Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Clean Up

Every Monday afternoon I vacuum the house from top to bottom. It's one of the very few household chores that I've been granted top level clearance to take on alone, though the work is of course carefully monitored and I receive regular and detailed feedback on my performance.

After vacuuming for a few minutes, I get into 'the zone'. My mind wanders and often I'll catch myself singing out loud to a tune in my head as I work, usually something bizarre or relatively obscure. (This week it was a seamless medley of 'Nijinsky Hind' by Tyrannosaurus Rex and 'Surreal Estate' by Be-Bop Deluxe.) Sometimes I don't even realise I'm doing it - until it's mentioned later, during my debriefing.

Here's the late great Jackie Mittoo, fronting Sound Dimension, with a cracking 1969 Coxsone Dodd produced instrumental, 'Clean Up'.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Nina Simone

1978's Baltimore is a good, not great, late period Nina Simone LP, although it does contain three totally essential minutes in her interpretation of Fritz Rotter's 'That's All I Want From You'. The song was a hit in 1954 for Jaye P. Morgan and subsequently covered by artists as diverse as Dean Martin, Bobby Bare and Aretha Franklin, but none of these come close to Nina's fragile, emotional reading.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Edgar Froese R.I.P.

As my musical tastes broadened beyond pure glam, or glam influenced rock, throughout 1973/74, I began to realise that my modest Fidelty mono record player just wasn't getting the most out of my newly acquired progressive, experimental and electronic LPs. Fortunately my best mate, George, had a stereo, a real one, not just a radiogram that happened to have twin mono speakers. George's stereo had two speakers, hung high on either side of his parents' living room wall.

When either of us purchased a new LP, we quickly got into the habit of retiring to his house, removing the speakers from their lofty position and placing them faced towards each other on the floor, about 12" apart. We'd then take it in turns to lay on the floor between them to gain the maximum stereo impact we could, from records like 'No Pussyfooting' by Fripp & Eno, 'Trilogy' by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 'Blackdance' by Klaus Schulze, 'Moving Waves' by Focus and anything by Edgar Froese solo, or with Tangerine Dream. I don't know why George's parents didn't him buy a pair of headphones, but those were great days and every new record was a voyage of musical discovery.

I was very sad to read that Edgar Froese, a big favourite of both George and I, died on Tuesday, aged 70. These days I'm a bit long in the tooth for stretching out on the floor to listen to a record, but for the next 9 and a bit minutes, in my head at least, I'm 14 years old again and back there on George's front room carpet between the speakers, digging the music. RIP Edgar.

My Back Pages

Dad took me to a speedway match for the first time in the Summer of 1967. I was seven years old and instantly hooked. For the next nine years we traveled all over London and South East England attending three or four speedway fixtures a week. Now I look back on it, we must have gone to around 500 matches in all that time, just me and Dad - originally on his Honda 90 motorcycle and later in his trusty Hillman Imp.

Memories of those many happy hours spent enveloped in diesel fumes, diligently filling in programmes, collecting autographs and cheering on my favourite riders, came back to me recently when I unearthed a couple of pages torn out of two very old speedway magazines, which I found buried at the bottom of a box. The pages feature crowd photos from speedway matches, with a lucky supporter circled on each - a weekly competition in this particular publication. The first one I looked at featured a crowd scene from Romford, taken one Thursday evening in the summer of 1969. And there we are. Dad with cigarette in mouth and programme in hand, and me leaning on the barrier. We're deep in conversation and oblivious to the photographer, unlike the lucky winner! 

The other page is from April of 1968 and features a similar photo, this one taken at Hackney, home of my favourite team, 'The Hawks'. Every Friday evening, Dad and I would grab our preferred vantage point high on the 4th bend, by the pits, which happened to be the very section of the stadium that the photographer chose to take his snap. This time I obviously spotted him, as I've worked my way down towards the front and, bobble hat on head, am looking straight at the camera. Still not a winner though!

And Dad? When I came across these pages a couple of weeks ago, I initially assumed that he hadn't made it into this particular shot. On closer inspection, however, there he is, right up at the back, in the shadows, this time smoking his pipe.

Though neither of us turned out to be lucky winners back in the 1960s, rediscovering these old torn out magazine pages in 2015 is a pretty good consolation prize.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Misty Mist

Down the garden, over the allotments and across the marsh beyond. I always stop to look out of our bedroom window, whether I'm on my way into bed at night or stumbling out of it at the start of a new day. It's never the same view twice. Here's what I saw this morning.

I could write a whole piece on the range and variety of mists that gather on the marsh, but would struggle to illustrate any of them. Successfully capturing mist on camera is akin to capturing lightning in a bottle, for me anyway. This morning's mist/frost/sun combo was particularly beautiful though. And as I looked out, I too was being observed. I guess the view in the other direction is no big deal to this little 'un.

Later in the day, we endured a private mist of our own - inside the house. The next door neighbours were sanding down a beam and, as our two houses were once one and thus we share some floorboards, a gentle sawdust fog drifted up and through the rooms, leaving a fine covering over everything. I'd only vacuumed yesterday too.

Monday, 19 January 2015


Nan, my Maternal Grandmother, was born in Stratford in the East End of London on the 19th of January 1893, 122 years ago today - a time when the first controlled flight of an aircraft lay 10 years in the future and the sight of a primitive motor car on the streets of the nation's capitol was still an incredibly rare event. As a child, she grew up in a house with no electricity, no gas, inconsistent running water, a rudimentary coal stove, a tin bath hanging on the wall and a toilet in the backyard. By the time she died, she'd survived two world wars, outlived two husbands, given birth to one child and watched men walking on the moon on her own colour telly. 

Nan's birth certificate. Frail and precious.

Nan was 67 when I arrived on the scene in 1960, dying a couple of days short of my 16th birthday in 1976. I spent a lot of time with her when I was a kid, particularly during the mid-1960s when both my parents were working. Her vernacular was an anachronistic Victorian Cockney, liberally sprinkled with odd turns of phrase that my Dad always referred to as 'Nan-isms' (a subject I've previously touched on here and I'll devote a whole post to one of these days). Her kitchen was always 'the scullery', my pyjamas a 'pyjam-suit' and, in later years, a 50p coin was a 'silver ten-bob note'.

Nan (wearing her ever-present pinnie), Mum & I, 1963.

When I was being looked after by her, Nan's favourite trick to keep me engaged and, no doubt, out from under her feet, was to sit me at the table with pencil and paper and and give me a subject, often just one word, upon which I would write a story. When I was done, she'd sit opposite me as I read it to her, then she'd dream up another subject to repeat the process. My young imagination was vivid and I loved to make up stories, so this would literally keep me amused for hours. Meanwhile Nan, wearing her ever-present pinnie, might fill the coal scuttle, scrub the doorstep or potter around in the scullery, perhaps baking a cake, before inviting me to scrape out the sticky leftover cake mix from the bowl with my finger. Then I would ask her for new subject, sit down at the table and begin another story.

A treasured inscription in an old autograph book


After the Sex Pistols there was The Rich Kids and after The Rich Kids Glen Matlock formed The Spectres with ex-Tom Robinson Band guitarist Danny Kustow. The short lived combo gigged heavily while pursuing both David Bowie and Alex Chilton as potential producers, but ultimately issued just two singles, both in 1980, a cover of Ray Davies' 'This Strange Effect' and this, their own, 'Stories'.

Friday, 16 January 2015

I Should Watch TV

A recent post over at the ever wonderful Sun Dried Sparrows reminded me of the time I was browsing in an achingly (and I really mean achingly) cool, alternative bookstore in Brooklyn several years ago. It was a fascinating and incredibly arty shop, chock-a-block with obscure titles and with ferocious jazz blaring from the in-store sound-system. Anyway, I was nosing about the shelves, when a skinny young man stepped from behind the counter and approached me. He worked at the store and had recognised my English accent. This was a guy who wouldn't have looked out of place in the line-up of a cutting edge band - an impossibly cool individual. So you can imagine my surprise at the question he asked me. 'You're from England...', he said, '...do you know a TV series called Lovejoy?' 'Errrm...., yes...' I replied, somewhat taken aback, '...in fact parts of it were filmed not far from where I live'. At this, the guy's veneer of cool dropped. 'Oh my God, I LOVE that show...' he babbled excitedly, '...do you know when the third season will be out on DVD?'

If only I'd known at the time....

Yes, it transpired that this arty, uber-cool, bookish Brooklynite was a massive fan of the venerable East Anglian antique dealer and he proceeded to pepper me with questions about the programme for several minutes - fairly unsuccessfully as it happens, as I'd rarely watched it myself. His main gripe seemed to be that, at the time, only the first couple of series had thus far made it to DVD in the USA, so he'd had to rely on acquiring bootleg copies of the show to feed his habit! This was well before Ian McShane found American fame in Deadwood, so, to be quite honest, I was surprised to hear that any episodes of Lovejoy had been released on DVD in the States and frankly astonished that the programme was so admired by such a young hipster.

Now, what's that phrase about not judging a book by its cover? It seems particularly apt in this case.

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