My beautiful mother.
Happy Mothering Sunday, Grace Marian.
Remembering your gentleness and selfless courage. I still hear your soft voice talking to me when I awaken or when I close my eyes at the end of the day, You are always in me.
Is this really what we have descended to? Most people that know me understand that I’ve been a fan of The Who since i was old enough to reach a record player and spin a vinyl disc.
Now I see that ‘Wholigans’ (what the hell are they?) can purchase a bath robe with the Mod roundel on to display their appreciation of the boys from Shepherd’s Bush, or maybe a ‘onesie’ with a Quadrophenia logo on it. Their sales blurb is taken straight from Wikipedia I note.
Dear marketers, please just go away and die will you. You don’t understand and you will never understand.
My Generation indeed.
I’m always interested in stories of big bands and artists that played in more humble environments in the early stages of their career – particularly intrigued if they had already earned a degree of fame and popularity at the time. As an example, way back, I was fortunate enough to see The Specials, Madness and The Selector in the perhaps surprising surroundings of Kimberley Leisure Centre in Nottinghamshire. Another memorable night in a similar era was of The Police appearing at Rushcliffe Leisure Centre in the same county. They were pretty big at the time too.
The greatest band of them all, The Beatles, played Nottingham on four occasions in 1963/64, earlier in their recording career. Once at a banqueting suite above the main Co-op store in the city and three times at the Odeon cinema, cinema gigs being popular in that era. My own sister was at a couple of the Odeon performances where nobody heard much apart from a crescendo of screaming girls. Nobody cared.
The building that housed the Elizabethan Rooms still exists these days as a casino on the main thoroughfare, Upper Parliament Street. The Odeon, which had the distinction of becoming Nottingham’s first multi-screen cinema is sadly, no longer, having been demolished in 2012. Flats now stand on this hallowed and very centrally situated site in the city,
At the beginning of their career The Beatles played more than two-hundred times in Hamburg in Germany, including a ninety-two day residency at the Top Ten Club. It’s estimated that they spent over five-hundred hours entertaining the crowds in Hamburg alone, polishing their skills, musicianship and stagecraft.
Kids, this is how you get good.
THE LEGENDARY Cecil Bustamente Campbell, aka Prince Buster, the ‘King of Ska’ has died on the 8th of September 2016 at the age of 78. The Prince was a great pioneer of Jamaican music and bequeathed a legacy of the music to the many that he influenced.
Buster was born on the famed Orange Street, the main thoroughfare in Kingston, Jamaica and gained the name ‘Prince’ due to his boxing ability with his early singing being in church and private family faith meetings.
Campbell became involved in the operational side of running Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s sound system in Kingston in a variety of roles, one as security in which he put his boxing ability to good use. Before long, using his experience to create his own sound system, the ‘Voice of the People’.
The singer’s career took off in the sixties with appearances such as on Ready Steady Go! and his first top twenty UK hit, ‘Al Capone’ in 1967.
He is widely credited as the foundation of ska’s revival vanguard in the late 1970s – the 2-Tone movement. With Madness naming themselves after a Buster song and their first single, ‘The Prince’, recorded as a tribute to him. Contemporaries, The Specials, also recorded a Buster track in ‘Enjoy Yourself’ in 1980.
I’m going to resist the temptation to link ‘The Ten Commandments of Man’ or ‘Big Five’ (uncensored version) here and go for perhaps the most obvious one, ‘Al Capone’. Happy memories for me as it was one of the early Ska songs that I first heard and that me and my friends danced to in local youth clubs. Happy days.
(Dedicated to Frankie Allan. Rest in Peace, buddy)
FOLLOWING THE WEEK which contained World Suicide Prevention Day, a few words for those suffering a new and tragic loss.
It may be very early days for you and I’m sure all sorts of things will be going through your head as you try to make sense of what indeed appears senseless.
Some of the reactions and support you will receive will be of comfort, some thought provoking, nearly all will be heartfelt. Accept the love and support that people offer, especially those close to you. I gained a tremendous amount of strength from my friends in general. I felt almost overwhelmed at the kindness and it taught me a lot about people, myself and my relationship with this world. In the midst of a sad situation, it is a gift to you. A natural equaliser and healer in life.
If you are a person of faith then there is no better time to call on that. Personally, I found it difficult to take part in Mass but would rather spend time in my local place of worship alone, finding peace, healing.
Forgive people if they are awkward around you. It is very difficult for some people to understand what to say or do in such circumstances. Know that all will feel for you, despite their apparent reactions.
I’m sure you will still be reeling with the shock of what has happened at this time. My main words to you would be to simply hang in there – survive it day by day – and let the future take care of itself when time inevitably works its miracle healing. It is a first-aid situation currently so don’t have too many expectations of yourself right now – just get through it the best you can. One day at a time, one hour at a time if need be. When you feel able in some way to return to your routines, if you have not already, undertake them slowly and be kind to yourself because you deserve it.
At the darkest of times it can help take your mind off things to think of others in the situation. There may be children in the situation or significant others who you can engage with and support each other. Look after each other – be a team.
Perhaps all or many of your days will feel bleak still at the moment and that is to be expected. Some days may feel unbearable but I am here to tell you that these times do decrease, though you may not be able to comprehend th
at right now. Have faith that this will happen and give time the chance to carry out its great work.
Whilst still very early days, when the pain becomes more bearable try to gently place back into your life, one-by-one, those elements that will help you, friendships, work, a little exercise, socialising. Take your time with them and go steady.
I’m sure that many have already offered but I’d also like to extend the hand of friendship and support to you. Write to me anytime, even if you just need to spit it out whatever is hurting you. Stay with us here, you are stronger than you think.
This time of year can provide a lot of difficulties. I read a Tweet with four simple helpful points yesterday and agreed with it. It was aimed at suicide survivors but I think it’s good general advice, especially for those with depression and other mental health issues:
Don’t take too much on.
Avoid being overwhelmed.
Limit your activities to those which you are interested in and able to do.
It is okay to say no.
Personally, i couldn’t stomach the thought of Christmas and New Year this year. I’ve lost too much and my life has been stood on its head and I don’t care to celebrate. Maybe that will come back one day. It’s only when you’re practising avoidance of it that you realise the subtle and continual pressures to join in, especially commercial ones. For some reason one of the worst things for me was trying to do my weekly grocery shop in Sainsbury’s and having to listen to insistent piped Christmas songs. I really couldn’t wait to get out of the place to be honest as it was making me perfectly miserable and acutely reminding me of my loss. I finished my shopping yesterday and won’t be back until the New Year. It’s all a bit cynical when you think about how many people have a rough time in the festive season.
I’ve felt the need to decline a lot of what Christmas has to offer. I’ve absolutely no wish to upset anyone, quite the contrary and in some ways it’s a very hard thing to do but this is my reality and how I am to survive, that I understand. At a very testing time I’m going to do everything in my power to protect myself. I am going to suggest to others that they look after themselves as much as possible in the same way.
I guess I just wanted to come on here and add my support towards others because it’s important to know that other people are going through this stuff as well. I want to reiterate the message that ‘keeping up appearances’ for Christmas when you’re having a bad time is not a necessity nor obligatory. I keenly feel the real significance of Christmas being a Catholic with a deep faith but even having said that I want to maintain the message that it’s just another day on the calendar in some ways and it’s important to protect oneself from the difficult feelings that can envelop one at this time. Sometimes it a ‘learn as you go’ as it appears to be with me right now.
Keep surviving. When you’re on your knees, get up again and proceed slowly with care. We are charged with looking after ourselves. That is the important thing even at this special time of year.
God Bless, good luck and peace to all.
Day Five of Five – My Girl – Otis Redding
The final day then and many of my favourites omitted. No Dexys, no Rod and the Faces, The Who or Beach Boys. No Temptations, Brother Marvin or Peter Green. It’s not a ‘finest five ever’ though so I’ll grab one and pitch it in your direction. It’s a special delivery too. How can it be feasible to ‘improve’ (with the deepest respect) on something that the heavenly voice of Sam Cooke sung or that The Temps crooned and grooved to (as in here)? Ask Otis Redding to sing it, that’s how.
Anybody familiar with me even just a little knows that Otis is my top soul brother of them all. For me the Macon, Georgia boy’s voice defined how to sing with soul, until he was tragically cut down in his prime. Nobody did it like him. It’s a family thing too as my darling sister, Anita, introduced me to Otis’ music when I was barely old enough to understand what had happened to him when he perished. Thanks for that sis, what a gift.
Feel the soul. Dedicated to my love.
Day Four of Five: In a Big Country – Big Country
I’ve always loved the strength, optimism and fighting spirit of this song and years ago when I first heard it, it summed up for me the spirit of the Scottish people who were displaced during the Highland Clearances and how they fought through atrocious and inhumane conditions to sail to the new world of Canada especially and from there forge a new life for themselves and their descendants.
I was thinking about this song earlier in the year, not long after the greatest calamity and sadness of my life – trying to hook into that spirit – when I wrote the short blog below. I take much from the words of this song:
‘I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime’
‘So take that look out of here, it doesn’t fit you
Because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted’
‘Stay alive’ is the song’s simple message, for that is what we must all do.
It’s sad to think about what happened to Stuart Adamson but he has left us with a fine legacy.
Day Three of Five: The Tracks of My Tears – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
Where to start with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ The Tracks of My Tears? One of the elite, classic tunes in popular music history and one that was regularly voted the best ever in older surveys way back when. This and that other classic by Smokey, The Tears of a Clown, which I named my blog site after, portray a very special theme for me. The story is of the funnyman, the joker but one with a hidden, sad and reflective side. I’ll leave you to guess why this concept is one that is close to my heart. Just listen to the words.
Continuing with the second choice of five songs for five days.
Day Two of Five. Just a Little Misunderstanding – The Contours
I first came across this song as an inclusion on a budget cassette compilation in the early seventies which I probably paid 50p for and it had a real effect on me. I’m not sure I’d heard the term ‘Northern Soul’ at that point but the track’s driving uptempo rhythms became very familiar to me shortly afterwards in that idiom. I’ve liked practically every song I’ve ever heard by The Contours since.
It didn’t achieve great success commercially, apparently only reaching a modest number 85 in the Billboard charts but it’s a number one hit in my book. This song still does something to me and I can play it over and over without tiring of listening to it. My favourite piece of Northern.
I unashamedly spend some regular time on Facebook, keeping in touch with friends, having a little fun and exchanging information. Amongst others, I was recently asked to post up five songs over five days that were particular favourites and decided to do this and add a few words along the way to accompany them.
Like others I’d find it a thankless, if not impossible task to name my definitive five songs of all time so quickly lost that notion in favour of five I’m rather fond of recently and would be likely to listen to on my iPod today.
Here we go with the first one:
Day One of Five: It’s Too Bad – The Jam
I’ll give this a go. I won’t try to pick my five favourites – that’s too hard – but rather one or two top picks and other’s I’d like to hear at this precise moment. I’ll try to say something about them too.
On side two of ‘All Mod Cons’ by The Jam this appeared in the shops in 1978 when I was at somewhere around my vinyl record buying ‘peak’. Straight down to Selectadisc or the seminal small Virgin store in Nottingham every Friday, wages in pocket after work and wading through the exciting New Wave and Punk 45s and prepare for the weekend which would be full of music.
There are so many great Jam tunes and on much of their output Paul Weller showed what an uncommonly mature writer he was for his fairly tender age. The harmonies of this song and the ringing Rickenbacker sounds provide the perfect backdrop for the pathos of Paul’s lyrics of the futility and yearning for a lost love. Haven’t we all done that?
IT’S NOT TOO OFTEN THAT you can experience a bit of pleasure from the simple task of waiting for a bus but that interminable wait has recently been made a little easier at Nottingham’s Victoria Bus Station. Not particularly unusual in any way, the building has just received a half-million pound facelift with visible improvements for commuters such as updated electronic screens etc. One nice little addition is the inclusion of some piped music through the place and here they seem to really have it right! I really need to shake the hand of the person who chooses what we listen to!
I’m not going to say that waiting patiently for buses is my favourite pastime but I guess it just got a little bit more pleasant. Here’s the selection of sweet soul music regaling my ears this evening before the journey home.
1. THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS – SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES
First released in 1965, when I first began reading the music press in the mid-seventies this thing of beauty was regularly placed at number one in polls to determine the best-ever pop song. This song represents the absolute epitome of Smokey’s long career and it’s a song that still moves me personally. As an aside, Big Country did a fabulous version of it that’s well worth consideration.
2. REFLECTIONS – THE SUPREMES
Just two years later in 1967, Hitsville USA produced this glitzy, glamorous waxing by The Supremes, surely the stereotypical and best Tamla girl group of them al headed by soul queen Diana Ross. It still serves to send a shiver through the listener.
3. LET’S GET IT ON – MARVIN GAYE
For sweet sophisticated soul and (ahem) late night listening, it really doesn’t get any better than Brother Marvin’s Let’s Get It On, taken from the album of the same name. Marvin Gaye was of Tamla Motown’s royal family if there every could be such a thing. His troubled life ended too early but not before leaving us with a wealth of wonderful songs.
To quote the classic Mass Hibsteria words, This is How it Feels.
I have always loved this song since it first emerged on The Crossing in 1983 – the words speak to me personally, every single one of them – especially now, as I attempt to emerge from some of my darkest hours.
‘I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert,
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.’
‘Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming.
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted.’
IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER it is good to remind ourselves of long, hot summer days. Some of the nicest of those days for me are when I am out walking in the countryside, with all the sights, sounds and sensations of the hills, fields and woodlands. One of my favourite sounds is the inimitable song of the Skylark, usually followed by a long peer up into the atmosphere for a welcome sighting of this beautiful creature that gives so much joy.
There are many different kinds of lark but perhaps the one that comes to mind most memorably for people is the Skylark. Without daring to find out I am sure that Vaughan Williams had this little bird in mind when he wrote his uplifting The Lark Ascending, particularly in the way it flies very high, almost out of sight, together with its attractive signature song. It’s song has been described as ‘sunshine turned into song’, quite rightly.
You can listen to a little sunshine here:
My dad, John Archibald Frew, of Musselburgh, Scotland died thirty years ago this New Year’s Day, just after midnight on January 1st, 1984, shortly after I’d celebrated the bells with him.
Consequently, the festive time of year and particularly when midnight strikes to welcome a new year, is never easy – even after all these years. In those early years afterwards it somewhat haunted me and I would make the journey off to Edinburgh each year and stand outside at the Tron with 30,000 other souls in order not to feel stifled and suffocated at the thought of losing him.
There is never a day that passes when I don’t think of him and all he imparted to his son – the lessons he taught me and wisdom he shared. I can still hear the soft tones of his voice any time I care to listen, in my mind. That last night we were together which was at Hogmanay I kissed him, during the celebrations, the first time since being a little boy. It was uncharacteristic of us and was to be a goodbye kiss. It was almost as though we had known…
John or ‘Jock’ as he was known by friends was the product of a very hard background. Poverty meant that he routinely went without shoes on his feet as a bairn. As infants in Musselburgh he and his brother slept in makeshift beds made from the drawers of an old chest. Subsequently, the wee boys’ mammy, Elizabeth, died when John was just four years old. Those early life experiences toughened him as hard as teak for the trials he would go through in his life. Let it not be ignored though that he could show rare wisdom and at times be a very funny man indeed. People told me he was a most popular and loved man in the town we lived. Wherever he walked, he would speak to all and greet them cheerily as an old friend.
As a youngster he had a roaming spirit and attempted to run away from home on many occasions. Later on, he was to painstakingly save the money on returned ‘jeely jars’ and acquire himself a ramshackle bicycle with which he cycled all the way from Lanarkshire in Scotland to Doncaster in England, a cool 230 miles, before falling off the bike during the monumental journey and sleeping, exhausted, in a deep ditch for the night. A quizzical passing policeman helped him out of there in the morning when he woke.
He actually attended for trials with professional football club, Doncaster Rovers during his brief stay there, being a twinkle-footed footballer but decided against it as ‘there was no money in it’.
John strove for a living in the pits of Scotland as a young boy of just fourteen, working all day long on his hands and knees in eighteen inches of water. He then worked on the Scapa Flow naval base on Orkney with his beloved brother, Alex ‘Sandy’, before travelling the world several times over as a proud Merchant Seaman. The German U-Boats tried their best on those horrific Atlantic runs but couldn’t kill him off in the icy waters of the North Atlantic when he was left clinging on, waiting to be rescued from certain death.
For the year coming, he would have been proud, I know, to think that the country he loved so, his dear, beloved Scotland, could have the opportunity to stand alone and look after itself.
My dad was my rock and his memory remains that to this day. I owe him much.
Fond memories. God bless you, Paw.
John Archibald Frew 1921-1984 ‘Life’s work well done’.
WELL, I FINALLY managed to get along to see the Sunshine on Leith movie
I can say from the heart that in no way was I disappointed – despite huge expectations.
I’m certainly not a great fan of musicals generally but Sunshine on Leith worked very well for me with the songs being melded into the dialogue opportunely and fairly seamlessly. Of course, being an admirer of The Proclaimers’ body of work helps but nevertheless I felt this aspect of it, from my layman’s point of view, was excellent. A script that possessed genuine emotion and elicited a certain caring for the characters moved things along nicely between Morningside and the old port.
The landscape shots over the city? Well, I expected to be impressed as even from my personal (and biased) view, Edinburgh is the most photogenic of cities. However, I found myself choking up several times over the true grandeur of Old Reekie in all its historic and geographic glory. Simply stunning – even to those of us who know and expect these sights and those feelings
The Proclaimers/Hibs connection was skilfully performed with no overkill and just in the right amounts.
There is nowhere like home and this eagerly awaited cinematographic ‘ribbon of dreams’ made me want to walk to my car and drive straight to Edinburgh without stopping. I can offer no higher compliment.
Well done to all.
I RECENTLY READ A DISCUSSION ON an online forum on the subject of music that one had previously ignored that later became in vogue with one’s musical tastes. I think many of us can label ourselves in that happy band, enjoying groups, artists and songs that we’d once have turned our noses up at but now evoke pleasant feelings and maybe a little nostalgia.
Such a band for me were seventies pop group, Sweet, who had a string of successes in that decade yet were taken non-too-seriously by ‘serious’ rock aficionados. Of course artists can’t always have things their own way and whilst the members of Sweet always espoused to being a much ‘heavier’ group as the term went at the time, they nevertheless ploughed a furrow of attaining chart hit after hit in what was considered a ‘bubblegum’ style.
Brian Connolly – Sweet
Sweet’s style of music was ably directed by the band’s management team and ace pop producers, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The band were certainly at the forefront of ‘Glam Rock’ too with the attendant pros and cons contained in that. That the band were clearly decent musicians capable of producing strong songs and a good gig experience meant little and at the time, appeared to offer them some frustration in their career together.
I guess for me, when Brian Connolly and the band were in their pomp, ripping the best-selling singles charts apart, though being fairly young and in my school days I would never have admitted to ‘liking’ them, rather espousing weightier bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Faces and so on. Nowadays however, when I listen back to some of those no-no seventies band such as Sweet and their ilk, I can honestly say that their sound brings nothing but pleasant memories and enjoyment of some masterful three-minute pop songs – a much maligned art form I believe.
Flicking through a few collections of sixties and seventies classic 45s online I came across a collection of Sweet’s greatest hits and fed a few through my headphones. The hits kept on coming and all sounded as fresh as a daisy, well-produced, well-performed good old-fashioned catchy pop songs that stick in your head as you silently hum them to yourself for hours afterwards. A stand-out was Funny Funny which sounded of rich quality and heavily evocative of the time. It also had a great hook with a chorus that was eminently singable.
Sweet’s singer, Brian Connolly was an interesting character and often referred to as Scottish actor Mark McManus’s brother or half-brother. The young, fostered Brian from Glasgow was apparently however not directly related. Rather, theTaggart actor was the nephew of the singer’s foster father. Brian left Scotland at the age of twelve to move to Middlesex and sang in a variety of bands. He soon found success fronting Sweet on their initial hit Funny Funny. At the peak of the band’s popularity and with an invitation to support The Who in their legendary Charlton Football Stadium gig of 1974, Brian however suffered a horrific beating when leaving a nightclub. After receiving several kicks to the throat he and the band were unable to play Charlton with Brian sustaining injuries that left him without a voice for some time and a permanent loss of part of his vocal range.
In due course, the singer’s relationship with his fellow band members soured and this was exacerbated by Brian’s growing problem with alcohol abuse. In later years, the band fell foul of the Inland Revenue with Brian having to sell his home. Multiple heart attacks and paralysis had already occurred, connected to Brian’s alcohol consumption, before finally quitting drinking in 1985.
A final heart attack in 1997 saw Brian hospitalised. He discharged himself to no avail as just a week later he sadly died of renal and liver failure at the age of just fifty-one. The once pretty-boy singer, adored by a legion of teenaged girl fans, was no more.
The band leave the legacy of a stream of popular and much-covered hits which were a signature of the era in which they were produced. A fun time.
Good Friday Prayer
O Jesus, Who by reason of Thy burning love for us
hast willed to be crucified
and to shed Thy Most Precious Blood
for the redemption and salvation of our souls,
look down upon us here gathered together
in remembrance of Thy most sorrowful Passion and Death,
fully trusting in Thy mercy;
cleanse us from sin by Thy grace,
sanctify our toil,
give unto us and unto all those who are dear to us our
sweeten our sufferings,
bless our families,
and to the nations so sorely afflicted,
grant Thy peace,
which is the only true peace,
so that by obeying Thy commandments
we may come at last to the glory of heaven.
IT’S A HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODAY to Craig and Charlie Reid, also known as The Proclaimers. Born in Leith and variously brought up in Edinburgh, Cornwall and Auchtermuchty in Fife. The twins now have a long and distinguished career behind them with their first hit being the song below, Letter from America, back in 1987 which peaked in the number three slot in the best-selling charts. Their debut album, This is the Story went Gold in the same year.
Letter from America is still my favourite (amongst many memorable Proclaimers songs over the years. I Remember at the time my now departed cousin in Bathgate, West Lothian, asking if I had heard this new song by the newly emerging duo as they mentioned Bathgate in it, referring to the hammer blow to the town of the British Leyland factory closing. I still have a lot of time for Bathgate – good people, my own people, and still feel the warmth of the welcome I received there over the years.
There is still a strong message for Scotland in this song through its reflections of the long emigration history of Scots leaving their own land to escape economic depression and hardship to the ‘New World’ of Canada and America. The song also subtly interweaves the story of Scotland’s Highland Clearances when the country’s crofters were forcibly evicted in whole communities by wealthy landowners in order to replace them with more the profitable rearing of sheep. Those lands still weep for their lost people though happily, goodness endured through their new and significant lives for them and particularly their predecessors, in North America and other lands
Dedicated to Alex Frew.
Twenty-five years or seconds is of no consequence.
I want to quietly tell the world, how much I love you, and how you still hold the hearts of Anita and I.
How we remember your gentleness and selfless courage and how I still hear your soft voice talking to me when I awaken or when I close my eyes at the end of the day, and in-between, through all of its many trials.
On this day we walk together.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulleribus.
From your loving son, Stuart. xx
The delicate blooms of your favourite flower, the Lily of the Valley grew in our garden but they were never as beautiful as you. It is twenty-five long years since Anita and I lost you mum. Still never a day goes by without thinking about you and remembering you. Still your loss remains a heartache. Tears today and sadness, though fond memories too of when you were amongst us.
You will always be in me. Sleep peacefully with dad. xxx
A Happy St. Andrew’s Day to Scotland’s sons and daughters everywhere.
‘Who art thou, that wouldst grave thy name
Thus deeply in a brother’s heart?
Look on this saint, and learn to frame
Thy love-charm with true Christian art.’
I recently read the Pete Townshend autobiography Who I Am after acquiring a nice hard backed copy surprisingly cheaply brand new from Amazon – a life story I’d long looked forward to reading. As heroes go, Townshend and The Who have been a part of my life for around forty years with their albums being some of the earliest vinyl records I ever bought. I was interested therefore to understand what makes this erudite insightful and intelligent man tick. The book was certainly a page-turner and left me with some conflicting thoughts about a man who’s body of work I’d long admired.
The Who and Townshend need no introduction, indeed they are still current to many it seems as their on-going Quadrophenia and More tour of the US presently is seeing them receive rave reviews still after all these years. It’s clear then that the scope of Townshend’s conceptual writing transcends decades and fashions in music whilst the legendary past live performances of the original four members of the group, Townshend, Daltrey, Entwhistle and Moon are perhaps without equal. An absolute powerhouse of a band with a genius writer driving the band forward. So what do we make of this man?
A friend in the States, an original Who fan dating back to early Mod days in 1965 also read the book and asked me what I thought about it and about Townshend and I got to thinking about the character and nature of this legendary writer and performer.
Whilst reading Who I Am I found myself at times not liking my long-time ‘hero’ very much at all. I then compared that to my (hopefully) compassionate side and, as I always try to, attempted to understand (as opposed to excuse) some of his behaviours and the reasons for them.
Of course the apparent abuse he appeared to be dealt as a young person has to be considered. This is not to trot out the hoary old (and incorrect) theory that the abused are more likely to become abusers in some form. He seemed to have little stability or feelings of security in his young life – far from it – and I would suggest that influenced some of his behaviours as an adult.
I see a little of the ‘George Best syndrome’ here. Pop stars and famous young people of the 1960s blazed something of a trail which had not been travelled before. Many didn’t appear to know or understand the ‘correct’ way to react to their fame, they were young and were carried along with it. It’s interesting that Townshend’s failings are often self-admitted, talking of himself disparagingly as having a ‘big rock star ego’ etc.
I’m not sure why I was surprised but I took the casual way he talked of some of his philandering with some discomfort. He seemed a little blasé at times about his involvement with other women while he had a wife and young children at home, though not always was this the case in fairness. Again, part of the famous sixties pop star trip maybe.
I liked and was intrigued by his creative will and that shone through; people like Pete are important to society in that way.
The child pornography issue? Well he gave a good and thorough explanation in the closing pages. Who will ever really know but I tend to believe his story. The only point I couldn’t get my head around was that for such an intelligent man he really was naive clicking on the link to the pornographic site. A bad mistake though I think and maybe nothing more nor less.
Another curiosity about the man was his well-known following of Meher Baba. This faith seemed a juxtaposition with the way a lot of his other life was led. He was obviously looking for something though. Maybe he was simply looking in the wrong place.
I always had a real liking for the The Small Faces. In many ways they were the archetypal sixties Mod band. Unlike some bands of that era who followed the trend the group were Mods before the group was formed and carried their music, the clothes they wore and the attitude and sensibilities into the band. They were clearly authentic and their fans were aware of that.
I was reminded of them after watching a pre-recorded TV documentary about them recently. Is some ways it was sad to see a still-chirpy Steve Marriot being interviewed before his tragic death in a house fire in 1991 and bassist Ronnie Lane talking prior to his final capitulation to a crippling Multiple Sclerosis condition in 1997, some 16 years after his illness was diagnosed. The effervescence of the two and keyboard player Ian McLagan, who had replaced Jimmy Winston due to his ‘ego problems’ and drummer Kenney Jones shone through brightly and made the viewer understand their success and enduring appeal. They had fun playing their music, enjoyed their fame, and it showed.
The documentary was interesting for many reasons not least because it showcased how quickly fashions changed at that time of day. From a period of around ’65-’68 it showed the Small Faces appearing on the scene as the ultimate Mods, in their fashions and in some of their R & B-influenced pop. Like many other bands they began to experiment with music, finally recording Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake which reflects its own era of psychedelia and concept albums. Even with that, the band’s charm and in particular Stevie and Ronnie’s vaudevillian nature are obvious and make the music and performance quirky, entertaining and interesting.
In 1965 their first single What’cha Gonna Do About It with it’s insistent R & B riff reached a chart position of 14. A string of 45’s followed including I’ve Got Mine, Sha La La La Lee, All or Nothing, Here Come’s The Nice, Itchycoo Park, Tin Soldier, Lazy Sunday Afternoon and The Universal. The Small Faces always had great belief in their own music and resentment grew when they were forced at times to release more commercial pop hits rather than their own material which had overtones of experimentalism and change. A series of studio albums were produced with their ‘masterpiece’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake seeing light of day in 1968. Itchycoo Park was a departure with phasing and other new sounds and became a big hit which is still regularly given a radio airing. Lazy Sunday with it’s music hall overtones is still familiar to many – even those who have never heard of the Small Faces.
The band, as with many other acts in that era, did not have full control or choice over which songs they released due to their Svengalian manager Don Arden. They failed to blaze a trail to US success unlike banks like the The Who due to mismanagement and a minor drugs bust on McLagan for hash effectively stopping them entering the States.
In retrospect, the band members have said that as the complexities of the Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake were so difficult to reproduce live it ultimately proved to be their demise. Kenney Jones was quoted as saying that he would like to have seen the band ‘stick together’ through their difficulties as he had witnessed the The Who do. He felt that if they could have taken Ogden’s on the road they could have gone on to greater and ‘heavier’ things. As it happened, Steve Marriot tired of playing ‘pop’ and after his unsuccessful bid to bring guitarist Peter Frampton in to the band left to join the successful, hard rocking Humble Pie.
It’s a shame to think what might have been because in Steve Marriot The Small Faces had one of the finest white soul voices of all. In Ronnie, Kenney and Ian they had fabulous, top-notch musicians too. They had great song writing and top of all that they had a live presence in their prime that was matched by very few. Above all they had style and individuality.
One can only say that with their disbandment came The Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood,, another great but totally different band. It all turned out right in the end, as they say, I suppose.
Well, what can I say. You see I was making my way in the world of work at this time not long having left school. Music was very important in my life then, being just on the cusp of my lifetime ‘peak record buying period’ that was about to come. Of course we all think that our own era in pop/rock music was the best don’t we? On the back of that, I had set a series record on Sky Plus to grab the weekly dose of TOTP editions from 1976 that have been showing for the past while. Today whilst sitting at home I’ve just finished viewing the Christmas show from that same year.
What a huge disappointment.
Of course, what I had completely forgotten was that Top of the Pops was ALWAYS terrible – almost without fail. This goes back to it’s origins when despite having great sixties acts (miming) on the show it was regularly outperformed by Ready Steady Go!
The year of 1976 was of course just about to experience a huge change in music with the coming of Punk and New Wave largely ousting the older sixties/seventies bands and changing the genre forever in some respects. All it took was for the Sex Pistols to utter a few expletives on The Bill Grundy Show and we were away. One would never have thought so watching TOTP in that year as an endless procession of gimmicky, often one-hit wonders were rolled out to the smug, trite and unfunny introductions of Noel Edmonds, Dave Lee (The Hairy Monster) Travis, Tony Blackburn and ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton.
The Christmas edition packed in appearances by no less than Brotherhood of Man, all cheesy moustaches and twee choreography and Our Kid, a bunch of pre-adolescents tailored for the granny market plus the end-of-evening-at-the-disco schmaltz of Chicago’s ‘If you leave me now’. These efforts neatly dovetailed the more interesting Rod Stewart’s ‘The Killing of Georgie’ with Rod at his preening and posing mid-seventies best (worst) and a spot of poppy soul in the full-voiced Billy Ocean.
Augmenting this sorry state of affairs, dance group Legs & Co were reeled out by a salivating Jimmy Saville and Tony Blackburn to perform the most literal of dance routines to Wings’ ‘Let Em In’ which comprised the dancers cleverly walking through doors to depict the song’s fairly banal lyrics. Deary me.
You see I DO remember there being some great music around at this time – it’s just that Top of the Pops was the very last place to go looking for it. I think I gave up on it a few years earlier than this about the time when David Bowie appeared with Ronno and the band performing ‘Starman’ to the eternal question of my dad (and every dad up and down the land) from behind his Daily Mirror asking ‘is that a bloody man or a woman?’. The signs were on the wall then and, apart from some kind of misplaced nostalgia, I’m not really sure how the program lasted quite as long as it did. It must be said that whilst televised rock music pickings were thin indeed in that era, the ever-excellent and probing Old Grey Whistle Test picked up the ball and ran with it to great effect. It was always everything that TOTP could have been (if it had been, say, Ready Steady Go!)
I’ve cancelled the series record on Sky. I think I’ll stick with my memories and my ever-collecting-dust vinyl record collection
Oh, look out…here comes Showaddywaddy…
It’s been a while in happening, what with life catching up with me over the past few months, but it is now time to metaphorically put pen back to paper.
Those who know me well will understand that I possess something of a love/hate relationship with social networking site, Facebook. I see, like many, it’s great uses but also perhaps the pitfalls of taking it too seriously. I was browsing on that site today and experienced a moment that shook and saddened me and started me thinking about the way we ‘know’ and relate to each other on the internet in general.
A few years ago, not many at all, I was a regular contributor to a site by the name of Mass Hibsteria which featured an online forum ostensibly about Hibernian Football club, but for the small and merry band that resided there was a vehicle for a lot of fun and chat about well, practically anything really. Times change and Mass Hibsteria or MHHM (Mass Hibsteria, Hibs Monthly) as it was previously also known as a paper fanzine became no more, though to this day, I have great friends from there, met and yet to meet. In the latter category was Sarah, a strident, funny young woman of strong opinions who took the Hibs as her own and who was passionate about music and politics to name but two driving interests. During that time, I’d often hear from her via some lengthy emails which were invariably kind and supportive at a time when I was having something of a struggle with my life. Her messages were always intelligent, helpful and not least, delivered with great kindness and understanding.
Today I visited Sarah’s Facebook page to leave her my birthday wishes. I found to my great shock and sadness that she had passed away earlier this month. The circumstances I know not. Sarah’s passing reminded me of something I have been want to think about occasionally over the years since the era began when many of us started leaving an indelible footprint all over the internet after first seeing fit to become connected to the world in that way. Our ancestors left us with a few pictures and the odd hand written letter, if we were fortunate but now everything we say and do, whatever our mood and whatever the subject, can and is recorded for who knows how long?
I hope that people continue to read the things that Sarah had to say. She informed us, debated and laughed with us. It was always worth listening to her when she spoke, and that was a great deal. The world is now a poorer place.
Happy Birthday Sarah. Sleep peacefully pal, you will be sadly missed.
Walking along Shakespeare Street in Nottingham and on the way to work at 8.15am, I noticed an unusual aroma in the air. Not the usual traffic or industrial smells that fill the air in most large conurbations but an unmistakable and undeniable smoky legacy of a major fire. Talking briefly to a colleague on the way to my assignment, she confirmed to me that there had been a serious fire in the vicinity of Goldsmith Street, adjacent the university’s main entrance. That minor inconvenience seemed inconsequential however when I realised that the Rescue Rooms venue had been evacuated of 1400 people on a ‘student night’ and that the famous ajacent venue, Rock City, could easily have gone up in flames.
Nottingham’s Rock City is not a world-renowned auditorium, nor does it have a history that traces pre the 1980s, it is however extremely well regarded by knowledgeable UK music fans and gig-goers. It also has a back catalogue of live acts that is truly remarkable which includes the likes of U2 and REM.
I had the good fortune and possibly foresight to attend the newly-opened Rock City back in it’s seminal days after being converted from a ‘chicken in a basket’ nightspot called The Heart of the Midlands as was popular up and down the country in the 1970s. In those days the city of Nottingham really suffered for a decent rock venue. It was largely after the days of many a famous act at the boat clubs at Trent Bridge and before the days of The Royal Concert Hall. Apart from the very odd gig in the old Albert Hall, practically the only opportunities to watch live bands were in city centre pubs such as The Hearty Good Fellow on Maid Marion Way and The Imperial Hotel’s ‘Cooler Bar’ on St. James Street. The latter of which I had many a memorable evening at.
Many of the gigs I attended in those day entailed travelling to Leicester’s De Montfort Hall and Granby Hall where I saw many big name acts such as The Who and The Rolling Stones and some who were to achieve levels of greatness such as The Jam and Elvis Costello.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first gig I attended at Rock City was to watch The Kinks. The great 1960s band and genius songsmith and lyricist Ray Davies were probably past their peak creatively but still a big draw, being major players in British rock music’s heritage and one of the most exciting bands of the sixties. Many other entertaining gigs followed in those early days such as The Darts, long forgotten now but tremendous fun live and SAHB – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Alex was completely on form that night with his buccaneer jacket on, one boot up on his famous treasure chest, holding the ecstatic Rock City faithful in his gaze. A classic moment was when the band went into the opening bars of Framed when a leather jacket clad Alex assumed his Don Corleone gangster role by ripping a packet of lady’s nylons from his pocket and stuffing his cheeks with them to imitate the Mafioso ‘Godfather’ ‘Am-a-gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse’ ‘Ah wuz fr-a-a-med – Ah niver did nuthin’
There were so many nights, and everyone will have their own view and memories of them but perhaps the most astonishing night for me was on attending a Bad Manners gig. The ska men were ripping into a fantastic set with the audience apparently having a great time when suddenly all hell was let loose with a pitched fight in the crowd and a hail of glasses being thrown. The police were called that night and the gig discontinued.
Many big bands point back to early Rock City gigs as some of their most enjoyable. Nobody will ever point to the venue as being salubrious or well appointed, but what was never in doubt was the extraordinary atmosphere generated in the Nottingham venue. Long may that continue.
It was last summer, I was driving along a local country lane, top down on the car and not particularly listening in to some fairly bland BBC Radio Two fare interspersed with chatter. Nothing new there…until suddenly this amazing song came out of the speakers. My first thoughts were that it was from the late sixties-early seventies era with it’s Stax-fused horns and soulful, imploring vocals. ‘Don’t remember this one, it must have somehow passed my by all these years’ were my immediate thoughts. I listened carefully for the title and singer, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & The True Loves – Come and get it. Immediately on returning home and curious, I found it on the Internet and played it over and over. Remember when you used to buy a 45 and do that? You just couldn’t get enough of a tune?
Born Eli Husock, the artist is a young US singer with a big future in my humble opinion. His band, The Trueloves, tight as a drum, roll back the years with every note. Together they effortlessly evoke a golden era of soul music through their love and dedication of the genre. Make no mistake, this is the real thing. Go listen.
These arms of mine
They are lonely, lonely and feeling blue
These arms of mine
They are yearning, yearning from wanting you
For most of my life, if anyone has ever enquired as to whom my favourite singer is, the answer has without fail, always been the same, the great soul singer, Otis Redding. Perhaps that’s a slightly unusual choice so please let me introduce you to the sort of feeling that this man’s memory evokes in people.
Around four years ago I was sitting in a Cognitive Psychology seminar at Nottingham Trent university as our new (to us) lecturer and personal supervisor-to-be introduced himself to the class. He marched in to the room and pointed to a couple of large images on an overhead viewer behind him. I could almost hear a sharp intake of breath as he first pointed to a picture of comedian, Peter Kaye who reputedly had something of a resemblance to the lecturer who maintained that he was indeed not Peter Kaye. His opening words further, went something like this:
There are only two things in life that are unarguable. One is that everything can be argued; the other is that These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding is the greatest love song of all time. Everything else is arguable…
The class looked slightly nonplussed. I knew what he meant.
I was feeling in an emotional mood one evening recently and thinking in particular of those words and that song. I drew it out and played it and sure enough, I don’t mind admitting, I ‘had a little grit in my eye’. The feeling and emotion in that song is simply overwhelming. Only Otis Redding could sing a song that way.
And if you would let them hold you
Oh, how grateful I will be
These arms of mine
They are burning, burning from wanting you
In my humble view, amongst many great, great singers down through the decades, no one can remotely put the feeling into a song that Otis was able to. His voice has a profound and plaintive yearning that came from deep, deep in his soul. This distinguishes him from most ‘soul’ singers.
Many only know Otis from his classic sixties hit ‘Dock of a Bay’ which history tells us became his first major hit, sadly just one month after his sad passing at just twenty-six years old. In some ways it is a fine legacy to him but I believe to Otis it was just another song, one that he had a little fun with even when we hear his casual, whistled refrain during the recording.
My first introduction to his music was through my older sister who would bring home all the latest ‘hits’ from her job in the record department of a large department store in Nottingham. Many of those titles are memorable but I really can’t tell you how exciting it was to hear the classic album ‘Otis Blue’ for the first time. Even at that fairly tender age I knew these songs would stay with me forever.
Otis remained ‘my man’ and upon growing up, entering work and earning my own money I found the album ‘Monterey Pop’ in the famed Selectadisc store in Nottingham. The vinyl album was an unusual one in that a live performance of Otis featured on one side and a live display of guitar pyrotechnics by Jimi Hendrix filled the flip side. The Monterey festival in California was a landmark pop festival in many ways but it’s Otis’s performance that I will remark upon. Otis strode out onto the stage backed by the fabulous, and on the night, frenetic Booker T and The MG’s and threw himself into a version of Shake which blew the stadium almost in two with it’s unstoppable energy. As a rock critic memorably coined on the night ‘Fifteen stones of soul in a mohair suite’. Perhaps the most poignant aspect, especially after Otis left us, was his portrayal of his ‘Love crowd’ as he immortalised them from the stage that night. Utterly unforgettable. It should be said that this was perhaps the first major live performance by a black artist to a young white American audience of such proportions. It was groundbreaking and it was all about love.
The years go on and still I have a deep feeling for this man’s memory and all that he stood for. His voice is the sound of my own soul. This I have come to understand. The next time you want to tell the special person in your life how much you care, play her (or him) These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding. She’ll be yours forever.
Rest in peace, Otis. Love from Stu.
I was perusing the pages of Facebook last evening and came across a video of a pretty pop song dating back to 1966 which had been posted by an acquaintance on that site. The footage showed English singer, Crispian St. Peters, not in the below video but in a fun and slightly awkward stage performance of his hit The Pied Piper. I’ve never really thought very deeply about this nice little piece of mid-sixties pop but it evoked an era for me very well upon hearing it again and watching Crispian’s performance.
I had a further search on his name on YouTube and quickly came across the song and his other excellent and rather moody hit You Were On My Mind and enjoyed that too. Listening to these songs set me back thinking to that time, a time when the ‘Hit Parade’ was eagerly listened to every Sunday on the ‘wireless’ and when The Beatles, The Stones and The Beach Boys et al were in their pomp and strutting their stuff with what seemed like some wondrous new music. It’s those kinds of bands that people tend to remember these days and for good reason, but I do feel that some of the straight-ahead pop of the era from now sometimes forgotten artists was unbeatable. The melodies of some of these one and two-off songs from artists such as Crispian St. Peters will probably live forever.
Crispian St. Peters
The year of 1966 was something of a watershed in popular music. Nobody particularly used the rather disparaging term ‘bubblegum pop’ yet and psychedelia was just around the corner whilst later, the defining days of Woodstock were still to happen. A young me was trying to make progress at my first junior school and scared to death of most aspects of trying to settle into ‘the big school’. Pop music was everything to me then, having an older sister who worked in a record department of a department store and bringing home all the exciting latest vinyl releases. Sometimes my first taste of many of these songs would be in the sound cubicles of Griffin & Spalding – a rarity in those days – in the Old Market Square in Nottingham. Subsequently I learned to love the sounds of some of the greatest artists of all-time in this way, artists such as Otis Redding who remains my ‘main man’ to this day. It was a time of listening to the like of Emperor Roscoe and Simon Dee spinning the discs and listening in under the bedclothes to Radio Caroline. Above all it was a tremendously exciting and dynamic time in popular music.
The video above is an innocent and unsophisticated affair compared to offerings in 2010. Crispian St. Peter depicted as The Pied Piper himself with a group of young schoolchildren who have clearly been told to ‘march’ after Crispian. For some reason I find it very touching, maybe because I was little older than those children at that time in 1966. I looked and was dressed to go to school very similarly. It also portrays the innocence of not only the era but also of being that age. There is a particularly tender and lovely moment when one of the little boys runs to catch Crispian and hold his hand to walk with him. Somehow very poignant and touching.
Crispian St. Peters, born Robin Peter Smith, the young man in the video with the chiselled, boyish good looks and the popular mod-ish style of the era, passed away at the age of seventy-one in June 2010.
I’m the Pied Piper
And I’ll show you where it’s at’
Christmas approaches. It is time to reflect.
I was a big fan of Rod Stewart, in the seventies. His early albums had some superb stuff on them (often to the chagrin of the Faces it seemed to me as some of his best material seemed to be held back for his solo projects at times). The Faces were one of my very favourite rock and roll bands (and still are).
There was a big departure for Rod at the time of his leaving the group (which had become a bit shambolic it has to be admitted) and the making of Atlantic Crossing with a group of newly enrolled musicians that were more er… reliable than ‘Lanieolie’ and the rest. I think this era marked a big change in his career and what it became over the years.
I still have a more than sneaking regard for Rod but avoided the Great American Songbook stuff. It’s down to personal taste but it just wasn’t for me. It certainly was for many though. In fairness his is a very long career and it’s understandable that he (like anyone else) would like to try new things.
One of the finer things from the old days for me was in hearing Rod sing a soul classic or two, I think he’s always been pretty good at that. In the early seventies he said he’d never try and tackle a Sam Cooke, (a great hero of his) number (which he quickly rescinded on!) On that note I’ve been deliberating whether to buy my first bit of music of his in a very long time in the new Soulbook album. The ‘For’ vote is winning just as I reckon that album and a return for Rod to some of his roots is.
He’ll still do for me. Welcome ‘back’ Rodney!
I was reading an interesting debate entitled The Beatles are/were vastly overrated! on The Hibees Bounce forums just recently and couldn’t but help contribute a few thoughts. What brought me into the discussion was the mention of the great Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds in a very worthy comparison with The Beatles great work, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Now Pet Sounds is probably in my ‘top one of a group of one’ albums (as a certain former football manager would have said!) For many years the album wasn’t considered as being a ‘better’ piece of work than Sgt Pepper though – if you can possibly order these things in any meaningful way – but I personally think it has stood up better over the decades than the Fab Four’s platter. It’s always been a slight surprise to me that opinion has changed over time regarding Sgt Pepper though as I always believe it was regarded as The Beatles ‘masterpiece’ for many years.
The debate itself asks the question if The Beatles were overrated. I wouldn’t attempt to change anyone’s mind over what they think about The Beatles but it’s interesting to see some of the reaction to their work these days – one that questions their superiority over other bands. Naturally, this is how it should be and it’s always healthy for things to be questioned. There are two reasons for this I believe – the first one being the natural generational one where people’s tastes move on and observes heroes of their own time. This is seen in all sort of spheres as we know and football is a prime example. Secondly, and more interesting for me is the curiously ‘British’ (and I use that term advisedly!) attitude to the people it initially places on a pedestal. I’d question how people in the US would regard The Beatles if they had been of their own, in comparison to how they’re sometimes disregarded here.
I’ll lay my cards on the table, no problem. The Beatles were the best – no question in my mind and no shadow of a doubt. Their creativity, musicianship and song writing were without equal in any other band. I can go year on year playing music of my own tastes, Northern Soul, Otis Redding and Stax/Atlantic soul generally and bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Who, The Jam, The Clash, Joy Division et al without playing any Beatles tracks at all but I know who the masters were. A band without parallel. One who single-handedly developed and pushed forward popular music more than any other act in my humble opinion. Particularly in the way they wrote their own songs, as few did in their earlier days.
It’s been said before but I think it’s worth reiterating. The Beatles were great innovators of their time and they were ‘first’ in so many ways. These are the kind of creative people I admire in life generally. It’s important to also remember the context and era in which they were writing, recording and performing but I feel that this is often lost a little in debate.
It’s almost a back-handed compliment to see the way some of their songs from all of forty-odd years ago are picked up as a point of debate. It kind of says it all really, one might say…
Regarding Sgt Pepper specifically, from the public’s general conception rather than my own necessarily, it was a wonderful piece of imagination of the day and almost seemed like an axis for the major change in popular music that occurred at that time. Whatever people think about the songs on it now, and there were some absolute classics – She’s Leaving Home, A Day in the Life etc. – it remains at least as important as any other album in the course of popular music in history in my own humble opinion
It’s a question I’ll never be able to answer, Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album, Revolver – which was the best album? I don’t think there actually IS an answer to that. They were all wonderful.
When the original Quadrophenia album by The Who was released in October 1973 I was a young teenager approaching sixteen years of age with all the angst and most of the unhappiness that those years can muster and provide. I’d caught up with the The Who’s violently productive era in the 1960s, mainly by originally listening to the compilation Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy which featured the great and classic Who hits of that era such as My Generation, I Can’t Explain, The Kids are Alright. Intrigued and totally entranced by this band and by it’s songwriter, Pete Townshend in particular, I ‘discovered’ the band’s original rock opera,Tommy and set about arming myself with every single piece of Who material I could, right back to their original incarnation as ‘The High Numbers’.
Pete Townhend, artist, intellect, hero
There was no question. The Who and Pete Townshend spoke for me. They detailed all the anger and frustration I had as a youngster and there was something liberating about the on-stage violence and destroying of instruments but much more importantly the way that Townshend wrote that made them ‘my’ band. Because of those seminal years, years when I managed to see three of the original Who’s imperious live performances and followed them avidly, they remained my band.
Let’s spin rapidly up to date. It’s August 2009, fully thirty-six years after the double album telling the story of young Mod, Jimmy’s life. I’m a whole lot older, I see things through different, more wary and experienced and yes sometimes more sullied eyes. I observe the local entertainment listings and see that a stage version of this story that was very precious and sensitive to me all those years ago is to be aired at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. What to make of this?
The video preview material seemed a little trite and overly choreographed. It concerned me that my memory of Quadrophenia’s power and majesty would not marry well with this theatrical production. I’m unashamedly not an afficionado of musicals, on stage or celluloid, but this story is a special one to me. I had to see how people interpret this masterpiece of torment and anguish and how it sits in this era and with me personally.
I am so happy that I did.
The familiar sounds of waves crashing heralded the beginning of the performance with the ethereal overture of I Am the Sea leading onto the driving, insistent and direct riffs of The Real Me. This was good, better than good, my concerns had been buried within seconds by the excellent live band situated as part of the set at stage rear. It must be born in mind that the very last time I had heard this music played live it was by The Who themselves, standing up there on stage. It was wonderful to hear it again though.
The lead character of Jimmy was played by four actors, often simultaneously on stage. This was to depict the four (Quadraphonic) aspects of the young Mod’s confused character. In the original Who album liner notes these characteristics were defined as, the tough guy (Who singer, Roger Daltrey), the romantic (bassist John Entwhistle) a lunatic (drummer Keith Moon) and a beggar and hypocrite (Townshend himself). Understanding which character was which was somewhat confusing at times, especially when not seated close to the stage. It may have been even more difficult for those not necessarily cognisant with the original story.
The Clothing was pretty much in the main authentic looking with Fred Perry shirts, parka coats and a little pop-art imagery. There were though one or two over-the-top ‘stagey’ outfits with ridiculous Union Jacks depicted, particularly adorning ‘The Godfather’. The latter didn’t really hit the mark for me and detracted from the ‘feel’ of the production. An attractive and showy Vespa scooter played a central role in one scene – and was criminally kicked over after being ridden across the stage by ‘Jimmy’!
Several songs outside of the original Quadrophenia double album were featured (some from the film soundtrack background music), My Generation, So Sad About Us, I Can’t Explain, The Kid’s are Alright and I’m The Face. I’m not sure how I felt about this as the original concept was so faultlessly melded together that the addition of these classic songs almost made them feel like intruders.
The band were tight and powerful and the cast’s singing excellent, especially the emotional rendition of Love Reign O’er Me, which was a complete stand-out. Even my partner with no prior knowledge of the story admitted afterwards that this beautiful song made her feel very emotional at this stage. The whole experience was only slightly spoiled by the auditorium’s sound which contrived to overpower and drown Pete Townshend’s memorable lyrics at times.
I must confess myself to feeling very choked at times, listening to the often note-for-note faithful replaying of the original music. As a young and mixed-up teenager when Quadrophenia came out I very much identified with Jimmy and I confess it took me straight back to those days. In that sense the whole evening worked well for me. I had been able to re-visit and re-work a part of me that was hardly forgotten and still sits at the core of who I am today.
The show was all over within a couple of very enjoyable hours including a short intermission. After accepting a healthy ovation from the audience the cast cheekily but very much in modern recognition chanted back to the onlookers the ‘We are the Mods’ mantra of the sixties. it was a nice moment for those of us who understand this history and sent everyone out of the Royal Concert Hall doors with an even wider smile.
As I had witnessed and silently thought to myself on the previous night when the tremendous and familiar roar of a Mod scooter ride-out swept stylishly and proudly down a main thoroughfare of Nottingham towards the opening night of Quadrophenia, this thing called ‘Mod’ will never die. I know that.
It’s seldom I take the short and direct fifteen-minute drive north of where I live to the Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield but today was to be an exception. I’d read recently in the local media about a free exhibition that was to be held at Mansfield Museum in the town’s Leeming Street, very close to The Palace Theatre where I experienced an extremely fun day in what seems almost like another life now.
Pop goes Mansfield! is an exhibition celebrating popular music over six decades with a particular interest in the way that the local area has made it’s own small yet distinctive stamp on the world of rock and roll It’s through one of Mansfield’s favourite sons, a man by the name of Bernard Jewry – better known to the public as Alvin Stardust and prior to that Shane Fenton, that the story is largely told. Alvin’s collection of memorabilia, from his jump suits right down to his improbably tall platform shoes, augments the large room which is crammed full with various interesting pop and rock artefacts.
An episode of the BBC’s Inside Out shows on a loop in the room, explaining Alvin’s story and upbringing in the North Nottinghamshire mining town. From his family home through the different phases of success that followed his career, he comes across as a sincere man with few airs and graces, one who has had a good and entertaining life and enjoyed every minute of the journey along the way.
An inspirational piece of verse for today. I find this poem by Mary Oliver very refreshing and comforting. It’s an important message that tells us to ‘live in the now’ and states clearly our place in the scheme of things in this big, wide world.
The world keeps on turning…
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
On this 20th Anniversary of the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster when ninety-six Liverpool fans perished, let us remember them. May God rest and keep them.
YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE Continue reading
The heading today is a quote from the official website of a great hero of mine, singer, songwriter and guitarist John Martyn who passed away on Thursday this past week. It tells of the essence of a man who wrote many songs about the the vagaries of love. Indeed, similar were the words I first heard about him, a fellow student at college back in the late seventies exhorting me to ‘come along to see this guy’ who was playing at Nottingham University, whose songs were invariably written around love.
I did go along, and I was stunned at his musicianship. I’d had the opportunity to borrow an album or two beforehand and was interested in John’s unique style of music already but this live performance was quite something apart. My friend and I had caught a bus from the city out to the University and polished off a drink in the student union bar before rushing to the stairs leading to the concert room. At the foot of the stairs stood two men, one with a mass of curly hair, an unruly beard and an earring. In his hands were a guitar with several effects pedals hanging from it. It was John Martyn and his roadie. We had a few quick words with him, wishing him a good gig whilst walking up the stairs, and he took the stage with a crate of beer placed beside him as we took our places sitting cross-legged on the floor. What transpired was a stunning and original display of innovative guitar virtuosity couple with John’s blues influenced trademark slurred vocals.
From that time around thirty years ago I’ve always felt a special affinity for John Martyn’s music. Not only for it’s excellence but also as a link back those happy and carefree times at college in Nottingham and the great friends that surrounded me in those days. This is perhaps the reason why I was so taken aback to hear the sad news of John’s passing this week. It feels very much like a part of my past has disappeared too.
John had an interesting upbringing. Having been born in Surrey , England, christened Iain David McGeachy to parents who were both opera singers, he spent much of his growing up years in Glasgow and attended school there. It’s said that he very much considered Glasgow to be home. Throughout his career of over forty years John was known for his excesses with drink and drugs. It was perhaps, partly his lifestyle that hastened the end of the marriage to his wife Beverley Kutner, who he had collaborated with musically on several occasions. The resultant next album, Grace and Danger, was an extremely wrought and emotional offering which detailed his feelings of dejection at the time and of how out-of-control his life had become. From John’s large back catalogue it is arguably his Solid Air album of 1973 that has been most widely lauded however. The record was a tribute to his friend, singer-songwriter Nick Drake who sadly died of an overdose of anti-depressants the following year.
John Martyn’s music has always been a curiosity – it’s almost impossible to attribute to any particular genre, so unique is it. It encompasses blues, folk, jazz and much more. He used special effects arguably better than any other artist has with his trademark sound typically being produced with an acoustic guitar run through fuzzbox, a phase shifter and Echoplex. Last year in February, John received a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. A present Eric Clapton was urged to say in tribute that John Martyn was “so far ahead of everything, it’s almost inconceivable”. Who would argue with one of the great masters of the guitar?
On Thursday 29th of January, John Martyn passed away in Ireland. The world lost a wonderful talent – a man with a great gift.
Lot of love, John.
“May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold.”
There’s no such thing a a ‘free lunch’, right…?
Well maybe and maybe not. Browsing the web yesterday I came across an extremely nifty little piece of software however which allows one to play free music. Nothing unusual there perhaps, but this music player simply requires that you type the title of practically any song you can bring to mind and it will produce it for your gratification instantly.
The titles don’t download. They just play…instantly. Try it for yourself by registering and downloading the easy-to-use software from the logo below.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Sometimes, people pass through one’s life without too much of a stir being created. Occasionally though, we are truly humbled at the effect that a person has on your life. The things you learn from them, the wonderful times they give you, the different horizons they offer you. Such a person was my partner’s mum, Margaret Weaver. A dear lady I have been blessed to have in my life for the past fifteen years until we all sadly lost her recently after a brave fight against illness.
Years ago when I was in my mid-twenties I lost both my mother and father at a too-young age. As we know, never do we get over the loss, we merely learn to deal with the sadness. This was not lost on Margaret who claimed me as her own son. How humbled and proud do I feel of that? Extremely. I feel blessed that I had such a wonderful woman as a perfect surrogate mum. Not very many are as lucky.
Prior to Margaret’s funeral service, I considered that I might well be Margaret’s only fellow countryman present on the occasion, living in Nottingham England as I do. I considered it would seem quite apt to offer a little insight into Margaret’s origins and early days. Perhaps like me, you will come to consider that the type of upbringing Margaret had was quite strongly linked to the warm, funny and loveable lady many of us had the pleasure of having in our lives.
In the years between the two World Wars and especially post the second conflict, Nottingham, like many of it’s contemporary cities experienced a new vitality, partly born out of sheer relief from victory and also because of a need to redevelop the towns and cities. The war years had ravaged and impoverished many towns in Great Britain and now was the time to re-build – both physically and emotionally.
In Nottingham one of many new residential areas was created to the west of the city. This area, named Aspley was where Margaret and her large family grew up and thrived happily.
Anyone who knew Margaret well will recall how fondly she would talk of those early days in Aspley. As a young girl she would play in safety with the many young friends from the neighbouring homes in those new neat and pristine little streets, carefree and happy. Families such as Margaret’s were strong and all-important in that culture. Children responded to the love and guidance they were given. It’s my belief that these happy times informed much of the rest of Margaret’s long, positive and happy life. One that was widely admired, not least by myself.
Through her teenage and early working years, Margaret became a vivacious and fun-loving young woman, one who came to show love and be loved by all who met her.
A subject that Margaret would talk of very often to me was of her early secretarial and Personal Assistant work at Skinner and Rooke, a high quality department store in the Nottingham of the day. The store stood in a prominent position close by the city’s Old Market Square. By a strange coincidence many years later I came to work in the exact same premises (though for a different business). That was for three long weeks and what seemed like three years. This was mainly due to the Nottingham city centre clock ‘Little John’ striking loudly every fifteen minutes. I certainly envied Margaret’s patience and devotion to duty!
Margaret at that time enjoyed a full social life with her dear sister Joan, brother Alan and friends in what was a lively post war Nottingham. Shortly afterwards the call of Canada beckoned for this bright young woman. Many have witnessed the remainder of this exceedingly happy story…
Bringing things up to date and speaking of the past fifteen years I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing Margaret and her husband Sherman, I’d like to talk of the extreme kindness shown to me by the both of them. That fact I lost my parents at a reasonably young age was never lost on Margaret. Indeed she claimed me as her ‘other son’. I can’t say how touched I have always been by this. I was very fortunate in having the perfect surrogate mum.
Over the years, Melanie and I have always sought to visit Margaret and Sherman whenever possible. It has never been less than a great pleasure and a happy experience. We were recently able to visit for four weeks and although a difficult time in many ways I refuse to take away anything less than sweet memories from that visit. Through all the difficulties we were able to be together as a family, and I feel very much part of that.
Before ending, I’d like to also mention Margaret’s annual visits to Nottingham to visit us. These were always enjoyable and often epic times! Occasionally even Sherman was tempted out of the Garden of Eden that is Kelowna to come along too! On one occasion notably for a vacation in the remote Scottish Highlands. Great memories and as the song say’s: ‘They can’t take that away from me’.
Now is not a time to be sad. There really was no place for sadness in Margaret’s life so for those of us who knew her let’s enjoy rather, revel in her memory and smile like she would have wanted. Life was there to be lived and this, Margaret did with great expertise and joy. I’d like those who knew her to be true to that memory.
I’ll end if I may, with a few words written by Robert Burns:
Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
Had we never lov’d sae kindly,
Had we never lov’d sae blindly,
Never met-or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, but not for ever!