at a jam in New York, John asked George Harrison if he wanted to play on the next record and George agreed.

Voorman, Harrison, Lennon, Ono 1971

 Klaus Voorman, John’s old friend from Hamburg who’d designed the Revolver LP cover was drafted in on bass guitar (Paul’s instrument) and Nicky Hopkins from Apple label band Badfinger played piano.  Alan White played drums.  The first few tracks were recorded at Tittenhurst in June 1971 then the whole kit, caboodle and shebang was moved to the Record Plant in New York City in July and other session players joined such as King Curtis on saxophone (see my Pop Life #128).

Lennon & Spector at The Record Plant 1971

Phil Spector co-produced with John and Yoko, adding sugar in the shape of violins, cellos and violas as he had with The Long And Winding Road a year earlier on the Let It Be album, much to McCartney’s irritation.  Lennon had no such problems with Spector’s strings and described the song Imagine on one occasion as a political statement sugar-coated “so that conservatives like Paul would swallow it“.

The McCartneys had issued the LP “Ram” in May 1971, billed as Paul and Linda McCartney.  It is as good a record as Paul ever made.  On the cover he wrestles with a bighorn sheep of some kind.  A postcard inside the Imagine LP had picture of Lennon with a pig.

 There was a song too, called “How Do You Sleep?” with lacerating lyrics :

“the only thing you did was Yesterday,  now you’re gone you’re just Another Day”

referencing Paul’s brilliant single which didn’t appear on the Ram LP.

1971

 This McCartney/Lennon/Ram/Imagine dialectic dominated 1971 and the bad feeling set the stereotype of the two in the public mind forever : Paul the doe-eyed soppy balladeer and John the working class hero rocker.  People took sides, as people do in divorces.  Loyalty is expected from friends and balanced love for both is punished.   The tragedy of separation. The archetypes are of course nonsense – Paul wrote and played Helter Skelter, the rockiest birth-of-metal-moment in the Beatles’catalogue, while Lennon soft side was never far away as evidenced by Love on the Plastic Ono Band LP or Jealous Guy on Imagine.  But England in particular loved Lennon and spurned McCartney.  I loved them both, always did, always will.  I despise the anti-McCartney camp because musically they are simply wrong.  But the anti-Lennon camp would have its day with this very song.

Imagine is ballad of protest.  It is anti-religion, anti-nationalism, anti-war, anti-ownership and anti-greed.  It sees everything that there is to see, and imagines how life could be without them.  Simple, effective, powerful.  It stands head and shoulders above most of John Lennon’s songwriting and remains his best-selling song.  It seems incredible that serious writers could turn on a song like this – but popularity can be a critical curse, and Imagine is a huge song which went around the world and back again.  It could have been written by Paul and people would have found it sappy.  Eventually they did – after a wave of love for the song, the strange taste of the British groover found that, incredibly, Imagine was actually a stupid song, groaning under the weight of its own pretension.  Elvis Costello wrote, in the lyrics to The Other Side Of Summer :

“Was it a millionaire who wrote ‘imagine no possessions’ ?”

Well, actually Declan, yes, it was.  What do you want a millionaire to write?  Imagine more possessions ?  It’s a cheap shot, but one which was encouraged by the pop media in the years following its release and thus the sheer success and popularity of Lennon’s worldwide anthem was curdled, serially disrespected and sneered at by people who should have known better.   The song became sacred, and sacred cows must be transgressed if you are a permanent teenager.  People accuse Lennon of writing teenage lyrics – “5th form dirge” is a common-enough drop of disdain.  But the misunderstanding is deep.  What the song describes will never happen.  The song knows this.  It is a funeral march for a dream.

The rest of the album has its moments too – How is a beautiful delicate melody, It’s So Hard is classic rocker Lennon with echo vocals that would soon become ubiquitous, Oh Yoko a beautiful bouncing pop song, the classic Jealous Guy which dated from the Rishikesh era and nearly ended up on The White Album, the angry diatribes of Give Me Some Truth and How Do You Sleep, the simple beauty of McCartney-esque Oh My Love…  John sounds relaxed and comfortable, playing his music with his friends, in love with Yoko, always present.  It’s not my favourite Lennon LP, but that’s neither here nor there.  It’s among his best moments for sure.   And – It was a landmark moment in my young life, a piece of treasure which I treasured and played incessantly.  We listened to it together downstairs late that Christmas afternoon in 1971, all present approved, then I took it up to the bedroom Dansette record player and heard it a couple more times – this was also the first Christmas when I spent some private time away from the family in my room and it was acceptable.  It felt like John was speaking to me personally as I lay on my bed listening to his voice.

Dick Cavett Show 1971

Paul and John never did sing or write together again.  Although apparently they jammed together in 1974 before further estrangement the tapes from that session have never been released, if indeed there are any.  They had brought out the best in each other for an entire decade and changed the world together.  The inspiration of those years carried them through the even longer time spent apart.   Time heals, and brings closure to even the bitterest divorce camps, but tragically Lennon was gunned down outside his New York apartment on December 8th 1980 before any further healing could occur between the two of them.  His unreleased guide vocals for ‘Real Love‘ and ‘Free As A Bird‘ were backed by Paul, George and Ringo and produced by Jeff Lynne as the last two Beatles’singles in 1995 when ‘Anthology’, the official Beatles bootleg collection finally came out.

The dream is over, what can I say ?  The dream is over, yesterday

John Lennon ‘God’ 1970

My Pop Life #120 : I Love It : Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX

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I Love It   :   Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX

I threw your shit into a bag and shoved it down the stairs

I crashed my car into the bridge – I don’t care !

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Trashy electro bubblegum pop of the very finest kind.  And I’ll tell you why.  It was April 2012 and my sister was turning 40.  One of those moments when you realise that a large number of years have passed by and that young baby who was born in the 1970s was now a grown woman with three kids – which meant I was officially middle-aged.  Age ain’t nothing but a number they say – and they’re right – the inside of my head feels largely the same as when I was 25, but boy some things make you stop short and gulp.

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Rebecca and Alan

Rebecca’s dad-in-love (if not in blood or law) the rather wonderful Alan Sully had booked my band The Brighton Beach Boys to perform at this event, in The Fishermen’s Club in Eastbourne – eastern Eastbourne, somewhere beachside.  I’ll save the band moment for a later post – but just to say that it all went down very well, and remains the only time that my Mum ever saw the Brighton Beach Boys play live.  But for another day.  The band packed up their instruments and gear and drove back to Brighton, leaving Jenny and I to celebrate with the family and friends.  Mum had come with Darren her oldest and dearest friend, both pushing 80, the youngest people there weren’t even 10.  Alan was there with his bowling club mates, Becky’s friends were social workers and teachers.  Mollie, Becky’s oldest daughter was 15, Ellie was 13 and William was 9.  I think.  There were sausages on sticks, cheese sandwiches, a huge cake and lots of drink.  Lots of drink.  We would eventually get the train back to Brighton so no designated driver.

Rebecca was born in Hailsham East Sussex on 29 April 1972 almost exactly two months after her dad John Daignault was kicked out by Mum.  She wouldn’t get to meet him until she was in her 30s.  Born in the midst of a dysfunctional family storm that lasted for at least the first decade of her life, she grew up largely with Mum.  I left home in 1975 at 18 years old, but had spent much of the previous two years in Kingston nr Lewes with the Ryle family.  Paul left home, or was kicked out by Mum, the same year.  Andrew stayed until he too was 18 four years later, then left for college.  So Becky’s prime relationship was always with her Mum.  They bicker, they fight, but they are close – perhaps too close at times.  When Mum met Alan and married him in 1987 her and Rebecca moved into Alan’s house in Polegate by the railway station and Becky called Alan ‘dad’ from then on, and he treated her as his daughter.  Although that marriage also didn’t last a lifetime Alan always kept true to his word and looked after Becky, and this birthday was one of his finest hours.  He proudly paid for everything, and didn’t impose his will on anyone – as far as I know!  I am 15 years older than Bex and have always felt protective of her, although she never appeared to need protection to be honest.  She has ploughed her own furrow through life and is a strong, versatile, funny and warm woman, a great mother and a totally supportive and loving sister.  I love her to bits.  We don’t see that much of each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever really had a seriously cross word.  there’s the shared history of dealing with Mum of course which we all have, but Andrew and I occasionally fight, and Paul and I have had some legendary fights.  Becky and I – never.  Always aligned somehow.

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Proud Mum and her daughters :  Mollie, Rebecca, Ellie

So we drank and ate, admired the cake and drank some more.  The kids were dancing but the adults mooched around the edges.  And then this song dropped.  A churning plumb drop of electronic bass and a thumping 4×4 drumbeat with fierce young ladies chanting in punk pop rant above it.  “I don’t CARE : I LOVE IT”.  The room became instantly transformed into a bouncing melee of mental dancing – young, old, friends, foes, people who didn’t dance and people who absolutely DID.  It was a moment.  Mollie and Ellie were drunk ravers by now and raised the bar on the dance floor.  What was really great was the Everyone loved this song.  Half an hour later Rebecca was in her absolute element and took the party and the dancefloor by the throat.  I have never ever seen her so drunk as that night.  It was glorious – like performance art, she strutted, twirled, span around and around, made shapes and poses, flung her head back, pointed at the sky and ruled.  We howled.  She loved it and so did we.  A memorable event of a night, and yes there are pictures, but to protect the sister who needs no protection I will only post the one below.  There are others…

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can I kick it

I suspect this song has been responsible for quite a few moments, at weddings, birthdays, clubs and raves.  It’s quite simply a stonker.  In a perfect story, my two teenage nieces would have shouted the line

you’re from the seventies but I’m a nineties bitch

at me, their aged uncle Ralph who is indeed from the seventies, but given their ages they scarcely merit the 90s bitch claim.  Ah well they probably sang it at me and their Mum anyway !

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Charlie XCX

Written by Charlotte Aitchison when she was a relatively experienced songwriter at the age of 19 (having started public performance aged 14 encouraged by her parents), she didn’t think I Love It would suit her style at the time (2011).  It was picked up by Swedish producer Patrick Berger who’d previously worked with Robyn on her influential dance record Body Talk Pt 1 and in particular Dancing On My Own.  Swedish producers currently rule the world of pop on both sides of the Atlantic – notably Max Martin (Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry) and Tove Lo who also worked with the Swedish band Icona Pop.  Icona Pop were formed in 2009 by Stockholm teens Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, they hit the jackpot with Charlie XCX‘s “I Love It” on which Charlie was a featured artist. Although the song was released in the US in 2012 it didn’t reach the UK charts until 2013.

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It is cheesy trashy irresistible fist-pumping pop of the finest lowest-common-denominator kind, a call to arms to unburden yourself of any conformist instincts for the duration of its 2 minutes and 37 seconds and thus takes its place in the great canon of perfect pop.  It’s a destroyer of the generation gap.  It’s a fucking classic.   Make sure the DJ plays it at your party.

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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.