Saturday 28 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1967

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

Behind the wheel in Belgium, 1967.

Dad worked as the manager of a shop selling hi-fi equipment from the beginning of the 1960's up until we moved out of London in 1975, and from time to time would buy LP's with which to demonstrate record players to customers. If he liked something he heard, he would record it onto reel-to-reel tape at work and bring it home. In 1967, among several others I'm sure, I particularly remember that he brought home tapes of 'The Byrds Greatest Hits', 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and 'Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits'. I still have his Byrds and Dylan tapes, which he continued to play and enjoy for another 30 years, although he never purchased anything else by either artist. He wasn't so keen on 'Sgt Pepper' though, and soon taped over it. A few months later, after updating the demonstration records at the shop, he brought home the fairly worn 'Sgt Pepper' LP for me to keep. I didn't fully appreciate the significance of the record for another few years, but did get to know it well enough to write a couple of stories in English lessons at school, based on the lyrics of 'She's Leaving Home' and 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds'.

Friday 27 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1966

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

Christmas '66

For obvious reasons, all of the music discussed thus far in this series, burrowed its way into my consciousness slightly later in my childhood, when I was old enough to fully take it in. From this point on, though, I began to enjoy new records bought by Dad, or others I heard on the radio, as they appeared. Take 'Pretty Flamingo' by Manfred Mann for example. Years later, I'd hear great versions by artists such as Paul Weller, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, but I'll always return to the original. Some songs just take you right back there. And this one does just that.

Thursday 26 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1965

55 records in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

'Helping' Mum in the garden. 1965.

The pictures on the nation's television screens may still have been in black & white, but in 1965, my imagination was ablaze in vivid colour, thanks to the creativity of one man - Gerry Anderson. I was marginally too young for Fireball XL5, but Stingray was already a firm favourite by the time Anderson's newest TV series, Thunderbirds, appeared on the scene in October of that year.

 How I met the Tracy family.

Century 21 Records used the latest in their brilliant '7" Mini LP' series to introduce the Tracy family, Lady Penelope and Parker. Thanks to the kindness of Aunts and Uncles, I accumulated a clutch of these records, which contained theme tunes and exclusive adventures featuring all the various Supermarionation characters. I played those records constantly on the family radiogram and still know them all off by heart, including every scratch, crackle and jump. Thunderbirds are Go!

Wednesday 25 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1964

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

At the end of August 1964, Dad sat me down in front of the family reel to reel tape recorder to interview me, much as he did from time to time, right up until I was about 7 or 8 years of age. On this occasion the talk was all about school. My first day was fast approaching and I was really looking forward to it. He asked me what I thought I was going to do at school. 'Play football' I confidently replied.

 The original letter sent to my parents prior to my first day at school in 1964. Note point 2. (Click to enlarge)

When the big day finally arrived, I was keen and eager to get going. I'd chosen my clothes the evening before and even told Mum what I'd like for lunch - soup, so family legend has it. Then, clutching Mum's hand, we walked the short distance to Markhouse Infants School. The Mothers of all the newcomers were invited to stay for a short while to ease the transition for their children, before being ushered quietly from the room. Mum gave me a little wave as she left and with her went every shred of my confidence. The flood gates opened and I cried. And cried. And cried. After an hour or so of me howling the place down and no doubt having tried every soothing trick in the book, one of the teachers phoned Mum to ask her to come and get me. I was an utterly traumatised wreck, though later, when it became apparent that Mum hadn't abandoned me forever and would be there to collect me each lunchtime and at the end of every day, I settled into school life quite happily.

 What a little angel I was! Mum & I, 1964.

Earlier in 1964, West Ham United won the FA Cup, beating Preston North End 3-2 in the final. Dad, though approaching the end of his interest in football, went to the match at Wembley, then, a few days later, took me to see the team's victory parade through the streets of the East End. I found this marvelous converted cine film footage of the parade, which is a fascinating little time capsule and well worth a look, football fan or not.

Here I am in the crowd, a little overwhelmed, not even a football fan, but wearing my rosette with pride.

And that rosette? Still got it!


Some of the tunes accompanying this series of posts might be obscure, others better known, while a few will be absolute classics. Today's selection falls into the latter category and was a firm favourite on the family radiogram in 1964. Honestly, does pop music get any better than this?

Tuesday 24 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1963

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

'Tanx' 10 Years Early.

Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, even Frank Sinatra. All artists introduced to me by Dad. Pretty good really. He could so easily have gone down the Black & White Minstrels route like many others of his generation, then where would I have been? Anyway, add Dusty to the list. The Springfields were big favourites of his, particularly popular, I seem to remember, as a soundtrack to any decorating going on in the house - an empty room devoid of wallpaper providing the perfect acoustics for Dad to sing along.

'Say I Won't Be There', a slightly punchier single than some of their folkier efforts, still sounds fine.

Monday 23 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1962

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

Modelling my Sunday best in 1962.

1962 was a good year for Bernard Cribbins. He scored two big hit singles with 'Hole in the Ground' and 'Right Said Fred', popular tunes on the BBC's Family Favourites radio programme throughout my childhood. Often overlooked nowadays though, is Bernard's third hit that year, 'Gossip Calypso'. For some reason this one is vividly etched in my memory. Perhaps it's Cribbins' breathless rat-a-tat delivery or maybe it's the unique use of the phrase 'oxyacetylene welder' in a pop record, but this song has always stuck.

'Gossip Calypso' was written by Trevor Peacock. Latterly a noted TV actor, in the 1960s Peacock penned songs for the likes of Joe Brown, Adam Faith and Billy Fury in addition to the bona-fide hit, 'Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter' for Herman's Hermits.

Sunday 22 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1961

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

I've written about Dad's love of music a few times, how it drifted from Jazz in the 1950's to Pop in the 1960's and on to Classical in later life. He was never interested in Rock 'n' Roll, yet owned virtually complete sets of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison singles, many of which I still have. I think it was the quality of the songwriting that attracted him to these particular artists. He had good taste too. All these years later Buddy and Roy are legends, while other popular artists of the day have faded from memory.

Are you laughing at my hat? The Swede in '61.

The drama of Roy Orbison's songs captivated me as soon as I was old enough to pay attention, evident even in lesser hits like 'Blue Bayou' and 'Borne on the Wind', but dominant in 'It's Over', 'In Dreams' and most of all here, in 'Running Scared'. One day (I don't know how old I was, 5, perhaps 6) as I listened to this song, I can remember feeling my eyes tingle and tears starting to form. It was frightening, I thought something was wrong with me, but, even at such a young age, I was already picking up on the emotion in the writing and performance. 50 years later, it's still a challenge to make it through 'Running Scared' unscathed.

(More on Roy Orbison, Dad and I, here.)

Saturday 21 February 2015

55 From 55 - 1960

In 55 days I will turn 55 years of age. To mark this...ahem...momentous occasion, I'm going to attempt, over the next 55 days, to post a song for every year of my life so far. Some will be personal favourites, others obscurities. I'll try to avoid anything I've already posted (or have made other plans to use in the future) and will also exclude the obvious towering presences in my musical life - so no Dylan, Clash, T.Rex, Miles Davis, Lee Perry etc. Oh, and of course, only one song per artist. Could be tricky.

Having a laugh at a few months of age.

So let's start at the very beginning. Number 1 in the charts on the day of my birth, and for most of April 1960 in fact, was 'My Old Man's a Dustman' by Lonnie Donegan. Before I came along and before he married Mum, my Dad was a frequent visitor to Soho’s Jazz clubs, often to see Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen or Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, both of whom featured Donegan on guitar and vocals. Dad continued to follow Lonnie for a while after he went solo and I still have a few of his original records in my collection.

Donegan was a very influential figure in the pre-Beatles UK charts, amassing a total of 31 top 30 singles between 1955 and 1962, several of them interpretations of  traditional American Folk and Blues songs. 'My Old Man's a Dustman' was one of his occasional Music Hall inspired novelty hits, which perhaps diluted his true legacy a little for later generations, though even on this single, the b-side featured a strong version of the Child Ballad 'The Golden Vanity'. 

Becoming aware of Dad playing his 'My Old Man's a Dustman' single in the early 1960's counts as one of my very first musical memories. Dad sang along, very loudly, with most of the records he played and songs he heard on the radio, a habit he never grew out of. (To the extent that, following his death 47 years later, Mum claimed one of the greatest challenges she had to face, was to become accustomed to the deafening silence that settled on the house.) In the case of 'My Old Man's a Dustman' he also had to try to explain the lyrics to his little boy. 'What are 'cor blimey trousers' Dad?'

Sunday 15 February 2015

Get Together

Every four to six weeks, Mrs S and I get together with two other couples, old friends from my record shop days, to eat lunch, drink wine and catch up with each other's lives. We take turns to host what has come to be known as, 'The Tummy Club', and yesterday it was our turn. After licking our plates clean, we headed out into the late afternoon sunshine to walk off our hearty meal, returning an hour later to enjoy a slice (or two) of Mrs S's outstanding homemade cheesecake, in front of a roaring fire.

The Tummy Club reconvenes in the middle of March. Can't wait.

Here's the great Sid Griffin with a bluegrass interpretation of a much recorded Chet Powers song, taken from his fine 2014 LP, 'The Trick Is to Breathe'.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Lost On the Hard Drive #4 - Callers

I'm currently putting together a new feature, which, all being well, should kick-off in about ten day's time. While strolling through my physical and digital archives in preparation, I unearthed a few more good ol' good 'uns that I've not yet shared. Take 'Rone' by Brooklyn band Callers for instance. A delicious slice from their 2008 debut LP, 'Fortune', and a big favourite in this house at the time.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Version City #39 - Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away

You might want to grab a torch. Things are about to get dark. Very dark indeed. Until an hour ago I'd never heard of Jamey Johnson, Twiggy Ramirez or Shooter Jennings, but it appears that in 2013 these three artists combined to release the very arrangement of perennial favourite, 'You Are My Sunshine', that I might have recorded myself, were I in their position. Unsettling, brooding, menacing - the way I've long thought the song should be approached. And these guys nail it.

Jamey Johnson

Turns out that Shooter is Waylon's son, Jamey's very big on the contemporary country scene and Twiggy, believe it or not, is Marilyn Manson's bassist! 'You Are My Sunshine' was recorded for the soundtrack of an American TV Series, 'Sons of Anarchy'. Brace yourself.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Saturday Scratch #44 - Burning Fire

In addition to the vacuuming duties that I detailed in a recent post, my other key role in this house is, much like Keith Flint, as a firestarter. That is to say I bring in logs, saw up the scrap, chop the kindling and generally prep the wood-burner for action.

Thus it was that last night I diligently screwed up several sheets of newspaper, liberally sprinkled some finely chopped kindling, applied a match and then added scrap wood to get the flames really burning. It was only when I sat back to bask in the warming glow that I sensed something was amiss. What was it? Then it hit me. As I've already mentioned, any fire in our house is traditionally located within the confines of a wood-burner, this one though, was roaring away on the sofa. I'd accidentally lit a fire on the sofa! Panicking, I ran into the garden, grabbed a spade and lifted the whole blazing, popping pile of scrap as one, throwing it into the wood-burner and slamming the doors to seal it in. Needless to say, the room was full of smoke by this point, making me cough, splutter and retch. And it was coughing and spluttering that I jolted awoke to find that, thankfully, I'd been having another particularly vivid dream. So vivid in fact, I swear I could taste the smoke and feel the heat of the flames. It was a weird one.

A fire on our allotment a couple years ago, far from any household furniture.

Hence today's trio of Fire related tunes taken from the vaults of the Black Ark. First up, Truth Fact And Correct's 'Babylon Deh Pon Fire' from 1976, written and produced by Lee Perry.

Next, Jah Stitch, who definitely taped 'Burning Fire' at the Black Ark, though I can't confirm if Scratch was behind the desk for this session.

Finally, from 1975, Phil Pratt handles production duties at the Black Ark for Roman Stewart's 'Fire at Your Heel' (also known as 'Run Come Feel').

Friday 6 February 2015

Daevid Allen

If you're of a similar vintage to me, chances are that I can name two LPs that, at some point in your youth, made an appearance in your record collection, however briefly. 'The Faust Tapes' and Gong's 'Camembert Electrique' were both marketed by Virgin at 59p each, the price of a single, and were gratefully snapped up by fiscally challenged kids the length and breadth of the country. These two records (along with the Sunset budget reissue of Amon Düül II's 'Phallus Dei') became early far-out favourites for me and my little gang of musical adventurers. We weren't always sure what exactly was going on within the grooves of these LPs, but we were totally thrilled by the strange new noises we were hearing.

There are no doubt a few battered old copies of 'Camembert Electrique' being dug out and dusted off today, following yesterday's sad statement from Daevid Allen, original Gong main man and co-founder of The Soft Machine. In case you haven't seen it, I quote this from his website;

'Hello you Kookaburras, 

OK so I have had my PET-CAT scans (which is essentially a full body viewing gallery for cancer specialists) and so it is now confirmed that the invading cancer has returned to successfully establish dominant residency in my neck. The original surgery took much of it out, but the cancer has now recreated itself with renewed vigor while also spreading to my lung. The cancer is now so well established that I have now been given approximately six months to live. 

So My view has Changed: I am not interested in endless surgical operations and in fact it has come as a relief to know that the end is in sight. 

I am a great believer in "The Will of the Way Things Are" and I also believe that the time has come to stop resisting and denying and to surrender to the way it is. 

I can only hope that during this journey, I have somehow contributed to the happiness in the lives of a few other fellow humans. 

I believe I have done my best to heal, dear friends and that you have been enormously helpful in supporting me through this time So Thank you SO much for being there with me, for the Ocean of Love and Now, importantly, Thank you for starting the process of letting go of me, of mourning then transforming and celebrating this death coming up - this is how you can contribute, this would be a great gift from those emotionally and spiritually involved with me. I love you and will be with you always - Daevid xxx -'

Awful news indeed. We can only send good vibes, hope for a miracle and celebrate the music Allen leaves us with. Here's a fantastic piece of footage from 1973, featuring a live performance of 'I Never Glid Before', originally released on that year's 'Angel's Egg' LP.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Stewart Lee / Richard Dawson

The diary's been looking a bit threadbare recently, but last Sunday, Stewart Lee's latest stand-up show, 'Room With a Stew', became my first gig of 2015. Lee is a master of the demystification of live comedy. For example, when a laugh failed to arrive from the audience at an expected moment, he pressed pause on the performance, stepped out of character and walked us through the elaborate verbal scaffolding he'd erected to take us to that point, castigating us repeatedly for not sufficiently appreciating the quality of the humour. After reaching an apparent crescendo of rage, verging on a nervous breakdown, with the subtlest of movements he revealed that this too was all a device. The tension was released and a huge roar of laughter followed. The show really was a masterclass of a performance, thought provoking and very, very funny. I'm picking up the tour again in May.

When I briefly caught up with Stewart in the foyer after the show, we took a moment to share our mutual enthusiasm for the brilliant Richard Dawson. Dawson's musical palette is broad, from Faheyesque instrumentals, to cacophonous drones via unaccompanied traditional ballads. Sometimes there aren't adequate words to do justice to such a prodigious talent, so here are three examples of his work, I urge you to seek out more. This live show (here) is a good place to start.

Monday 2 February 2015

Version City #38 - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy sings Bob Dylan

It's an exciting week in the Dylan community, with the long-awaited release of Bob's new album, 'Shadows in the Night', a re-imagining of songs previously recorded by Frank Sinatra. So this seems an appropriate moment to share my own favourite re-imagining of a Bob Dylan song of recent years, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's terrific reading of 'Brownsville Girl', performed at the finale of the Louisville Motherlodge Festival in 2012. It's an audience recording and there are a lot of people playing, so it distorts here and there, but thank goodness someone captured it. How great is this?

Old Pa over at Tune Doctor is king of the Bob Dylan cover version - he's got hundreds of 'em! 
Check 'em out here.

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