Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Unconfirmed News from Memphis

Today being 16th August 2017 I thought it apt to post this chapter from 'Taking Candy from a Dog'. Forty years gone, but ELVIS remains the king. TCB. 

1977 hasn’t been as hot as 1976. That would have been impossible. The weather has been tripe, but it hasn’t always been as cold as the day of the Jubilee party.
Betty, Mac and Lee have come up for another visit. We’ve done the usual things; a day out at Seasalter, another at Hythe, visited the skulls at St Leonard’s church, played an England game v Dad and Mac (drew 2-2 with Scotland), interrogated Jack, that sort of thing. Lee and I have played some Subbuteo and Sure Shot Hockey, but no Wimbledon. That was last summer and nowadays punk is more important.
Donna Summer is at number one with I Feel Love. Lee likes disco and punk in equal measure. I only like punk now. Lee’s also got a new saying. He keeps asking me if my wife is a go-er. I haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about, but he keeps asking me.
Hey, guess what? The Sex Pistols have a new single out, it’s called Pretty Vacant. You should hear it, it’s even better than God Save the Queen. However, I didn’t hear this news from Lee. I heard it at school from Steve McNeeney. He heard the song on the radio, as it hasn’t been banned by the BBC, and he told everyone the hot news - the Sex Pistols have got a new single out.
Except Steve McNeeney didn’t tell us it was called Pretty Vacant. Oh no. Steve McNeeney told everyone it was called Shitty Bacon. Shitty Bacon! When we found out what it was really called he had lots of egg all over his face.
Lee and I are at Nan’s house watching the 10 O’clock News. The grown-ups have all gone out. We’re waiting for The Man with X-Ray Eyes to come on, which is a film starring Ray Milland about a man who can see through things.
“Is your wife a go-er, eh, squire? Know what I mean? Nudge-nudge.”
I still haven’t got a clue what he’s going on about.
Lee reminds me about the programme we saw on rabies a couple of years ago. It still hasn’t come over here and none of our family has died yet, but I still don’t trust dogs.
We also talk about the episode that happened this morning. This is what happened.
Lee and I were playing cricket in our garden - TV Celebrities v Rock Stars. Grandad’s garden is no good for cricket. The concrete bird bath can be ignored if you’re playing tennis, but not cricket.
Mum and Dad were laid out on sunbeds at the other end of the lawn. Dad had a can of Colt 45 and an Alistair MacLean novel on the go. Mum was in a C & A bikini. Mum moaned every time we hit the tennis ball too near her. We might play tennis with a shuttlecock, but we play cricket with a tennis ball.
By the way, don’t go getting any mad ideas like my mum no longer shops at Marks & Sparks. It just means that since Chatham got a C&A she now has two shops in which to buy her clothes.
In the garden of next-door-but-one can be found Nan and Grandad, Betty and Mac, Mabel, Kes and Jack.
Grandad is doing some weeding and sieving soil to remove stones. He is obsessive about exterminating stones from his soil.
Nan and Mac are soaking up the sun. Nan, her hair purple rinsed, in navy blue swimsuit and Mac in his work uniform - the one he wears from February to November. Mac sells second-hand cars from a gravelled lot in Portswood, five minutes from their home - Crosswind Motors. On this car lot he spends his days cleaning, polishing, working under the bonnet and generally making his cars as good as new. Mac sells a clean car. Mac sells clean cars dressed in tartan shorts and a pair of tan shoes whilst smoking a Manikin. That’s it; shorts, shoes, cigar-leaf tan and a panatella. He puts a shirt on as it gets a bit chillier, usually around the beginning of November, but it comes off at the first glimpse of sun in February. Mac would have made a good Aztec.
Except the Aztecs didn't have cars.
Betty and Mabel shield themselves from the sun under a large umbrella propped behind their chairs. Betty wears white sandals, white slip dress with navy polka dots. Mabel wears an identical pair of sandals, navy slacks and white blouse with smaller navy dots. Both are white haired. Betty is smoking a Senior Service and Mabel is de-stringing and slicing a bowl of runner beans.
Jack rides his milk float in Womble t-shirt and pale blue shorts. Kes, wearing just her red knickers with hair in bunches, pushes Yoshi Toko & Luke the Sock Monkey around in a pram.
All is quiet as I bowl at Lee, save for my cricket commentary and the distant hum of Mr Hewitt’s lawn mower.
“In comes John Noakes, off of his long run up, looking for his third wicket of the match. He bowls to Jean Jacques Burnell, who pulls it over mid wicket into Eric’s fence for four.”
It’s hot, not like the furnace of last year, but hot enough. In this idyllic setting butterflies are welcomed, bees tolerated and jaspers forbidden.
The first we know of any commotion is when we hear Mum scream, “Mac, you BASTARD!”
She was at first baffled, then twigged that the water falling on her could only have come from one source - and it wasn’t the clouds. She knows it’s not the kids, she knows it’s not me or Lee.
Mac laughed, peering over Grandad’s fence, water pistol in hand. Exactly the reaction he wanted. Dad puts down his book, goes into the kitchen and returns with a saucepan full of water. There is a way of sneaking into Eric Porter’s garden, if you’re stealthy, without being seen. Dad edged closer to the fence. Only Mum, Lee and I could see what he was doing. She carried on calling Mac a bastard and other worse things, Mac carried on laughing that is until Dad crept up and got him with the saucepan of ice cold water. A little water can go a long way. Everyone laughed. Mac said, "Right, you’ve done it now. This is war!"
And things escalated.
Things got out of hand.
Mum fed Dad our hosepipe through the wire mesh that separates the gardens of number 23 and 21. Mac knew what was coming and unravelled the hose that Grandad keeps coiled by the back door of number 25.
Dad and Mac stood face to face across Grandad’s garden fence, each firing a hose pipe at full blast into the other’s face. Two stubborn men, each unable to breathe from the force of the water pounding into their chops, laughing and spluttering. Two men are now being told to stop. Everyone has had their fun. Two men are ignoring all the others. Neither will be the first to give in.
They stopped eventually. Of course they stopped, they wouldn’t still be at it at nightfall, would they? Besides, they’ve all now gone out to the Berni Inn for a meal probably telling Penny and Dave all about it at this very moment.
It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen; funnier than the Benny Hill Show. Lee and I are still laughing about it now. Lee asks if I saw the water squelching out of Mac’s tan shoes?
Yes, I did.
The news is nearly finished. Lee has opened a new bottle of Coke in anticipation of the film, and poured us a glass each. He lights a new cigarette. He smokes fags that are called Kent. They don’t smell quite as bad as some do. Lee says we should listen to the next bit. They always have a funny story at the end of the news like a skateboarding alligator, a talking gerbil or Evel Knievel jumping over a line of OAPs.
Except tonight Reggie Bosanquet has a different story to finish and it’s not a funny one. He says that, “We have very sad news coming in to us that Elvis Presley, the pop singer, has died at his home in Memphis.”
What? We look at each other in stunned silence. Did he say what I think he said, squire?
Then Reggie picks up the phone that he has on his desk. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a newsreader use their phone. Five seconds later he replaces the handset and says that the reports concerning the possible death of Presley are as yet unconfirmed. And then he says goodnight.
So he might not be dead after all?
The film is good, really good, but I’m still thinking about Elvis.
What if he is really dead? I don’t know how I’m meant to feel. Two years ago he was my favourite singer and now it’s Johnny Rotten. I’m a punk and punks aren’t allowed to like Elvis, but I do.
He’s the King, for Pete’s sake.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The First Night of the MIC Club

First published in 2016 in the NGG fanzine... 

Poster by Syd Matthews
In January 1982 I was still at school half-heartedly studying for A levels, which I would sit in June 1983, with no idea at all what I would do after that. But I was in a band. This was purely by virtue of owning a drum kit. I had only a basic grasp of what I was meant to be doing with it, but it was enough for me to be a member of the Rubberman 12 (pronounced Rubberman Dozen); a trio with my pal John Gawen on bass, plus singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike O’Halloran. 

Mike’s main influences, courtesy of his older brother, were Todd Rundgren, Love, the Velvet Underground, The Jam, Orange Juice, Talking Heads and Joe Jackson. His songs would not have been out of place on the Postcard label; post-punk pop with a funky twang that just fell short of being twee. C-86 before its time, I suppose. The-Beatles-in-Hamburg it was not. John was a big Bunnymen and Bowie fan and I was mad on The Doors, Magazine, Vic Godard, Love, The Fall and Frank Sinatra. However, since that Christmas party, we had each endeavoured to see The Milkshakes and Prisoners as often as possible. 

We had done a few gigs at parties and village halls over the previous year and were looking to start doing proper dates in proper venues. On Sunday 28th February we turned up to watch the Prisoners at the Red Lion in Northfleet. It was one of the rare dates in those days where the Milkshakes were not playing with them as the two bands used to gatecrash each other’s gigs as a readymade double bill. The Prisoners were now no longer a trio, Jamie having joined them a month earlier.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Strange Tale of How I Came to Meet Spike 'I Prefer Jazz' Heatley

Was it Oscar Wilde who once said; "There is only one thing in life worse than having the internet, and that is not having the internet"? Perhaps I'm getting him mixed up with someone else. But, were it not for the internet the following little tale would never have happened and, naturally, you would not be reading it now.

On April 8th last year, my wife Debbie and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a glass or two of wine in our favourite Hastings wine bar before heading to a nearby pub to see our friend Wendy DJ to a packed crowd of boozy dancers. Wendy introduced us to her friend Merrill, visiting Hastings for the weekend, who said she would soon be moving to the town. After congratulating her on her choice of location we chatted and, as it is the 21st century, became Facebook pals the next day.

The following Saturday I took the trouble to queue for the first time for Record Store Day. The wonderful Soho Scene series of jazz albums was releasing its 1964 edition and I didn't want to miss out on a copy. Disc secured, I headed home to listen to it. It was up to the same high standard of the others in the series, but one track in particular grabbed me. When I say grabbed me, I meant it entranced me; 'Times Two and a Half' by Bill Le Sage & the New Directions in Jazz Unit.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Happy 80th Birthday, Dudley Moore

Dudley Moore would have been 80 today (19th April). Best known to the masses for his partnership with Peter Cook and his brief stint as a Hollywood A-lister, the comedian, actor, writer and ‘ladies’ man’, his greatest talent was as a pianist and composer. Shamefully overlooked and under-commissioned, I know I'm not the only person to regard him as the finest musician at work in Swingin’ London.

Classically trained via an Oxford scholarship, he entertained the somebodies at Cook’s Establishment Club and the nation via his customary tune or two on ‘Not Only but Also…’ with his jazz trio. If only he’d been given more film work, for his soundtracks for Bedazzled, 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia and Staircase are the works of a maestro and, heck, it’s overused so as to become almost meaningless, but he really was something of a genius.

Here’s my Dudley Moore Top 10

1. Rupert’s Romp –From the 30 is a Dangerous Age film, this piece is not on the soundtrack album, and to the best of my knowledge has never been released in any format. I am obsessed with everything about this 166 second clip – the colour, lighting, camerawork, the interplay between drummer Chris Karan & Dud, Karan’s playing, the customer giving Dud the ‘ok’ seal of approval, the maitre d’ doing a little soft-shoe-shuffle causing the girls to giggle, Dud at his most handsome with a sunshine smile, and of course, his phenomenal playing in the manner of his hero Erroll Garner.

2. Bedazzled –Judging by Dud’s threads and barnet this dates from 2 or 3 years after the film. I can’t think that Barry, Mancini or Bernstein have ever come up with anything better for a film score. The soundtrack contains four arrangements on this theme – Main Title, The Millionaire, Lilian Lust & Cook’s piece de resistance (see No.3). 

3. Bedazzled by Drimble Wedge & the Vegetations –The first post-punk record? Lydon has acknowledged this as an influence on a Pistols’ song (he couldn’t recall which), but its sound is futuristic orchestral psychedelia with Cook’s monotone delivery leaving it sounding like little else until Broadcast came along.

  4. Waterloo –Not dissimilar to my cloth ears to Rupert’s Romp. This track appears on the 1971 Today album, though this clip features bassist Pete McGurk, who tragically committed suicide in June ’68. 

5. Amalgam – The outstanding track from 1969’s imaginatively-named Dudley Moore Trio album. I swear I’ve seen a tv studio clip of this but cannot find it. 

6. Song for Suzy – Got that heavy bass sound and early 70s optimism (where did that go?) not unlike the pop vibe of Blue Mink. Also from the Today album & introduced by Roger Whittaker. Dig!. 

7. The Detective –Truly showing his skill and versatility this is unlike anything else in Dud’s canon and is from the 30 soundtrack. A moody noir orchestration reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s great works; Staccato’s Theme and Walk on the Wild Side. Stunning. 

8.The Staircase – From his score for the long-forgotten film, which never got a soundtrack release, (can you hear me Jonny Trunk?) but rescued to close the Today album.Exquisite piece of bachelor pad bossa.  

9. Hello Sailor – Another from 30. This was renamed Morning Walk for the American soundtrack. I love the jaunty sunniness of this. Has a sound not unlike the work Bowie did with the likes of Arthur Greenslade at the time. Is that an ocarina? 

10. Waltz for Suzy or Sooz Blooz, GPO, Italy, Moontime, The Look of Love, Just in Time…How can I pick just one more? Lose yourself on Youtube or pick up a secondhand vinyl. Actually, I can. This disappeared from Youtube for a while, so enjoy it whilst you can. How about this for 24-carat A-List Saturday night entertainment even if Cass doesn't quite seem to 'get' Dud's sense of fun.  

Happy birthday, Dud.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Tribute to the Great Gerald Wilson

For me, it all began about two or three years ago when a good friend with peerless taste, Jo Wallace, pasted a version of Light My Fire on her Facebook page. I'm a sucker for this song, loving Tony Hatch's, Erma Franklin's and Shirley Bassey's takes on it, as well as the original. This one though, was something else. This was so far up my street you'd need to pack a flask and sandwiches if you had any desire to reach it. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra. Gerald Wilson? Never heard of him? No, I hadn't either.