Thursday, March 22, 2012
Comedy records. Whatever happened to them?
Not that this quite beautiful tune is a comedy record per se, though Windsor Davis' interjections and introduction make it one, so actually scrub that, it's a comedy record after all. But isn't it marvellous. A huge much-discussed number one from 1975, off the back of a TV show that was all the rage. We never missed it, as fake and studio-bound as it was. No one actually thought they filmed in a jungle as much as they believed Are You Being Served? was filmed in a real department store, but with a large swathe of the audience old enough to remember the bygone days in which it was set, it all rang true. We never missed it, and neither did anyone else.
Looking at it now of course it is, shall we say, of its time, and you don't often - ever? - see it repeated anywhere, but it remains a classic. The Davis/Estelle double act was everywhere at this time, culminating in this hit. In those days it was only natural that you should capitalise on your sitcom fame by doing something like this, especially if you had a voice to sing with. No one batted an eye. The charts were full of comedy songs. Not now though.
When did we get so serious?
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
These days, crazes seem built to last. But back then, one after another passed through our lives: frisbees, spacehoppers, skateboards - you name it, we had it. What we never had, though don't think we didn't toy with the idea, was our own pair of roller skates.
Another brief but hugely enjoyable phase, roller rinks were all the rage around this time. Me and my two current best schoolfriends had become super-friendly with three girls in the year below. I'd pointed out to my friend Richard one day, that this girl was the spit of Grange Hll's Cathy Hargreaves on whom I had a major crush at the time. Being far too shy to even contemplate asking her out myself - and besides, she wouldn't be interested in me and even if she was, where would we go? - he did it instead. So at least I got to spend time with her.
We went around together for a some months, but always with her miserable friend in tow. She was called Claire, had a pinched face and short hair and my friends always trying to persuade her to go out with me. It wasn't going to happen; she wouldn't even look at me. Just as well, I wasn't interested in her either. She was plain, mean and smelled of wet thick-knit cardigans. I'm failing to remember the third wheel, but she was going out with my other friend.
'Going out' in those days was not what it might entail now. Not at that age anyway unless you wanted a shotgun wedding. The odd snog and hand hold was about the size of it. Oh such innocent times. Cathy Hargreaves' dad still pronounced pizza as 'pitza'. The past is another country.
And what could be more innocent than going roller-skating. Together, we'd go late Saturday afternoons to the boxfresh local leisure centre, where we'd tear around in a circle to Heart Of Glass, Oliver's Army, Clog Dance (worked a treat) and Into the Valley, trying not to but secretly hoping to do a Frank Spencer and impress everyone forever (see below).
The one song that really reminds me of this, and the one they played all the time was I Will Survive, the big number one single of the time. It got at least two airiings per session. She even had a roller-skater in the video. It really was all the rage. I don't personally have much time for it, and though it does conjure up this moment let's have the other one that really takes me back to the rink, Get It by The Darts. Does anything say 1979 more than they do?
How long this particular craze lasted I cannot recall, but it was fun while it lasted. Next!
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Here's another one of those playground songs that hung around for ages and refused to go away. Listen to those words: even the very first line 'what's e like, Mavis?' screams early Seventies.
Geezers, two-tone tonic strides, lay it on me, dance hall, fringe and buckle stompers, etc. It's so of the time. It does take me right back to the early days of school, when this kid-friendly, reggae-lite apparently skinhead classic could be heard everywhere, mostly people singing it in the playground. I don't remember ever seeing any footage of anyone performing it. Was it ever on TOTP?
It was a huge hit, so very well-known, but of course it's unlikely you'll hear it on the radio anymore because of the Jonathan King connection. Silly JK. Why did he have to go and do what he did? So many great songs there, never to be heard again except in the privacy of one's own home. Who is the singer? Who are those girls whose voices can be heard? I have a picture of them in my mind which is forever '71. I suppose I don't really want that image shattered.
But if we separate the rhyme from the crime, which in pop we have to do a lot, then we can enjoy this at its best. It reminds me of two things:
1. A plump, freckly neighbour called Jennifer Faulkner who smelled of liver, lived in a bungalow with external woodwork the colour of a Black Magic orange cream, had a scary brother with long blond hair and thick NHS specs, and whose father had a metal plate in his head after falling off a bus in the Sixties; and
2. Our new headmaster who came into class unannounced one day and did an impression of a girl in platform shoes smoking at a bus stop. We thought that was peculiar then. It's even more peculiar now.
What's he like, Mavis, indeed.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
It's the summer of 1982. I'm in Bahrain for about two months. What am I going to do?
Spend the day at the beach? Go to the pool? Those would be the normal responses, but not from me. I wasn't a sunworshipper in the least. I would try and avoid going out in the sun if possible, hard when the temperature hovered around the 100 degree mark with almost 100% humidity. Thank God for air conditioning to within an inch of your life wherever you went.
So it was with pleasure that I should go and make my useful at dad's office. I had worked there the previous summer, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got to know all his colleagues and really liked them, despite them being somewhat older than me. There was a large mix of nationalities: Indians, Somalians, Filippinos, Australians, Americans and lots of Brits. It was enormous fun. I couldn't wait to return.
But it was different now. It was bigger, with more staff and some even my age. I was rather taken with a half-Japanese half-American art intern called Lesa. She was slightly older than me and was just killing time until she went back to university of Syracuse. She was impossibly pretty and was really, really into British music. I was working in the art studio where the radio would blare the hits of hte moment all day long. We especially loved anything from the current New Romantic stable: Japan, being a super favourite, but we also bonded over The Clash - yes they did actually play Rock The Casbah on Radio Bahrain, as they'dplayed Arabian Nights, with it's talk of conquering orifices of 'boys, goats and things', the previous summer.
Radio Bahrain was great for playing whatever was in the Top 75, so you'd get Ann Breen followed by Bill Wyman followed by a non-charting Visage hit followed by Kenny Lynch. It wasn't a joy as such, but it was interesting.
So we spent the summer mad about music. Not about each other though. She had a boyfriend in the US, or so she said. I adored from afar. We made endless compilation tapes for each other, and in my brief stopover back in the UK in August (see 1982: Enthralled) I had to get her Combat Rock, and one of those compliation albums with lots of hits on, this one being packed with the top alternative hits of 1982, including No No No by Nancy Nova and something by Fashion. It possibly included The Clapping Song, perhaps the song of the office that summer.
When the time came for me to start boarding school we said fond farewells. She gave me a hand-printed t-shirt, an armful of tapes and we vowed to keep in touch.
But then it all went sour.
My fault really. We used to give our tapes unusual names. Hers were original and inventive, but mine were nicked from songs and albums she hadn't heard of (yet). We exhanged tapes for a good six months, my only being able to afford to send things sea mail slowing the process down quite considerably. But she loved my Kissing To Be Clever and Taking Islands In Africa - utnil she found out one was the title of the forthcoming Culture Club album and the other a song by Japan off of Gentlemen Take Polaroids. In a Shattered Glass-style trawl through my back catalogue she was appalled to discover my plagiarism and lack of imagination and there the correspondence ended.
I think she's a food writer in Hawaii now. It was fun while it lasted.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
You know when you don't like someone - you can go off that name forever. Mine is Madeleine. I used to think it was a lovely name until a certain person came into my life.
So who was she? Well, she was my boss. I say boss. She was certainly bossy but she wasn't much cop as a manager. She got by on pure brown-nosing and blaming everyone but herself for things going wrong. I'll admit I wasn't the best at my job, but it was dry as dust and I'd had one morning's worth of training. It seemed to be on a suck it and see basis, but with Madeleine around this just made things more precarious and far less clear than they could have been.
With her hairy legs and ghastly manner, there was no point standing up for yourself if she picked on you, as you were seen as being 'confrontational' and 'hostile'. She once slapped a choclate bar out of my mouth. I was outraged. She knew she was wrong, but would do a hasty 'okay, sorry, forgotten? Let's move on. Friends?', all in one breath. You didn't have a chance to vent. I'm cross just thinking about it.
Not that it would have done any good. Management thought she was marvellous. A trained lawyer with lots of contacts in the biz, plus she invited the top brass to her wedding. Though I wasn't expecting an invite at all, she took me into her office one day to break the news that she wasn't extending me an invitation. She said she knew I'd always wanted to go to a Jewish wedding but she was only inviting the bosses, so there, there my dear. I never had the chance to say I wasn't bothered. I felt kind of dumb.
There are few people I have disliked as much in my life. She made my life an utter misery. Because she didn't understand what was going on half the time she just muddied waters constantly. I was so relieved when I eventually moved teams. But with her reporting my every move to the bosses the tone was set. But I still had another five years to serve. At least it wouldn't be with her.
Now, every time I hear that name, I bristle. I do hope you don't have children called Madeleine. That name is tainted forever. She'll grow up to horrid.
Still, at the very height of our fractiousness, this song would always lift the spirits. It was the one thing I wanted to hear before I left the house, which would put a spring in my step all the way to the bus stop. Have you ever tried it at karaoke? Exhausting. But what a mood lifter.
Monday, March 12, 2012
Here's an odd one. This record reminds me of precisely nothing.
'Why is that, JP?', a reader asks.
Well, mainly because - like Gary Numan's She's Got Claws and Roxy Music's Oh Yeah - I have no memory of it being around whatsoever. When I discovered his song about 20 years later and found out it was a Top Ten hit, I was stunned. I adore it. How could I not have known about it?
By the same token, you couldn't get away from Geno, a huge number one and the talk of the school, the band's trend-setting woolly hat and donkey jacket ensemble being pretty much a uniform in certain quarters. So why did this one pass me by? It wasn't like I didn't have the radio on constantly. Perhaps because it came out in the summer holidays and I was busy doing stuff and not paying attention. When I think summer of 1980 I'm thinking Xanadu and Feels Like I'm In Love. If they played it on the radio. They must have done, but perhaps it wasn't on the A-list, what with it being incomprehensible.
If you know it but can't make sense of it, here are the words. Who knew?
Hope you don't mind me writing, it's just that there's more than one question I need to ask you.
If you're so anti-fashion why not wear flares, instead of dressing down all the same.?
It's just that looking like that I can express my dissatisfaction.
let me explain, though you'd never see in a million years.
Keep quoting cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Duchampe, Beauvoir, Kerouac, Kirkegaard, Michael Rennie.
I don't believe you really like Frank Sinatra.
you're always so happy, how the hell do you get your inspiration?
You're like a dumb patriot.
If you're supposed to be so angry, why don't you fight and let me benefit from your right?
Don't you know the only way to change things is to shoot the men who arrange things.
I would explain, but you'd never see in a million years.
Well you've made your rules but we don't know that game, perhaps I'd listen to your records but your logic's far too lame and I'd only waste three valuable minutes of my life with your insincerity.
You see Robin, I'm just searching for the young soul rebels and I can't find them anywhere. Where have you hidden them? Maybe we should welcome the new soul vision."
I'm sure they can't possibly fit all this lot into that that tune. Try following it and you'll see what I mean. Anyway, it's one of my favourites of all time. Such a shame I was late to the party.
Friday, March 9, 2012
Modern Romance: one of the oddest bands of all time surely?
I remember when we jetted back from America for a week before we went back to Bahrain for the rest of the summer and, eager to know what was lighting up the charts, the hire car's radio was instantly tuned to Radio 1. The first thing I heard was Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White, unbeknowst to me a cover of a 1950s instrumental with their own added lyrics.
A strange choice in a way, but one that didn't seem strange at a the time - this was 1982 after, the oddest year for music. And this was perhaps the oddest week. Just look at the novelties on offer. Not that I'm complaining,. I bought most of them.
In this small window alone we were seeing a gay disco smoochathon cover of an Andy Williams classic by the Boystown Gang, Come On Eileen with it's stop/start fast/slow can't make out the words strangeness was number one, we'd just seen Captain Sensible cover a song from a musical and have it shoot to number one, Sting was spreading a little happiness from a Dennis Potter play, Madness were at their novelty worst with Driving In My Car, Bad Manners were doing a kiddie pop version of My Boy Lollipop and now erstwhile New Romantics Modern Romance were covering a 1950s Perez 'Prez' Prado standard and it was going Top 10.
Just a normal week in the charts then.
When Modern Romance started out I thought they were quite good, with their party-flavoured hits like Everybody Salsa and Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay-Moosey soundtracking the second half of 1981. Who'd have thought something like that would rise from the ashes of the Leyton Buzzards? They were still seen as being quite cool, though, and they even appeared in The Face around the time of Queen Of The Rapping Scene, which is a marvellous song but didn't do much to win them any new fans.
So then later in the summer, then came this. With its John Du Prez trumpet sound providing the novelty summery sound the writing was on the wall. And when their next outing was Best Years Of Our Lives minus lead singer Geoff Deane it was all over for me. They did some ghastly pop songs like Walking In The Rain before they imploded.
But still, it is the sound of summer, isn't it? You never hear it on the radio anymore.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
We'd had a switch around at work, and though quite a few of the original crew had departed to go travelling or just on to pastures new, I was still rather sad at leaving our little corner of the office.
I was joining a new team with a new boss and sitting with two newish girls. I wasn't mad about it but I had no choice. Soon enough however we were laughing all the day long and we became quite pally, especially me and the girl opposite.
She was a pretty little curly-haired Welsh girl with a bizarre home life, a former carnival queen who was now living in east London with a uni friend we heard about endlessly. The more I got to know her and more I got to hear about their leisure activities the more I got to wondering: was she a lesbian?
Just a couple of years younger than me she tore posters of Jason Donovan out of Smash Hits, saw his Joseph about a million times and even waited outside the stage door for autograph. She was boy mad! Like a teenager. Or was she?
We had a shared love of ER and Northern Exposure and we were yet to give up on LA Law. We enjoyed the chart hits of the time. She had a huge soft spot for k d lang, any song which intimated that sisters were indeed doing it for themselves or to each other, and they were certainly no strangers to the Drill Hall. The Drill Hall - wasn't that a lesbian venue?
Not having a clue at the time that all lesbians didn't wear dungarees and have short hair, I convinced myself she was no such thing. Surely her and the flatmate were just good friends? I'd met the flatmate, and she was short and butch and changed her name from her feminine given name to her more gender unspecific middle name. She was loud and wore shapeless boyish clothes and no make-up. But still...
As the months went by we became very friendly. It was dinners at each other's houses and even the odd (rather painful) weekend away, but me and the future Mrs P found the flatmate was better in very small doses, and it became something we had to do rather than wanted to do. Flatmate loved to dance around vigorously to this En Vogue record, which I found rather disturbing.
The future Mrs P, being mistress at wheedling a subtle confession was sure they were a couple. But after so many years this was still being hotly denied. Even a poke round the flat while going to the loo gave no clues away. Today, I'd know immediately, but then, not having joined the proper media world my naivity was still intact. I thought they jsut went to see films like Go Fish or Salmonberries because they were cinephiles. And everyone was talking about CJ Lamb's kiss with Abbey, weren't they?
But then one day, their blissful existence of driving holidays in the USA and Beverly Hills 90210 came to an abrupt end. Tearfully on the stairs after realising something was going on with her, she confessed to me that yes, her and flatmate had been an item since university, but now flatmate had pursued and caught a friend of theirs and it was all over. Yes, she admitted, she was gay.
I was not shocked - at last it had been confirmed. I said it was okay, I'd guessed a long time ago. However, I was thinking but not saying, in the four years we sat opposite other and had become close friends, why did she not feel she could ever tell me? As it transpired, flatmate had come clean to Mrs P about a year before, but had begged her not to let on. And to her credit, she kept it under her hat.
It made no difference to our friendship, but as is usual with anyone, we eventually drifted apart once I left the company in '95. Shame, because I think of her often and I know she's happy, but I deep down I do feel kind of affronted she felt she couldn't be honest with me. Perhaps it was easier said than done.
Monday, March 5, 2012
I'm eight or nine weeks into my new job, and so far, so good. But what a different world from the one I'd come from.
Having done my journalism course and devoted myself to it I'd passed with flying colours. Not that it mattered. After a period of work experience at a TV magazine they'd called me back in 'for a chat'. I thought they might be putting some freelance work my way, but in actual fact they offered me a job. At last, something good came out of my obsession with all things TV.
I went into the course the next day and instantly became the poster boy for the course. A true success story everyone was expected to emulate. This was a revelation. It had never happened to me before. I even surprised myself. I'd spent years pissing about at school, uni and work, but the very first day I started this course, aged 30, I knew I had to make it work for me. Not for me being the class clown, and how tiresome I found the person who took on that role. Once, that was me. So look what could happen if you simply applied yourself.
I only had a few weeks left on the course following the job offer, and was due to start the Monday after the course finished on Friday, literally a week before Christmas. It was a shock. This was a different kind of work in a different kind of workplace. Previously, I'd done six years editing and proofreading legal texts. Dry as dust, but the people could be fun. That said, it was quite a formal place to work.
Magazines on the other hand, were as informal as it got. It was like a fashion show catwalk for a start. Gosh! You were allowed to wear jeans. The radio was on all day long and if not people put tapes on, leading to musical standoffs more often than not. It was noisy and bright and busy and though it took a while to learn to work and listen to the radio, I got the hang of it eventually. (I couldn't have that in the office now though, far too distracting. I understand the editor's pain when she used to get up and turn it the music down).
So by this time in '96 I was really getting into the swing of things. I was doing interview after interview, meeting people I'd only previously seen on the telly, visiting sets and going to programme launches and chuckling to myself at how amazing it was to be there. It's the kind of job I'd always wanted. I was doing things like radio interviews on Newsbeat or GLR or BBC Lincolnshire and having friends and all my old colleagues phone me up to tell me they'd heard me. I even had my own picture byline in the magazine.
It couldn't have been more removed from the job I'd done before. What a good idea that course had been. My life had changed again and it was shaping up to be an awful lot of fun. I'd stay until early '99. And I was right in the middle of Cool Brittania. No, really.
Anyway, this song really reminds me those very early weeks, getting my head down and immersing myself in my work. What a joy. I felt revitalised in every way.
So why had it taken me so long to get here?