My Pop Life #141 : Jig A Jig – East Of Eden

Jig A Jig   –   East Of Eden

1971 – my magical musical year of sentience.  13 going on 14 (baby it’s time to think; better beware, be canny and careful, baby you’re on the brink).  Actually that quote is ’16 going on 17′ and is about a girl and is from The Sound Of Music but hey – that’s the kind of thing I accepted universally up until the age of around 12/13.  Then I started my baby steps of discernment.  It is a precious age, because we are still unformed and big changes are afoot.  Baby you’re on the brink.  And Wouldn’t It Be Nice if never was heard a discouraging word ?  But life is not like that.  The übersensitivity of the teen can lead to major mistakes in taste, music, fashion, hairstyles, choice of friends and piercings, drugs, drinks.  Maybe some of these are already pre-destined, but my point is that a missed cue, dropped word, or sniffy remark goes a long way when you’re thirteen.

East of Eden’s 1970 LP – Snafu

We all know that we enjoy the lessons when we like the teachers.  The subject is a very distant 2nd.  Thus in 1971, I loved English, History, Geography and Art, liked French, Chemistry, Biology, PE and Maths.  I did not like Physics or Music.

I’ll repeat that : I did not like Music.  What a missed opportunity…

Mr Richards taught music to unenthusiastic oiks in the 3rd form of Lewes Priory Middle School and he may have even been my form teacher.  I was in 3R I think.  He was a florid-faced balding man who wore tweedy jackets and had a distant distracted manner.  It was much much later that I realised (or was informed by John Hawkins who did Music A-level) that he was an alcoholic.  The Latin teacher Dai Jones was also a drinker, and was drunk pretty much 100% of the time, but in his case it was bleeding obvious.  Richards kept his sinful excess under manners. Anyway his class was all minims and breves, crotchets and quavers, sharps and flats.  There was no joy in this class.  Until he asked us to bring in a piece of music for the class to hear !  WOW.  This unlikely spasm of musical democracy was true excitement.  I had a number of choices – all singles which I’d bought recently with my pocket money, all discerning 13-year-old choices.

Let’s see.

John Kongos – He’s Gonna Step On You Again,  magnificent chaos

Dave & Ansel Collins – Double Barrel, a recent Number One (!)  immense

George Harrison – My Sweet Lord  eternal and glowing

R. Dean Taylor – Indiana Wants Me.    this is the police. give yourself up!

Mum had also bought singles, Mum always bought singles:

The Kinks –  Apeman – was that a faux-west-indian accent?  I didn’t notice

Elton John –  Your Song – absolute stone-cold classic. We knew it even then.

Melanie – Look What They Done To My Song Ma – honky tonk angel americana

I think they’re all better than East Of Eden’s Jig-A-Jig which is the 45rpm single on Deram Records that I took into school.  But maybe that’s unfair.  It’s a legitimate snapshot of my 13 and three-quarter-year-old musical taste in spring 1971.  Perhaps I instinctively knew that Richards would look down his bulbous nose and spit venom on any actual pop music.  Jig-A-Jig I knew had elements of Irish music, albeit rocked up.  I didn’t know it then – and neither did he clearly – but the song is composed of three traditional reels glued together in the fairly normal way of Celtic music, namely “The Ashplant Reel“, “Drowsy Maggie” and “Jenny’s Chicken“.  All well-known to traditional Irish musicians, and recorded many times over by different groups and players, but never troubling the UK Pop Charts before this moment, as far as I knew.

East Of Eden were a progressive jazz-rock outfit who had emerged from the post-hippy era along with bands like Colosseum, The Nice, Soft Machine and Caravan and they had appeared at the First Paris Music Festival alongside all of those bands with Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Yes and Frank Zappa in 1969.

Subsequently signed to Deram Records they released the LP Snafu in 1970, then the single Jig-A Jig.  It wouldn’t chart in the UK until the following year, and eventually reached number 7.  There was nothing like it around at the time, and certainly hasn’t been since I would venture. Certainly it is nothing like the rest of their output which is experimental prog fusion.  The band’s image wavered in that between-era 1971 way with cashmere kaftans, tank tops, beards and fedoras, caught between the hippy dream, the prog indulgence and the glam pop escape.  They almost fitted into a fashion box with McGuinness Flint, Atomic Rooster, Curved Air and The Moody Blues.  1971 would deliver further riches from unexpected sources.

Jig A Jig opens with the fiddle playing of Dave Arbus.   But soon it becomes a rock song with the electric guitar joining the violin and drums.  Within 30 seconds the freakout has begun and soon we are at a free festival at dawn with the sun rising through the mist over the trees, hundreds of swaying raggle taggle gypsies and nodding heads, bonkers percussion, heavy rock and guitar solos joining the merry fiddler as he dances us into a frenzy.  Before we go completely bananas on bad acid we get the hoe-down finish with hand-claps and we’re out.

Mr Richards hated it.  He sneered as the orange and white Deram logo span on the turntable.  He muttered something unintelligible and ungenerous as he handed the 7-inch single back to me.  I’ve erased the quote.  Music lessons and I were finished.  I didn’t even do it at O-Level.

Listening to it now I think it’s quite mental.  Bold, true to its time, and an unlikely chart hit to be sure.  But a snapshot of the charts in Spring 71 will show a huge variety of music, from Motown to glam, rock to classical mash-ups, ballads and one-man bands, early funk, solo Beatles, bubblegum, ska and hippy pop.

Music For Pleasure Spring 1971

 In those days session musicians would get a gig covering recent chart hits which would then be compiled as Music For Pleasure compilations – rather like That’s What I Call Music except they weren’t the originals.  Famously Reg Dwight played on a few of these LPs in the 1960s before he became Elton John.   So some session player had to recapture the fiddle playing on this track.

East Of Eden still exist in some form and make the occasional record.  The violin player Dave Arbus would go on to play with The Who on the opening track of their great album Who’s Next known as Teenage Wasteland, credited as ‘Baba O’Riley’.  Later he would be a founder member of Fiddler’s Dram, but left before their unusual chart hit Day Trip To Bangor in 1979. He then left music and became a cabinet maker, now he is a painter and lives in Eastern Long Island.

I have never learned to read music “off the page” in particular I have difficulty with rhythm – 4/4 is easy, 3/4 is waltz time, but 7/8 or 2/4 get me confused, as do dots after crotchets.  It’s just maths but the block is still there.  As a result I play by ear.  I hear it, I play it.  Nevertheless, when performing with The Brighton Beach Boys I would always be handed a chart by Stephen Wrigley to read on the alto sax, and it was a useful aide memoir, and often in a live situation I would find myself reading along.  Of course I already know the music so it is not the same as playing something from scratch.  Particularly difficult to play in our repertoire is the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Roy Wood and Wizzard.  The brass part is unforgiving and relentless, and I found that I couldn’t play it from memory and actually needed the sheet music to guide me through the mountain ranges of that incredible song.

If I’d become a professional musician I would of course have gone back to school or evening class and learned the whole thing properly.   Or would I ??

The single :

and um, Actually a rather incredible and disturbing TOTP play-out clip from 1971 :

My Pop Life #133 : Sun King – The Beatles

Sun King   – The Beatles

Questo obrigado tanto mucho cake and eat it carousel

After 18 long and eventful months after being asked by John Lennon to imagine there’s no heaven I dropped my first acid trip.  It was the beginning of summer 1973.   School had almost broken up and the fifth form was abuzz with the plans.  We’d all completed our O Level examinations at Lewes Priory and there was a sense of freedom in the air.  Most of us would stay on for the sixth form, not all.    Before the summer holidays started, Tat’s girlfriend, the mysterious gypsy-eyed Elvira, invited what felt like the entire school to her house in Ashdown Forest for a midsummer night’s dream.  We travelled by bus then walked.  It was balmy and dry.  We were stoned and happy.   I travelled with Simon Korner I think.  Also present were Conrad Ryle, Pete Smurthwaite, Patrick Freyne, Chris Clarke, Martin Elkins, John Foreman, Adrian Birch, Andy Holmes and some older kids.  We lay around on the vast lawn of Elvira’s parents’ house.  Presumably they were away, but they may not have been.  A large set of speakers on the terrace blasted out The Beatles’ final album Abbey Road.  It was everyone’s favourite LP.  It seemed like an impossible piece of confectionary that went on forever and had the most satisfying last piece.  It still feels like that to me.  It has been varnished by time into a shiny antique pop marvel, but at the age of sixteen it was just 4 years old, and already a classic, an album for the ages. It was perfectly natural to be selected to play as the sun went down over a raggle-taggle gang of groovy student wannabees smoking dope and nodding wisely at each other’s amusing observations.  It was uncontroversial and universally admired by the cognoscenti.

The Beatles : Abbey Road

Elvira and Tat were like the alternative hippy royal couple that summer.  They both had curtains of long hair, flared jeans and embroidered tops.  They should have been on an album cover.  Elvira wore dark kohl eye make-up and flowing beaded skirts and she looked at everyone with witchy suspicion and a twinkle.  Her party was guaranteed to be a hit.  Tat – or Andrew Taylor – played guitar in the band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80) and wrote songs, had a sweet easy-going nature, a dry and pleasantly absurdist sense of humour, laughed easily and was slow to anger.  He’d become a closer friend of mine when he introduced me to his favourite band Gentle Giant, (for another post naturally).   He lived with his parents on South Street in Lewes, under the chalk drop of The Cliffe and the Golf Course which would be the location for our second acid trip.  Elvira was mysterious to me yet friendly, I can’t remember having a conversation much longer than a minute with her.  Who were her parents?   We didn’t talk to each other’s girlfriends much to be honest.  She was Tat’s girl.

There must have been food at the party but I can’t remember it.  Perhaps a barbecue.  The sun was starting to set.  We drank cider and lager.  Wine. Then the acid was handed out.  Tiny black microdots of  LSD.  We all took one and swallowed.  “It will last twelve hours” someone said.   Perhaps Space Oddity was playing…Memory Of A Free Festival

“the sun machine is going down and we’re gonna have a party…”

Before the light disappeared completely we all walked into the forest.  About a 20-minute walk ?  I do remember that Patrick still hadn’t arrived and we wondered how he would find us.   He did.  We found a small clearing, a small stream, a few rocks amid the trees and made a base camp.  Something weird was happening.  I felt nervous.  I looked around.  Someone winked.   Someone laughed.  It echoed with a ghoulish chuckle.   Shit – what?    A host of golden daffodils were flowering inside my stomach up through my veins through my fingertips, an unmistakeable rush of gold surged through my nerves, my skin, my eyes, like a huge chord with an impossibly large number of notes swelling lifting quivering getting louder and louder like a motorbike coming straight towards me.  Rather like falling off the top of a fairground ride with no brakes or a bunjee jump, except going upwards.  Can be fun.

here comes the sun king?

It’s entirely possible that not everyone was tripping, that we had a guide vocal, but I can’t remember who it was, even if I knew at the time.  Later on, in subsequent acid adventures we always used to have a guide on hand to hold our hand in case things went weird.  When things went weird.

because,

well,

they always did.

But not this time.  This being my first trip I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted hallucinations mainly.   I remember laying down on the rock in the stream to get a stereo effect of running water.  I remember looking at the trees dancing at dawn for about an hour, their branches wavering together in choreographed vibrations.  I remember staring at my hand for about an hour.  My eyes couldn’t focus properly for hours.

everybody’s laughing

       I remember laughing a lot with Conrad, Pete, John, Simon and Patrick.

everybody’s happy

It felt safe.   We smoked and drank.

Here comes the Sun King

There was undoubtedly speed in the acid which kept us keen.

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazón

It wasn’t cold, and we had sleeping bags and coats.   I can’t remember any music, amazingly.

Mundo papparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol

Just the wind in the trees, the stream, the birds, the snatches of conversation.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

 It didn’t change my life.  But I would do it again, and I did.

Sun King, like most of Abbey Road, is inspired by the music of the late 60s.  The Beatles had their ears open for the people around them, and this song is inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross with its heavy dreamy guitars.  Lennon put the chords together and he and McCartney added the nonsense lyrics at the end.  It is the second song on the medley which completes side 2 of the band’s last LP.  The story goes that Paul McCartney, keen to leave the legacy on a high, spent hours in Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin polishing and reworking the “Huge Medley”as it was known on the tapes and later bootlegs.  But the studio out-takes, some of which are available on Youtube, show a band working together to learn each other’s songs, as they had been doing for years. Both versions are probably true.  The Huge Medley,  almost all ‘Paul songs’, opens with You Never Give Me Your Money the song about the break-up of the band, and what Ian MacDonald (in the magisterial Revolution In The Head) called “the beginning of McCartney’s solo career”. It contains the immortal harmony and lyric

Oh that magic feeling : nowhere to go

and the song finishes with a spiralling guitar lift into

one sweet dream

and the three chords:   C   G/B   A  which will return at the end of the Huge Medley for the finale, but this time we have a whispered

one two three four five six seven, all good children go to heaven

and a bluesy guitar solo fades slowly into the faint sounds of an organ and bells, gongs and cicadas, a lush exotic other-worldly sound which ushers in the lazy guitar shape inspired by Peter Green and Albatross and played by George Harrison.  Sun King is a minor John Lennon song which can’t be imagined outside of the context of the Huge Medley, but which is quite magical inside it, especially the G 11th chord which bridges the E major section and the C major section – very lush, very Beach Boys.

The song ends abruptly and punches into Mean Mr Mustard, another Lennon snippet which wouldn’t stand on its own as a single or album track, but which gives the Huge Medley its charm and delight and keeps us interested and entertained.

When The Brighton Beach Boys chose to perform Abbey Road live at the Brighton Festival in 2011, Sun King presented a variety of tricky problems and we spent a fair amount of time on the 2 minutes and 26 seconds of this song, not least the vocal harmonies, particularly that G 11th chord on 52 seconds.  I actually bought a small gong which played a shimmering E from the percussion shop Adaptatrap on Trafalgar Street where I used to get the kazoos for Lovely Rita and bought the tambourine for Polythene Pam.  Good shop.  Since The Beatles are largely unrepresented in their original form on youtube I will post a version of  by the Fab Faux who are the best Beatles tribute band out there I believe, having not just the accurate notes and tempos but the feel too.  Tribute bands, so low in status, will be the classical music players of late-20th century pop in the future.  We always played in black suits for that reason.

It wasn’t the most difficult song on the album, but it was close.  But for me it’s less about the song, more about the feeling and the memory.  I can’t remember how we got home from Ashdown Forest that midsummer night’s morning, but Andy Holmes remembers a group singalong of Here Comes The Sun at 5am.   I suspect I caught a bus in Uckfield and ended up in Kingston with Conrad Ryle and his family.  Buzzing faintly, getting shivery electric echoes of the vision interference.  Strange taste in my mouth.  Slept all day Sunday.   Was this the same Uckfield bus trip that Simon Korner and Patrick Freyne took, or were they on the bus in front ?  They were threatened by a man with a large head, a kind of combine harvester of a neanderthal, who, taking exception to their stoned and strung out giggling, told them that: “If you don’t shut up, You’re Gonna Die.  BY ME.

The following acid trips wouldn’t be quite so simple.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

*lyrics websites hilariously have this as “Que Canite” rather than “cake and eat it”…

My Pop Life #110 : Dreams – Joe Walsh

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Dreams   –   Joe Walsh

…off to waste the day plunging headlong…

For some reason it always feels indulgent to write about Lewes Priory school 1970 -75  and my teenage musical passions.  See for example My Pop Life #78 – a eulogy to Blue Öyster Cult.   I’m not embarrassed about any of the music I listened to then – or since – and I deride the notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to music, as if there is a canon of excellence that we must worship publicly and then privately enjoy our own rather suspect taste.  The Alan Partridge joke about liking Abba and Wings – because they’re “not cool”.   In this scenario the supposedly “cool” bands are usually skinny white guys playing atonal miserablism.  My taste has widened considerably since 1973 but my enthusiasm for The Velvet Underground (and those they influenced) still hovers around ‘lukewarm’.

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But this song is still an unalloyed joy for me.  The Joe Walsh LP  “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was released in america on my birthday, June 18th 1973, and three months later in England.  I have no idea from whence it came among my friends, perhaps the opening track Rocky Mountain Way caught somebody’s ear, or perhaps Andy Holmes just went ahead and bought it after sitting on a beanbag with headphones on in Virgin Records at Brighton Clocktower.  Or perhaps I did – but where I got the idea who knows ?  I don’t remember Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh’s most famous song) being played on the radio.  Anyway – there is was, this amusingly-titled LP which acknowledged our new favourite past-time (getting stoned) with a brightly-coloured cover design and a selection of rather brilliant songs.  I associate this whole LP with happiness.  Sitting somewhere rolling a joint on the LP cover, glueing rizlas together, burning hashish  (invariably – grass was very rare in 1973) into little brown worms and sprinkling them evenly among the Golden Virgina, Old Holborn or Players Number Six cigarette broken down.  The music washing over us as we pass the joint among us, people nodding, agreeing on stuff, giggling, being witty and honest.  The best kind of getting high, when there’s simply nothing else to worry about.

Featured imageThere’s a section in the middle :  “she’s easy on my mind…she thinks my jokes are funny, makes me feel fine..” which reminds me of Miriam Ryle whom I started going out with halfway through the lower sixth.  My first love.  She wore Diorella and flower-print dresses.   I think that’s a great lyric, the idea of a girl being “easy on your mind”.   But the lyric also reminds me of my wife now, Jenny, who still laughs at my jokes.  I try to make her laugh every day, and if we’re not having a punch-up I succeed.  Makes me feel fine.

The song is a beautiful homage to being relaxed in a way that seems impossible today.  Having nothing to do.  Sitting on the grass somewhere.  Going for a walk.  Going for a drive, nowhere in particular.  The music has a marvellous lazy laid-back feel, minimal instrumentally but hugely effective and evocative of an endless summer’s day when time seems to stop and allow you to step off for a while.  Where did those days go?

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Joe Walsh’s band at this point were called Barnstorm – they’d done one album previous to this which is also brilliant, called “Barnstorm” and also produced by the great Bill Szymczyk.  How do you pronounce that? Kenny Passarelli played bass. Rocke Grace joined on keys. But Joe Vitale on drums, synths and flute was a particularly important collaborator for Walsh, and wrote and co-wrote some of these songs.  His influence is very musical, as opposed to the rocky flavours of some of the rest of the LP – but to be fair, Joe Walsh has a huge musical palette and always has.   He emerged from various east-coast bands to join The James Gang in 1968, recording three studio LPs with them including the tracks Funk#49, Walk Away, Collage and Ashes The Rain & I.   All tremendous.   After The Smoker You Drink LP, Walsh was asked to join The Eagles and they proceeded to record Hotel California, Walsh sharing guitar theatrics on that song with Don Felder.  I saw this line-up live in 1976 at Wembley Arena, thrilled to bits to be witnessing one of my teen idols live.  They played Rocky Mountain Way and possibly one more (Time Out?) but it was an Eagles concert and so they remain the only two songs I’ve ever seen Joe play of his own.

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However I just bought two tickets to see him at The Beacon Theatre New York City on October 1st 2015.  Unbelievably he is re-united with Joe Vitale for this show. This is a big deal.

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Joe is a hugely likeable person by all accounts – he visits the same AA group in Hollywood as one of my friends – and his other big hit “Life’s Been Good” is testament to his sense of humour about money, fame and success.  As a rock guitarist I don’t think he’s ever been bettered with the sole exception of Jimi Hendrix but like Jimi he also has a gentle lyrical side and a beautiful delicate touch, none more so than on this song, a wistful evocation of plunging headlong into a relaxed endless day where you will do absolutely nothing.  Taking the time for dreams…  

My Pop Life #101 : Tired Of Being Alone – Al Green

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This painting is called ‘Lichtenstein in the Sky With Diamonds’

and it is by Andrew McAttee

with kind permission

*

Tired Of Being Alone   –   Al Green

…tired of on my own…

1971.  The year of sentience.  The year of awakening.  When every sweet note, every bass line, every guitar lick, every vocal harmony, every crunchy cymbal and every sweeping organ chord-change melted into my ear for all eternity.   Burned, forged onto my very soul.  Every time I would hear these songs as I grew older, they would leap out of the speakers and caress my heart.   Sometimes I would remember the moment, the feeling, the teenage yearning, but often I would just be inside the music.   I know every small hesitation of these songs because I was fully available to them as they appeared in 1971.  They are magic incarnate and will always be so.  They are inside me.

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I was at middle school, Lewes Priory.   Mountfield Road.   I distinctly remember the Chapel  – it was actually a church in between Middle and Upper School.  With an organ, pews, altar, the works.   It was used for music and worship.   I didn’t like “music” at school because Mr Richards had metaphorically pissed all over the record I brought into his lesson one day – and that’s for another post I think.   It was also 1971 though.   I liked pop radio and Top Of The Pops.   It’s difficult to overstate the huge impression TOTP made on all of our lives, accompanied by the possibly more important Pick Of The Pops chart rundown from 5 to 7pm every Sunday evening, a non-religious gathering of the family around the radio to hear Alan Freeman tell us whether our favourites had gone up or down the charts.   Critical, basic, essential moments.

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The first time I saw Al Green on Top Of The Pops he was singing Tired Of Being Alone.  Just him, no band.  It was completely astonishing.  He was wearing some stretch top and had a small afro haircut.   And he sang this song as if his entire life depended upon it.   I didn’t know it at the time, but I would now mark this moment as my introduction to soul music.   Yes I’d seen The Temptations,  Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Diana Ross & The Supremes on the TV, but I can’t remember Otis Redding at all, or Jackie Wilson, or Sam Cooke, or James Brown.   I remember them on the radio – but not TV.  Having seen them since then I’m pretty sure I would have remembered them ?

Why did it have this effect on me ?  Well, I think the vast percentage of the reason must reside inside Al Green himself.   As a performer he really is second to none, and always has been.  This cannot and will not be the only Al Green post I write because I simply have too many stories spread over almost all of my life in relation to Al Green – The Reverend Al Green as he became known.  I have seen him live at least ten times, visited his church in Memphis and own all of his LPs.   I followed him through the gospel phase and then back to pop again.  He is technically a supreme singer. But the technique is the least of it.   His voice is powerful and delicate, male and female, hugely expressive, a thing of rare beauty and subtlety.   A gift.   All of which is present on this first single.  Watching him sing it – (live ?) – on TOTP was like a revelation, like a vision of something.

After one minute 44 seconds we’ve had the song, two choruses with their syncopated horn stabs, and then he starts to break it down, the music starts to vamp, Al starts to improvise, to express himself, to wonder…   I don’t think I’d ever seen that in a pop performance before, that whole section where he folds his arms and goes mmmmmm, it was simply remarkable.    It was an education.   It was soul music.

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The other thing that struck me from that seminal TOTP moment was how delicate he looked – small, wiry, dynamic, he reminded me of Desmond Dekker both physically and how he moved his mouth around the words as if they were alive.   Which they were.

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And maybe the song just expresses a huge simple human truth.  Aren’t we all tired of being alone ?  Maybe parents surrounded by children dream of being alone, but what for ?  Peace and quiet is over-rated.  I’ve been sitting here in Prague now for two months working on Legends, and it is simply the most unsocial group of people I have ever worked with, all for different reasons, some have their families here, Sean Bean stays in mainly, the others have their own runnings.   It’s just how it goes sometimes in the wacky world of showbiz.   I cherish time alone, and read a lot, write this, and so on and so forth, but underneath all that, yes, I am tired of being alone.   Luckily Jenny is coming out in two weeks.   And Paul after that sometime.    I’m quite a social animal au fin du jour.   Which is why I have ended up hanging out with The Musketeers – here for seven months on series three for the BBC – and we all meet in the James Joyce pub, two blocks away from the InterContinental, if we want some social time.  Guinness on tap.   Food.   Convivial.   Bit of Al Green on the jukebox.

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When this song was released in August 1971 I already knew what loneliness was all about.  As I wrote in My Pop Life 84 All Along The Watchtower and My Pop Life #56Morning Has Broken, we had been split up, separated as a family for nine long months while we waited for someone, somewhere to house us.   Eventually a council house on a new-build estate in Hailsham was offered and we moved in together in the late spring of 1971.   Our lives together in Hailsham were, in my memory, almost utter turmoil, with frequent visits from doctors, a cupboard full of pills for depression and Paul and I becoming more ungovernable as we hit puberty and grew physically larger, causing the weapons used to beat us with to get larger in response.  But of course there were moments of repose, of laughter, of peace, of conviviality too.  I’ve blotted most of this section of my life out.  My memories are very very selective.  But I clearly remember seeing Al Green on Top Of The Pops one Thursday evening.  And that is a good thing.

Check out his microphone technique on this wonderful archive footage from 1972:

the original single, with backing vocals :

My Pop Life#85 : The Undercover Man – Van Der Graaf Generator

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The Undercover Man   –   Van Der Graaf Generator

here…at the glass…all the usual problems…all the habitual farce..

you ask..in uncertain voice..what you should do..as if there were a choice..

..but to carry on..miming the song..

..and hope that it all works out right

Didn’t need to look up the lyrics for this song.   Burned into my brain.   The man who wrote them, Peter Hammill, he of the extraordinary angelic devil’s voice, was a constant companion of mine through the 1970s.  I bought H to He (Who Am The Only One) from Simon Korner in 1971 (?) Van Der Graaf’s second LP, quite possibly my first album that was all mine;  terribly weird and prog, heavy and jazzy, literate and dense.   I loved it.   I still do.  I first heard this track from their 5th album on the John Peel show late one night in my bedroom in Hailsham.  Van Der Graaf Generator were so underground and unloved at school (Lewes Priory) that I was astonished to hear their name and their music on the actual radio.  The song is from an album called Godbluff.   This and the follow-up Still Life are my favourite musical moments from VDGG.   There is something about the intensity of Hammill’s lyrics and his uncompromising vocal delivery, his fury and his passion, his feeling and his focus that drilled through the teenage me, through all the layers of coping and pretence and bearing up, all the capability that I summoned at each maternal nervous breakdown, each visit to the phone box to call the doctor and complain about the latest bottle of pills prescribed to Mum, each battle in the kitchen over food, washing up, coal, cats, milk bills, noise, TV channels or haircuts.  The music exposed my innermost panic.  It cut through the pop fluff and the melodic flair to the gritty bone of loneliness that was my very private world.  In a way it was quite good that no one else in school liked Van Der Graaf Generator because I didn’t want to share my feelings with anyone.   Of course I used to feel that my spectacularly dysfunctional family was a kind of pin-up of affliction, that the cross I bore, heavy and splintered and surely too much for one teenage boy to carry, was heavier and harder than anyone else’s.   It was a badge of honour, a hidden scar that I would only reveal to girlfriends, look, this is who I really am, then they would want to make it better, they did !

Now an adult I see my childhood as just another suburban tragedy.  Everyone has one.

I bought this LP in 1975 when it came out – late October as the leaves fell from the trees.  I’d left school, left home and been left by my girlfriend in the same week (see My Pop Life #58).

My first day of work on B Villa, Laughton Lodge I had thirty strange faces staring at me – the new nursing assistant in a white coat with name badge.  The friendliest bloke Martin had Down’s Syndrome and immediately introduced himself “hello sir!” with a strong lisp.  He shouldn’t have been in there.  But who should ?  Described on the entrance hoarding as a “Hospital For The Mentally Sub-Normal”, Laughton Lodge in 1975 was what local people called the loony bin, ‘bedlam’ or the madhouse.   On B Villa all the 30 men could walk, feed themselves and take themselves to the toilet.   Critical distinctions.   It meant our work was watching out for epileptic fits, walking the hyper Michael Payne round the grounds because he upset the other “residents”, taking a select group to ‘work experience’, or maybe into Lewes, sorting out problems and fights and helping with tying of shoelaces, distribution of drugs (I wasn’t allowed to do this except with another nurse) and subduing of violence.  The drug of choice was Largactyl, the chemical cosh.  Half of the ward walked around like zombies under the effect of this powerful sedative.  The other half either behaved, or were headed the same way.  Ian was severely autistic and didn’t speak, kind of yelped when he was upset.  He had memorised all the puzzles in the day-room, he would pick up a piece and know where it went immediately.  Ronnie was a 19-year old murderer, and a pyschopath with a sickly grin.  Gerald was a big dangerous intelligent man who would explode with violence from time to time, attack another patient, he smashed the acquarium one day, it would take six male nurses to hold him down.  when a patient went “up the wall” they acquired superhuman strength from deep within and furniture would go flying.  We had largactyl injections, straightjackets and a padded cell upstairs.

Michael Payne was the saddest case. A handsome gentle man in his thirties, he’d witnessed a motorbike accident at close quarters and his mind had cracked.  Somehow through the system he’d found his way onto B Villa Laughton Lodge.  He talked incessantly and we would take it in turns to walk him around the grounds, answering his questions, never quite sure what was a memory and what wasn’t.  “Did you see that tiger on television last night Mr Brown?  Scratched me right down my face!”   The Charge Nurse Ray Lucas explained to me that he was on a decreasing cycle of experience, his ups and downs were getting closer together, at that point he was three days up (walk around the grounds talking ten to the dozen) three days down (slumped in green plastic armchair on the ward).  As the wavelength got shorter he would be more difficult to manage and when the up and the down met eventually he would short-circuit and burn out, and become like the monosyllabic zombies.  This made me terribly sad.

The whole place was incredibly sad.  There were psychiatric patients mixed with murderers.  One fella Nick got picked up by his Mum and Dad every Saturday and brought back every Sunday night.  Apart from a twisted hand and club foot he was perfectly fine: intelligent but damaged.  The nurses were compassionate and coped well.   There was no abuse or piss-taking that I witnessed.   All the patients, and some of the staff were institutionalised – stuck in routines and ways of thinking.   I was only there for nine months, I couldn’t change anything.  Eventually one of the nurses from C Villa (the women’s ward) invited me to dinner one night in Ringmer.  While she was cooking, she handed me a book saying “this is what I’m interested in”.   Christine Glinkowski – a Polish woman in her late 20s – had given me “The Joy Of Sex”.  Readers, I was 18 years old.  “We can’t have sex on the first date” said Christine, “but we can do this…”

After work I would walk across the fields to the Nurses Home where I lived, a huge manor house divided into living quarters for the staff.  I shared a kitchen with two Mauritian gentleman who cooked gentle curries and were very friendly and sweet.  I would read a book, watch TV or play records on my little record player.  My first independent flat.  No surrogate mum.  Just me and my dope and cups of tea and vinyl LPs : Van Der Graaf Generator, Wings, Joe Walsh, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Gentle Giant, Stevie Wonder, Spirit, Commander Cody, Osibisa, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Focus, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, John Lennon, Man, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Greenslade, Hawkwind, The Faces, Audience, Blue Öyster Cult, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Peter Hammill’s solo albums.  White people !  Apart from Jimi.  To be fair I had a box of singles too, 45s which were nuggets of gold, among them Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder and Dave & Ansel Collins.

Van Der Graaf were the original pretentious art-rock prog band par excellence.  Formed by Peter Hammill and Chris Judge-Smith, the classic line-up became Hammill, organist and bass pedals Hugh Banton, sax-player David Jackson and drummer Guy Evans.  You’ll note that there’s no guitarist.  They are still going, although Jackson doesn’t appear with them often, I saw them at The Barbican in 2009 and they were, as ever, amazing.  The voice of Hammill which goes from a whisper to a blood-curdling scream, from a sweet melody to a harsh monosyllabic bark is one of the wonders of the world, and has influenced many singers including John Lydon.  Hammill’s solo albums are more introspective and personal, while the Van Der Graaf catalogue is often science fiction speculation, Hammill being a fan (like me!) of Philip K. Dick.  For all their harsh pretentious beauty the band soothed me through my troubled teens.   Perhaps just knowing that someone else felt fierce anguish and wasn’t afraid to express it was enough.  I was always afraid to express it.  I still am.

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 #64 : Fresh Garbage – Spirit

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Fresh Garbage   –   Spirit

…look beneath your lids some morning, see those things you didn’t quite consume

the world’s a can for your fresh garbage…

The first time I heard this song was in Simon Korner’s bedroom.  We’d met at a party out of town in Cooksbridge somewhere (in a village hall I think) and walked back to Lewes together getting to know each other like 15-year-olds do, in the middle of the night, probably bonding on absent fathers, but Simon remembers the conversation better than I.   Simon didn’t really talk about his father to be fair, but when was it ?  I’m saying it was the 4th form and the spring of 1972.  Not long after that something went wrong at home in Hailsham and Mum went into Amberstone Hospital for another stay.   I had already stayed with Pete Smurthwaite twice, once at 11 and once, for 9 months at 13.  And I’d spent a month at Simon Lester’s house in Chiddingly when Mum had an abortion in  early 1972.  Don’t quote me on the dates !

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This time my Dad clearly arranged with Shirley Korner that I would be billeted with Simon’s family in King Henry’s Road, above Landport Estate in Lewes.  I guess it was my choice ?  Simon’s dad Asher had died the year before.  Shirley Korner, Simon’s mother, was a kind, intelligent, sweet-natured no-nonsense social worker now left looking after four children : Deborah the eldest, Simon, my age, Joseph two years below, then Jessica.  At the same time that they took me in, they also housed Maria, a single mum and her daughter Melba.  Maria & Melba had been ejected from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin in the great purge of Indians from that country, most of whom came to the UK.  ‘Ugandan Asians’ they were called.  Two of them were now in Shirley Korner’s house.  Melba had a thin right leg, the result of polio as a child, but she was a stunning gentle beauty.   Younger than me by one year, I felt sorry for her, being evicted from her home like that, and having the polio leg.  We flirted, chatted, and walked to school together occasionally, but after I sang Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me There?” to her one evening in my bedroom, the affair was off.

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It was a happy house in my experience.  There must have been a huge bombshell crater where their dad was, but I hadn’t known him, and they were all so talkative and enthusiastic about everything, I loved staying there.  They were jewish, but it was never acted upon either religiously or in diet or indeed politics.   We gathered around the vast kitchen table for tea/dinner, passing food around, drinking juice and tea, Shirley Korner clucking over us all with patient forbearance and amused chuckles.  They all answered back in a relaxed way, there was no tension, no atmosphere, indeed no mental illness that I could detect.  It was a lovely big Victorian house, I guess I was in the former servants quarters on the top floor.  Simon’s bedroom had a drum kit erected on the floor, and was thus massively cool.  Perhaps this was Andrew Ranken’s – Deborah’s boyfriend, later to join the Pogues.  I was sitting at this drum kit when Mathew Ford offered me a joint to smoke and I hit at it with the drumstick.  But soon I was puffing.  I’d been smoking cigarettes since I was about 12.  Roll-ups sometimes, but mainly Number 6.  Learned to do a reasonable beat with the kit too, but drumming never interested me that much for some reason.  Simon played bass guitar.   We only played together once, at my wedding.

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Simon was impressive because he didn’t go with the flow.  He was super-bright but also cool, had good clothes and haircut and a witty sense of humour.  I liked him a lot.  Clearly I still do because we’ve been friends since that moment.  There’s too much to say about ‘Simon and I’ in one post, but I will just add this – about a year later when we all started getting serious girlfriends, Simon was going out with the official sexiest girl in the school, Kerry Day.  She had previously been out with boys in the years above us, and was without question a real catch.  Simon told me that one day he had painted her naked body, it had taken about three hours, then they’d had sex.  This was, and still is, impossibly cool….

Simon’s taste in music was very specific, and he would visibly sneer at bands he thought weren’t cool.  Didn’t we all at that age ?  Maybe…  He sold me an LP he didn’t like by Van Der Graaf Generator for 50p, and I loved it.  Still love Peter Hammill’s voice.  Deborah Korner being a year older also had boyfriends older than her, so there was a clearly groovy conveyor belt of music from people like Pete Davies and Pete Thomas (later to join Elvis Costello on drums) down to me.  I should relate that it wasn’t all about ‘cool’ as Simon’s early and faithful adoption of Elton John would prove, and my own favouring of Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day by Gilbert O’ Sullivan.   In fact I don’t think Simon was a big fan of Roxy Music’s first LP that summer.   The charts though were magnificent – The O’Jays, T. Rex, Colin Blunstone, Rod Stewart, The Stylistics, Johnny Nash and Hurricane Smith and more.

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Thinking about Simon’s music now, Spirit stand head and shoulders above the rest, in particular the first LP ‘Spirit’ from 1967 and the 4th LP, the magnificent “12 Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus” from 1970.  I would carry Spirit with me into my University years, and find kindred spirits and fans there.  Simon also favoured Hendrix, The Doors and Cream, and actually owned Jack Bruce’s first solo LP Songs For A Tailor.    But I never really got into Cream or Jack Bruce.  Spirit I have held dear to my heart for many years.

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Spirit were a California band par excellence.  Their first incarnation, which this track is from, was as a jazz-rock outfit I suppose, all the songs on the first LP are really interesting.  Shades of Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan years before they were formed, hard to categorise.  Randy California was the guitarist, (who’d played with Hendrix), and his uncle Ed Cassidy was the bald drummer who was at least 20 years older than the rest of the band, and versed in jazz.  Jay Ferguson was the other key member and singer, alongside John Locke on keys and Mark Andes on bass.  Their first four LPs are an exceptional run of music.

It is also worth noting how prescient the lyrics to this particular song were.  California was always a little further ahead.  A note on my version of the lyrics : I forever thought the first line was “girl – she calls me”  (actually “fresh garbage”), and the next line was “look beneath your lids a moment” when he’s actually singing “look beneath your lids some morning”.  Enjoy!

Marvellous footage of original line-up live on French TV ! :

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