My Pop Life #167 : Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean

Thinkin Bout You   –   Frank Ocean

or do you not think so far ahead ?  Cos I been thinkin’ bout forever…

Moments of bliss.  The moments we think we live for, the ones we’ve earned.  Are they holidays ?  Sometimes.  Are they music ?  Sometimes.  Happiness is fleeting of course, it’s there for a second crest the green horizon and see the feminine green curves of the hills before you  >freedom<  >bliss<   then next second it’s gone as you look down to avoid flints and cowpats.   The brain isn’t wired for bliss really.  That’s why getting stoned is so great – so you can hold onto those moments for just a little longer.  I’m sitting here thinking about the glorious summer of 2012 in England when suddenly everything was right – in my world.

What was it about summer 2012 ?  Well the London Olympics for a start.  Marvellous.  And my dear friend Paulette Randall was helping Danny Boyle direct the Opening Ceremony.  I’ll write about that another time, but it was cool, and Jenny and I drove to The Mermaid Inn in Rye to watch it and celebrate our wedding anniversary.  2012 was the year I realised that the Paralympics were better than the Olympics, and got tickets for two separate days in the Stadium to watch it.  I saw my dad singing in the Proms for the Desert Island Discs Prom with Huddersfield Choral, and attended with Paulette, Simon and brother Andrew.  Again for another blog, but happiness.  But what else was it ?

We had bought Roxy in the previous winter and she was now a full member of the household, much to Mimi’s evident displeasure.  Both Cornish Rex females. Not ideal, but no missing fur.  And then there were the bike rides….

I’d bought the bike in Kentish Town in the mid 90s, had drop handlebars put (upside-down!)  onto a mountain bike so we could walk past it in the Archway Road hallway.  When we moved to Brighton I replaced the handlebars with BMX ones and took it out the back door up onto the Downs at the back of our house, up Walpole Road past the primary school up past the allotments to the old iron-age fort and down to the racecourse, round the inside rail of the racetrack on open ground, across the road, and then take the back way across the top of Woodingdean to Falmer Road.

Cross that road and you’re on your way to Kingston Ridge, or the secret valley, or the South Downs Way which crosses the A27 to your left down a steep chalk path alongside carpets of poppies, barley and wild flowers full of butterflies.  Or sometimes I cycled from the house straight up to the railway station, up Dyke Road to Devil’s Dyke, then went along the South Downs Way to the River Adur, down to Shoreham Harbour and back along the seafront.  Or the other way around.  With a right turn when I felt like it.  There are endless variations on all of these routes across the South Downs National Park as it now thankfully is.  I took one of my OS maps andmarked all the routes I’d done in yellow highlighter.  Can’t help it.  Essential packing – water bottle, map, camera/phone, cigarettes.  Most journeys : about two hours.  Seek your bliss.

It is stunning : a beautiful acreage of man-managed yet natural beauty, occasionally farmed and grazed. Per square metre this is the most diverse and fecund ecosystem in the UK.  You just need to get really close to see all the variation in those ground-hugging plants :  horseshoe vetch, cowslips, primula, birds-foot trefoil, salad burnet, mouse-ear hawkweed, stemless thistles, wild marjoram, worts, rampions and many orchids, all supporting a healthy population of moths and butterflies and dragonflies and other life.  There are lost glades of Silver-Washed Fritillaries and White Admirals if you know where to find them.    Yes you see, this is holy ground.  This is bliss, for me.

Frank Ocean released Channel ORANGE in July 2012 and it hooked me from first listen.  Proper soul music, lovely chords, influences from the 1970s Elton, Stevie, Sly and others but new music, wonderful new music.  What a beautiful record.  This song, the opener is a stunning piece of work, so simple, so heartfelt.  What a lift I get from really loving  brand new piece of music, the kids are all right, it’s all still good.

Yes, of course
I remember, how could I forget 
How you feel ?
You know you were my first time 
A new feel
It won’t ever get old, not in my soul,
Not in my spirit, keep it alive 
We’ll go down this road
‘Til it turns from colour to black and white

The talk around the album – talk offered by Frank Ocean himself – was that some of the songs, including Thinkin Bout You were about an (unrequited?) gay affair Frank had when he was 19.   He was now 25, and although this was his first studio-produced album, the previous year he’d released a mixtape called Nostalgia, Ultra which again was a fantastic new look at soul music for the 21st Century, and before that there were a whole bunch of songs to hunt down, later released as The Lonny Breaux Collection for completists.  Originally from New Orleans, Ocean moved to LA in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina drowned his recording space, and he stayed on the West Coast.  

He has a very refreshing take on everything – for example “his” track American Wedding on Nostalgia, Ultra which is essentially the whole of the title track of The Eagles’ Hotel California with Frank singing different lyrics over the top.  Don Henley hates him.  It’s brilliant.  I was already used to Hotel California being a black man’s favourite track since my brother from another mother Eamonn Walker confessed to me earlier the same year (2012) when I was living in his Los Angeles pad high in the hills.  Moments of bliss there too.  Channel ORANGE was bliss from start to finish, from Sweet Life written with Pharrell : “Who needs the world when you got the beach?” to Super Rich Kids channelling Bennie & The Jets with an Earl Sweatshirt rap (Frank’s buddy from the LA Odd Future Collective) to the monster 9-minute syth-sweaty funk of Pyramids – an Egyptian myth re-told in a Las Vegas strip club – all produced by Frank aka Christopher Breaux and his old spar Malay aka James Ryan Ho – it is a soul record of the very highest quality.   Now for the next one…

the only version on the internet with the glorious string intro :

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My Pop Life #32 : Everything I Own – Johnny Nash

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Everything I Own   –   Johnny Nash

…you sheltered me from harm…kept me warm, kept me warm…

October 1974 in East Sussex.   I’m in the final year at Lewes Priory, doing A-levels in English, Geography and Economics, we’d successfully abolished school uniform in the Upper School (5th and 6th forms), I was playing in a school band called Rough Justice with kids from my year – Conrad Ryle, Andrew ‘Tat’ Taylor, and Andy Shand – and Tigger on drums, (who I only saw at band practice and knew nothing about.)   I was going out with Conrad’s sister Miriam and spending most of my time in their house Waterlilies just below Kingston Ridge where the band practiced.  Home though, was 25 miles away in Hailsham where my mum was struggling to raise 3 teenage boys and a young daughter of two (my sister Rebecca) on her own.  The threat of a nervous breakdown always hovered over her, and us, the cupboard of tablets above my chair in the kitchen, always at arm’s length;   I knew what they all were, but never ever took one even for curiosity.   I was taking my own drugs, notably cider, LSD and red Leb or Afghani black, and I wasn’t going to dabble in hers.   There would be a crisis from time to time and Mum would disappear for two weeks into Amberstone Hospital and we would run the house ourselves – at 17 I didn’t need to be farmed out to the Ryles, or the Korners, or the Smurthwaites, or the Lesters – all schoolmate’s homes where I’d found shelter over the previous 6 years.   Maybe that’s why this song pinged so hard that autumn.   Maybe it was my love song for Miriam and her family, the Ryles, who had been hugely generous to me and given me a safe haven and even come to visit Mum on one occasion since dad Tony Ryle was a psychiatrist working at Sussex University.   Or maybe, just maybe Everything I Own was just the perfect pop song.

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It’s certainly that.  It’s a lover’s rock cover of a song by David Gates of US band Bread that doesn’t bother with the 2nd verse and repeats the delicious middle eight twice (“If there’s one thing you know…”) over a light reggae backing and a simple vocal harmony.   But there is something eternal about it, perhaps bottled in my teenage memory as a moment of safety and warmth among the strange inchoate horrors of growing up, perhaps in fact I was a happy teenager, not carrying a cross at all until later when I looked back at those supposedly dysfunctional years.   I really can’t remember, but I know Mum wanted me home more than I was, and that there was a sense of Paul and Andrew, my brothers, having “their turn” at dealing with the doctors and the tablets.

On the radio :  David Essex, Barry White, Mud, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ and ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’.  On my stereo in the bedroom :  Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, Spirit, Roxy Music, David Bowie and The Beatles.  But Jamaican music was always in the charts in those days, from My Boy Lollipop and Israelites through to Double Barrel and Young, Gifted and Black.   But we didn’t really consider them reggae to be honest.   They were pop music.

Featured imageCapstan Full-Strength, 10 Number 6, Sunday paper round, Reading Festival, hitch-hiking to Brighton and Virgin Records, playing football Saturday mornings for the school, half an ounce of Golden Virginia and a packet of green papers for Mum.   The seventies.   Dad a train journey away in Eastbourne, just married again.   Mum was already divorced again.

These were the days of “Ralph, Paul…………..and Andrew”  the legendary firm of local solicitors where the junior partner had his own bedroom and would always play in goal in the large field outside the back door, where Paul and Ralph would fire the ball at him from long distance and point-blank range.   The days when a package would be delivered by Postman Pat, an advert answered from the back pages of Melody Maker, a pair of loons with a note signed “Peace…Jud”.   The days when all holes in jeans were to be welcomed as the basis for a new patch, sewn on by Mum of course, where shirts were tear-dropped and shoes were stacked, but where tops were tie-dyed or embroidered,  and patchouli oil and hemp became normal smells, although Miriam wore Diorella and I was probably toying with Old Spice.

We liked this song in 532 Salternes Drive (33 Newton Park) on the Sin City estate in Hailsham because – like Days by the Kinks or Cottonfields by the Beach Boys or You Are Everything by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, we could sing in harmony together.   The simple pleasures.